On the Other Hand
Chapter 1: Delayed Reaction
I never expect to fail. It's just not in my makeup. I don't even consider it an option. It's not like it doesn't happen, but when it does it always takes me by surprise. Consider, if you will, the following conversation with my wife that took place some months ago.
"I see you're home finally," Leona said in a desultory tone.
I looked at my watch and saw that it was twenty to six.
"I'm ten minutes later than normal. Nothing to get upset about."
When I looked more carefully, I noticed she hadn't started our dinner. The oven was off and there was nothing on the counter or in the microwave. That was unusual.
"You'd better sit down, Will. I have something to tell you."
I knew immediately that this also wasn't normal. There was an ominous note to the tone of her voice that wasn't so much demanding as resolute. I sat, my eyes not leaving her face -- a face with eyes that were not looking at me.
"I'm leaving you, Will. I've been thinking about this for some time and I've decided now is the time." She finally looked me in the eye as she finished her blunt statement.
I couldn't think of anything to say that would make sense, so I said nothing. I was sure something would come to mind presently, but for now, I would let her have her say. My gaze continued unwavering as I watched her, now squirming in her chair.
"I'm not happy and staying with you won't cure that. I have to go somewhere and find someone else who will make me happy. And no, there isn't anyone that I'm seeing and I haven't been unfaithful, just unhappy."
She couldn't hold her eyes on me for more than a few seconds. It occurred to me that she felt guilty, but I wasn't sure what for. She said she hadn't been cheating on me and there wasn't another man. I remained silent but my eyes were still fixed on her.
"Well, aren't you going to say something?" she finally blurted out in frustration.
"What's there to say?" I shrugged. "I don't hear you asking for a debate. It's pretty much a unilateral declaration of intent to divorce."
"Don't you care?" she asked, now showing signs of exasperation.
"Certainly I care. I care about you. I care about our eight year marriage. I care about why you are unhappy. I care about a lot of things."
"I just don't think this marriage is going anywhere," she said sadly. "Ever since you found out you couldn't father children it's been going downhill."
"Ah. Well, now we're getting to the root of it, aren't we. All those protestations to the contrary, you really did get hurt when we found that out. It really was the deal-breaker I worried it might be."
She nodded, looking down in her lap, now in sorrow rather than her false front of bravado.
"It took you a long time to be honest about it," I said.
"It took me a long time to admit it," she said, looking up at me sadly.
"At least I can understand it, Leona. I can't say I blame you. You aren't thirty yet, so there's plenty of time for you to have children with another man. I just wish you'd been honest with your feelings a little sooner. Before I ... we ... had so much invested in each other."
"I'm sorry, Will. I would give anything if I'd have had the courage to tell you back then. I didn't want to hurt you ... and now ... it's worse, isn't it?"
"Yes. It would have hurt in either case, but going along for six years thinking we could get by it just makes it more difficult to accept. But ... I do accept it. So ... what happens now?"
"I'm moving in with a friend, Charlotte. You've met her. We've been talking about this for some time, so she's well aware of the reason. I'll contact a lawyer and start the proceedings. It doesn't have to be ugly, Will. If we divide everything fifty-fifty we can get by this without too much grief."
"All right. I won't fight you on it and I won't be unreasonable in the property settlement. Fifty-fifty is fair."
We both rose and I moved to her, opening my arms to hug her. She was stiff in my embrace, but I could see the beginnings of tears as we broke and she walked slowly to the bedroom. She returned in less than a minute with two already packed suitcases, ready to leave.
"Let me help you," I offered and for the first time, she smiled.
It was a faint and brief gesture, but it was there. It might have been a smile of relief, relief that our meeting hadn't deteriorated into something spiteful or even physical. In fact, it was almost completely devoid of emotion when I thought back on it. How strange. The end of a marriage. The end of a love affair. And what was there to show for it? A couple of tears by her and a sense of inevitability in me? Not much after eight years. Not much at all.
On the other hand, I should have known. Not just about the low sperm count causing her distress, but the other thing. She wasn't left-handed. I knew in my heart of hearts that I should have married a left-handed woman, but no, not me. I had to let the little head make decisions for the big head. Leona was a hot babe back when I first met her and I kind of knew then that I wouldn't be in control of the situation. Regrettably, that was the case. Elvis nailed it down over fifty years ago with I'm Left, You're Right, She's Gone.
Okay, I admit, it sounds crazy, but I've come to believe that there is something about left-handedness that demands you find a compatible mate. It's complicated because you have to define what left-handedness really is. For instance, I'm left-handed but I play golf right-handed. The same with swinging a baseball bat. But then, lots of right-handed people swing the club or the bat left-handed, don't they. It's complicated. But, from my point of view, if you write or draw or paint left-handed, you are left-handed. End of story.
My name is William Travers. I'm a newspaper reporter with the Bay City, Michigan Post and a part-time writer for an allied television station's news department. My job at the newspaper is loosely defined as "features writer", which covers everything that isn't hard news. Once upon a time, in the heyday of the newspaper, we had separate reporters who handled some of my responsibilities, but no more.
The newspaper was dying ... at least in its traditional format. At first it was television that altered how people got the news. Lately it was the Internet: more specifically the blogosphere, whatever that was. Any joker with a keyboard could write a blog and post it and literally hundreds of millions of people could read it. There was no accreditation in the blogosphere. No one had to prove their bona-fides to back up their opinion. And God knows, they all had opinions.
But I would survive. I knew that for a certainty now. The talking heads could seldom write their own material unless they had come from a real news background. My part-time job would ultimately become a full-time job simply because I could do it and do it in a compressed time format. Instead of space, as I concerned myself with at the newspaper, it was time that was the master of television. No matter, I could manage both.
So, Will Travers (that's what my by-line reads) would survive even though his marriage would not.
As I lay in bed that first night that Leona was gone I was aware that I didn't feel sorrow as much as I felt being overcome by the inevitable. I don't know why. I loved Leona. I knew that for certain, even if it was no longer mutual. I never in a thousand years expected our marriage to fail. It just wasn't possible, I thought. But I was wrong and that was a surprise.
Black Monday. That's what I came to think of it as. Black Monday when Leona pronounced our marriage dead. Dead as a doornail, however dead that is. As dead as yesterday's news, perhaps? Not really. You learn from history, and history is yesterday's news. So, in the words of the eternal optimist, learn from history and go forth, even if it isn't to multiply. Gallows humor is better than no humor at all.
I was thirty years old as of last December 4th. I wasn't that old. I could find another mate. Well, maybe not a mate as such, considering my condition. At least a partner. Yes, that's what she would be, a partner. But ... for now ... I didn't have much enthusiasm for the hunt. I had never considered an alternate so I hadn't been looking. Oh, I had looked, but I hadn't been looking, if you know what I mean.
Let's see. What are my general specifications? Six-foot one inch, one-hundred-ninety pounds, fit, healthy, all my own teeth and most of my close-cropped brown hair. Blue eyes, evidence of a deviated septum on an otherwise unremarkable nose, a small scar on my chin, clean-shaven and generally tidy in my dress. Oh yeah, and left-handed. Not exactly the picture of the once-derided "ink-stained wretch" label attached to my trade.
So, as I looked in the mirror the next morning, the first morning of my reinstated singleness, I couldn't be too discouraged at my prospects. I wasn't so vain as to expect women to fall all over themselves to get to me. But neither did I expect them to go screaming into the night in revulsion either. I was somewhere in the middle ground. Not too bad a situation in my opinion.
I visited the human resources department and advised them of my forthcoming divorce and asked what steps I should take in terms of insurance and health benefits. I got the typical sympathetic comments from Alana before we got down to business. A half-hour later I knew what needed to be done and when it should be done. Step one completed.
I don't know why I didn't just get on the office public address system and announce my failed marriage to the whole floor, since before noon I had a number of staff approach me with condolences about my situation. So much for the right of privacy. I would like to have torn a strip off Alana, but chose not to. The horse was already out of the barn and I might as well face it. It wasn't going to be a secret forever anyway. Besides, it might alert some of the single women that I was to become available. Every cloud has its silver lining they say.
Our uncontested divorce progressed through the system without any hiccups. Leona was true to her word that fifty-fifty was fair and there were no rancorous arguments about which things belonged to whom. We split the cost of the proceedings and I put the house up for sale. We had some equity in it but not a lot. I would leave it to her to decide when to sell and she did a good job, extracting what I thought was a decent price from a prospective buyer. There was just enough for my share to put a down payment on a two bedroom condo not far from my office.
Leona didn't want the marital bed, so I took it. She decided on the television and the living room furniture. I took the hide-a-bed, kitchen things and the small television set from the bedroom. It would do for now in my smaller quarters. I had my own laptop, so Leona took the PC, although for the life of me I couldn't figure out why. She had no interest in the Internet or in computers in general. When I thought about it afterward, I realized she would be going through some life-changing experiences and perhaps she realized that if she was going to look for a new partner ... or mate, I should say ... then maybe the Internet would be a source.
Leona's job didn't produce the earnings that mine did, but she didn't want to burden me with alimony. She was confident that she could get along well for the time being living with her friend at very low cost. I volunteered that she could reconsider her situation at any time in the next three years, the length of time the courts generally agreed any alimony would be applicable. I guessed that she was hoping to find a man before then.
So there it was, my first big failure. Eight years of my happiness and six years of her disappointment. If only I had known. But then, I did know, didn't I. I knew that I should have married a left-handed woman. Well, maybe I didn't know it, but I thought about it. There were a bunch of reasons as I'll tell you later on.
I had several of the women at the paper let me know they were available for a date, but I had an aversion to getting involved with someone in the same workplace. I also had an aversion to dating married women, as more than one of the candidates was. So, as a general policy, I turned them all down ... politely, of course. Besides, none of them were left-handed.
The nature of our divorce also meant that I didn't have to worry about friendships blowing up that Leona and I had established. That was especially helpful in the early days of my singular existence as I found I was frequently lonely and wanted some sort of male companionship on occasion. While married, we had played bridge with several other couples and got along well with them. Without a partner, bridge was out, but I could call up a couple of the men and they would meet with me at a pub or the golf course.
My best friend was Rich Cullen. He was several years older, but we met at a writer's conference and hit it off and stayed in touch over the past five or six years. He was a really bright guy with a shock of red hair, but unlike the stereotype, he was as even-tempered as any man I had ever met. He was also left-handed.
Rich was one of those guys who was completely unpredictable when it came to working hours versus playtime. More than a few times he would work all night to get a story done, then take one or two days off to "get his head straight" as he called it. He hadn't married yet, but he had a steady lady friend who suited him perfectly. She was red-haired too, but a little more volatile than Rich. Fiona was very pretty and also very smart, so we had some wonderful discussions when we got together. Oh, and Fiona was left-handed as well.
You're no doubt noticing this left-handed obsession I'm alluding to. Considering we only make up ten percent of the population, our influence on world events is out of proportion to our numbers. In fact, the list of U.S. Presidents since WWII is quite impressive, with six from Harry Truman to Barack Obama. But it isn't just presidents, it's people like Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Napoleon Bonaparte, Henry Ford, Albert Schweitzer, Edward R. Murrow, Buzz Aldrin ... hell, the list goes on forever. Even John Dillinger, for Pete's sake.
Anyway, those of us who are left-handed know just what it means to be adaptive. It's a right-handed world and we have to adapt because there is precious little compromise in this world. I'm convinced that's why left-handed people tend to over-achieve. No, they don't all become presidents, but more often they do become more than ordinary people. I'm also sure that's one of the reasons that I'm an optimist. I expect to over-achieve.
So there you are. I'm left-handed and I'm looking for a new lady friend and I'm pretty much going to narrow my search to a left-handed woman. That's going to inflate the odds quite a bit, but I've learned my lesson. For complete compatibility, I'm going to stick to my guns and look for that special woman who's exactly right for me. Or should I say left for me? I'm optimistic that I'll find "her."