Dilemma

byJoesephus©

Warning, this story ends exactly where it starts. There is no sex, and if you don't like unresolved endings, please don't read further...
*

Tomorrow is my birthday, and I have the toughest decision of my life to make.

My whole life, and beyond, will depend on what I do. I know what I should do... no, I know what she wants me to...

Sorry, I'm a mess right now, let me start over.

Tomorrow is my birthday and I am terrified. I have a decision to make and I just don't know what I should do.

Please, tell me, what would you do?

This all began last month when ... no, I guess it began five years ago when I ... no, I guess the only way you can understand is to go all the way back, back to about two months before I was born.

My parents were new to Pflugerville, Texas, and my mother was lonely. Lorelei's parents were in their Lamaze class and they discovered that they only lived about a block apart in one of the mushroom subdivisions that were eating up the black land farms around Austin. You know the kind, large two-story houses on tiny lots in a "planned community." "Planned" meant there was a common clubhouse and pool. Both our families were part of the techie migration to Austin and whoever came up with the term "yuppie" had our parents in mind.

Our moms became best friends, our dads became pals and Lorelei, born two days after me, and I spent more time together than most twins. We never had separate birthday parties. We went to the same daycare, the same preschool, and were in every class together until they put us in separate health classes in junior high. In self-defense we became best friends sometime before preschool. In second grade Lorelei's father was killed in an airliner crash. I held her for hours as she cried.

Her mother never re-married, and Lorelei often spent more time with dad than I did. I enjoyed hunting, but dad's real passion was fishing. I'd rather watch grass grow. Lorelei was not a morning person, except when dad wanted to go fishing. Of course she had her own key before I did, so she'd be sitting at our kitchen table "a long winter's nap" before sunrise.

I never actually asked Lorelei out, we just started dating about the time she decided she wanted a boyfriend . That's the way it was, Lorelei had a streak of steel a mile wide and 10 feet thick when it came to determination. If it wasn't wrapped in the most beautiful package I'd ever seen, well ... Well, what Lorelei wanted Lorelei got and for some reason, she wanted me.

Don't think we didn't have other friends, we always did. We were very popular -- Lorelei was class president all four years in high school and we were Mr. and Miss PHS, prom King and Queen, all that stuff. We both ran distances in track and we both got caught up in the soccer craze that swept Central Texas about the time we were born.

We both played soccer at the University of Texas. Lorelei had the largest scholarship on the team. I played on UT's club team where we won a few national championships. We were both in UT's prestigious Plan II program. Lorelei's alternate major was pre-law, I was a computer nerd. Halfway through our junior year we had a pregnancy scare and Lorelei decided we needed to get married the next summer. I guess that's where the story really starts.

Lorelei was the only girl I'd ever dated, the only girl I'd ever kissed and the only girl I ever wanted to share my bed. I was crazy about her and to say we were happy those first two years is a world-class understatement. The sun didn't rise in the east; it rose in the twinkle as Lorelei opened her eyes.

We were poor, the way only married college kids can be poor, and totally oblivious to it. I got a special dispensation to be admitted to UT's MBA program. Lorelei was admitted to UT law school. We were a team and we were going to change the world ... until that damned OU weekend.

The entire second year class of UT law school was invited to spend OU weekend in a luxury retreat owned by one of the big Texas law firms. For those poor souls who don't know about OU weekend, it can't be described.

Even us Longhorns have to admit that the (begin using all the curse words you know. Believe me no matter how erudite, they're still inadequate to describe those people. Now add all the foreign curse words you know and you still lack a sufficiently vile adjective for the...) Sooners do know how to play football, but they lack the deference that is the Longhorn's due (probably because their team is made up entirely of kids who were raised by us ... more epithets on the heads of those traitors to Texas.) We play the game in Dallas, halfway between the two schools, and half the stadium is filled with (someday I'll find the words vile enough to apply to the...) Sooners and the other half is filled with the pride of Texas.

Sorry about that rant, but because of the game, you can't find a hotel room within a hundred miles of Dallas. The Brownian movements of both sets of fans on Commerce Street the night before the game requires generations of learned behavior, and woe betide the benighted who gets it wrong.

The law firm's hotel and its services on OU weekend are beyond the dreams of avarice of most law school students and believe me those sharks make Scrooge look like Mother Teresa.

Of course it's a recruiting ploy that keeps that firm at the top of the list of UT's best and brightest, cheap at twice the price.

On Friday night, the firm threw a party, complete with an open bar and caviar in five-gallon buckets.

Because my sadistic-football-hating-crone-professor from Japan actually forced us to attend class on Friday, I wasn't going to able to leave Austin until after four.

Given the hoards of faithful making the trip, starting that late meant the trip would take at least twice the normal three-and-a-half hours. I would miss the planned gourmet dinner, but I hoped to be there in time for some of the dancing and the open bar.

Lorelei had caught a ride up that morning with a professor. Lorelei had met him that summer when he'd co-taught a course.

He'd just earned a fortune in some class-action suit and became a professor. Lorelei had been so impressed by him that she'd signed up for a fall class.

We were both surprised when he'd invited us to his mansion on the lake, for dinner a week before the game. I felt a little sorry for him, even as I coveted his house. He'd been divorced for a year and seemed lonely. I liked him, he was our parent's age, but seemed more sophisticated somehow. As soon as he heard about my class conflict he'd offered Lorelei the ride.

Lorelei had been bubbling when we got home. She positively gloated about the opportunity to pick his brain on the three-and-a-half hour drive.

I'd no sooner sat down in class that Friday when I began fidgeting. All I could think about was getting to Dallas. This was far from my first OU game, so I couldn't understand why I was so anxious.

About 10 minutes into the class, the prof couldn't ignore me any longer and said, "You're as bad as my husband. Go on, get! Try to beat the traffic to that silly game."

At the time I thought "God is in His heaven and all is right with the world." The game wasn't until the next day, but I was almost desperate to get to Lorelei.

I'd come to class ready to leave and I was on IH-35 15 minutes later. Traffic was horrible but I pulled into the hotel a little before seven just when everyone was sitting down for dinner.

It was even swankier than I'd dreamed, but Lorelei, sitting across a table from her professor seemed out of kilter somehow.

They were in earnest conversation, and she didn't see me until I put a hand on her shoulder. She startled and blurted out that our room had thousand-thread-count sheets. Then she blushed, which was so unlike her, the suppressed panic I'd been feeling since I'd sat down in class threatened to explode.

Before I could ask her what was going on, the band, with a current Top 40 hit, began to play. Her professor stood and asked Lorelei to dance. If I'd been asked I'd have said I didn't have a jealous bone in my body. Jealousy is fundamentally a lack of trust and I could no more mistrust Lorelei than I could my elbow or my kidney. Besides, like I said, he was about the age of my father!

Lorelei looked away from me and abruptly in accepted his invitation. Adrenalin flooded me but I still couldn't understand exactly why until I shot a glance at them on the dance floor. There was nothing out of the ordinary; they weren't dancing too close or too far. They certainly didn't look guilty.

But with that tiny glace, I knew that she'd slept with him. The whole concept was so alien so impossible, it took a hundred heartbeats to absorb what my forebrain knew. But, I knew it beyond the conscious level. I knew it the way I always had known special things about Lorelei. I knew it to the marrow of my bones, I knew it in my soul and I disappeared!

I'd never believed in temporary insanity, until I was. I'm glad I didn't have my gun with me, because the next thing I was aware of, I was taking it out of our bedside table. To this day I have absolutely no memory of leaving the hotel, Dallas or the drive back to Austin.

Standing next to our bed, I had a mental flash of him, on top of her, inside her. It was so vivid I actually could feel him inside me, as if I had a vagina!

Trembling with unbearable pain and with fists clenched I bellowed the unanswerable question, "WHY?"

All my life I'd given Lorelei everything I had. Even as kids, if Lorelei wanted it, I got it for her and didn't count the cost. I gave myself completely, why wasn't that enough?

Hot burning pain welled up from the depths of my soul. Lorelei had always been my comforter, the one who kissed my wounds and made it all better. Without thinking I grabbed my cell phone to call her. I paused, there were three voice mails from Lorelei.

The first was an uncertain Lorelei asking, "Where are you? Is there something wrong?" The second was the steel Lorelei the one who knew I could refuse her nothing, telling me I had to let her explain. So ingrained were my responses I would have, if I hadn't immediately heard the last message. A sobbing Lorelei begged me to understand that "this" had nothing to do with me, that we would get past it.

Who was this woman I'd thought I knew? I had always been able to finish her sentences; I knew what she was going to fix for meals; I knew what she'd wear in the morning; and I knew what fears lay in her deepest bowels.

How could she think that this had nothing to do with me?

Pain so sharp that clutched my chest lanced through me. I was staggered and I collapsed on the bed. Was it possible that I didn't know her core? Had I only thought I did? She had been able to take another man into her body and keep it from me. I never could have done that.

But she had. I had no idea how long their affair had been going on ... suddenly I remembered her comment about the sheets and vomited all over our bed.

I don't know how long I sat in my puke. It didn't matter. No matter where I looked, nothing made sense.

I trembled with a pain so great I can't describe it. A pain that grew and swelled until I would have begged for death -- if I'd known how. A pain that grew so great -- I blinked, and the whole world changed.

I was suddenly aware that all my life the world had been in Technicolor and stereo. In that single blink of an eye it became stark black and white and screechy monaural. I hated it!

I forced myself to blink again, I was desperate to try to recover what I'd lost, but my soul had been sundered. Looking into the depths of my soul all I saw was molten pain flowing up from my personal hell. I blinked a third time and as if by black alchemy, my pain was transmuted into-- something more profound. Something that gnawed and dissolved my very essence.

My phone rang, and I saw it was from her, and I froze. By the time I could move, the call had gone to voice mail. Again, without thinking I listened to the message.

It was him, and he didn't sound suave, he sounded scared!

"Your wife just collapsed in front of my room... She'd been pounding on my door, hysterical. Look, I'm ... uh ..." He paused for a long time then continued "I think your wife is having a mental breakdown. I'm going to call a very good friend at Timberlawn Mental, I'm sure he'll agree to admit her through their trauma program ... You need to call Timeberlawn ... Look, I'm ... you need to call Timberlawn, I'll take her there, okay?"

I didn't move, and that tore at me. I knew Lorelei was in pain. The same pain I was in. No, hers was worse because she knew she was the source of both our pain. All the habits of my life, all my learned responses, urged me to go to her.

But I couldn't. The pain was too deep, the loss too great, the anger too raw. My pain had created a lava bed between us and no matter how much I wanted I couldn't cross it. A priceless diamond had been struck and shattered into pieces.

The vomit stunk. I looked around the room and for the first time I saw how few physical possessions we had. I'd always felt so rich, the tiny apartment so perfect because I shared it with her.

With my new eyes, I saw it was shabby and filled with cast-offs from our families. It disgusted me. What little luggage we owned was in Dallas, I got a garbage bag from the kitchen and threw in all my remaining clothes. There weren't that many and I left.

I think I went insane again, or whatever you call it. I remember flashes of stopping for gas, for a quick meal at a drive through, taking a nap at a rest stop, but my next clear memory was sitting in my car looking out at the ocean and not having any idea where I was ... or even what ocean I was looking at.

I had a vague memory of heading towards Houston, but this didn't look like the gulf. Only the tip of the sun, straight in front of me was visible. I didn't know if it was rising or setting but I figured I was someplace on the east or west coast.

As I sat there, it gradually became lighter and I decided I was on the east coast, but in my current mood, that was the extent of my curiosity. I'm not sure just how long I sat there, but as the sun rose its heat burned off my mental fog. My car was trashed with the jetsam of fast food meals consumed without tasting them. My cell phone was hiding in a discarded 32-ounce cup.

For the longest time I actually tried to retreat to wherever I'd been when I drove here, but in the light of the new day, I couldn't. I was only a hollow shell of a man, but what I had left was awake and aware.

As I sat there, I understood that if I was to go forward it had to be without Lorelei, and that was so unfair. Perhaps a better man could have done something different. Perhaps if I'd had more courage I might have been able dash into the burning shell of our marriage to salvage something. Perhaps if the pain had been less I might have been able to at least face her.

But I was the man she'd left me, I ran.

I called our family lawyer. His secretary, who I'd known all my life, gave me a cheery "Good Morning," so I knew the weekend was over, and I asked for Mr. Murdock. When he came on the line I told him I needed to have divorce papers drawn up served and that I would tell him were to send my copies as soon as I knew where I'd be.

I do believe I'd still be on the phone if my battery didn't start announcing its imminent death. I almost shouted,

"If you can't do this Mr. Murdock, I'll call someone else as soon as I get my phone re-charged."

Mr. Murdock is a nice man, but no shark can resist fresh kill and he agreed just before my line went dead.

An incredulous clerk at a gas station told me I was in Jacksonville, Fla. I'd never been there, and unless it's at gunpoint, I'll never go back. Oh, I'm sure it's a wonderful place, but I have no desire to ever visit the darkest time of my life again.

I found I-95 and I headed north for my new life. Someplace in South Carolina, I plugged my phone in to re-charge. Someplace in North Carolina I called my folks. Dad wasn't home and mother was frantic. After she established that I was safe, Mom started telling me about Dad going to get Lorelei from Timberlawn. Just hearing her name was a bolt pain so severe I almost lost control of my car. I told Mom that I couldn't bear to hear her name again. She used it again, I hung up and turned my phone off.

I took a wrong turn at Chester, Pa., but didn't know it until I saw the signs for the Pennsylvania turnpike. I pulled into a gas station and my card was declined at the ATM. I shrugged and drove around looking for help wanted signs. I found one flipping burgers before I ran out of gas. I explained my situation to the manager and I lived off the menu, and in my car until I got my first check.

I called Mr. Murdock as soon as I found a place to send papers and he still wouldn't believe that Lorelei had cheated on me. Still, he did file the papers and since I was an old family friend, it only cost me more than I would make in a month flipping burgers.

My parents were worse. They wouldn't even listen to my accusation. I finally told them to ask her. After that, Dad wanted to know what I'd done to make her vulnerable, and Mom wanted me to talk to her, forgive her. I tried to tell them I couldn't.

I explained that just hearing them say her name was giving me all the symptoms of a migraine, it even made my teeth hurt. I begged them not to say her name again, Dad did, I hung up and threw my phone in the first river I passed.

From a pay phone, I called the Dean at UT to make arrangements to withdraw from school, and I was allowed to do so without prejudice. What that means is if I ever want to go back to Austin, I can finish my MBA at UT ... it doesn't mean I got any of my money back. It also meant that the clock was ticking on my six month's grace on my student loans.

It took almost a month, but I found a good job working for a software security company. It was fascinating. This wasn't a virus-of-the-hour type company, we were concerned with encryption, codes and ciphers as well as physical security. We were in the business of protecting secrets and high-value data.

It was only when I received my copy of the signed papers that I realized that Lorelei had never tried to call me. I wouldn't have answered, but after those three calls that night, she'd never tried to contact me. When I thought about it, I realized she understood me, even if I hadn't understood her.

I don't know if you've ever been alone, but I never had. Lorelei had always been part of me and I'd always been close to my parents. Now, I wished I wasn't an only child, that there was some one in this world that would be on my side, and there wasn't. It was just before Thanksgiving, and I spent the entire holiday season trying to keep my soul from turning to black ice.

** ** ** ** ** Chapter 2

On a Friday two weeks after my divorce was final, I started my day at a fertility clinic, checking on their installation. Suddenly, I saw "Lorelei" on a patient chart. I felt the same bolt of pain and it was only by the barest of margins that I avoided spewing. Of course it wasn't her, but I've never known another Lorelei, which wasn't surprising. Her parents had picked the name because it was number 1000 on Social Security's list of the top 1000 names for girls. I'd never been as low as I was at that moment.

I'd never known it was possible to be so depressed or so alone. The only person in Texas who knew where I was, was Mr. Murdock. Thinking about it, I guess even he didn't know exactly where I was. Because although I'd made him swear not to tell anyone, he thought I was in Pittsburgh. I was actually living a mile from the King of Prussia Mall near Philadelphia.

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