An Average DescentbyJidoka©
I was staring at my computer screen when she walked into the den. She had been coming home from work late for a long time. Today was no different. It was almost 10:00. The kids and I had already had dinner and finished homework. They had been in bed for almost an hour. They hadn't even asked about their mother or why she wasn't home. That was a recent development and it saddened me.
I had spent the last hour reviewing our finances. During the last two years things had gotten dramatically worse. Our income was way down, not that my wife had noticed. She was still spending freely, as if we didn't have a care in the world. I had just finished paying the latest round of bills. We could maybe make it another couple of months. I had been reviewing my life plan, too. Maybe I had made a mistake. I had spent the last two years staring at a ticking time bomb, wondering if it was ever going to detonate. I always figured it would at some point but I was starting to have my doubts.
I don't know how long she stood there staring at me. I was getting lost in my own thoughts more and more often lately. Losing track of time was the byproduct. Finally, with her arms crossed and the all too familiar look of disdain on her face, she spoke.
"Michael, I want a divorce."
I am not sure what my feelings were at that particular moment. My spirit was so overburdened with self doubt and loathing, I was almost numb to any new emotions. It really wasn't really all that funny but I still found myself trying to stifle a laugh. My wife of 17 years had just told me we were over, that all we had built together would finally be torn apart. I hadn't felt this particular emotion in a long time, and it almost made me smile. Relief.
I looked at her for just a moment, allowing myself a final journey to our happier times. Then it was back to reality.
I was a better programmer than a manager. Unfortunately, programmers get promoted to project leaders, then to department chiefs and then to senior management. That is how I ended up as the senior manager of product development. It was just a fancy title for a salesman. The reality was, at the time, I was the most qualified for the position. I had birthed our flagship product line almost by myself. I had nursed it through infancy, helped it grow during six successive upgrades. I knew our product best. When customers had questions, I had answers. When our staff had problems, I knew how to fix them. Add a new hairstyle and overpriced suit, and I sure looked the part.
The increased salary and benefits that came with my promotions were nothing to sneeze at. I would say I was mostly content with my job, but I loved programming and missed it a great deal. In my position I never had the chance to do it. There were just too many meetings and phone calls to allow myself the luxury of jumping back into lines of code. I was forced to watch a new batch of young, wild eyed kids trying to one up each other with their latest developments. I won't lie. Being the boss was worth it, but I always wished that my job duties were a bit different.
It was no surprise when I was fired from Chicago Technology Solutions. If I was in charge of me, I would have done the same thing. My attendance at meetings was sporadic at best and too many deadlines had been missed. At the time, I wasn't trying to get fired but I really didn't make any attempt to keep my job at CTS.
I had been in a funk for a long time. It took me almost three months to get over my original depressed state and try and move forward. But that had been a miserable failure, too. It took me another month to find a solution to the predicament I found myself in, at least one that I could live with.
I think I would have lost my mind had if I didn't have the kids. They had an unblemished routine that helped me get my life back on a positive track. Breakfast, school, snack, homework, dinner, bed. Breakfast, school, snack, homework, dinner, bed. That was my mantra and it helped me find my way. I dove headfirst into being a stay at home dad. I took over all the housekeeping and taxi duties. The kids genuinely enjoyed my increased presence in the house. That allowed me to realize I had some value. I wasn't completely worthless.
If my wife sensed this change in our family dynamic, she never mentioned it. I am almost positive that she didn't even notice.
I met Jennifer Reilly at a fraternity mixer. I had almost decided not to go. I had joined the fraternity for the doors it would open after graduation not to attend parties while in school. I figured I was going to need all the help I could get. My grades were outstanding, so that wasn't a worry. However, everything else about me was just average. Height, weight, looks, personality. Average. My name, Michael, was the most popular name from 1961 to 1988. Completely average. To be honest, when I was away from a computer, there really wasn't anything all that unique about me.
Dates? I had a few. Relationships? Well, not so much. I was getting pretty good at keeping myself company even during my senior year of college. Until I saw Jennifer Reilly.
Jennifer was almost as average as me. I realized that average on a woman looked a whole lot better. She was a bit of a wallflower. I watched her for quite some time before I could gather up enough courage to speak to her. Our initial meeting was brief and quiet, but introductions were made. In the next few weeks we met for coffee and shared study time at the library. We had been talking for almost two months before our first real date.
From that date on it was the most fantastic time of my life. Fifteen years of bliss. Our courtship was short, our engagement was even shorter. We were married and at home in our first apartment in Chicago soon after graduation. We shared a morning and evening train to and from our first jobs. We were barely making it financially, but we were in it together.
We had nearly everything in common. Family histories, dating experiences, shared interests and goals. Where we didn't match, we meshed. If there was something that I didn't do well, Jennifer did. If she had a shortcoming, it was one of my strengths. I was better at managing our shared finances. Jennifer was better at keeping our social and family schedules. We worked together, and our lives quickly started to improve.
We were both promoted several times over the next few years. Our friend group expanded a great deal. We were able to save money for our first home purchase and still travel and entertain ourselves.
Our sex life had started off much like our relationship...slowly. We held hands and kissed from our first date on. We moved on to heavy petting when we realized that we were exclusive. Our virginities lasted until the night of our engagement. From there our passion grew with our shared success.
Jennifer quit her job after eight years when our son, Jacob, was born. Our daughter Emily followed a little over a year later. Yes, I know their names were, in fact, the most popular names when they were born. It was sort of a family tradition.
We bought a three bedroom house in the suburbs with room for a dog. We purchased a family sedan and a minivan. In general our lives had shaped up nicely. Two kids, a pet, a house, and two cars. Completely average. I didn't think it was possible for me to be any happier.
I was wrong. My promotion to manager happened shortly after Emily's first birthday. After that it was almost like I was being rewarded for years of being ignored as one of the average masses and not complaining. Like I said, my new salary was nothing to sneeze at and we didn't. I had flexible scheduling, working from home most days, heading to the office for staff and management team meetings.
They say that money can't buy you happiness. I believe that is true. What it can by you is stylish clothes and personal grooming, better healthcare, a newer home in a better neighborhood and confidence. I went from average to slightly above average. My wife went from average, which I thought was beautiful, to slightly above average, which I thought was fucking HOT. Our sex life which I always felt was good, hit a new high. We travelled better and were able to spend time with the children all while saving more and more money for retirement.
When Emily started elementary school, Jennifer decided she wanted to go back to work part-time. She quickly found a job that she thought she would like at a start-up marketing firm. She would head to her office when she took the kids to school. She ended her day when it was time to pick them up. It was the icing on the cake.
We didn't need her salary, so we were able to save it. By my projections by the time the kids were finishing college, we would be able to retire and live a very comfortable life.
I found out my wife was cheating on me by accident three months before our 15th wedding anniversary. It was my birthday. I actually found the evidence two days before my birthday, I just didn't know it. It took me a few weeks to piece it all together.
I didn't make much of the fact that my wife wanted to take a more active role in her new job. It meant that she would work a few more hours a week and I would have to pick up the kids from school. But that didn't really affect my schedule at all and I was glad to do it.
When, after about three months, I noticed that she was often distracted I asked her about it. She said she was trying to find her stride at the office and was a little stressed. I decided to take over some more responsibilities at home, to relieve some of her burden.
When our passionate sex life took a noticeable dip, we talked about it. She said she was getting older and didn't need to 'fuck like a rabbit'. It was the first time I had ever heard her say the word 'fuck' but things improved. Our sex life did pick up for a few weeks, then dropped off again. I was hesitant to mention anything again for fear of an argument. I was almost at my wits end, when I found the present.
The weather had cooled considerably and I was looking for one of my sweaters. I had taken on laundry duty and had more than once mixed up which closet the clothes should go in. I was shuffling through sweaters on her closet shelf when I saw it behind several old shoeboxes. It was hard to miss. The pink box and white ribbon from the lingerie store was unmistakable. The card addressed to 'Lover' got me excited. A small war of thoughts broke out in my head for a moment. Should I look, should I wait? I decided to look. I wasn't sure I was going to be able to wait until my birthday to ravage my wife after reading the card.
'Please excuse the packaging that this gift came in. You can unwrap your real present on your birthday when I am wearing what is inside the box. Then you can have my last virginity. Love always, Jennifer.'
I had always wanted to try anal sex. We had never moved past some mild finger probing. I was hard as a rock just thinking about it. For the next 48 hours I stepped up my game. I made sure to greet her at the door with flowers, gave her a foot massage and I made her favorite dinner. Her reaction was not what I expected. It was like she was tolerating my affection.
The day of my birthday, I made sure that the kids finished their homework early. I didn't want any problems interrupting my gift. I was a little surprised when Jennifer was home late from work. I was even more confused when she asked me what was for dinner. But I was willing to play along to get my surprise.
I said we should go out for pizza. The kids cheered and we were off. Michael conspired with our waitress and just before we left I was serenaded with Happy Birthday by the wait staff. I thought I saw surprise in my wife's eyes, but she quickly recovered.
"I'll give you your present later, Michael," she said as she smiled.
The drive home was tense for me. I almost got in an accident. The 15 minutes waiting for the kids to get ready for bed was brutal, but the 15 minutes after that, waiting for them to fall asleep, was excruciating. Fortunately, Jennifer was back from an emergency trip to the store for milk shortly after they were asleep. When I arrived at the bedroom door, Jennifer wasn't in the room. I went to sit on the bed. A few moments later she walked out of the bathroom in a full length flannel nightgown, face devoid of make-up, with her hair in a ponytail. I was getting a little frustrated with the games at this point. When was I going to get my present?
She slid into bed and under the covers. She reached to turn off her bedroom lamp, then stopped.
"Oops...I almost forgot." She opened a drawer on her nightstand and pulled out a small square box, wrapped in the multicolor balloon paper we had used for Michael's last birthday, and handed it to me.
"Happy Birthday, dear."
And that was it. She rolled over, shut off her light and went to sleep. I was too shocked to even open her gift.
My depression started in full force the next day. I replayed the day's events over and over in my mind and could not figure what I had done that had so clearly put a damper on our evening. I was at a total loss. I stewed in my own despair for almost two weeks. That damn present was almost blinking pink at me announcing my failure.
I have heard all the clichés. The husband is the last to know, etc. I have to be honest and say that I was legitimately clueless. The thought of Jennifer cheating on me was so foreign that I never, not once, considered it was possible. But it was the first thing that popped into my head when she called home 13 days after my birthday announcing she would be late getting home.
"It's Allen's 30th birthday and the staff is taking him out to celebrate. I might be pretty late."
I don't remember responding to her, or walking to the bedroom closet, but I do remember looking at the empty space where 'my' present once sat. I also remember the horrible pain in my chest and throwing up in the bathroom. For longer than I care to admit, I thought I might be having a heart attack, and for a few moments I hoped that it was true and that I would soon be dead.
Allen Henderson was Jennifer's boss, a slick, sleazy looking advertising executive who was a few years younger than both Jennifer and me. I had only met the man once, and I remembered not liking him very much, mostly because he seemed so disingenuous anytime he was speaking.
It was Emily that brought me back to my senses.
"Are you OK, daddy?"
It took a few seconds before my eyes focused on my daughter who was hovering over me on the verge of tears.
"I am fine sweetheart. Daddy just ate something that didn't agree with his stomach. I'll be out in just one minute. I just need to clean myself up."
I did eventually get myself out of the bathroom, though I don't remember much after that. I do remember grabbing my dusty bottle of scotch.
Based on the headache I had the next morning, I knew that I had thrown down several glasses. I had no idea when Jennifer had returned home. When I found her in the kitchen feeding the children the net morning, she didn't look like anything out of the ordinary had happened. She was just going through her routine. It was the slight wince I saw in her face when she sat down to eat that killed any love that I had left. It was very subtle but it was there.
I wish that I could write about how I confronted my cheating bitch of a wife. But I didn't. I was just devastated. It was all I could do to move. And it didn't get any better for several weeks. I was a zombie. As I recognized each day that my wife was going through the motions at home without a care in the world, I felt worse and worse. I thought I had hit rock bottom.
It took me until the weekend of my 15th wedding anniversary to shake myself and decide to take action. I probably wouldn't have done anything. I was being a wimp. I knew it. I would like to say that I was in shock. There probably some technical psychological terminology for my behavior. If my dad were alive, he would have just said I was being a pussy. He would have been right.
It wasn't until my wife announced that she had to travel for work conference that the fog lifted from my thoughts. She would be gone during our anniversary. I am not sure why this mattered to me. It was just one more level of disrespect. But it hurt, mostly because she gave no indication that she was even aware of the date.
After drinking myself to sleep on the night of our anniversary, I woke up angry. I had hit my limit. I called my lawyer and made an appointment. I was going to end this charade. I was certain my life couldn't get any worse. I was wrong.
The take no prisoners attitude I entered my attorney's office with was replaced with a crushing disbelief. I knew divorces could be difficult. I thought that my wife cheating on me would work in my favor. Instead my lawyer punched hole after hole in my case. I had no evidence of an affair. If I had evidence it wouldn't really matter. My wife would be entitled to a 50/50 split of our assets. I had no evidence of my wife being an unfit parent. My best hope would be shared custody. Our income disparity also worked in my wife's favor. I would pay spousal maintenance and child support. My wife would likely be granted primary custody and be entitled to remain in the house for the good of the children. My wife was a cheating whore and I was the screwed buffoon.
I went from depressed to distraught. My whore even asked me about it after a few weeks.
"You really don't look good Michael. Is something bothering you?"
At least she pretended to care. Me, I just wandered through life. Then I got fired. I didn't know it at the time, but it was the best thing that ever happened to me.
It was the evening news that gave me a glimmer of hope. I was watching depressing story after depressing story, it seemed to coincide quite nicely with my mood. But then there it was. A major east coast employer had gone bankrupt. Former employees were scrambling to get final paychecks and were worried about their pensions. I actually felt like some people might be in a worse position than I was. Then the talking head came back on screen with his analysis. The employees would likely win a judgment against their former employer, but it wouldn't matter. There was nothing left. All of the money was gone.
It didn't take much for me to connect the dots and form the basics of a plan. My wife couldn't take what wasn't there. We would have nothing, so we would split nothing. Sure I would be screwing myself at the same time, but I was already going to lose half anyway, did I really care about the rest?
My plan started out simple enough. I was unemployed and I wasn't going to look for work. I was going to spend our life savings until there was nothing left. I admit it was a harebrained idea. Even I didn't think it would work. But it was something I could cling to.
Two years is a long time. It was painfully boring for me when I was alone, which was most of the time. I realized that Jennifer really had been the life blood of our friend group. As she distanced herself from me, I found myself without any truly strong friendships. I was an only child. Both of my parents had died young, dad from a heart attack, mom from cancer. I was truly alone. I know a blow by blow accounting of my time would be boring for you to read about. I can sum up my life easily by saying it was dreadful. For two years my children were the only thing right in my life.
I had never before spent money on anything extraneous. I was still keeping receipts for everything I purchased. I started making small weekly cash withdrawals and setting the money aside. It occurred to me after about two months that we weren't spending money fast enough to make any difference. Apparently, I was really good at saving money and not so good at spending it. So I upped my game and made some adjustments to my initial plan.