A House Divided Ch. 03bycoaster2©
Joanne's promise to keep in touch lasted a little over a week. She phoned three times the week after the Memorial Day weekend and then twice the following week, followed by a brief Sunday call in the next two weeks. She seemed to sink deeper into her job with each passing week and there was no hope she would be home on any weekend during June. The Fourth of July was a mid-week date and I wondered how Jo would mark that Holiday with her family. I had hoped she would tag the beginning or end of that Wednesday and make it a four day weekend with her family. I left the usual messages with her asking the question but by the week before the holiday, I had not received any answer. I was past being frustrated with my wife and her reluctance to keep in touch with her family. Finally on Sunday, Jo called home.
"Hi Mark. How are you?" she asked glibly.
"I'm fine. I was wondering when I'd hear from you. What's your plan for July 4th?" I asked.
"I'm in the middle of a project and I'm not sure I can get home for the holiday." she replied with an apologetic voice.
"I see. Jo, it's been a month since you've been home. Is that what I can expect; a couple of days every month or two?" I asked acidly.
"Don't be like that Mark. You know I'm trying the best I can." she said with a conciliatory voice.
"Jo, I just don't think you give us much thought any more. We're an afterthought it seems."
"That's not fair, Mark. I think of you all the time. You're not being very fair to me." she said in a complaining voice.
"Well Jo, I'm tired of begging. I'm tired of trying to remind you that you have a family. I'm tired of pleading with you to come home to see us. From now on, it's up to you." I said in an angry tone.
"Stop it Mark. You're being mean. I don't deserve this."
"We don't deserve being abandoned by you." I raised my irritated voice. "The ball's in your court, Jo. You decide how important we are. I'm finished begging you."
"Are you giving me an ultimatum?" she asked.
"No, I'm simply putting the monkey on your back. I'm telling you your relationship with this family is in your hands." I said, now angry.
"What kind of attitude is that?" she demanded.
"It's the one that says I don't have the strength or inclination to beg you to remember who we are." I concluded.
"This is very unfair of you, Mark. I thought we had an understanding. I can see I was wrong." she said in her best imperious voice.
"Suit yourself. I've told you what I think. You decide. It's now up to you who we are and what we mean to you." I said finally. "Good bye Jo. Call when you feel like it." I made no attempt to listen for an answer and hung up.
She didn't call back and I knew I had thrown down the gauntlet. She had pushed the wrong button and I was fed up with taking all the responsibility for holding this family together. I was through calling her and leaving messages with a silicone chip. I sat back in my sofa and thought about the likely consequences of this phone call. I had lost my temper and I wasn't proud of myself, but I was, in my mind, justified. She simply didn't give us much thought and from now on, the responsibility for communicating would be hers.
I didn't sleep very well that night. I tossed and turned and my thoughts were filled with recriminations over my burst of temper on the phone with Jo. I argued with myself about how justified I was to be frustrated and angry. On the other hand, this was my wife of twenty years and I couldn't come to terms with how our relationship had deteriorated to this point. Was it my fault? I didn't think so. Jo had to take some of the responsibility. The argument went on all night. By six the next morning, I was exhausted and I decided I was better off getting up and having a shower and finding something to do with myself. Coffee! I knew that would solve everything.
That afternoon I came home from work early. I was tired and I decided to take an afternoon nap. A couple of hours later, around six o'clock, I woke and went downstairs to see if Lindsay was home. She was in the kitchen, had made dinner for herself and was heading out for her regular Wednesday night softball game. I gave her a kiss on the forehead and apologized for not being with her at dinner time.
"It's OK Dad. I guess you didn't get much sleep last night after the phone call with Mom." she said.
"You heard? Oh ... I'm sorry Lindsay. I didn't want you to have to hear that. I should have been more careful." I offered apologetically.
"You really laid it on the line for her ... I'm proud of you Dad." she said smiling.
"I'm not sure it was the smartest thing I could have done; I guess I let my temper get the best of me. I hope I haven't done too much damage."
"You were right, Dad. It's up to Mom to decide. She's the one who left us. She's the one who doesn't call or come here." Lindsay was growing up fast; maybe too fast. I gave her a hug and another kiss and thanked her for her support and wished her luck at her game.
I went to the liquor cupboard and took out the Scotch bottle and poured myself a stiff drink. I walked out on the deck and sat in the warm early summer evening. I had made some big decisions today. Or, at least I had confirmed decisions that I had been thinking about for a while now. I would have to share these with Lindsay and Pete this weekend because all of us were going to be affected by them. I slowly sipped my Scotch and sat quietly, listening to the early evening birds; lost in my thoughts. Sometime later, I rose and went in the house, scrounging for something to eat. I made myself another Scotch while I concocted a sandwich from leftovers and went back out on the deck. I finished the sandwich and the Scotch and put my head back on the lounge chair and again fell asleep.
I guess I sensed someone's presence rather than heard it. I woke, groggy from the sleep and realized it was dark. I looked over my shoulder and saw the outline of a woman silhouetted in the kitchen light. I stood unsteadily and turned to see who it was. I was surprised to see Jo; standing there in her business suit and looking at me wordlessly.
"Hi." I said brilliantly; desperately trying to gather my thoughts. I quickly looked at my watch and saw that it was almost ten.
"Hi Mark. Sorry, I didn't mean to startle you." she said quietly.
"Yah ... it's OK." More snappy dialogue. I was beginning to come around. I stretched and looked at Jo without moving toward her.
"You want a drink or something?" I asked cleverly.
"A glass of wine would be nice." she replied. We were like two fighters in the first round. Both trying to feel the other out; sparring at arms length and circling each other. I walked to the kitchen to get her a glass of wine. Jo didn't follow. When I returned to the deck, she was sitting in one of the deck chairs near the lounge I had been in.
"So, what brings you out all the way to the 'sticks'?" I asked; instantly regretting my smart-assed remark.
Jo paused for a moment while she sipped the wine. "I was very upset at the phone call last night, Mark. I didn't get much sleep after that." she said evenly.
"Well that puts you one up on me; I didn't sleep at all. I caught a nap this afternoon and I guess it caught up to me tonight." I offered lamely.
"I couldn't believe you'd hung up on me."
"Yep. I did. I apologize for that." I said simply.
"Did you mean what you said last night?"
"Yes, Jo. I did. I admit I was angry, but I meant what I said. It's up to you to decide. I'm tired of being the only active participant in this marriage." I tried to keep a civil tone in my voice. I wasn't sure if I had succeeded.
"I think you're being very unfair." she said in an even voice. I've only just started this job. I'm just getting my feet wet and already you're quitting on me."
"You've been gone over three months, Jo. You've been home three times for a total of six days. You don't call, you don't answer your phone and you don't return our phone calls. I talked to your mother and father yesterday and they haven't seen or heard from you since the Memorial Day weekend. So which part of communications am I not being fair about?" I could feel myself getting angry again.
She fell silent for a moment.
"Tell me, Jo. Is this what you really, really wanted? Is this job really worth it? Does it give you great satisfaction?" I asked evenly. "It reminds me of those pet Gerbil cages with the wheel that they run in. They go round and round and no matter how fast they go, they get nowhere! And if they stop running, they get spit out onto the bottom of the cage. That's what your job is like. No matter how hard you work or how fast you run, it'll never be enough. They'll always want more tomorrow. It's the nature of the beast. Can't you see that?" I asked.
"I told you, I'm just getting started. I haven't had time to stop and smell the roses. It's an important job, Mark. I have big responsibilities." she finished in a pleading voice.
"Big responsibilities? Bigger than your family?" I asked in my best indignant tone.
"For now, yes. I have to rely on you to keep things together here until I can get myself organized." she stated emphatically.
"What the hell do you think I've been doing for the past three months? Who do you think pays the bills, buys the groceries, makes sure Lindsay gets her school work done, pays Pete's tuition and board? You haven't contributed a single god-damned dime to this household since the day you left. You've been lost in your selfish little world and you haven't give a minute's thought to any of us until you get pestered about it. Well, I'm through pestering." I had worked myself back into last night's anger all over again.
"I have some news for you Jo. I am not selling my business! I am not selling this home and I am sure as hell not moving to Chicago!"
"What?" she said in open mouthed surprise.
"Why the hell should I uproot Lindsay and myself to go live in some strange suburban ghetto near Chicago so that you can come home once a week or so and pay us a visit like some kind of visiting dignitary. It wouldn't be any different than it is now. There'd always be a reason you couldn't make it home, wouldn't there. An early meeting, a trip to the coast, a conference or a business dinner. Screw that! That's not what I signed on for in this marriage. We were fine until you decided that all that was more important than us." I was sure the neighbors could hear me now. I had lost it and it wasn't very pretty. I saw tears on Jo's cheeks and I think she began to realize just how far she had pushed me.
I finally shut up and sat back in the lounge fingering the glass of Scotch in my hand and looking off into the darkness.
Finally, Jo recovered her voice.
"Are you telling me you want a divorce?" she said sobbing quietly.
"It's up to you, Jo. I keep hoping you'll come to your senses and see what you're doing to this family and to yourself. Have you looked in the mirror lately, Jo? I hate to rub it in, but you look like hell. No amount of makeup or fancy suits can hide what your lifestyle is doing to you. Are you willing to sacrifice your health too?" I stopped again as she continued to sob quietly in her chair, unable to look at me.
"To answer your question," I continued in a quiet voice. "No. I don't want a divorce. I'm praying that somehow we'll get through this and our twenty years together won't be lost in some corporate boardroom in Chicago. But I have to tell you Jo, I won't live like this forever. There's a time limit on my commitment. I'm not sure what it is, but there is a time limit."
"Oh god, Mark. How can I make this work for us? I don't want a divorce ... I love you. I want us to be together ... all of us. I just need some more time ... that's all." She was pleading, but I wasn't sure whether it was with me or with herself.
"Well, there's nothing stopping you from taking the time you need; up to a point. I'll give you to the end of the year, Jo. If we're still talking to each other then, maybe we've got a chance. But, like I said last night ... the ball's in your court. I'm tired of being the only one trying." I had finished. There wasn't anything more to be said about the state of our relationship. The rest of it was housekeeping.
"You're tired. Why don't you get changed for bed and get some sleep. I'll be up in a while." I said.
"Yes, you're right. I am tired. Will you be long before ...?" her voice trailed off.
"No. What time's your flight tomorrow? I'll drive you to the airport." I said quietly.
"Ten thirty." she said softly and then turned and walked back into the house.
For the first time since she had left, we didn't make love. Perhaps it was the fatigue but I felt we had moved farther apart in the past day and yet I knew I had to stand my ground with her. She had to make a commitment to us; not the other way around. I checked Lindsay's room and she was sound asleep. She had no idea that her mother was in the house.
Both Jo and I were up early at six and Jo set about making a full breakfast. When Lindsay came downstairs at quarter to seven, she was surprised to see her mother.
"Good Morning Lindsay," Jo said brightly. "Sleep well?"
"Uh, yah. What are you doing here?" she asked bluntly.
"I needed to talk to your father." Jo replied just as directly.
"Yah, I guess, after that phone call the other night." Lindsay said warily; watching for her mother's reaction.
"You heard that?" Jo asked surprised.
"Yah ... I heard. I probably wasn't supposed to, but I did." she said cautiously. "I'm a big girl now. I can handle it."
"Yes, I suppose you can." Jo said without looking at her. "I'm making some breakfast ... how do you want your eggs?" she asked.
"Uh ... scrambled I guess." she answered quietly. As I walked into the kitchen I could feel the tension in the room.
"Hi Lindsay. I see you know your Mom's here." I said conversationally.
"Yah." Not exactly a ringing endorsement from the fifteen year-old.
"Don't worry, I'll be gone soon enough." Jo shot back.
We ate our breakfast in near silence. Jo tried to get Lindsay to talk about school, but Lindsay wasn't in a communicative mood. At seven thirty, she got up from the kitchen table, said goodbye to her mother and kissed me on the cheek saying she would be home at her usual time and left without another word.
"That was painful." Jo commented. "She's still mad at me?"
"I guess she feels like I do, Jo. She hasn't seen you very much and you're her mother. She used to confide in you and now you're not here. You shouldn't be so surprised." I said in a quiet voice.
"I suppose not. There's not much I can do about it for now. I'll try and talk more often to her; that is if she'll talk to me." she offered.
"It's worth a try." I said "I'll try and convince her to give you a chance. You just have to do your part and call her."
"I'll phone the office and have them transfer some money to our joint checking account. I forgot to arrange that when I started with them. Sorry." she said without much enthusiasm.
"Well, it's not like we have to have the money, Jo. We're OK with my income alone. We're far from short."
"I don't use much anyway, Mark. I live in the Company's apartment rent free and most of my costs are on the expense account. Aside from clothes and the occasional dinner, I don't have much reason to spend money. Most of my salary is in the bank."
"Doesn't sound like much of a life, Jo. Don't you even go to the movies?" I asked.
"I'm usually too tired and not very motivated. I'm just as happy to watch some TV or do paperwork." she replied quietly.
"Don't you have any friends?"
"Not really. I pretty much keep to myself. It's probably better that way. You already know I'm not very reliable when it comes to finding spare time."
"You've always got friends here, Jo. Remember that. You always need friends." I said sincerely.
She nodded in agreement and we spent the rest of our time together in small talk about the neighbors and the town gossip. She seemed down, but I wasn't too surprised. I had been pretty tough on her the last two nights and I hadn't given her much room to maneuver.
I drove her to the airport and we hugged and kissed briefly before she went into the boarding area. It was a far cry from our last parting. I could only hope that I hadn't driven her too far over the edge. I wanted her to examine her life and see what it was doing to her and to our family. I wanted her to understand the risk to our marriage. Only time would tell if I had done it the right way.
I'll give Jo credit. She tried very hard over the next months to improve her relationship with us. She called regularly; often on her cell phone from some airport waiting room or the back of a cab or wherever. She stopped at the house on her way through from one city to another at least once a month and she made a special effort to get back on good terms with Lindsay. She wasn't working any less hard; she was just making sure she took the time to talk to us. It wasn't perfect, but it was a big improvement. Through July, August and early September, she kept up a steady stream of calls and I was hoping that it would lead to more visits, but around the middle of September, things changed and not for the better.
Jo called one evening and said she was beginning her next year's planning sessions. This was the financial plan for the next year and she would be responsible for setting the targets for sales and profits for her division. Or, at least that's what I thought. Jo wasn't in a great mood when she called and I asked her about it. She sounded very tired and somewhat dispirited and it took me a while to get her to tell me what the problem was.
It seemed that the corporation had already set the goals for the next year and Jo's planning sessions were expected to at least validate those plans or come up with even better numbers. It was just as I had predicted. Jo's hard work over the past six months was just the beginning of the cycle. Yes, they were pleased with her progress, but in their world; "Some is good, more is better!" The numbers they had established for her division were very aggressive and would be very difficult to obtain.
"I have to find a way to make their numbers work." she said. "It doesn't matter what I think we can really do, they want these numbers or better." I could hear the fatigue and frustration clearly.
"Well, I hate to say "I told you so", but this was predictable. How long will it take you to put the plan together?" I asked.
"It's scheduled to be done in two weeks; at the end of the month. No extensions! I'm going to have to gather all my staff and immerse myself in this thing. I'm afraid my communications are going to suffer, Mark. Please don't be angry with me. I'll do the best I can to stay in touch." she pleaded.
"I know, Jo. I understand. I'll let Lindsay know too. Just call when you need a break. Someone to talk to who doesn't need to know about the numbers." I had tried very hard to keep it light. I didn't want to discourage her after the effort she had made to improve her contact with us. I would try very hard to be understanding for the next two weeks.
I wasn't surprised that we only had three calls from Jo during that period. She had a short deadline and a demanding target and it would leave little time for herself. I had continued to notice the changes in her appearance each time I saw her and although they were gradual, they were evident. What brought it all into focus was purely by chance one night. On her last visit, I had taken some digital photos with my new camera while she and Pat Carver and the kids were out on the deck. I unloaded the camera into my lap-top computer and then into the file marked 'Family'. I opened the file and began looking at some of the pictures. I was looking at some shots taken last summer when we had replaced the old deck on our patio with a new larger one. I looked at the pictures I had taken of Jo in her sundress and as I scanned through the newer pictures, I came upon the ones I had just taken. I couldn't believe the difference. I pulled up last year's picture and set it along side the ones I had just taken. It didn't look like the same woman. She was gaunt; not just in her face, but in her body as well. She clearly had lost significant weight and although she was of sturdy Scandinavian stock, her recent appearance left her looking almost frail. I couldn't believe the difference and now I was truly worried about her health. I knew I would have to do something, but the question was what. First I had to get Jo to recognize her situation.