Hopeless, my father said, taking another bite out of the meatball sandwich Mom had made him.
What is? I asked him.
You. He put the food down. You’ll say whatever garbage comes to mind, regardless of who’s around, won’t you? To get a cheap laugh. You’ve got no filter between your brain and your big mouth.
Thanks, Pop, I told him.
He said, Don’t mention it. Just consider how it makes your mother feel next time.
Trust me, this was no one-time conversation and the old man’s gripe had nothing to do with my mother’s feelings, or the size of my mouth. To him I was a hopeless case because of how she babied me growing up, being sickly all the time, feverish, with a lingering cough, going from one cold to another. Not a tight lipped little bull like my three big brothers, Peter, Patrick, and Denny. I embarrassed him, how roly-poly I got from Mom stuffing her baby with food, how fast and jittery I talked. Unfortunately, his ridicule of me being a Mama’s Boy carried through to my marriage, which was touchy from the word go, like even the day of our wedding, while we’re cutting the cake taking pictures and I’m daydreaming about some skeevy date my cousin Al brought to the rehearsal dinner, trying to catch her eye and wondering if she thought I looked cool in the tux.
People viewed us as the perfect couple. From afar. Betsy’s a knockout, with shapely legs, almond eyes, this million-dollar smile and sparkling personality, but because there’s something radically wrong with me I was never that into her. Our fathers used to be buddies, she was on the rebound, we were still basically kids, and we got pushed into it.
The truth is, I had a long-term thing for Jane Hathaway from the Beverly Hillbillies reruns. Miss Jane. Those long limbs, that prim lacy Mary Jane collar, the way she’d snigger, I had to see her nude. This was my enduring fantasy. Stupidly, I had one glass too many, got sentimental and confessed it to Betsy at our fourth anniversary dinner, I asked her to please dress that way once, as a special favor, and, as anyone not mentally ill could have predicted, she shrunk back in horror. Then she got up from the table and threw her napkin at me.
You drunken bum! My father was right. You don’t know how good you got it.
It was a joke, I told her. Come on, sit down.
The only way I could forgive you, she said, oblivious to the whole restaurant staring, is if you get up in front of a room full of our friends, issue an apology, and admit you’re a complete asshole.
I thought about it for a few seconds. I’ll do it! I said. Now, sit down, will you?
The next weekend she shushed everyone up so I could make my announcement. I had a big smile on though, I blew her a kiss, then hammed it up so much, I can’t deny, the whole admission came across as a gag. Even I almost pissed my pants. She may have been the only one though, she gave me a look, she wasn’t amused.
So, I climbed on a chair, a little wobbly from the Gin and Tonics, and called the room back to order. With all the changes in my life lately, I said, getting fired, a new job, thank you Uncle Vito, you’re the best, moving back to New York here from Florida, things have got a little discombobulated. Then I turned to Betsy. I wasn’t thinking that night, sweetheart. Sorry. The story is, I told my wonderful, beautiful, refined wife here something private, and a little bit creepy, that I never should have, okay? As a joke. And for that, I admit, once and for all, I am a complete and utter asshole.
Gales of laughter, louder than the first time. Whistles and applause.
So, what did she say? some nitwit she grew up with in Bensonhurst called out, snickering.
She pointed my way and asked, Is that your dick? Really?
This didn’t constitute an appropriate apology, not to Betsy’s satisfaction, and at some point that night I decided, nothing I do is right by her, so we’re done-zo anyway. End of the line. Which I came out and told her: Bye, see you around. Since you can’t accept me as I am. I went out on the town. The next morning, of course, I panicked and tried to go back on it.
You know how paranoid I get about things, right? I asked her. How people are always mad at me and think I’m stupid. Because of how my father was, before he got heart failure? Well, that’s what happened, I tried to make a joke of it. My humor didn’t go over. As usual. It was a flop.
Frank, she said, we’re through.
You know, you can be a little harsh and bitchy, I told her. Is there something else I said or did lately? To incur your wrath. Or was that it, and I’m going down in flames because of one dumb comment? Trying to be funny.
First, she didn’t respond. Then she started yapping about insensitivity, how I never listen to her, how I don’t care what she thinks, how blah-blah-blah, I couldn’t process it, I was way too deep still trying to piece my own thoughts together. I heard the message though, loud and clear: this is it. Over and out.
Go ahead, change the subject, I thought, so I started a whole new conversation while she was packing my suitcase up, slamming in underwear and socks. There’s only so much of your cousin Gerard a person can take, I told her. Know what I mean? His endless bullshit, how he didn’t graduate college, but he’s got street smarts, and yadda yadda. No, you don’t, I always want to tell him. Not even close. You’re a burn out.
She ignored this.
The next morning, she informed me she’s not the one leaving, I am, so I’d better get my rear off the couch, make a plan, pick up my bags and get going. She’d consulted a lawyer friend, one of the guys at my lynching party, and he said he’d represent her free of charge. Of course, he would, Mr. Attorney At Law’s probably thinking a little pro bono work’s a smooth way to start getting next to the bereaved divorcee. I had no money so I’d have to represent myself, which is obviously not one of my strengths.
Why? I asked her, in a last-ditch attempt to forestall the inevitable.
Why? she said. It’s time.
But since we moved back north, at your request, I thought things between us had started to turn around. No? Admit you still love me. Look me in the eye.
I’ll get over it, she said. You are so clueless. Your whole day is spent keeping score, pluses and minuses, accomplishments and blown opportunities. You’re always measuring everything. We are so on different pages, we have nothing to even talk about.
I’m goal oriented, I said to her, trying to get ahead and make us a good living, but she was already out the door, probably off to the lawyer’s. That snake! She knew me like a book though. Inside I hear my father’s voice from growing up, judging me on everything, I’ve got this shifting point total of merits and demerits I’m tallying all day. If I run eight miles it’s a plus three, woo-hoo, look at Frankie go, but this snub I get from some hot girl flying by me on an uphill when I wave, probably due to how weird and grossly fat I look, running so slow, subtracts one point. Then, at work, not getting invited to a conference by rights I should attend is a minus, and seeing the daily numbers show more negatives in my department gets me back to even. Later, a meeting where everyone around the table allows me to orate and crack jokes is another plus one. Although, why should it be, what’s so good about amusing these dead heads compared to my whole life marriage apart?
Getting dumped by your wife is a big number, minus fifty at least. You need a long streak on the plus side to dig yourself out and just climb back to zero. Plus, no one in my family gets divorced. Hers either. It’s unheard of. But, whatever else you could say, loudmouth, clown, Mama’s Boy, I’m not one to ever get depressed or give up easy. Bottom line, it’s not over till it’s over. So, I’m going to stop stressing, get on my hands and knees, and flash her my best baby face smile the minute she gets back home, because I’m a believer that, once the dust settles, if I ask the right way, Betsy will cool off, see the light, and give me one last shot.
Banner Image: Pixabay.com