((I went off a writing prompt and this is where I’m at now. Tell me your thoughts))
“Jake, I’m giving up”, his wife sighed and her voice was cracking. The kids were in bed, the kitchen was clean after the usual tornado of a dinner. The house was quiet and mellow, but he had just been in his study having a heated conversation with a business partner who lived so many time zones away that it was still business hours for him. Jake was never off work. Being a lawyer involved in international affairs meant there was never a day off.
“You… it’s like…”, she searched for her words. She had thought about this a lot, she knew what she was going to say but now, standing in front of him she forgot what even was bothering her. She looked up at him, and he could see in her eyes how lost she was. Somewhere deep down he knew what she was going to say, what was bothering her, but he needed to hear her say it because if he said it he was admitting to a weakness he had buried deep down.
“Ella, what is it?”, he said firmly, even though he was feeling vulnerable and wanted nothing more than lock himself in a cabin with her and forget that there was a world out there.
She closed her eyes, took a deep breath, cleared her throat, stood up straight. She opened her eyes and looked straight into his eyes. Her hazel eyes and his dark brown eyes locked, like so many times before but now she felt there was an ice cold air between them. Not hate or dislike, but like the heat that had originally bound them together and gotten them to where they were had evaporated and left small icicles instead.
“Jake, you are never home, you are always on edge and agitated. Even when you are home, you’re not present. You’re constantly on your phone, or checking your phone, or checking your e-mail or writing an e-mail or reading documents. You’re here but you’re never here. I don’t… I… I don’t know you anymore. You are not my husband, you are a lawyer, a machine. Jackson Rodwell, of Rodwell and sons, corporate man, business man, top lawyer. But you are not Jake, my Jake, my husband, my kids father”, she blurted out and as soon as she did she felt a ton lifted of her shoulders. Her knuckles were white from holding onto the kitchen counter, she didn’t even realize. She was breathing heavily, she could go on but she needed to know where he stood before she kept going.
This was it. That phone call he had taken at the end of dinner that had been the last straw. Or rather, when he wasn’t off it to clear the table, help with the kids, bathe them, get them in to pyjamas, read to them, make sure they didn’t fight, keep an eye on them until they fell asleep. He had been on the phone call for 2 hours. He had promised to take care of the kids so she could take a bath, relax. His life was stressful, she knew, but so was hers and she didn’t think he understood.
He didn’t know how to respond. Where to even start. He had been buried in work and he kept telling himself it was almost over, but it was never over. It would never be over. Being a partner in a big firm wasn’t an easy job but he knew he was taking on more than he had to. I loved his job but he knew it had been taking over. He just didn’t know how to quit it; he didn’t know where to stop. He had become his job and his job had become him. Somewhere along the way he had lost Jake and become Jackson again.
“Ella, I’m sorry”, he started. She sneered, “sorry is meaningless Jake”, she said. Quickly her despair had become anger.
“No, Ella, really I am sorry”, he hurried to say, because he was, “look babe…”
“Don’t you dare fucking “babe” me, Jake. This is a serious conversation. Do you even understand? I am giving up, I’m so close to being done”, she hissed back.
“Please let me talk, okay?”, he sighed. She had every right to be angry. His kids barely recognized him or talked to him. He had no idea how they were doing in school, in life.
She crossed her arms and nodded at him, with a disbelief, edging him on.
“It’s just that this deal going through right now is very important and they’re giving me a hard time and I need it to…”, he started, trying to wrap his own head around why he was where he was in life.
“Don’t fucking care, Jake. I don’t fucking care about your business deals or firm. Everything is important, every deal is the biggest deal, every deal is the most important deal of your career. I don’t care anymore. I knew it was going to be difficult and I knew you’d be working hard. I’m proud of you, I am, but I didn’t agree to being a single mother. If I’m going to be a single mum I’d rather be actually single, have some fun, rather than sitting at home waiting for you to be too tired to even talk to me. Did you know Alice is at the top of her class and got a certification for doing well in English? Did you know Alvin got the lead in his class play? Did you know Alma had a crush on a boy and cried over it?”, she looked at him and she could tell he had no clue.
“See, I’ve told you all of this before”, she sighed, “I’ve told you all of this”.
“Ella, I don’t… know what to say. I don’t know what to do. It’s not like I can walk away from the company, it’s my company! I can’t… I don’t have the resources…”, he grasped for excuses.
“Yeah, it’s your company. You can do what you want. Hire people. Take a break. Jake, I… I will ask for a divorce eventually”, her voice was cracking again.
“What do you want me to do?”, he tried to reach for her over the counter, but it was too wide and she crossed her hands even tighter.
“I want you take a month off. A whole month. The first three weeks I want you to spend on your own. Away from here. Away from this country. No phone, no internet. Read books, write a diary, watch movies, breathe, try new food, meet new people, no business. I think you need it. I don’t know who you are anymore and I think it’s because you don’t know who you are either. How can I know when you’ve lost yourself”, she said. Her expression relaxed, he shoulders went down.
Was she insane? A month? With some planning he could maybe take a week off and even then he’d have to keep in touch.
“Ella…”, he started, his voice weak. His forehead wrinkled up in thought and desperation.
“No. This is the condition. I’ll give you two weeks, after that you better have a plane ticket out of here or I leave. There is no if’s or but’s. I’m going to bed. Please sleep in the guest room”, she turned around and walked away. Her own heart was breaking, she had to walk away because she didn’t want to cry. She needed to be tough. Every time he wasn’t on his phone until she was asleep, they would argue or not even talk.
That night, she cried. A ton had been lifted off her but another ton had been put on instead.
That night, he cried. He had been punched in the gut and it had opened up everything he had carefully ignored.
They cried for each other.
“Are you insane?”, his brother laughed.
“No Damien, I am not and I am also not kidding. It’s not even just about saving my marriage, my family, it’s about saving myself. I am not taking on more cases and I’m giving my small cases to Lois. I will be taking a month off. Maybe I’ll be crazy when I come back, I don’t even really care anymore”, Jake said firmly. Damien could see a change, there was something happening in Jake’s head.
They had been brought up in this company. The two of them had been destined for the lawyer path since they were born. The family name. The family company. Taking over. Damien had two sons and Jake had one and their father had been adamant that the company live on. He could see his sons do it but Jake’s son Alvin took after his mother, he was softer and artistic and thoughtful. Damien liked his sister in law but he couldn’t understand how Jake fell in love with her, they were so unlike each other. His own wife was also a lawyer, they had met in law school.
“It’s not like I can stop you but have you thought about what this can do to the reputation of the company?”, Damien asked, completely serious.
“The company, the company, the company. Of course I have Damien but I’ve come to the conclusion that I’d rather not die at 65 like dad, okay?”.
Their father had worked hard his whole life. Jake and Damien had been born into wealth, because their father had made his own wealth early, from nothing. They had good work ethics, maybe too good, maybe a bit too focused on work if anything. Their father always made sure they knew how important work was. And at 65 his heart gave out.
“Fine. Fine! You go be a hippy, find yourself, breathe the ocean air, clear your head, maybe then you can realize how stupid this is”, Damien said, dismissively and waved Jake out of his office.
Ella hadn’t been talking to him. Not more than she needed. They slept in the same bed but he knew she was done. Today he’d book a ticket. He had no idea where to go but he understood. The past week he had been distracted. He was all in his head. The demons he’d worked so hard at repressing, so much that now it was automatic, were waking up from a deep sleep, crawling their way up to his conscious. His body started to get tired cause he let himself realize the weight, he let himself understand how much the stress was killing him. Little by little he was getting locked in his own head but his wife’s voice echoed in his head. Maybe they didn’t need to be married but she was right, he wasn’t himself, he was a machine.
Jackson the lawyer, Lawyer Jackson, hard hitting, hard business, hard money Jackson. He wasn’t Jake.
He was automated, he was a robot. Now he was just a different robot. A robot Pinocchio who was realizing he wanted to be a real boy.
He’d been in airports a lot. He knew this airport like the back of his hand.
“I know this airport better than I know my wife”, he thought to himself. “I know it better than my kids know me”.
The man at the check-in desk greeted him like an old friend. “Where to now? New York, Paris, Rome?”, he joked as he took Jake’s passport.
“What business do you have in Hawaii? Taking over the whole world, eh”, he asked, curiously. Jake hadn’t been there before.
“Vacation, actually”, Jake replied and smiled. Usually he would chat but he didn’t know how to explain.
“Wow, never seen that happen before. Where’s the family, already gone?”, the man said as he printed the boarding pass.
“Something like that”.
He checked into his resort. He had decided to start in a town, but in a few days he had a cabin on a cliff a few hours away from any towns. The nearest civilization was a tiny village with a store, a bar and a café. He found safety in knowing there were at least some people within a half an hour walk. The cabin would still be secluded. He had mostly brought books. His computer was with him but per his wife’s wishes there was no wifi. He had a basic phone, no smart phone allowed. He had immersed himself in this idea.
His first night he went down to the hotel bar. He was still dressed business, business casual if anything. He didn’t really have anything that didn’t scream business. His whole life was business.
A young man was sitting at the bar by himself. He had apparently been there for a while and very obviously a tourist in shorts and Hawaii shirt.
“Here’s to nothing”, Jake thought and sat down near the guy, one seat between them. He ordered a whisky, neat. Keep it at least a little bit familiar.
The guy ordered a big, fancy, colourful cocktail.
“Looks good, that”, Jake said, trying to break the ice, and lifted his own glass.
“When in Hawaii!”, the guy said, lifting his glass in return.
“You traveling with family”, Jake asked, fixing his posture so he was facing the guy a bit more.
“Solo traveller. Best way, NAY, only way to travel, my friend. Why get attached, when you can be free. Fuck all”, the guy smirked.
“Good point. This is my first vacation… in years”, Jake replied.
“Well, cheers to that, may your days be filled with wonder and your dick attract all the women… or men, if you will”, he took a large sip from a big loopy straw.
Jake laughed, “not sure if the wife would like that”, he winked.
“Ah, family man. Very business, much serious. I’m Russell”, the guy extended his hand towards Jake.
“Jackson Rodw… Jake, I’m Jake”, he took his hand firmly, immediately realizing how business his handshake was.
“So Jake, how long will it take you to leave the whisky behind and take some chances with a tall, slender, fruity cocktail?”, Russell teased him. He was right. Whiskey was safe. It was manly, it was business. Jake downed it.
“Order for me then”.
A few hours, more than a few cocktails and a life story later, Jake had learned that Russell was only a traveller. He envied him. Though he was happy… or thought he was, being a family man, he envied Russell for being able to find the freedom. It was a reality that was so far away from his own. He had travelled a lot but he stayed in hotels, went to meetings, drank whiskey and smoked cigars with other tall, dark haired, business men. It was a business man’s world and he was right in the middle of it. Though he had travelled far and to cities all over the world, his view of the world was still very limited. Though learning customs of other countries, being invited to family dinners of his clients or business partners, the business part was always the underlying part. He and Ella had gone to Barbados for their honeymoon but that was many years ago, they had been young and his eyes had been clouded by the beauty and grace of his new wife. They had taken the kids to Disneyland and Disney World but that was it.
“You’re lucky, Russell, you know that”, he said, while he fished a strawberry up from his empty glass, waving to the bartender to get another round. They had made a deal with the bartender to never bring the same drinks twice in a row and he had demanded it all be put on his room. He was paying. He wanted to say fuck all to being responsible. These three weeks were not about that.
“I’m lucky. I am but it’s a different lucky. It’s a lucky where my wife is a beautiful human being, inside and out. Her heart is pure, her grace is undeniable. My kids are… my kids are great, they are hilarious but I don’t think I know them, I could know them more, you know? You know? She was right, Ella, she was, I need this. This is only my first night and I feel like I’m floating. May be the drinks, may be the fact that I haven’t talked to any other white, middle class men about money for almost 24 hours now. See, you’re lucky because responsibility, it kills you, Russell, it kills you. There’s responsibility and then there’s re-spohn-she-bih-lih-teeeee, you know”, Jake rambled. He was talking to himself more than Russell if anything but Russell was listening.
“The point, Jake, of traveling, is hearing these stories. I teach you something, you teach me something. I’m terrified of a life like yours. I never want to be tied down like that. It sounds to me like you got stuck because you enjoyed it but you got stuck nonetheless”, Russell replied, grabbing Jake’s upper arm.
“Be free man, BE FREE!”, he yelled, “MARSHALL TURN THIS SONG UP”.
Before Jake knew what was happening he had been whipped out to the floor of the now empty hotel bar as Russell threw him around in an extravagant dance and they loudly sang along with a song neither one of them knew.
When they got kicked out, Jake tipped generously, and Russell suggested they walk down to the beach.
“You gotta clear your head, you gotta do it by the ocean”, he said and Jake immediately heard his brothers sarcastic comment echo in his head.
He was right though. It was pitch dark but the sound was calming and the sand dug between his toes.
“I have been wearing black dress shoes since I was born, probably”, Jake sighed as they sat down and opened the bottled beer they had gotten from the hotel bar.
“I’ve been to beaches but…”, he didn’t even know what the end of the sentence was.
“Jake. This is… the first day of the rest of your life”, Russell said and pushed Jakes shoulder.
“I’ve been in love, you know. With a human. But the love for places is much stronger for me. I couldn’t settle down. And they wouldn’t travel, so… here I am. Sitting on a beach with a business man, a family man, a suited up guy”, Russell sighed.
“Tell me about this person”, Jake said, laid down and closed his eyes. He had talked too much about himself, his head was spinning. It was too much. Getting lost in someone else’s story, someone else’s problems was exactly what he would need.
“Well… we got along so well from the beginning. Met at a bar. Not unlike how I met you to be honest. But his face captured me, his presence captured me. I was overwhelmed from the beginning and I feel like he had the upper hand. I don’t think he felt that way but I was absolutely… surrounded by him. We talked for a whole night and it was like we had never not known each other. We were born to meet each other. I know a few people like that. Some people just capture you, but this was love. This was more than friends, this was a raw, extreme need”, Russell sighed. Jake got into the story, he could see it clearly in his mind.
“He was tall, taller than me. Slender but strong, broad shoulders kind of. Maybe his looks weren’t exactly super model or anything but to me he was the most beautiful person from the start. But I knew he was holding something back. He kind of told me even, he told me I would never know him completely because he would never be able to open up completely. But I feel like I knew him. I knew him through not knowing him. I think I understood him and he understood me. And it just happened. I didn’t plan on falling in love, I didn’t plan on settling down but before I knew it I had a steady job in a new city, I had a boyfriend, we went on dates with other couples. We found an apartment together, we decorated it”
Russell paused. Obviously, the story was about to turn around.
“But I… wasn’t happy. Or I was but, it was wrong. I adored him. He adored me. To be honest, our life was perfect. We did travel but, it was mini breaks. It was resorts, it was swimming pools at hotels. Which is great and all but for a long time, it’s not for me. I’m a backpacker. I’m not sure I have a heart, I have a backpack instead. My heart lies in travels. I get fidgety if I stay in one place to long. And I stayed for two and a half years. That’s a long time for me. I’ve been travelling for 12 years, 2 and a half I spent in the same place for longer than a month and that was with him. Because of him. He understood me completely, I never held back. Or I thought I didn’t until one day I woke up and I had to face the fact that I couldn’t stay. I knew I couldn’t. Our friends just announced they were pregnant and I could see in his eyes that he wanted that. He wanted a family and I… didn’t. I tried for two weeks to picture myself as a dad, as a family with this wonderful, wonderful man. This man who had saved my soul, this man who owned me completely.
So a couple of weeks later, I sat down in front of him. Said we needed to talk. And he said “You don’t want a family. You want to travel”. He just knew! He knew exactly what had been bothering me. He knew me so completely that I didn’t even have to tell him.
I won’t tell you all the details about the actual break up because it’s too painful but also, I don’t remember it. I don’t remember it clearly. It’s like it’s wiped from my head, a faded memory. Clouded with fog or something. I know it’s there and I understand it happened but I don’t remember it. I feel like I’m watching it from the outside. I know I cried, he cried, but we’re both level headed guys and we dealt with it. It was easy, if you could say that. He kept the apartment, basically gave me some money cause he kept all of the stuff. I found my backpack, I packed it, I booked a flight and I left.”
“When was this?”, Jake asked. Wondering what he had been doing in life when this friend of his had been having his heart ripped out from his chest.
“It’s been four years since I left”, Russell replied, “I was 26. Right at that age where your age group starts splitting up. Kids versus no kids. Career versus travel. I chose no kids and travel. Because thing is, Jake, thing is… no matter how much you love someone you can’t deny who you are. You are always at the core – you. You can change and grow and all that shit, but you can’t make yourself change. The change comes from within and you have no control over it. Your heart changes you, you don’t change your heart. I tried to change. I tried because I loved him. But love isn’t necessarily enough. You can love someone who is completely wrong for you. He wasn’t, he was right for me in so many ways. It wasn’t completely wrong but it wasn’t completely right. I could’ve been happy, I could’ve faked myself happy and it would’ve been alright but it’s always been hammered into me by my mum that life isn’t about loving other people. So I left. I left. I miss him, every day but it was the right decision.”
They were silent.
“Thank you for telling me your story”, Jake said. “I only know my story. My family’s story. Your story is different from anything I know.”
“You’ll be alright Jake, you know that. Life sucks but it’s beautiful, if we let it”, Russell said.
They parted, as Russell two days later kept on his mission to visit every state in the USA. With promises of keeping in touch and exchanging contact details, Jake found himself alone at the hotel bar. The next day he was headed to his cabin. Russell had told him to meditate, to read, to write. Write whatever. Write, save it, and never read it again.
He had a pleasant conversation with the bartender. His name was Gary and he’d been working at the bar for a decade.
“A lot of interesting people come through here. I’ve seen people fall in love, make friends for life, break up, hook up… I’ve seen lonely people realize their dreams, I’ve seen them drink their life away, I’ve seen happy and sad and everything in between. There isn’t a story I haven’t heard at this point”, he said, smiling to himself, as he put glasses away. His moves were automatic.
“Have you heard the sob story about the lawyer who over worked to the point of his wife wanting to leave him and his kids not knowing him?”, Jake asked, half joking.
“A million times. There are three endings”.
“What do you think for me?”
“Jake, you don’t want to know.”
((to be continue))