The International Writers Magazine: Life Lessons
June 15, was the day when I had my heart broken. The girl who did the breaking was Isobel Carter, whom I’d gone with all through high school.
Then she’d gone to college in San Diego, way down in Southern California while I’d gone to a local community college in Sacramento. She’d returned that day and when she phoned me I of course went right over to her house. She greeted me at the door and I thought she looked more beautiful than ever. She was tall and full-figured, with red hair, her most striking feature, and green eyes. She had strong features and a firm chin. When I was with her, everyone looked at us. She could have had anyone in our school, the football captain or anyone; sometimes I wondered why she’d chosen me. “Come in,” she said. “We have to talk.” I was too young and naïve then to know what this portended, but I soon found out.
She led me into the living room and had me take a chair. The Carters lived in one of the larger houses in our suburban neighborhood. They were well-to-do; Isobel’s father was a judge. Isobel was ambitious. She wanted to go to lawschool after college. She was also ambitious for me. After getting out of community college I was to finish at one of California’s four-year colleges and then go to lawschool with her. I wasn’t sure if I was up to these expectations, but I would try.
“You look great,” I said. “What did you want to talk about?’
“Thanks. I’m sorry but we have to break up. I’ve met someone else and he’s perfect for me. It’s as if we were meant for each other. It’s better that we don’t see each other any more.”
I remember that at the time it was as if someone had punched me in the solar plexus. My ears rang and it was hard to breathe. I cried, “No. Please, Isobel, no.”
The rest of our conversation was a blur. I managed to find out who this other perfect guy was, a senior at her college named Don Driver. The odd thing was that Don was also from Sacramento and that I knew his younger brother Pete from community college. I pleaded with Isobel to reconsider, to give me another chance. In return, she enumerated all of Don Driver’s many virtues, how smart he was, how capable, how ambitious, how someday he’d be Governor of our state. The more I tried to argue with her the more determined her firm chin became and finally she told me I had to go. Her last words were, “Don’t call me.”
I’d like to say that, being only 19 at this time, I quickly shook off this rejection and went on with my life. I didn’t. I went into a tailspin. I dropped out of community college. I moved out of my parents’ house and supported myself with a series of low-paying jobs. I drank and smoked. I was a mess. I don’t know how I might have ended, but then I met Barbara. She must have seen something in me because she made it her mission to save me. I sobered up. I stopped smoking. I went back to community college, then to our four-year college, Sac State, and got a degree. With this, I was able to get a job with the State. Of course, I married Barbara.
We lived in a small apartment in downtown Sacramento. Barbara worked as a secretary. We saved our money and in a few years were able to buy a house, not a very expensive one, in another suburban development. In due course, we had two children, a boy and a girl. Barbara gave up her job to raise the children; when the youngest went to kindergarten she went back to work part-time. I went to work each morning to a job I neither liked or hated. We went to neighborhood barbeques and potlucks. We took the kids to their Little League and soccer games. We went to back to school nights. I had achieved a respectable life.
Needless to say, I was never completely satisfied with this. I wouldn’t say I was unhappy, but I could never stop thinking of Isobel Carter. What would my life had been like if she hadn’t thrown me over? I was sure it would have been much better, more exciting, more fulfilling. And I would have Isobel, beautiful red-haired Isobel. It didn’t help that every now and then the Sacramento newspaper had an item about Don and Isobel Carter. He’d been elected to the State Assembly. They were seen at the symphony and the theater. They gave parties for notables. I wondered if Isobel’s prediction would turn out to be correct, that her husband would eventually become Governor.
Of course Barbara was aware of my feelings. “It’s that woman, Isobel, isn’t it?” she’d say. “You’ve never gotten over her.” I tried to assure her that I had, and there were long periods of time when I thought this was true. Barbara was a wonderful wife and mother. When I looked into the kids at night a warm feeling swept through me. After all, I had accomplished something. But then the old sense of having missed out would come back, like a nagging toothache, and I’d go into a depression for a week or so. This is how my life went.
I was in San Francisco for some kind of State training class, the kind that produced nothing and was a waste of taxpayer money. The second night I stopped at the bar of the hotel where I was staying. I heard my name called. I turned and saw someone I recognized but couldn’t place. “Pete Driver,” he said. “We were at community college together. I’m here for a business meeting.”
At his suggestion, we went to a table and ordered drinks and, as they say, “caught up.” Pete was with one of the computer companies that had sprung up in Silicon Valley. He was doing well. I told him about my job and family. He said it sounded as if I was doing okay. I didn’t say anything to this. Finally, I said, “How’s your brother Don doing?”
“Not too well.”
I was surprised at this. “Isn’t he still in the Assembly?”
“No, his Assembly pay wasn’t enough so he joined a lobbyist firm and I guess they got into some shady dealings. The FBI is investigating. It was his wife, Isobel, that pushed him into it. He wasn’t making enough money to suit her. Then they’d gotten over their heads in this really expensive house in Granite Bay, where all those basketball players have their homes. Now they’re underwater. Isobel’s doing again.”
I tried to absorb this. “That’s too bad,” I said, although I wasn’t sure if I really meant it. “Uh, how’s his wife, Isobel, taking all this.”
“Oh, she isn’t. She’s divorcing Don. The word is she’s having an affair with Arnold Goldschmidt.”
“Isn’t he the Lieutenant Governor?”
“Yeah, and probably the next Governor.”
I shook my head. “Well, you never know.”
We said our good nights shortly after that. The class was thankfully over by noon the next day. I had a quick lunch and drove back to Sacramento in my ten-year old State car. Barbara was in the kitchen when I got home. “Oh,” she said. “I wasn’t expecting you.” I gave her a hug and a kiss. “What was that for?” she asked.
“I’m happy to see you. I’m happy to be home.”
She gave me a quizzical look, then she smiled. “I’m happy you’re home, too.”
“Where are the kids?”
“Out playing somewhere. They’ll be glad to see you. They missed you.”
“I missed them, too.” I went into the bedroom and changed. I looked around. The house wasn’t too bad. Tonight we’d all have supper together. I’d bought some little gifts for the kids, as they always expected whenever I was gone for a while. I’d tell Barbara about some of the more ridiculous things about our training class. She’d laugh, as she always did. Maybe I was doing okay after all.
© Martin Green July 2015
He’d occasionally had a fantasy of meeting an attractive woman on the courts, and, there, on the front court she was, practicing serves, pretty hard serves, too.