×

Two By Two / (by Nicholas Sparks, 2016) -

Two By Two /   (by Nicholas Sparks, 2016) -

Two By Two / (by Nicholas Sparks, 2016) -

. 32 , . , , . , , . . , , , . - , , . , . , , , . , . , , - .

:
: 522
:
Two By Two / (by Nicholas Sparks, 2016) -
:
2016
:
Nicholas Sparks
:
Ari Fliakos
:
:
:
upper-intermediate
:
14:58:25
:
64 kbps
:
mp3, pdf, doc

Two By Two / :

.doc (Word) nicholas_sparks_-_two_by_two.doc [1.45 Mb] (c: 27) .
.pdf nicholas_sparks_-_two_by_two.pdf [2.36 Mb] (c: 14) .
audiobook (MP3) .


:

( , ).


To you, my loyal reader: Thank you for the last twenty years CHAPTER 1 And Baby Makes Three Wow! I can remember saying as soon as Vivian stepped out of the bathroom and showed me the positive result of the pregnancy test. Thats great! In truth, my feelings were closer to Really? Already? It was more shock than anything, with a bit of terror mixed in. Wed been married for a little more than a year and shed already told me that she intended to stay home for the first few years when we decided to have a baby. Id always agreed when shed said itI wanted the same thingbut in that moment, I also understood that our life as a couple with two incomes would soon be coming to an end. Moreover, I wasnt sure whether I was even ready to become a father, but what could I do? It wasnt as though shed tricked me, nor had she concealed the fact that she wanted to have a baby, and shed let me know when she stopped taking the pill. I wanted children as well, of course, but shed stopped the pill only three weeks earlier. I can remember thinking that I probably had a few months at least before her body readjusted to its normal, baby-making state. For all I knew, it could be hard for her to become pregnant, which meant it might even be a year or two. But not my Vivian. Her body had adjusted right away. My Vivian was fertile. I slipped my arms around her, studying her to see if she was already glowing. But it was too soon for that, right? What exactly is glowing, anyway? Is it just another way of saying someone looks hot and sweaty? How were our lives going to change? And by how much? Questions tumbled around and around, and as I held my wife, I, Russell Green, had answers to none of them. Months later, the big IT happened, though I admit much of the day remains a blur. In retrospect, I probably should have written it all down while it was still fresh in my mind. A day like the big IT should be remembered in vivid detailnot the fuzzy snapshots I tend to recall. The only reason I remember as much as I do is because of Vivian. Every detail seemed etched into her consciousness, but then she was the one in labor, and pain has a way of sometimes sharpening the mind. Or so they say. What I do know is this: Sometimes, in recalling events of that day, she and I are of slightly differing opinions. For instance, I considered my actions completely understandable under the circumstances, whereas Vivian would declare alternately that I was selfish, or simply a complete idiot. When she told the story to friendsand she has done so many timespeople inevitably laughed, or shook their heads and offered her pitying glances. In all fairness, I dont think I was either selfish or a complete idiot; after all, it was our first child, and neither of us knew exactly what to expect when she went into labor. Does anyone really feel prepared for whats coming? Labor, I was told, is unpredictable; during her pregnancy, Vivian reminded me more than once that the process from initial contractions to actual birth could take more than a dayespecially for the first childand labors of twelve hours or more were not uncommon. Like most young fathers-to-be, I considered my wife the expert and took her at her word. After all, she was the one whod read all the books. It should also be noted that I wasnt entirely deficient on the morning in question. I had taken my responsibilities seriously. Both her overnight bag and the babys bag were packed, and the contents of both had been checked and double-checked. The camera and video camera were charged and ready, and the babys room was fully stocked with everything our child would need for at least a month. I knew the quickest route to the hospital and had planned alternate routes, if there happened to be an accident on the highway. I had also known the baby would be coming soon; in the days leading up to the actual birth, thered been numerous false alarms, but even I knew the countdown had officially started. In other words, I wasnt entirely surprised when my wife shook me awake at half past four on October 16, 2009, announcing that the contractions were about five minutes apart and that it was time to go to the hospital. I didnt doubt her; she knew the difference between Braxton Hicks and the real thing, and though Id been preparing for this moment, my first thoughts werent about throwing on my clothes and loading up the car; in fact, they werent about my wife and soon-to-be-born child at all. Rather, my thoughts went something like this: Todays the big IT, and people are going to be taking a lot of photographs. Other people will be staring at these photographs forever, andconsidering its for posterityI should probably hop in the shower before we go, since my hair looks as though Id spent the night in a wind tunnel. Its not that Im vain; I simply thought I had plenty of time, so I told Vivian Id be ready to go in a few minutes. As a general rule, I shower quicklyno more than ten minutes on a normal day, including shavingbut right after Id applied the shaving cream, I thought I heard my wife cry out from the living room. I listened again, hearing nothing, but sped up nonetheless. By the time I was rinsing off, I heard her shouting, though strangely it seemed as though she was shouting about me, not at me. I wrapped a towel around my waist and stepped into the darkened hallway, still dripping. As God is my witness, I was in the shower for less than six minutes. Vivian cried out again and it took me a second to process that Vivian was on all fours and shouting into her cell phone that I was IN THE DAMN SHOWER! and demanding WHAT IN THE HELL CAN THAT IDIOT BE THINKING?!?!?!? Idiot, by the way, was the nicest term she used to describe me in that same conversation; her language was actually quite a bit more colorful. What I didnt know was that the contractions that had been five minutes apart were now only two minutes apart, and that she also was in back labor. Back labor is excruciating, and Vivian suddenly let out a scream so powerful that it became its own living entity, one that may still be hovering above our neighborhood in Charlotte, North Carolina, an otherwise peaceful place. Rest assured, I moved into even higher gear after that, slapping on clothes without completely toweling off, and loading the car. I supported Vivian as we walked to the car and didnt comment on the fact that she was digging her fingernails into my forearm. In a flash, I was behind the wheel and once on the road, I called the obstetrician, who promised to meet us at the hospital. The contractions were still a couple of minutes apart when we arrived, but Vivians continuing anguish meant that she was taken straight to labor and delivery. I held her hand and tried to guide her through her breathingduring which she again offered various colorful sentiments about me and where I could stick the damn breathing!until the anesthesiologist arrived for the epidural. Early in the pregnancy, Vivian had debated whether or not to get one before reluctantly deciding in favor, and now it appeared to be a blessing. As soon as the medication kicked in, her agony vanished and Vivian smiled for the first time since shed shaken me awake that morning. Her obstetricianin his sixties, with neat gray hair and a friendly facewandered into the room every twenty to thirty minutes to see how dilated she was, and in between those visits I called both sets of parents, as well as my sister. It was time. Nurses were summoned and they readied the equipment with calm professionalism. Then, all at once, the doctor told my wife to push. Vivian pushed through three contractions; on the third, the doctor suddenly began rotating his wrists and hands like a magician pulling a rabbit from his hat and the next thing I knew, I was a father. Just like that. The doctor examined our baby, and though she was slightly anemic, she had ten fingers, ten toes, a healthy heart and a set of obviously functioning lungs. I asked about the anemiathe doctor said it was nothing to worry aboutand after he squirted a bunch of goop in our babys eyes, she was cleaned and swaddled and placed in my wifes arms. Just as Id predicted, photos were taken all day long but strangely, when people saw them later, no one seemed to care about my appearance at all. Its been said that babies are born looking like either Winston Churchill or Mahatma Gandhi, but because the anemia lent a grayish pallor to my daughters skin, my first thought was that she resembled Yoda, without the ears of course. A beautiful Yoda, mind you, a breathtaking Yoda, a Yoda so miraculous that when she gripped my finger, my heart nearly burst. My parents happened to arrive a few minutes later, and in my nervousness and excitement, I met them in the hallway and blurted out the first words that came to mind. We have a gray baby! My mother looked at me as though Id gone insane while my father dug his finger into his ear as if wondering if the waxy buildup had clouded his ability to hear effectively. Ignoring my comment, they entered the room and saw Vivian cradling our daughter in her arms, her expression serene. My eyes followed theirs and I thought to myself that London had to be the single most precious little girl in the history of the world. While Im sure all new fathers think the same thing about their own children, the simple fact is that there can only be one child who is actually the most precious in the history of the world, and part of me marveled that others in the hospital werent stopping by our room to marvel at my daughter. My mom stepped toward the bed, craning her neck to peer even closer. Did you decide on a name? she asked. London, my wife answered, her attention completely devoted to our child. Weve decided to name her London. My parents eventually left, then returned again that afternoon. In between, Vivians parents visited as well. Theyd flown in from Alexandria, Virginia, where Vivian had been raised, and while Vivian was thrilled, I immediately felt the tension in the room begin to rise. Id always sensed that they believed their daughter had settled when deciding to marry me, and who knows? Nor did they seem to like my parents, and the feeling was mutual. While the four of them were always cordial, it was nonetheless obvious that they preferred to avoid each others company. My older sister, Marge, also came by with Liz, bearing gifts. Marge and Liz had been together longer than Vivian and I hadat the time, more than five yearsand not only did I think Liz was a terrific partner for my sister, but I knew that Marge was the greatest older sibling a guy could have. With both my parents workingDad was a plumber and Mom worked as a receptionist at a dentists office until her retirement a few years backMarge had not only served as a substitute parent at times, but as a sibling confidante who helped me wade through the angst of adolescence. Neither of them liked Vivians parents either, by the way, a feeling that had coalesced at my wedding, when Vivians parents refused to let Marge and Liz sit together at the main table. Granted, Marge had been in the wedding party and Liz had notand Marge had opted to wear a tuxedo, not a dressbut it was the kind of slight that neither of them had been able to forgive, since other heterosexual couples had been allowed the privilege. Frankly, I dont blame Marge or Liz for being upset about it, because I was bothered, too. She and Liz get along better than most of the married couples I know. While our visitors came and went, I stayed in the room with my wife for the rest of the day, alternately sitting in the rocking chair near the window or on the bed beside her, both of us repeatedly whispering in amazement that we had a daughter. I would stare at my wife and daughter, knowing with certainty that I belonged with these two and that the three of us would forever be connected. The feeling was overwhelminglike everything else that dayand I found myself speculating what London would look like as a teenager, or what she would dream about, or what she would do with her life. Whenever London cried, Vivian would automatically move her to her breast, and I would witness yet another miracle. How does London know how to do that? I wondered to myself. How on earth does she know? There is another memory from that day, however, that is all mine. It occurred on that first night in the hospital, long after our final visitors had left. Vivian was asleep and I was dozing in the rocking chair when I heard my daughter begin to fuss. Before that day, Id never actually held a newborn, and scooping her into my arms, I pulled her close to my body. I thought Id have to wake Vivian, but surprising me, London settled down. I inched back to the rocking chair and for the next twenty minutes, all I could do was marvel at the feelings she stirred within me. That I adored her, I already knew, but already, the thought of life without her struck me as inconceivable. I remember whispering to her that as her father, I would always be there for her, and as if knowing exactly what I was saying, she pooped and squirmed and then began to cry. In the end, I handed her back to Vivian. CHAPTER 2 In the Beginning I told them today, Vivian announced. We were in the bedroom, Vivian had slipped into her pajamas and crawled into bed, the two of us finally alone. It was mid-December, and London had been asleep for less than an hour; at eight weeks, she was still only sleeping three to four hours at a stretch. Vivian hadnt complained, but she was endlessly tired. Beautiful, but tired. Told who what? I asked. Rob, she answered, meaning her boss at the media company where she worked. I officially let him know that after my maternity leave was up, I wouldnt be coming back. Oh, I said, feeling the same pang of terror Id felt when Id seen the positive pregnancy result. Vivian earned nearly as much as I did and without her income, I wasnt sure we could afford our lifestyle. He said the door was always open if I changed my mind, she added. But I told him that London wasnt going to be raised by strangers. Otherwise, why have a child in the first place? You dont have to convince me, I said, doing my best to hide my feelings. Im on your side. Well, part of me was, anyway. But you know that means we cant go out to dinner as much and well have to cut back on discretionary spending, right? I know. And youre okay with not shopping as much? You say it like I waste money. I never do that. The credit card bills sometimes seemed to indicate otherwiseas did her closet, which bulged with clothes and shoes and bagsbut I could hear the annoyance in her tone, and the last thing I wanted to do was argue with her. Instead, I rolled toward her, pulling her close, something else on my mind. I nuzzled and kissed her neck. Now? she asked. Its been a long time. And my poor baby feels like hes about to blow up, doesnt he? Frankly, I dont want to risk it. She laughed and as I began to unbutton her pajama top, a noise sounded on the baby monitor. In that instant, we both froze. Nothing. Still nothing. And just when I thought the coast was clear and I let out a breath I didnt even know Id been holding, the noise from the baby monitor began in full force. With a sigh, I rolled onto my back and Vivian slipped from the bed. By the time London finally calmedwhich took a good half hourVivian wasnt in the mood for a second attempt. In the morning, Vivian and I had more luck. So much luck, in fact, that I cheerfully volunteered to take care of London when she woke so that Vivian could go back to sleep. London, however, must have been just as tired as Vivian; it wasnt until Id finished my second cup of coffee that I heard various noises but no cries, emanating from the baby monitor. In her room, the mobile above the crib was rotating, and London was wiggly and full of energy, her legs shooting like pistons. I couldnt help but smile and she suddenly smiled as well. It wasnt gas; it wasnt a reflexive tic. Id seen those, and I almost didnt believe my eyes. This was a real smile, as true as the sunrise, and when she emitted an unexpected giggle, the already brilliant start to my day was suddenly made a thousand times better. Im not a wise man. Im not unintelligent, mind you. But wisdom means more than being intelligent, because it encompasses understanding, empathy, experience, inner peace, and intuition, and in retrospect, I obviously lack many of those traits. Heres what else Ive learned: Age doesnt guarantee wisdom, any more than age guarantees intelligence. I know thats not a popular notiondont we frequently regard our elders as wise partially because theyre gray and wrinkled?but lately Ive come to believe that some people are born with the capacity to become wise while others arent, and in some people, wisdom seems to be evident even at a young age. My sister Marge, for instance. Shes wise, and shes only five years older than I am. Frankly, shes been wise as long as Ive known her. Liz, too. Shes younger than Marge and yet her comments are both thoughtful and empathetic. In the aftermath of a conversation with her, I often find myself contemplating the things shed said. My mom and dad are also wise and Ive been thinking about it a lot these days because its become clear to me that even though wisdom runs in the family, it bypassed me entirely. If I were wise, after all, I would have listened to Marge back in the summer of 2007, when she drove me out to the cemetery where our grandparents were buried and asked me whether I was absolutely sure that I wanted to marry Vivian. If I were wise, I would have listened to my father when he asked me whether I was sure I should strike out on my own and start my own advertising company when I was thirty-five years old. If I were wise, I would have listened to my mom when she told me to spend as much time with London as I could, since kids grow up so fast, and you can never get those years back. But like I said, Im not a wise man, and because of that, my life pretty much went into a tailspin. Even now, I wonder if Ill ever recover. Where does one begin when trying to make sense of a story that makes little sense at all? At the beginning? And where is the beginning? Who knows? So lets start with this. When I was child, I grew up believing that Id feel like an adult by the time I was eighteen, and I was right. At eighteen, I was already making plans. My family had lived paycheck to paycheck, and I had no intention of doing the same. I had dreams of starting my own business, of being my own boss, even if I wasnt sure what I was actually going to do. Figuring that college would help steer me in the proper direction, I went to NC State but the longer I was there, the younger I seemed to feel. By the time I collected my degree I couldnt shake the notion that I was pretty much the same guy Id been in high school. Nor had college helped me decide on the kind of business Id start. I had little in the way of real-world experience and even less capital, so deferring my dream, I took a job in advertising for a man named Jesse Peters. I wore suits to the office and worked a ton of hours and yet, more often than not, I still felt younger than my actual age might indicate. On weekends, I frequented the same bars I did in college, and I often imagined that I could start over as a freshman, fitting right in with whatever fraternity I happened to join. Over the next eight years there would be even more changes; Id get married and purchase a house and start driving a hybrid but even then, I didnt necessarily always feel like the adult version of me. Peters, after all, had essentially taken the place of my parentslike my parents, he could tell me what to do or elsewhich made it seem as though I was still pretending. Sometimes, when sitting at my desk, Id try to convince myself: Okay, its official. Im now a grown-up. That realization came, of course, after London was born and Vivian quit her job. I wasnt quite thirty years old and the pressure I felt to provide for my family over the next few years required sacrifice on a scale that even I hadnt expected, and if that isnt being a grown-up, I dont know what is. After finishing at the agencyon days when I actually made it home at a reasonable hourId walk through the door and hear London call out, Daddy! and always wish that I could spend more time with her. Shed come running and Id scoop her up, and shed wrap her arms around my neck, and Id remind myself that all the sacrifices had been worth it, if only because of our wonderful little girl. In the hectic rush of life, it was easy to convince myself that the important thingsmy wife and daughter, my job, my familywere going okay, even if I couldnt be my own boss. In rare moments, when I imagined a future, I would find myself picturing a life that wasnt all that different than the one I was currently leading, and that was okay, too. On the surface, things seemed to be running rather smoothly, but I should have taken that as a warning sign. Trust me when I say that I had absolutely no idea that within a couple of years, Id wake in the mornings feeling like one of those immigrants on Ellis Island whod arrived in America with nothing but the clothes on their back, not speaking the language, and wondering, What am I going to do now? When, exactly, did it all begin to go wrong? If you ask Marge, the answer is obvious: It started going downhill when you met Vivian, shes told me more than once. Of course, being Marge, she would automatically correct herself. I take that back, she would add. It started way before that, when you were still in grade school and hung that poster on your wall, the one with the girl in the skimpy bikini with the big bahoonas. I always liked that poster, by the way, but it warped your thinking. Then, after further consideration, she would shake her head, speculating, Now that I think about it, you were always kind of screwed up, and coming from the person whos always been regarded as the family screwup, thats saying something. Maybe your real problem is that youve always been too damn nice for your own good. And thats the thing. When you start trying to figure out what went wrongor, more specifically, where you went wrongits a bit like peeling an onion. Theres always another layer, another mistake in the past or a painful memory that stands out, which then leads one back even further in time, and then even further, in search of the ultimate truth. Ive reached the point where Ive stopped trying to figure it out: The only thing that really matters now is learning enough to avoid making the same mistakes again. To understand why that is, its important to understand me. Which isnt easy, by the way. Ive been me for more than a third of a century, and half the time, I still dont understand myself. So let me start with this: As Ive grown older, Ive come to believe that there are two types of men in the world. The marrying type, and the bachelor type. The marrying type is the kind of guy who pretty much sizes up every girl he dates, assessing whether or not she could be The One. Its the reason that women in their thirties and forties often say things like All the good men are taken. By that, women mean guys who are ready, willing, and able to commit to being part of a couple. Ive always been the marrying type. To me, being part of a couple feels right. For whatever reason, Ive always been more comfortable in the presence of women than men, even in friendship, and spending time with one woman who also happened to be madly in love with me struck me as the best of all possible worlds. And it can be, I suppose. But thats where things get a bit trickier because not all marrying types are the same. There are subgroups within the marrying types, guys who may also consider themselves to be romantic, for instance. Sounds nice, right? The kind of guy that most women insist they want? It probably is, and I must admit that Im a card-carrying member of this particular subgroup. In rare instances, however, this particular subtype is also wired to be a people pleaser and when taken together, these three things made me believe that with just a bit more effortif only I tried a little harderthen my wife would always adore me in the same way I adored her. But what was it that made me that way? Was it simply my nature? Was I influenced by family dynamics? Or did I simply watch too many romantic movies at an impressionable age? Or all of the above? I have no idea, but I state without hesitation that the watching too many romantic movies thing was entirely Marges fault. She loved the classics like An Affair to Remember and Casablanca, but Ghost and Dirty Dancing were up there too, and we must have watched Pretty Woman at least twenty times. That movie was her all-time favorite. What I didnt know, of course, was that Marge and I enjoyed watching it because we both had massive crushes on Julia Roberts at the time, but thats beside the point. The film will probably live on forever because it works. The characters played by Richard Gere and Julia Roberts hadchemistry. They talked. They learned to trust each other, despite the odds. They fell in love. And how can one possibly forget the scene when Richard Gere is waiting for Juliahes planning to take her to the operaand she emerges wearing a gown that utterly transforms her? The audience sees Richards awestruck expression, and he eventually opens a velvet box, which holds the diamond necklace Julia will also be wearing that evening. As Julia reaches for it, Richard snaps the lid closed, and Julias sudden joyful surprise It was all there, really, in just those few scenes. The romance, I meantrust, anticipation, and joy combined with opera, dressing up, and jewelry all led to love. In my preteenage brain, it just clicked: a how-to manual of sorts to impress a girl. All I really had to do was remember that girls had to like the guy first and that romantic gestures would then lead to love. In the end, another romantic in the real world was created. When I was in sixth grade, a new girl joined the class. Melissa Anderson had moved from Minnesota, and with blond hair and blue eyes, she shared the look of her Swedish ancestors. When I saw her on the first day of school, Im pretty sure I went slack-jawed and I wasnt the only one. Every guy was whispering about her and there was little doubt in my mind that she was far and away the prettiest girl whod ever set foot in Mrs. Hartmans class at Arthur E. Edmonds elementary school. But the difference between me and the other guys at school was that I knew exactly what to do while they did not. I would woo her and though I wasnt Richard Gere with private jets and diamond necklaces, I did have a bicycle and Id learned how to macram? bracelets, complete with wooden beads. Those, however, would come later. Firstjust like Richard and Juliawe had to get to like each other. I began to find reasons to sit at the same table with her at lunch. While she talked, I listened and asked questions, and weeks later, when she finally told me that she thought I was nice, I knew it was time to take the next step. I wrote her a poemabout her life in Minnesota and how pretty she wasand I slipped it to her on the school bus one afternoon, along with a flower. I took my seat, knowing exactly what would happen: Shed understand I was different, and with that would come an even greater epiphany, one that would lead her to reach for my hand and ask me to walk her home as soon as we got off the bus. Except it didnt work out that way. Instead of reading the poem, she gabbed with her friend April the whole way home, and the following day, she sat next to Tommy Harmon at lunch and didnt talk to me at all. Nor did she speak to me the following day, or the day after that. When Marge found me sulking in my bedroom later, she told me that I was trying too hard and that I should just be myself. I am being myself. Then you might want to change, Marge retorted, because youre coming across as desperate. Problem was, I didnt think twice. Did Richard Gere think twice? He clearly knew more than my sister, and again, heres where wisdom and I were obviously traveling in opposite directions along the highway. Because Pretty Woman was a movie and I was living in the real world, but the pattern I established with Melissa Anderson continued, with variations, until it eventually became a habit I couldnt break. I became the king of romantic gesturesflowers, notes, cards, and the likeand in college, I was even the secret admirer to a girl I happened to fancy. I opened doors and paid for dates, and I listened whenever a girl wanted to talk, even if it was about how much she still loved her ex-boyfriend. Most girls sincerely liked me. I mean that. To them, I was a friend, the kind of guy whod get invited to hang out with a group of girlfriends whenever they went out, but I seldom succeeded in landing the girl Id set my sights on. I cant tell you how many times Ive heard, Youre the nicest guy I know, and Im sure youll meet someone special. I have two or three friends I could probably set you up with It wasnt easy being the guy who was perfect for someone else. It often left me brokenhearted, and I couldnt understand why women told me that they wanted certain traitsromance and kindness, interest and the ability to listenand then didnt appreciate it when it was actually offered to them. I wasnt altogether unlucky in love, of course. In high school, I had a girlfriend named Angela during my sophomore year; in college, Victoria and I were together most of my junior year. And during the summer after graduation from college, when I was twenty-two, I met a woman named Emily. Emily still lives in the area, and over the years, Ive seen her out and about. She was the first woman I ever loved, and since romance and nostalgia are often intertwined, I still think about her. Emily was a bit of a Bohemian; she favored long flowered skirts and sandals, wore little makeup, and had majored in fine arts with an emphasis on painting. She was also beautiful, with chestnut hair and hazel eyes that were flecked with gold, but beyond her physical appearance, there was more. She was quick to laugh, kind to everyone she met, and intelligent, a woman who most thought was perfect for me. My parents adored her, Marge loved her, and when we were together, we were comfortable even when silent. Our relationship was easy and relaxed; more than lovers, we were friends. Not only could we talk about anything, she delighted in the notes Id place under her pillow or the flowers Id have delivered to her workplace for no reason whatsoever. Emily loved me as much as she loved romantic gestures, and after dating her for a couple of years, I made plans to propose, even putting a deposit down on an engagement ring. And then, I screwed it up. Dont ask me why. I could blame the booze that nightId been drinking with friends at a barbut for whatever reason, I struck up a conversation with a woman named Carly. She was beautiful and she knew how to flirt and shed recently broken up with a long-term boyfriend. One drink led to another, which led to more flirting, and we eventually ended up in bed together. In the morning, Carly made it clear that what had happened was simply a fling, with no strings attached, and though she kissed me goodbye, she didnt bother giving me her phone number. There are a couple of very simple Guy Rules in this sort of situation, and Rule Number One goes like this: Never ever tell. And if your sweetheart ever suspects anything and asks directly, go immediately to Rule Number Two: Deny, deny, deny. All guys know these rules, but the thing was, I also felt guilty. Horribly guilty. Even after a month, I couldnt put the experience behind me, nor could I seem to forgive myself. Keeping it secret seemed inconceivable; I couldnt imagine building a future with Emily knowing it was constructed at least in part on a lie. I talked to Marge about it, and Marge was, as always, helpful in that sisterly way of hers. Keep your stupid trap shut, you dimwit. You did a crappy thing and you should feel guilty. But if youre never going to do it again, then dont hurt Emilys feelings, too. Something like this will crush her. I knew Marge was right, and yet I wanted Emilys forgiveness, because I wasnt sure I could forgive myself without it, and so in the end, I went to Emily and said the words that even now, I wish I could take back. Theres something I have to tell you, I began, and proceeded to spill everything. If forgiveness was the goal, it didnt work. If trying to build a long-term relationship on a foundation of truth was another goal, that didnt work either. Through angry tears, she stormed off, saying that she needed some time to think. I left her alone for a week, waiting for her to call while moping around my apartment, but the phone never rang. The following week, I left two messagesand apologized again both timesbut she still wouldnt call. It wasnt until the following week that we finally had lunch, but it was strained, and when she left the restaurant, she told me not to walk her to her car. The writing was on the wall and a week after that, she left a message saying it was over for good. It crushed me for weeks. The passage of time has lessened my guilttime always doesand I try to console myself with the idea that at least for Emily, my indiscretion was a blessing in disguise. I heard from a friend of a friend a few years after our breakup that shed married an Australian guy and whenever I caught a glimpse of her, it appeared as though life was treating her well. Id tell myself that I was happy for her. Emily, more than anyone, deserved a wonderful life, and Marge felt exactly the same way. Even after Id married Vivian, my sister would sometimes turn to me and say, That Emily sure was something. You really messed that up, didnt you? I was born in Charlotte, North Carolina, and aside from a single year in another city, Ive lived there all my life. Even now, it strikes me as almost impossible that Vivian and I met in the place where we did, or even that we ever met at all. After all, she, like me, was from the South; like mine, her job required long hours, and she seldom went out. What are the odds, then, that Id meet Vivian at a cocktail party in Manhattan? At the time, I was working at the agencys satellite office in Midtown, which probably sounds like a bigger deal than it really was. Jesse Peters was of the opinion that pretty much anyone who showed promise in the Charlotte office had to serve at least a little time up north, if only because a number of our clients are banks, and every bank has a major presence in New York City. Youve probably seen some of the commercials Ive worked on; I like to think of them as thoughtful and serious, projecting the soul of integrity. The first of those commercials, by the way, was conceived while I was living in a small studio on West Seventy-Seventh between Columbus and Amsterdam and trying to figure out whether my ATM accurately reflected my checking account, which showed a balance with just enough funds to purchase a meal deal at a nearby fast-food place. In May 2006, a CEO of the one of the banks who loved my vision was hosting a charity event to benefit MoMA. The CEO was seriously into artsomething I knew nothing aboutand even though it was an exclusive, black-tie event, I hadnt wanted to attend. But his bank was a client and Peters was my do-what-I-tell-you-or-else boss, so what could I do? I remember almost nothing about the first half hour, other than that I clearly didnt belong. Well over half the people in attendance were old enough to be my grandparents, and practically everyone was in a different stratosphere when it came to our respective levels of wealth. At one point, I found myself listening as two gray-haired gentlemen debated the merits of the G IV when compared to the Falcon 2000. It took me a while to figure out that they were comparing their private jets. When I turned away from the conversation, I saw her boss on the other side of the room. I recognized him from late-night television, and Vivian would later tell me that he considered himself an art collector. Shed wrinkled her nose when she said it, implying that he had money but no taste, which didnt surprise me. Despite famous guests, his shows trademark humor was best described as lowbrow. She was standing behind him, hidden from my line of sight, but when he stepped forward to greet someone, I saw her. With dark hair, flawless skin, and cheekbones that supermodels dream about, I was sure she was the most beautiful woman Id ever seen. At first I thought she was his date, but the longer I watched, the more confident I was that they werent together, that she instead worked for him in some capacity. Nor was she wearing a ring, another good sign but really, what chance did I have? Yet the romantic within me was undeterred, and when she went to the bar to get a cocktail, I sidled up to the bar as well. Up close, she was even more gorgeous. Its you, I said. Excuse me? The one the Disney artists think about when they draw the eyes of their princesses. Not great, Ill admit. Ham-handed, maybe even cheesy, and in the awkward pause that ensued, I knew Id blown it. But heres the thing: She laughed. Now theres a pickup line Ive never heard before. It wouldnt work on just anyone, I said. Im Russell Green. She seemed amused. Im Vivian Hamilton, she said, and I almost gasped. Her name was Vivian. Just like Julia Robertss character in Pretty Woman. How does one actually know when another is right for you? What kind of signals does that entail? To meet a person and think, This is the one with whom I want to spend the rest of my life. For example, how could Emily seem right, and Vivian seem right, when they were as different as night and day? When the relationships were as different as night and day? I dont know, but when I think about Vivian, its still easy to remember the heady thrill of our first few evenings together. Where Emily and I were warm and comfortable, Vivian and I burned hot, almost from the very beginning, as if our attraction were fated. Every interaction, every conversation seemed to amplify my growing belief that we were exactly what each was looking for in the other. As the marrying type, I began to fantasize about the paths our life together would take, our passionate connection burning forever. Within a couple of months, I was certain I wanted Vivian to be my wife, even if I didnt say as much. Vivian took longer to feel the same way about me, but by the time wed been seeing each other six months, Vivian and I were a serious item, testing the waters about how each felt about God, money, politics, families, neighborhoods, kids, and our core values. More often than not, we were in agreement, and taking a cue from yet another romantic movie, I proposed on the viewing deck of the Empire State Building on Valentines Day, a week before I had to move back to Charlotte. I thought I knew what I was getting when I dropped to one knee. But thinking back, Vivian knew with certaintynot only that I was the kind of man she wanted, but neededand on November 17, 2007, we took our vows in front of friends and family. What happened next? you may wonder. Like every married couple, we had our ups and downs, our challenges and opportunities, successes and failures. When all the dust had settled, I came to believe that marriage, at least in theory, is wonderful. In practice, though, I think a more accurate word is complicated. Marriage, after all, is never quite what one imagines it will be. Part of methe romantic partno doubt imagined the entire venture as an extended commercial for Hallmark cards with roses and candles and everything in soft focus, a dimension in which love and trust could surmount any challenge. The more practical side of me knew that remaining a couple over the long term took effort on both sides. It requires commitment and compromise, communication and cooperation, especially as life tends to throw curveballs, often when we least expect them. Ideally, the curveball slides past the couple with little damage; at other times, facing those pitches together makes the couple more committed to each other. But sometimes, the curveballs end up smacking us in the chest and close to the heart, leaving bruises that never seem to heal. CHAPTER 3 And Then What? Being the sole provider for the family wasnt easy. By end of the week, I was often exhausted, but one particular Friday evening stands out. London would turn a year old the following day, and Id spent the day slaving over a series of sales videos for Spannerman Propertiesone of the largest real-estate developers in the Southeastas part of a major advertising push. The agency was earning a small fortune for their efforts and the executives at Spannerman were particularly demanding. There were deadlines for every stage of the project; deadlines made even more difficult by Spannerman himself, a man with a net worth of two billion dollars. He had to approve every decision, and I had the sense that he wanted to make my life as miserable as possible. That he disliked me, I had no doubt. He was the kind of guy who liked to surround himself with beautiful womenmost of the executives were attractive femalesand it went without saying that Spannerman and Jesse Peters got along famously. I, on the other hand, despised both the man and his company. He had a reputation for cutting corners and paying off politicians, especially when it came to environmental regulations, and thered been numerous op-eds in the newspaper blasting both him and the company. Which was part of the reason theyd hired our firm in the first placetheir image needed serious rebranding. For most of the year, Id worked punishing hours on the Spannerman account, and it was far and away the most miserable year of my life. I dreaded heading into work, but because Peters and Spannerman were buddies, I kept my feelings to myself. Eventually, the account was handed off to another executive at the agencySpannerman decided that he wanted a female executive, which surprised no oneand I breathed a sigh of relief. Had I been forced to continue with Spannerman, I probably would have ended up quitting. Jesse Peters believed in bonuses as a way to keep employees motivated, and despite the never-ending stress associated with the Spannerman account, I was nonetheless able to maximize every bonus. I had to. Ive never been comfortable unless I was able to put money into savings and our investment account, but the bonuses also helped to keep the balances on our credit cards at zero. Instead of shrinking over the past year, our monthly expenses had grown larger, despite Vivians promise to cut back on running errands, which was how shed begun to refer to shopping. Vivian seemed incapable of entering Target or Walmart without spending at least a couple of hundred dollars, even if shed gone to pick up laundry detergent. I couldnt understand itI speculated that it filled a sort of unknown emptiness inside herand when particularly exhausted, I sometimes felt resentful and used. Yet, when I tried to discuss the matter with her, it often led to an argument. Even when tempers didnt flare, however, little seemed to change. She would always assure me that she only bought what we needed, or that I was lucky because shed taken advantage of a sale. But on that Friday night those concerns seemed distant, and when I entered the living room, I saw London in the playpen, and she offered me the kind of smile that never ceased to move me. Vivian, as beautiful as ever, was on the couch flipping through a house and garden magazine. I kissed London and then Vivian, enveloped in the scent of baby powder and perfume. We had dinner, talk running to what each of us had done that day, and then began the process of getting London ready for bed. Vivian went first, bathing her and dressing London in her pajamas; I read to her and tucked her in bed, knowing shed fall asleep within a few minutes. Downstairs, I poured myself a glass of wine, and noticed that the bottle was getting close to empty, which meant that Vivian was probably on her second glass. Glass one was a maybe when it came to fooling around; glass two made it likely, and as tired as I was, I felt my mood lift. Vivian was still thumbing through the magazine when I sat beside her. In time, Vivian angled the magazine toward me. What do you think of this kitchen? she asked. The kitchen displayed in the photograph had cream cabinets topped with brown granite countertops, the color palette matched by the detailing on the cabinets. An island stood amidst gleaming state-of-the-art appliances, a suburban fantasy. Its gorgeous, I admitted. It is, isnt it? Everything about the kitchen speaks to class. And I just love the lighting. The chandelier is breathtaking. I hadnt even noticed the lighting and leaned closer. Wow. That is something. The article said that remodeling a kitchen almost always adds value to a house. If we ever decide to sell. Why would we sell? I love it here. Im not talking about selling it now. But were not going to live here forever. Oddly, the thought that we wouldnt live here forever had never crossed my mind. My parents, after all, still lived in the same house where Id grown up, but thats not what Vivian really wanted to talk about. Youre probably right about it adding value, I said, but Im not sure we can afford to remodel our kitchen right now. We have money in savings, dont we? Yes, but thats our rainy-day fund. For emergencies. Okay, she said. I could the disappointment in her tone. I was just wondering. I watched as she carefully folded the corner of the page down, so she could find the photo later, and I felt like a failure. I hated to disappoint her. Life as a stay-at-home mother was good for Vivian. Despite having a child, Vivian could still pass for a woman ten years younger, and even after London was born, she was occasionally carded when ordering a cocktail. Time had little effect on her, yet it was other qualities that made her particularly unusual. Vivian had always struck me as mature and confident, self-assured in her thoughts and opinions, and unlike me, shes always had the courage to speak her mind. If she wanted something, shed let me know; if something was bothering her, she never held her feelings in reserve, even if I might be upset by what she said. The strength to be who you are without fear of rejection from others was something I respected, if only because it was something I aspired to myself. She was strong, too. Vivian didnt whine or complain in the face of adversity; if anything, she became almost stoic. In all the years Ive known her, Ive seen her cry only once, and that was when Harvey, her cat, passed away. At the time, she was pregnant with London and Harvey had been with her since she was a sophomore in college; even with her hormones in overdrive, it was less like sobbing than a couple of tears leaking onto her cheeks. People can read whatever they want into the fact that she wasnt prone to weeping, but the fact was, there hasnt been much for Vivian to cry about. To that point, wed been spared any major tragedies and if there was anything at all that might have been a cause for disappointment, it was that Vivian hadnt been able to become pregnant a second time. Wed begun trying when London was eighteen months old, but month after month passed without success, and though I was willing to see a specialist, Vivian seemed content to let nature take its course. Even without another child, though, I usually felt lucky to be married to Vivian, partly because of our daughter. Some women are better suited to motherhood than others, and Vivian had been a natural. She was conscientious and loving, a natural nurse unfazed by diarrhea or vomit, and a model of patience. Vivian read London hundreds of books and could play on the floor for hours; the two of them went to parks and the library, and the sight of Vivian pushing London in a jogger-stroller was a common one in our neighborhood. There were other activities and scheduled playdates with neighborhood kids, preschool classes, and the usual doctors and dentists appointments, which meant that the two of them were always on the go. And yet when I think back on those first years of Londons life, the image of Vivian that most comes to mind is the expression of absolute joy on her face, whether holding London or watching our daughter gradually discover the world. Once when London was about eight months old and sitting in the high chair, she happened to sneeze. For whatever reason, London found that highly amusing and began to laugh; I offered a fake sneeze, and Londons laughter became uncontrollable. While I found the experience delightful, for Vivian, it was more. The love she felt for our daughter eclipsed everything else, even the love she felt for me. The all-consuming nature of motherhoodor Vivians view of it, anywaynot only allowed me to concentrate on my career, but it also meant I seldom had to take care of London on my own, so I never really learned how challenging it could be. Because Vivian made it look easy, I thought it was easy for her, but over time, Vivian became moodier and more irritable. Basic household chores also took a backseat, and I often came home to a living room littered from wall to wall with toys and a kitchen sink filled with dirty dishes. Laundry piled up, carpets werent vacuumed, and because Ive always disliked a messy house, I eventually decided to bring someone in twice a week to clean. During Londons toddler years, I added a babysitter three afternoons a week to give Vivian a break during the day and I began watching London on Saturday mornings, so Vivian could have some Me Time. My hope was that she would have more energy for us as a couple again. To my mind, it seemed that my wife had begun to define herself as Vivian and a mother and that the three of us together were a family, but that being a wife and part of a couple had gradually become an inconvenience to her. Yet most of the time, our relationship didnt bother me. I figured we were like most married couples with young children. In the evenings, we generally talked about the stuff of life: conversations about children or work or family, or what to eat or where to go on the weekend, or when to bring the car in for an inspection. And it wasnt as though I always felt like an afterthought; Vivian and I began to set aside Friday nights as date nights. Even people at work knew about our date night, and unless there was an absolute emergency, I would leave the office at a reasonable hour, put some music on in the car on the way home, and be smiling as soon as I walked in the door. London and I would spend time together while Vivian dressed up, and after London went to sleep, it almost felt as though Vivian and I were dating again. Vivian also humored me when work was particularly stressful. When I was thirty-three, Id considered trading in my respectable carthe hybridfor a Mustang GT, even if the trade-in wouldnt have caused much of a dent in the purchase price. At the time it didnt matter; when I took it on a test drive with the enthusiastic salesman, I heard the throaty roar of the engine and knew it was a car that would elicit envious glances as I drove down the highway. The salesman played right along and when I told Vivian about it later, she didnt tease me about being too young for the middle-age crazies, or worry aloud that I clearly wanted something different than the life I was leading. Instead, she let me indulge the fantasy for a while, and when I finally came to my senses, I bought something similar to what I already had: another hybrid with four doors, extra storage in the trunk and an excellent safety ranking in Consumer Reports. And Ive never regretted it. Well, maybe I regretted it a little, but thats beside the point. And through it all, I loved Vivian, and never once did I waver from the conviction that I wanted to spend my life with her. In my desire to show it, I thought long and hard about what to buy her for Christmases, anniversaries, birthdays, as well as Valentines and Mothers Day. I had flowers delivered to her unexpectedly, tucked notes under her pillow before heading off to work, and would sometimes surprise her with breakfast in bed. Early on, she appreciated those gestures; in time, they seemed to lose a bit of luster because shed come to expect them. So Id rack my brain, trying to think of another way to please her, something that would let her know how much she still meant to me. And in the end, among other things, Vivian received the kitchen shed wanted, just like the one in the magazine. Vivian had always planned to go back to work once London started school, something part-time, which would still allow her to spend her afternoons and evenings at home. Vivian insisted that she had no desire to be one of those moms who became permanent volunteers in the classroom, or decorated the cafeteria at the holidays. Nor did she want to spend her days in an otherwise empty house; in addition to being a great mother, Vivian is also brilliant. Shed graduated from Georgetown University summa cum laude, and prior to becoming a mom and housewife, shed served as a successful publicist not only for the talk show host in New York, but at the media company where shed worked until London came along. As for me, Id not only maximized every bonus since starting at the agency, Id received promotions as well, and by 2014, I was heading up some of the agencys major accounts. Vivian and I had been married for seven years, London had recently turned five, and I was thirty-four years old. Wed not only remodeled the kitchen of our home, but we also had plans to remodel the master bathroom as well. The stock market had been kind to our investmentsespecially Apple, our largest holdingand aside from the mortgage we had no debts. I adored my wife and child, my parents lived nearby and my sister and Liz were my best friends in the world. From the outside, my life seemed charmed, and I would say as much to anyone who asked. And yet deep down, part of me would also have known that I was lying. As well as things had been going at work, no one who reported to Jesse Peters ever felt comfortable or secure in their job. Peters had started the agency twenty years earlier and with offices in Charlotte, Atlanta, Tampa, Nashville, and New York, it was far and away the most prominent agency headquartered in the Southeast. Peters, with blue eyes and hair that had gone silver in his twenties, was legendary for being both shrewd and ruthless; his modus operandi had been to run other agencies out of business either by poaching clients or undercutting fees; when those strategies didnt work, hed simply buy out his competitors. His successes further inflated his already massive ego to megalomaniacal proportions, and his management style fully reflected his personality. He was certain that his opinions were always correct, and he played favorites among the employees, frequently pitting one executive against the other, effectively keeping everyone on edge. He fostered a climate in which most employees attempted to claim more credit on successes than they deserved, while hinting that any failures or mistakes were the other guys fault. It was a brutal form of social Darwinism, in which only a select few had any chance for long-term survival. Fortunately, for more than a decade Id been relatively spared the savage rounds of office politics that had caused more than one nervous breakdown among the executive staff; early on because I was too subordinate to care about, and later on because I brought in clients who appreciated my work and paid the firm accordingly. Over time, I suppose I convinced myself that because I made Peters a lot of money, he considered me too valuable to torment. After all, Peters wasnt nearly as hard on me as hed been on others in the agency. While hed chat with me in the hallway, other executivessome with more experience than Iwould often emerge from Peterss office appearing shell-shocked. When Id see them, I couldnt help but breathe a sigh of reliefand maybe even feel a little smugthat such a thing had never happened to me. But assumptions are only as accurate as the person who makes them, and I was wrong about virtually everything. My first major promotion had somewhat coincided with my marriage to Vivian; my second promotion had occurred two weeks after Vivian had come to the office to drop off my car after it had been in the shop, one of those drop-ins that could go catastrophically wrong but in this case had caused the boss to join us in my office before eventually taking us to lunch. The third promotion came less than a week after Peters and Vivian spent three hours talking at a clients dinner party. Only in retrospect did it become clear that Peters was less interested in my work performance than he was in Vivian, and it was that simple truth that had kept him from zeroing in on me all along. Vivian, I should note, bore a striking resemblance to both of Peterss former wives, and Peters, I suspected, wanted nothing more than to keep her happy or if possible, marry wife number three, even if it cost me my own marriage. Im not kidding. Nor am I exaggerating. Whenever Peters spoke to me, he never failed to ask me how Vivian was doing, or comment on what a beautiful woman she was, or ask how we were doing. At client dinnersthree or four times a yearPeters always found a way to sit beside my wife, and every Christmas party included the sight of them, heads together in a corner. I probably could have ignored all of this, if not for Vivians response to his obvious attraction. Though she didnt do anything to encourage Peters, she didnt do anything to discourage his attention either. As terrible as he was as a boss, Peters could be quite charming around women, especially beautiful ones like Vivian. He would listen and laugh and offer just the right compliment at exactly the right time, and because he was also as rich as Midas, it struck me as possibleeven likelythat Vivian was flattered by his interest. His attraction toward her was, for her, par for the course. Guys had been vying for her attention ever since shed been in elementary school and shed come to expect it; what she didnt like, however, was the fact that it sometimes made me jealous. In December 2014the month before the most fateful year of my lifewe were getting ready for the agencys annual office Christmas party. When I expressed my concerns about the situation, she heaved an aggravated sigh. Get over it, she said and I turned away, wondering why it was my wife seemed so dismissive of my feelings. To rewind a bit on Vivian and me: As rewarding as motherhood had been for Vivian, marriage to me seemed to have dimmed in its appeal. I can remember thinking that Vivian had changed in the years wed been married, but lately, Ive come to believe that Vivian didnt change so much as simply evolve, becoming more of the person shed always beena person who gradually felt to me like a stranger. The shift was so subtle as to barely be noticeable. In the first year of Londons life, I accepted Vivians occasional moodiness and irritation as something normal and expected, a phase that would pass. I cant say I enjoyed it, but I grew used to it, even when it seemed to border on contempt. But the phase never seemed to end. Over the next few years, Vivian seemed to grow more angry, more disappointed, and more dismissive of my concerns. She frequently grew angry over even minor things, hurling insults I could never imagine even whispering aloud. Her aggression was swift and pointed, usually aimed at getting me to apologize and back down. As someone who disliked conflict, I eventually reached the point where I nearly always retreated as soon as she raised her voice, no matter what grievances I might have held. The aftermath of her anger was often worse than the attack itself. Forgiveness seemed unobtainable, and instead of continuing to discuss things or simply putting them behind her, Vivian would withdraw. She would say little or nothing to me at all, sometimes for days, answering questions with one or two words. Instead, she would focus her attention on London, and retreat to the bedroom as soon as our daughter was tucked in, leaving me alone in the family room. On those days she radiated contempt, leaving me to wonder whether my wife still loved me at all. And yet there was an unpredictability to all of these things, rules suddenly changing and then changing again. Vivian would be in her anger forthright, then passive-aggressive, whichever seemed to fit her mood. Her expectations of me became increasingly fuzzy and half the time, I wasnt sure what to do or not to do, rehashing events in the wake of a blowout, trying to figure out what I might have done to upset her. Nor would she tell me; instead, shed deny that anything was wrong or accuse me of overreacting. I often felt as if I were walking through a minefield, with both my emotional state and the marriage on the line and then suddenly, for reasons that were equally mysterious to me, our relationship would revert to something approaching normal. Shed ask about my day or whether there was anything special I wanted for dinner; and after London went to bed, we would make lovethe ultimate signal that Id been forgiven. Afterward, Id breathe a sigh of relief, hopeful that things were finally returning to the way they used to be. Vivian would deny my version of these events, or at least my interpretation of them. Angrily. Or shed cast her actions and behaviors as responses to things Id done. She would say that I had an unrealistic view of marriage, and that Id somehow expected the honeymoon to last forever, which just wasnt possible. She claimed that I brought work stress home, and that I was the one who was moody, not her; that I resented the fact that shed been able to stay at home and that I often took my resentment out on her. Whatever version of events was objectively true, in my heart what I wanted more than anything was for Vivian to be happy. Or, more specifically, happy with me. I still loved Vivian, after all, and I missed how she used to smile and laugh when we were together; I missed our rambling conversations and the way we used to hold hands. I missed the Vivian whod made me believe that I was a man worthy of her love. Yet, with the exception of our Friday evening date nights, our relationship continued its gradual evolution into something I didnt always recognize, or even want. Vivians contempt began to hurt me. I spent most of those years being disappointed in myself for constantly letting her down, and vowing to try even harder to please her. Now, fast-forward back to the night of the Christmas party again. Get over it, shed said to me, and the words continued to play in my mind, even as I dressed. They were sharp, dismissive of my concern and devoid of empathy, but even so, what I remember most about that evening was that Vivian looked even more stunning than usual. She was wearing a black cocktail dress, pumps, and the diamond pendant necklace Id given her on her last birthday. Her hair fell loose over her shoulders, and when she emerged from the bathroom, all I could do was stare. You look beautiful, I said. Thank you, she said, clutching her handbag. In the car, things were still tense between us. We stumbled through some small talk, and when she discerned I wasnt going to bring up Peters again, her mood began to thaw. By the time we arrived at the party, it was almost as though she and I had come to an unspoken agreement to pretend that my comment and her response had never been uttered at all. Yet, shed heard me. As annoyed as shed been, Vivian stayed by my side virtually the entire evening. Peters chatted with us on three separate occasions and twice asked Vivian if she wanted to get something to drinkit was clear he wanted her to join him at the barand on both occasions, she shook her head, telling him that shed already ordered from one of the waiters. She was polite and friendly as she said it, and I found myself wondering whether Id been making too much of the whole Peters situation after all. He could flirt with her all he wanted, but at the end of the night she would head home with me, and that was all that really mattered, right? The party itself was largely forgettableit was no better or worse or even all that different from any other office Christmas partybut after we got home and let our teenage babysitter go, Vivian asked me to pour her a glass of wine and check in on London. By the time I finally made it to the bedroom, there were candles lit and she was wearing lingerie and That was the thing about Vivian; trying to guess what she was going to do next was often pointless; even after seven years, she could still amaze me, sometimes in blissfully tender ways. Big mistake. Thats pretty much the way I think about that evening now, at least when it came to my career at the agency. Jesse Peters, it turns out, wasnt pleased that Vivian had avoided him, and by the following week, a distinct cooling breeze began flowing from his office toward mine. It was subtle at first; when I saw him in the hallway on the Monday following the party, he walked past with a curt nod, and during a creative meeting a few days later, he asked everyone questions but me. Those types of minor snubs continued, but because I was buried in yet another complex campaignfor a bank that wanted a campaign centered on integrity but that also felt newI thought nothing of it. After that came the holidays and because the office was always a bit crazed at the beginning of a new year, it wasnt until the end of January when I registered the fact that Jesse Peters had barely spoken to me for at least six weeks. At that point, I began swinging by his office, but his assistant would inform me that he was on a call or otherwise busy. What finally made me understand the depth of his peevishness with me came in mid-February, when he finally made time to see me. Actually, through his secretary, and then mine, he requested to see me, which essentially meant I had no choice. The firm had lost a major client, an automotive dealer with eight locations throughout Charlotte, and it had been my account. After I walked him through the reasons I thought the client had chosen another firm, he fixed me with an unblinking stare. More ominously, he neither mentioned Vivian nor asked about her. At the conclusion of our meeting, I walked out the door feeling much like the executives I used to feel superior to, the ones Id seen teetering on the edge of a nervous breakdown. I had the sinking feeling that my days at the Peters Group were suddenly numbered. Even harder to bear was the fact that it wasnt because of anything I did or didnt do for the auto dealera man in his late sixtiesthat made him leave. Ive seen the print ads and commercials from the agency that took over the account and I still believe that our ideas were more creative and more effective. But clients can be fickle. A downturn in the economy, change in management, or simply the desire to cut expenses in the short run can lead to changes that affect our industry, but sometimes, it has nothing to do with business at all. In this case, the client was going through a divorce and needed money to pay for the settlement; cutting advertising for the next six months would save him more than six figures, and he needed to hoard every penny, since his wife had hired a notoriously cutthroat lawyer. With court costs rising and a nasty settlement in the making, the guy was trimming every expense he could, and Peters knew it. A month later, when another client pulled the pluga chain of urgent care clinicsPeterss displeasure with me was even more evident. It wasnt a major clientfrankly, it barely classified as even a medium clientand the fact that Id signed three new clients since the beginning of the year seemed to matter to him not at all. Instead, after again summoning me, he ventured aloud that you might be losing your touch and that clients may have stopped trusting your judgment. As a final exclamation point to the meeting, he called Todd Henley into the office and announced that from that point on, wed be working together. Henley was an up-and-comerhed been at the agency five yearsand though he was somewhat creative, his real skill was navigating the political waters of the agency. Id known he was gunning for my jobhe wasnt the only one, but he was the most sycophantic of the bunch. When he suddenly began spending more time in Peterss officeno doubt claiming more credit than he deserved for any ad campaign we were working onand leaving with a self-satisfied smirk I knew I had to start making plans. My experience, position, and current salary didnt leave many options. Because Peters dominated the advertising industry in the Charlotte area, I had to cast a wider net. In Atlanta, Peters was number two in the market and growing, gobbling up smaller agencies and landing new clients. The current market leader had gone through two recent transitions in leadership and was now in a hiring freeze. After that, I contacted firms in Washington, D.C., Richmond, and Baltimore, thinking that being closer to Vivians parents would make the move from Charlotte more palatable to Vivian. Again, however, I couldnt land so much as an interview. There were other possibilities, of course, depending on how far away from Charlotte Id be willing to move, and I contacted seven or eight firms throughout the Southeast and Midwest. And yet with every call, I also grew more certain that I didnt want to leave. My parents were here, Marge and Liz were here; Charlotte was home for me. And with that, the idea of starting my own businessa boutique advertising agencybegan to rise from the ashes like the mythical phoenix. Which, I realized, also happened to be a perfect name The Phoenix Agency. Where your business will rise to levels of unprecedented success. All at once, I could see the slogan on business cards; I could imagine chatting with clients, and when visiting my parents, I casually mentioned the idea to my father. He told me straight out that it wasnt a good idea; Vivian wasnt thrilled about it either. Id been keeping her informed about my job search and when I mentioned my idea for the Phoenix Agency, shed suggested I try looking into New York and Chicago, two places I considered nonstarters. But still, I couldnt shake off my dream, and the advantages began to tumble through my mind. As a solo operator, Id have little in the way of overhead. I was on a first-name basis with CEOs and other executives throughout Charlotte. I was excellent at my job. Id be a boutique firm, catering to only a few clients. I could charge the client less and earn more. Meanwhile, at the office, I began running numbers and making projections. I called clients, asking if they were satisfied with the service and pricing they were getting from the Peters Group, and their answers bolstered my certainty that I couldnt fail. Meanwhile, Henley was verbally slipping me into concrete loafers and tossing me overboard every time he walked into Peterss office, and Peters actually began to scowl at me. That was when I knew Peters would fire me, which meant I had no choice but to strike out on my own. All I had left to do was officially tell Vivian. What could be better than celebrating my future success on date night? Granted, I could have chosen another night, but I wanted to share my excitement with her. I wanted her support. I wanted to share my plans and have her reach across the table to take my hands while saying I cant tell you how long Ive been waiting for you to do something like this. Theres no doubt in my mind youll be a success. Ive always believed in you. About a year later, when I confessed to Marge my hopes for that night, shed actually laughed aloud. So let me get this straight, shed said to me. You basically ripped away her sense of security and told her you were about to turn your lives upside down and you honestly believed shed think it was a good idea? You had a child, for Gods sake. And a mortgage. And other bills. Are you out of your mind? But There are no buts, she said. You know that Vivian and I dont always agree, but on that night, she was right. Maybe Marge had a point, but hindsight is twenty-twenty. On the night in question after wed put London to bed, I grilled steaksabout the only thing I could actually cook wellwhile Vivian prepared a salad, steamed some broccoli, and saut?ed green beans with shaved almonds. Vivian, I should add, never ate what might be considered unhealthy carbsbread, ice cream, pasta, sugar, or anything that included white flourall of which I considered to be rather tasty and indulged in during my lunches, which probably explained my love handles. Dinner, however, was tense from the beginning. My intention to keep things light and easy seemed only to put her more on edge, as if she were preparing herself for whatever might be coming next. Vivian had always been able to read me like Moses read the Commandments, and her growing unease made me try even harder to keep things breezy, which only made her sit even straighter in her chair. I waited until we were nearly finished with the meal. Shed eaten two or three ounces of her steak and Id refilled her glass of wine when I started to tell her about Henley and Peters and my suspicion about being fired. She merely nodded, so I gathered my courage and launched into my plans, walking through my projections while underscoring every reason for the decision. As I spoke, she may as well have been carved from marble. She sat as still as Id ever seen her, not even glancing at her glass of wine. Nor did she ask any questions until after Id finished. Silence filled the room, echoing against the walls. Are you sure thats a good idea? she finally offered. It wasnt the ringing endorsement that Id wanted, but she didnt storm off either, which I took as a good sign. Silly me. Actually, I admitted, it scares the hell out of me, but if I dont do it now, I dont know if I ever will. Arent you kind of young to start your own agency? Im thirty-five. Peters was only thirty when he started his agency. She pressed her lips together and I could almost see the words forming in her mindbut you arent Peters. Thankfully, she didnt say that. Instead, she drew her brows together, though not a single wrinkle showed. The woman really was a marvel when it came to aging. Do you even know how to start your own agency? Its like starting any other business, and people start businesses all the time. Essentially, it comes down to filing the appropriate paperwork with the government, hiring a good lawyer and accountant and setting up the office. How long would that take? A month, maybe? And once Im in an office, Ill start signing clients. If they decide to hire you. I can get the clients, I said. Im not worried about that. Peters is expensive, and Ive worked with some of these clients for years. Im sure theyll jump ship if given the chance. But you still wont be earning anything for a while. Well just have to cut back a bit on a few things. Like the cleaning lady, for instance. You want me to clean the house? I can help, I assured her. Obviously, she said. Where are you getting the money for all this? I was planning to use some of the money from our investments. Our investments? she repeated. Weve got more than enough to live on for a year. A year? she asked, echoing me a second time. And thats with no income at all, I said. Which isnt going to happen. She nodded. No income. I know it seems scary right now, but in the end, its all going to be worth it. And your life isnt going to change. You mean aside from expecting me to be your maid, you mean. Thats not what I said She cut me off before I could finish. Peters isnt just going to sit back and applaud your courage, she pointed out. If he thinks youre trying to poach his clients, hell do whatever it takes to run you out of business. He can try, I said. But in the end, money talks. Hes got more of it. Im talking about the clients money. And Im talking about money for our family, she said, a hard edge coming into her voice. What about us? What about me? Do you expect me to simply go along with this? We have a child, for Gods sake. And Im supposed to just give up my dreams? Dont play the martyr. I hate when you do that. Im not playing the martyr. Im trying to have a discussion No youre not! she said, her voice rising. Youve telling me what you want to do, even if it might not be good for our family! I exhaled slowly, concentrating on keeping my voice steady. Ive already told you that Im sure Peters is going to fire me and theres no other jobs around here. Have you tried to talk to him? Of course Ive tried to talk to him. So you say. You dont believe me? Only partly. What part? She slammed her napkin onto her plate and rose from the table. The part where youre going to do what you want to do, even if its detrimental to us and our child. Are you saying that I dont care about our family? But by then, shed left the room. That night, I slept in the guest room. And while remaining somewhat cordial while answering questions with one- or two-word answers, Vivian didnt otherwise speak to me for the next three days. As good as Marge was at keeping me alive during my youth and offering pearls of wisdom when it came to my flaws, there was a part of her that resented having to babysit me once her teenage years kicked in. She began spending an inordinate amount of time on the phone, and as a result, I watched a lot of television. I cant speak for other kids, but I learned much of what I know about commercials and advertising simply by osmosis. I didnt learn it in college, nor did I learn it from my older, more experienced cohorts at the agency, since half of them were spending their creative energy trying to sabotage the careers of the other half, courtesy of Peters. Not knowing what else to do when I was thrown headfirst into the job, Id listen as clients described what they wanted to achieve, tap into my well of memories, and come up with new spins on old commercials. It wasnt quite that simple, of course. Advertising encompasses a lot more than simply television commercials. Over the years, Id generated catchy slogans for print ads, or billboards; Id scripted radio commercials and infomercials; Id helped to redesign websites and created viable social media campaigns; Id been part of a team that prioritized Internet searches and banner ads targeted to specific zip codes, income, and educational levels, and for one particular client, I conceived and executed the use of advertising on paneled trucks. While virtually all of that work was completed in-house at Peters by various teams, as a solo operator, Id be responsible for whatever the client needed, and while I was strong in some areas, I was weaker in others, particularly when it came to tech. Fortunately, Id been in the business long enough to know local vendors who provided the services Id need, and one by one, I made contact with them. I hadnt been lying to Vivian when I told her I wasnt worried about landing clients, but unfortunately, I made a mistake, one that was filled with irony. I forgot to plan an advertising campaign for my own business. I should have spent more money putting together a high-quality website and creating promotional materials that reflected the firm I intended to have, not the one I was building from the ground up. I should have put together some quality direct mailings that would inspire clients to reach out to me. Instead, however, I spent the month of May making sure that the infrastructure was in place to accommodate my success. Using vacation days, I hired a lawyer and accountant, and had the appropriate paperwork filed. I leased an office with a shared receptionist. I purchased office equipment, signed leases for other equipment, and stocked my office with the supplies I knew Id need. I read books on starting a business, and all of them stressed the importance of being adequately capitalized, and in mid-May, I submitted my two-week notice. If there was any dimming of my excitement, it had to do with the fact that Id underestimated my start-up costs, while the regular bills still kept coming. The year of no income Id mentioned to Vivian had shrunk to nine months. But no matter. June first rolled around, and it was time to officially launch the Phoenix Agency. I sent letters to clients Id worked with in the past, explaining the services I could offer while promising significant savings, and I let them know that I hoped to hear from them. I started making calls, lining up appointments, and after that, I leaned back in my chair, waiting for the phone to ring. CHAPTER 4 The Summer of My Discontent Lately, Ive come to believe that having a child jumbles our sense of time, stirring together past and present as if in an electric mixer. Whenever I looked at London, the past was often propelled to the front of my thoughts as memories took hold. Why are you smiling, Daddy? London would ask me. Because Im thinking about you, Id answer, and in my minds eye, I would see her as an infant asleep in my arms, or her revelatory first smile, or even the first time she rolled over. She was a little more than five months old and Id put her down for a nap on her tummy while Vivian went to a yoga class. When London woke, I did a double take while I realized she was lying on her back and smiling up at me. Other times, I would remember her as a toddler and the cautious way she crawled or held the table as ballast while she was learning how to stand; I remember holding her hands as we paraded up and down the hallway before she could walk on her own. There is much, however, that I missed, especially when it came to firsts. I missed her first word, for instance, and was out of town when London lost her first baby tooth. I missed the first time she ate baby food from a jar, and yet, it didnt much change my excitement when I eventually witnessed those things. For me, after all, it was still a first. Sadly, though, there is much that I dont remember. Not everything can be reduced to a single event. When exactly did she move from toddling to walking? Or how did she move from that first word to speaking in short sentences? Those periods of incremental and inevitable improvement now seem to blur together and it sometimes feels as though I turned my back for an instant, only to discover a new version of London had taken the place of the old one. Nor am I sure when her room and toys and games changed. I can visualize the nursery in amazing detail, right down to the wallpaper border that featured images of baby ducks. But when were the blocks and stuffed animals in the shape of caterpillars put back into a box that now sits in the corner? When did the first Barbie make her appearance, and how did London begin to imagine Barbies fantasy life, one that included the color of clothing Barbie must wear when shes in the kitchen? When did London begin to change from being a daughter named London, to London, my daughter? I occasionally find myself aching for the infant and toddler Id once known and loved. Shes been replaced now with a little girl who had opinions about her hair, asked her mom to paint her nails, and would soon be spending most of her day at school, under the care of a teacher I had yet to meet. These days, I find myself wishing I could turn back the clock so I could more fully experience Londons first five years: Id work fewer hours, spend more time playing on the floor with her, and share her wonder as she focused on the flight path of butterflies. I wanted London to know how much joy she added to my life and to tell her that I did the best I could. I wanted her to understand that even though her mother was always with her, I loved her as much as any father could possibly love a daughter. Why then, I sometimes wonder, do I feel as if thats not enough? The phone didnt ring. Not in the first week, nor the second, nor even the third. While Id met with more than a dozen different potential clients and all had expressed initial interest, my office phone remained mute. Even worse, as the month neared its end, none of them would make additional time to speak with me when I reached out to them, and their secretaries eventually reached the point where they asked me to stop calling. Peters. His fingerprints were all over this, and I thought again about Vivians warning to me. If he thinks youre trying to poach his clients, hell do whatever it takes to run you out of business. By the beginning of July, I was both depressed and worried, a situation made worse by the most recent credit card bill. Vivian had obviously taken my words to heart about her life not changing; shed been running errands like crazy, and since Id let the cleaning lady go, the house had become a regular disaster. After work, Id have to spend an hour picking up around the house, doing laundry, vacuuming, and cleaning the kitchen. I had the sense that Vivian seemed to view my taking over of the domestic dutiesand the credit card billas some kind of worthwhile penance. Our conversations since Id started my business had been superficial. I said little about work; she casually mentioned once that shed begun putting out feelers about finding some part-time work. We talked about our families and made small talk about friends and neighbors. Mostly, though, we talked about London, always a safe topic. We both sensed that the slightest offense or misspoken word might lead to an argument. The Fourth of July fell on a Saturday, and I wanted nothing more than to spend the day decompressing. I wanted to tune out concerns about money or bills or clients who ignored my calls; I wanted to stop the little voice in my head that had begun to wonder whether I should get a second job or start looking for jobs in other cities again. What I wanted was to escape adulthood for a day and then cap the holiday weekend off with a romantic evening with Vivian, because it would make me feel like she still believed in me, even if her faith was getting wobbly. But holiday or not, Saturday morning was Vivians Me Time, and soon after waking, she was out the door to yoga class, after which she would go to the gym. I gave London some cereal and the two of us went to the park; in the afternoon, the three of us attended a neighborhood block party. There were games for the kids, and Vivian hung with other mothers while I sipped on a couple of beers with the fathers. I didnt know them well; like me, until recently, theyd tended to work long hours, and my thoughts continually wandered to my looming financial fiasco, even as they spoke. Later, while the fireworks blossomed in the sky above the BB

  • Pale Horse Coming /      (by Stephen Hunter, 2001) -   Pale Horse Coming /
  • Tales of mystery and imagination /     (by Edgar Allan Poe, 1993) -    Tales of mystery and
  • Love Story /   (by Erich Segal, 1996) -    Love Story /
  • Baby's Best Start + English for infants  (by Helen Doron, 2008) -     0-2 Baby's Best Start + English
Cackle
  • .

  • ,