This is my fourth semi-annual writing invitational. The previous three have been based on specific song titles: "This Bed of Roses," "El Paso," and "Maggie May."
The theme this time is somewhat broader: any country western song.
The various authors hope you enjoy the stories — Jake Rivers
A nod to Microsoft for their great new product, Sync, that makes media of various kinds actually make sense on automobiles.
Thanks to Techsan and Lady Cibelle for their editing assistance. Thier help is always appreciated ... and it makes a huge difference in the readability of my stories.
Be aware that I am taking some artistic license with the dates that certain events take place: for example, the Army Airborne Jump School is now held only at Fort Benning, Georgia. Way too many years ago when I was in the 82nd Airborne, jump school was also held at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, outside of Fayetteville, NC. Also, the 2nd Battalion of the 504th Airborne Infantry was resurrected during 1960.
Blue Side of Lonesome (written by Leon Payne)
"I'm calling to tell you its over.
Yes, darling, you're now free to go.
You're saying you're sorry you hurt me.
But you hurt me much more than you know."
WHO'S CHEATING WHO
"I thought I knew her well.
I really couldn't tell,
That she had another lover on her mind.
You see, it felt so right,
When she held me tight.
How could I be so blind?"
Even though my name was really Jack — Jack Johnson — everyone always wanted to call me John. It was a particular problem when I (against my Dad's advice) joined the Army. There are sergeants scattered all over the world that are convinced they knew John Johnson. Now who would name their son John Johnson ... that's a pathetic name!
Lately I have been thinking thoughts I never expected to have on my mind. I'd always been impressed with the implied sanctity of that bit in the wedding vows where the bride and groom promise to love only one another, " ... until death do us part." That had caught my attention as being somewhat serious and I took it literally. I'd for sure assumed that Jenny Johnson nee Wilson had felt the same.
So I'd been musing: what is it that leads a man or woman into that sense that all is not right with their marriage ... that infidelity may be in the air? I hear men say that they never had a clue — that there was nothing that they could perceive that might have indicated a straying wife.
Other men indicated that there were clues: changes in behavior that, though they were small in themselves, led to an aggregate that said in big bold letters: cheater, cheater!
Maybe everyone is right: there is such a vast range in the personalities, attitudes, and learned and instinctive behaviors that each situation is different. For me it was simple. You live with a person long enough, and if you have any sensitivity or empathy towards your 'significant other, ' you can tell that the relationship is not right, that changes are taking place, possibly, even probably, unbeknownst to you. Now these changes may be sudden and strong as an earthquake or slow and so incremental that you aren't sure if anything has changed at all.
But, it isn't really being able to quantify and identify what the changes are ... it's just that at some subliminal level you sense that something has changed. You become uneasy without knowing why. Your comfort level with your spouse is not the same but you are not really uncomfortable at all. It's like there was some infinitesimal shift in the space/time continuum and one day you realize that the world is a different place ... but still awfully familiar. It would be like you had a neighbor that looked and acted exactly the same way but suddenly he was left-handed. You try to figure out whether he was always a lefthander or if all of a sudden maybe you were losing it.
I hesitated to talk to Jenny about it — I mean, what could I say? If I started talking to her about sub-atomic particles and how they were reflecting changes in our relationship she would give me one of those looks and throw away my beer. And dammit, I had about as close a relationship with my Shiner Bock as I did with her. It later turned out that Shiner Bock had my love hands down. And that was without even considering longneck Lonestars. It was hell to realize that your beer was more faithful than your wife!
It took several months of ruminating over the intricacies of married life before all the little disturbances in the force crystallized in the firm conclusion that, "Damn, she's cheating on me." I didn't confront her right away. I came to be curious to see if I could detect any clear changes in her schedule, behavior or her attitude towards me. One thing was for sure though. If she had a problem that I could have helped her with that was serious enough, she could have — and should have — come to me about it so we could work it out. If she hadn't ... well, I wouldn't be feeling one whole hell of a lot of forgiveness.
She hadn't come to me about any problems so when (not if, I was way past if) ugly things came to light of day, it was over. The image came to me of turning over a rotted log in the forest. All the dank, smelly, disgusting things that live in the heart of darkness scurry as fast as they can for another dark hiding place. Would that be the case with Jenny? The nasty things in life that feast on the darkness of infidelity are nothing but ugly and repulsive when seen under the clear light of reason and faithfulness.
Would I forgive her? Can America forsake Chinese imports and Middle-Eastern oil? It's not like I wasn't essentially a man that forgave, I mean I am clearly a forgiving man. When Jenny backed her new Mercedes into the dumpster at the local Kings Soopers, did I yell at her? No, I gave her a supporting hug and told her, "Dear, these things happen." When she forgot my birthday last year, I just smiled and said, "I'm not counting birthdays any more."
But a man has to have some level of pride. Yeah, I know. Pride comes before a fall. But sometimes you have to take the fall if you want to be able to live with yourself. So I spent some considerable time thinking about what I'd do and where I'd go. It turned out later that it didn't make any difference. Circumstances sometimes happen to us and we go with the flow — it seems easier and logical ... even predestined.
THOSE DEVIL'S IN BAGGY PANTS
How had I come to this point? How had I fallen in love with a wanton woman who turned out to have the same degree of loyalty as a hungry shark? Just how had my sweet Jenny turned into a cold-blooded assassin that killed my love with the same compunction she would have swatted a fly.
Well, it was easy and natural, actually. After graduating from Cherry Creek High School in the southeast suburbs of Denver, I enrolled at Denver University. It was a good school and close to home. I was doing great in all my classes — I was probably carrying around a 3.8 GPA — when I got a terminal case of the stupids.
My girlfriend from high school — Mary Lou Fossett — had decided on Fort Lewis College in Durango. We were calling each other regularly with maybe an exchange of letters once a month or so. I tried to call her to see what her plans for Thanksgiving were. I called her a number of times over three days with no luck. I did leave a couple of messages but there was for sure no call back from her.
I had a term paper for English that I'd been putting off. I had to write a paper about a well-known author. I'd picked Rudyard Kipling thinking it would be easy. Well, he turned out to be an incredibly complex person and writer. All of a sudden I had tons of work to do and damn little time to do it in. So I had to decide: finish the paper or go find out why my one true love wasn't answering the phone.
It turned out I made the wrong decision on so many levels it wasn't funny. I drove down to Durango and over to the college. I went to her dorm room — I knew where it was since I'd driven her to the school and helped her move in — but she wasn't there. Her roommate told me to try the Student Union building. Sure enough, she was sitting on the front steps kissing a guy like there was no tomorrow. I watched unobserved for a few minutes and even a dummy like me could see it was a serious kiss.
Finally she came up for air and saw me standing there looking like all kinds of lost. She had the grace to blush and the balls to introduce me to the guy.
"Jack, this is Joey Green. He's my fiancé ... we're getting married in June."
Well, hell! What do you say to that? I mumbled something that even I had no clue what it was and slipped away. I wasn't sure what my feelings were. It was a battle between being numb, feeling godawful stupid, and wondering how I had wound up in Alice's wonderland.
It turned out that my prune of an English teacher was the original hard case and she flunked me without even letting me explain or giving me a second chance. Later I realized that I should have just taken the hit with one failing grade and worked on the rest of my classes. But I wasn't thinking too clearly and I dropped completely out of school and joined the Army.
When I went to my dad and asked to borrow some money to get me through basic training I found out that this nice pleasant man I had always admired for his gentle nature could get highly pissed off. And he did: at me! I guess he figured if I was going in the Army he'd best enhance my vocabulary. Damn, and I thought I knew everything.
I'd always had this dream of being a Civil Engineer. I saw myself building bridges in Perú, airports in Brazil and highways in Spain. When I enlisted I signed up for Army Engineering training at Fort Leonard Wood. I should have been forewarned on the bus ride to the base when one of the guys in the know told me they called it, "Little Korea." That was because it was always either blistering hot and impossibly cold and windy.
I did okay during basic training. I ignored the crap they threw at you "to make you a soldier." I thought it was silly but the sergeants seemed terribly serious about it. There were a few key things that if you adhered to them would make life easy. Simple things like looking sharp, paying attention (listening and being where you were supposed to be and at the right time), and being respectful. It seemed that most of the guys got in trouble when they got together as a group but as I was more or less a loner I didn't have any problems staying out of their mindless meanderings.
One area that turned out positive was the rifle range. I was raised going antelope hunting on the plains of eastern Colorado and was coached by my dad at an early age to be careful around weapons and to shoot accurately. I qualified expert on the M16 with ease and caught the eye of the NCOIC (non-commissioned officer in charge) of the range. He was a vet of 4th Battalion 39th Infantry's sniper program and had been on several of the Army's competition shooting programs.
SFC (sergeant first class) Timmons got me out of several days of KP and gave me some one-on-one training on advanced shooting techniques. He also gave me a chance to shoot at six hundred and one thousand yard targets.
In spite of my dad's misgivings I thought I'd had a pretty good plan. I decided I would stay in for the three year commitment then go to school at Colorado School of Mines in Golden (which had the added plus of being several blocks from Coors). It didn't work out that way.
It was January and February of '89 when I went to basic and it was cold with several snowstorms during our training. One day while we were scouring the company area for cigarette butts — yeah, scrape aside the snow with your boot and lean down to pick up butts and any other trash — the first sergeant called us together and asked if anyone was interested in seeing a movie about the airborne in the post theater. I didn't really know anything about the airborne but getting out of the cold sounded pretty well.
One of the Squad leaders took about ten of us over — there were maybe a hundred or so guys in the theater in total. It started out kinda interesting. They showed a movie of paratroopers jumping out of planes in WWII. After that a Captain from the 82nd Airborne at Fort Bragg started talking. The theater was hot and stuffy and I was soon sound asleep. Suddenly a corporal with the 82nd AA patch on his shoulder was shaking me awake.
"Damn, soldier, you should know better than falling asleep in here. You're lucky I saw you. Get your ass over in that line and I won't say anything."
Still half-asleep I saw that most of the guys had left and about ten guys were in a line signing some papers. I assumed that we had to sign in to make sure we had showed up. I was still half asleep and just signed a couple of papers where the PFC (private first class) showed me. It wasn't until the Captain told me, "Congratulations, soldier," that I started wondering.
I found out what had happened the next week. That damn Corporal had sent me to a line to sign-up for airborne training. The papers I'd signed were for me to take a physical, to go to Fort Gordon, Georgia for communications training and for me to cancel my request for Engineer training and to go to jump school instead. Damn!
I didn't find this out all at once. I went for the physical and kept telling them it was a mistake. Well, I found out the Army doesn't make mistakes — they told me that flat out. One nurse was kind enough to show me the orders for the exam. It sure enough had my name and serial number on the list.
When we got to the line where they took blood samples I could see that this wasn't for me. I'd never had a blood test before and I watched as the two guys in front of me passed out. This was the last station and I was standing by a door so I just walked out. I very stupidly tossed my folder with the results of all the tests in a trashcan outside and made my way back to the barracks. I could have gotten court-martialed for that but no one ever said a word and no one ever noticed that I went to jump school without a physical.
Basic finished several weeks later and I'd forgotten all about my throwing away the physical folder. I guess I assumed that they would just ask me to take the physical over and I'd tell them I'd changed my mind. On our last day of training we gathered in formation in front of company HQ for orders. There were buses to take different groups to different posts or airports but since I was staying at Fort Leonard Wood for Engineering training I didn't think much about it.
When they called my name and gave me my orders to Fort Gordon, Georgia, I was confused. A sergeant was at the door of the bus checking orders and I told him about the mistake.
He gave me a dirty look and said, "Private, these orders say to get on this damn bus. Now do it!"
Well, it was then I remembered about discretion being the better part of valor. I was to think of that often over the next few years.
I signed in at Fort Gordon (famous for getting soldiers free passes to The Masters golf tournament) where they told me I was going to study to be a pole lineman. When I found that that was climbing poles and hooking up commo wire I asked to see personnel — I had one of the highest scores on the test at Kansas City where I went through initial processing. Finally, someone listened to me and did something useful. I got the orders changed to go to radio school. While it wasn't what I wanted it did sound interesting.
It was springtime when I went through communications training and I did like what I was studying. I'd been a boy scout and knew Morse code well, so that part of the course was easy.
When the training was over it was time to wait for orders again. Almost everyone in my class was getting orders to a post outside of Munich for the remainder of their tours. By this time I'd forgotten all about engineering and the dumb airborne thing. So of course, I was sent to a bus going to Fort Bragg. I tried to tell them again it was a mix up and they just told me to tell them at Bragg. Yeah, right.
When we arrived I was at the back of the bus and I saw guys getting off with their flat caps. There were some guys laying around that already had their jump patch on their shirt and they were jumping up and down on the hats of the guys getting off, making them do pushups and generally harassing them. I left my hat on the floor and got off the bus and immediately started doing pushups without being told. I quickly learned to go along to get along.
We had a six-week jump course — later changed to a three-week course at Fort Benning. I gave up on trying to tell the Army they had made a mistake when a buddy of mine from St. Paul could not do the required seven chinups and they sent him to Korea for thirty months. Hard duty!
So I jumped out of planes and became a paratrooper, "Airborne, all the way!"
OPERATION JUST CAUSE
The United States invasion of Panama, codenamed Operation Just Cause, was the operation initiated by the United States that deposed general, dictator, and de facto Panamanian military leader Manuel Noriega in December 1989. One of the guys had a poster with a picture of Noriega with a banner below it that said, "Cara de Piña," or "Pineapple Face." Noriega had such a pitted face that he looked like a pineapple with all the points sticking out.
My attitude had changed a lot about the Army. I had actually started to like it. When I arrived they were just forming a new battalion, the 2nd of the 504. The second became famous in the Second World War when a German officer was killed at Anzio found with this written in his diary:
"American parachutists — devils in baggy pants — are less than 100 meters from my outpost line. I can't sleep at night; they pop up from nowhere and we never know when or how they will strike next. Seems like the black-hearted devils are everywhere..."
These paratroopers were part of the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 82nd Airborne Division. It was reorganized in 1957 and later the Second Brigade was reformed as the Second Battalion. I got there just as it formed and eleven months to the day after I was sworn in I was promoted to Spec 4 (specialist fourth class).
After I finished jump school I went one Saturday with a buddy into Fayetteville. He was going to the USO — I didn't really want to go but he dragged me along. It was the one and only time I ever went there but it was enough. It was there I met Jenny Wilson. Her mom was in charge of volunteers and Jenny rarely went but she was there that day. It took me less than three months to convert Jenny Wilson into Jenny Johnson — and being in the Army I felt that was a promotion for her.
It seemed that jumping out of planes had done a lot for my self-confidence that showed a new ease around women. What I remember most about Jenny at that time is that she was a sweet girl. Not sugar sweet but just a nice caring, thoughtful person. The word that comes to mind is empathy. She had the ability — no the gift — of seeing things from the other person's viewpoint.
She was slightly plump and cute in the girl next-door sort of way. Shortly after we were married we started jogging together. I'd been on the track and cross-country teams at Cherry Creek in Denver but suddenly found I was putting on a couple of pounds I didn't want. I got down to the weight I wanted and Jenny lost the residual baby fat that young girls sometimes keep into their twenties.
About a year after I married Jenny, I saw my first combat. I saved from a local paper one of the sidebar articles that described the purpose of Operation Just Cause.
On December 20, 1989, the 504th was sent into battle as part of Operation Just Cause. The intent of this operation was to protect U.S. civilians in Panama, secure key facilities, neutralize both the Panamanian Defense Forces (PDF) and the "Dignity Battalions," and restore the elected government of Panama by ousting General Manuel Noriega.
The 3rd Battalion conducted air and sea assaults in northern and central Panama to seize the dam that controlled the water in the Panama canal, a prison, several police stations, several key bridges, a PDF supply point, the PDF demolitions school and an intelligence training facility. These operations were designed to neutralize the PDF while protecting U.S. nationals and the canal itself during the first few hours of the battle.
The 1st and 2nd Battalions of the 504th, along with 4th Battalion of the 325th Airborne Infantry Regiment and the 1st Battalion of the 75th Ranger Regiment, conducted a parachute assault on the Omar Torrijos International Airport. Following the airborne assault, the paratroopers soon found themselves engaged in fierce combat in urban and rural areas. As a testament to the discipline of the soldiers, however, the unit achieved all key objectives while causing only minimal collateral damage.
It turned out I was one of those casualties, albeit less severe than most. Essentially I had my ear lobe shot off. When they told me that I'd get a purple heart I was going to argue, but then I thought that if the bullet had been an inch or so to the left the award would have been posthumous. It did bleed like crazy.
The 82nd made their first jump since the Second World War on the Airport. It was a clean drop with a very few minor injuries and we quickly secured the Airport.
On December 22, we were assigned to clear Panama City of hostiles (i.e., Dignity Battalions), enforce a curfew, stop chaos and looting, and assume temporary law enforcement functions. At one point our company was pinned down, and even though I was the radio operator for the company commander, I was asked to take on a sniper role. Captain Adams was the kind of officer that knew the capabilities of his men and he knew I could take out someone at six hundred yards.
I stood behind a jeep with a mounted .50 caliber machine gun and started picking them off. The machine gun wasn't effective because they would just pop up their heads and shoot. They did have a machine gun behind a makeshift brick wall.
It was weird because it was so much easier to shoot someone than I would have thought. I knew that killing an enemy soldier could always happen and, of course, I'd certainly thought about it. Killing enemy combatants took up most of our training time. I'd hear these stories about "the first time you kill somebody is very hard."
It was like being on one of the test firing courses where they had pop up targets. I'd see a head stick around a corner and I would squeeze off a round like I'd done so many times before. These guys would just pop up like targets except a good shot was marked with a burst of blood rather than only a clang and the target falling.
I wasn't using a scope — I had hardly planned this. With a scope at this range I would expect pretty much a one hundred per cent kill rate. I was doing about fifty per cent on mostly snap shots. I'd killed four or five of them when the rest dissolved away. I never got a medal or anything — the Captain said he wasn't sure whether I was supposed to have done what he told me to. I didn't care so it was fine with me.
Even though my wound wasn't too serious, they sent me on home the day after my looks were forever marred by losing part of my ear.
The discussion with Jenny was interesting. She wasn't too concerned about my ear — she didn't seem to get how close the ear and the brain are. She was horrified though when one of my buddies and his wife were over for a barbeque a few months later and he told about what I had done. She was mad at me for a couple of months until David was born and then she seemed to forget about it.
I wound up staying in the Army until I got my twenty in. Jenny said, " ... that's damn well enough." She had been pretty good about it through the years so I went along with her.
After about ten years I had switched over to Public Relations and was stationed mostly in DC. We moved back to Denver and I got on at the Rocky Mountain News writing about Government Affairs. I'd also started writing, war novels mostly, but later some romance stuff and some westerns. I can't say that I was always (or ever!) in the top ten best sellers, but I had a loyal following and it paid enough to make it worthwhile.
David had gone to high school in Germany for the first two years and finished his senior year at Cherry Creek High School, the same place I'd attended. And yes, he went out for track and beat all the meet records I'd set in the half-mile and mile.
OUT OF SYNC
Eleven seconds! Eleven damned seconds. That's how long it took for my life to fall apart. Before the eleven seconds took place I was happily married and living with my lovely wife of twenty-five years in satisfaction and comfort in our upscale house in the lovely Cherry Creek neighborhood in Denver. After the eleven seconds — but not too damn much after — I was living near my son in a less than no-frills one-bedroom house not too far from Adams State College in Alamosa. I'd had my suspicions about Jenny, but that's light years away from knowing. Now I knew and I was truly pissed!
The whole thing was really my son's fault ... though later we spent many long nights and cold beers arguing the point. David took after me: we were both tall and slender and definitely serious runners. The difference was that while I'd been one of the best runners in the state while in high school, David was one of the best in the country. The assistant coach for the Olympic team was the coach at Adams State. David had run into him a number of times at invitational cross-country meets and wanted to be on his team. I mean this guy was a multiple time Cross Country coach of the year!
A full-ride scholarship made it a lot more palatable to me. It worked well for David too; he was interested in their award-winning program on Human Performance & Physical Education. He hadn't decided on whether he would major in Coaching or in Exercise Science & Sport Administration but there was no need to make a decision for a year or two.
When your life falls apart you tend to later go back and look for the one thing that led to various other things that eventually ended in catastrophe. At least I was like that. Which of the many events, the decisions made and not made, the fork in the road taken or not taken, led to a total life change for me? For example, if I had decided one day to buy a lottery ticket and it turned out to be a loser it would have negligible impact on my life. If I had purchased a ten million dollar winner ... well, that certainly would have led to many changes in my life.
Now you can really take this too far. If Columbus had died of scurvy before his discovery of the new world, would I have wound up living in the San Luis Valley near my twenty-five year old son?
Or maybe, more to the point, if my girlfriend, Mary Lou Fossett had not come down with chicken pox three days before the senior prom, would I have still met Jenny Wilson — who later became Jenny Johnson, wife of Jack Johnson. That just leads to too many "what ifs"?
No, if I were really going to track down the one single event that ended my so-called happy marriage, it would be my brief, and seeming innocuous (at the time) conversation with my son. It took place in mid-July, just a bit over a month before he was to move to Alamosa.
"Dad, ya gotta minute? I need to talk to you about wheels."
I must have looked a tad befuddled (as usual when talking with my son), because he continued, "Dad, you know, a car. Or more specifically, a truck... your truck."
"Uh, what about my truck?"
Well, it turned out that he noticed I really wasn't using my two-year-old F-150 all that much and he felt I should give it to him.
"Dad, it would be perfect for me."
I understood that to mean he liked the six hundred dollar sound system he had somehow talked me into getting as an upgrade. But he was right, I didn't really need the truck and had been talking to Jenny that I wanted to get something smaller — something that would fit in the garage and would get decent gas mileage.
So, the end result was I gave him my truck and I went shopping for a new car. He was eighteen and going off on his own.
Jenny knew the routine by now. Whenever I started looking for a "new toy" (her words) I would kinda go through the same process. I'd get all of the appropriate trade magazines, read and compare the factual reviews, and then, in this case, go by all the dealers and listen to the blatant lies of the sales types and take the cars out for a test drive. My wife didn't seem too interested in all this. When I asked her to take a look at one of the cars she muttered something about, " ... the difference between men and boys is the cost of their toys!"
But I persevered, did the research and bought a car that turned out to be a lot more fun than I expected. I wound up with a Ford Focus. The 2008 model was a complete redesign and made in the good ol' USA instead of overseas. But the really neat thing was SYNC. This was a cooperative development between Microsoft and Ford. Essentially it gave you a verbal command media environment.
After buying the car and playing with SYNC I learned it did a lot more than I realized. I knew about the hands free phone environment. If you wanted to make a call you just spoke aloud, "Phone 18008887777" and lo and behold it made the call. If I wanted to call my buddy Cal, I would say, "Call Cal" and it would digest the phonebook and call Cal for me. Pretty slick stuff. For phones that had Bluetooth, the SYNC system would sense when you came in the car with one and automatically set everything up.
I knew I could use verbal commands with my iPod. I just needed to plug the USB cable from the iPod to the USB port on the dash. Then I could do neat things like "Play track Hotel California" and the Eagles would sing to me. Or I could say "Play genre Classical Guitar" and John Williams' incredible talent would come out of my speakers.
Another neat command was "Play similar." It would search the iPod for similar music to what was playing. But the thing that sneaked through that the dealer never told me about was that I could hook various types of USB devices to SYNC, like a hard disk. So to try it out I took the hard disk from my Mac laptop and plugged it in to the USB port.
It searched the hard disk for audio formats like MP3, and created an index so you could use the commands. Admittedly, if you had a 550 GB hard disk it took a while to create the index. Then I could verbally play music with commands like "Play Artist Carl Smith" or "Play playlist Country Female Vocal." There were also commands for things like "Pause," "What's playing," "Shuffle on," etc.
Well, of course I thought this was hot shit. But Jenny's reaction was a low key, "Yes, dear, it's nice." I made a big sacrifice and offered to drive her to the store just so I could show off the neat things in my car (like lighted cup holders). I had her bring her new iPhone — I just knew if she could see how easy it was she would fall in love with it.
On the way to the store I showed her all the neat things, starting with the media. Jenny loves music so this caught her attention. Then a few minutes from the store I showed her the phone stuff. I had her call her best friend just by hitting the phone button on the steering wheel and saying, "Call Patty." It, of course, worked perfectly.
She admitted that this was slick stuff and started asking how she could get it. One thing I hadn't told her about was the ability to convert an incoming text message to voice and speak the message over the car speakers. I heard the chime sound that she uses for text messages and I figured I'd really show her.
I hit the phone button and said, "Read message." Immediately that synthesized voice spoke, "Hey, Jenny, this is Bob. Martha is gone on Tuesday so we can go to my place. You were so damn hot last week; okay with you?"
I timed it later and it took exactly eleven seconds for my life as I knew it to end. It took a moment for the context of the message to sink in then I jerked across the freeway to the next exit and stopped on a side street.
I hit the phone button on the steering wheel again and said, "Read message." With computerized exactitude, the speaker droned out, "Hey, Jenny, this is Bob. Martha is gone on Tuesday so we can go to my place. You were so damn hot last week; okay with you?"
I looked over at Jenny and she was looking out the window. I was in some level of shock. Staring straight ahead I asked my loving wife, "Was that Bob Sanderson?"
She didn't answer so I looked over at her and shouted, "God damn it, don't ignore me. Was that Bob Sanderson?"
She made a small nod but didn't look at me. The strip mall next to the car must have been quite interesting. I started the car and drove under the freeway and went back home. Halfway there I saw her reaching for her cell phone. I'd put it in the little cubbyhole under all the dash instruments. I grabbed it before she could and put it in my coat pocket.
When I pulled in the driveway I hit the garage door opener and told her, "I'm going out for a while. Be ready to talk to me when I get back. Do not call Bob. Do you understand?" She nodded but didn't move. I reached across and opened her door and gave her a none too gentle shove. She fell on the grass ass up and gave me a nice shot of her pink panties but for some reason I didn't find it particularly erotic right then.
"There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics."
Disraeli as attributed by Mark Twain
In this case it turned out to be damned lies. It was way bigger than a lie and I just couldn't find the energy or desire to get the numbers on my wife's infidelity. I mean, does it really mean anything that my wife had been shagging good old Bob 3.7 times a week for the last six weeks? Or that she paid for the hotel room 45% of the time? No, once the gist of the content of the damned lies came out, I just didn't give a shit. As far as I was concerned, once was enough to send my loving wife to eternal perdition.
Some people want to know all the facts and nitty-gritty details about anything. I've never really been that way. Give me the facts and I'll make a decision or derive an opinion. I don't care if Frankie did truly love Johnny ... the fact is she shot him dead when she caught him cheating. Frankie was sure regretful but Johnny was still stone cold dead.
So I didn't ask Jenny for details. I didn't want to know when and how it started. I didn't care if was my fault or not. Jenny cheated, a fact, ergo Jenny was history.
It could have been messy. I didn't want that. Give me a nice, clean, quick separation and I'm happy. Pissed as all get out, but happy. I talked to David and enlisted his aid. He was as teed off as I was and glad to help out. I set up a meeting for Jenny, David and I to talk. Jenny didn't look happy ... do I give a shit if she feels like she was ganged up on? David kicked it off.
"Mom, I am terribly disappointed with you." Here, Jenny had the grace to look embarrassed and looked carefully at the floor — she was so intent I thought maybe we had cockroaches or something. "Dad is going to make a proposal to you that I think is fair. None of us wants a long drawn out battle that accomplishes nothing other that making a bunch of lawyers rich. You are still my mom and I want you in my life. Can you please listen to him?"
With that David left. Jenny looked up and asked, "I guess it's clear that you are set on divorce? There is no hope for a reconciliation?"
Quietly, I told her, "No, Jenny. No hope. As you should realize, I'm just not wired that way."
She leaned on the table and quietly sobbed for what turned out to be about ten minutes. I got myself a glass of wine and a wet washcloth from the hallway bathroom. I handed her the damp cloth and gave her time to pull herself together. Finally she looked up, sadness clear in her pale gray eyes.
"Okay, I'll listen. What do you want to do?"
"First, an immediate separation. I'll be moving down to Alamosa. David is living on campus — I'll try to find myself something down there. I'm resigning my position with the paper. I've talked to them about being a stringer for news from the Alamosa area, but that's chancy. What I really want to do is write full time. Sometimes the money is good, sometimes it's not.
"So I won't really be able to pay any money in alimony. You can fight that if you want but it might take me five years to finish my next book if you do. I'll take care of David's school stuff and your job pays enough for you to get by.
"I know the house has gone down in value over the last couple of years but it still has around twenty grand in equity. I'll sign the house over to you and you can try to keep it or sell it. I just don't give a damn which.
"If you want a divorce go ahead and do it. Just don't ask for anything other than what we talk about or you will get nothing. Last, but the least, please stay the hell away from me. I don't want to ever see you again."
"I really hurt you, didn't I, Jack?"
"Yes, you damn well did."
David had taken my Focus on down to Alamosa and I had rented a trailer. I'd packed it already and hooked it to the truck so with no fanfare I turned around and left.
Except for one brief meeting at the Brown Palace in Denver, the next time I saw Jenny was at David's graduation four years later.
BURNING MEMORIES (MEL TILLIS/WAYNE P. WALKER)
"Tonight I'm burning old love letters, photographs and memories of you.
Hoping somehow I'll feel better and when the smoke is gone I won't want you."
I found a small one bedroom apartment but I didn't like it at all and was looking 'round for something better. I'd started going to David's cross-country practices and would sometimes run through some of the workouts with them. It felt good to run seriously for the first time since high school instead of "jogging."
I was way out of shape at first but I was surprised how quickly I got in shape. After six weeks I'd got my pace down from eight-minute miles to seven. I'd been looking around for a place to stay and one night after practice David introduced me to a woman I'd seen at the workouts with the women's team.