What You Wish For Pt. 01byRehnquist©
When I wrote my last story, I promised my next one would be a detective story of some kind. Sorry. I lied. Maybe not really a lie, so much. More like I tried to do it, but the story just kept going nowhere. Then I was out for drinks a month or so back and heard a guy telling his story. It started the way this one starts, and it got me to thinking about why people act the way they do. And it also got me to thinking about the endless criticism I get for not fleshing out my female characters enough–a criticism, granted, that was more muted with The Bar and Grill, bit is valid nonetheless.
So I decided to write this one and see where it took me. Halfway through the outline, it all just clicked. Sure, you may hate it, so the outline may have sucked. But it was easier than hell to write. And, even though the main character and storyteller is a male trying to figure out life after divorce, the more interesting characters–at least the ones I really enjoyed inventing and writing about–are the women. None of them, I think, are really the same. All of them, I fervently hope and pray, are three-dimensional. So be forewarned: Three-dimensional characters have flaws. Sorry, but I'm trying to write about real life.
Before you begin, I want to warn you about a few things. First, this is a 6-part series. Don't, for God's sake, judge the book by the first part. Unless, of course, it really sucks. HarryinVA, please don't hate my main male character until at least part three, but make damned sure you weigh in with your thoughts. All of you, these characters are going to grow as the story goes forward, so please keep an eye out for that.
And DanielQSteele, get your ass moving on When We Were Married! (Sorry, but I'm going to nag you until you're done with it. Despite my comments to the past several chapters, you really are fucking brilliant!)
Thanks to all for taking the time to read this, and particular thanks to those who take the additional time to comment.
"Beware what you wish for. You just might get it."
I can't count the times my old man said that.
Cliche? Oh yeah.
True? Yep. Definitely. Without a fucking doubt.
Take my marriage, for example. For years, I'd dreamed only of marrying Kristin, having a big house and, eventually, kids, and having a thriving career making tons of money.
Kristin? She wanted–I thought–the same things. Come to think of it, she did want pretty much the same things. You know, a life of leisure and glamor, a happy marriage to her high school sweetheart–that's me–and a big house and a bigger credit limit.
Most of our dreams were realized before they destroyed us.
Truth be told, though, my marriage was dead five years before the paperwork was signed, sealed, and filed with the Clerk of the Court. I just didn't know it at the time.
The cause? Doing what Kristin wanted–chasing those dreams–and moving to West Palm Beach so I could take a high-paying job as a bond salesman.
"West Palm," she said, her pale blue eyes sparkling. "Just imagine, Tyler. Palm trees, beaches, warm sun."
She smiled, one of those thousand-watt smiles showing her perfectly straight, sparking white teeth and the cute little dimples on her cheeks.
"Especially no snow."
"And a good job," I said.
"A great job, baby," she said, leaning in for a tight hug before attacking me with her lips and tongue.
So, based on her initial reaction, I suppose you'll just have to excuse me for being surprised that her dream wasn't all she'd thought it would be.
Still, I didn't expect her to play it quite the way she did. To the contrary, her ultimate actions still stun the hell out of me.
* * * * *
Three years after moving to West Palm, the problems began in earnest. Silly ass me, though, didn't really spot them for what they were. She's just homesick, I thought at the time. Needs to keep her mind off of her sister and parents back in Grant City and stay focused on everything that was going well for us at the time.
By that point, I was the third-highest selling bond salesman in the company, raking in over a quarter mil a year. We had a nice house mortgaged to the hilt, a pair of luxury sedans in the garage, and Kristin had a deep tan and extensive wardrobe. What she didn't have was a job or many friends. Or me, for that matter.
The problem with being such a successful bond salesman–and the reason they paid me a quarter mil a year–was that I was gone half the time. Flying from Dallas to Atlanta, then the Big Easy to the Big Apple, peddling our products to the end salesmen who would sell them to the public or their chosen few customers. When I wasn't flying out two or three weeks a month, I was working seventy hours a week trying to line up new contacts and future sales. All right? Get the picture? I'm a dumb ass, and I should probably have been paying a little better attention back at the home front.
Of course, Kristin grumbled, but that always led to a whole new series of issues.
"Can't you just cut back a little?" she'd say.
"Sure," I'd shrug. "No prob. So long as you can, too."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"You know exactly what that's supposed to mean. The shopping. Jesus, Kristin, I can cut back all you want. But if I do, we won't have as much money, okay?"
She'd pout over that one. Seeing her pout, I'd try–every damned time, clueless that I was–to point out reality to her.
"Of course," I'd continue, "you could always go get a job yourself, y'know. I mean, you've got a degree."
"But I'm not certified to teach in Florida."
"Then get certified. And when you do, I'll cut back and we'll– "
"I don't want to teach, Tyler," she'd say, usually in a louder voice. "You know that."
Then I'd try every argument I could think of. If she just got a job, she'd meet new people, make new friends, earn more money, not sit at home bored all day, I'd be able to cut back, and so on and so on.
But my arguments fell on deaf ears.
She wanted to have it both ways. She wanted to be taken care of–just like her dad had always taken care of her mom–but she wanted me home every night, too. She wanted the Ward and June Cleaver lifestyle, though considerably more high end than little Beaver Cleaver had ever envisioned.
And me? Well, I wanted to give her what she wanted. She was the one. The love of my life. The only girl I'd ever dated since we'd started going steady as sophomores. Through high school and college and on into marriage, we'd always been together. Everyone told us, right from the start, that we were the perfect couple. Smart, attractive, popular, outgoing. You remember us. The homecoming king and queen for whom everything always came easy.
And, right up until our move to West Palm, everything always had come easy. Then I got into the real world of high finance, though, and found out it required hard work. And long hours. And making sacrifices.
I was ready, willing, and able to make those sacrifices, though. I hadn't come from money. Both Mom and Dad worked their fingers to the bone to make sure Benny and I had everything while growing up. They'd made sure we had our own jobs, too. From fourteen on, I'd cleaned the shop and sharpened the tools and stacked the lumber and done all of the other crappy jobs at Dad's custom cabinet making and woodworking shop, so I knew early on what it was to put in twelve-hour days.
Kristin never understood that, though. Her dad was President of Grant City Savings Bank, and she'd never had a job in her life. Come to think of it, I don't think her mom ever had a job, either. And I know for a damned fact that her sister, Priscilla, never worked. Oh no, not pretty little Priscilla. She'd gotten her teaching degree and certificate, then married the first lawyer she could find. She was happy at home with her four children and her husband breaking his back to keep her happy.
So yeah, you're right. I should've seen it coming from afar. But I didn't, so what're you gonna do? I mean, remember: We'd been together for eleven years; she was the only girl I'd ever dated; and I simply couldn't imagine a life without her.
* * * * *
The situation became critical in Year Four. Looking back on it, with my head finally out of my ass, I see now that I really missed my chance to save our marriage then.
"I wanna go home for a few weeks," she said as I packed my suitcase for a trip to Vegas.
"Tomorrow," she said.
"When're you gonna be back?"
She shrugged. "Dunno. Maybe a couple weeks."
"Jesus, Tyler, you're gonna be gone for ten days this time. And I'll be here. For ten days. Alone. With nothing to do."
"C'mon, Kristin," I said. "Why don't you just get a– "
"I'm not getting a goddamned job," she yelled. "Get off it already. I don't want that. I want a family. Why can't we just start a family, Tyler?"
This argument had been going on for almost two years, too, but I didn't want to be an absentee dad.
"Can't you just wait a little longer," I pleaded. "Let me get the second mortgage paid off and the first paid down some more. Then I'll be able to afford to cut back on the travel and the hours."
"Yeah. Right. And what the hell am I supposed to do in the meantime?"
"You could help is what you could do," I yelled, surprised at my sudden frustration. "You could use your fucking degree and get a goddamned job and maybe contribute instead of spending every goddamned dime I bust my ass for."
Her initial shock turned to fury. "Fuck you," she said, stomping off. "I'm going home to see my folks. I'll be back when I'm back."
That first stay had lasted nearly a month. I tried calling her every day, but I was back home from my ten-day trip before I caught her at home.
"What're you doing that's keeping you so busy?" I asked.
"You know. Catching up with old friends. Spending time with Cilla and the kids."
My attempts to get more detail, or to even try warming her up to me, were brushed off with vague answers and hollow professions of her love. I'd known it at the time, but was afraid to admit that my marriage may be crashing and burning.
When I offered to take some time and fly up to see her and our families, she just ignored me, so I didn't.
I was treated to the same cold shoulder the next time she flew home about five months later, too.
* * * * *
Ten months after Kristin's first trip home, I returned from a small jaunt to Minneapolis. Five days before Christmas, and I was taking the next two weeks off.
Best of all, while in Minneapolis I'd snared Midlands Financial as a client, all but insuring a steady stream of ongoing sales and–probably–a promotion to that most coveted vice president slot I'd been shooting for. The hours would still be long, probably fifty or more a week at least, but my out-of-town travel would all but disappear. And with the commensurate raise in pay, coupled with the commissions from sales to Midlands, now was the time to start that family.
"I've got a big surprise for you," I'd told her the night before on the phone.
Kristin hadn't seemed all that thrilled, though. No anticipation, no trying to get it out of me. Nothing. Just, "Sure, Tyler. We'll talk when you get back."
But we didn't talk. And we'd never be having that talk, I realized standing in my entry foyer and looking at my nearly-empty living room.
While I was gone, she'd gone about the business of getting gone herself.
Without a word of warning.
Two weeks later, Sunday morning at ten, my phone rang.
"Ty, honey, what's going on?"
"Hi Mom," I said, deflating. It wasn't Kristin. "I don't know what's happening. Kristin's gone."
"Why didn't you say anything last week?"
We spoke every Saturday or Sunday. Mom and Dad and me.
"Ty?" she repeated.
"I don't know what's going on. She left. I came back from a work trip and she was gone."
"She's back home," Mom said. "With her folks. I saw Dorothy at the store the other day. She told me."
"She tell you why? Give you a reason? Anything?"
"No, honey. Just that Kristin was back home and living with them."
"What're you gonna do about it, boy?" Dad barked on another line.
"Nothing, Dad. I mean, what can I do about it? Fly up there and beg her to come back?"
"You've got to do something, don't you?" Dad said.
"No, Dad. I don't. She's already done it. Made up her mind. Without even talking to me."
"So that's it? You're just gonna give up?"
"I'm not giving up," I said, my voice getting hot.
"Edwin," Mom said, "leave the boy alone. He's confused."
"Well he needs to be unconfused," Dad argued.
"Dad," I said, settling down and trying to keep them from heating up their own argument. "I came home from a trip. I was promoted. I wanted to tell her I'd be working less and we could start a family. Instead, I walked into an empty house. She was gone. Along with most of the furniture. I'm sleeping on the goddamned love seat, okay? No talk, no phone call, no note. Nothing."
"Oh honey," Mom pined.
"Uh huh," Dad said.
"So I'm pretty sure chasing her up to Grant City and begging her to come back would kinda be a waste of time, okay? I mean, she won't even return my calls."
Dad and Mom sighed in unison.
* * * * *
A week later, I was personally served with Summons on Kristin's Petition for Dissolution of Marriage. I think that's legalese for "I'm Moving On, Sucker."
* * * * *
Let's cut to the chase on the divorce. Kristin filed for divorce in Lincoln County, Illinois, which is where we were from and where she was now back living with her folks. The thought of going back home for the divorce was galling, particularly where I'd be taking time off of work and she wasn't working at all. Thus, I sought and obtained a transfer of the action to Palm Beach County, Florida.
That pissed her off, and she decided to hire a real shark. My shark was bigger, though, and she ended up getting a sound thrashing in the blindingly fast divorce action. It was all so simple, apparently, because we had only my one income, a house, no kids, minimal debt, and only a few (healthy) accounts.
The lawyers hashed out nearly everything without the judge's involvement. Since she'd taken all of the furniture, she was ordered to pay the credit cards that were used to buy the furniture. That, of course, came out of her equal share of the equity in our marital residence, which had sold for top dollar two months after she left in the then-hot Florida real estate market.
The only thing the judge needed to decide was alimony. So Kristin had to fly down and attend one session of court. I must say, the starchy, carb-intense Midwestern diet didn't seem to be agreeing with her. She looked a little puffier than I remembered, maybe fifteen pounds heavier. She definitely had the I-fucking-hate-you glare, though.
Anyway, that alimony thing. Kristin sought four grand a month for three years and then it would be reviewed; I sought no alimony at all. The judge, a crotchety old bastard with wisps of gray hairs shooting from his head, ears, nose, and eyebrows and a voice like a rasp, laughed out loud at Kristin's request, and turned a sad eye to my refusal to pay anything. He gave her one year, two grand a month, and I'd never have to pay her another dime. Whatever. It was less than ten percent of my take home pay.
When the bailiff called the recess signifying the end of our case, Kristin stormed from the courthouse without another word. Priscilla shot me a flaming stare, then hurried after her sister.
I just stood there, still just as goddamned clueless as I'd been when first entering my empty house a mere three months before. No note, no e-mail, no voicemail message. When I called to speak with her, she refused to talk with me. Nothing. More than a decade together, and I didn't even merit a fucking explanation.
Was I mad? Nope. I was tired. Befuddled. Confused. Worn down by the whole sorry affair.
What caused it? Barring her explanation, which she didn't seem to want to share with me, I was left to simple conjecture. She was lonely and away from her family. She was lonely with me working all the time. She wanted a family, and I wasn't ready yet.
The sad part is that most of her loneliness had been cured the day I found out she left me. We could now have that family. I'd be home almost all the time. We'd be together more.
Apparently, it was too little, too late.
So there I stood, weary to the bone, watching that courtroom door close behind my ex-wife. The only woman I'd ever loved. The only woman I'd ever been with and ever wanted to be with.
I felt a hand on my shoulder, a gentle weight.
"Sorry, son," the judge said, now standing beside me. His voice was soft, like he could read my absolute emptiness. "It'll get better. Just give it time."
I could only nod, not trusting myself to speak lest I cry like a babe.
Suddenly single, albeit involuntarily, there seemed to be three paths open to me.
First, I could go out and validate that I was still a great guy. To do that, of course, meant that I'd have to spend every waking hour trying to bang every chick in sight. This seemed to have its benefits, of course. Obviously, I'd be expanding my horizons sexually, which had its appeal. Let's face it: Experience wasn't exactly my forte where I'd only been with one woman my entire life. What if I sucked and became a laughingstock?
Second, I could bury myself in my work, in which case I'd probably make even more money that I didn't really need and guarantee absolutely no free time to try finding a life outside of work. Also, I'd only been working so hard to make ends meet and to give Kristin what I thought she'd wanted to be happy. Nevertheless, my old man always seemed to say it best. "Do you want to work to live or live to work?" Now that my salary was topping three hundred grand a year, I decided to work to live.
Third, I could just say fuck it. Quit my job, move, take up a whole new life. That also had a certain amount of appeal. Hell, who doesn't just want to shed everything that's wrong and start anew in some strange place with total strangers who don't serve as a constant reminder that you're a marital failure? It had a certain adventurous panache that appealed to me. You know, a Jack Kerouac thing.
After long thought–at least the time it took me to drink two margaritas–I settled on a course of action. It was going to be all three. I'd work my ass off and go somewhere new, start fresh. I'd be working my ass off on my college major, though. English, not sales or finance. (You'd be amazed how many salesmen are English majors; I mean, other than teach, what the hell else do you do with an English degree?) I wanted to write. I'd loved it in high school and college, but never had the time for it with marriage and work taking all of my energies.
Well, there was no time better than the present, and it seemed the perfect way to get my mind off my life. So I'd spend every spare moment outside work writing. When writer's block hit, I'd go to clubs and try to get laid. No relationships, mind you. I was an emotional train wreck, and the thought of getting closer to a woman than hot, frantic sex made me want to barf. Still, hot, frantic sex sounded pretty good.
I started that very night. I'll never forget it. Most people spend the day of their divorce getting drunk or trying to get laid, but I spent the rest of the afternoon in my apartment trying to come up with story ideas. What if . . . this? What if . . . that? What if . . . a man's wife leaves him for no reason? Then she disappears? And no one knows where she is? And he's lost without her, and consumed with finding her, and is torn over whether she's been killed, kidnapped, or just plain run off?
This guy, the poor bastard whose wife has run off. Let's make him a . . . bond salesman? Too boring. A . . . private investigator? Too cliche. A . . . oh man, I'm close . . . a sheriff? Yeah. A small town deputy sheriff. In a backwards nowhere. Who's beaten down by his job and his existence and the only bright, shining beacon in his universe is the wife who was always too good for him. Close. How about a police lieutenant? After all, it seemed far fetched to think a sheriff could get a month off to find his wife. But where's he live and work? How about Rockford, Illinois, a bigger city of a hundred fifty thousand or so about forty miles from Grant City. That seemed to work better.