I met Rebecca Breckenridge at an informal dance in the high school gym. They were called "Sock Hops" in those ancient times since it was held in the gym, and no street shoes were permitted on the hardwood playing floor. It was my senior year and I had no steady girlfriend. Rebecca was sitting in the bleachers watching her classmates dance, and now and then chatting with a couple of her friends. I knew who she was, but since she was a year behind me, we didn't share any classes. I thought she was pretty good looking and she had a great smile. She also had a great body. I hadn't seen her with any particular guy, so I was pretty sure she didn't have a steady boyfriend.
I sucked it up and wandered over near where she was sitting. I asked her to dance when there seemed to be a lull in her conversation. She smiled and stood, and I held out my hand to steady her as she stepped past her friends out to the steps. I was pretty tongue-tied as we danced that first dance. Still, I wanted her to stay and dance some more. Somehow, she got that message and we spent the rest of that too-short noon hour together on the floor of the gym.
To cut the story short, we dated, became intimate, and married, all in two-and-a-half years. I was out of high school and working at a wholesale building supply company while Rebecca was working as a bank teller. I was aiming for a career in sales. It would be my opportunity for an job with the potential for fifteen thousand dollars in annual earnings.
If Rebecca had a flaw, it was her occasional moods, which varied from distant to downright snarly. They didn't happen very often, but when they did, she wasn't a lot of fun to be around. I put it down to her periods, but to tell the truth, that wasn't the only time when she would go off. I learned to live with it and enjoy all the other times when she was pleasant to be around.
Rebecca was working in the bank to make money which supposedly was going into our savings account. It was destined for the down payment on a house. I kept watching that account, and it didn't seem to be growing very much. Rebecca always had something that she absolutely had to have. As a result, her income was being spent before it ever got into our savings. I talked to her about this, and she got angry at my complaint. In the end, she promised that she would be more frugal. It never happened. There was always something that came first.
It was twenty months after we married that Rebecca discovered she was pregnant. Five months later, she quit her job. It wasn't a big blow to our income, since she was spending most of what she earned on non-essentials. However, it did make my new rules about expenditures that much more important. I was almost at the point where I was going to shift our joint account to a new one with only my access. I think Rebecca must have got the message, and she appeared to reform.
In the meantime, I had been given a junior sales territory. The definition of "junior" being all the accounts that no one else could crack, plus a couple of old standbys that would see that I didn't starve. I had a base salary and a commission on every sale, but the current volume of the territory would see me with little more than my salary as a counter clerk. Nonetheless, I was pleased with the opportunity, and I launched my sales career with optimism.
Rebecca, in the meantime, was exhibiting all the signs of third trimester crankiness. She was carrying our baby through the hot summer months. It was just one more thing to make her miserable. As she got bigger, she got more uncomfortable, which was natural. She seemed to think this was all a conspiracy to antagonize her, and she was in a foul mood more often than not. I consulted with some of my married-with-children cohorts. I was told this was normal, and not to be too concerned. Just try and let it bounce off you, they said, and don't take it personally.
I tried, but there were days when I didn't want to go home and face another night of complaint and argument. I told myself that this misery would be over when the baby was born. Her pregnancy was close to full term anyway, but it was tough. On top of that, my sales career was very slow developing. New business wasn't easy to find. I was young and eager but inexperienced. I struggled without much help from my boss. I had been thrown to the wolves, and left to fend for myself.
On September 29, 1977, our first child was born. I had just come off a road trip, and I was bone weary when I walked in the door of our apartment.
"Don't bother taking your clothes off, Warren, I'm going into labor," she said.
I spotted her suitcase in the hallway, helped her to her feet, and went to get her coat. No "Hi ... how are you?" No "Welcome home, dear." Just get your ass in gear and get me to the hospital. "Nice to see you too, dear," I thought.
We made it in plenty of time. Those were the days when fathers weren't commonly allowed in the maternity ward inner sanctum. We were expected to sit in the waiting room until they were notified that the deed was done. I didn't smoke, but I might as well have lit up a few with the air quality in that room. There were three other guys, all expectant fathers, and two of them smoked.
I went home to my bed about four on Saturday morning. I had finally been informed that there was nothing happening and probably wouldn't be for a few hours yet. I remember falling into bed, but nothing until I woke at nearly nine the next morning. I panicked a bit, thinking that the baby may have been born already. Then I remembered that the hospital had promised to phone me if anything happened. Just the same, I showered, shaved, made some toast and instant coffee, and drove to the hospital again. There was no need to rush. Rebecca was sleeping and nothing had happened.
I had been invited to my boss's house for dinner on Saturday. I took him up on it, and then drove back to the hospital about seven. I went home at eleven that night, once again having been assured that nothing was happening. When the phone rang, I looked at the clock on the night table and saw it was just after three. I groped my way to the phone in the hall and answered it.
"Warren ... why aren't you here? You have a son, Warren," Rebecca said, sounding irritated.
"Oh ... that's great. How are you?" I asked solicitously.
"I'm sore. Giving birth was no fun, I can tell you. You men don't have a clue what we go through for you."
"Well, I'm grateful for your ... efforts, dear. Is the baby OK?"
"Yes ... he's fine. Why aren't you here?" she repeated.
"Uh ... I was ... I mean ... I've been in that waiting room almost since you were admitted. I needed to get some sleep. They said nothing was happening, so I came home. I'll get dressed and come down right away," I said groggily.
"Well don't put yourself out," she sneered and then hung up.
I leaned against the wall and tried to get a grip on myself. I was delighted that we had a healthy baby boy. By the sounds of it, I was happier about the birth than Rebecca. I went to the bathroom and splashed some cold water on my face. I didn't bother to shave, but I brushed my teeth, and staggered back to the bedroom to get dressed.
I arrived just after four that Sunday morning. I went to the waiting room to find a duty nurse to take me to see Rebecca.
"You're too early. Visiting hours aren't until eight," the stout matron pronounced.
"But I'm the father," I protested.
She looked me over carefully and then walked out. I assumed my plea had been ignored, but a minute later another nurse came through the door.
"Are you Mr. Browne?" she smiled.
"Come with me please," she said politely. She made me feel a lot better.
When I entered Rebecca's room, she was holding our baby. She was looking at him with what I could only describe as loving eyes. It was a Rebecca I hadn't seen for a while, and I was mightily relieved.
"Hi, babe, how are you doing?" I asked, all the while gazing at our baby.
"Better, now that it's over. I'm not sure I want to go through that again, but ... god, he's so beautiful, and so tiny. Do you remember what we decided to name him if it was a boy?" she asked, smiling. She was actually smiling. I felt my whole spirit lift with that one gesture.
"Yah ... I remember. Jonathan Michael Browne. Jon for your father, Mike for mine," I smiled.
"Yes. Say hello to Jon Browne, Father," she smiled up at me.
I don't think I'd felt that good about anything in a long time. Our first child, a son! It was the very thing I had hoped for, but never dared tell Rebecca. I was sure she wanted a daughter. Maybe the sight of that precious little boy changed everything. I'm not sure, but she was definitely a happy mother at that moment.
The euphoria lasted quite a while. Rebecca was nursing little Jon, and she was a natural at motherhood. She was happy to have someone who was totally dependent upon her. If it was possible to spoil a newborn, Rebecca managed it. When Rebecca was happy, I was happy.
A strange thing happened at the same time, and I'm pretty sure the two things were connected. Since her turnaround in attitude, I suddenly began to experience some success in my sales territory. Maybe it was because I had a much more positive attitude. Or possibly it was just that I had kept at it and didn't quit. Whatever the reason, I was suddenly writing a lot of new business.
There are certain things I did that I'm not comfortable with. One of them was to set up a separate savings account. I put bonus money and unexpected commission checks into it and said nothing to Rebecca. I still wanted to buy that home we both had dreamed about, and that's what the extra money was destined for. I felt guilty that I hid it from my wife, but I remembered her inability to stick with a budget when she was working. I was afraid that she would look upon this money as surplus and it would be gone as soon as I put it in the account. Like I say, I'm not happy about doing it, but it was necessary in my opinion.
Rebecca continued to be the perfect mother as our Jon progressed from his infancy to his first steps, and then his first words. "Mama" was first, followed soon by "Daah." Our private time was so much better after the birth as well. Rebecca was much more loving. We enjoyed sex at least twice a week, and often three or four times if she was feeling frisky. I had no complaints. The turnaround in attitude was stunning and very welcome.
We even talked about having another child. We had no sooner mentioned it when Rebecca discovered she was pregnant again. She was delighted, and if she was delighted, I was delighted. We had a happy household, a bouncing baby boy, and another child on the way. Life couldn't be more perfect.
To top it all off, my success in sales had continued. I was now one of the top three producers in our company and getting a lot of recognition. All the while, I was stashing money into our savings account. I now felt we were ready to make a down payment on a house. All I had to do was break the news to Rebecca.
To be honest, I was worried that Rebecca would be angry that I kept the money thing secret. It would tell her that I didn't trust her, and I'm sure that would hurt. On the other hand, money didn't come from the sky, and sooner or later I'd have to own up to what I had been doing. It's not as if I had been keeping it for myself. I did it for both of us.
One evening when she had put Jon down for the night, she was rubbing her round little tummy in anticipation of our next child. I sat down beside her and took her hand.
"Rebecca, I have some very good news for you," I began.
She looked at me and smiled, "You do? What is it?" She was like a kid at Christmas. She couldn't wait to hear.
"I've been able to save some money ... and ... we now have enough for a down payment on a house." I was cringing in anticipation of some very awkward questions.
"We have! Are you serious? We can buy a house?" She looked like she was ready to explode. Not with anger, but with joy. How the money got there was the last thing on her mind. She was already planning the curtains and the new furniture, I guessed. Damn, but it felt good.
"When can we go looking?" she asked excitedly.
"How about this weekend. You check out the papers and call your friend at the real estate office, and we can get started. We'll need to set a budget and what we want in a house, but that's what the real estate people are there to help us with," I said, smiling at a very happy wife.
"Oh Warren, this is wonderful. I'm so proud of you. You did this all by yourself, didn't you," she said, hugging me and covering my face with kisses.
Whew! Dodged a bullet.
She was pretty happy anyway with little Jon to look after. Even when she was in the last weeks of her pregnancy, she would fuss over the little guy. She would tell him about the new baby that was coming. I don't think Jon had a clue what she was talking about, but because she was happy and I was happy, little Jon was happy. We were one happy family.
I was thrilled that our second child was a girl. Rebecca had what she wanted, and I had what I wanted - one of each. Our little girl was born in May and Rebecca didn't have to go through a long hot summer before giving birth as she had the first time. It did wonders for her temperament. On top of that, she gave birth one hour after she checked into the hospital, preventing another long, drawn-out labor. I barely had time to get myself a coffee when the nurse came out and had me follow her to see our little girl.
We named our new addition Marion Adele Browne. Marion was my mother's name, and Adele was Rebecca's mother's name. Little Marion had a few problems early on with colic, but even that didn't seem to phase Rebecca. She'd get up in the middle of the night to nurse her or calm her down if she was crying. She never seemed to get frustrated when our little girl was upset. The doctor gave us some drops that helped a bit, but only time would see her problems pass. Just the same, Rebecca handled it with patience and love. I was very, very proud of her.
Something else about Rebecca impressed me. When Jon was born, she began an exercise program, and within a few months she was back to her normal weight and figure. She had changed our diet too. I was benefiting from better eating habits, and had lost a few extra pounds I didn't need.
Rebecca kept up her exercises, and after Marion was born, I could see that within a few months, you wouldn't be able to tell that Rebecca had given birth at all. She would be the same, slim, sexy babe I married. Most of the guys I knew thought she was one hot woman. I know a few of them were envious, and that was good for my ego.
The next ten years of our marriage were as good as they could be. I had not only risen to the top of the sales ladder, but had been made sales manager, and my salary was now very nice indeed. Our "starter home" had been improved and then sold when we found a piece of property we truly liked. We decided to build our dream home. Rebecca spent hours planning and investigating and hunting for just the right items that would go into that house. She even had the kids helping her.
Jon was growing into a big boy; soon bigger than his father. Straw blonde hair and blue eyes, he was going to be a lady-killer, I thought. His mother spoiled both of them, but I could hardly complain. They were good kids, and they hung out with other good kids. Marion was a little chunky when she was young, but a growth spurt had turned her into a much slimmer, more confident ten-year-old. I thought she was going to be as good looking as her mother in a few years, and that was saying something.
Rebecca, at age thirty-two, looked like she was still in her mid-twenties and you would never guess she had given birth to two kids. She was a very beautiful woman, but didn't flaunt it. If anything, I had to convince her to wear sexier clothes now and then. She had the body, and I wanted everyone to know it.
It wasn't until Jon was approaching his sixteenth birthday that I began to notice some changes in Rebecca. She wasn't quite the happy camper she had been over the past years. She hadn't returned to the bad-tempered woman of pre-childbirth, but she was definitely a lot quieter and moody. She was in her middle thirties and nowhere near menopause, so it couldn't be that. Just the same, I spent quite a bit of time telling her how beautiful she was, and how happy I was with her and our family.
She would acknowledge my compliments and offer a vague smile, but still I thought something had changed. I was anxious to find out what it could be. I decided to talk to her about it. It was, in retrospect, a decision I wish I had thought through more carefully. I was not prepared for the conversation that followed.
"What do you mean?" she said, appearing to be offended. "I haven't changed. There's nothing wrong with me," she snapped. Right away, I should have dropped it, but I wasn't that smart.
"Honey, I'm not saying there's anything wrong with you. It's just that you don't seem as happy as you used to be. I don't know why. I just wanted to talk to you about it. Maybe you can tell me if something is bothering you," I tried.
"There's nothing bothering me. What the hell gave you that idea?" She had raised her voice and was clearly upset at the direction of my comments.
I wasn't smart enough to quit while I was behind, so I just plowed on ahead.
"I noticed it. It isn't my imagination. You aren't happy about something and I'm just trying to find out what it is," I said in my most conciliatory voice.
She looked at me and was about to say something, and then got up and stomped up the stairs to our bedroom and slammed the door shut. Great! I handled that perfectly. My guts were churning, and I felt like hell. I got up, put on my windbreaker and walked out the door. I was going for a walk to try and think this through. I needed to give her some space and time to cool down. One thing was certain, she was no longer the happy housewife of the past fifteen years. Something had changed, and I desperately wanted to try and pin down what it was.
At first I was so upset that I couldn't think straight. My mind was jumping from one thing to another. Even if I hadn't been the one that overreacted, I was angry with myself for allowing the conversation to deteriorate. If I had just shut up and let it be ... but then again, that wasn't going to solve the problem. I couldn't hide from it. I had to face it. But what was I facing? I didn't have a clue what had gone wrong. If I didn't know what it was all about, how could I go about fixing it?
I walked around the neighborhood for over an hour and finally summoned up the courage to go home. I was hoping that Rebecca would be there, but there was no sign of her. I knew she wouldn't just leave the kids on their own. I hung up my jacket and walked upstairs. The bedroom door was still closed, and nothing had changed since I had left.
Jon and Marion were in the family room watching TV, and I joined them. I was curious if they had overheard any of the confrontation earlier. I flopped myself down in my usual chair. They were watching an old James Bond flick. I waited to see if they would react to my being there. It was Marion that finally said something.
"What were you and Mom fighting about?" she asked when the commercials came on.
"We weren't fighting, Mar. We were just discussing something," I said feebly.
"She wasn't very happy. I heard her crying in the bedroom. You must have said something," she said with an accusatory tone.
I looked at my daughter, now fourteen, and wondered how aware she was of the atmosphere in our home.
"Can I ask you a question?" I said, directing it to my daughter.