Chapter 1: Out of the Blue
We were just finishing up the dinner dishes as we usually did. What didn't go into the dishwasher, we did by hand. Joyce washed and I dried. I snapped the towel out, folded it and put it on its hanger.
"Don't go anywhere, Geoff. I've got something for you," my wife said.
I was intrigued. This was different, so I sat in my usual kitchen chair waiting for her return. She wasn't gone more than twenty seconds when she returned carrying a manila envelope. She put it on the table and slid it toward me.
"What's this?" I asked, picking it up and looking at the front.
"Read it and see for yourself," she said. She seemed a bit nervous to me.
I looked at the front of the envelope, and along with my name, was the name of a law firm in the top corner. I didn't like the look of this at all. I looked up at Joyce.
"What's this about, Joyce?" I asked again.
"Look inside, Geoff. That will tell you."
I opened the flap and pulled out a sheaf of papers. The heading on the title page told me everything I had hoped it wouldn't. Petition for Divorce.
I looked up a Joyce again. "What the hell is going on, Joyce?"
"I'm divorcing you, Geoff." She seemed unable to continue, but her expression was firm and it wasn't pleasant.
"Why?" It was all I could think of at the moment. I was in turmoil and trying desperately to reason why this was happening.
"I'm not happy with my life. I want more from it. Our boys are almost grown and I'll be forty this December. I've spent the last twenty years cooking and cleaning and doing the laundry and all the other things a wife is expected to do. Now ... I want a life of my own."
"Is it something I've done wrong?" I asked, hoping I would get some kind of explanation for what she was proposing.
"No, Geoff. You've been a good husband and a good provider. Unfortunately, that isn't enough. We married when I was only nineteen. I missed out on part of my youth. I'm not going to miss out any more. I still have forty years left if I'm lucky. I want them to be exciting and fulfilling and meaningful. Being married to you doesn't offer that."
"Jesus, Joyce, is this some kind of early menopause thing?"
"No! It is not," she snapped angrily.
I was thunderstruck. We were only three weeks from our twentieth wedding anniversary and she was telling me that it was over? Our life wasn't meaningful, or fulfilling? What the fuck? I was at a complete loss for words. I was shaking my head, I realized, but I couldn't come up with anything to say.
"Just sign where the tabs are, Geoff. Let's get this over with as cleanly as possible. I don't want to fight about it."
I looked down at the papers in front of me. Little red plastic tabs with the words Sign Here were randomly poking out the side of the sheaf. I took a deep breath.
"Joyce ... is this your final word? No discussion? No chance to change your mind?"
She nodded with a grim look. At least she wasn't taking any pleasure in this.
"So I'm pretty much useless as a husband ... is that it?"
"No, Geoff. It's just that ... it's me ... it's what I want. I've sacrificed twenty years to you and the boys. Now ... I want my turn."
"So this is really about you. To hell with me. To hell with our sons. Joyce comes first."
"Don't be nasty, Geoff. That's not your style. I've made up my mind. Whether you agree or not, we are getting a divorce, so just sign the papers."
"The hell I will!" I snapped. "You think I'm going to let you walk away with one cent more than the law allows then you're in for a big surprise. I'm not signing anything until Pete goes over this with a fine-tooth comb."
"Fine. Have Pete send it to Ocsana Dirovich at Wendler-Milton. The address is on the envelope," she said in frustration. Our voice levels had been rising as the conversation progressed.
"Where are the boys?" I asked. "I have to talk to them about this."
"I gave them some money to go out to dinner. I talked to them after you left for work this morning. They know what's going on."
"I suppose you intend to sue for child support?"
"Just for Ross. Matt is eighteen. They've decided to stay with me in the house. I've already moved your clothes and things out of the bedroom into the guest room."
"Well, we'll see about that. This house is half mine. It's worth a half-million on today's market and there's only about eighty thousand left on the mortgage. You want the house, then pony up two hundred and ten grand and it's yours."
"Don't be stupid, Geoff. Where am I going to get that kind of money?"
"Simple. Re-mortgage the house. You want it, you pay for it."
At that point, I stood and pushed the chair back and walked out of the kitchen and upstairs to the guest room. I looked in and found my clothes hanging up in the closet and when I opened the drawers, the t-shirts, underwear and socks put away as well. My toiletries were stacked on the top of the dresser.
I was fuming. I needed to calm down and collect my thoughts. I wanted to strike out at someone ... something. I would never hit Joyce, I had always thought, but I was perilously close to breaking that rule. She had just told me that I had wasted twenty years of my life loving and supporting her. She put no value on it other than her own sacrifices, as she characterized them.
I sat on the edge of the bed, my head in my hands, the house strangely silent. I wondered if she had gone out. What to do. The boys were out, but they both had cell phones and I could contact them without having to negotiate or inform Joyce. I wondered if she had given them the same story as she gave me. I wondered what my sons thought about it all.
I wondered about Joyce and why she felt she had to do this. She was an attractive woman with a good job. She dressed smartly, and radiated a presence that most other women couldn't. She was fairly tall and slim, but her exceptional posture wasn't rigid in the way some people can be. I had thought she loved me ... or at least she said she did. I hadn't seen any reason to doubt her.
We had married when I graduated from the local college. She was a good looking blonde then, but decided to let her natural brunette color return when she went back to work four years ago. Apparently she thought people would take her more seriously with dark hair. This evening in the kitchen I got a whole new perspective on Joyce Nelson.
As I sat there, I realized I didn't belong in this house any more. I was a stranger now; at best a guest. Any idea that I would stay here was out of the question. I walked downstairs and into the garage to get my suitcases. I would pack as much as I could and find a hotel or motel for the next few days. I didn't want to be here another minute.
It took me almost an hour to load the essential clothes and accessories I would need to live on my own. I could return and get the rest tomorrow when Joyce was at work. Tonight I wanted out of there, and pronto. I carried the two suitcases downstairs and into the garage, putting them in the back of my vehicle. I found an empty bankers box, then went to my office and unplugged my laptop, printer, and scanner, and packed them in the box.
At no time did I see any sign of Joyce. As I was about to leave, I looked upstairs and saw our bedroom door was closed. I wondered if she knew I was leaving. There was one way to make sure. With a bit of effort, I removed my wedding ring and placed it in the middle of the kitchen table.
It was still light at eight o'clock that evening in mid-May. Monday night and I was looking for a place to stay. I was driving aimlessly, not knowing where I was headed. Finally, I pulled over to the side of the road to think.
Our home was up in the hills on the west side, overlooking the Columbia River. We were surrounded by orchards and the occasional vineyard, and the view out over the valley was spectacular. We had bought the house at a bargain price ten years ago and it had been a home we thought we would never have to leave.
My office, Valley Computer Services, was near Wenatchee Valley College, a handy location considering how many computers were in the hands of students. Unfortunately, the hotels on the town side were backing on the mainline of the BNSF railroad, and I knew that wouldn't work. I drove to the East Wenatchee side and found a motel not far from a shopping center and the bridge across the river. The vacancy sign was lit and I checked in. It was clean and seemed quiet enough. It would have to do for the present.
I got little sleep that night. My mind was still reeling from Joyce's declaration, and I spent a good part of the night going over the past twenty years trying to determine just what went wrong. I shed some tears for what I would be losing. It all seemed so hopeless. Joyce hadn't left me a single thread to cling to.
By six o'clock Tuesday morning I was no wiser. I rose, turned on the local news and went into the bathroom to conduct my morning ritual. By six-thirty I was beginning to feel a little better and I made my way to a small diner in the shopping center. The breakfast special looked fine and I ordered it along with a black coffee. I was surprised that I had an appetite.
Our shop didn't open to the public until eight-thirty, but most of our commercial clients knew there would be someone there before eight o'clock. I was usually in the store before eight, but this morning I was there before seven-thirty. There were things I could do, but I wanted to make sure I caught our owner, Terry Jackson, before he got into something. I was going to tell him what was going on and that I would need some time to see my lawyer and other things.
Terry walked in just before eight and expressed surprise that I was already there.
"You fall out of bed, Geoff?" he grinned.
"No. Nothing that simple. If you've got a couple of minutes, I'll fill you in."
I poured out my tale of woe and Terry was immediately concerned.
"Jesus, Geoff, that's cold. No tears ... no nothin'?"
I shook my head. "Not from her. Anyway, I need to talk to my lawyer and I also want to go back to my house when Joyce is at work and get the rest of my things. I'm sorry if that puts you behind the eight-ball, Terry."
"Sure ... don't worry about it. Do what you have to do. I'll hold the fort. If things get hairy, I'll be callin' you on your cell."
"Great. Thanks. That takes a load off my mind."
Terry was shaking his head as I left his office and headed into the back to finish the work I had begun. We had talked about my buying into the business, but it hadn't got to the serious stage yet. Just as well, since that would be another complication in the divorce. I'd discussed the idea with Joyce, but to be honest, she wasn't exactly jumping up and down with enthusiasm at the investment. I wondered now if she had been planning her departure for some time.
I called Pete Mahoney's law office and left a message on the machine for him to call me on my cell as soon as possible. He usually got to his office just before nine, so I had some time to wait. I decided to head back to the house and clear out more of my things. I stopped at Staples and picked up a five-pack of banker's boxes and got to my house just before nine. I was in the middle of packing the first box when my cell phone went off.
"You called?" Pete said without introduction. We'd know each other since high school and regularly played golf during the summer. He was a fixture in Wenatchee and had a thriving law practice, both civil and criminal.
"Yeah ... have you got some time for me soon? I need to talk to you and it's fairly urgent."
"Sure. I'll find some time. What's happening?"
"Joyce has filed for divorce," I said simply.
"What! I don't believe it. What the hell happened?"
"Apparently I'm not stimulating or exciting enough for her. She's decided she's done her bit in raising the family and now wants out. I'm paraphrasing a bit, of course."
"Shit, Geoff. What the hell is wrong with her? Is this menopause?"
"Not according to her. Anyway, can we get together? I need representation."
"Yeah. I'll clear my desk for one-thirty this afternoon. Will that work?"
"Great. Thanks a ton, buddy. I feel better already just talking to you."
"Who's representing Joyce?"
"Ocsana somebody or other at Wendler-Milton. Do you know her?"
"Yeah. She's okay. Not some man-eater, at least. I'll see you at one-thirty. Right now I've got to rearrange some things."
"Thanks again, Pete." I hung up with a sigh of relief. I sat on the edge of the bed once more and looked around. The tears came again out of nowhere. I wondered how long this would go on. I wasn't functioning very well, but when I thought about it, I shouldn't have been surprised. It had only just happened.
I never realized how much stuff I had. I'd better get moving if I wanted to get this done before my meeting with Pete.
I had time for a quick sandwich at a local deli near Pete's office and made my appointment on time. Pete was waiting for me as I came in the front reception area and he came over, shook my hand, and wrapped an arm around my shoulders as we walked to his office. He was doing everything a friend could do to make me feel better.
I passed the paperwork over to Pete, but he didn't look at it right away.
"Tell me what you can remember about your conversation with Joyce last night," Pete began.
I relayed what I could recall, warning Pete that I was in a state of shock for the first few minutes. He nodded his head in understanding. When I finished, he pulled the papers from the manila envelope.
"So Joyce wanted you to sign this right away, did she?"
"Yeah. I damned near did, but then I got my wits about me and told her we would talk through our lawyers."
"How did she react to that?"
"I think she was pissed, but it didn't seem to be a huge thing."
"I want some time to go over these, Geoff. In the meantime, I want you to spend some time and think about what you want from this divorce. You have rights as well as Joyce, so don't worry about what you think you can have, just write down what you want. We're talking property, alimony, child care, savings ... the works. That way, I can weed through it and we can decide which are the most important things, and which ones we can use for bargaining chips."
"Okay," I said with a sigh. Both Pete and I slumped back in our chairs.
"Do you know how much Joyce makes at Koch Motors?" Pete asked.
"Uhhm ... to tell the truth ... no. She's been filing her own return for about three years now ... just after she went back to work."
"Remind me what she does there."
"Well, she started out in the credit department, and now she's administrative assistant in that department. She's done very well as far as I can tell."
"Does she contribute to the household?"
"Yeah. She puts a thousand in every two weeks. She's been doing that since she started."
"And you haven't seen any of her returns?" Pete asked, looking very curious.
"No. I file my return myself because it's very straightforward. Apparently, someone at Koch does hers for her."
"Interesting," was all Pete would say.
"Does she have her own 401K?"
"Yes. She and the company contribute."
"Any idea how much it's worth?"
I shook my head. "Not a clue."
"What about the boys? How do they feel about all this?"
"I haven't talked to them yet. I was too upset last night and too busy trying to get my affairs in order today. I'll talk to them tonight. I'm just hoping Joyce hasn't turned them against me."
Pete smiled. "I doubt that she'd be able to do that, Geoff. Those two think you're pretty good ... as dads go."
"Do you think they would choose to stay with Joyce?"
"Well, my first guess is pragmatic. Who cooks, does the laundry, and generally looks after them when you're not there? They'll probably figure out that it's their best option for now. That could all change when they're a little older."
"Yeah ... I suppose."
"Have you checked your bank accounts to see if anything has happened since yesterday?"
"Yeah. This morning. Nothing unusual. I moved half our savings into my personal account. I'll be stopping my pay check from going into the checking account."
"Don't do that, Geoff. Let her make the first move. No problem with half the savings, but leave the checking alone. She's going to have to pay the bills now, and two thousand a month won't go very far."
"Okay, anything else?"
"Not for now. Just make up that list I talked about and I should be back to you in a day or so. I've got some digging to do. In the meantime, don't talk to Joyce, and make sure anything you take from the house is exclusively yours. Don't give Ocsana any ammunition. We're the good guys, remember?" he said, straight-faced.
"Yeah ... sure. The good guys." It sure didn't feel like it, but I was certain Pete would do a thorough job. If anyone could save this situation, he would.