Room with a ViewbySlirpuff©
I have made this trip so many times I probably could have set my truck on autopilot and still made it up here in one piece, but this trip was different. It normally only took me a couple of hours. This time, however, I had to stop, fill my truck up with gas, and shop for a few other items on my way. It wasn't a planned trip.
We already had three snowfalls in town thus far this year. Up north where I was headed, they have had five totaling over thirty inches. Normally I don't mind driving in the winter, unless it was on hard packed snow or black ice. On this trip, though, more than once I had almost ended up in a ditch, sliding sideways down the road. I usually would have put a couple hundred pounds of sand in the bed of my truck for a little extra traction, but I hadn't had the chance to do that yet. Oh well, I would grab ten or so bags of sand and de-icing salt first chance I got.
After three and a half hours, I was driving through the main streets of Detroit Lakes. I usually took the bypass and skipped the town entirely, but for some unknown reason, I wanted to take a look before heading further north out of town.
It looked like they had been affected by the economy like every other town in the state. A few of the stores were the same as they had been, others had new owners, but there were a lot more empty ones then there had been the last time I was in town. Driving slowly through the downtown, I hoped to see a familiar face. Most people were too busy getting from point A to B to even bother to notice me. I only knew a couple of people in town, anyway. Most of the ones that I knew, that were my age, were long gone. Without any steady work around there was no reason to stay. Detroit Lakes was like every small northern town—it existed on the tourist trade, what little there was left of it. So, after driving from one end of town to the other, I headed my truck north again.
I waved at my neighbor, Art Schwee, as I eased my pickup down the shared driveway, pulling it in next to the side of my cabin. I was thankful Art lived here full time now because he maintained the road leading up to our cabins. Otherwise there would have been no way I would have made it down that windy dirt road without four wheel drive, which my truck did not have. The snow was well over three feet deep but Art and his four-wheel drive Ford F250, with the blade in front, always made sure all the roads going down to the lake were cleared.
After pulling on my stocking cap and gloves, I stepped out of my truck into the cold. I threw the main breaker switch on the outside electrical box, opened up the stiff valve on the propane tank, and finally turned on the water to the cabin.
I walked back to the truck to grab my single suitcase and the box of groceries I'd picked up on the way, before carefully walking up the snow-covered steps leading to the cabin's back door. A quick turn of the key and I was in.
I flipped on the light switch by the back door, illuminating the kitchen and part of the dining room. I watched as my warm breath mixed with the frigid air of the cabin almost freezing it as it came out of my mouth. Damn, it was cold. It seemed that everything had a thin coating of frost on it. I went over to the big space heater in the dining room, lit the pilot light, and waited for a second or two before turning on the gas. A large whoosh was the sound it thankfully made as the gas immediately ignited. I also lit the heaters in the big bedroom and the one on the enclosed front porch. I rubbed my cold bare hands together. It would take at least twenty minutes to heat the cabin up enough to take off my heavy parka. In the meantime I put away the food, hung up my clothes, and brought in a few more items from my truck. There was no need to lock it. I knew no one was going to be bothering it up here.
The cabin was finally starting to thaw out allowing me to take off my jacket and hang it on the coat rack by the heater in the dining room. Stepping into the enclosed front porch, I gazed out of the partially cleared windows—it really was beautiful up here. Like when I was a kid, I etched out a happy face in the frost on the inside of one of the porch windows before scratching it out. There wasn't anything to be happy about.
No one had been up here in the dead of winter in over ten years. That was the year one of our friends flipped his snowmobile and broke his arm. The damn fool was racing across the lake and tried to jump the snow bank in front of our cabin. The machine went airborne, turned sideways in midair, and came crashing down right on top of him. After a quick trip to the small hospital downtown, he and everyone else headed back home to Minneapolis. My wife, Mandy, and I stayed for another night and closed up the cabin. That was the last time anyone used it after the first snow fell. That is, up until now
Most of the cabins on the lake were summer retreats. Besides Art's, I could think of only two others that were occupied year round.
Art used to live somewhere south of St. Cloud. When his wife of fifty-five years passed away a couple of years ago, he sold his house and moved all his earthly belongings into his cabin. Art said he wanted to get away from it all, and up here he has all the solitude he wanted. Being just north of seventy-five, it took us almost two years to convince him to get a phone. I think he finally relented only after Mandy and I agreed to split the monthly charges with him. At least his three kids could now get hold of him.
Within two hours the cabin was toasty warm and all the windows were clear enough to look through. I grabbed my jacket, pulled my stocking cap back on, and dug out the bag of birdseed we stored in the storage bench on the porch. It took me about fifteen minutes to fill the eight or so bird feeders around the cabin. It wasn't long before they were packed with hungry birds. It was relaxing watching them swoop down, grab a seed or two then fly off. Now I wished I had thought to bring my camera, not that I was doing much thinking when I took off.
I spent the next hour looking through the wall of windows, relaxing in my large bentwood rocker. With my feet up on a windowsill I let out my first sigh of relief, no one could touch me here—I was in my fortress of solitude. Finally, I watched the sun start to go down and within minutes it was almost pitch black outside. I turned on the outside lights illuminating the yard and the narrow path down to the lake. I did two more turns around the inside of the cabin before deciding I had better eat something. It had been a while and the cold always makes me hungry.
Breakfast sounded good to me. I fried up a couple of eggs, half a pound of bacon, finally slipping in two pieces of bread into the toaster. Breakfast has always been my favorite meal, no matter what time of the day it is. I did, though, tell myself I'd have to cool it, as I washed down the last bite of egg-soaked toast with my beer. I had drunk too much over the last two days and drinking wasn't going to solve my problems. It may make me feel a little better for a while, but in the end it wouldn't do shit for me. I knew where the anger had come from, but it had been years since I was unable to control it. I was now the laid back guy with the longest fuse of anyone I knew. I think Mandy had counted on that. But just like twenty plus years ago the foulness spewed out of my mouth, my blood pressure rose to record levels, and I lost control—something I'd promised myself years ago I would never do again. But I had a good reason. What scared even me was when I closed my fists while arguing with Mandy. I'd never hit my wife in all our twenty-eight years together, yet at that very moment I wanted to beat the living shit out of her.
I left—for both our sakes—I had to. I drove around for what seemed like hours before ending up at my place of work. I was the materials manager for Hubert Manufacturing, a producer of dry cleaning equipment. I've been there close to fifteen years, and I really loved my job. It isn't rocket science, and as long as my vendors did what they were supposed to do, all was well. Rarely did I run into problems but when I did, God help the son of a bitch who put me in that position. I was fair and expected the truth from everyone I did business with. If you were going to be late, tell me, don't play games. If I knew in advance, I could change the production schedule and work around the shortage. But, if I didn't know and had to stop and change models in midstream, someone was going to pay, and it sure as hell wasn't going to be me.
I'd had a pretty good week up until Thursday night. We had just reviewed our budget numbers for the upcoming year, and although we had beaten last year's final number by quite a bit, they only bumped up this year's budget by five percent.
"Steve, if sales keep up, we'll see big bonuses again this year," Joel, our production manager, said. I could see him mentally spending next year's bonus.
"Hell, Joel, I haven't even cashed my bonus check from this year, much less mentioned anything to Mandy. I just figure this will be our mad money, you know when we want something we really shouldn't be buying. I'll tell her eventually, but not just yet." I was smiling ear-to-ear knowing how surprised she was going to be.
"Won't she be pissed knowing you've kept it from her?"
"Naw. With both kids out of college and now working, it'll be a good surprise after all these years of skimping and saving to make ends meet."
"Maybe you'll even get lucky, that is if you can still get it up, old man," he taunted me, giving me a ration of shit.
"Joel, after twenty-five plus years there isn't such a thing as getting lucky anymore. And as far as getting it up, well if I can't, there is a little blue pill out there that can get a stiffy on a frigging dead guy, so I'm not too worried about it." We laughed, and gave each other another round of shit before going back to work.
It wasn't like Mandy and I had extravagant tastes. We were your normal, everyday suburban couple, whose kids had finally left the nest.
Our youngest, Dawn, finished nursing school last year and was working at Mercy Hospital. It was something she had wanted to do for as long as I could remember. For a while it was a toss up. I thought she was going to be a vet, but when a friend of hers got seriously ill, she moved in and helped her until she was back on her feet. After that, it was full steam ahead to nursing school. She still talks about going on further down the road but right now she wants to put her training into practice.
Our eldest, Ronnie, who is only fifteen months older than Dawn, also went into the medical field; he just took a different path. He is a field technical representative for Cardiac Pacemakers. When he isn't in the lab, trying to figure out why one of their units failed, he is in an operating room somewhere, answering any and all questions the surgeon might have while installing one of the twenty different types of pacemakers. As Ronnie explains it, he isn't the one wielding the scalpel, but he is helping to save lives. He loves his work, and doesn't mind traveling all around the country, especially in the winter when he gets to make a trip to a warm climate now and then.
They are two of the greatest kids a father could ask for. It's too bad I can't tell them where I am. Knowing them, they would tell Mandy, and she is the last person I want to talk to, at least for now. She'll figure it out sooner or later but at this moment I had the peace and quiet I was looking for. I needed time to cool down and think.
When Mandy said that she had waited until after the holidays to talk to me I knew something was up. My wife had been acting funny for weeks and I didn't have a clue why. Normally the holidays were our time. Between Thanksgiving and New Year's I was always in a fantastic mood, not to mention I usually packed on a few pounds.
She was teaching a class on Tuesday and Thursday nights so there wasn't much going on during the week. The fall quarter started off like it always had but then she really got into it. Hell, on class nights she would be humming around the house. Once or twice I asked her to call in sick so we could have a little fun of our own. She would look at me and then tell me she'd never do that, her students depended on her.
When she started coming home a little late, her excuse was she was giving one of her better students a little extra help. As long as she was happy and didn't get home too late it never bothered me. Then a couple of weeks before Christmas she did a one-eighty. She seemed stressed and had lost all that bubbly enthusiasm I'd seen for months. I asked her what was going on, to be told nothing was wrong. Bullshit, something was wrong, and she wasn't telling me jack shit. She got moody and started pulling away from me.
When the quarter ended and Christmas was right around the corner I was relieved. We would have a great holiday and whatever was bugging her would finally go away. The only thing that didn't stop with the quarter were those damn text messages. All hours of the day and night they came in with that annoying beep. Finally I told Mandy to put it on mute.
"Steve, this is the electronic age, teachers have to be available at least by text or e-mail."
"But not twenty-four seven! Just turn it off. Nights are supposed to be our time." She complied, but not happily.
I made sure this was the best Christmas we had in years. I went all out on presents for everyone. Mandy seemed to be pretty much her old self again, so I figured what had been bothering her was long gone.
On New Year's Eve we went out with a few friends. We had a wonderful evening. "I love you, Mandy," I said kissing her while we moved slowly around the dance floor. "I don't know what I'd do without you." I made love to the most important thing in my life that night. I thought when we'd finished I really had finally chased her demons away, but I was wrong, very wrong.
She waited until after the holidays to tell me. I guess no use ruining everyone's holidays, especially not knowing how I was going to react to what she had to say. When she somberly asked me to sit down Thursday evening after dinner, a million things went through my mind and none of them good. The way she looked I thought she was sick and had been keeping it from the kids and me.
"Steve, you know I love you, don't you?" Mandy said, holding both of my hands in hers. "All these years we've always been one hundred percent honest with each other, I don't want it to stop now, no matter what."
"Hon, whatever is wrong we can beat it together, just like we always have. Let me know what we're up against, and we'll take it from there." She sighed and took a deep breath.
"Steve, it's not that easy, or should I say it involves someone else."
"You mean the kids? You told them first?" I replied, a little pissed at that prospect.
"No, not the kids Steve, someone else." I was puzzled. It seemed like she was talking in riddles.
"Mandy, I don't understand. Will you just tell me what's going on?" She paused for a moment, squeezed my hands a little tighter, and leaned forward.
"Steve, I met someone." She started to say more but stopped when I interrupted.
"Mandy, met someone? Who? What are you talking about? Spit it out, will you?"
"He was a student in my last quarter evening class and I, we..." She stopped again. I could see the beads of sweat forming on her brow. "Steve, it got complicated and after a while I thought I sort of felt something for him. Steve, I was so confused. I tried to tell you a couple of times, but I just couldn't."
This wasn't what I thought she was going to tell me. This was starting to sound like something out of my worst nightmare.
"Mandy, what the hell did you do?" I demanded, trying my damnest not to lose control.
"Steve, we didn't do what I know you're thinking, but I did cross the line on what I did with him. I'm sorry. I wasn't drunk but somehow it just got out of hand.
"Mandy, are you trying to tell me you had sex with someone else?"
"No, I'd never do that."
Five seconds, ten seconds, maybe an hour passed, I don't remember. My brain was trying to process what it had just heard come out of my wife's mouth.
"He was in my evening composition class and over the last four months we'd gotten to know each other. I'm not sure, but I thought I might have had some feelings for him. I desperately needed to talk to you about it only I couldn't, not until I understood it myself."
I pulled my hands away from hers and stood up. I took a few steps, but there was nowhere to go in our small kitchen. I didn't know what to do with my hands, as they moved to my head, arms, and everywhere in between. I finally registered what my wife was telling me.
"Steve, we didn't do anything, you know, physically until the last night of class. We'd talk, grab a bite to eat, or sometimes a drink after class. I want to be upfront and honest with you. I could always talk to you about anything, that is until this happened. Steve, talk to me, will you?"
I couldn't. I couldn't think much less talk at this moment. Finally, my growing anger at this new revelation took over. I slammed both hands on the counter.
"I think you should leave." I said it quietly, with no apparent outward emotion, without so much as looking at her.
"Steve, I love you, I don't want to leave you. I'm just telling you I'm confused. This has never happened to me before." She stood up walking over to where I was standing. She reached for me, but I pulled away like I'd been stuck with a hot poker, and in a way I had.
"Mandy, for God's sake will you please get the hell out of here? Go to your sister's or your parents' house, but please get the fuck out of here before I say what I'm thinking and kill our twenty-eight years together." I could tell I was already starting to lose it. I could feel the rage building.
"Steve, I'm not having an affair or anything like that." That pushed me over the edge, and I finally did lose it.
"For a college educated woman, you truly are one stupid son of a bitch. What the fuck were you expecting? That I'd say, that's okay honey, explore your feeling and get back to me when you finally figure it out? You don't consider dinners, drinks, and the like, cheating on me? So you haven't fucked him yet, be still my heart! How about hand holding, kissing, or whatever else the two of you did?" I could see her backing away from me slightly as the octave of my voice went up a step higher.
"I guess that look on your face says it all. I never thought a wife of mine would turn into nothing more than a common fucking tramp."
"Steve, I didn't sleep with him!" The level of her voice rose up for the first time. "And, I'm not a tramp."
"Let's see, secret meetings after classes, and with whom? A God damn student of yours, no less. I wonder what the college dean would say about that?" For the first time in our marriage she didn't have a quick comeback line.
"Mandy, get the fuck out of my face. Leave. I don't care where you go, just get the hell away from me." She wasn't listening to what I was saying, but came running towards me, wrapping her arms around my waist.
"Steve, I love you, don't you understand?" I pulled her arms off me and pushed her away hard. "Steve..."
"Mandy, as God is my witness if you don't leave..." At that point I realized I had raised my hand over my head and closed my fist. She looked terrified. Would I have hit her? Honestly, I couldn't be sure. All I knew was one of us had to get the hell out of there before I found out, and since it wasn't going to be her it had to be me.
In one quick motion I grabbed my jacket and truck keys from their resting place by the back door. For a split second I wondered if Mandy was going to try and stop me. For her sake I'm glad she didn't.