A Sample from Magic Happens
“I want it, Kate!” my husband said. His eyes were squinting, calculating, filled with lust.
“You want what?”
“That,” Bob said, waving his hand out the car window.
We were driving by a construction site at the end of our street. A huge sign with a drawing of a neo-Greek McMansion read, “Orchard Park. Single-family estates from $1.2 million.”
Eight of these overpriced monstrosities were about to rise from the ruins of the apple orchard that had been there for a hundred years.
“I want one of those,” Bob said.
Was he out of his mind? Not only was Orchard Park way out of our league money-wise, it was huge, pretentious, ugly in every way.
The orchard looked like a war zone, littered with dead branches and the stumps of trees. Bulldozers roared, belching smoke and fumes. I could have cried when I saw the old trees uprooted, lying in a sad heap at the side of the road. Their branches were already swollen with spring buds.
“Yuck!” I said. “You’ll never catch me in a place like that.”
Bob cocked an eyebrow. “Think of having all that room to spread out,” he said. “Think about shiny hardwood floors, new furniture, a couple of nice Oriental rugs. You could have an office with a skylight on the third floor. We could put a pool in the yard for Meghan.”
“Did you see the prices on that sign?”
Bob squinted as though he hadn’t heard me. “Granite countertops in the kitchen,” he crooned, “a Jenn-Air so we could grill steaks all winter, a nice big Sub-Zero refrigerator.”
“What do you know about Sub-Zero refrigerators?”
“George has one,” he said. “They’re the best.”
George. Bob’s former cubicle-mate at Raytheon. George went out on his own five years ago and became an overnight millionaire in electronic components.
“George doesn’t cook,” I said.
“He believes in having the best.” Bob said. "I like that about him."
Bob pulled the car over to the side of the road and shifted into park.
“George and I have this idea.” His voice crackled with excitement.
“It’s a new testing device that we could sell to circuit board manufacturers all over the world. It’s the future of the electronics industry. The potential is mind-boggling.”
“You want to go to work for George? You’d leave Raytheon?”
“We’d set up a new company. We’d be partners.” His chest puffed up with the thought of being partners with George.
I made a face. After he hit the big time, George ditched his long-suffering wife, Marie, and took up with a succession of young women barely older than his own daughter. He had his teeth capped, hired a personal trainer, and started zooming around town in a neon yellow Porsche.
I punched Bob on the arm. “Is this a mid-life crisis?”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” he said. “Besides, I am not middle-aged.” Bob was forty-two.
“Okay,” I said. “Tell me more.”
“I’d be the COO of the new company,” he said. “Most of George’s capital is tied up with his own expansion, but he’d provide seed money—you know, help us get venture capital.”
“Isn’t that risky?”
“High-risk, high-reward.” It was one of George’s favorite phrases.
“It sounds like you’ve put a lot of thought into this,” I said carefully.
Bob reached over and took my hand. “George and I have been working on a business plan. I want you to take a look at it.”
“Okay. This is kind of sudden though.”
“I know, but I’m more excited than I’ve been in years.”
It was true. His eyes flashed as he described the circuitry and whatever else this new electronic gizmo would do.
”I’m not getting any younger,” Bob said. “I look around and see other guys making it big.”
He jerked his thumb in the direction of the construction site. “Why shouldn’t we have the good things in life too?”
“We do have good things,” I said. “Truth, justice, and love are the real and eternal things in life.” I was quoting the A.A. Twelve-Step book, my knee-jerk reaction.
“Don’t preach,” Bob said. “Besides, we can still have truth, justice, and love. We’ll just have them in a nice big house with a couple of Mercedes in the garage.”
He paused. “We could get a boat. A Cape Dory?”
“That’s not fair!” I said. I’d been dreaming about a boat for years, but Cape Dorys were expensive—way too expensive for us.
“Read the proposal,” Bob said.
“Sure,” I said. What else was I going to say?
Bob made a U-turn and headed back to the house.
“Hey, we need groceries.”
“Later,” he said. “First things first.”
Now he was playing dirty, throwing AA slogans at me.
He really wanted this.
There we were in our five-year-old Ford Taurus, grocery list in hand, headed back to our modest little ranch house near Bradley Woods. I was a part-time public relations consultant, Bob was an engineer for Raytheon. We didn’t have a Sub-Zero refrigerator, we didn’t have a Cape Dory or enough money to live at Orchard Park, but we did have our own little ranch house, a yard filled with perennials, a Chevvy and a Subaru wagon in the driveway. We took our daughter, Meghan, to Disney World for her fifth birthday. Life was good.
Sure, sometimes I missed the excitement of my old life—radio advertising, expense accounts, trips to New York and Los Angeles. But I certainly didn’t miss the boozy lunches, the pressure from management, the frantic need to keep up with sales projections. I did not miss the long affair with David, the married man who strung me along for so many years. I’d had enough of all that. Bob and I had a nice, quiet little life now. A sober life. Things were good. They just weren't good enough for Bob.
Things moved quickly after that. One minute, I was outside the apple orchard with my husband, Dependable Bob, the next minute he was gone, working day and night in the office he and George rented near the Hingham Shipyard. My husband had morphed into Entrepreneurial Bob.
I thought the business plan looked good, but really, I didn’t know anything about circuit board testing. I did know that Bob leaped up every morning full of energy. He couldn’t wait to get to work. It was a definite change from his days at Raytheon when he’d schlep out the door late every morning, yawning.
I was a little nervous about the risk, but it was normal to be nervous, wasn’t it? High-risk, high-reward.
“I’m tapping into our IRA,” Bob announced when B&G opened its doors. “I’ve got to put some cash into the company. We’ll put it back as soon as the venture capital funding comes through.”
“But that’s Meghan’s college money,” I said. I hated the worried sound of my own voice; I sounded just like my mother.
“Meghan is only seven,” Bob said. “By the time she’s ready for college, we’ll be able to write the check outright.”
“Okay,” I said slowly. I was not like my mother, I told myself. Not like her at all.
Bob was excited, energized in a way I’d never seen. To tell the truth, Dependable Bob could be a little boring. Entrepreneurial Bob was a lot more interesting.
“Think about the Cape Dory,” he said, and I did.
In my mind, I had already named her Fantasy. We’d take her on weekend sails to Plymouth and the Cape, ride the southwesterlies up to Marblehead, take a couple of weeks to explore the harbors up the coast of Maine. I sighed, the ghost of a smile creeping over my face.
“That’s my girl,” Bob said. I loved his enthusiasm.
Before long, the enthusiasm turned to mania. Bob drank coffee all day and half the night. He was a COO now, one who talked in rapid-fire bursts and waved his hands around wildly, building circuit board castles in the air.
When Bob wasn’t at the office, he was hunched over a laptop at the dining room table, crunching numbers and muttering to himself. Watching him, I developed a good-sized knot in the pit of my stomach.
“I wish he’d slow down,” I said to Grace, my AA sponsor. Grace was the soul of wisdom, a classy Yankee lady from Cohasset who favored cashmere and pearls.
“Keep the focus on yourself, Kate,” she said. I knew she’d say that; it was the AA party line. So I went to AA meetings with Grace. I went to work two days a week, doing public relations for the Social Welfare League. I walked Meghan to the school bus stop, and planned outings on Fantasy. I was fine, I told myself.
Unfortunately, Bob was not fine. B&G Enterprises was only two months old when the NASDAQ took a couple of big hits and the venture capital money dried up. Then there was trouble with the testing design and Bob couldn’t seem to fix it. George kicked in another pile of cash, and Bob hired two techies, Jason and Derek—overgrown teenagers who could barely string two sentences together.
“These guys are geniuses,” Bob assured me. “We’ll be up and running in no time.”
New credit card statements started arriving in the mail. “Short term loans,” Bob called them, whisking the envelopes away. “George and I will take care of these.”
“I never see George around anymore,” I said.
“George is only an investor.”
“But you’re partners.”
“We’re partners, but it’s my butt that’s on the line,” Bob snapped.
In September, George took off for Singapore to set up a Far East distribution center for his own company. “B&G is your baby,” he told Bob. “Fix it.”
Bob stayed later and later at the office, tinkering with product design. When I’d take a sandwich over to the shipyard at night, he and Jason and Derek would be huddled over the workbench, sweating in the fluorescent glow of the overhead lights.
“Thanks, Kate,” he’d say, barely looking at me. “Don’t wait up. I’ll be late tonight.”
He was late every night. Some nights I knew Jason and Derek slept right there in the office, walking across the shipyard to the marina in the morning for a quick shower before they went back to the workbench. When Bob finally crawled into bed, long after I’d gone to sleep, he’d thrash and kick, dreaming of production deadlines and venture capital presentations. We never had sex anymore.
George came back from Singapore the day before some company called Techno Test announced they were launching a new circuit board testing device. The president of Techno Test was on the cover of Technology Review.
Bob slammed the magazine on the table, screaming on the phone to George. “Those fuckers! Their product is shit! It won’t do half of what we’re going to do.”
“They’ll grab sixty percent of the market share before we can get out of the gate,” George yelled on the other end of the phone. I could hear him from across the kitchen.
“I just need more time!” Bob said.
But there was no more time and no more money. George had had enough. B&G was dead, aborted before birth, taking with it not only our Fantasy Cape Dory, but our IRA, our daughter’s college fund, our second mortgage, and more credit cards than I’d ever imagined.
“We’re finished,” Bob told me just after Christmas. His voice was flat, toneless, his face filled with despair.
“Oh, honey,” I said, reaching out to hug him, but he’d already turned away.
“I’m going to bed,” he said.
He stayed there for a month.
Magic Happens is available at Amazon.com
Kate Driscoll is a suburban mom and recovering alcoholic who lives near Boston with her engineer husband Bob, and their five-year-old daughter, Meghan.
When Bob’s business goes broke, Kate finds that even her regular A.A. meetings don’t help with the money worries, so she turns to a local gym for stress relief.
“The gym was cheaper than psychotherapy and seemed to work just as well,” she says.
Though she describes herself as a “relentless heterosexual,” Kate is soon horrified to find herself falling in love with Lou, a female instructor at the gym.
Kate’s obsession with Lou carries her through increasing financial difficulties and her husband’s growing depression until she is forced to make a decision that will shape the rest of her life.
“Shit happens,” Kate’s A.A. friends say, but magic happens too as Kate learns that, no matter what happens on the outside, the answers to her problems lie within.
Available at Amazon.com