You, a mid-50-ish man with a boring marriage….

You, a mid-50-ish man with a boring marriage and a tedious, though well-paying, job like to visit your friends, Al and Jean on Sunday mornings  for coffee and time to blow off steam (mostly with Al).  When you arrive on this day in late September, however, you realize they are vacationing in England.  Their daughter, Dannie, is home from college.  She makes coffee for you, and admits that she has quit her sophomore year and is planning to run away to San Francisco to “figure out what life is all about.”

This story is not about Dannie; it is about you (the narrator).  You’re the writer of this story.  How does your narrator react?  What kind of advice does he give her, this young daughter of his best friends?  How does this event affect his life, if at all?

31 responses to “You, a mid-50-ish man with a boring marriage….

  1. Same old, same old. Every Sunday. Al and Jean. Dorothy and me. Coffee, store-bought cookies. When did women quit baking real cookies anyway? Hate those store-bought cookies. Leave a greasy feeling in my mouth.

    I was hoping Al and I could escape to the back yard and talk football. Leave the women in the kitchen with their store-bought cookies and Antiques Roadshow. As if they’d ever find anything of value in our attic. Don’t think either one of them has been up there in a decade or so. Guess I haven’t either.

    Not the way it happened today, though. Al and Jean took off to London for the Olympics. Never said a word to us about it and we see them every Sunday. Every. Single. Sunday. The Olympics, for Gawd’s sakes. Who’d wanna fight the crowds and the rain in London? ‘Sides, you can see ‘em better on TV.

    Anyhows, this kid of theirs, this Dannie—I call her Dreadlock Dannie–invites us in and serves organic raspberry-peach iced tea instead of coffee. And gluten-free cookies. Say her folks don’t know yet she quit the U half way through her sophomore year. Man, old Al is gonna have a shit-fit over that, I’ll tell you. All the bucks he put into that girl and she up and quits and heads out for San Fran, the land of fruits and nuts.

    Gonna find herself, she says. Find out what life is all about.

    Dorothy gave her a high five! I mean, talk about irresponsible. And Dorothy? A high five? Didn’t even know she knew what such a thing was. Damn. All she does is watch that antiques thing and Storage Wars on A&E. Wouldn’t let me watch Chopped even if I wanted to.

    Here she comes. Dressed in those damned green sweat pants. I remember way back when she’d put on this sexy little black sheath and ask me if it made her look fat. Fat? Man, I wanted to take it right off her when she wore it. Sexy little number, she was. Now she looks like the Jolly Green Giant, you ask me.

    Yep. Sunday night, right on schedule. Tuna fish salad on toast and a cup of tomato soup. Every. Sunday. Night. Not even grilled. On toast. Says the grilling makes me fat.

    Ter. Fat-ter. Yeah, fatter. Guess I ain’t one to talk much. Picked up a few extra pounds myself along the way. Losing some hair on top. Male pattern baldness, they say. Maybe I should see about using that hair regrowing stuff. Maybe get a gym membership.

    Starry-eyed kid, heading out to San Francisco. Been listening to too much Tony Bennett. Hah! Wonder if she even knows who Tony Bennett is? Hmmph. Kinda reminds me of me. Full of hope and piss and vinegar. Now I’m just full of piss.

    Oughta see a sawbones about this prostate of mine. Haven’t slept through the night for years. Gotta pee all the time.

    Hell, who am I kidding? I could join that AARP now, ‘cept I don’t like their politics.

    Oh, my gawd. Not synchronized swimming. Please say it aint’ so. Can’t we watch track and field, for a change?

    Little twit Dannie gonna go to San Fran to find herself. Well, she’s in for a surprise when she finds out what life is all about. Kick in the pants? Nope. Kick in the teeth, more like it.

    She’ll get herself married, have a passel of kids, food stamps, family vacations in Disneyland. If you can afford it. Last vacation Dorothy and I took was to the Corn Palace, for Gawd’s sakes. Mitchell, South Dakota. Building all covered in corn and grain. On the outside.

    Old lady’s fifth cousin or something designed it that year. Okay, it was kind of impressive, decorating the whole outside with a different design every year. Makes you wonder why the birds don’t eat it all.

    (sigh)

    Oh, good, men’s swimming. Oops, Phelps blew that one. You’re getting old, kid. Can’t cut the mustard anymore. Over the hill at 27.

    Twenty-seven. Remember when I was 27. Had the world by the tail. Just got this cool job at Hickman’s Chevrolet. Sold cars back in the day when you could tell ‘em apart. Good money, all these years. Can’t complain. Made me sales manager. Yeah, Dorothy’s dad did me good on that. Now I sit in a cubicle and talk football with the salesmen while they let their customers think they’re fighting for a lower price. Ten years, I can retire and….

    And what? Got enough money saved to be okay. Barring a crisis. Cancer. Alzheimer’s. Something like that. But what will I do every day? Coffee with Al and Jean every Sunday. Tuna fish and tomato soup that night. Motor home? Drive a big ol’ land yacht to Alaska, maybe?

    “Find out what life is all about…” I shoulda told her. Shoulda told her you start out with the world by the tail even if it’s tuna fish and tomato soup every night. Then all of a sudden, life’s playing crack the whip and you’re still holding onto that tail. Not a good place to be.

    “Dorothy?”

    “Yes, George? More soup?”

    “No. Thanks. I was thinking. What are we going to do when I retire? Got any dreams? A bucket list?”

    “Actually, George, I’ve been wanting to talk to you about that. Guess now’s as good a time as any. I’m going to San Francisco with Dannie. We leave Wednesday. I think it’s time I found out what life is all about. You’ll be making your own tuna on toast after tonight, George. Have I ever mentioned how much I hate tuna on toast and tomato soup?”

  2. Gully, This is masterful.

  3. Dorothy Says:

    Lordy, there he sits like a bump on a log. He never gets out of that recliner except to go to work (if he can call it work) and to go to Al and Jean’s on Sunday after I get home from church. He wouldn’t even go then except he likes to talk to Al about football.

    Jean and I long ago made them go outside to talk football. We got so tired of hearing about it. He thinks we talk Antiques Roadshow when we’re really discussing our marriages. Jean and Al have been working on rekindling theirs. This trip to London is a second honeymoon. I didn’t tell George beforehand because I thought it might wake him up. Thank goodness Dannie was home.

    I see him giving me the fish eye when I wear my green sweat pants. He hasn’t even noticed that I’ve lost 35 pounds and they hang on me now.

    Lordy, I am so tired of tuna salad on toast and tomato soup. Years ago I’d ask him every Sunday what he’d like, and it was always the same. Except, he wanted the sandwich fried in butter, and he’s overweight enough. A couple times I’ve had to help him get out of that recliner.

    He has no ambition at all. No sense of adventure. How did this happen? When he was in his twenties, he was so full of ideas and plans. I guess my dad giving him a salesman’s job was a mistake. Thirty years later, he’s still there. All he does is sit in his office and play games on the computer.

    What a blessing little Dannie is. Without her encouragement I never would have decided to leave boring George and strike out on my own.

    “Dorthy?”

    “Yes, George? More soup?”

    “No. Thanks. I was thinking. What are we going to do when I retire? Got any dreams? A bucket list?”

    “Actually, George, I’ve been wanting to talk to you about that. Guess now’s as good a time as any. I’m going to San Francisco with Dannie. We leave Wednesday. I think it’s time I found out what life is all about. You’ll be making your own tuna on toast after tonight, George. Have I ever mentioned how much I hate tuna on toast and tomato soup?”

    • Huh? You posted this while I was commenting above. Nice twist. Reminds me of Willie Nelson’s ‘Phases And Stages’ album from the 70s, on which one side of the record (remember double-sided records?) told the story of a marriage breakdown from the guy’s point-of-view, and the other side was the woman’s.

  4. I do remember double-sided records–78, 33-1/3, and 45s. Have some of each still. Don’t recall hearing that particular one, though.

    • It seems like you’ve swept the field! (Yes, I’m watching too much Olympics!) Gullie to the podium. This challenge has been DONE! Telling the same scene from two points of view is great fun–both to write and especially to read. Always a pleasure. –Ann

  5. Gully…You STUCK THE LANDING !

  6. I guess no one else is going to play?

    • I might. I don’t want you to get the big head. ja ja (that’s laughing in Spanish)

      The odd thing is that I wrote this challenge hoping to rope in the minority male gender visitors here and see what they wrote. On the other hand, I have yet to learn to predict when your muse, Gullie, is going to emerge from under the bed and shake you awake and demand some writing…NOW. Always a pleasure.

    • Good stuff. After reading the ending, found myself humming Billy Joel’s “The Stranger.” (“Well, we all fall in love, but we disregard the danger. . .. . and we wake up to a woman that we do not recognize,” etc.)

  7. We yeild to the Master Gully.

  8. I was hoping some of the guys would give us the male perspective, too.

  9. Dannie’s coffee was weak, and she had not thought to buy sweet rolls. She was so young. What, 20? Sitting there talking shyly at first, but then in confidence, as if she were practicing what she would tell her parents when they got home. I was an adult, someone who had always patted her on the head as she ran by, off to play, but now we were talking. Now we were suddenly two people–not someone’s daughter, not someone’s father’s friend.

    “I’ve quit school,” she said. “I just didn’t know what I was doing there. The classes seemed like they were for other people, as if I were just running around, doing what I was told. So I quit. Mom and Pop don’t know yet. My plan is to go to San Francisco where my older sister and her husband live. I can stay with them while I find a job and an apartment.” She lifted her head and looked me in the eye for the first time.

    She licked her lips and swallowed. “It just didn’t make any sense. So I’m going to try to find out what does make sense.” She sipped her coffee and fiddled with her spoon.

    I shook my head. I suppose she expected a scolding from me, an adult friend of her parents. There was a part of me that could feel those words coming. Heck, I had kids of my own—boys, it’s true—but if they’d pulled this stunt, I would not have been happy. I would have been hollering. But suddenly she didn’t look like somebody’s kid. She looked like a person struggling, and I knew what that felt like.

    I sipped my own coffee. I shook my head again. “You should go then.” There they were–the words I wished someone had said to me, long ago. “Go out and look for what you want. I wish I’d done it at your age.”

    Dannie’s eyes grew wide, and she sat back in her chair.

    Now I couldn’t stop talking. “You don’t know what it’s like, being stuck in a life you didn’t expect. I love my wife, sure, but there’s no fire there anymore. We’re just treading water. I have no ladders to climb, no great goals to reach anymore. It’s all defined and expected of me, just the way you describe. I wish I could go with you—lurch out into the world as if there were answers out there, as if I could unravel all the ropes that tie me to the life I lead. You go. Don’t let anyone stop you. Even if you fall flat on your face, at least you will have tried. You will have tried.” My voice tapered off.

    And she went. Al never spoke of it. He was like that. Football, golf, jokes, business—never family stuff. Dannie went to San Francisco. And I went home.

  10. Yeah, that same lost hope, that same wishing we had when we had the chance. The more I think of it, the more I give credit to my parents for moving to NoWhere Alaska with two kids in 1948. That was a pretty brave thing to do. Very nice, Ann.

  11. Immediately after church, I headed to the paper store and picked up the Sunday edition of the Reporter’s Dispatch. I could not wait for the service to be over today. Reverend Thompson’s sermon focused on how secular values were undermining the parishioner’s values. According to him we were too focused on making more money and getting ahead and not concerned enough with charity and love for our fellow man. Immediately after the sermon, the Reverend took up a collection, and then a second collection to support repairs for the leaky church roof. I guess our money is good for something.

    Once I had the bulky Sunday paper tucked it under my arm, I went next door to Freda’s bakery and picked out 2 apple turnovers and 2 cherry turnovers to take over to Al and Jean’s. I look forward to that visit all week. Al and I like the cherry turnovers and Jean and their daughter Dannie preferred the apple. Visiting Al and Jean is the bright spot in my otherwise bleak existence. I don’t want to bore you with the details, but let’s just say I married Candice for her looks and not her brains. Big mistake. Looks are fleeting, brains are forever. Don’t get me wrong, I live a comfortable life. I just don’t have joy anymore beyond my visits to friends. Candice does not come along since she sleeps in until noon on Sunday anyway. It’s just as well; she gets bored in their company. I think she is jealous of how well Al and Jean work well together. Candice also never like the banter Jean and I can get into. She claims she has no idea of what we are talking about and I believe her. It’s hard to believe that a simple conversation with intellectually stimulating people can make my week, but it does. I spend most of my day performing regression testing on software programs. When changes are made to the programs I have to ensure that the changes don’t break the code anywhere else. I have to run all the tests we have run before to ensure that all is well. It’s a little like watching paint dry, but it pays the bills and gives me a comfortable existence.

    I’ve been thinking so much I almost drove my Honda Civic past Al and Jean’s house. I park in the street and gently grab the box of pastries with my right hand. My left hand brushes against the hedge as I walk briskly up their walkway and stop at the front door to ring the bell. I can smell Jean’s coffee already. Dannie opens the door. She is in her bathrobe and looks slightly embarrassed.

    “Hi Dannie!” I say
    “Hi Mr. Douglas”, replied Dannie, “my parents are not home but you are welcome to come in.”
    As my heart sank, I said, “I’m confused, where are they Dannie?”
    “They went to London for a vacation!”
    “How could I have forgotten? I feel like such a fool.”
    “Well, here take these pastries Dannie, I don’t need to come in, I’ll just go.”
    “No, Mr. Douglas, please come in. They have been gone a week and I would love if you would stay for a cup of coffee, come on, let’s have one of the pastries together.”
    Dannie was the type of girl I would want if I had a daughter. She never gave her parents trouble. She did well in school, stayed with a good crowd and did get into the partying scene. Nice girl. Al and Jean had done a good job with her.
    I took a seat at their kitchen island. Dannie got me a cup of coffee and took out two of the pastries.
    “So what have you been up to Dannie?”, I asked
    “Well, Mr Douglas…”
    “Please call me Frank.”
    “Well, Frank, I kinda have been having a hard time at school?”
    “What’s the matter?”, I asked
    “I nearly flunked out freshman year and I just can’t get into it this year either…I feel like I am wasting my time and my life there. It is so boring. Most of the kids just want to party and I don’t want to do that, and I don’t really want to study that much either. There is not much there to keep me interested. I don’t even have a major yet, I don’t know what I want to do…but I do know that I don’t want to go back to college, at least right now.”
    “What might you want to do?”
    “I really want to travel and find out what life is really about. I want to go to San Francisco.”
    “Hold on Dannie. What is so bad about college? If you don’t like the party scene, there are other options…”
    “I just feel like it is not for me Frank. I feel a real pull taking me to San Fran.”
    “What do you want to do there?“
    “I want to be a nanny at first, then I will figure out the rest, this way I have a place to live and I know that I love to work with kids”
    “You know if you go, you will break your parent’s hearts…you are their only daughter and they worked so hard to help you get into a good school…”
    “That is part of the problem Frank, I feel like I am sleep walking through my own life. I really question why I have not tried to break out more and have my own identity. I need to find myself. I feel like I have been programmed and I am tired of being a good little girl. I need to find my own way.”
    “I’m sure you do. We all feel that way at some point in our lives, it is only natural. Why don’t you consider finishing school first and then take an adventure?”
    “I can’t Mr. Douglas, I mean Frank… I just feel so stifled there. I have to get out. Well, I already am out.”
    “I’m taking off for San Fran this week while my parents are away.”
    “Dannie! They will be crushed if they can’t say good-bye. Please tell me you will wait until they return. “
    “I’ll think about it Frank, but I don’t want them to try to keep me back.”
    “Dannie, I’ll talk to them too and let them know how you feel. I’ve felt this way too and I found that if you don’t act on these urges, there is a price to pay.”
    I made pile of the cherry turnover crumbs on the table, and whisked them into the plate I held under the edge of the table. I took my last sip of coffee and put the mug down.
    Dannie, thanks for your hospitality and for trusting me with your story. I’ll talk to your parents when they return. I think you should have a chance to discover what you want from life.
    “Thanks for listening Frank. Thanks for understanding, it means so much.”
    I jumped back into my Civic and could not believe what I had just heard. I could not believe what I had just said. Dannie’s story hit me at my core, I understood where she was coming from. I felt the same way when I was her age, but I ignored the inner guidance and stuck it out for sake of my parents. Now, I experience joy in life for a couple of hours a week on Sundays with Al and Jane. I had short-changed myself with conformity and the safer path. I my youth, two roads diverged in a wood. I took the one most traveled. In that moment, I vowed to help Dannie take the road less traveled in an attempt to redeem myself, even if that put my friendship with Al and Jane at risk. Robert Frost would be proud.

    • Reading this feels a bit like a journey–both looking back for Frank and looking forward for Dannie. Very thought provoking! I’m glad to see that you’re writing!

  12. You’re askin’ how Dree and me, a couple of geriatric Americans, come to be livin’ here and runnin’ this barely-break-even café in St Julien Chapteuil for the last goin’ on for twenty years and lovin’ single moment of it?

    Back in the nineties, back in Philly, back in the life we’d kinda gotten ourselves bogged down into, we useta spend every Sunday mornin’ rain or shine callin’ round to our friends Al and Jean, drinkin’ coffee, talkin’ about the same-old-same-old boring crap, and pretendin’ we gave any kinda damn about each other’s lives or company anymore.

    Y’want another coffee? Yeah?

    Marie-Claude cherie, deux cafés plus, s’il t’plait? Merci.

    So anyway, yeah, one of those same-old-same-old Sunday mornings, Dree and me arrive at Al and Jean’s, except this particular Sunday their eighteen-year-old daughter Dannie opens the door and tells us how her folks aren’t there coz they’d won some trip to England in some or another one of the competitions Jean was always entering. And Dree asks the kid was she finished with her college year early, and the kid says how she’s dropped out and she’s gonna go live in Frisco and find herself and figure out what life’s all about.

    Wooo. Dree starts in about what do her folks think about that, and the kid says how she hasn’t told ’em, and so Dree starts tryin’ to talk her out of it, but I remind Dree how maybe she’s forgettin’ how we did exactly that whole same trip when we were Dannie’s age, Dree and me and Al and Jean – and how in fact that’s where we all met each other back in the Summer Of Love with flowers in our hair and dope smoke in the air and freedom just round the corner and all that shit, and how we came through it all okay.

    And it hit Dree the same time it hit me, coz we’re standin’ there while this kid Dannie just stares at us for a long time, and then she frowns, and then she sighs and shakes her head real slow and finally says, ‘So, what are you saying? It doesn’t work?’.

  13. I had to laugh. Having both done the running away thing and the now-I’m-a-responsible-adult thing, I felt like you hit the bulls-eye. Who knows what the heck is going on? We just hang on for dear life, poke a few keys on the keyboard, and sit back to see what will happen next. You win some, you lose some, and some are rained out. Kudos to you, FM.

  14. Hi Ann,
    I haven’t posted in a while but I thought I’d try out this prompt. This is the best I could come up with. Hope I can get back into the swing of it.

    I watched Dannie’s hands shake as she poured the coffee. The stream blurred in and out of focus then disappeared into my mug. A thin weak smile played along her lips. Holding a palm up, I motioned for her to stop pouring. She hesitated as she looked at me then at the piece of paper lying on the table.

    I glanced sideways at what appeared to be a letter. I don’t like probing so I let Dannie take the lead on this one. Although, I was her godfather our relationship wasn’t as close as I’d like. Dannie and I displayed the obligatory courteousness found between people sharing a mutual friend. Occasionally I tried to reach out to Dannie but dealing with kids was never my forte. I was much too serious and my sense of humor was limited to cynical sarcasm.

    I attempted to soften my demeanor with my own weak smile. Dannie moved to the table and sat across from me. Her small hands cupped her mug as she lifted it to her trembling lips. “I didn’t expect company but I’m glad you’re here.” She rested a hand on the letter, “This is my withdrawal letter. I’ve decided to leave school and head to San Francisco. I’ve got a friend I can stay with until I figure out my life plan.”

    I searched her face for signs of what she expected from me – reassurance, disapproval, indifference. I saw a reflection of my own ambivalence. For a while now I’ve felt I’ve been in a marriage of convenience. My second wife, Beth, and I met ten years ago after I lost my first to cancer. My own daughter was fifteen and hurting. I needed a partner to help me through those difficult years. Beth was a single mom with a ten year old and struggled financially so we bartered financial support for emotional support. Our kids were young adults now and it was clear to me that we had long ago fulfilled each other’s needs. Now what?

    Dannie mistook my silence for disapproval and offered an explanation. “I feel like school is a foreign country. I don’t understand the culture and I can’t keep up with the locals. It’s not for me. But I’m terrified of my parents’ reaction. Will they be devastated or will they disown me? I just don’t know.”

    “They won’t disown you. I’ve never seen parents more devoted to their child than yours.”

    “Maybe,” she looked into her mug as if searching for answers.

    “Dannie, nothing in life is certain. We choose a path but the way isn’t always clear. Every once in a while we run into a fork and get to choose a different path. No one can say which path is right or wrong. They’re just different. I can’t tell you how your parents will react. They can be unpredictable. Who would’ve thought they’d take a spontaneous trip to London. But they’ve always given you their support, love and adoration. They may be disappointed at first but they’ll eventually come around.”

    She stared at the letter, “I hope so but I just don’t know.”

    I took her hand in mine, “Don’t worry. Everything will work out. If you’d like me to be here when you talk to them just call me. You have my support.”

    She squeezed my hand, “I appreciate it. But I think I’ll be able to handle it. Thanks for the pep talk. I hope you’re right about them and they come around. Actually, I just hope they don’t disown me.”

    I finished my coffee. “Thanks for the coffee and the talk. I think it helped me as much as it helped you. Good luck.” I hugged her and went out the door deep in thought.

    When I arrived on my front porch I reached for the door knob but hesitated thinking about my lukewarm marriage and changing my own path. I took a step back just as the door swung open. Beth stood there with two suitcases.

    “Hi, Beth, I guess I’ve been expecting this. It’s about time we ended this sham of a marriage.”

    Beth’s face crumbled and tears began to stream down her face. She ran passed me, got into her car and drove away.

    Lying on top of the luggage were two tickets to London with a note – Looking forward to seeing you two. Great idea to have your second honeymoon in London with us. I hope Frank enjoys the surprise. – Jean.

    • It’s great you took this scenario in a new direction. Frank sees a way out, and Beth was seeing a new beginning. All these are sad! Good story, Lisa.

  15. A thought: If anyone wants the ultimate exploration of the essentials of this prompt and its responses (although the young female is older), it’s worth reading Edward Albee’s exquisite Pulitzer-winning play, ‘A Delicate Balance’. But hide any wrist-slashing implements first.

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