In the order they transpired, I’m recording events of the past couple of days in my marriage as a favor to the brotherhood. Navigating the asteroid belt of our spouses’ emotions requires all the skill and sharing of experiences we can muster. Members of the fair sex aren’t shy about seeking help from each other when trying to understand and cope with their men. Let’s turn the tables.
For the purposes of this story, think of me as Loretta’s husband. That’s not to imply I’m anything else. That’s who I actually am, but I don’t like the alternative. I could also be called Mr. Loretta. That’s what I’m getting at and I don’t fancy it. There’s a limit to how emasculated I want to feel. All the same, this story isn’t about me and my presence could easily become lost in the shuffle.
My wife, the Loretta about whom I’ve been speaking, has three very close friends. I mean they hang around together like you wouldn’t believe. This has been going on for years, something approaching a decade and a half, since the time before Loretta and I got married. The last Thursday of every month, they meet for dinner at a fancy restaurant and have a girls’ night out.
Loretta comes home from these evenings and tells me stories that make the remainder of my hair curl. She wouldn’t miss one of these gab fests for anything. Our family, including two pre-teen children, knows this very well because all other events including vacations, anniversaries and birthday celebrations are scheduled so the end-of-month Thursday-nights won’t be missed.
But I wouldn’t have a story to tell if something hadn’t been running amiss, would I? And sure enough, a chink in the solidarity of the four musketeers began to appear several months ago.
It has been my observation that women are more socially-oriented creatures than men. The distinction isn’t as clear cut as appears on the surface. Men do like to get together to discuss sports, cars, poker, business, fishing, babes, whatever, but we don’t absolutely need to.
For females, talk is oxygen. It’s essential for survival. It can occur by phone, over the internet, in person or most important, at a social gathering. Women hate to miss an event. There’s something in their DNA that finds it abhorrent, nay life threatening, to be left out. Even if the social occasion entails something they’re not particularly interested in or includes the presence of someone with whom they’re not on the same wave length, they must be included.
Most males don’t have the same need. In fact, I know why we’ve adopted the barbecue as our favorite accoutrement. We want to hide out when company comes. Small talk often causes physical pain. I’ll stand at the grill in tempest, sleet or snow. I don’t care, so long as I don’t have to mingle. I love being told I’m a hero for enduring the elements. The praise for a lip-smacking steak or souvlaki concoction is sweet, but it’s the relative isolation that is so appealing.
Having gotten that off my chest, let me add there’s an extra twist to women’s need for society. As much as they hate missing something – which is often their own fault, since they’ll sometimes back out of a reception or party with the most creative of excuses – what drives them to an absolute frenzy of annoyance is if something remarkable happens in their absence.
Suppose Horace from down the street becomes roaring drunk or the Henderson’s eldest son is arrested for drug dealing on the spot or widower Mr. Jones shows up with divorcee Mrs. Smith. It’s one thing to hear about it later, but there’s no substitute for obtaining the information immediately.
My Loretta and her friends Briana, Roxanne and Kate first met while working at Starplug Concert Tickets Agency when they were in their early twenties. Coming from somewhat divergent backgrounds, they gradually bonded in their working environment and became closer as they took advantage of their jobs to gain access to the premier tour events in our town.
You may remember that loose practices with respect to ticket distribution got Starplug in a lot of trouble. It was a scandal at the time, covered by all the media. When exposed, preferred access for insiders, celebrities and scalpers plus lack of ticket availability for the general public caused the company to go belly up. The girls were instantly out of a job but their friendship lasted.
They’ve gone their slightly separate ways since then, but as their once-a-month gourmet-fest demonstrates, they’re still thick as thieves. Three of the friends married and two are still with their husbands, Loretta and Briana. Roxanne’s marriage ended four years ago when her husband was exposed in a police round-up for solicitation. Roxanne has since moved on and is now living with her hairdresser. Her taste in men has taken a 180 degree u-turn, but who am I to judge.
Still-single Kate is the anomaly in the group. While the other three shop at Hudson’s Bay and Winners, Kate is quite familiar with the sales staff at Holt Renfrew. Out for a stroll, she’ll swish by on well-turned ankles encased in Gucci heels. Seeing her upturned profile wrapped in a Hèrmes scarf, a moneyed background is plain to detect. She’s the one with lingering theatrical aspirations carried over from university days and also the one with the most contentious personality.
When I arrived home from work Monday evening, I wasn’t surprised to hear Loretta’s lament. As Loretta related the matter to me, she, Briana and Roxanne felt it necessary to get together and discuss a problem they discovered, by accident, was common to all three of them. They met for lunch at Eduardo’s on Yorkville and talked out the matter. I’ll recreate the conversation as best I can. Of course, it won’t be completely accurate, but I think I’ll be able to convey the gist of it.
“You know why I suggested we get together on our own, without Kate, eh?” asked Roxanne.
“I sure do. I thought it was just me. But I gather we’ve all had the same experience. When it happened to me, I cried for days. I have no idea whether or not it was deliberate or on account of thoughtlessness or just due to her nature, but it sure set me back. I thought you two were in on it,” said Briana.
“No way,” said Loretta. We just went along with what Kate wanted. You know what she’s like. When she’s under a full head of steam, we’re tug boats to her Queen Mary.”
“I was the victim when the rest of you took that trip to Niagara-on-the-Lake for the Shaw Festival,” said Briana. I never even knew you were going. I only found out about it after you all got back.
“Kate said you didn’t want to go. That live theatre bores you.” said Roxanne.
“That’s true. But I still would have liked to be there. Especially when it turned out a certain peanut-farmer ex-President was staying at the same bread and breakfast where you were lodged.”
“Yes, that was pretty exciting,” enthused Roxanne. “Except he kept trying to get us to help him build houses.”
“Nevertheless, you can understand why I wish I’d been there,” said Briana, disappointment in her features.
“I was left out when Kate arranged the trip to St. Jacobs. Her explanation, later, was that I would have gone out of my mind looking at all the crafts. I like crafts, sort of, maybe. Okay, not as much as the rest of you, but I can stomach them.” Roxanne looked conflicted.
“That weekend was a disaster,” said Loretta.
“Yes. A Mennonite kid ran down a pedestrian with his horse-drawn carriage. He’d been texting on his cell phone. It was a disgrace according to some of the elders in his religious community,” remembered Briana.
“It received a lot of international attention. It was one of those human interest stories everybody loves. And we were interviewed as first-hand witnesses. We appeared on all the news networks, even CNN.” Loretta got a far-away look in her eyes.
“What happened to the pedestrian?” asked Roxanne.
“I don’t remember. He survived, right? Or was it a she? Details.” Briana looked sheepish.
“Whatever else one might think, things sure happen when Kate’s around,” said Loretta.
“I know. Remember when her sister visited from Paris?” asked Roxanne.
“That was the time I was excluded,” said Loretta. “After the fact, I was told it was because you were having a nostalgia night at Kate’s place. She planned to show old comedies on TV. Supposedly she knew I wouldn’t have been interested. Is that code for she doesn’t think I have a sense of humor?”
“Then, the concierge phoned from the lobby to say Kate’s sister had arrived unexpectedly from Paris. Kate and Lynne hadn’t seen each other in five years,” said Roxanne.
“The two of them regaled us with stories the rest of the night,” said Briana. “You know how Kate doesn’t talk about her childhood. With prodding from her sister, she revealed a lot of secrets.”
“When they were in their teens, they spent their summers in Hollywood with their father. He was in the entertainment business and got them behind the scenes on a number of television shows,” said Roxanne.
“No wonder Kate likes to watch old Saved by the Bell and Different Strokes episodes. Turns out she and Lynne are sometimes extras in the background.” Briana couldn’t keep the note of admiration out of her voice.
“Did you notice that whenever the subject of their mother came up, they deflected the conversation?” said Roxanne.
“Yes,” said Briana. “There’s something wrong there. A big fight or a disappointment.”
“See, this is why I was so upset when I was left out that night,” said Loretta.
“We all have a grievance,” said Roxanne.
“We should form a club,” said Briana. “And give it a name.”
“We could call it ‘The Despicable Kate Club’,” suggested Roxanne.
“No, that’s too hurtful,” piped in Loretta.
“How about the ‘It’s Pay-Back Time Kate’ club? Or the ‘What Goes Around Comes Around Club’?” suggested Roxanne.
“I don’t think we need a name,” said Loretta. “Let’s just get together every once in a while and commiserate.”
At meal’s end, as they were standing up to leave the table, Briana posed the following, “What I don’t understand is Kate’s loyalty to us.”
Loretta jumped in, “Me neither. Whatever her flaws, she’s a remarkable person.”
Roxanne added, “Absolutely. But I need a break from her. I’m not going to take her calls before Thursday.”
And the other two said simultaneously, “Agreed.”
That’s how they left the matter on Monday. Today is Friday. That’s right, the day after all four ladies, Kate included, got together for their monthly repast. Since my work at the office is done for today, I might as well take a moment and record what happened next for posterity.
Last evening, Loretta, Briana and Roxanne were sitting at their usual table at Chez Bistro’s Café Courtyard. There’s a name that’s a tad pretentious, don’t you think, gentlemen? Anyway, Kate was late.
When she did walk in half an hour after the usual meeting time, she was obviously upset.
“What’s the matter dear?” wondered Briana.
“You’ve put me through an awful experience,” said Kate.
The other three girls looked at each other, apprehension evident in their faces. Had Kate found out about their private moment earlier in the week?
“What happened?” asked Loretta, hesitantly.
“You know the talent contest that’s coming to Canada? It’s like American Idol or the X-factor, only it’s specifically for contestants 30 to 50 years old. They have to compete before a panel of judges for a chance at a recording contract.”
“Oh yes, that one,” said Roxanne. “Isn’t that silly? The papers are having a field day with it. They’re giving it all sorts of disparaging names – Last Gasp for Fame, Recall for Clunkers, Middle-aged Warblers, the Over-the-Hill Gang Sings Again.”
“What’s it really called?” Loretta asked.
“Desperate Wannabes,” said Kate.
“You’re kidding,” exclaimed Briana.
“Yes, but that’s how I’ll always think of it from now on,” said Kate.
“I gather you tried out for the show,” said Briana helpfully.
“You have a great singing voice. What could have been so bad?” asked Loretta.
“I lost my confidence. The girl – mature woman I guess I should say – who appeared before me was outstanding. But that’s not the whole story.” And she looked at each of them with a measure of accusation in her eyes.
“Go on,” the others all said.
“She had peeps with her.”
“Yes, A posse. A bunch of relatives and friends. A cheering section. She had a support group. I was on my own.”
“Oh-oh,” said Briana.
“Where were you guys? I tried to reach you. Did you all have your cell phones turned off? I kept leaving messages. I wondered if you’d been killed in a car accident. I thought you might not be here tonight.”
Kate was deeply upset. The other three were beginning to feel poorly themselves.
“Well, I’ve been very busy,” said Roxanne.
“Same here,” said Briana.”
“Do you like my hair?” asked Loretta
“What about my dress? I bought it this afternoon,” added Briana.
“Never mind trying to distract me. I’m really upset. I wish you guys could have been there.”
There was awkward silence that stretched on for some time. Each of the women was thinking about the consequences of their actions.
“So do I,” Briana eventually ventured.
There were accompanying nods around the table.
“Me too,” echoed Roxanne.
Loretta hung her head. Then she spoke for the group. “We feel really bad about this. Can you ever forgive us?”
Kate’s mood lightened. A load had been lifted. “Of course I can. I could never stay mad at you guys. We’re a team.”
Turning weepy, the four of them felt as close as ever.
That about sums it up. They worked things out among themselves. Ladies employ a dynamic and healing process that we men can only wonder at.
Come to think of it, though, I do have a sidebar to add to these events. I may know a little more than I first thought. There’s a circumstance I’m aware of that might be informative.
It’s not a big deal, but it could potentially take my marriage on an uncomfortable tangent. What my wife doesn’t know and Kate and I have chosen to keep from her is that Kate and I used to date. It was during the wild days of early college. Ultimately, I met Loretta thanks to Kate.
Even after we broke up – I was never going to be as career-driven as Kate wanted – I’d occasionally ask her for concert tickets. She was kind enough to acquire a pass for me and a couple of my buddies to gain entry to the mash pit at a Three Dog Night’s gig. That’s where I started chatting up a pretty young brunette name Loretta. One thing eventually led to another.
For the sake of our marriage, I avoid thoughts of my earlier rambling ways. But the talk about Kate, her sister and their mother has jogged my memory. Kate was emotionally damaged goods when she and I were an item. It seemed to be primarily due to some family history.
As I recall, Kate and Lynne’s parents split up with nastiness all around. The father was cerebral and cautious, the mother a go-getter and upward-climber. After the divorce, the father moved to L.A. to become a scriptwriter on legal and medical procedural shows. The mother married a millionaire property developer in the New York-New Jersey area and moved across the border.
Kate and Lynne spent their summers in Hollywood. The mother’s new husband had a long-standing tradition of taking the children from his first marriage to a resort in the Poconos for the entire month of July. To avoid any chance of a scene, Kate and Lynne were left out of the mix.
They were told it would be too boring for them to be stuck away in the countryside for so long. The mother said they wouldn’t like it. Kate was resentful. On top of her parents split-up, it added to her sense of the world being skewed and, in her own particular corner of it, she felt screwed.
You don’t suppose that’s significant, do you?
There’s another cast of strong female characters in The Peace-0f-mind Thief. Tensions in a small town “rocket” near the breaking point.
Or, there’s Gravity’s Absence, in which an improper flirtation in a college’s English Department runs amok. Mille Feuille hated and loved the Mix Master.