XXVII - Culmination
“To reach the
highest point, summit, or highest development.”
Date: Friday, October 13, 2006, 7:04 AM EST
Location: Home, Bradenton, Florida
Age: 35 (Four hours before the discovery of the 2025 quarter)
Being self-employed, I have the luxury of working from home and making my own hours. Working late has always been easier on me, since I’ve been a night owl since conception. That said, my definition of late and that of the common person differ. The term ‘late’ for most folks typically falls into the range of 5:00 pm to 10:00 PM. ‘Late’ for me means 1:00 AM or 2:00 AM. There is something tranquil about working in the dark while the rest of the world sleeps. I can concentrate better. Consequently, it also means I am the farthest thing from a ‘morning person’ as one could get.
Should my telephone ring anytime before 10:00 AM, somebody has better be dead or dying, or I’m liable to be a bit cranky. So, if my phone is ringing in the 7:00 AM hour, someone must have discovered a supernatural way to place telephone calls from a slab at the coroner’s office, because if the call isn’t originating from there, whoever is calling can bet their ass that’s where they’ll end up in the aftermath of my wrath. Sufficed to say, when my phone began screaming its annoying late 1990s ring tone - jerking me out of a sound sleep - I was not a happy camper. I should have known a call at this early hour, with the sunlight of a new day attempting to breaks its way through the closed blinds of my bedroom window was a prelude to bad news. Without bothering to open my eyes, I reached across the empty half of my queen sized bed and yanked the phone out of its cradle.
I was prepared to be uncivil. In a split second, it dawned on me that perhaps I should adopt a less aggressive tone. Since everyone who knows me well enough to have my phone number would never dare call me so early in the morning, it could have very well been my ex-wife informing me something was wrong with my six year old son, Spencer. In such an instance, espousing a foul tone would only serve to further annoy my ex-wife, more so than usual. The consequences of that would only buy me more misery.
I could spend hours endlessly rambling about how badly our marriage ended three years ago, including the long, drawn out, painful process it was to achieve that end. If you’ve that story once, you’ve heard it a hundred times. It’s the same sob story of a greedy, self-serving, unhappy housewife who got married before she was ready, adopted a paramour, and then feeds the unsuspecting husband a line of needing space and time to find herself. In other words, a bullshit excuse to carry on with the newest cock who found its way into the favorite part of her body, her cunt.
The problem with divorcing in Florida is the living arrangements. Merely serving me with divorce papers didn’t mean I was obligated to leave the martial home. In order to accomplish this, my loving bride would file a phony temporary restraining order (TRO) against me with the most outrageous claims she could procure. Doing so would ensure she would have full use of the house, complete with bills paid and a nice fat ‘temporary support’ check, and to hell with where I was supposed to live. I ended up living with my parents for a few months until I could make other arrangements. The worst part of it? Little to no access to my son. Once served with the TRO, I had no choice but to wait two weeks until some politically motivated judge said I could see him a few hours every fucking week.
That broke me.
Before she split us up, I knew my poor excuse for a marriage was in trouble, if not over. I was prepared to live out as many years as required in unhappiness, as long as I had unfettered access to my son. When it came right down to it, our divorce was nothing more than her uncanny desire to grab as much money and material items as she could, versus as much time I could get with my son. That process amounted to three grueling days of mediation, with every dollar I had to my name subject to negotiation. Her lawyer analyzed and ripped apart every piece of real estate or other equity I owned until she could figure out how much money she felt ‘entitled to’. By the third day of mediation, I served up the ultimate offer. She could have every fucking thing there was. The house, the money, whatever it was her greedy heart wanted. All I wanted in return was my son and as much time as I could get with him.
Florida courts are not father friendly. I constantly hear people say that’s not the case anymore. It’s not true. Until one has actually been through it, one has no idea how it really works. Fathers will never get custody of the children unless the mother is living under a bridge with a crack pipe hanging out of her mouth. Short of that scenario, the wife gets primary custody of any children born from the marriage. I knew if I was to get any more time with my son outside the pitiful court ordered minimum, which amounted to every other weekend, I was going to have to give everything I owned to her. By that third day, I reached my breaking point. I was ready for it to be over, making the offer of everything to get time with my son. It was no bluff. Material things are replaceable. My son will only have one life, one childhood, and I didn’t want to miss any more than I already had. My attorney and I instructed the mediator to go to her and her unwashed, worthless ball sack of a lawyer and tell them, “take it all, all we care about it time with the child.”
I guess my ex figured I wasn’t bluffing, that I was indeed ready to go before a judge and take that chance. They folded on all the time I asked for in terms of visitation, but the price was steep. When dealing with someone as shallow and greedy as my ex-wife, they tend not to see the bigger picture. Someday she’ll have to answer to Spencer about her breaking our family apart merely to entertain her boyfriend. She’ll have to answer why she was ready to find every excuse for him not to spend time with me while she grabbed as much money as she possibly could. Someday, many, many years down the road he’ll see her for the soulless shell of a person she really is. He’ll see how she used him to squeeze as much money out of me as she could so she could play house with some lowly scumbag as unethical and unscrupulous as she is.
The truth about my ex-wife and the hell she put me through was - in my eyes - another failure akin to my father. I spent years going out of my way to please my ex-wife, to do the best I could in an attempt to make her happy. In the end, it wasn’t enough, and like my father, she gave up and threw me away. All I wanted was her love and acceptance for who I was, but like my father, it was too much to ask. All she cared about was satisfying her self and how many different ways she could use material things to bring herself pleasure, like my father.
The irretrievably broken marriage wasn’t my rock bottom. It was the loss of time with my son. In the three years the followed the split of our family, I took every opportunity I could to spend time with him, even if it meant driving out to his preschool on court assigned afternoons to spend an hour having lunch with him. Within those same three years, I withdrew out of public sight and crawled into a shell, letting no one in. That changed me too. Lack of human contact outside of family depresses one’s social skills to the point where interacting with people one doesn’t know becomes a difficult and clumsy task. Other people who meant well, like my lawyer and the therapist I was seeing at the time told me to get out of the house, get hammered and get laid. A couple of good rebounds would make me feel better. The problem with that is, it’s not who I am. Going out and using another human being for no other purpose than to make myself feel better seems a shitty thing to do. Even so, I wouldn’t have been the best company. What female would want to hear the rants of a bitter, angry, scorned man who generally believes women are inherently evil and are only interested in what material things they could get? No, I was better off alone. I would come out of my shell when I was ready.
That didn’t happen until the summer of 2006.
My first foray into the world of dating involved the use of a prominent online dating service. I chose the service based on what seemed most appropriate for my situation. In January of 2006, I signed up for the six-month plan. It was six months of hit and miss. At the end of that subscription, I was prepared to let the account expire. In the week before then, I received a message from someone who showed interest in what I had to say. For six months, the women I reached out to shot me down for one reason or another. By July, I had given up and stopped trying. So when someone took the time to contact me, I was slightly curious.
The person she portrayed herself to be was too good to be true. When she finally shared her photograph, having sufficiently captured my attention, I thought I hit the jackpot. Rose Centeno was a Latino goddess. I couldn’t possibly fathom what a woman as beautiful as she would want with a mongrel like me. Like me, she recently experienced the shit end of a bad marriage and was prepping to go through what was gearing up to be a less than friendly divorce. Her ex, like mine, committed adultery. Unlike my ex, he volunteered to leave the marital home to live with his floozy.
Rose and I spent weeks talking on the phone before we met, partially because she wanted to take her time with me and partially because of her demanding work schedule. She was unlike any woman with whom I developed a relationship. I couldn’t say we were dating, as we hadn’t been on an actual date and never physically met. She did display enough interest to assure me exclusivity. She seemed impressed enough with who I was, and how I was raising my son. What separated her from the others was her interest. I couldn’t remember dating anyone before her who paid me as many compliments as she. She was always telling me what a wonderful man I was, how intelligent I was, and how she could hold a genuine conversation with me. When she called, I basked in the endorphin rush her words brought. I would lie on my couch, eyes closed, feeling the natural high her voice invoked.
I fell for her very quickly. Maybe too quickly.
How we met in person for the first time was a bit of an organic thing. After three weeks of phone calls, we set a date to meet. She planned to take off a Friday from her job as head director at The Mellas Agency, the conglomerate that owned several malls in the south Florida region, including the Sarasota Square Mall. That date never happened. Two days before we would meet, we shared a late night phone call, teasing one another we couldn’t wait to meet. I told her I didn’t care anymore about waiting. I would drive to her house right then and there at 1:00 AM in the morning to see her. In the past, when I suggested such a thing, she would taunt me about waiting until she was ready, but not that night. Instead, she dared me. When I asked for directions, she gave them to me.
When she opened her front door to greet me, the woman I met didn’t do her photographs justice. She was more beautiful than I could’ve ever imagined, and shorter. Before we spoke, we shared our first kiss. Sparks flew. Electricity danced across our lips. I was lost in a world we created for ourselves that night. We made love for hours, greeting the sunrise that wouldn’t be outdone by our afterglow. The waiting was over. From that day forward, we spent each evening together, taking love making to new heights. Heights I had never known. Some nights I would make her dinner, some nights she for me. We would talk and talk, enjoying each other’s company until it was time for bed, where we would continue to share each other’s company intimately for hours more.
By September, we were telling each other, ‘I love you’, and she referred to herself as my ‘girlfriend’. For her, that was an accomplishment. I gave her the nickname of ‘lovergirl’. I thought this was it. I believed I would finally experience some happiness.
Then the other shoe dropped.
In a matter of two weeks, she did a complete one-eighty. The loving, caring women I was in love with began to back off at breakneck speed.
One night in early September, her soon to be ex-husband, Dennis, drove by her house, realizing someone else’s car sat parked in the driveway. After months of silence on his part, he called her and asked if she was seeing someone. She admitted to it. Soon after, he started warming up to the idea of maybe wanting to work their marriage out. I didn’t find out about his overture right away. She waited a week, telling me over dinner. It wasn’t the revelation of his offer that concerned me. It was how she acted. She no longer wanted to kiss, or be held, and she certainly didn’t wanting me spending the night anymore. Our routine of seeing one another daily turned into weekends. Talking everyday turned into a few minutes before she went to bed. Invites to lunches at the mall became joys of the past. Finally, I didn’t see her at all. I was lucky to get a phone call good night every other day. I asked her several times what was wrong, why the systematic backing off from me, from us. I was no longer her boyfriend, and using the word ‘lovergirl’ made her uncomfortable. Her excuse amounted to the one phrase a man never wants to hear: ‘I need my space.’
My heart was broken. The intensity of the pain eclipsed that of my divorce. Losing my ex-wife had never been a big deal as I had long fallen out of love with her. It was always the pain of losing my son. The pain of losing Rose began killing me from the inside out. I couldn’t go through that again, having recently recovered from my divorce. Yet here I was again, holding the shattered pieces of my heart in my cut and bloodied hands.
I couldn’t go through this again.
It never occurred to me Rose would be the one calling me at 7:00 AM in the morning.
“Hello?” I asked, groggy with sleep. It was better than the ‘somebody better fucking be dead,’ I was ready to barrage the caller with.
“Kevin, it’s Rose. Are you awake?”
I scoffed. “What do you think?”
“Yeah, I didn’t think so. Look, that lunch we had planned today, I’m afraid I have to cancel. Something came up.”
I sighed, heavily. “What came up?”
“I have a mandatory meeting I must attend.” I didn’t believe her. “I’ll be taking lunch with me.”
“Uh huh,” I said, making the effort for my sarcasm to bleed through the phone line. “Or did you mean you have a lunch date with Dennis?”
“No,” she said, annoyed. “I really do have a meeting. You can come and see for yourself, if you like.”
“Maybe I will,” I said under my breath.
“What? I didn’t hear you.”
“While I have you on the phone and since you brought it up, Dennis and I are thinking about making one more go at our marriage.”
“Oh God,” I said, during an exhale. Shards of pain began coursing their way from my chest to my lower abdomen. “So he cheats on you, gets jealous you’re moving on, and then asks for another chance? C’mon Rose, he’s controlling you.”
“We were together for almost thirteen years. Besides, I need to remain faithful to my marriage vows.”
“Do WHAT?” I asked, sitting up in bed. “Faithful to your marriage vows? Are you serious?”
“Both you and he have already trashed your marriage vows. How can you be faithful to something that’s already broken?”
“I know. You do have a point. But it’s what I need to do.”
He got to her, I thought. He talked her into thinking her seeing other men is destroying what chance they have to fix their marriage.
“Well, thanks for telling me, Rose,” I said in a quip. “This is a great way to start the day.”
“I won’t be able to see you anymore,” she said, cold as ice. “Or talk to you on the phone. It’s over.” I said nothing. I could feel the pain crush through my veins as the hammer that was my heart forced it through. “Kevin?”
“I heard you.” I said, seething with bitterness and anger. “So what was I to you, Rose? Just someone to do until you felt better?”
“I’m not going to dignify that with an answer!”
“I didn’t hear a ‘no’.”
“Just…leave me alone, okay?”
“Fine, whatever,” I said and slammed the phone down in its cradle.
I turned around in my bed and cried my eyes out. How could she? Who the hell does she think she is? For three fucking years I avoided women, since I didn’t want to cause someone else pain due to my rebound, and what happened to me? I was Rose’s rebound.
What did I do in life to deserve this kind of bad luck?
I laughed bitterly through my sobs. No wonder she always had great things to say to me. No wonder she made me wait to see her. She was seducing me all along, and I fell right into her hands.
What the hell was wrong with me? I should’ve spotted this a mile away. The signs were all there. Was I so desperate for the love and attention of another human being, the kind of love and attention I can’t get from my family, that I would let myself be seduced and thrown away?
She suggested I come and see for myself? Fine. I’ll get some truth from Rose Centeno, one way or the other.
Men in pain sometimes make decisions and take actions that are not rational. Between the occasion of slamming down the phone and driving to the mall, a million different scenarios played out in my head. What would I see? How would I react?
I was familiar with Rose’s routine when she spent her days at the Sarasota Square mall. This including the entrance of the operating offices where she came and went, where she parked her car, and where she typically ate lunch. The lunch rush usually began around 11:00 AM. The four hours of time between my arrival at the mall and the beginning of the lunch rush passed at an agonizingly slow pace. I spent those hours at a corner table in the food court. From that vantage point, I could watch the entrance to the operation offices and the three food kiosks where Rose typically bought lunch: Subway, Sbarro’s Pizza or the China Dragon Buffet.
My plan, for all it was worth, involved watching Rose’s movements, observing what she did. I didn’t buy her excuse of bailing on me for a staff meeting. Rather, I was sure she would meet Dennis. At that time, all I wanted was the truth, to know beyond any doubt. It was clear she wasn’t going to be honest with me, not that she had been much since we met online. Various lies, small ones at first kept rearing their heads over the last few months. She would distract me with pretty words and sex. We agreed from day one that there would be nothing but absolute honesty between us, no matter how painful the truth might be. It took her all but three weeks to break that agreement, specifically involving her exclusivity. She openly claimed she didn’t want to pursue other matches via the online dating service. That was the first lie I caught her in.
When I caught her, her excuse amounted to signing up on the dating service with another girlfriend, Cheryl. Rose claimed they did so in a sort of contest, to see who would receive the first decent match. As Cheryl was an overweight slob who soothed away her self-image issues with Xanax, Rose walked away from that contest as the winner. I soon discovered Cheryl had no love, or even like for me. She feared I would take Rose away from her, in terms of time spent. It became quickly clear to me Cheryl had a serious codependency problem on Rose. I began receiving ‘anonymous’ emails detailing Rose’s other online exploits, activity she embarked upon during her seduction of me. When I confronted Rose with those emails, she was more interested in how I acquired them instead of explaining her discrepancy in ‘absolute honesty’ and exclusivity. I invited her to my house and physically showed her the emails. She attempted to yank her hand out of the cookie jar by admitted to doing it on Cheryl’s behalf, as Cheryl was having no luck with online dating. I had a hard time buying that excuse, telling Rose that luring men in using her pictures only to have those men meet Cheryl was dishonest and just plain unethical. I also posed how she might feel if someone duped her in that manner. Rose ended up being intensely sorry and all but begged for another chance, giving me the one thing I truly wanted, her title as my ‘girlfriend’, followed by some seriously intense lovemaking. None of it wiped the lie from my memory. Fool I was chose to ignore the big red flag flapping right in front of my face.
I found out later on - after Rose accused me of hacking her email to access those emails - Cheryl hacked Rose’s email account and forwarded them to me. Cheryl wanted to break us up, plain and simple. She wanted Rose all to herself again.
To Cheryl’s chagrin, her plan failed. From that point forward, Cheryl did everything she could to get in the way. She would make non-stop calls to Rose, claiming to need her advice on some matter involving a bad date. She made those calls knowing I was there with her, busy, in bed.
I believe that’s how Dennis found out about my affair with Rose. Cheryl made it clear to Rose she thought Dennis was a dog when his affair came to light (and why not, he took Rose away from Cheryl as well), but that wouldn’t stop her from telling him everything Rose was doing with me. Maybe she even helped him plan how he and Rose would get back together, I don’t know. For whatever reason, Cheryl hated me more. In her mind, Dennis was the lesser of two evils.
Everything went to hell after that. Cheryl got her way. She would probably lay low for a while before attempting to split up Rose and Dennis, again. In her codependent state, Cheryl had the potential to be a very dangerous person. I truly hoped she wouldn’t show up at the mall today as Rose’s lunch date. I was not in the mood to put up with her fat wobbling ass and all the bullshit that came from of it.
During the fourth hour of the eternal wait, Rose finally walked out of the operations office and into the food court. She was alone. I felt waves of relief wash across my insides. It didn’t take away the pain; it simply dulled it a bit. I scanned the food court for Dennis, who made no appearance.
Rose walked to Sbarro’s Pizza, taking her place in line, third from the counter. I watched from across the food court intently, wondering how I would approach her and what I might say. Whatever it would be, civility would be difficult, or even sanity. Not while shards of glass pumped through my veins. Sometimes I thought the pain in my chest was so intense, it gave off its own dark glow. It certainly did give off a negative aura. Passers by went out of their way to ignore and avoid me.
When she received her pizza, I expected her to return to her office for this so-called meeting. Instead, she sat down at a table and began to eat her veggie slice, still alone.
Indeed, she lied.
I had my plan then. I would join her for lunch after all.
I casually walked across the far end of the food court from Rose’s position, circling around to stand in line at Sbarro’s Pizza. There were three other people in front of me. I looked around the line to see who was in front. He was a well-tanned, well-dressed man with a unique tie. I used to collect them back in the day, when I was younger, and show them off. The one this guy wore was seriously cool. It was perhaps black or dark blue in color with white or light blue binary sequences across the front. I wondered what those sequences translated too. Considering the distance between us, the sequences would be impossible to read properly. Even so, I hadn’t attempted on-the-fly binary translation since high school. Not that it mattered. It would be irrelevant soon.
The woman behind Binary Tie Guy was no one I wanted to meet. She was another huge blob of fat that went to no length to take care of her self, like Cheryl. Who carries around that kind of weight and appearance and then stuffs their face at a pizzeria? Someone who doesn’t give a fuck about his or her appearance, that’s who. Gross.
The man behind her and in front of me kept to himself, his head down, patiently waited his turn.
While waiting, I continued to monitor the food court. Rose was still alone. She nibbled at her food, casually watching people as they walked by. ‘People watching’, she called it. Seven tables behind Rose sat the most beautiful red head, quietly reading a newspaper, occasionally looking up as if she were expecting someone.
When it was my turn to order, I opted for a single slice of mushroom pizza and a small Dr. Pepper. I wasn’t at all hungry. The food was merely a prop; an excuse to sit down at Rose’s table and converse. I paid for my food with cash, took my change, and went on my way.
Rose was still alone when I approached her table. I sat down. Rose looked up.
“Kevin?” She asked, surprised.
“Hi lovergirl, how are you?” I asked, putting on the perfect façade. I would do my best to come across normal, happy to see her.
“I don’t think you should call me that,” she said, looking down. “I’m not your lovergirl anymore.”
“Well, that’s why I am here. You did invite me to come and see for myself, if I’m not mistaken. Here I am. Funny thing though. You’re eating out here and not in your office at that emergency meeting.”
Rose’s eyes dashed to the right, a telltale sign she was attempting to come up with a lie via the creative side of the brain. Had she looked to the left, accessing the analytical side of her brain for memory recall, I would have known she was telling the truth. Rose was about to tell another lie. “The meeting was canceled.”
“Bullshit, there was no meeting. I told you when we first met I can spot a lie.”
“Okay, fine!” She spat, looking directly into my eyes. “I just didn’t want to see you. Am I lying now?”
I paused. “No,” I said under my breath.
“What do you want?”
“I want to know what the hell happened to you,” I said. “Everything was fine with you – with us – until a few weeks ago. Then you pull a complete one eighty on me? Now you act like we’re complete strangers. What happened Rose? Do you even remember that world we created when we were together? Was that a lie too? Did I just imagine the whole thing?”
“No, you didn’t. Things change, Kevin. Dennis’ mother called me and pushed me to give him another chance.”
I looked down at the change from my lunch purchase. One quarter, two dimes, and three pennies were scattered about the surface of the florescent orange serving tray. I picked up the quarter and began fiddling with it. Rose noticed this small action amid the uncomfortable silence and shook her head as if to say, some things never change, a nod towards the nervous habits I entertain when stress is nigh. She witnessed it from me several times before, usually during her tales of how Dennis deceived her, how he hurt her.
“He cheated on you. What makes you think he won’t do it again?”
“I don’t know,” she said. “I cheated on him too.”
I felt my mouth make an O as my eyebrows raised. “What? That was after the fact,” I said, interrupting her thought, slamming the quarter to the tray. “He was already moved out and living with his new girlfriend.”
“I guess that makes him and I even,” she said, not looking up from the table where I slapped the quarter down. She deliberately avoided eye contact with me.
“Do you know how absurd that sounds? You said you loved me! What the fuck was that about? Another lie?”
“I only said that to make you feel better,” she said, voice laced with condescension. I picked the quarter up again, doing the trick of flipping the quarter over and across my knuckles and then back again.
“But I really loved you,” I said, holding back tears I didn’t want her to see, hiding my anger in balled fists underneath the table. “And you lie to me? Did you tell me the truth about anything?”
“I do think you’re an awesome dad,” she said, flashing a weak smile.
Awesome dad, I repeated bitterly, in my head. One of her more frequent compliments in a series designed to seduce. Last week it would have given me warm fuzzies. Today, it amounted to a painful reminder of that seduction. I would find no comfort in her words this time.
“You’ll make someone very happy someday,” she added. “It just won’t be me.” I felt my jaw drop. Somewhere inside me a dam burst. The tear streaming silently down my face was the overflow.
I was speechless.
Rose picked up her plate of pizza and walked away, back toward the door leading to the mall’s operations office where she worked, where I could not follow.
I watched her go. I watched her walk away.
‘You know what needs to be done here.’
‘If you go somewhere, Rose should go too. Walk out to the car. You know what’s out there, in the trunk. She’ll get that message loud and clear.’
‘Here’s an idea, you dumb ass child: Go to your car, do what you need to do there and give Ms. All-High-and-Mighty a choice. Maybe this time she’ll do as you want.’
‘Where we’ll take Ms. All-High-and-Mighty, there won’t be any way to follow, or come back.’
I sighed, looking down in doubt at the quarter in the palm of my hand. “And you, ‘O Well Traveled Coin, what fine advice do you have for me this miserable Friday afternoon?”
The coin replied.
What it would tell me would change my life.