I'd heard the two of them talking about me. My heart was broken. Why she'd said those things about me I couldn't guess. She didn't need to be saying stuff like that. I'd never done her wrong—never. That was two days ago. I'd been in a blue funk ever since; she hadn't noticed; of course now I knew the reason she hadn't noticed: she'd had her own agenda. She was sitting across from me soft pedaling what it, her agenda.
"I'm sorry Uly, but it's the way it has to be. Time to get on with things," she said, and then she was gone. My Penelope was gone. Gone and I didn't really know why just that there was another man.
Nine years of marriage in the shitter. No kids at least; that was something. I had the condo; she'd said she didn't want it. She'd not wanted anything except for her share of the condo's equity. Well, and except for the condo, we didn't have much. Our cars, our personal stuff, some furniture, and that was about it. She asked me to send her half the equity when I could afford it. I'd said that I would.
Pen and I had met in college, dated off and on for three years, gotten engaged at a frat kegger, and married a month after our common graduation. Now, thirty-five years old and starting over. Well, it was what it was.
The divorce would be final in seven months. I swallowed hard and prepared to get on with things as she'd said. I took stock. At five-six and one-forty I was too damn small, but I was otherwise okay looking, I guess. My job at Wilcom Enterprises was a good one: I was sales rep for the southern district. Wilcom marketed, installed, and serviced electronic and computer products for several makers of such. Problem was that Pen worked for Wilcom too, different division, she was admin assistant to the company CEO, Brad Siefert.
Working for the same company meant that we'd still be seeing each other from time to time, and that was going to be hard for me. Worse, I'd no doubt be seeing her with him, Herbert Morgan. Herbert was the reason, evidently, that she'd left me. Herbert was HRO chief for Wilcom.
I'd sorta been wrong about seeing her at work. For a full two months after her laying it on me, I did not see her. Nor had I heard from or about her during that time.
The divorce still had a few months to go before being final. I spent my evenings mostly at home crying in my manhattans. Manhattans were good friends to have, very sympathetic actually. I appreciated that. But then I did, see her that is, and him.
It was a company honoraria. It was kind of a mandate to attend, so I did. Everyone was eating. I knew the band would be gearing up soon; they were already setting up on the dais raised for the purpose.
I was seated at a table of my coworkers on the sales force. My soon to be ex was across the room with good 'ole Herbert. They weren't necking or anything, but they were seated close to each other and quietly conversing and laughing at whatever during the affair. Mister Siefert went up to the mike and tested it.
"Okay, folks, this is where I get to say thanks to all of you for a job well done this quarter. And, I have some special thank yous for a few special ladies and gentlemen tonight as well," he said.
One by one, the top three performers from each of the company's four divisions went up to receive plaques and an envelope—presumably a bonus cheque for a job well done. And then it was the turn of the sales division.
And for the sales division number three is Ulysses Ward. I was surprised. I had not expected to get anything. I went up and got the usual short accolade and was handed a plaque and my winnings. The applause was polite. I glanced over at my wife; she was still that. She was smiling and applauding too. Her date did too after she nudged him.
The other winners followed, some photos were taken and we resumed our seats.
Awards made, the drinking and dancing began. This was where the rubber would meet the road. I watched her dance with him several times. I had no interest in asking anyone to dance, and I didn't. But I did drink, rather heavily. Mark Wilson, my bud from the materials division kept after me to make a move on some of the other females in attendance. He was joined by Hank Larabee and Quentin Cedar, installation guys.
"You oughta ask one of the gals to dance, Uly, said Quentin.
"Yes, you're divorcing, but you're not on your death bed," said Mark. "You're a good looking guy; you need to get started on the rest of your life," he said. Quentin was nodding his agreement.
"You know, you're right," I said. He smiled.
"Damn straight," said Mark. "I usually am." He laughed. I looked around to see which single gals might be willing to have mercy on me. I targeted two.
I got up and asked Ann Williams to dance. She turned me down, said she had a sore ankle. I nodded and went back to my table. A bit later I asked Meryl Childers to dance; she said maybe later. I guessed that my bud's assessment of my worthiness was not as accurate as he thought. At any rate, my ego sufficiently dented, I just decided to get really sloshed.
I was into my fourth manhattan when she came up to me. "Dance with me Uly," she said. She was so beautiful; I wanted to cry—again.
"No, Pen, wouldn't want to upset good 'ole Herbert. You don't owe me anything. Just go on back to your new man," I said. I don't think I sounded especially bitter, but I could have been wrong.
"Come on, Uly, we were married a long time. We can still be friends. Really," she said.
"No," I said. And I turned my back on her.
"Okay, if that's how it's going to be," she said. Then she did go back to him. I saw the two of them talking animatedly. Of course I didn't actually know what it was about, but it figured to be me.
Having seen her politely applauding me, and her essentially offering me a chance to salvage a bit of pride by asking me to dance with her, did something to my psyche. I made a decision. I'd sell the condo and get out of Dodge. I just couldn't bring myself to work in the same place as she did, my beautiful Penelope.
At work I was just going through the motions for the next three months. It was very difficult for me to concentrate. But then, finally, the condo sold. I sent her her half of the equity, $11,000. I took my half, and put it in a savings account at a new bank: I'd closed out my old accounts. The divorce was final two weeks after I sent her the cheque.
I showed up for the final decree. She was across the room from me—with him. She tendered me a smile; I didn't return it. She took on a questioning look I didn't quite understand. But it was what it was. I made the required declaration and she made hers. When I heard her, I started to cry; there was nothing for it; it was the saddest moment of my life. And then I quit my job. And when I did, I was summoned to the CEO's office for a sit down.
"Have a seat Uly," he said.
"Thank you, sir," I said. I took the proffered seat.
"So you've decided to quit. Sure it's the best thing for you? You've put in a lot of time and energy with the company," he said. I decided to be candid.
"Sir, I can't—"
"Your wife?" he said.
"Well, yes. I can't work where she does. Seeing her, well it's too much," I said. He nodded.
"Uly, Pen is a very good assistant. I treasure her skills. She actually came to me and offered to quit. She said she knew it might be hard for you working here with her; I mean with her divorcing you and all. I talked her out of it. I told her that you were a tough guy and could handle it. But, I guess I was wrong, huh," he said.
"Sir, with all due respect, and believe it, I do very much respect you; but me seeing her ... I just can't do it. She's my life, and I mean she is still my life. There will never be anyone else for me. I have to leave town, start over, or try to," I said.
"Okay, Uly. I kinda felt that's what you'd say. Here, take this, maybe it will help you," he said. "Oh, and if you ever change your mind; well, we can always use a good rep, and you're one of the best. He handed me an envelope.
"Thank you, sir," I said. We said our goodbyes, and then I was gone.
I decided not to work sales anymore. Sales required a kind of focus that was only possible for someone whose personal life was stable. Emotional cripples like me could never really be any good at high end sales. I needed something mindless that took up all of my time and at the same time could pay me a living wage.
All Hallows Hamburgers—it had been founded on Halloween some years before—hired me as an assistant manager on the spot. My recommendation from mister Siefert had been in the envelope along with a personal severance check; it helped me there.
I was in my mid-thirties and pushing burgers for a living. I should say the job wasn't exactly chopped liver. True, I used to make upwards of 80K annual with bonuses, and that was now down to 40K, but when I made manager that would jump to a solid 60K and the benefit package wasn't too shabby; it was a statewide chain, was All Hallows. At any rate, I was getting by, just not like I used to.
What had actually sold me on the job were the outrageously long hours I'd be required to put in. Sixty and seventy hours a week were not uncommon, not uncommon at all. It's what I'd wanted. Something to take my mind off my wife, my ex-wife. And it did.
At any rate, between my job and my pal Old Overholt, my favorite rye whiskey, I was doing marginally okay. Of course, I had no social life, not with my schedule; but again, I hadn't wanted one. Had I wanted one I probably wouldn't have done all that well anyway. My whole situation kinda sucked.
.... There is more of this story ...