Dana’s Story, Part 11

I walked into the restaurant, wondering what I was doing meeting him, feeling very nervous and uncertain, I slid into the booth. 

He greeted me with a big warm smile and said, “Hi Dana. You look great. Thanks for coming.”

I blurted out, “You . . . you look so different. You seem different. Your hair. Playing music? Really? And . . . San Francisco? So what’s going on. What do your parents think about you?”

“Whoa, one at a time,” he said laughing. “Obviously things have changed a bit.”

“A bit? A BIT? God, what happened, Russell? What happened to the uptight banker I was married to?”

“Well, when you left me, and by the way, I don’t blame you. It took me a while, but I realized what an ass I was. I’m very sorry for how I treated you. I would have left me. Truth is, I didn’t know any better, but that’s a feeble excuse, I know. But I am truly sorry.” He paused for a long moment looking past me into some other space. “Forgive me?”

“Of course I forgive you. We were both too young and inexperienced in life. We never should have gotten married. But I have to say, leaving you was the hardest decision I ever had to make. Now, seeing you so happy, I’m happy for both of us that I did. You seem so, I don’t know, just different, so much at ease. And Hannah, she’s amazing. I’m guessing you’re together?” 

A clean cut waiter, dressed in the obligatory white shirt, black tie, black vest, pants, and shoes, appeared with water and menus. We each ordered iced tea.

He left and Russell continued, “Yeah, Hannah, she’s amazing, we’ve been hanging out together a little over two years now. I met her my second day on the road after I, for some unknown reason, decided to do a camping trip to the west. She was hitchhiking and, believe it or not, I picked her up. Still, to this day, I am surprised that I ever did that. You know as well as anyone what a social derelict I was. She,” he paused and I noticed his lips quiver and his eyes tearing up. Regaining his composure he continued, “She more or less saved me from myself. I don’t think I can ever tell her enough. Anyway, she was the complete opposite of me, a total free spirit which I discovered early on when we went swimming that first afternoon in Nebraska and she got in the water in her birthday suit.’

“What? Oh-my-god. What did you do?” I said laughing.

“Turned red as a beet, I’m sure. Looked the other way. Embarrassed to death. Didn’t phase her though. But she, I don’t really know, but she took me on an amazing adventure from a sweat lodge, to hiking and exploring, to Buddhism, to music of course, and to a life I never could have imagined. She taught me about love, not by sitting down and teaching me, but by example. She is an amazing woman who I am very grateful for and very much in love with.”

The waiter appeared with our teas and was ready to take our order. We both momentarily cleared our minds and ordered without ever having glanced at the menu. Both of us ordered salads, mine with chicken, Russell with brisket.

As soon as he left, I asked more excitedly than I wanted, “Are you married?”

“No,” he answered almost too quickly, “that’s the furthest thing from our minds. Maybe someday. Her mom and stepfather have been together over twenty years and never married. They’re and interesting couple . . . really, really interesting. So, enough about me, how are you? How are you really?”

“I’m good. Really good. Jess, like Hannah, saved me, I guess. She gave me the strength and support during that last year we were together. Without her, I don’t know what I’d ever have done. She’s good to me. Encourages me, gives me space, supports me. My parents hate her. My father hasn’t spoken to me since he found out I divorced you and am together with a woman. My mother barely speaks to me . . . makes me sad. But they’re locked into their belief system, worried about what their friends and pastor will think and don’t want anything to cause any chinks in their stone walls . . . sort of like we were back then. Funny how life works.”

“It is truly strange indeed. Back then, if someone told me I’d be playing music professionally, I’d have laughed in their face. But I love it and I’m having more fun than I could ever imagine. We even make some money. Are you still at the DA’s office?”

“No, actually, I started with a private firm about six months ago, family practice, which is what I always wanted. Overall, things are good.”

Our food arrived and we ate with smatterings of small talk. As we were finishing, I asked Russell to tell me what really happened. He hesitated for a moment and went on to tell me how his world fell apart after I left him. He told me about his depression, his mother’s criticism, his crazy idea of a solo camping trip, about his loneliness, about Hannah and how they fell in love, about her parents, about Sausalito, about music, about his time at a Buddhist retreat center, how he had started therapy, about his father’s heart attack, about how Donny was really his half brother and was serving time in prison for spousal abuse, about his mother, and finally about how he would never go back to banking.

I sat there and realized my mouth was hanging open as I tried to absorb this epistle.  He was so different now, so open. Our table had been cleared and when I looked at my watch, we had been talking way over an hour after finishing eating. We both came out of our trance at the same time and reached for the check, but Russell insisted it was his treat. The bill was paid and we got up to leave. He took my hand as we walked out into the Chicago sunlight. He turned and looked at me for a minute and I thought, even hoped, he might kiss me. But it was not to be. He said his good-bye with a short hug, an uncertain smile, then turned and walked away without another word, without looking back. 

 I stood watching him as he walked down the street until he disappeared around a corner. My mind was racing with questions. What would have happened if he had this epiphany while we were married? Before we were married? Would we still be married? I suddenly felt unsure of my decision to leave him. Maybe I should have hung in there. Did I still love him? Did I ever? Doubts about my relationship with Jess unexpectedly erupted. Why was I with her? Did I really love her? Was she just a temporary fix that I kept clinging to? Should I have stayed with Russell? Would he had ever became the man he now was if we were still married? I’d never know. I kept looking down the empty street maybe wishing deep down he might come back. He didn’t. I turned to walk back to the condo. Tears of uncertainty and fear fell onto the city sidewalk I somehow now felt a stranger to. And now a life I felt a stranger to.

Dana’s Story, Part 10 (Two years later)

I was reading the Chicago Times Sunday Supplement, scanning for upcoming events. I spotted an ad for a folk music club Jess and I went to on occasion for some acoustic music and obscure but talented singer-songwriters. There was a San Francisco based folk trio called The Stealth Movers appearing for a three night run in two weeks. The name caught my eye and I read the description of the group made up of singer/songwriter Hannah Morse, Russell Henderson, guitar, mandolin, and vocals, and Miguel (Mick) Espinoza on bass and vocals. 

I reread it several times, wondering. No, no way. It can’t be him. I had heard through my attorney that he had left the city and moved back to Iowa but had heard nothing more for almost two years. Jess was down at the gallery catching up on a few things. I went to my laptop and did a search for The Stealth Movers and found their website along with several other sites of reviews and some uTube videos. I watched two of the videos and, yup, there he was, playing music with a very talented female singer and a tall Mexican man on bass. This Russell had long hair and tanned features, dressed in blue jeans and an untucked loose fit button shirt open at the neck with rolled up sleeves, and with some sort of choker necklace. He looked healthier than I could ever remembered him being. And he was good on both guitar and mandolin. My god, this is the anal retentive jerk I married  . . . and divorced? Unbelievable. I was rewatching the videos again when Jess came in. 

“Hey who’s that? They sound really good.”

I stammered, “You won’t fucking believe this. Fucking unbelievable. Just fucking unbelievable. Take a look.”

“My god. It’s him? What the hell? They’re really good. We have got to go see them. I’ll get tickets for the first night, maybe all three nights. This is crazy weird from all you ever told me about him. What happened to the geeky guy you divorced?”

I was speechless, feeling like I was in some sort of time warp. This man who was a complete Type A jerk was playing in a folk trio. Finally I said, “I have no idea. Absolutely no idea. He looks so different. He actually looks like he’s having fun. And look at his hair. This is all very strange.”

We got tickets for all three nights. I didn’t care, if we needed to, we could always give them away, but I needed to experience all that I could of whatever had happened to this guy.

The two weeks of waiting for night of the first show seemed to never come. I was beside myself with trying understand what had happened to him. Jess and I crowded into the dark club, the seating of which consisted of small tables that sat four. It was a small intimate venue that seated less than 150 people. Wine, beer, coffee, and munchies were available and Jess and I each ordered a glass of wine and sat back and waited. The place filled up and another couple joined us right at 7:30 when a voice came over the sound system announcing, The Stealth Movers. The three of them walked onto the stage and there he was, Russell Henderson, in the flesh, long hair, untucked shirt, khaki shorts, running shoes, tanned arms and legs and all. 

They jumped into their first song. I immediately fell in love with the woman singer. Her voice was beautiful. The instrumentation was perfect and Russell was, I don’t know . . . interesting? I looked over the crowd and I spotted his sister Karen? What was she doing there? Maybe came in from Iowa to see them but she looked busy as she shuffled around and then disappeared behind the stage.

The first set flew by and I was already happy we had gotten tickets for the next nights. These folks were good. Most of their music was original with a few covers thrown in. The original tunes, I guessed, were written by the woman, Hanna. Her lyrics of love, loss, times and places struck a chord in me and I found myself choking up with emotion several times. We ordered another wine and waited for the next set. 

Another long set and two encore songs, and, after they announced that their three CDs and T-shirts would be for sale in the lobby and they were done. We ordered another wine and waited for crowd to thin out. After things settled, we went towards the lobby and there was Karen sitting behind the merch table selling t-shirts and CDs as fast as she could.

“Hello, Karen,” I said as I stood in front of her. She was busy sorting cash and when she looked up, her mouth dropped open and her eyes about popped out.

She was finally able to stammer, “Oh-my-god, Dana. You came, you actually came to see these guys, to see Russell? Oh-my-god . . . never expected you to show up. Holy crap. Wait ’til Russell sees you. Oh-my-god.”

I smiled at her, “How are you Karen? It’s truly nice to see you. This is Jess.”

She looked over, smiled and offered her hand. Jess took it and smiled back, “Nice to meet you, Karen.”

I sort of blurted out, “What are you doing here with them? You’re married and have those two little boys, bigger now after a few years?”

“Oh Dana, so much has happened, so much. My husband left me right after you and Russell, well, after your divorce. I’m with Mick, the bass player, and am sort of the  group manager: booking agent, website guru, T-shirt designer, and so on. I’ve never had so much fun in all my life as traveling around with those three crazies.”

“Crazies? With all due respect, Russell was one of the most uptight people I ever knew. Crazy wasn’t in his vocabulary.”

“I’ll let him explain. Here they come now.”

And there they were, Hannah and Russell, holding hands, and Mick. I thought Russell’s jaw was going to hit the floor and his eyes were going to pop out of their sockets.

“Holy shit, Dana. What are you doing here?”

“We came to hear some good music. You three are amazing. We have tickets for all three nights and plan on being here. Hi, Hannah, I love your voice and your music. All of you were great.”

She looked at me for a moment, smiled with a twinkle, “So you’re Dana? Nice to meet you,” offering her hand.

And then Mick said, “So you’re the ex. Cool. Good to see you. Thanks for coming.”

And I said, “And this is Jess, my partner.” Right then there was enough awkward to go around for the next few years. All six of us stood there for what seemed like an eternity when Russell finally broke the silence.

“Dana, it’s really great to see you. You look great. And, Jess, it’s nice to meet you. SInce we’re in town for the next few days, would you have lunch or something, Dana? I’d love to catch up with you and your life. How about tomorrow, it’s Saturday and hopefully you’re not working?” all said with a huge smile.

It was my turn for my jaw to drop. This did not seem to be the same sullen, self absorbed, non-caring man I was once married to. I glanced at Hannah who was smiling and nodding approval. I looked at Jess who gave me a ‘sure, go ahead’. I nodded and said, “How about 11:30 at Julio’s?’ trying not to sound as stunned as I felt, “It’ll be slow at noon on a Saturday. Will that work for?”

“Sounds great. I’ll see you then. Right now, all I want is to hit the sack.” He looked at Hannah and gave her a kiss on the cheek. She gave a coy smile and rolled her eyes.

We said our good-nights and parted. In the cab on our way home, Jess asked, “Are you okay? That was pretty weird from what you told me about him. Are you sure that’s the same guy?”

“Hard to believe, but it was certainly Russell Henderson. It was him but not the same guy I was married to. Not the same at all. Apparently he’s more than just a backup for this Hannah. Very interesting.” I lay awake a long time before my mind was quiet enough for sleep to finally come.

I got to Julio’s the next day about 11:45 and there he was waiting in a booth. He saw me and waved me over.

Dana’s Story, Part 9

It was after Thanksgiving, which Russell thankfully blew off because he was too busy, so I got to spend the day with Jess. The divorce papers were ready to go. It was a matter of me deciding when. I was petrified. Russell was his usual self, distant, even more so since all the fights we had been having about seeing parents and other disagreements we seemed to have more and more frequently. He was angry and didn’t speak to me for a week after I refused to go with him on the last time he went to see his parents. He was suspecting something was going on with me and he was right. I couldn’t believe it, but I was having an extra-marital affair. I had seen movies and T.V. shows about such things and here I was acting out my own indiscretions.

I hadn’t been to my parents in a long time and decided I needed to go to tell them in person about my impending divorce, rather than by a phone call or email. Jess said she’d go with me. We flew out on a Friday afternoon after a fierce fight with Russell about me going. It was nothing new, it seemed we fought over everything these days.

Once in the air, I took a deep breath and ordered a glass of wine. My mother would pick us up at the airport. She was already wondering why I was bringing a friend instead of my husband. As they say, the shit was going to hit the fan and I wasn’t looking forward to it. Thank god Jess was with me for moral support.

We got into Des Moines at 9:15 s0 we grabbed some fast food on the way back to the house, and after saying hi to my dad, we crawled into bed. I was stressed out and wanted to talk to Jess but she was in the other guest room and I thought better of it so my folks might not suspect what was going on with us and eventually drifted into sleep.

Saturday we spent doing small talk. I took Jess out for a tour of Des Moines and the newer shopping area by the capitol. Later Saturday afternoon we had had cocktails with mom and dad. Jess was her charming self. I was nervous as a cat on a tin roof. Mom excused herself to prepare some dinner and I joined her in the kitchen. I began making a salad while mom was getting some steaks ready for dad to grill and potatoes to bake in the oven.

“Mom, I need to tell you something, something that isn’t easy for me.”

“Oh-my-god, you’re pregnant?”

I laughed nervously, “No, that’s not it at all. I’m divorcing Russell, Mom. I’m getting a divorce. My marriage is awful and I’m getting a divorce. There, it’s out.”

She paused what she was doing and didn’t say a word for what seemed like hours, grasping for words. Then she blurted out, “This is such a shock! I don’t know what to say! What are you thinking! What do his parents say? Have you tried counseling. Your father . . . I can’t imagine what he’ll say. Why? Isn’t there something to do, work things out somehow? Why?”

“Mom, I’m sorry, but I’ve made up my mind. I am going to leave him and that’s that. Marrying him was a huge mistake from the get go.”
I went on to tell her about how things had been as of late. I did not mention anything about Jess other than we were best friends.

“But, Dana, what do your friends think?”

“Mom, that’s one of the problems with being with Russell, I have no friends, we have no friends, he has no friends . . . that I’m aware of anyway.”

“Oh Dana, this is so disappointing. You seemed so happy. And this Jess person? What about her? Who’s she to you? I see the way looks at you and I think she’s more than just a friend.”

I took a breath and said with maybe too much defensiveness, “She’s just a friend, Mom! She knows what is going on and she’s the only one who I can talk to and who gives me some support.”

“You don’t have to be so defensive! I thought you and Russell were happy together.”

“I was never happy. I just existed, simply existed from day to day. I like my colleagues at work and Russell got angry that I spent time with them after work on Friday nights and we fought. He doesn’t support my career. He doesn’t support anything I like to do. We fight over me not wanting to see his parents, over me coming here . . . over everything anymore. It’s awful being around him. We never talk. We never do anything. We never did anything. I’m tired of it.”

I started to cry. My mother huffed, said no more and continued to prepare for dinner. I felt tense during dinner and didn’t relax until we left on Sunday when my father took us to the airport. I never told my father, leaving it to my mother to figure it out. I was pissed at her for not giving me any support and was happy to have Jess to have a sounding board while I consumed too many glasses of wine on our short flight home and was fairly wasted when I was dropped off at our apartment. Thankfully Russell was out so I showered and went to bed.

But before I went to sleep, a wave of anger came over me and I decided to give Russell present for his birthday on December 13th, divorce papers.

The is No Answer

Who were we then?

Where were we going?

Where did we end up?

Why?

 

It is nothing.

It is everything.

It is life.

It is death.

 

Where were we?

Where did we go?

How did we get there?

How naked were we?

 

Who answers?

Who cares?

Who wants?

Who needs?

 

Is it all bullshit?

Is it all truth?

Is it all fantasy?

Is anything real?

 

The desert of life?

The rhythm of song?

The slither of a snake?

The empty desert?

 

Nothing is there.

Nothing to see.

Nowhere to go.

Nobody answers.