Chapter 1: How to F* Up Your Life
I gathered all the papers on the table in front of me and pushed them into the envelope. That was everything. The divorce was final. The house was sold. My will was updated. Even my special instructions for disposition of my ashes and prepaid account with the Neptune Society. There were copies of my most recent bank and IRA statements, my insurance policy, and a sealed envelope with all my account names, numbers, addresses, and passwords. The contract and key to my storage cubicle were there. The little bit that I owned that I wasn’t ready to part with or that I thought my daughter might actually want one day, was in the five by five storage unit. I was free. I pushed the envelope across the table to my daughter.
“I don’t want this,” she said. “It’s like you’re planning to die.” Tears dripped down her cheeks.
“No, sweetheart, I’m planning to live. I’m going to travel—see the world. Start over. You are grown up, now. You’ve got a life of your own. I’m single and don’t need to be tied to one place. Especially here. I’m still young. I might meet someone and live happily ever after,” I laughed. “I’ve earned it. Pick someplace you’d like to visit and I’ll go there. And I don’t expect you to have that envelope sitting on your desk or to sleep with it under your pillow. I’ve already rented a safe deposit box at the bank. Let’s go get your name on it and put this away for safekeeping.”
I smiled and hugged my daughter. She’d been the rock of my world for twenty-four years. Sometimes the thorn in my side. I wouldn’t trade her for anything. She’d done better with her life at this age than I had. When I was twenty-four I had a seven-year-old child and a loveless marriage I’d been forced into.
We finished the banking business and she walked with me to our cars. Almost identical new Priuses. That had been part of the divorce settlement. We took the price of three new cars off the top of the funds we got from selling the house. I was ready to go.
“Where are you going to go?”
“First star to the left and straight on till morning,” I laughed. “Don’t worry. I’ll call you from wherever I end up tonight and keep you posted every day. I know you prefer text messages, but I won’t be able to stop and answer them when I’m driving. So call. I can talk through that speaker thing.”
“I know what it’s called. And thanks to you synchronizing my phone, it should be no problem. And don’t forget, there’s Facebook. I’ve always posted stuff there and will upload pictures, too.”
“I love you.”
“I love you, too, honey. Now, you’d better get to your job and I’d better hit the road.”
After three days on the road, I was finally in California. I’m not sure why I chose the Golden State other than the idea of sunshine, beaches, and being 2,000 miles from Fargo Fucking North Dakota seemed like a good combination. Besides, my little Willa was likely to come and visit me here. If I sent her a ticket. It would be a lot cheaper if she drove her new little Prius. I loved getting fifty miles per gallon!
Even adding fifty dollars a night for hotel rooms, it was cheaper than flying.
And speaking of a hotel, I was going for something special. I checked my GPS for instructions and drove up to the fancy place I’d chosen. When I got out of the car, I could hear the ocean. A valet and bellman rushed to me. I had the bellman take my suitcase out of the back and I handed the key fob to the valet. I handed my driver’s license and credit card to the desk clerk. She smiled broadly at me and pulled up my reservation.
“One week, ocean side king room. Non-smoking.”
“Yes. Thank you.” She handed me the keycard and explained where my room was.
“You are all checked in. I hope you find everything to your liking,” she said. “Let me know if there is anything you need ... or want.” Oh, my! Was she flirting with me? California was going to take some getting used to.
The bellman insisted that he carry my bag. I could have tipped him there and just taken it, but I let him conduct me to my room, pointing out where breakfast would be served in the morning. He rushed into the room and opened the drapes onto my balcony overlooking the beach. I handed him ten dollars and thanked him. For Pete’s sake! It was only one little bag. He left. California could be expensive, too.
I looked out that hotel window onto paradise. There was more eye candy on the beach than I’d ever seen in one place at one time. I hurriedly changed to swimwear and flip-flops and headed out to survey the terrain.
I was a little self-conscious. The average beach goer seemed to be about my daughter’s age. I had second thoughts about inviting her out to visit me. I got a few long looks, so I guess I’m still holding together pretty well. Face it. I’m more than a few pounds overweight. They probably couldn’t believe I’d invaded their holy land. I snagged a waiter and ordered a Long Island Iced Tea. So smooth. I poked myself in the eye with the straw when I started to drink it. Oops. Guess you are supposed to sip it. I wasn’t about to leave my beach chair and expose myself to the sun until I’d finished the first one and ordered the second. I’d lived in the sunless north for forty-two years. Tomorrow, I was certain I’d look like a boiled lobster. What the hell. While I was waiting for my drink, I headed down to the water, waded out a ways and dove in.
The Pacific is not that cold.
Ha! I was pretty sure that I was going to die before I surfaced. My ex would love that! I came up gasping and shaking my head. A Frisbee landed in the water about five feet from me and some guys started waving at me frantically. I scooped it up and sent it back to them, pleased that I got it most of the way there. Would have made it all the way if the wind hadn’t picked it up. Well, they found it anyway. By that time, I was back to my beach chair and umbrella and a fresh LIIT was waiting for me. It went down just as easily as the first. The third slipped away with the setting sun. I staggered back to the hotel and decided which direction my room was. On the way, I ran into the desk clerk. Literally. We both fell down, looked at each other, and started laughing.
“Oh, hey, you!” she said. “I was hoping I’d see you. We’re having a party. You’ll come, won’t you?” Christ! What kind of party was it? That had to be the three drinks talking in my head. Or was it four? She was going to tell me, anyway. “My divorce papers went through. I finally got rid of the bastard! We’re having a celebration.” She leaned in very close to me. “I noticed you have a mark on your hand but no ring. You’re recently divorced, too, aren’t you?” I nodded stupidly and glanced at my ring finger. It would take a while for that mark to go away. “Come and celebrate with me, won’t you? We’ll make it a double divorce celebration. We’re going to be in the Nuesta Senora Room. It’s the second one on the right after the Capistrano Room. Please say you’ll join us.”
“Sure. I’m just going to go shower and change clothes. I’ll be down in an hour,” I said. What was I getting myself into? Hell! I was starting over. There was no reason in the world that I shouldn’t go join the party. I showered, shaved, and dressed to impress. Who was I kidding?
The room was noisy. They didn’t have a band, thank God. I figured the news had come too recently to go out and hire entertainment. There was some pretty good music playing through the speakers in the room though—and occasionally a real dog. I figured that maybe I could meet someone and chase the blues away. Or try to drink them away.
“You came!” she screeched when she saw me walk in. She was a good bit shorter than me and jumped to kiss my cheek. She wrapped an arm around my waist and led me to the bar. “Jimmy says you drank Long Island Iced Tea this afternoon. You want to stay with the same thing or branch out? Jimmy, give us tequila shots. Line them up!” She didn’t wait for an answer from me, but a shot sounded good. I salted my hand and picked up the lime slice. She looked into my eyes and said, “Here we go!” I licked the salt, swallowed the shot, and bit the lime. Oh, shit, that was good!
The second one was better. I lost track after that.
I’m not sure how many times I leaned my head back on the bar, had Jimmy the bartender pour a shot of margarita mix and a shot of tequila in my mouth then shake my head before I swallowed it.
I hadn’t been this plastered since high school. And that didn’t count. What a fucking night that was.
We danced. I couldn’t remember the last time I danced. Everybody danced. We were crazy. Somewhere along the line, she kissed me. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t me who kissed her. I had to be the oldest person in the room, drinking and dancing like we were teens.
The sad part was that most of them probably remembered their teens like yesterday. I’d well and thoroughly forgotten mine. She danced with the others, but she kept coming back to me. I don’t know what she saw in me. Maybe she was just tired of the self-absorbed, inane, pretty boys that were constantly after one more dance. One more feel. One more kiss. One more shot of tequila. When I have a drink it’s normally a glass of wine, but they didn’t seem to have any red wine here—just the hard stuff.
It was too much for me. I finally sank into a chair, unable to dance any longer. That was when she sat beside me and lit a joint. We shared the sweet smoke, first passing the reefer and then just passing the smoke. I breathed it directly from her lungs into mine while our tongues tangled.
When I looked up, Jimmy was cleaning up the bar and putting things away and my hand had worked its way under her top to caress a bare breast. A couple was still dancing as if they hadn’t noticed the music had faded out. Lights came on a little brighter and I squinted my eyes at the remains of the party. Her hair hung in tangled curls around her face, coated with sweat.
“Tell me the night isn’t over yet,” she said as she kissed me again. I pulled my room key out and held it up to her.
“Do you remember what my room number is? I’ve forgotten.” We laughed and staggered together out of the party room and up the stairs, falling to our knees laughing on the fifth step. “Isn’t there an elevator in this building?” I asked.
“It isn’t far now,” she whispered. “Here. Put your arm around me and hang on. I’ll get us all the way there.” She pulled my arm around her and held my hand against her breast. I’d never in my life picked up someone. Or had I been picked up? It made no difference. It was a first. She pushed the keycard into the slot and the light turned green. We stumbled through the door and made it as far as the bed, where I fell back, still laughing. I hoped she wasn’t expecting anything. I couldn’t even lift my hand. I was sure it had been two a.m. for the past three hours. “Let me take care of you,” she said, kissing me again. I looked up into her eyes. Dark brown with flecks of gold in them. Witch eyes, my mom would have said. If she’d lived. I kissed her nose and left a trail of kisses across her lovely face.
“Why me?” I asked no one. No one answered.
I helped her get my shirt off. I think I helped. Once she had my shoes off, she pulled my slacks and underwear down together. I could feel her breath across my short hairs. There were partiers even later than us laughing in the hallway. I wondered if they would hear me when I came. I knew I was going to.
My marriage had been so hopeless, so conservative, so cold. I’d never imagined this. She licked, stroked, sucked and then I was there. All the pain and sorrow washing over me. Twenty-five fucking years. And it was all pouring out of me and I was losing my bearings. I’d never come so hard. I couldn’t catch my breath. Staring at myself in the mirrors on the ceiling. Seeing her between my legs. The room tilted. My life went the other way.
I straightened up looking at her happily drinking me. I clutched at my chest. “He ... Hear...” I couldn’t get the words out. My heart. I was only 42. This wasn’t supposed to happen. I reached down and grabbed her hair, dragging her face out of my crotch. She smiled at me, her face glowing with the shimmering light of candles. My head was too heavy to hold up. Everything was fading. The pain in my chest overwhelmed me as my genitals continued to pulse with the strength of my orgasm. I was no longer breathing, though my eyes were open—open and looking into the witch eyes of my executioner.
“Welcome to the Hotel California,” she sang sweetly.