Tipping Point Ch. 07bycoaster2©
Chapter 7: Happy New Year
"What are you and Jilly planning for New Years Eve, Tommy?" I asked.
"Oh, we've got a party at the college. We'll be staying with a classmate of hers, so we won't have to drive home. Should be fun. What about you?"
"No plans. Thought I'd stay in and watch some TV. Things have been kind of hectic for me in the last month."
I'd arrived home from Charlotte Wednesday evening, too late for hockey. I still hadn't made it to a single game yet. On the other hand, I had the rest of the week to myself. Business would begin again on Monday. I was enjoying the freedom I felt being in charge of my own affairs. I was now looking positively at my future. Like most of my former colleagues, I wondered why I hadn't done this sooner.
Tommy had left to pick up Jilly for their dinner-dance party and I was alone in the apartment when the phone rang.
"Hi, Stan, it's me, Sylvia." Her voice was soft and tentative. She was the last person I expected to hear from on New Years Eve.
"Hi, Sylvia. How are you?"
"I'm okay, I guess. About as good as could be expected."
That sounded a bit fatalistic, but I wasn't sure where this conversation was supposed to go.
"Uhhm ... Happy New Year," I stumbled.
"I hope so, Stan. I can't wait for this one to end. That's why I called, actually." She paused and I waited for what was coming next.
"I feel I owe you an explanation for my actions ... my attitude. I know it isn't going to change anything, and I know we aren't going to be together, but ... I just felt I'd like to get it off my chest and start the New Year right."
"Uhhm ... well, I guess I can understand that. But I don't think the telephone is the best way to do that," I said, hoping this wasn't leading where I thought it might go.
"I know, Stan. I would like to see you ... face to face ... one more time. I didn't do a very good job of explaining myself the last time. I guess I was too shocked by the change in you. I should have been more composed than I was, but when you told me about Tommy, and that you knew about Peter, I didn't know what to say. You were pretty angry with me that evening."
"I'm sure you can understand why," I said, attempting to keep any emotion from my voice.
"Yes ... I do understand. That's why I wanted to talk to you one more time ... before ... before it's over."
"Alright, I guess I can do that," I said reluctantly. I couldn't think of any benefit other than to learn just what I had done to bring on her behavior over the last three years. Perhaps that would close the book on our life together once and for all. "When do you want to meet?"
"I'll make myself available anytime. I want to do this for me as well as for you. The sooner the better, I think."
"Well, I know it's New Year's Eve, but if you want to come over this evening, or I can come to the house ... unless you have plans," I said quickly as an afterthought.
"No ... no ... no plans. Tonight is fine. I'll come to your apartment, if that's okay?"
"Sure ... anytime after eight."
She thanked me and we hung up. I wondered what I was going to encounter and also wondered if I could hold my temper better than the last time we met. Perhaps the three weeks between had allowed me to cool off and accept what had happened. I would find out tonight. Strange way to spend a New Year's Eve, I thought.
Sylvia arrived just after eight. As she walked into the apartment, I was reminded of how pretty she looked. I hadn't seen her for three weeks and she obviously took care with her appearance this evening.
"Hi," I said simply as I took her coat. "Have a seat. Can I get you something? A New Years Eve drink?"
"Just a glass of wine, please Stan."
I poured us each a glass and returned to the living room. She took a tentative sip, sighed, and leaned back on the sofa. I waited to let her begin. It was her decision to talk, and I wanted to hear it.
"I want to apologize first, Stan. I know I've been hard ... no ... make that impossible to live with in the past while. I want you to know that it was nothing that you did to make me that way."
She paused, and I leaned back in my chair, awaiting whatever came next.
"You know that I was excited when I got my first promotion at Empire Life. It was the first time that I thought that it wasn't just a job and that I might have a career and be successful. I suddenly realized I wanted to be successful. I wanted to move up in the organization. I wanted to be 'somebody.' That started my changing the way I looked at my life, my marriage, and my future.
"When I found I was now reporting to Peter Ambleton, I was happy. He was a dynamic person in our office, and apparently going places in the company. I decided I wanted to follow in his footsteps. He made several comments about my potential, and the opportunities for me along the way. I ate them up. He was telling me exactly what I wanted to hear. I knew about his reputation, even then. He was a womanizer, someone who used women, discarded them when he was finished with them, and moved on. I didn't have any illusions about what he wanted, I just thought I could use him just the way he wanted to use me."
I could see the direction this conversation was heading. In a way, it was fascinating. The timing began to make sense in terms of the change in her behavior.
"In the meantime, I was starting to think of myself as more significant than you. I was a management person in a big company, and you were a traveling mechanic. I began to think I was passing you in importance, earning just as much as you were even though I'd only been working for a couple of years. I know that was unfair, but I was thinking that you would never be anything more than what you were, while I might end up being an executive. I guess I started to look for faults in you that explained why you accepted that role."
I had an impulse to say something, but I didn't. She was right. I had accepted my role. I hadn't fought for or sought anything more. I had gone along with whatever my boss had chosen to give me without saying or doing anything to protest.
"When the cutbacks and austerity program came along at F & C, I was frustrated that you didn't fight it, or find something else. But ... I knew I was afraid what might happen if you quit. You were supporting both of us. I wasn't contributing anything to the household. I was keeping it all to myself. I thought I had earned it, and I wanted it to prove I was a 'somebody'.
"When I learned that Peter was in line for the branch manager's position, I went to him and asked him what I had to do to earn his former position as claims manager. He made it pretty plain that he wanted me to succeed, but I would need to spend some time with him to learn and earn the job. I'm not a complete fool, Stan. I could guess what he wanted. I'm ashamed to say that after thinking it over for a while, I knew I would do whatever was necessary to get that job."
There it was; the confession. Now I knew what had derailed our marriage. Ambition! I had never realized that Sylvia had such a burning desire to succeed. It wasn't something she talked about or expressed to me. She kept it to herself. But there were still some unanswered questions.
"I don't mean to interrupt, Sylvia, but what caused you to be so ... unhappy and negative around Tommy and me? What did we do to provoke that?"
"Nothing, Stan. Nothing at all. It was all in my head. When you started traveling so much more and Tommy was away at college, I was coming home to an empty house more often than not. I was frustrated and angry with myself. I had what I wanted, and yet, it wasn't enough. I bought that car because I wanted to show everyone that I was 'somebody'. I had a big job and could drive a nice car.
"When I came home to you and Tommy, you were part of my past. The part when I was just a housewife; no one special. Neither of you treated me any differently when I went to work. I know it doesn't make sense, but I resented you and Tommy. You were holding me back, keeping me from the recognition I deserved. I was just a wife and a mother to you both."
I was having trouble digesting this all. She was telling me that she thought I had been keeping her from her ambitions, and that I didn't measure up to her new standards. I guess that explained the contempt that she regularly displayed.
"I know I tried to talk to you about your attitude toward us, Sylvia, but I could never get you to open up and tell me," I said, shaking my head.
"Yes ... yes you did. I couldn't tell you the truth, could I? I was selfish; thinking only about myself. I know you were unhappy and I was being a bitch. I almost wanted you to explode and put an end to it ... but you never did. You just accepted me and turned away from me. That was just another frustration. I couldn't provoke you, even when I tried."
I nodded my agreement. She was right. I had just accepted her refusal to discuss her miserable behavior. I didn't fight back and I didn't force her to give me a proper explanation.
"I can maybe understand why you treated me that way ... but ... why Tommy? What did he do to cause you to behave the way you did?"
"Nothing. Tommy was an innocent bystander. He was in the same house at the same time. I just didn't separate the two of you. I thought he was more like you in personality, and I suppose I lumped the two of you together."
"All this is very interesting, Sylvia, but I guess I wanted to know why you gave up on me ... on us? Why did you have an affair with Peter Ambleton?"
"I'm ashamed to say that I used Peter as much as he used me. The first time I had ... sex ... with him, it was after he told me I would be promoted to claims manager. In my twisted mind, I thought I owed him. I knew what kind of a man he was, but ... I thought I owed him. After that, I found I was excited by the act. I was doing something I never thought I would do. I was cheating, but I was doing it to get ahead at Empire. At least, that's what I told myself."
I wondered why I didn't feel anger at this point. She had just admitted that she had betrayed me and had done it deliberately. She was hanging her head with her confession, but there were no tears.
"I guess it doesn't really matter, but ... how often did you see him?"
"After the first time, we got together once a month, when you were on the road. Then, I quit seeing him for a while. I didn't like what I had become and I was taking it out on you and Tommy and some of the people in the office. I went for about a year without letting Peter have me, but I guess he wore me down. You seemed to be away almost every week, and I was lonely and we weren't close any more. This time, I let him seduce me. It didn't have anything to do with Empire or my job. It was just about my selfishness and what I wanted."
"Looking back on it, I wonder if you weren't trying to get caught," I suggested. "You pushed and pushed and finally, that night I came home late and you were still out ... it all boiled over."
"Yes ... I know. I'm not sure if I wanted to get caught, but I wasn't a very happy person. When you questioned me about what I was doing out that late and where the money was going ... I got defensive. I manufactured that temper tantrum, thinking it would stop you in your tracks. I was wrong.
"No one was more surprised than me when you packed up and left, telling me how fed up you were with my antics. I never imagined I could drive you away. I suddenly realized what had happened. How could you do that to me? It was the selfish me, still in control."
"Yeah ... that was the message all right. Even when you phoned me, I was getting that attitude ... loud and clear."
Sylvia was nodding her agreement. "It took me a while to realize you weren't coming back. I was scared. For the first time, I realized I might be alone. I knew I had no future with Peter. It was only a matter of time before he dumped me and found someone else to use. But you ... I thought you would never leave. I couldn't get my mind to accept that you already had."
"What about Tommy? Don't you think you need to talk to him too? Explain yourself, just the way you did tonight?"
"Yes ... of course. I don't want him to think I don't love him. I do. I love you too, Stan. Don't ever think I don't, despite the way I behaved. I know it's too late, but at least take that with you."
Now there were some tears. Now, for the first time, I sensed my wife had true remorse for her actions. She had accepted that she and I would never reunite. She could only hope to salvage Tommy's love. I stood, picking up our empty wine glasses and headed for the kitchen to refill them. Returning to the living room, I set the glasses down.
"I'm glad you did this, Sylvia. It must have been very hard for you, but I'm glad you made the effort. At least I can understand some of what was going on during those months when things were so ... difficult in our home. I don't condone it, and I'm not sure I understand it all, but ... you've done the right thing tonight. Perhaps it's ironic that it came on New Years Eve. Out with the old, in with the new ... for both of us."
I picked up my wine glass and held it toward her. "Here's to new beginnings. Happy New Year." We touched glasses and I saw the faintest smile on her face.
There was an awkward silence for a while until I did something that I hadn't expected to do.
"Why don't you stay over tonight, Sylvia? I don't want you to drive if you've had a couple of drinks. I've got some snacks and more wine. We can usher in that new beginning together."
I think it surprised Sylvia even more than it surprised me. "Thank you, Stan. I'd like that ... especially tonight. I feel better now that I've told you the truth ... or at least the truth as I know it."
I nodded my understanding. My overall feeling was one of relief. The ordeal was over. We had made our peace with each other. I had a feeling that we might even be friends some time in the future. More importantly, I could support Tommy in reconnecting with his mother. I suspected Sylvia would be making some New Years resolutions for herself that might change her path forward.
The bed was already made up in Tommy's room, and no, I didn't sleep with my wife that night. She helped me make some snacks, we watched a movie, drank some more wine, and celebrated the New Year with our wine and a brief kiss. We retired to our respective rooms shortly afterward and I fell into a deep, dreamless sleep.
The next morning was a bit awkward. Sylvia borrowed Tommy's housecoat and I had an extra toothbrush, so we survived our self-consciousness. It was silly, come to think of it. We had seen each other naked many times, although not recently. On the other hand, I wanted her to be at ease.
I made some scrambled eggs, toast, and coffee and we had breakfast together for the first time in a very long time. We talked about mundane, day-to-day things. I explained a bit about my new business and what was happening. She seemed happy for me and was pleased to see me break out of the mold I had been trapped in. We didn't touch on the fact that it was my walking out that had been the trigger for my decision to strike out on my own.
Sylvia left after we finished the breakfast dishes. I hugged her and wished her a Happy New Year once more. I could see the beginnings of tears in her eyes, but she was thankful for my letting her explain herself to me last night. She seemed more at ease with herself and around me. There wasn't any going back to where we were. No second thoughts. It was over.
Tommy came home with Jilly that afternoon. Apparently they had a great time at the party and stayed up until the wee hours of the morning, not getting up until noon today.
"So what exciting thing did you do last night, Dad?" Tommy asked.
"Well, your mother came over about eight o'clock, and we had some wine and cheese and snack food, celebrated the ringing in of the New Year, and then went to bed." I said it all in a very matter-of-fact voice. The look on his face was priceless.
"Holy cow! What happened? I mean ... what happened?" Jilly's face showed the same reaction. It was the last thing they expected me to tell them.
"Your mother called and said she wanted to make a clean breast of things. What had happened and why it had happened. She wanted to apologize to me and you for her behavior and try and explain why it happened."
"And?" Tommy and Jilly said, almost in unison.
"She did. It wasn't pretty and it wasn't pleasant, but I believe she was honest with me. It doesn't change anything except my attitude toward her. I think we can move on with our lives now. She slept in your bed, by the way."
"Oh. That's weird," Tommy said absently. "Not the bed ... I mean ... the confession."
"No ... it was therapy. For both of us. I needed to know and she needed to tell me."
"Was she cheating on you?"
"Do you really need to know?"
"I don't know. Maybe not. It's over now, isn't it?"
"Yeah. It's over. I think she'll want to talk to you, Tommy. I know she wants to apologize to you too. She had a real awakening with our leaving her. I think you'll find her a very different person in the future."
"I'm glad. I couldn't take much more of the way she was. I guess she figured that out when I came to live with you."
"Give her a little room, son. Let her come to you and make things better. She's your mother and she really does love you."
Jilly had tears in her eyes and she came to me and hugged me. She was going to be the daughter we never had, and I was going to be a very happy father-in-law when the time came.
My life continued much the same way that it had in the past month. My client list continued to grow as word got out that I was in business for myself, working on all types of machinery, and available on short notice. It wasn't long before I had to schedule my commitments just as I did when I worked for F & C. Making Copely Services a success was no longer in question.
Sue called me the second week of January and she could hardly contain herself.
"Guess what!" she nearly hollered down the phone line. "I'm being promoted, Stan. I've been given the production manager's job in Charlotte. I can't believe it! Byron called me this morning and wants me to come there to meet the people later this week. I've never been further east than Missouri! This is amazing!"
I was enjoying hearing her enthusiasm and delight at her good fortune. "You've earned it, Sue. Byron wouldn't be putting you in there if he wasn't confident that you could do the job."
"I don't know, Stan. I've never been in that plant. I don't know what to expect. I'm just glad Frank is going to be there for a month to show me the ropes."
"Yeah, he'll have his work cut out for him in Houston."
There was silence on the other end for a moment. "You knew! You knew this was going to happen, didn't you?"
"I did. I was told I couldn't talk to you about it, but ... yeah ... I knew."
"Just after Christmas, when I was wrapping up the Helmvac project."
"And you didn't say a word to anyone?"
"Not a soul. Byron had to get some things in place first, but he wanted my opinion on a couple of things."
"He did? Wow, you've come a long way, baby," she said with a chuckle. The element of joy had been replaced with surprise.
"I was thinking that same thing. When I was flying home just before New Years, all I could think about was wanting to tell you about your new job. Actually, I wanted to be there when Byron told you. That would have been fun."
There was silence again. "You mean that, don't you?"
"Of course. We've become good friends. I want my friends to be successful and happy."
"And that's all it is? Good friends?"
I paused for a moment before answering. "Be patient, Sue. There are things that have to happen before I'm ready to get involved again."