The couples began arriving at my house just shy of a half an hour late, despite the fact that I had asked for them to get over to the house this evening by seven. I guess each couple had been trying to jockey its arrival time so that they would not be the first to arrive. As a result, the cars for two of the couples arrived at the top of my driveway at about the same time, at twenty-five after seven. My dad's truck, with him and Mama Connie, my stepmother, arrived just five minutes later.
I was still in the living room, trying to ask about drink preferences for Larry and Angela Klugh and Roy and Mary Jo Chastain, when Dad and Mama Connie came on in the front door without knocking or ringing, just as they had always done. While I was getting the drinks for the first two couples, Dad came back to the kitchen, retrieved two beers from my fridge for himself and Mama Connie, and followed me out as I brought the others' drinks out to them.
I'd already started working on a Bud Black Crown just as my visitors had begun to arrive. After ensuring that everyone was as physically situated and comfortable as possible, I sat down in my easy chair, facing all of them across the coffee table; except for Dad and Mama Connie, who sat near the piano, off to the right side as I faced the others.
Conversation to this point had been limited to simple courtesy greetings and responses, along with the minimum information passed among each other to determine drink preferences; adding their thanks for the courtesy. The emotional mix of sadness, grief, anger, and humiliation of the overall situation in which I now found myself, my family, and my friends this evening sort of put the brakes on the idea of trying to engage each other in any form of light conversation; no talk about kids, clubs, work -- especially not about marriages; most notably mine.
You see, I had had my wife, Jamey, served at her work place this morning for divorce on the grounds of adultery. She had not called me frantically, as some other wives might have done in that situation. I guess she had taken one look at the two pictures of her and Doug Stevenson in the throes of sexual ecstasy as Doug eagerly plunged his dick into her cheating cunt in doggie position (out of the couple of hundred that I had received from my PI) that I had included in the packet -- along with the transcription of extracts of some of their intimate conversations (also courtesy of my PI).
Evidently, Jamey had decided to follow my written instructions to pick up the bags that I had packed and left on the front porch, containing those items that she would need for an immediate move to wherever she would be staying temporarily (my grandfather had left me as the sole owner of the house when he had passed away before we were married, six years previously; and I had changed the locks after she had left for work this morning).
I had told Jamey in writing that I was putting the rest of her things, along with most of our (till now) mutually-valued items, in storage out on East Brainerd Road, just east of downtown Chattanooga. I had not heard from her at all, except for one sheet of paper she had evidently stuck in my storm door when I came back this afternoon that said simply, "I'm sorry."
Whatever conversation was going on in the room ceased when I finally spoke and all eyes fixed on me as they began to absorb what I said.
"I had my lawyer arrange for serving Jamey with divorce papers at her work place this morning."
I did not say it loudly or with any noticeable anger in my voice. But that one statement had the same effect as if I had shouted it at the top of my lungs. The all stopped talking and turned to stare at me. For a second there, all motion stopped as well. I was sure that word of my action had reached at least the two wives, but both husbands probably knew as well what I had done today before I spoke.
I was looking generally at a point relatively in the center of mass of all of them, so that I was not looking at the expression on any of their faces. I really did not care who was displaying awareness, shock, surprise, innocence, or the lack of any of those emotions.
This meeting tonight was not so much about announcing the dissolution of my six-year marriage to Jamey as it was to outline the path of my life in the near future -- "going forward," as the President and other Washington politicians liked to say in their speeches, in order to look as if anything they were doing was moving toward some sort of "goodness" in the immediate future; it was a silly Washington-focus-group-approved expression that meant absolutely nothing.
"Clint," my dad finally said, after about five seconds of silence, "are you sure there was nothing that you and Jamey could have done before having her served? Or, maybe, even now?"
When I did not answer immediately -- trying to hold in my anger and frustration over several situations developing concurrently this evening -- Mary Joe Chastain (naturally, as she was the most gregarious of the bunch) said, "Mr. Hood, as well as I know your son, you can bet that he weighed all the alternatives before doing what he did to Jamey." She placed her hand, the one not holding her glass of water, softly against Roy's arm, as her husband slowly nodded his head while pondering what he had just heard in silence.
Under other circumstances, I might have been grateful to Mary Joe for voicing a recognition of my emotional juggling abilities -- but, not tonight!
Just three months ago:
"Yeah, Clint," Roy said to me, in response to my observation, "it sure looks like a clandestine rendezvous to me too."
Roy and I were enjoying a beer together after watching one of the many basketball games on the big screens at Buffalo Wild Wings. I had just commented on the appearance of some hanky-panky in the far corner.
She -- an early-thirties bottle blonde -- had come in just short of an hour before with two other ladies. He -- a late-thirties guy with a nice suit and wingtips (definitely out of place in a sports bar) had come in alone just ten minutes ago.
Given the quickness with which he had vectored over to the corner of the room after getting his drink at the bar; and as quickly as she had detached herself from her group to join him in his corner; they had obviously either arranged this earlier, done this before, or both. Seeing the rings on each of their left hands, it was obvious that they were married, and other indications led one to be more than just a little certain that they were not married to each other.
"Hey, Roy," I had asked him, as I pondered the recent changes that I had noted in Jamey's level of affection and interaction with me -- and not for the better, I might add. "What would you do if you knew either one or both of those cheating assholes and you spotted them out in public like this?
"I mean ... sure, there's the risk of telling the aggrieved spouse and having the one that you tell getting angry and trying to 'kill the bearer of bad news.' But, don't you feel that the poor guy -- in the case of the cheating wife -- or the poor woman -- in the case of the cheating husband -- needs to know?"
Roy was not originally from Tennessee; he had only moved here from New York after graduating from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and being hired by the Department of Energy at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. He had eventually left ORNL and had come to Chattanooga after being hired by a local engineering firm four years ago. We had met, right after he and Mary Joe had moved here, at a book-signing that our wives had brought us to at Barnes and Nobel in town. We had discovered that we lived in the same neighborhood; dinner invitations were extended; and Jamey and I had added them to our list of compatible couples among our mutual friends.
Thus, having known Roy for a few years now -- and recognizing that he still had a lot of the New Yorker in him -- I was not really surprised by his answer. "Naahh! Too many complications. Anyway, the truth always comes out in these matters in the long run. Why ruin a good friendship by having a bad memory associated with you permanently?"
"So," I riposted, "you would just let it be and not say anything at all? What if it was the wife of a close friend? Would that not count for something?"
Roy rolled his glass between his hands on the small elevated table on which we had been enjoying our wings and drinks, thinking about his response. Then, he said, "I guess, if it was a good friend -- ya know, a close one -- and not just an acquaintance from work or other social connections, I might reconsider and try to let the poor guy know."
I was smiling at the very Southern influence that his wife, Mary Joe, was having on Roy just to get him to bend even a smidgen on his 'don't-get-involved' attitude ingrained in him since his childhood, growing up near the Red Hook section of Brooklyn.
I asked him, "You'd want to know if it was Mary Joe, wouldn't you?"
"Never happen," he bristled. Then he took a quick drink and banged his glass on the table to show that he was irritated with me; simply even for considering that his loving wife might stray.
"Easy, Boy," I said. "We are only what-if-ing here, ya know? I ain't making no accusations. I'd just like to know that my friends had my back if ... you know ... they ever ... well, saw..." deep breath, "Jamey ... was doing anything inappropriate behind my back."
I took a swallow of my beer. "Ya know what I mean, Verne?"
Reference to the old Ernest P. Worrell commercials with Jim Varney caused Roy to laugh and drop his previously antagonistic stance at what I was saying. I laughed with him to let him think that everything was sunny and bright. But there was a growing darkness inside of me that I was not going to be able to conceal for much longer.
The silence following my announcement concerning my arranging to have Jamey served today, and Dad's and Mary Joe's short rejoinders, continued for a few more seconds until I broke it myself.
"I also had her asshole boss served with papers announcing my suit of him for 'Alienation of Affections;' and I had another set of papers served to their local vice president for their company's not enforcing their own rules about behavior of a sexual nature between married employees who are not married to each other."
I paused to get my thoughts together before continuing. I needed to say what I had to say in the proper sequence. I did not want to lose my rhythm, nor did I want to spoil the upcoming surprise.
"He was not very happy, especially when confronted with information supplied by my PI that substantiated that many of his employees there, including a couple in management positions, knew about the ongoing sexual relationship between my wife and her immediate supervisor, but did not say anything -- except among themselves in break-room gossip."
The expression on my face had no doubt gotten darker and darker as my anger grew at the memory of what had happened; along with the extent of collusion by her co-workers' silence in my wife's affair with her boss. The other couples in my living room wisely chose to remain silent and let me continue to vent.
"Yeah; funny thing about 'Alienation of Affections' lawsuits; they are not allowed any more here in Tennessee. But, because I had photographic evidence and eyewitness statements that corroborated that Jamey and that asshole had shared a room in Charlotte, North Carolina, during a qualified business trip three months ago, the judge that I found in Mecklenburg County, covering Charlotte, let my attorney process the suit from there. It seems that the locals there get a cut of all the legal fees associated with the suit, whoever wins."
"Man, Clint," said Larry, "you must really have a hard-on for that company to reach that far for a lawsuit!"
"Oh, it goes farther than that, my ... friend," I said, still angry, but recognizing that several relationships were about to change significantly ... and permanently, after tonight.
I picked up a leather-bound fold-over portfolio from the coffee table. From it I took out a manila envelope. I glanced at it to ensure that it the mark showing that it was the correct one, and tossed it so that it would slide in Roy's direction across the coffee table.
Roy took the large envelope, looked at his wife and then at me, and, with eyebrows raised, said, "What's this, Clint?"
"Take a look, Roy," I said simply. I was literally lifting the heels of my feet off the floor so that I would not be tempted to stand up and go over and beat the shit out of him and bitch-slap his stupid cunt of a wife.
As he opened the flap and removed the contents, his eyes widened and his lips fell open as he started to breathe rapidly.
"Consider yourselves served, Friends," I said quietly, though I wanted to be screaming at him.
"What ... you ... are you out of your mind?" Roy said, as he tried to steady his breathing.
"Roy, Honey," Mary Joe said, now sitting up, concerned over her husband's reaction to what he was reading.
Roy was now glaring at me and was apparently too upset to formulate an answer to his wife, so I helped him out.
"That is formal notice of my intent to execute a law suit under the statutes of the State of North Carolina for Alienation of Affections against Mrs. Mary Joe Chastain for, and I quote, 'malicious conduct that contributed to or caused the loss of affection... ' yeah, them's the words; and they go on to say that, 'as a direct and proximate result of the negligent, wrongful, and reckless misconduct and behavior of Mrs. Mary Joe Chastain, the plaintiff -- that would be me -- has suffered damage to the affection and consortium with my wife.'
"In other words," I continued before the formerly bewildered Mary Joe -- now the very angry Mary Joe -- could say anything; "you, Mary Joe, knew what was going on -- having gotten a firsthand statement from my wife -- and chose to cover for her, maybe even encourage her, and not to inform me."
"You son of a bitch," Mary Joe said to me, now that she had gotten her wits about her. "'Alienation of Affections?' Me? I am not her lover. Serve this to that guy, Doug, that she has been screwing!"
I looked at her with a venomous scowl on my face and said, "Mary Joe, were you aware that Jamey and I shared a love that existed between us prior to her relationship with Doug?"
Mary Joe was slightly confused by my question, but she nodded and, ever the big-mouth, said, "Sure. You two were almost sickening as to how sweet you were to each other. It was obvious that you were in love. But..."
I interrupted and continued, "Has the marital love that Jamey and I shared been compromised, alienated, and possibly destroyed as a result of her relationship with Asshole Doug?"
Mary Joe sighed and said, "I suppose, but..."
I carried on, "And did your conduct, by your not telling me, as well as the direct conduct of this Doug guy, in his inappropriate sexual actions with her, contribute to or cause Jamey and me the loss of our affection? And you knew, or should have known, that Jamey's conduct with Asshole Doug would cause the alienation between her and me."
"Look, Clint," said Roy, now attempting to stand up for his wife, "you need to get real on this. We have been friends for a couple of years now. You are accusing US of being the bad guys in all of this, when it was your wife and that boss of hers that..."
Mary Joe was now getting riled and interrupted her husband. "Anyway; you have no way to prove your claim about any of this; and, like you said, there is no such law covering this in Tennessee."
"Ah," I said with a deliberately condescending tone and expression, "but, as I said earlier; there is tort law for this in North Carolina."
Mary Joe did not respond right away, as she tried to gather her thoughts for her next counter attack against me. Before she could say anything, I said, "Remember the girls' week in Nag's Head?" I raised my eyebrows as I asked.
Mary Joe paused and her eyes narrowed as she tried to recall the trip she had made, along with my wife, Jamey, their friend, Angela Klugh -- now sitting next to her, and even my own stepmother, Mama Connie.
Jamey and I own a timeshare condo in Kissimmee, Florida -- (note to self: need to nudge my lawyer to take care of getting Jamey to take the timeshare in the settlement, since those damned things are otherwise too hard to get rid of normally). We also belong to a timeshare swap consortium that allows us to trade our yearly "vacation week unit" at our place in Kissimmee for the use of another unit at one of the consortium's member resorts elsewhere in the U.S.
Just about three months ago, right after she and Asshole Doug had begun to do the nasty, Jamey, my wife, had arranged a girls' week at a resort in Duck, North Carolina on the Outer Banks -- all of the small communities in that area being referred to collectively by the locals as 'Nag's Head.' Jamey, along with Mary Joe and Angela, had arranged their vacations to allow them to go together.
At the last minute, I had recommended that Jamey invite my stepmother along, for what I had hoped would be some 'adult oversight.' I was already having lots of misgivings about Jamey and her growing signs of an inappropriate relationship with her boss. The PI had already been on the case for at least two weeks, at that time, and I was concerned about Jamey's conduct whenever she would be away from me for a week -- even with two of her contemporaries along. Mama Connie, who does not work outside of her and Dad's home, had readily accepted the invitation to go along with the younger ladies.
"What about Nag's Head?" Mary Joe asked.
I did not answer her directly. Instead, I raised my hand, in which I now held the remote control for our state-of-the-art stereo entertainment system. With one click, I let her know just what I had found out from my PI -- with authentic audio accompaniment.
The transcript of what was about to play had been included, per my request, in the packet I had given to Roy. But it has such a ring of authenticity to it if one can actually hear the damning conversational evidence from the source. I introduced what they were about to hear by saying, "This was recorded from the adjacent vacation condo's patio, separated by privacy fence, via the use of a high-quality parabolic microphone."
(Sounds of seashore noises and a few cars, with the occasional sound of children at the pool on the other side of the condo)
Mary Joe: "You're not really doing that, are you? I thought that you and Clint were ... well ... good."
Jamey: "Oh, we are! It's just that this is so exciting and wicked, being with Doug. I know that it won't last; I will get my taste of the forbidden fruit and it will all be over soon, and I will continue to be exclusively Clint's forever after."
Mary Joe: "Until the next time, you mean..."
Jamey: "Oh, there is not going to be a next time. This is the ONLY time; believe me, Girlfriend. Once I break it off with Doug, or he drops me before then, that will be it. I will have gotten my head back on straight, I can go off the pill, and Clint and I can finally get down to the business of making babies together; just as we had planned."
Mary Joe: "I ... I just don't know, Jamey. This is so unlike you. I couldn't do anything like what you are doing to my Roy. He would be humiliated, he'd be angry, he'd wonder if he were as much of a man as the guy that I was cheating with ... speaking of which ... Are you with this guy because of... ?"
Jamey: "Oh, no. Clint is a much better lover, and he has a much better package than Doug does. It's just the excitement of the situation and the ... difference, I guess. And the thrill of being wicked just once before I finally settle down to enjoy the rest of my life with Clint."
Mary Joe: "Which may not be long if he finds out."
Jamey (now with a moment's hesitation): "You're ... you're not going to rat me out; are you?"
Mary Joe (with a sigh that -- even with the fence and fifteen feet of distance -- could not be missed by the PI's microphone): "No. I am not going to rat you out. But, I am not going out of my way to lie either. Do you hear?"
I clicked the remote, stopping the playback. During the playing of that excerpt of their conversation weeks ago in North Carolina, I had alternately watched Mary Joe's expression get gloomier, and Roy's get angrier.
"You bastard!" Roy said to me. "You had no right to eavesdrop and record my wife! I ought to sue you myself for invasion of privacy or..."
"SHUT UP! Like Ronald Reagan said in the Republican primary debates in 1980, I PAID FOR THIS MICROPHONE! I also was the paying owner of the timeshare swap. And, because I suspected Jamey of cheating, I had also bought a second resort 'week' that I put to use as a timeshare owner by 'gifting' it to my PI. So he had every right to be there and record 'nature sounds of the beach.' It is just too bad that my cheating bitch of a soon-to-be ex-wife and your more-than-willing-to-cover-for-a-cheater wife happened to be talking while my PI was testing his nature-sound recording equipment on the patio next door to their -- well, my -- vacation unit."
I sat back and took a breath before continuing. "And, the judge in Charlotte was very sympathetic to my case, since that conversation ALSO happened in North Carolina."
Roy was very pissed now. "Well, you can just take these papers and shove them up your ass, Bud. I am not letting you take my wife to court and embarrass her in public; even if it does take place over in Charlotte."
I smiled and pulled another large envelope out and slid it toward him. "Oh, she won't be the only one who is embarrassed in public ... BUD!"
Roy angrily picked up the second envelope and almost tore it as he pulled out the documents contained therein.
It only took him a second before he stood and I could actually see spit fly as he shouted, "You son of a bitch! You have GOT to be insane!"
"You are served as well, Motherfucker," I said as calmly as possible; even though I was even more angry at Roy and his role in this whole mess -- as he was about to find out.
"What do you mean by 'Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress'?" Roy shouted.
I smiled at him and said, "In essence, in those states that do not allow for law suits under the rubric of Alienation of Affections, they often have provisions for suits against those who cause 'Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress, ' abbreviated as IIED -- and Tennessee is one of them.
"This is where I sue you for, and I quote, 'outrageous conduct with the intention of causing -- or reckless disregard of the probability of causing -- emotional distress on the plaintiff -- that would be me; and that the plaintiff suffers severe or extreme emotional distress; and that the actual and proximate causation of the emotional distress by the defendant's outrageous conduct, ' unquote -- the defendant being YOU, Asshole!
"Emotional distress can mean mental distress, mental suffering, or mental anguish. It also includes all highly unpleasant mental reactions, such as fright, nervousness, grief, anxiety, worry, mortification, shock, humiliation and indignity, as well as physical pain. Believe me; my attorney and I have gone over this extensively and I have studied it well."
"When did I ever do anything like that to you, you shit?" Roy shouted.
I raised the remote again, and said, "How about at the Wagon Wheel, where you know that I am a regular ... YOU SHIT! I knew that, with as big a mouth as Mary Joe had, she would at least have to tell you what she had learned about Jamey's infidelity, so I asked the PI to keep track of you two and what you said about me as well." I clicked the remote and the sound system gave off the distinct sounds of a busy bar, from which we could all hear Roy's unique Tennessee-touched New York accent contained in his loud voice. The context of the recorded dialog would easily lead the listener to believe that Roy had been sort of 'holding court' during the event.
Roy: "Yeah, she's out banging her boss and the dumbass is sitting at home; fat, dumb, and happy."
Mary Joe: "Roy, please; I told Jamey we would not tell on her. If you don't shut up..."
Another male voice: "And you say your friend is named Clint? Is that Clint Hood, the guy who comes around here about three times a week? He plays darts and pool with me and couple of friends of mine every now and then."
Roy: "Yeah, that's him. And he really is a friend ... a stupid friend, but still a friend. He's fun to keep around to beat at golf and to be able to talk about as he gets his ass cuckolded by his old lady and her boss."
At this, the audio Roy led the bar crowd in a rousing round of derisive laughter.
I clicked the remote and looked at him. "Well ... Friend! I guess I must be a WHOLE lot of fun to keep around and make fun of with a crowd in which I am pretty well known, since I spend quite a bit of time there in my down time ... Well, I used to. Now, because of Jamey's actions, and YOUR big mouth, I am going to have to find a new hangout where I can enjoy a beer and some pool and darts, along with whatever NEW friends I might make ... after I sue your ass, that is, and drop you as a friend.
"OH, that's right..." I said with a crude grin, "I've already done that."
I held up another document that was not in an envelope. "This is the preliminary report from a therapist that my lawyer got for me and whom I saw last week. Yeah, he pretty much authoritatively says that I am suffering emotional distress in the form of mental anguish, grief, anxiety, mortification, shock, humiliation and indignity; and all of that has contributed to the beginnings of acid reflux that constitutes evidence of the degrading of my physical pain."
Roy and Mary Joe were standing now; both of them angry and embarrassed, but silent.
I said to them quietly, "Feel free to show yourselves out; and I will see you in court."