This is the most seriously autobiographical telling of my first marriage. There are fictional aspects to it, but this one is close to the mark. This is my first foray into cheating stories; there may be a couple more.
Not a stroke story by any means.
I can recall the moment I found out my marriage was a lie.
It was a little thing, an overheard comment; yet it crystallized everything in an instant, so many little facts spread out over fifteen years of courtship and marriage.
It was all so obvious.
Of course, that's where this telling begins. To tell it, though, I must lay out some threads, and allow them to tie themselves together.
Fifteen years prior, I was a junior in college. I was majoring in Biology, with an eye to medical school. I did some tutoring, and that's how I met Shelly. She was a sophomore, struggling with some of the more rigorous parts of cell biology. She was no dummy; in one of those serendipitous pairings, she was able to learn from me, and I was able to teach her.
During small breaks in the action, I noted aloud how pleased I was to find I had an ability to teach, that I was headed for med school and hoped to be a researcher and professor someday.
Well. I thought we were getting along before. After that day, she seemed to go out of her way to see me. She was in active acquisition mode. I was apparently her guy.
That should have been clue number one. She was less turned on by me than she was by the fact I had a lucrative career ahead of me. I learned she was from a reasonably well-to-do family; her father owned a regionally important petroleum distribution business, while her mother was a top loan officer at a large bank.
In short: it was about the money.
It didn't register with me at the time, however.
She allowed me to seduce her after a couple of months; to my satisfaction and relief, I came to believe we were very compatible, sexually. During spring break, thanks to her parents money, we moved into a small, decently appointed apartment just off campus.
She began pushing the idea of marriage; we were cohabiting, after all, and her mother wanted so badly to plan a wedding for her only daughter.
Before I knew what was happening, I had proposed. We scheduled the event for the weekend after my graduation, just over a year away.
My parents were none too thrilled with the whole arrangement; but, they kept mum and offered lukewarm support. Her parents were happy, because it meant getting a doctor for a son-in-law.
Sad to say, that's not the way things happened. The university's med school wait-listed me because there were just not enough slots to accommodate my white self. My grades were good enough, but so were too many others'.
I didn't find that out, however, until shortly after the wedding.
Shelly was furious. I reasoned with her, though, that I could pursue an MAT, typically a one-year program, while she finished her degree. That, I suggested, would make me an even more attractive candidate for med school, and probably for a professorship later on.
She was mollified, and we settled into married life.
Another year, another graduation celebration, and another wait-listing from the med school.
It was time to earn a living. I could continue to hope against hope, but it appeared med school, apart from going to some cut-rate Caribbean institution, was not in the cards; and I had to have an income of some description. I took my MAT, like a cup in my hand, and approached the local school board seeking work as a high school biology teacher.
The good news: I found three openings within reasonably short commutes from our current address. The bad news: Shelly popped her lid.
She harangued me about failure, about settling for less than I was capable of. I couldn't force the med school to accept me, I told her; she stopped bitching because I was right, but her demeanor toward me cooled immediately. She took her degree in business administration and dove into the job market, marginalizing our relationship.
Her parents were even worse. I found myself thinking up reasons not to visit them, wanting to avoid ugly confrontations over the uglier digs they used on me. They were superficially polite, but underneath they despised me. It was palpable.
Things changed again when, about three years later, Shelly gave birth to our first child, a beautiful little boy we named James, and then two years later when his little brother John made his entrance. We were a little family, and her parents seemed to treat me ever-so-slightly more agreeably.
Gift horses, mouths, you get the idea.
Shelly and I had discussed child-rearing, and I thought we were on the same sheet of music. I was raised in a strict yes-sir-no-ma'am atmosphere, not military, not abusive, but respectful of one's elders or else. Shelly quit her job and stayed at home to raise the boys, and I naively believed she was training them as we had discussed
The first time it really struck me just how much she was sabotaging me was when James was, oh, I think seven, and John five. James responded to a question I asked by saying, "Yeah."
I looked him in the eye and said, "I believe that's 'Yes, sir, ' young man."
Shelly was sitting nearby. She jumped up and hissed, "You fucking control freak! Let the child talk the way he wants to!"
It startled me, and scared the boys, such was the fury of her tirade. The boys started crying, and though I tried to comfort them, she was having none of it. She used more choice verbal morsels on me, and herded them out of the room and into their bedrooms.
When she emerged, she did not speak to me.
Finally I said, "Shelly, I don't believe I started that."
"You wouldn't, asshole," she spat.
I was silent. Something was seriously wrong. At length I continued, "I thought we were in agreement on the yes-sir-no-sir routine."
"You were in agreement, shithead. I went along to keep your pathetic ass happy," she stated flatly.
I waited for a few minutes before I said, "Shelly, do you want a divorce? If you do, just tell me."
She looked at me sharply, and after some obvious internal struggling, said, "No. I'm sorry for what I said. I just don't approve of the way you treat these children."
The way I treated them? I was the one who played stupid games with them, reducing them to quivering bowls of laughter. I thought it best not to say so.
"I didn't realize you were so adamantly opposed to my wishes," I said.
More internal struggling; then, "I'm tired. It's been a tough day. Can we just accept my apology and move forward?" She hugged me half-assedly.
Can we accept it? Gift horses, again. "Okay," I said, returning the hug, "all is forgiven." She stiffened, and then the moment passed.
That evening, however, was the beginning of a great downward spiral in my relations with the boys. I thought of that evening as Square One.
At this point it's necessary to digress and place another thread into the weave.
I reported to Phillips High School as a biology teacher, and immediately fell in love with the whole process. I had a gift, the same one which evidenced itself with Shelly in college, of communicating with older adolescents. I got my kids interested in everything from moss to cat innards, from cells to creatures; and all with a creativity I had never known I possessed.
I was named teacher of the year my third year. Okay, I wouldn't be a doctor; but maybe I was inspiring a host of new doctors. Not as glamorous, but it could end up saving untold millions of lives later. Or so I rationalized.
In any event, it was fun! I was hanging out with kids, and that kept me young. I was having the time of my life.
One thing about me: I was never a strictly science-and-math guy. I always loved art, history, art history, music, literature; a regular Renaissance loser, that was me.
The practical upshot is that I made friends with Dave Prescott, an older man, an English teacher who taught mostly honors Senior English Lit. He was a gifted and inspiring teacher.
In one of those right-place-right-time moments, another part of my life was born.
Dave and I were having lunch together one day, a Wednesday as I recall. I'd been teaching for about four years at that point. I mentioned I liked writing, and I read prodigious numbers of books. We discussed the craft of writing for several minutes.
Eventually, Dave paused, stroked his well-manicured white beard, and said, "Ever write a book review?"
I chuckled. "I used to think so. My book reports tended to be very thorough."
He held my eyes, stroking that beard, looking faintly amused. "Ever been published?"
I paused: Where was this going? "No, not really. I mean, in the college paper, I had a couple of pieces printed..." I trailed off.
"Ever read that book review column in the Trib, Paige's Books?" he asked, not missing a beat.
"Sure!" I said. "The guy's good. Reminds me of my style. Not that I'm that good," I offered lamely.
More stroking of the beard, holding my eyes; then he looked around conspiratorially, held out a hand, and said, "Pleased to meet you."
I took the proffered hand; then processed what he meant, and said, softly, "No sheeyit."
Dave's face opened into a huge grin, and he chuckled. "No sheeyit."
I shook my head, laughing. "I would of never knowed," I said, intentionally mangling the language.
Dave laughed even harder; then said, "My office, before you head out for the day." He winked, stood, and walked away.
.... There is more of this story ...