Emily and I had been friends for about three years before the trip to Hawaii last Christmas. We were friends, but only at work did we see each other. We never socialized together after hours, we never talked on the phone outside of the workplace unless it was one of us asking the other for lecture notes or something like that. We were friends in the way that married people of the opposite sex have to be friends in our society: at a distance. If we had both been single when she joined the ranks of teachers at John F. Kennedy High School, I imagine that something might have developed in the romance department between us. After all, we were very compatible. Both of us had Master's degrees in World History and both of us were in the history department. We both shared a fascination with the World War II era and our discussions in the lunchroom were always animated and fun. I suppose that the rumor mill, which is no different among a high school faculty than it is any other place, had us sleeping together. Anytime that any two people were seen having lunch together more than once it was automatically assumed that they were lovers. But we were not; we were just professional friends. I was married to a corporate auditor that I had met in college and she was married to a one time minor league baseball player who was now a computer programmer. Both of us took our marriage vows seriously. Romance between us was not an option and, at least on my part, had never even been considered.
That is not to say that I was not attracted to her. I am a male after all and I like the sight of a pretty woman as much as any man. Emily wasn't stunningly beautiful. She wasn't ever going to be asked to model lingerie in a department store catalogue or anything like that. But she was attractive in a girl next door kind of way. She had reddish blonde hair and green eyes, the genetic mark of Irish ancestors. Her face was very innocent looking, making her appear to be somewhat younger than the twenty-eight years old she was the year of the trip. Though her body was usually well hidden by the collection of ankle length dresses she wore to school, you could still tell that it was shapely and that her legs, which were usually covered in dark nylons, were the kind of legs a man liked to run his hands over or feel wrapped around his back. It was not until Hawaii however that my suspicions about the allure of her attributes were confirmed. Until Hawaii I had never seen Emily dressed in anything but school marm clothing. The first time I saw her in shorts and a half-top, shortly after we checked into our Waikiki hotel on December 19, I found that my imaginings of what she looked like in such attire had been entirely correct.
The annual Christmas break trip to Hawaii was a tradition at JFK High that stretched far beyond my tenure there. Each year a group of eight to ten faculty members and their spouses would book with a travel agent and take the ten-day trip together. This entitled us to a reasonable group rate at one of the nicer Waikiki hotels during what is the busiest season for Hawaiian tourism. The couples would each have their own hotel rooms on the same floor of the building. The time would be spent taking in the sights and generally just enjoying the tropical weather during what is always a miserable time of the year in Seattle. The experience of being in such a place with friends made the trip something that was looked forward to each year and that kept the annual tradition alive.
My wife Sharon and I had included ourselves in the group every year since my employment. Sharon, as I've mentioned, is a corporate auditor and she is very career oriented. The rest of the year she is a driven woman, working eighty and ninety hour weeks trying to propel herself up the proverbial ladder. Naturally this puts somewhat of a strain on our relationship. She misses meals, she breaks plans, and she puts nearly everything else aside for her sacred job. I can sympathize with generations of corporate wives very well since I've been on the receiving end of the same process. The trip to Hawaii, in the past, has always been an opportunity for us to rekindle a little of the romance that had once possessed us and had driven us to marry in the first place. We could put all of our problems aside and spend long hours walking on the beach or going to shows or doing all of the tourist things or just making love in our room.
But in the last two years, as Sharon's career goals became closer and more distinct, some of the romance leaked out of the trip. Her drive to succeed at all costs became even more of an obsession during the rest of the year and during the trip itself she was always distracted as she worried about whether or not taking ten days off would exclude her from some crucial bit of favor with her bosses. She would spend a lot of time on the hotel room phone, checking in with the office just to see how things were going, trying to keep her name at the front of the right people's minds. Though we rarely fought at home since we rarely saw each other, the last two trips we took together were hotbeds of marital squabbling as I begged her to try and relax and she spent the entire time wishing she was not there.
This last year our home relationship had been particularly bad. Sharon had received a much wanted promotion in February, just a few weeks after we had booked with the travel agent, and her eighty hour weeks became one hundred hour weeks. She had to travel a lot, sometimes for four and five days at a time and, when I was graced with her presence at home, she was haggard looking and tired. As the time for the trip grew closer I wondered if the soothing beat of the tropical paradise was going to be able to work its magic on her at all this time. Was there anything left to rekindle? This was definitely not the woman that I had married.
I never had a chance to find out if the rekindle was going to work or not. In early December, when it was far too late to back out of the arrangements without losing our money, Sharon's team of auditors was given an urgent project that needed to be completed by the end of the year. Of course Sharon's boss, knowing that her vacation had been scheduled since February, said that she should go and that the team could carry on without her. I'm sure he used his best martyr voice when he said this and of course Sharon told him not to be ridiculous, that she could go to Hawaii any old time. This project was IMPORTANT for the company, for the firm, and for the continued prosperity of western civilization itself. She told me that night that she had to stay home.
This of course prompted a long and bitter fight between us, easily the worst of our marriage. From the time that she gave me the news until the night before the scheduled departure, we slept apart and when we weren't giving each other the silent treatment, we were arguing. In the end I put my foot stubbornly down. I told her that since the trip was paid for and since I wouldn't be seeing her over the holiday anyway, I would be going without her. I told her that I would send her a postcard from Hawaii. She protested my decision but it was to no avail. When the DC-10 left the runway at Sea-Tac, headed for Honolulu, I was on it and my wife was not.
I met Emily's husband, Frank, for the first time on that seven hour flight. I took the window seat on the left side of the plane and they sat next to me, Emily in the middle seat and Frank on the aisle. Emily had never talked much about her spouse during our discussions at school. Now, meeting him (this was their first time going along on the annual vacation) and talking to him as we flew six miles above the Pacific Ocean, I discovered something fundamental about him. He was a very annoying and unlikeable person. A short man, measuring up at about five-eight or so, Frank was afflicted with a nasty case of Short Man's Syndrome. He ran his mouth almost constantly and all he talked about was how much better he was at everything than anybody else was. He had endured greater hardships in his life than Ghandi or Jesus Christ. He had made greater achievements than they as well. He was smarter, stronger, faster, more agile, and generally just superior to everyone and everything. The bulk of his discussions revolved around sports and sport-related subjects. He enlightened me on how good he was at basketball, at golf, at football, and particularly at baseball.
"I had an upper three hundreds average for three straight years with the Philly's farm team," he said nostalgically. "Damn near broke the minor league home run record the last year."
"Is that right?" I asked, being polite but completely uninterested. Between us, Emily was giving off wifely vibes of annoyance towards him demanding he talk about something else. They were so strong that even I, who was not married to her, was able to clearly pick them up. But not Frank. He either had his receiver turned off or he was ignoring the signals.
"Damn right," he assured me. "I woulda gone pro too if it wasn't for hurtin' my damn knee near the end of the season." He shook his head regretfully. "That ended my baseball career before it could even get really started. Disabled me enough that the pros could never pick me up."
"That's too bad," I told him with feigned sympathy.
.... There is more of this story ...