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Untitled

Do I Ever: Chapter One

      
Drew (Andrew) Stevens:

I didn't need to look at caller ID to have strong doubts about the wisdom of answering my cell phone. Elvis's "Hardheaded Woman"—the all-too-appropriate ringtone I'd selected months ago for my soon-to-be ex-wife—had already alerted me to the potential aggravation of yet another useless call.

Shouldn't I just let this one go to voicemail—as I'd done dozens of times before—and leave it there, forever forgotten? At least until my voice mailbox filled up and required emptying.

Tempting. The Ten Commandments didn't forbid my doing that. Not explicitly, anyhow. And not implicitly as far as I could tell.

Neither did the Golden Rule. "Do unto others" in a case like this translated nicely to "I'll ignore you as much as I can—the same way I want you to ignore me."

Still, this call might be important—no matter how unlikely. After all, there was a "first time for everything" as the old saying went and "a time for every purpose under heaven" as the Preacher said in the book of Ecclesiastes. Of course, he also said there's nothing new under the sun, and an important call from Andi would prove him wrong.

Did I dare to take a chance and answer? If this call turned out to be as meaningless as usual, the next twenty minutes would make my left ear wilt a tad more—like an iris blossom that's days past its prime. And that happened if I held the phone a foot away. I'd probably lose my hearing completely otherwise.

Twenty minutes was just the minimum. At least that much time passed before I could get the first word in. Whoops. Too late.

Elvis had stopped singing—in mid-sentence—and I'd made a decision by my failure to make a different one. So I started watching the seconds blip by on my digital watch and listening for the fatal—uh, fateful—beep that would signal the arrival of new voicemail.

One minute passed. No beep.

Ninety seconds. Still nothing but silence. Spooky silence. Silence I would normally consider golden. The seconds kept teasing me with the steady pace of their tireless blinking.

What? No voicemail?

Strange. Andi always left a message.

Or did she have so much to say this time she hadn't finished recording it yet? I had good reasons for never using "Andi" and "brevity" in the same sentence. Thank goodness my voicemail limited messages to two minutes.

Three minutes had passed, though. Maybe something had come up unexpectedly. Something Andi considered more important than bugging me.

Ha! I should be that lucky. Uh, blessed, that is. As a Christian, I didn't believe in luck. Of course, as a Christian, I also didn't believe in divorce. But that was another story. One I was still trying to figure out, and I wasn't any closer to an answer than I'd been when I started.

I was about to pocket my phone when Elvis started complaining about the same hardheaded woman again. If the drugs hadn't gotten to him first, having to perform that song every time Andi called would have made the poor guy die of boredom.

After the finalization of the divorce—that was due to happen sometime within the next three or four weeks—I would assign Andi a new ringtone. It would still be Elvis, of course.

It would have to be. He was my favorite singer. And her least favorite.

How about "Hound Dog"? Yeah, that'd be perfect. Especially since it had a line about "you" not being a "friend of mine."

Or maybe I would just block her calls altogether. Why would we need to talk again-ever? Not that I had the slightest notion why she insisted on talking—uh, trying to make me listen to her—now.

#

A too-familiar woman's voice began yapping loudly—it would probably have broken a professional quality volume meter—from somewhere nearby. As if she was trying to get my attention.

Oh, right. Although I'd pushed the answer button, I hadn't said anything yet.

The best defense, they say, is. . .not offense. It's ignorance.

"What's up?" I feigned a yawn to keep from sounding curious, which I was—slightly. Or interested, which I wasn't—at all.

"Do you know how lax—how negligent—you are about not answering your phone or returning my calls?"

Typical greeting. Full of warmth. Nicer than sometimes, though.

Gone were the days when Andi had actually enjoyed hearing the sound of my voice. And when I'd enjoyed hearing hers. Everything had changed. I still couldn't understand what had gone wrong, but things had been okay until a year or so earlier.

Better than okay.

We had loved each other—in spite of our dramatic differences. And we'd believed love was enough to keep two people together. For life.

But somehow marriage for life had come to more closely resemble life imprisonment. And I was about to break free. Or—probably more accurately—to receive a pardon. One I hadn't requested. And one I wasn't sure was appropriate.

I scratched my head. Hmm. If I was to respond honestly, I might as well have fun doing it. "Do I know how I react to your calls, Andi?" That was to let her know I'd been listening. I snickered once. Then once more. "Do I ever!"

#

Andi detested "Do I ever!" more than any of my other everyday-kind-of-guy colloquialisms-and it was one of my favorites. So I used it as often as I could now.

Just to bug her, of course. And to discourage her from calling so often. Ditto, addressing her as Andi and not Andrea. Something she hated even more than "Do I ever!"

While we were still more happily married, I wouldn't have knowingly done either of those things. Even when I did it one time without thinking, she didn't let me hear the end of it for days. Or had it been weeks? Yes, weeks. Weeks of endless tirades about how I ought to abandon my casual ways and become more civilized. More mature. More genteel. More formal. More cultivated. More cultured. More refined. Not to mention less redundant. And less superfluous.

More the way she thought of herself, in other words. An overabundance of them.

Although she'd quit complaining about little things like that verbal mishap after she talked me into the divorce, they still bothered her. She didn't have to tell me that. I could hear it in those angry little huffy-puffy pouts that made her sound like a bratty three-year-old.

#

Rather than acknowledge that I'd just agreed with her about something—I wasn't about to point out that she'd overlooked a perfect "I told you so" opportunity—she launched immediately into her monolog of the hour. Probably about the consulting business she'd recently left her position at Triple-I to start, bringing several of her loyal clients along for the ride.

Thick-skinned clients who didn't object to her volatile, abusive personality. And that was on her better days.

As if any of that concerned me now. Not the way it would have a year or two earlier. If she wanted to work longer hours to buy all the things she wanted but didn't need and had no possible use for, that was her business. Both literally and figuratively.

I wouldn't try to talk her out of it. Not anymore.

I'd wasted enough time trying to convince her that those things—things period, actually—wouldn't make her happy. Now she was going to have unlimited opportunities to discover the truth of that for herself.

Andi couldn't accept my preference for living simply. The fewer possessions to tie me down—the fewer gadgets to keep in good working order—the better. I would've been satisfied to live in a nearly empty one-room shack, even if I had to stumble around in the dark trying to find an outhouse.

Anyone questioning that statement should have seen my new digs. "Bare bones" was an overstatement.

Andi, on the other hand, wouldn't be satisfied until she could mortgage a mansion. One so humongous she'd get lost trying to find one of the two dozen marble-encapsulated bathrooms. I planned to give her a huge bag of bread crumbs as a housewarming gift.

I moved the phone six inches further from my left ear and massaged the blood back into it. Yep, I could still hear her. Just as clearly as before.

Hmm. Still babbling on. Had she even stopped to breathe yet? The twenty minute countdown had twelve minutes left to go. At zero I might finally be able to slip a few appropriate words in. Words like, "I've had enough fun for today, thank you. Say goodbye, Andi."

I seldom indulged in sarcasm, though. Living as a Christian for seventeen of my thirty-five years had toned me down quite a bit. In thoughts and actions as well as spoken words.

Not that I made any claims of perfection. How could I when Andi so generously reminded me of each imperfection on an ongoing basis?

Yet after growing used to my attentiveness over the years, she seemed to take for granted that anything of interest to her now would fascinate me—regardless of our impending divorce.

Wrong, woman. Your soliloquies are as meaningless to me as. . .as anything-Elvis is to you.

So I kept tuning her out. As I'd done dozens of times before. Most of what she was saying, anyhow. I did permit a few keywords from her spiel to register casually somewhere in the back of my brain, however—like snowfall on a distant field. Just in case she demanded my opinion after she finally ran out of steam.

Why did I bother, though? What would she do to me if I responded nonsensically to her questions? Did she have some worse punishment available than calling so frequently?

As unbelievable as it might sound now, I had actually spent years paying close attention to everything she said and providing thoughtful feedback—feedback she seldom paid attention to. Not during the last eighteen months, anyhow.

In truth, our relationship had deteriorated so much that the divorce remained our only tolerable topic of conversation, and we had long since talked that subject to death. In spite of the high cost in words—mostly hers—working out the details of the settlement had been a breeze.

Child's play. A piece of cake.

Andi also detested my use of clichés. Fine. She was the one with a BA in English. And an MBA in, well, in something I didn't even understand the name of.

I had only a two-year degree in Information Technology, but I had worked hard for it and maintained a straight 4.0 GPA. As intelligent as Andi was, even she couldn't claim she'd had grades that high. Since she earned substantially more than I did in my web design business—I could have made more, but money didn't overly interest me and I liked having enough free time just to enjoy being alive—she'd picked out and paid for almost everything we owned. And since I had very little use for any of it, I'd readily agreed to let her keep every bit of that same "almost everything."

We'd been in perfect agreement about the property settlement—the first and only thing we'd agreed about in far too long. In perfect agreement except for. . .

#

The ferocious growl that slipped unexpectedly from my lips made even me jump. Once I realized what I'd done, I didn't bother to worry about Andi's reaction. If my angry growl offended her—assuming she'd even noticed it—that was her problem.

Angry, yes. Because we still hadn't settled that issue. And that one alone.

I couldn't even get her to discuss it. Or to take my feelings seriously.

So it had become the most important issue of all. To me, at least.

No wonder I'd felt an unconscious need to answer her call. Would this be the one time she might be willing to discuss this problem? And to act more adult about it?

We had to get it settled—to my satisfaction. Nothing would be right until then. I would never be fully divorced—I wouldn't feel like I was-with this permanently up in the air.

So I would force myself to listen to the rest of her gab today—I'd be as polite and attentive as I knew how—but then I'd make her listen to me. Somehow.

If being polite didn't work, I could always threaten to hold up the divorce. What was her rush, anyhow? Did she have a boyfriend waiting in the wings for her to become legally available? If so, I hoped the poor guy knew what he was getting into.

I could always threaten to contest the divorce even at this late stage unless she agreed to pay me alimony. Some huge amount I didn't want or need. An amount she would never agree to. Anything to grab her attention and force her to sit up and pay attention. And hopefully to give in.

This matter was that huge. That important.

It shouldn't have been a problem at all, but it was. She'd made it one, and she seemed to have done it purposely.

But why, I couldn't understand. Just as I couldn't understand her reason for the divorce. No matter how much I'd begged her to explain, she wouldn't tell me.