tagNovels and NovellasTipping Point Ch. 01

Tipping Point Ch. 01

bycoaster2©

Chapter 1: Slip Slidin' Away

It was late Friday afternoon and I was half asleep, sitting ... or more accurately slouching in one of those "designed for discomfort" chairs that every airport features. I'd flown in from North Platte, Nebraska, with a tight connection to home base, Cincinnati. No such luck. My commuter flight was on time, but the 737 was nowhere to be found when I got to Denver. It was the airline's hub, but there was no aircraft at my gate. "A mechanical," the girl at the counter said. "We'll let you know." Yeah, right!

I flipped open my cell phone and called home. It rang five times before the answer machine kicked in. I left a message for my wife, Sylvia, telling her that I was delayed and wouldn't be home until late. I looked at my watch and realized she wouldn't be home until later anyway. Friday night had become her night out with "the girls." Ever since she went back to work five years ago she had been exerting her independence. I wondered how much that had to do with her deteriorating attitude toward me and our son, Tommy.

I admit I've been on the road far too much lately; lately being the last three years. It's all a result of the company's "belt tightening." Things hadn't been going well at Faraday and Crosse. We'd been losing market share to competitors. The company made packaging equipment, and had for many years. Old Jonas Faraday, still alive at nearly ninety, founded the company following WWII. At one time, Faraday & Crosse had been a big player in the packaging business across North America. Lately, however, it hadn't been much of a player at all.

We'd been caught and passed by several competitors, both domestic and foreign, and that had resulted in some drastic cutbacks at the plant, as well as in the field. I've got seniority, so that was the good news. I'm also the best service tech the company has. That's not bragging, it's just a matter of having been around longer than the others. Most of the other guys who had worked with me have either retired or quit.

What started out as a six man department was now down to three. On top of that, our quality had been slipping, so I spend more time fixing things that should never have left the factory. Then there was the cost cutting edict. Bonuses disappeared, along with a lot of other benefits. Gone was the company's contribution to the pension plan, the accumulated time-off benefit, and the sick days benefit. I never took advantage of them anyway, but they meant something to a lot of other people.

A couple of years ago we changed travel agents, and at the same time a new epistle came down from above. Any travel had to be authorized by the individual's supervisor. All extended travel (three days or more) should commence on Sunday to avoid wasting a day's work. Return travel was not to commence until after 4pm unless no other option was available that same day. Then there was the matter of our new travel agent.

I was assigned to a woman name Sue Fracas. What an appropriate name! Sue's mandate, I found out later, was to route my travel by the most economic (read cheap) method possible. In addition, our schedule would be set by our supervisor to maximize efficiency. That meant leaving Sunday and getting back Friday after being in two or three different customer plants. It didn't matter how urgent the situation was with our customer, we were going to be efficient, no matter what.

Once the assignments were set, the supervisor would contact the travel agent and she would make the flight, hotel, and rental car arrangements. Take a wild guess how well that worked. After several colossal screw-ups, not to mention irate customers, the plan was scrapped and we went back to making our own travel arrangements. Well, our own except the travel agent would book the flights, hotels, and rental cars, but we would get to tell them where and when we wanted to go, and when we wanted to return. The result was little different. The capper was when Mrs. Fracas routed me home to Cincinnati on a Friday night from St. Louis via Dallas. Apparently, she saved the company fifty dollars.

My son, Tommy, had been listening to my complaints about this woman and suggested I book my trips on my own computer. It was easy to do, he said, and was happy to show me how. In a moment of brainlessness, I agreed, and we set up my next week's travel. Tommy was right. It was easy. On top of that, I could get discounts at various motels and car rental places that I know we weren't getting now.

I was pretty proud of myself right up until the moment the General Manager called me into his office and proceeded to drill me a new rectum. I turned out that Mrs. Sue Fracas was a personal friend of Mrs. Joan Whipple, wife of said General Manager. She found out about my handling my own travel and complained to Mrs. Whipple, who filled the ear of Mr. Whipple. Hence my whipping from Mr. Whipple.

It was at that point I knew I was beaten. He didn't give a damn about my personal comfort or how many hours I spent in airports or hotels. As far as he was concerned, I was living the good life, and I had a lot of damn nerve complaining about it. It was the old joke we shared with the sales reps and my fellow tech reps: The glamour of travel. The accounting mentality now had a vise grip on Faraday and Crosse.

As I sat waiting for the next installment of my flight delay, I was doing some serious thinking. Now this probably wasn't the best time for it, since I was already in a lousy mood, but I got to thinking just what my life was like at this particular moment. I didn't like the answer I was getting. Sylvia had been sniping at me fairly regularly lately. She seemed unhappy about everything, but I couldn't get her to open up and tell me what was bothering her. We seemed to be talking to each other less and less with each passing day.

When I tried to think back to when it all started, the only point I could find was after she started her new career. When Tommy turned sixteen, she took a job in an insurance company office, and within a year she had earned a promotion, and then two years later, another. She was now the manager of claims for a large branch of a national company, and her salary reflected it. When we filed our income tax returns earlier this year, I was surprised to see that her income was nearly as much as mine. That brought about another point of friction.

When I saw what she was earning, I asked her where the money was going. It certainly wasn't going into our savings account. True, she had bought a fancy new car, complete with payments, but aside from groceries and her clothes, all the rest of the household expenses were born by me. That included the first two years of Tommy's college tuition. I was probably a little irritated when I asked her where the money was, but I wasn't prepared for the reaction I got in return.

"It's my money, and I'll do what I like with it." She was speaking in a tone that would indicate she thought the matter was closed. It wasn't.

"Since you live in this house and you are married to me, I expect a civil answer to a reasonable question. Where is the money going?"

"If you must know, it's going into a non-taxable savings account. I'm planning for our retirement, even if you aren't."

"I'm saving whatever we can, but it doesn't help when you don't contribute."

"I told you, I am contributing. It's just not to your fund. Now quit pestering me about it."

That ended the conversation, but it left me with an uneasy feeling about what she was doing with her income. In typical fashion, though, I pushed it down into my memory recesses and let it go. Now it was back up, front and center. As I thought about it, Sylvia and I hadn't been getting along for at least as long as the three years since travel had been intensified. I'd been using the old "rope-a-dope" technique, trying not to absorb any heavy blows, letting her shots bounce off me. Why?

Why had I decided to tolerate her nearly abusive behavior? Not hard to answer that. It was the easy way out. Just like sticking with my lousy job for all these years. It was easier to go with the flow than make waves. I am forty-three years old, the same age as Sylvia. Half my life is past me, but I'm still in what most people would think of as their prime. I have twenty-four years of experience behind me and surely someone would value that. Hell, my customers regularly told me that if I ever wanted a job to come see them.

So, what was keeping me from changing everything? Inertia? Yeah, probably. Better the devil you know than the one you don't. Fear? That too. Where would I go? What would I do? So instead, I just learned to live with it. I felt like I was walking close to the edge of a cliff. Another few steps and I would be over ... falling into what? All I had to do was stop, turn around, and walk the other way. So easy to say, so difficult to do.

It was almost seven o'clock when they announced our aircraft would be at the gate in five minutes, and after a quick crew change, we would be boarding. I walked over to the growing lineup of people anxious to be on their way. I noticed quite a few had disappeared since our original flight time. Had they found other ways to get home, or had they just given up? And why did that sound like the same question I had been asking myself over the last several hours?

It was almost seven-thirty when we finally pushed back from the gate and taxied to the runway. It was a three hour and fifteen minute flight, plus a two hour time change. If I was lucky, I would be home sometime after one o'clock. Wonderful! In fact it was almost one-thirty when I hauled my suitcase and briefcase-cum-tool-kit through my front door. I was too tired to drag them upstairs and left them by the hall closet. I would get them in the morning when I did my laundry.

I was as quiet as I could be when climbed the stairs to our bedroom. I need not have bothered. When I entered, the ensuite light was providing enough illumination that I could see the bed was still made. Where was Sylvia? What the hell was she doing out at one-thirty on a Friday night? I sat on the edge of the bed, then decided to strip and have a shower. I hoped I would feel better after that. By the time I finally crawled into bed, the clock radio told me it was almost two a.m. I didn't have the energy to dwell on my wife's absence. I was asleep in seconds.

When I awoke on Saturday morning, a November sun was shining for a change, and I looked at the clock. Almost nine-thirty. I wondered what time Sylvia got home? She was sound asleep beside me, and didn't look like she was going to wake up any time soon. I got up, got dressed, and headed for the kitchen. I made the coffee and sat down to look at my list of chores. Nothing! That was a nice surprise. No snow to shovel, no leaky taps to fix, just the laundry. I finished the first cup and walked out to the front to get my suitcase.

I had just finished loading the wash into the dryer when Sylvia finally made an appearance.

"Good morning," I offered in a calm voice.

"G'mornin'," she rasped, squinting at me. "What time did you get home?"

"One thirty. I was surprised to see you weren't here. You weren't home at two when I finally got to bed. Where were you?"

"Out with the girls. You know I always go out with them on Fridays."

"Until sometime after two a.m?"

She shrugged. She wasn't looking at me, but down into her coffee cup as far as I could tell.

"Just what the hell could you and your "girls" be doing at that time of night?"

"Talking ... just ... talking. Why, don't you trust me?" she said suddenly, looking up at me.

"Trust you? I don't know. Give me a reasonable answer to why you would be out all hours of the night and maybe I could answer that."

"You don't, do you. You don't trust me. Well I'm not going to answer any questions in this inquisition. If you don't like it, you can go to hell!" she spat.

I stood there for a moment, almost teetering in my anger and frustration. And then it was over. I knew I was done and it was over. She had pushed me to the brink, and I had decided to turn and push back.

I walked to the laundry room and opened my suitcase. As soon as the dryer shut off, I began taking my clothes out and folded them the best I could before putting them in the suitcase. When I was done, I took the bag upstairs to the bedroom and began to systematically remove my clothes, shoes, bathroom kit, and anything I could think of that I would need. It took two suitcases to carry everything I wanted to take with me.

Sylvia had remained in the kitchen, drinking coffee and ignoring me. Fine, I could live with that. When I came downstairs with the first case and placed it at the front door, she suddenly came alive.

"What are doing? Where are you going with that?"

I didn't answer her, heading instead back upstairs to get the second suitcase. That brought about another more alarmed question from my wife.

"What are you doing, Stan? What have you got in those suitcases?"

I turned to her, looked at her as calmly as I could manage and said, "I'm leaving you. I'm taking my things and leaving here. I've had enough, and I won't be back."

"Don't be so stupid!" she snapped. "Just because I stayed out a little late last night is no good reason to leave. This is just a childish stunt on your part."

"This isn't just about last night, Sylvia. This is about your disrespect and antagonism toward me. This is about your selfishness and your constant carping and complaining. This is about a loss of love ... by both of us." I turned my back and walked to the front door.

I stepped out onto the front porch, closing the storm door behind me, making two trips carrying the three cases to my car. My car, the one that didn't rate a space in the garage. The seven-year-old sedan that I kept in perfect condition to make it last as long as possible. The garage was reserved for Sylvia's new car, and a collection of old furniture she refused to allow me to sell or give away.

I didn't bother to look back and see if she was watching me. She had said nothing since my last outburst, but I was sure she was watching, wondering just what the hell this was all about. I drove away without a backward glance. I had a strange feeling inside me; almost one of excitement. I had done something I never dreamed I would do, and I had no sense of regret, nor any second thoughts. This morning was the tipping point that I had imagined last night.

It wasn't difficult to find a modest motel with weekly rates. I prepaid a week on my credit card, realizing I would have to start looking right away for an apartment. The motel room had two useful features. It had a kitchenette with a sink, small refrigerator, microwave, and coffee maker. It also had free wireless Internet connection.

I hadn't had any breakfast and it was fast approaching noon, so I walked up the street a couple of blocks to a restaurant and fed myself. I was calmer and less worried about myself than I expected to be. This afternoon, I would sit down and figure out a budget, make some financial arrangements on-line, and generally ready myself for an eventful week beginning on Monday.

Now that I had begun to push back, I had one more big step to take. I was going to resign from Faraday and Crosse, and I was going to do it first thing Monday morning. I would put my faith in myself for once in my adult life. I was determined now that I was going to recreate myself in an image I would be happy with. Today was only a first step.

I logged on to our banking site and shifted two thirds of our savings into my personal business account. It was usually reserved for travel and prepaid expenses, but from this day forward, it would be my only account. I looked at the joint checking account, then withdrew two thirds of that as well. Let Sylvia use her own money from now on. There would be enough in there to cover the already written checks, but not much more. On Monday, I would go to the bank and check the safe deposit box. Life insurance policies and a few stock certificates were mine, and I wanted to remove them from Sylvia's reach.

It took me over an hour to write a letter of resignation. Every time I tried to tell them in polite language what a bunch of insensitive assholes they were, I had to stop and start again. In the end, I did the usual thing and simply wrote that I was resigning with two weeks notice. No reason was given. When they asked, I wondered what I would say. The way I felt at that moment, I'd probably tell them exactly how if felt. Burn, baby, burn!

The one thing I hadn't given any thought to was our son, Tommy. I felt guilty about overlooking him. I owed him an explanation. I couldn't imagine that he was oblivious to the tension between his mother and me, but I shouldn't take it for granted. I didn't know which side he would fall on, but we were pretty close, and I suspected he would side with me. After all, he'd been an equal recipient of his mother's miserable nature too. I remembered he now had a cell phone, and I looked up the number in my address book and called him.

"Hi Tommy, it's Dad."

"Hi Dad, where are you?" He seemed pleased to hear from me.

"I'm at the Riverbend Inn, on Stateline, room 241. I just wanted you to know I've left your mother. I'm sorry to have to tell you like this, but I couldn't take it any more."

"I know, Dad, I heard some of your argument this morning. I can't blame you. I don't know what's wrong with her, but she's not very nice to be around any more."

"Yeah. Well, maybe it's about all the time I'm on the road. I don't know. When I asked her about it, she wouldn't tell me."

"Dad ... can I come and see you. At the motel, I mean."

"Sure. Anytime. I guess we should talk about what comes next. Just don't tell your mother where I am, please."

"Okay. I'll be there in a few minutes. Thanks, Dad."

I hung up. Tommy didn't sound surprised or angry with me. It sounded like he almost expected what I'd done. He arrived a half hour later, and I let him into the room.

"Would you like a beer?" I asked. I'd stocked up at the convenience store next door.

I extracted two bottles from the mini fridge and dropped a bag of pretzels on the coffee table near the window. We were sitting in what passed for easy chairs, and I waited for Tommy to begin.

"This must feel strange, Dad. I mean, leaving home with all your stuff. Like I said, I can't blame you. I can't take much more either."

I shook my head. "I didn't think it would ever come to this, but this morning was the straw the broke the camel's back."

"I don't know how to say this, Dad, but I think Mom might be fooling around with some guy. When you're away, she goes out at night sometimes, and doesn't come home until after I've gone to bed."

"What makes you think she's fooling around, as you put it?"

"Just how she acts. When I ask her about where she's going, she never really tells me. It's just 'out with friends' or to see a movie. But when she goes out, she's wearing makeup and sometimes a dress, like she's going somewhere special. And she never does it when you're home, just when you're away."

I nodded. I felt an emptiness in my gut as he told me. I might have suspected something, but didn't want to face it, just like I hadn't wanted to face a lot of things about my life lately.

"I suppose it's partly my fault, Tommy. I've been on the road so much lately. I'm sure she got lonely. I tried to talk to her about it, but she never really wanted to tell me how she felt. I guess that explains her attitude lately. It also means I'm going to do something I never thought I would. I'm going to file for divorce."

My son looked at me solemnly, only briefly nodding his head. "I understand." We sat silently for a while, just sipping our beer. After a while, Tommy spoke.

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