Chapter 26: Mint juleps and cicadas
Upon walking into Buxton Hall Barbecue for dinner two weeks later, Tammy found waiting in the restaurant’s entrance area none other than Barry the Architect (With the Blue Eyes), whom she hadn’t seen since meeting him for the first time at The Wedge back in July.
“Tammy!” he said, waving hello and walking towards her. As she put on her face a happy, “Oh! It’s YOU!” expression, Tammy did an internal, instant assessment of her appearance at the moment.
Too late. He was already there, and she liked her punky short hair anyway.
“Barry!” she said. They had that awkward “Are we both huggers?” moment, and then cordially embraced.
“Are you here with Maggie and Ravi?” she said.
“That’s the idea of it. But they’re not here yet. They must have invited you too, right?”
“Yeah. Ravi called me pretty late at night about two weeks ago, and said they were throwing a dinner party tonight out at Maggie’s house.”
“Maggie called to tell me the same thing.”
“Do you think it’s just us? Or do you think they invited others to the party, too?”
“I don’t know,” said Tammy.
They both turned their heads to look about the room.
“See anyone you know?” said Barry.
“No,” said Tammy. “But I don’t know very many people.”
“Me neither,” said Barry. Leaning into Tammy a bit, he said in a playfully conspiratorial voice. “And to tell you the truth, I kinda like it that way.”
“Me, too,” said Tammy. “Who needs other people?”
“Exactly.” He straightened back up. “You know what I think we should do?”
“Wait at the bar. It’s already ten after seven. And for all we know, we’re the only two people Ravi and Maggie invited here tonight. They mix a nice drink here. Why don’t we enjoy one of ‘em, and let those two see us when they come in?”
“I can’t think of a reason why not,” said Tammy.
“Then let’s get right over there before you do.”
* * * * *
Once they were holding their drinks and seated side by side at the crowded bar, Barry, after tasting his Old Fashioned and declaring it “perfect,” said, “So, let’s just start right out addressing the elephant in the room, shall we?”
“Good idea,” said Tammy. She sipped from her glass of chardonnay. “What elephant?”
“Well, as you know, the second presidential debate is tomorrow night.”
“I do know that, yes.”
“Now, I don’t know if you’re aware of this or not, but an audio tape has come to light, in which Trump is heard saying some things that some people are suggesting proves beyond any question or doubt that he is less fit to be president than is, say, a junkyard dog.”
“I did hear something about that, yes.”
“Or a pile of mud.”
“Or a basket of old sneakers.”
“Or a one-winged housefly.”
“Or a sack of road kill.”
“Now, none of those comparisons are mine, you understand. They’re only things that I’ve heard other people say.”
“Right. Got it.”
“So then, let us, with some forthrightnessness—”
“Is that a word?”
“With some forthrightitude, clear the air between us. On the count of three, I think we should both say for whom we will be rooting in tomorrow night’s presidential debate. I believe that in so doing, we will, right out of the gate, have a pretty clear idea of whether or not you and I are likely to ever become the good friends that, I must tell you, I hope that we do. Does that sound like a good and worthwhile idea?”
“It does, yes.”
“Okay, then. Are you ready?”
“Here we go. Names after the count. 1, 2, 3—”
At the exact same time that Barry said, “Bernie Saunders,” Tammy said, “Amy Schumer.”
After a half-beat of staring at each other in dumb surprise, they both cracked up. As she was laughing, Tammy had a rush of feeling how great it was to be out and enjoying a drink with a friendly, funny, good-looking man. It had been so very long since she’d had a moment even remotely like the one she was having just then.
Once their laughter had subsided, she said, “No, but, I’m one hundred percent with her, as they say. I love Hillary. The whole idea of her being some kind of default candidate that we’re all STUCK with because at least she’s not Trump drives me insane. She’s the most qualified person who’s EVER run for president. Not to get all, you know, soap-boxy about it, but if Hillary Clinton were a man, no one would would dare to question whether or not she was suited for the job. What’s really fueling all the crazy reaction against her is that she’s a woman.”
“You can stay on that soapbox and preach that truth all night,” said Barry. He raised his glass. “Here’s to Hillary.”
“To Hillary,” said Tammy, clinking her glass to his. After she took a sip of wine, she said, “Now, I think it’s important that we mention what is, perhaps, the single most valuable lesson that we’ve all learned from this election.”
“What is that?”
“That no one—no matter their gender, race, religion, or political affiliation—should ever, under any circumstances, name their child ‘Chachi.’”
Barry threw back his head and let out a loud laugh. “It’s true! That poor kid never had a chance.”
“I’m tellin’ ya. Joanie was lucky she got out alive.”
“I hear she’s really happy now,” said Barry. “She joined a lesbian commune in Israel, I believe.”
“Did she? Good for her.”
Tammy’s phone made the dinging sound of a text message just in. She took her phone out of her purse to see who it was. “It’s from Maggie.” After reading the message, she said, “She and Ravi aren’t coming.”
“Are they okay?”
“I think so, yeah. But lemme ask her, just to make sure.” Tammy returned her attention to her phone. Tapping at the letters, she said, “I hate texting. I’m terrible at it. And it always makes my fingers feel they’re on some … giant who can’t spell.”
Barry laughed. “Hey, ask if anyone else was comin’ here tonight besides her and Ravi.”
“K,” said Tammy. She typed a bit more, hit send, and then waited with Barry for the response, which wasn’t long in arriving.
“She seems fine,” said Tammy. “She said Ravi’s ‘having a moment,’ and then added a smiley face. See?”
Barry nodded as he looked at Tammy’s phone. “‘Having a moment,’ huh? I wonder what that means?”
“I dunno,” said Tammy, returning the phone to her purse. “Maybe he’s merged his consciousness with The Divine Godhead, or something like that.”
“Well, sure. But then he’s gotta EAT, right?” When Tammy laughed, he continued. “I mean, I would think that sort of thing really works up an appetite, wouldn’t you?”
“I would think so, yes.”
“Are we the only ones they were meetin’ here tonight?”
“Apparently we are.”
“Well, that suits me just fine. You know, to tell you the truth, I wasn’t much in the mood to socialize tonight. But you changed that. And now, I gotta tell ya, I’m not in much of a mind to socialize with anyone but you.”
Tammy took a sip of her wine, and hoped that her cheeks weren’t turning too red.
“So whaddaya say?” said Barry. “Dinner for two?”
“Sure. Let’s do it.”
Barry got off his bar stool, and gestured for Tammy to walk ahead of him. As she stepped by him, he put his hand lightly upon her lower back, and then kept it there as they made their way through the dense crowd. Tammy was pleased, and not a little surprised, to find that his hand on the curve of her lower back did nothing to impede her walk forward, her slowly but surely moving ahead.
Chapter 27: #EndRapeCulture
On an afternoon later that week, Tammy, Maggie, and Samantha (known to most as Sam) were more or less draped about the furniture in Charlie’s living room, doing nothing so much, really, as enjoying each other’s company.
“You kissed Barry the Architect, didn’t you?” said Maggie to Tammy.
“No,” said Tammy.
“But you WANTED to,” said Maggie.
“No, I didn’t,” said Tammy. But she felt herself starting to blush.
Maggie started singing, “You think he’s goooorgeous. You want to kiiiiiiiss him. You want to huuuuug him—”
Tammy steadfastly ignored her. “So, Sam, how are you?” she said. “How’s your farm doing?”
“I’d like to help you,” said Sam, “but I’m afraid at this point I’m just too curious.”
“Details!” said Maggie. “We want details!”
Tammy rolled her eyes, like she was trying to remember something. “Hmm. Oh, that’s right. The details are that you left me alone in a restaurant with a man I BARELY know.”
“You’re welcome,” said Maggie.
“Wait,” said Sam. “You did that?”
“Yeah, she did,” said Tammy. “Her and Ravi asked me and Barry to meet them at Buxton Hall, and then, fifteen minutes after they were supposed to be there, called to say they weren’t coming.”
“Did you do that on PURPOSE?” Sam asked Maggie. “Did you really set those two up?”
“No, that part was an accident,” said Maggie.
Tammy snorted. “Oh, right.”
“No, it really was,” said Maggie. “That afternoon, Ravi was looking all around the barn on my property, and he fell into this kind of revelry he does sometimes. By dinner time he still hadn’t come out of it, and I didn’t want to disturb him.” When she found both of her friends staring at her like she’d grown antennas out of her head, she said, “What?”
“Revelry?” said Tammy.
“Is he a mystic?” said Sam.
Maggie looked back and forth between the two of them. “Yeah, he IS a mystic.”
“Now, when he falls into these ‘revelries,’” said Tammy, “is there usually a BONG anywhere near him?”
“Don’t you have to have followers to be a guru?” said Sam.
Tammy started singing. “You want to kiiiiiis him. You think he’s Buuuuudha.”
“You two are the worst,” said Maggie. “I’m telling you, Ravi is on a plane of higher consciousness. And once he has his gurukula—”
“His what?” said Tammy.
“His center for spiritual teaching—”
“Being your barn,” said Sam.
“Well, yes, I think, being my barn,” said Maggie. “Once that’s all set up—which Barry is going to help him do, by the way—you watch. People will flock there. He already has a group of people he meets with at the yoga center.”
Sam brought to an end the long silence that hung in the air. “All right, cool. Moving on.”
“Yes, let’s,” said Maggie. “To the new Our Voice campaign, which is why we came over here today, Tammy.”
“Hi, Daddy,” said Maggie.
“Hey, Mr. Lyon,” said Sam.
“Afternoon, ladies,” said Frank, smoothing down his hair with his hand as he crossed the room toward the kitchen. “What are you all discussing out here?”
“Not much,” said Maggie. “How ya’ feelin’?”
“Chipper as Flipper,” said Frank.
“Who?” said Sam.
“It’s a dolphin. Never mind,” said Frank.
“There’s some chicken and salad in the fridge for you,” said Tammy. “Would you like some help getting together a little something to eat?”
“God, no,” said Frank. “Stay where you are. I can still handle getting my own food. But if I need help chewing it, you’ll be the first to know.”
“Ew,” said Maggie.
“Well, just let us know if you need anything,” said Tammy. “Three women, no waiting. It’s your lucky day, Frank.”
“Hallelujah,” said Frank, his head in the refrigerator.
Tammy winked at Maggie and turned to Sam. “Now, what about Our Voice?”
“Well, have you heard about our End Rape Culture campaign?” Tammy shook her head no. “It’s a social media thing,” continued Sam. “We’re asking people to write, and then hold up in front of themselves, a sign—or, you know, just a piece of paper they’ve written on—that says, at the top, “Rape culture is …”. And then, beneath that, we want them to write something—like a quote, or a statistic, or just an observation—that they think represents, or captures—”
“That reflects,” said Maggie.
“That reflects, rape culture in our society,” said Sam. “Then, beneath that, they write hashtag EndRapeCulture.”
“Then you share the picture of you holding your sign on social media,” said Maggie. “And you tag the photo EndRapeCulture. So that tag becomes a way of getting the word out as much as possible about what rape culture really is, what it looks like, how it works.”
“How it’s enabled every day,” said Sam.
“That’s it,” said Maggie. “So, you’re gonna do it, right?”
“Do what?” said Tammy.
“Make a sign. Take a picture of yourself holding it. Put it on social media.”
Tammy had the sensation of the room suddenly pressing in around her. “I don’t … I mean, no—I mean yes, of course, if that’s—”
“This is because of what Trump said, isn’t it?” said Frank, settling onto a bar chair at the kitchen island before a plate of chicken and salad. “That’s what’s got you three all worked up, isn’t it?”
“Well, no, Daddy,” said Maggie. “What’s got us ‘all worked up’ is that one in four women will be a victim of sexual violence in her lifetime. We’re ‘worked up’ because 1.3 women are raped in the United States every MINUTE. That’s 78 rapes an hour, or 1,871 rapes per day, or 683,000 rapes every single year. And those are conservative estimates. And do you know what percentage of rapists ever go to jail? Do you, Dad? It’s three. Three percent. 97 out of 100 rapists never see the inside of a jail cell. THAT’S what’s got us ‘all worked up.’ Donald Trump is just the latest idiot to embody everything that’s wrong and foul and plain ol’ EVIL about the way women are treated by men every single day in our society.”
“Preach,” said Sam softly.
“Sweetheart,” said Frank, “Did I somehow give you the impression that I’m pro-rape? Because, if I did, let me assure you that I am not pro-rape. I’m anti-rape. I think every rapist should be lined up against a wall and shot. All I was ASKING was if this social media thing you’re talking about was triggered by the tape of Trump shootin’ his mouth off on that bus. But what am I even thinkin’? Of course it was.”
Maggie took a deep breath, before saying, “Okay, Dad, I have to ask you. I am praying that your answer doesn’t make me come over there and try to drown you in the sink, or anything like that. But here goes: You are NOT going to vote for Donald Trump, right?”
Sam and Tammy snapped their eyes to Frank.
“I was thinking about it,” he said.
All three women responded by, essentially, gnashing their teeth and rending their clothes.
“Hey!” said Frank. “Think about it for a moment. You’re asking a real estate developer if he’d vote for Donald Trump. What kind of idiot would I be if I didn’t at least CONSIDER the possibility? And I did consider it. And I might have voted for him. But now there’s now way I could vote for that animal. He finally went too far.”
“Honestly, Dad, I can’t imagine at what point in this whole campaign you DIDN’T think Trump had gone too far, but I’ll let that go. I’m just glad to hear that his gross locker room talk finally went too far even for YOU, I guess.”
“It did—but that reminds me of something I want to say to you girls. And I want you to listen to me, okay? Between all the sports teams I’ve played on, and all my decades belonging to a thousand different gyms, I have spent a LOT of time in locker rooms. You can believe me when I tell you that the noxious crap Trump said on that tape was not, by any stretch of the imagination, locker room talk. I’ve NEVER heard men talk about women that way—not in a locker room, not on a construction site, not around a poker table—nowhere.”
“Oh, come on, Daddy. Are you really trying to say there’s no such thing as locker room talk?”
“No. I’m saying that what TRUMP said isn’t locker talk. I’m not saying that men don’t talk about women. They do. But the whole IDEA of talking and joking about women with other guys is to convey how GOOD you are with women, how much women want to be with you—and how much you want to be with them. It’s a BONDING thing. So, yeah, guys will talk about, you know, how good-looking this woman is, or how hot that woman is, or how they’d like to sleep with this or that woman. But they would never say, ‘Boy, that woman is fine—so I’m gonna FORCE myself on her.’ No man ever tells his buddies, ‘I met the hottest chick at this party last night. So I grabbed her by the crotch.’ Because that defeats the whole PURPOSE of locker room talk. ‘I can’t help but attack every pretty woman I see; I just slobber all over them,’ doesn’t communicate, ‘Check me out, fellas: I’m the man.’ It communicates, ‘Check me into a mental institution, fellas: I’m a deranged cretin.”
While the room cracked up, Frank took a bit of sandwich.
“I’m tellin’ ya’,” he continued. “Everyone’s talking about how Trump just lost himself the female vote. But I guarantee you, that tape lost him as many male voters as it did female voters. Well, maybe not AS many, but a whole helluva lot. He lost me. You gotta have SOME pride in what you do in that voter’s booth. Trump’s made it so the only possible way to vote for him is to have as little moral fiber, as little common decency, as he has. I might have voted for him, just to see him mix things up a little. But a guy that low will never be happy until he’s dragged everyone down into the mud with him.”
* * * * *
About an hour later, while Frank was inside watching television, the three women were on Charlie’s back porch, with Maggie and Sam taking pictures of one another as they held before themselves the signs they’d made from the typing paper and Sharpie pen they’d gotten from Charlie’s desk.
During their discussion about what to write on their signs, Tammy had remained mostly silent. She couldn’t seem to concentrate on what her companions were saying. She couldn’t imagine herself writing a sign about getting raped, let alone holding up the sign in front of her—let alone taking a picture of her holding that sign, and then posting that picture all over the Internet.
So, while Maggie and Sam talked about what they’d most like to say, Tammy stared at the blank piece of paper on her lap, and said nothing.
She felt, she hoped, she dreamed that maybe she was dreaming.
Maybe this wasn’t really happening.
How could she write about something that had taken her words?
“What about your sign, Tammy?” said Maggie. “What are you going to write?”
Tammy let herself be pulled into the infinite pure white of the paper, while her body got left behind.
“I don’t know,” she whispered.
She felt a hand upon her back, and then heard Maggie saying softly, “You don’t have to write anything. Never mind.”
Tammy said nothing while a heavy tear fell from her eyes onto her piece of paper.
And then her two friends were sitting on either side of her, hugging her.
“Forget all this,” Maggie said.
“Do, Tammy,” said Sam. “I’m hungry anyway. C’mon. Let’s all go out for something.”
“Yes,” said Maggie. But Tammy gently shook her head. She looked up, wiping away her tears. “What did you all write?”
“Nothing,” said Maggie. “Who cares?”
Tammy looked at Sam. “What’d you write?”
“Nothing worth reading. C’mon, now. Let’s go eat, or just go for a walk.”
“Please, Sam. Show me.”
After looking at Maggie, Sam slowly reached for her piece of paper. She picked it up, turned it over, and held it for Tammy to see.
“Rape culture is … ‘Grab them by the p_ssy. You can do anything.’ #EndRapeCulture,” it said.
Tammy didn’t know how long she stared at Sam’s sign before turning to Maggie. “What’s yours?” she said.
Maggie handed over her sign. It said:
“Rape culture is … ‘Pay them less’ —> ‘They’re worth less’ —> ‘They’re worthless.’ #EndRapeCulture.”
It took Tammy a moment to speak. “That’s amazing. You made that up?” Maggie nodded.
Tammy looked back down at her piece of paper. The moist gray circle of her tear was still there.
She imagined that circle larger, and more spattered. And colored the color of blood.
Chapter 28: Tammy Dulton’s diary
Dear Diary/Journal/Sketch book/paper confessional,
I feel like I’m drowning. Exhibit #1: Look at how long it’s been since I’ve written or drawn a single thing in (on?) you. Since July 4th. It’s nearly the end of October.
So you do the math.
Okay, fine, I’ll do it.
Four. Four months. That’s how long it’s been since I did just about anything for myself. Four months since I even looked at my painting—my Big Painting. My new painting. My breakthrough work of art.
Four months since Frank moved in here.
Four months since I lost my independence. And there’s no one I can talk to about why, at this point, that has me feeling, 24-hours a day, like I’m drowning. Because what feels like it’s always pulling me under—what’s taking up all my time, and all my energy, so that it’s impossible for me to take care of myself—to work out, to do some yoga, to relax, to just take some time for myself—and, most of all, by far, to PAINT, which I want to do so badly that NOT painting is like a constant ache inside of me—is that my entire life, day in and day out, consists of taking care of Frank.
It’d scare me. It’d scare anybody.
But all the understanding in the world of why Frank acts the way he does doesn’t change how frustrating it is deal with him all day, every day. He’s just too MEAN—to me, to Todd, to everybody. He thinks his constant insults and complaining are funny, I guess—or that, since he doesn’t “really” mean the things he says, it’s okay to say them. But I hate that line of reasoning. It’s they way mean people always excuse themselves.
But, I swear, it’s like taking care of a giant two-year-old—who keeps sneaking off to smoke a cigar and drink whiskey.
My real problem, though, as I’m thinking about it, isn’t just Frank. If “all” I had to do every day was take care of Frank, that’d be one thing. But I don’t take care of only Frank. I take care of Charlie and Todd, too. I do just about as much for those two as I do for Frank. They don’t bitch about it, like Frank does, so in a way it doesn’t really seem like as much work as it is—even to me.
But it is a lot of work. A LOT. It keeps me running all day. I do the boys’ laundry. I make their beds. I do their shopping. I run their errands. I cook for them. I clean their kitchen. I vacuum their floors.
Oh, my God.
I just realized something.
I have become the Mom of this place.
How have I not realized that until just NOW?
I’m Tammy the Mom.
But please, please, please, diary-journal pal, do not get me wrong. I am NOT complaining. Well, I am, obviously. But not in a gazillion billion years will I ever stop being so, so grateful to Charlie and Todd for letting me move in with them here. I don’t even want to think about what would have happened to me, of what I would have done, if they hadn’t opened their home to me.
Not to mention that, because of them, I’m living in ASHEVILLE. I love this town more than I’ve ever loved anywhere I’ve ever lived. It’s grown in my heart the way it’s grown on my hips. (The food here! The BEER! The amazing cocktails! It is a bonafide miracle that anyone in this town is ever sober—if they ever are, now that I think of how everyone here seems to drive.) There is no way on earth that I could afford to live here on my own—and certainly not after what Ryan did to me. There are no jobs here, and even fewer places to rent. I swear, a person could drag a big cardboard box out onto any sidewalk in Asheville, and start renting it for $1,000 a month. And they could be as picky as they wanted about who they rented to. First and last month, cleaning deposit, security fee—extra for pets, including bugs. No problem.
But back to my point, which is that (despite all of my whining I just did) I am NOT complaining.
And I’d have no right to, anyway. Nobody ever ASKED me to do all the things I do that aren’t strictly taking care of Frank. Charlie never asked me to do his laundry. Todd never asked me to keep the kitchen clean. I just do all the things around here I do because … well, because I’m so grateful to Charlie and Todd for what they’ve done for me.
I help because I WANT to help.
I really do.
But still, here I am.
Here I am, wanting—needing, needing—to do some things for myself.
Bless it all, I just don’t want to be anyone’s mom anymore. I’ve DONE my time as a mom. And I wouldn’t take a moment of that time back. But there’s not enough time in one life to be a mother twice. There isn’t in my life, anyway.
Not if I want to be an artist.
Not if I want to become the person I put off becoming, so that I could be a mother.
And a wife.
And look how that turned out.
Time is ticking, Tammy.
What are you going to do?
What AM I going to do?
How can I serve one life—the life I’m so grateful for, the one where I WANT to take care of my three boys here—and also service the life that I know I have to start living, before it’s too late?
How do I stop being a mother and caretaker for others, and start being … well, ME?
And do I even know what that really means?
Am I bold enough to find out?
Chapter 29: The game begins
Tammy held her breath while she read the email from her sister, which came in one afternoon as she was on her couch with a big bowl of popcorn watching “Transparent.”
The day before, Maggie, fully aghast, had said to Tammy, “You haven’t seen ‘TRANSPARENT’? You’re kidding! How did you miss it?”
“Because I have a life?” said Tammy.
“Well, now you’re going to have a BETTER life, because you are going to watch that show. Promise me you will. Promise!”
Tammy held up her hand, like a solemn Girl Scout taking a vow. “I promise.”
A couple of hours before her sister’s email came in, after she’d watched the first two episodes of the show, Tammy picked her phone up off the couch and called Maggie.
“Oh my God,” she said. ‘TRANSPARENT!’”
“RIGHT?!” said Maggie.
“I love it.”
“How much of it have you watched?”
“Two episodes. And I can tell I’m going to watch the rest of at least the first season before I get off this couch again. Thank God that Todd and your mom are with Frank today, because I am in full binge mode with this show.”
“Isn’t Jeffrey Tambor amazing?”
“SO amazing. I swear, if they did nothing but keep the camera trained on his face the whole time, and he never said a word, it would be the greatest show ever filmed.”
“It WOULD be!”
“Back to being Benjie!” said Tammy. “Good-bye! Love you!”
Two hours later, just as Tammy was wondering if, after all, it wouldn’t be worth trading the pain of actually having to get up off the couch with having a fresh bowl of popcorn in her lap, she heard the “Ping!” of Sandra’s email delivery.
Tammy threw down her phone onto the sofa beside her, and turned off the TV. She stood up from the couch, suddenly restless. The next thing she knew, she had more or less thrown herself together, and was heading up the stairs to Charlie’s place.
Frank and Louise were sitting in the living room, chatting over glasses of iced tea.
“There she is,” said Frank from his spot on the couch.
“Tammy!” called Louise from her easy chair. “How good to see you, darlin’!”
“Hey, you two. Is Charlie around?”
“No, he and Todd went to Earth Fare to pick up a few things” said Louise. “Why don’t you come chat with us for awhile?” After Tammy had plopped down on the couch opposite Frank, Louise said, “You look like the cat that just lost the bird. What’s wrong, sugar?”
“C’mon, now. Talk to us.”
“Oh, it’s just … it’s Ryan.”
“Your ex-husband?” said Louise.
“What’s goin’ on with him?” said Frank.
Tammy reached over on the couch to pick up an oversized throw pillow, which she hugged to her chest. “He served me with divorce papers that I guess I’ve got to sign and get back to him pretty soon. Like, real soon.”
“When did you get those?” said Louise.
“About two weeks ago.”
“I didn’t know that,” said Frank, his eyebrows furrowing in the middle.
“Why haven’t you signed the papers?” said Louise.
Tammy shrugged. “I don’t know. The truth is, I haven’t even looked at them yet. I got as far as opening the envelope, and that was it.”
“Do you mind if I take a look at ‘em?” said Louise.
“Not at all.” In less than a minute, Tammy was back in her seat on the couch, and Louise was studying the Petition for Divorce she held in her lap.
“Yep, these are divorce papers,” she said.
“Lemme see ‘em,” said Frank.
Once he, too, had looked through the papers, Frank handed them back to Tammy.
“Frank, are you thinking what I’m thinking?” said Louise.
“Is that rat bastard still alive?”
“Of course he is. I see him all the time.”
“Tell him I said hello. Tell him I’d call him to say it myself, but I can’t afford a phone.”
“Who are you guys talking about?” said Tammy.
“Dan McGowan,” said Louise. “He was the lawyer I used when I divorced Frank. He’s the best divorce lawyer in Asheville.”
“Now, Frank, don’t exaggerate. He left you a shirt.”
“That and one sock.” Frank chortled. “I have to say, I actually liked the guy. He’s a shark, that’s for sure—he makes Jaws look like a can of tuna. But I had to respect him.”
“Sounds like I found my lawyer,” said Tammy.
“Don’t use anybody else,” said Frank.
“I am so sorry, sweetheart, that I didn’t tell you about Dan before,” said Louise. “I honestly thought your divorce was a done deal.”
“So did I,” said Frank. “Haven’t you been out here for over a year?”
“It’ll be a year come January,” said Tammy.
“Time to cut those ties that bind,” said Louise. “And you’ll like Dan, honey. He’s a good man to know.”
“Especially if you’re looking to cut someone off at the knees,” said Frank.
“Well, I don’t know if I’m looking for that, exactly,” said Tammy.
“I don’t think you should,” said Louise. “I think you should go for the shins.”
* * * * *
The next week found Tammy sitting in Dan McGowan’s neatly cluttered office, talking to him from across his desk. She’d been in there about an hour, telling him her story. She found Dan relaxing, easy to talk to. Somewhere in his sixties, he was trim, healthy, with a white goatee and white hair cut short. He was dressed in jeans and a light blue Oxford shirt, its cuffed turned up. He listened to Tammy intently, never taking his eyes off of her, stopping her now and again to ask a pointed question, and then leaning back in his chair to do something at which he clearly excelled, which was listening.
When she reached the end of her story, Tammy said, “I’m sorry. I’ve just been talking your ear off. But that’s about the gist of it.”
Dan fixed Tammy in his gaze, for what seemed to her like a long time. He began slowly nodding, and then tapped his pen, once, on the legal pad where he’d jotted the occasional note while she talked.
“Okay,” he said. “I think I understand what’s happened here. I see this all the time.”
“Men like your husband. Men who do to their wives what your husband is trying to do to you. Men who’ve become professionally successful, and who then attempt to remove their wives—who’ve been there all along from them, who’ve been an integral part of their success—from some new life they want to start for themselves.”
Tammy nodded. “I guess that’s what happened to me.” She sighed. “So, is there anything I can do about it?”
“Financially, you mean?”
“Oh, definitely,” said Dan. “Men like your husband think the rules don’t apply to them. But guess what? The rules apply to everyone. And my attitude is always the same: You can understand that, and make everyone else’s life a whole lot easier by simply facilitating the process, by just doing what’s right—or you can be an asshole, and fight tooth and nail to hang on to everything you possibly can.”
“Oh, Ryan’s an asshole,” said Tammy.
“Then that’s fine. That works, too.”
“Sure it does. If Ryan wants to play hardball, then we play hardball. Which I like, actually.”
“Oh, you bet.” Dan smiled a genuine smile. “Not a whole lot makes me happier than being up against someone who thinks the rules don’t apply to them. Now, do you want to hire me as your lawyer?”
Dan stood up from his chair, and came around his desk to Tammy, his hand held out to her.
“Then let’s start this game,” he said.
Chapter 30: Trump, the behaving bear?
Early the morning after election night, Tammy and Charlie, after a few hours of fitful sleep, were back on Charlie’s couch.
Pulling her blanket around herself, Tammy said hollowly, “It couldn’t have happened. It just … couldn’t have.”
“HB2 couldn’t have happened either,” said Charlie. “And Amendment 1 couldn’t have passed. And forty-nine people couldn’t have been murdered at Pulse, and fifty-three put in the hospital, just for being gay.”
Tammy threw her arms around her brother. “Oh, Charlie,” she said. He hugged her back, and they cried.
“I don’t know. I feel like I don’t know anything. It’s so crazy. Yesterday, when I was coloring in the bubble for Hillary, I got so overwhelmed that I cried a little. All these mothers had brought their daughters with them to Hall Fletcher, just so they could be there when they voted. And I imagined myself as a little girl, watching a woman President of the United States addressing the country. And I just lost it for a moment, feeling what that would have meant to me as a kid. And then, last night, I have to watch a man who BRAGS about sexually assaulting women getting elected president. It was nauseating.”
Just then Frank came shuffling out of his bedroom. On his way across the room and into the kitchen, he stopped, hands in his robe pockets, and regarded the pair on the couch.
“Who died?” he said. Receiving in response nothing but vacant stares, he continued on his way. “Oh, right. It’s who got elected.”
Once he had poured himself a cup of coffee and settled onto his bar stool, Frank watched Charlie and Tammy from over the top of his cup. “Look at you two. Trump’s made you lumps.”
“Good one,” mumbled Charlie morosely.
Frank put down his cup. “Okay, listen, you two. You’re upset because Donald Trump got elected. I get it. You think it’s the end of the world. But I want you to think about something, okay? As bad as you think it is that Trump won, it would have been worse if he’d lost.”
His audience looked at him blankly.
“I’m tellin’ you,” he continued. “Look, the people who voted for Trump are already out there. America’s near total loss of manufacturing jobs has resulted in a whole lot of people out there who feel like they have nothing to lose, people who know their most dangerous enemy, by FAR, is the status quo. They’re desperate, disenfranchised, hopeless, and crazy, crazy angry about the ruination of their lives.
“Now, you take that group of people, and deny them any access to power, to change, to genuine hope? You DISMISS them? You might as well drop a lit match onto a dry field you’ve sprayed with gasoline. Because then you’ve triggered a rage that cannot be controlled. Trump loses, and things get real primal real quick. Then all across this country—but especially out where people have been losing for so long they can’t remember what winning feels like—angry, drunk men grab their baseball bats, and maybe some rope, and pile into the back of a pick-up truck, and start looking for a way to take some control, to exercise some power. Trump loses, and the gates of hell open up.”
Frank took a sip of his coffee. “Look, we KNOW what would have happened if Hillary had won: the crazy gets whipped up and set loose in the streets, and she gets so set upon by the rabid Republican dogs that her only hope of survival is to stay in one place. She’d be immobilized. We all know that’s how that was gonna play out.
“But Trump’s win gives us at least SOME hope of everything not immediately plummeting into the worst kind of chaos. And that’s something to be thankful for, don’t you think? Sure, the bear’s been invited to sit at the dining table. But it’s better than the whole house being burned to the ground. We KNOW how Trump would have acted if he’d lost. At least now we get to wait a while, and see how he acts once he’s actually in office. And who knows? Isn’t it just possible that the bear, finding itself in such august surroundings, will start to behave himself?”