the erroneous comment I wish I never heard about

“I overheard her say that she doesn’t love you anymore at the dinner table”

“Wait…what?”

“Yeah, I don’t know who she was saying it to, I caught it at the last second but she said it.”

I felt like I had just tripped over a wasp’s nest but I kept my composure as the words set in.

I was having a glass of wine with my mom’s boyfriend. He was telling me about the dinner he had the previous day with my mom, my ex-wife and my oldest daughter on Mother’s Day. They had all gotten together at the restaurant my son works. It was an impromptu get together. My mom and Dave went down to MA to decorate the family stones with flowers and my ex-wife had called her to wish her a happy Mother’s Day. When they realized they were in the same state for once they made dinner plans. I didn’t even know about it until they got home that night. Mom told me all about it. The next night, that would be the time of this writing, it was just Dave and I for a while. I had just asked him of his account of the dinner, particularly because it was the first time he had met my ex-wife and oldest daughter. He had all good things to say and I was feeling good about it. Until he said that line about my ex-wife’s comment. Two questions came to mind; why did she say this and why do I care?

He continued talking as we watched the Red Sox play the A’s. I became noticeably quiet. Eventually, he asked me if he had crossed a line by telling me. I assured him that it was fine, I was just taken aback. While I was unsure why he mentioned it, it wasn’t done out of harm or malice. In fact, he probably mentioned it because it resonated with him after being in a terrible marriage himself. The pressing question remained. Why is this bothering me?

I truly don’t understand why I am having such trouble with this. I was married to this woman for 22 years and for the last 12 I would have chewed my arm off to escape her. There were times when I actually felt that I hated her. Towards the end, we de-escalated into a tolerant phase where we put up with each other but there was no love. Eventually, there was clearly no desire to even try to recapture what drew us together in the first place. When we separated I was relieved. When she asked for a divorce I was ready. When the divorce was finalized I felt liberated. So why am I surprised to hear, second-hand mind you, that she doesn’t love me anymore? It could easily have been said in the vein of “We still care about each other but aren’t in love anymore” as she explained to my mother, or my daughter, or the fucking waiter…again why does this bother me? Do I still even love her?

I do love her. I’m just not in love with her. I love her because we raised four wonderful children together. I love her because I spent most of my adult life with her and there were some good times. I can’t deny them.

I have dreams, vivid dreams of her. I dream of conversations in which she reveals past infidelities. I have dreamt of being with her, in the present, still married and talking about how we “almost split up.” Sadly, I even dreamt that I had died and she wasn’t at my funeral. These dreams are so lucid, so vivid that Freud and Jung could come back from the grave and revive their careers. When I wake from them I find myself wishing she was in my life. Then I shake it off and remind myself that I really don’t want what we had any longer. Still, I am wrought with these conflicting emotions.

I am burdened by memories, racked with guilt, saddled with regrets. A mere matter of months ago I was bitter, angry and resentful of her. Lately, I look back at photos in which we were all smiles. I find myself asking where it went wrong. I find myself asking if I could have done better by her. I remember how much she once loved me and I ask myself if I drove her away, caused her to morph into the cold, detached person that she was in the end. Did I, in the course of exorcising my demons and finding my real self, push her away?

I asked my mother last night if she had heard the comment at dinner. She said she had. It was said to one of my son’s friends who works at the same restaurant. He had come over to the table and asked my wife where I was. She had told him that we were divorced and he was surprised. So, she explained it. She cares about me, but she doesn’t love me anymore.

There you go, I have my explanation. For the comment at least. I still don’t know for the life of me why the explanation stings so badly.

A bitter anniversary

For the last year, I have made wondrous progress in reconciling with my past. I have tried to get away from negativity, to stop beating myself up over mistakes made and poor decisions. Be that as it may, today is the 2 year anniversary of the worst decision of my life. 2 years ago today, I ignored my inner voice and better judgment and left the best job I ever had for what I thought was a better opportunity. There is no doubt in my mind that, had I not done so, I would be in a very different place right now.

I have spoken often of the “best job of my life”. I romanticized it a bit, truth be told there were some very difficult times, but in hindsight, it was more often great than not. After bouncing around in my career, making mostly upward and a few lateral changes in position I had a rare moment of good fortune. I just happened to meet someone looking for someone with my exact background. The initial interview was very exciting, I had never before felt so right about something. I was hired almost immediately and the owner made it clear that I would be given whatever I needed to establish and grow my own department. Who wouldn’t jump at an opportunity such as that?

It was a small company that was growing too fast when I joined them. It was a sub-prime auto loan company. By sub-prime it is understood that they dealt with people with poor to no credit. They were being inundated with repossessions and my short-term goal was to find an outlet for them; auction them off or remarket them to our dealer base. My long-term goal was to assist collections in determining the reason for the increase in defaults and try to find a way to stop the bleeding. I immediately found myself in a shitty situation. I would get tremendous opposition from the collections and sales departments who felt that I was meddling and feared that I would cost them money. Their paychecks weren’t predicated on losses, only on sales volume. I somehow managed to be very diplomatic, selective in the battles that I chose and eventually made them understand that I was there to help.

It eventually started clicking and my knowledge of appraising vehicles, my relationships with auctions all over the country and my work ethic made me a top manager in the first year. My biggest contribution ended up being problem-solving. I didn’t always have the answers but no one ever worked harder than I did to find one. In a building full of people able to make decisions, I became one of the only ones to follow through on them. The employees and dealers who we funded loans for, essentially making them our customers more than the debtors, came to appreciate and value my efforts. It came down to one essential ability that I had that you would think is common but strikingly not so…I knew how to talk to people and I worked with them, without hubris or bluster. It worked for everyone.

For a while, I almost thought it was too good to be true. Because I always think this way I waited patiently for the other shoe to drop. It didn’t take long. I soon saw the real personality of my manager, who I spent a lot of time with, and it wasn’t pretty. An accomplished man with the gift of gab, he really came across as a genuine and nice man. He was very good at his job. But underneath that exterior was an explosive temper and a very insecure personality. In short, he wanted me to be good but not as good as him. I could be smart, but not as smart as him. He was unpredictable in how he was offended and as volatile a man as I ever met. As I began to really establish myself, he became insanely jealous and tried to tear me down as often as he could for fear of becoming upstaged. I tolerated the closed-door meetings in which he would slyly try to put me down and sometimes burst out in angry tirades. For a while. Then I gave it back, sometimes in spades and our relationship deteriorated. We would be like this for the entire time I worked for the company. Overall, we got along more than we didn’t and we made it work.

It was difficult for me. As hard as it was to tolerate his megalomaniacal behavior, I both liked and needed the job. My relationship with the owner kept me grounded. A quiet, non-confrontational and highly intelligent man, the owner refused to get involved in personnel matters but he would always take care of me financially and he often referred to me in his distinguished class of businessman and clients as “the best in the business” at what I do.

Two years into my employment I hit a real downward slide. My ongoing financial woes, that I took with me upon hire and my health both came to a head at the same time. I had to declare bankruptcy, our house was foreclosed upon and we had to move. In addition, my illness progressed from maybe needing a transplant to definitely needing one. I would become increasingly ill for the next 2 years. While keeping up with my rigorous schedule, it was starting to take its toll. Until the greatest stroke of luck I ever had came my way.

A co-worker offered to donate a kidney to me. It would end up being a perfect match and she saved my life. In addition, my manager initiated a fund-raiser for me. The owner personally kicked in $15,000.00. I would end up getting the transplant before the fund-raiser. Deb and I limped in, a mere 7 days after our surgery, to a huge room filled with friends, family, and co-workers. I have to give my GM credit, he really stepped up for me. But little did I know that his gratitude would be a permanent wedge in our relationship. He held the fund-raiser over my head mercilessly.

As generous as Deb’s gift was, the only one who made me feel guilty was my manager. Whenever I appeared ungrateful, to be determined by him, I would get beaten down for my lack of reverence. Other than recovering, coming back to work in a mere 33 days total, and working harder than ever I will never be clear on the source of his animosity. But as I said before, the good days outnumbered the bad and I loved the job. I was a key player, I was in a position to help people, I was well-known and respected in my industry and earning a good living. I would stay for 9 years.

Towards the end of my ninth year, the company started getting visitors. Those visitors were involved in a lot of closed-door meetings that I wasn’t invited to. As it would turn out, the company was being sold. Not the worst news, many companies sell. But this buyer intended on liquidating us. Some knew some didn’t, but 2 months later everyone would hear that in April of 2016 we would write our last loan. The entire sales and most of the administrative staff was summarily let go with no notice and a very weak severance check. My GM was among those let go, he was livid, to say the least. I was asked to stay indefinitely because my role was a clean-up position and I was needed now more than ever.

My GM was so upset, due to a combination of embarrassment and not being consulted with in the process that he went on a tirade. He made a hell of a scene on his way out the door and conducted a serious phone campaign after to pull any remaining employees away. Myself included.

I was experiencing many powerful emotions. I was sad for the fate of my company. I was upset over the good friends that lost their jobs. I was relieved that I was safe for the moment but aware that it was definitely temporary. In the interim, I negotiated my terms for the immediate future.

At the same time, a good friend who had left the company a year before called me. He would never recruit me before, but now that the job was defunct it was perfectly legitimate to see if I wanted to join. I would be Operations Manager of a large finance company that specialized in financing motorcycles. The job was perfect for me. 3 interviews and 3 weeks later I was offered a position. I asked for an offer letter. It took them 9 days to provide one and I was very turned off by this. My wife and I were arguing, she thought I should stay and ride it out, I argued that I was on a sinking ship and I had a chance at a new beginning. Add to this mix my former GM calling me constantly urging me to take the job, joining him in sticking it to the company that wronged him. He put a lot of pressure on me. My decision was made when my present company immediately cut my pay. When the offer came I jumped at it.

I ended up working for the worst manager in history. Controlling, arrogant, unaccepting of any input than what spewed out of his fat, donut-stuffed mouth. It was a horrible experience. My staff loved me, I could do the job, but he was unbearable. I think he’s mentally ill. Speaking of ill, my new kidney began to fail and I started to miss a lot of work. The days of working for a company that cared for me and worked around my illness were long gone. I was laid off 3 months in. I had made a huge mistake.

I could have stayed at my previous company for years. They are still open, collecting on their portfolio. I’m not sure how long they would have kept me, but I know that I would have earned for a while longer and they would have worked with me as I dealt with my health issues.

Today is a day that is hard to just pretend never happened, regardless of how hard I try.

People Watching

Hey there, I see you. Don’t think strangely of me if we make eye contact. Yes, I know it’s Saturday night and I am indeed in a booth alone. I’m not staring at you, I promise. I’m just people watching. It’s what I do. For a brief moment in time, you won’t even notice, I will simply absorb, perhaps steal a tiny portion of this moment from you. If you let me do my thing, I will move on to someone else in their room and I will steal moments from them.

It’s just one dinner, one cocktail or appetizer on one day of your life. It’s just one moment. But to me it’s more, I’m incredibly invested in it. You may not think of it as I do, but once this moment is gone all you will have is a memory. You may underestimate how precious that memory will be, but I don’t. See, I am not old enough to say that I will never be happy again, but I know that I am old enough that certain moments are forever past, others beyond my reach.  Vicariously is the only way I will experience them again.

I see you, sir. The young guy with the pretty wife and 2 young children. You are having dinner. Your daughter is trying to get your attention for approval on the puzzle she just completed on her placemat. You’re on your phone. I would trade a thousand tomorrows to have one like you are having. Moments when I was a giant to them and my approval was everything. What you don’t know is a lot of the time I also was too wrapped up in what I was doing to pay attention to them. I want them back, all of them. Please, put the phone down. The text can wait. That disappointed look on her face…you can change that. If you don’t appreciate this moment, may I?
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I turn my attention to the young couple in the corner booth, barely able to keep their hands off of each other. Don’t mind me for staring, I’m not a creep I swear. It’s just that I can’t get over the way you are looking at each other. As if one would simply melt if the other left the table. It must be wonderful to be in love…would you tell me about it? You see, I don’t think that I have ever looked into someone’s eyes as you two are now. I want to but I doubt it now. I think we skipped that part and went right to bitterness and resentment. If it pleases you, could you do better than we did? Regardless, can I just enjoy yours for a while?
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I catch the eye of Mr. Successful businessman at the bar. We nod and we then both look away. I see your $1000.00 suit, your Presidential Rolex and the drink that was poured from the top shelf. You clearly are doing great for yourself. Perhaps you are celebrating a promotion, a big close or merger. To your credit, you look like a guy with it all together. I’m happy for you. I struggled with money and success for my whole career. When I finally got close to wearing a smile like yours, I had to stop working. I hope you have something else in your life that makes you happy besides money. She’s a cruel mistress. But still, cheers. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t jealous.
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I take a sip of my drink and I zoom in on the happy couple at the other end of the bar. Older, smiling, looking at each other fondly as they speak. You are a couple that has been together for a long time. Your love has stood the test of time. Maybe you had it easy, but maybe you struggled with the marriage-crushing burdens of children, finances and work. If you did or didn’t you look like you made it through. I always wanted a love like yours. I hoped to someday say, in a crowded banquet hall, the words “I have been married to this beautiful woman, my best friend for 50 years” and soak in the applause.  It just didn’t work out that way. I am about to be, on Monday, the first member of my family ever to get divorced. It’s too late for me, but I’m really happy for you. If you look my way I’m not staring, I’m simply thinking about my three favorite things…

Could’ve
Should’ve
Would’ve

Who am I you ask? What am I doing here? I’m harmless I swear. You see, I am the petty thief of your moments. My satchel is full for now and I must go home.

the danger of “if”

 

You hear it every day, all day. If, if, if. If I was only rich. If I was only beautiful. If I was only younger. Cher had one of her biggest hits with If I could turn back time. It is unfortunate how many people are so fundamentally unhappy that they have a little gremlin whispering “what if” or “if only” in their ear.

Many people truly live a hard life. It could be refreshing to think of an alternative situation in which their unhappiness could be cured. I’m guilty of it as well. Unlike most, however, I don’t wish for a bag of gold. It would be nice, money is a big part of life. But it won’t make me happy. I will only find true happiness when I am comfortable in my own skin.

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I often say to myself, if I could only go back. To high school, for example, and apply some of what I know now that I could have used then. From making friends to learning to pick up cues that a pretty girl is into me (as opposed to finding out 30 years later on FB). Or to my first job interview to answer a critical question better. The examples are endless and all seem to point to regret. This is paradoxical for me because I generally don’t dwell on regret. I thought about this very intently and this is what I came up with. I don’t have general regrets, but instead, I have “period” regrets in which some “what if’s” come to mind at different phases of my life. In other words, if I was to dwell on the “if I was younger” narrative, the regrets would be different for each phase, decades for the sake of conversation, of my life.

In my twenties, I would have wished I was younger because I found out that for all of the years that I wished to be an adult and away from the “stifling rule” of my parents, being an adult sucks. Other than being able to drink legally, it’s all “have to” and very little “want to”.

In my thirties, I would have wished to be younger because I spent most of my twenties aimless and shitfaced. Reeling from a couple of bad relationships, working nights in a restaurant, trying to set a record for sleeping with waitresses. I was largely drunk, absent of goals and living day to day. I would like a lot of those days back.

In my forties, I would have wished to be younger because I didn’t do enough catch-up in my thirties. I would remain 8-10 years behind in my career, my 401k, my savings and my resume as an adult.I tried for years to pretend those years didn’t happen but they did.

Now, in my fifties, my “if I was younger” would be to relive and undo. Relive the moments of wonder when the children were young. I loved being a dad so much, although I will go to my grave fearing that I didn’t show it enough at the time. The sleepless nights, diapers and ear infections were so minor compared to the belly laughs at story time, the endless ploys to avoid going to bed, wrestling in the yard and jumping in leaves. The smiles from ear to ear as they discovered beautiful new things that are old hat to me but left them in wonder. The “just because” hugs and the “Hey Dad can I talk to you” are all things that I miss terribly. I fear that I didn’t get enough out of them and sadly, I worry that I didn’t say “I love you” enough.

I wish, but I can’t, undo being sick. To undo those times I was short-tempered when my blood pressure was out of control and my life was crashing around me. To undo the terrible fights with my wife that we stupidly had in front of the kids. To undo the disappointed looks on their faces when I was too sick to get off the sofa, or too busy to stop and make a memory.

There are too many “if’s to discuss in this one post. Maybe I will write a series of blogs about it (feedback welcome). The key message is that I don’t have the luxury of “if’s”, I don’t get to redo and I don’t get a second chance to make a good first impression. Those moments are past but not gone. They are now part of me, at this moment in time, and can’t be changed. Knowing they happened may serve me in the future in the form of wisdom, should a similar situation arise. But it is up to me to live the life that I have, not the one I could have had. My regrets have made me a better, kinder and humble person. I know who I am and I can look the man in the mirror in the eye. I only have one skin and I am almost comfortable in it.

My mistakes and regrets have served me. I have some great stories to tell and I am even considered wise by some. My life has changed greatly of late, but I’m adapting. I feel like I know things that elude others, like I have a secret. It’s really no secret. I want to live a life of fulfillment, no matter how many years I have left. And in my sixties, may I look back and be more comfortable with what I did in the ten years before.