Thanks to the Hip and Knee Doctor for editing assistance.
The last few months had been trying. My wife, Katherine, had been having an affair with a co-worker and it seems like everybody in the world knew about it, but nobody had enough guts to say anything. I was just as guilty as all the others. For some strange reason I was hoping that it would just end and everything would go back to normal. It was a fantasy of course, because it never goes back to the way it was.
We had been married for nineteen years and had three children. Rob was eighteen and a senior. Katherine was pregnant when we got married. A year later we had Donna and the next year, Darcy showed up and Dad got a vasectomy. They were good kids, and we never had any problems with them until recently. Needless to say, the problem with the kids was brought on by the extracurricular activities of their mother.
For the past three years, Katherine worked in the claims department for a large insurance company. When she started working overtime, several nights a week, the kids and I quickly noticed. She got a new hairstyle and joined a gym. Her underwear drawer got a little sexier, but I never got to enjoy it. Donna and Darcy saw her having lunch with her department head, at an upscale restaurant, but she never mentioned it.
In desperation, I decided to follow her like a lovesick puppy. Her trips to motels with her lover were frequent and brazen. Although I didn't see the need for it, I still documented the time and dates of several of their rendezvous.
As the affair lingered, the family started to fall apart. All of this happened without any conversation. The kids were mad at their mother for cheating. The kids were mad at me for not confronting their mother, and I was trying to hold everything together. I was too dense to realize that it was a lost cause.
The only time the family got together was for the evening meal. Even then, it was an ordeal. There was virtually no conversation and as each of the kids finished eating, they quietly disappeared, usually out of the house until bedtime.
"John, I am not going to be able to take this attitude from the kids for too much longer. If you don't do something to straighten them out, I will."
"I'll take care of it."
"You have been saying that for the last month now. I don't know what has gotten into them. Why did they start acting like little brats all of a sudden? If you have a solution, see if you can get a few answers too."
"Oh, that was no problem. The problem was how to straighten things out. I think we have everything worked out now."
"Are you going to let me in on it, or is it some big dark secret?"
"No secret. I am going to be moving back with my parents tomorrow."
Katherine was not pleased with this news. She stopped clearing the dinner table and sat back down, with a heavy determined plop. "What the hell are you talking about John? You can't commute to work from Frackville, and I can't take care of this place and the kids by myself. How is that going to solve anything?"
"Actually, Katherine, you won't have to worry about taking care of the kids. They will be going with me."
I was not looking forward to the furrowed brow and the stiff lower lip that I was rewarded with, but I fully expected it. With her elbows on the table my loving wife leaned forward and looked me in the eyes. "There is no way in hell you are leaving this house with my kids. What ever gave you the idea that you could get away with something that stupid?"
Katherine let out a sigh of exasperation, got up and started again to clear the table. She was muttering to herself, but I couldn't make anything out. After slamming the last of the china into the sink she turned. "Why? Why is this happening?"
"The best I can figure is that they are tired of being embarrassed."
"What the hell are you talking about?"
"Mostly, it is about your affair with Bryon Masterson. You have flaunted your infidelity to the point where the entire family is aware of it. You have shown no regard for your children or me."
"Are you going to deny it? Are you going to tell me you don't spend several days a week having sex at various motels? Are you going to tell me that I don't understand?"
I decided I didn't want to pursue this conversation any longer. It would have been easy to throw it all in her face, but I didn't have the guts. I pushed back my chair and walked out of the room. Katherine stood by the sink with one hand on her hip. I noticed a defiant look on her face, as if she was daring me to mention her infidelity. I got the feeling that she had been baiting me all along, so that she could have an excuse to stop carrying around the guilt. This was a lecture I was not going to be on the receiving end of tonight. I had no desire to hear that I had driven her to seek comfort elsewhere, because I was a mediocre husband and a poor lover. Of course I could accuse her of being a slut and a whore, but I would still end up getting the blame for everything. I knew Katherine, and I knew that she had planned everything she was going to say beforehand. My best play was to not play at all.
"What about your job?"
I heard her screaming my name as I walked out the door.
I had no idea where the kids were. All of their clothes and personal belongings were loaded into Rob's Subaru Outback. The wagon had over a hundred thousand miles on it, but I figured it still had another hundred thousand left in it. All of my clothing and personal papers were in the back of my Jeep. Katherine didn't notice any of this when she came home. We all agreed that whatever we couldn't get on the first trip, we could come back for later. I was sure that Katherine was checking the house out as I drove away. There was no going back at this point. I decided that I had to call Donna. Donna always seemed to be in control. Rob was the oldest and the male, but he had no problem letting Donna call most of the shots.
"Donna. It's Dad."
"Are you still at the house?"
"No. I am on my way to a motel right now. I had to tell your mother what was going on, but not why. I think it is best if you guys find some place to stay tonight. Can you contact Rob?"
"No problem. Darcy and I are going to stay with Betsy Cooper. I am not sure what Rob has planned, but I think I can get in touch with him."
"Okay. Meet me at the Waffle House on Lancaster Pike tomorrow morning at six. We can leave for Frackville from there."
"Dad. Was mom mad?"
"I think so. I'll tell you about it tomorrow. Oh, after you call Rob, it might be better to turn your phone off."
After checking into the Deska Motel, I turned off my cell phone.
I just finished taking a shower when there was a knock on the door. I opened it, expecting a furious Katherine, but instead found a smiling Rob. There weren't that many motels in town.
By seven o'clock the next morning we were on our way to the coal regions, and home.
Katherine and I never got around to discussing my work situation. It didn't matter, because I was now unemployed. The normal thing to do under these conditions is to stash away as much cash as possible without looking like you are doing it. If I filed for divorce, I would have to go through the process of declaring assets and coming up with a fair distribution. I figured, the hell with it. Nobody likes to see his credit go belly up, but under the circumstances it seemed like a good idea to me. If I wasn't working, the kids could qualify for lots of grants and other benefits when it came time for college. I would see to it that they got everything they needed, but it might not be aboveboard. Living with Mom and Dad would also cover a lot of other usual expenses.
I was pretty sure that Katherine wouldn't wait too long before filing divorce papers. I would probably go along with anything she demanded just to get out of the marriage. There wasn't much she could get, since I did not have a job and the kids would not go with her even if they were ordered to do so. All I could do now was sit back and wait. I had a basket of lemons and I was getting ready to make lemonade.
It was great being back in my hometown. The last time I actually lived there was just before I left for college. After graduation, the closest place I could get a half decent job was in Reading. Katherine was from Baltimore so she didn't mind being just a few hours from home. We had gotten married just before I started my last semester at Penn State. Katherine never finished because of her pregnancy. She never had any desire to return to school. I think she attended to get away from her parents and to find a husband. Somehow or other, I won the marriage lottery. My prize was three great kids and a bitch for a wife. I had regrets of course, but I was not one to live in the past. I did not know that my past was going to catch up with me so quickly.
Because I had lots of old friends in the area, getting an under-the-table job was not too difficult. I stashed away as much money as I could to keep it out of Katherine's hands. Things would be rough until she finally got the divorce started, if she did. All three of the kids pitched in without being asked. Under the circumstances, I think they felt sort of obligated. I didn't leave Katherine because they wanted me to, but they seemed to feel that way. Mom and Dad reluctantly took money from us, although I don't think it was necessary. They didn't want me to feel like a moocher.
Katherine called after two weeks and wanted to know if I was going to make the mortgage payment. I told her that I wasn't. Two weeks later she called to tell me that her car insurance needed to be renewed. I gave her the same answer. Katherine attempted to start a conversation related to the affair. She was trying to be apologetic and sincere, but it just didn't come across. I listened patiently as she explained how her friendship with Masterson came about and developed into a full sexual relationship. She assured me that he was only a physical attraction, and nothing more. After several minutes, she realized how ridiculous it all sounded and stopped talking in mid-sentence. I didn't respond.
"I'm sorry, John. I have no good excuse for what I did. I am truly sorry."
She stopped calling after that.
I guess my wife finally realized that the marriage could not be saved, and filed for the divorce. She was faced with a mortgage payment and a car payment, as well as all the utilities. Of course, I was obligated for these bills, but I felt that since thousands of other dead-beat dads were avoiding things like that, so could I. It was worth the risk at this point. I signed the papers, and the power of attorney to sell the house, as soon as I received them. Now it was just a matter of time. Katherine had asked for nothing other than the house. After closing costs and commissions, she wouldn't come away with much.
Rob was getting all his paper work together for college. We had to stay in the state to afford the tuition. Most of the grants would be difficult to get because I had to submit a copy of last year's income tax. I was able to explain my present employment status, and get several of them to waive the income provision. Unfortunately, Rob had other more pressing problems. My past was coming back to haunt me, and he would be caught in the middle.
"Dad, I have a small problem."
"I assume it's something that you feel I can help you with."
"I met a girl a few weeks ago and I really like her."
At least the conversation started out on a high note. Rob had dated several girls though high school, but never expressed any serious interest in any of them. It was refreshing to hear him admit that he might be in a potentially long-term relationship. "I am sure you are not referring to a talk about the birds and the bees."
"No, I think I got that one aced. I met her mother for the first time and as soon as I introduced myself she got upset. After I left, she told Shannon that she couldn't see me anymore. She never did that with any of her previous boyfriends. Her mother did not give her any further explanation. I guess Shannon got a little testy with her mom, because she finally agreed to back off, but only if you talked with her."
"Let me get this straight. This girl's mother will let the two of you date, but only if she talks to me first."
"That's pretty much it. Shannon said she never did anything like this before."
"I guess I can find the time. You set it up and let me know where and when." Rob left the room with a big grin and I sat there wondering why this woman would have to meet with me before approving their relationship.
That evening, Rob drove us to Shannon's place. It was an old shotgun house just off the main drag. The house needed painting badly and the slate sidewalk should have been re-leveled years ago. Shannon was waiting just inside the front door and anxiously opened it, as we approached.
"Hi. I'm Shannon." She was bubbly and cute. I could see why Rob was attracted to her. "We really appreciate this, Mister Rishel. I am sorry about having to ask you over like this, but Mom insisted. I hope you don't mind."
"Don't worry about it. I am sure we can get things worked out in no time."
"Mom. Mister Rishel is here."
My heart stood still as my old high school/college sweetheart, Abigail Connor, walked into the room. "Hello John."
"Hi Abby." The words came out of my mouth automatically.
There was an awkward silence in the room, which Rob quickly broke. "You guys know each other?"
She didn't take her eyes off me. "Your father and I went to school together."
Shannon seemed happy about the new situation. "Well that should make things easier, right?"
"I have a fresh pot of coffee ready. I think we might be more comfortable in the kitchen." I dutifully followed her to the back of the house. As I went to sit, she turned to the kids. "You two better wait in the front room for a while. Turn on the TV and no messing around. I'll call you in a few minutes."
Abby started to get the coffee and I started to reminisce. We were in the fall semester of our final year at Penn State. Abby and I had a fight because I didn't want to come home for Thanksgiving break. She went without me. While she was gone, I partied, got drunk, and got arrested for disorderly conduct. My parents were not happy, and Abby refused to talk to me when she got back. She was still mad at me when the semester ended and she went home for Christmas alone. I was in bad graces with mom and dad, so I stayed on campus over the holidays. That's when the bad news came.
It was between Christmas and New Years when Katherine approached me in the student union. According to her, during one of my drunken binges at the frat house, we had sex and she was now pregnant. Because of the situation with my parents at the time, I didn't want to aggravate them further. Without giving it too much thought, the two of us drove down to Gretna Green that day and got married. I didn't tell my parents until after graduation the next spring. Abby found out about the marriage, when she returned to school, after News Years, and immediately dropped out. I don't know if she ever finished.
"You're daydreaming." Her words woke me up, as the mug appeared before me. She was twenty years older than when I last saw her and still beautiful. My mind was racing, comparing what should have been and what was.
'I'm sorry. I wasn't prepared for this. You'll have to let my brain catch up before I can be worth a shit."
Abby had always been easy to talk to, and I always felt comfortable with her. I don't even remember what we argued about before we drifted apart. It was at that moment when I realized that I didn't even know her married name. Rob had never mentioned what Shannon's last name was.
It was time to break the ice. I was trying to be cool and yet open. "Is there a Mister Abby about, or is it just going to be the two of us for this discussion?"
She didn't smile at my pathetic attempt at humor.
"That's why I asked you here. I am not looking for anything, but I am hoping we can avoid a problem."
"What do you mean 'you are not looking for anything'?"
"John, I never married. I tried dating a few guys, but nothing ever worked out. Most of them were not interested in an unmarried mom and were just looking for easy sex with no strings attached."
"I still don't understand."
"Damn it, John. You are Shannon's father. There, I said it. I was hoping I could tell you in a more sophisticated way, but sometimes things don't work out like we plan."
Of course I had no clue. "Can I have some more coffee?"
"That's it? That is all you have to say?"
"I guess I understand why you told them they couldn't see each other anymore."
"Unfortunately, I think it might have been too late. By the time I figured out that you were Rob's father, they had already consummated their relationship."
"Oh God. You are telling me that my son and my daughter are having sex."
"I am pretty sure."
"I thought brothers and sisters were supposed to hate each other."
The fresh coffee was too hot to drink. I blew across the top of the cup as my daughter's mother stared at me, waiting for some words of wisdom that I could not offer.
"Abby, I don't think we have any choice, do we? We have to tell them and hope that it's not too late."
There was a sudden mood change across the table. "I'm sorry, John. I should have told you, but I just couldn't bring myself to do it. You had just gotten married, and I didn't want to screw things up for you."
"So you choose to ruin your own life instead?"
"I have a beautiful, intelligent daughter. I did not ruin my life, I just had to make a few adjustments."
I drained my cup of coffee and leaned back in my chair.
"By the way, John. I don't want to appear nosy, but where is Katherine?"
"I am afraid that we are estranged." I always thought that was a neat word, but never thought I would get a chance to use it.
"Oh. Sorry I asked."
We sat there for several moments, neither of us saying anything.
"John, do you want to tell them or should I do it?"
"You go ahead and I will support you as best as I can."
Less than a minute later Shannon and Rob were sitting at the kitchen table with us. Abby slid a folded piece of paper across the Formica to Shannon.
"Oh, my gosh!" Shannon immediately got Rob's attention and she hadn't even unfolded the paper yet.
"What's going on?"
"It is the mysterious birth certificate that I wasn't supposed to see until I was twenty one."
Rob looked perplexed. "What the hell is so unusual about a birth certificate?"
Shannon didn't answer. She had unfolded the form and was staring at it with her mouth open. "No. No. This can't be true. There has to be a mistake. Mom, tell me it's not true."
Abby didn't answer her daughter. She was staring at the floor. Rob was trying to look at the paper, but Shannon was hiding it from him."
"Mom, please. Tell me it's not true."
There was still no answer. In disgust, Shannon threw the birth certificate across the table and ran out of the room crying.
"Dad, what the hell is going on?"
"I'm sorry Rob. It was a hard thing for us to tell you, but you had to know."
"Know what? Damn it!"
"Shannon is your sister."
The kitchen fell silent. Far off, somewhere in the house, we could hear Shannon weeping. Rob got up slowing and walked out of the room. I was sure he had a million questions, but he wasn't looking for answers right now. He had more important things to do. A few moments later the sobbing became less intense.
"Abby, you don't happen to have a beer, do you?"
Abby and I had just finished our second beer, when Rob reappeared. "Can we go home now, Dad?"
Two days later Rob decided to speak to me again. Things had been gloomy around the house and I was relieved that something was going to happen.