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CAROLINE

STARTS

OVER Randi M. Sherman


Copyright © 2014 by Randi M. Sherman First Edition – February 2014 ISBN 978-1-4602-3175-3 (Hardcover) 978-1-4602-3176-0 (Paperback) 978-1-4602-3177-7 (eBook) All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any form, or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or any information browsing, storage, or retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher. Produced by:

FriesenPress Suite 300 – 852 Fort Street Victoria, BC, Canada V8W 1H8 www.friesenpress.com Distributed to the trade by The Ingram Book Company


Chapter 1

Caroline Matthews was a hypocrite and she knew it. After eighteen years of feigning contentment in a mediocre marriage to a man who was home only five percent of the time, she had mourned the death of her husband Bob long enough. It had been less than a year, yet it was time to end the exhausting charade. Truthfully, the grieving period was merely for the sake of appearances and for the benefit of her daughters. Her tasteful black dress was worn out, shiny from too many trips to the dry cleaners, was set to be tossed into the donation bag. Caroline was ready to come back to life. Bob Matthews was ostensibly married to his military career. Though he had the option to retire, he chose to stay away. His visits home, although infrequent, were treated as compulsory exercises. Bob didn’t hide the fact that he resented being married, married to Caroline and saddled with the responsibility of a family. After his third tour of duty in Afghanistan, he chose to live on base in West Virginia of all places, until he was deployed again. He regularly explained over the phone that there weren’t any family 1


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housing units available at the time but he would “send for the family” as soon as one became vacant. Caroline knew it was all lip service and for years she never pushed the subject. With three thousand miles separating them, they did have one thing in common. She no more wanted to be near him than he wanted her there. It wasn’t active duty that killed him. It was being run over by his own car. The toothless prostitute, whom he had just paid ten bucks to give him a blow job, robbed him, buried a knife in his stomach, shoved him out of his car onto the street and then drove off, running over him and dragging his body thirty feet. Ironically, his car was a military-issued Hummer. Caroline knew why Captain Miller was standing at her door even before she opened it on September 6, 2012. In a way she had been expecting him. A “non-combat related death” is what was reported in the official Military Casualty Notification. She actually felt sorry for poor Captain Miller, the young officer who was assigned to notify her of Bob’s death. When she asked about the details of the fateful event, he was compelled to tell her a gentle version of the truth. Captain Miller began slowly, trying to find the right words as he explained that Officer Matthews had been engaging in what would be classified as “unofficial activity” during which “an unsavory element” took advantage of his “vulnerable state.” He paused, “After being robbed and stabbed…” Captain Miller took a deep breath, looked at his shoes and reported, as if it were one word: “Thenhewasrunoverbyhisowncar.” Although saddened by the story of Bob’s awful and gruesome demise, Caroline was relieved. It was over. She didn’t have to pretend any more. She was free. 2


Caroline Starts Over

Lost in thought about her new liberty, Caroline was only partially listening to Captain Miller’s report. “There will be the preliminary investigation performed by the Military Police and then, because of the nature of the crime, we will turn the case over to the local law enforcement in West Virginia, who will contact you with any additional information.” He paused, “Do you have any questions?” He waited for a moment then continued, “The military will be providing a bereavement stipend for your expenses and Officer Matthews’ pension will be activated upon the close of the investigation.” Caroline suddenly snapped back into the conversation. “How long will that take?” Her comment caught Captain Miller off guard but he chalked it up to the shock of the news he had just delivered. “Everyone responds differently,” he remembered being told during his notification training. Caroline was surprised to hear that there would be any issues regarding money and pension payments. It scared her. She didn’t have any money or savings to speak of really. In fact, she had recently cashed in the small 401k she had to pay some debts and for miscellaneous expenses, and that was practically gone. For as many years as Caroline could remember, Bob issued her an allowance for household and living expenses. She dreaded having to ask him for anything additional, even for emergencies. He didn’t trust her to manage their money. Until now, she hadn’t had access to any information about Bob’s finances. The small amount she did bring home from her minimum wage, part-time job at Pecker’s Restaurant paid for little more than a few extra groceries or an occasional night out. She hoped that Bob had a few thousand dollars socked away in an account somewhere. 3


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Caroline remembered calling Bob on the phone to ask him for two-thousand dollars to attend a women’s conference. He chuckled when she told him about it. He cut her off and reminded her: “Money doesn’t grow on trees.” Then he said he had an emergency and quickly got off the phone. They never even said good-bye to one another. Disappointed again, Caroline placed the conference brochure in the kitchen junk drawer. Two weeks later, Captain Miller was sitting in her living room reporting Bob’s death. After Bob’s funeral, Caroline needed something, anything to help her find her new direction. She looked for the Women First conference catalogue and found it amongst the fast food menus, rubber bands and old batteries in that kitchen drawer, just where she had left it. She logged onto their Women First website and punched the sixteen magic Discover card numbers into the registration page and booked her attendance. After everything that Caroline had endured over the years, she felt that she deserved it. And frankly, Bob owed it to her. Now forty-eight years old, single again, with the twins entering college and one of them engaged to be married, it was time for Caroline to reclaim her life. Two decades had passed. Although she couldn’t turn the clock back to the time when she was truly herself and happy, she was determined to make a valiant effort to recapture the feeling. She was elated with the sense of freedom to do whatever the hell she wanted to do and be who she wanted to be. It was time to reclaim her life, to restart it. It was going to be exciting life-changing weekend for Caroline. She was going to attend the bi-annual Women First event at the Moscone Center in San Francisco, a conference for and about women, their strengths and independence. According to the conference brochure there 4


Caroline Starts Over

were dozens of interesting speakers and events planned – so much to choose from. Caroline was excited. When she first received the conference catalogue, she had read that Rachel Mallinger, Business Leader, would be speaking. Caroline remembered Rachel as “Ricky” from twenty years earlier. Ricky, she thought, I wonder if she has ever forgiven me?

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Chapter 2

Thud! The hard-shell Samsonite Tourister bounced off of Caroline’s head on its way from the top shelf of the closet to the floor. Rubbing her head, she looked down at the dusty caramel-colored case. It was covered with hideous daisy and Hello Kitty stickers, her daughters’ handiwork no doubt. The girls, Megan and Molly were nineteen years old now. The sticker enterprise had to have happened more than ten years earlier. Caroline couldn’t remember the last time she used the suitcase, let alone travel anywhere. As pointless as she knew it was, she glanced up to the top shelf again hoping to find a newer more sophisticated bag. No such luck. So her choice was either this embarrassment of a suitcase or a matching set of paper bags from the grocery store. She tossed the daisy-kitty case onto her bed, opened the closet doors and stood back surveying her packing options. When did my grandmother move in? Outdated elastic waist pants, A-line skirts and frumpy polyester blouses hung there, looking dejected. Caroline glanced at her favorite slacks and made the conscious decision, I’m definitely not taking the 6


Caroline Starts Over

Jiffy-pop pants. She had gained some weight and her already unattractive stone-colored, stain-proof, wrinkle-proof pleated slacks now unfurled, around her belly, which stuffed and filled out the folds. The effect resembled the expanded foil balloon of the Jiffy-Pop pan. Well, it was no use. A fabulous trendy outfit was not going to magically appear. So Caroline mixed and matched the least offensive pieces, grabbed some shoes, underwear and bras, piled them neatly and snapped the Samsonite closed. The igloo ice chest was packed too and ready for the four-hour drive to San Francisco. It was filled with enough gas-inducing diet soda, chips and sandwiches to feed a scout troop. But a car trip is a car trip, Caroline thought. And snacks are a necessity. While wrestling with her cardigan sweater, the suitcase, ice chest and her purse, she glanced at her reflection in the hall mirror and stopped dead in her tracks Oh my God.What has happened to me? When did I give up? And my hair! The grey outgrowth made her brownish hair look like it was dettached and just floating around her head. If it were the slightest bit breezy in San Francisco she’d get one of those ugly wind-parts in her hair, telling anyone behind her how old she really was. “You,” she pointed to her worn out reflection in the mirror, “are not coming home with me!” She filled the trunk of her car and climbed into the front seat. Caroline was finally on her way to attend the Women First conference in San Francisco. Driving her 2005 basic factory equipped light blue Toyota Camry up Highway Five from Fresno seemed like a rebirth of sorts.That is, if a rebirth is hot, dusty and smells like cow manure. Caroline didn’t mind though. What a relief it was to leave the 3BD/2BA ranch style prison she fashioned for herself. Done with her 7


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twenty-year stint (“two dimes” the inmates call it), Caroline had been paroled. A Spanish mariachi music station was the only radio reception she could tune in to during the drive. Since Caroline didn’t understand much Spanish, the Latin station was out. In fact, the only Spanish she knew were the phases “Una Chimichunga” and “Grande Loco Tostada por favor.” And she wasn’t 100% certain if those were terms recognized anywhere other than at Pancho’s, her favorite local Mexican fast-food place. It was the twenty-first century yet Bob had still managed to buy a car with an AM radio. Amazing. She switched off the radio with a flourish, “Ole’!” and continued her drive in silence, recalling memories about the life she had shared with Ricky all those years ago.

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Chapter 3

During the 1990s, Caroline was happily living a mix of gay and straight life in San Francisco. Independent and sexually uninhibited, her life was the antithesis of the way she was raised, as part of a conservative god-fearing Catholic family from Ohio. Caroline knew that her feelings of lust and love were not “traditional” in either the gay or the straight worlds but she was a free spirit and embraced her ambiguity. If a woman interested her, she’d date her. If a man piqued her interest, she’d play with him for a while. Caroline didn’t label herself, straight, bi or lesbian. She was a bon vivant, open to all experiences. Fun loving and agreeable, Caroline had more friends than she could count. Rarely did she have a free evening or weekend. Every event, no matter how mundane, was reason for a celebration. Cocktails and dancing were always on the agenda. “Need to go to the hardware store? Let’s stop at the club on the way home.” Whoever dated Caroline, knew it was only temporary. She was a love ‘em and leave ‘em gal. But any lover was happy to be included on the list. 9


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Former lovers became friends and friends became lovers, then former-lovers, and so on. Every name in her address book was written in ink. She was certain that they would be friends forever. For her twenty-third birthday, a small group of Caroline’s friends treated her to an evening out at one of her favorite restaurants, the French Gardener. The French Gardner was completely out of their price range, so an agreement was made. Everyone was supposed to stop for cheap drinks on the way to the restaurant and when they were seated they would each order just one cocktail or a glass of house wine and instead of full dinners, they’d eat the free bread and share a few appetizers. After all, the evening was about celebrating Caroline and being together. Pippa, Caroline’s on-again-off-again fuck-buddy, was there. She could be counted on to be loud, fun, outspoken, unpredictable and the consummate life of the party. She was the Jiminy Cricket of the crew, and was what used to be called a flibbertigibbet. Always chatty and spirited, she was often unaware that her constant interpretations and opinions could be offensive. Pippa marched to the beat of her own drum and she pounded on that drum constantly, as if she would simply die it if there was any dead-air. Directing the traffic of the conversation from the head of the table was Bossy Nancy, another former lover of Caroline’s. Bossy Nancy insisted on being the center of attention, having to be the smartest, funniest and sexiest person in the room. She regularly regaled the group with stories of her sexual conquests and how incredibly desirable she believed she was. Her confidence overshadowed the fact that she was unattractive, dressed as though she were blind, was a victim of too much over-the-counter hair dye, and had a personality that occasionally worked as a repellent. 10


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Nancy, at forty, was oblivious about what other people thought of her. Each weekend she made her way around the dance clubs in town and flirted with every pretty girl who didn’t walk away fast enough. Caroline always found the tales of Nancy’s exploits unbelievable yet entertaining. Unfortunately for Nancy and everyone around her, once she began drinking, she was loud, obnoxious and … bossy. Nancy drank often and a lot, hence the nickname Bossy Nancy. Weepy Wendy was there. Mid-way through almost every gathering you could find Wendy balled up on a sofa or the floor somewhere in tears, crying about not having a girlfriend, having missed out on a great opportunity, and lamenting the mistakes she made with a partner eons ago, all because she was too picky. She would then pledge to change her ways.The venues might be different but Wendy’s three-act play remained the same. Act One: Melancholy. Act Two: Realization. Act Three: Transformation. Magda was in attendance, dressed as though she were going to a funeral, in various shades of black and grey. Her clothes were always flowing yet rumpled. Friends referred to her style as “flumpled.” Ironing her clothes never seemed to be a consideration. A student at UC Berkeley, she was studying behavioral psychology and would not so subtly analyze everyone she came in contact with. Magda was as screwed up as everyone else, maybe even more so.There was no way to prove it, but her friends were convinced that she chose to study psychology to discover the roots of why she was so troubled and odd. But Magda was a long-time friend, and everyone overlooked her multitude of quirks which included making everything sound enormous and important. The phrases “Oh my God!” and identifying everything 11


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as being the “best,” “worst” most phenomenal or dreadful thing she had ever heard, were part of her repertoire. Evan, the Bear and his new “cub” Scotty came to celebrate too. Evan, also known to Caroline as Mr. Just-inCase, was a big hairy masculine looking pussycat. He was Caroline’s go-to date, a great guy to take to family gatherings and holiday dinners. Being a fan of the theater, a fan of Caroline’s and having a penchant for the dramatic, he was only too willing to play the role of doting boyfriend for his pal Caroline when she visited her family. There was an unspoken agreement between Caroline and her parents Joan and Donald Pratt. Caroline could live her “wild life” in San Francisco, but when she went home to Canton for the requisite annual holiday pot-luck banquet and guilt-fest, she knew not to look or act in any way that would require an explanation to anyone in the church congregation. So during that one visit each year, she would bring Evan and wear a dress and her parents would abstain from dinner conversation about damnation and hell fire. In this way, Joan and Don Pratt could continue to delude themselves that Caroline was going through a phase and Caroline could continue to pretend that she had an accepting family. Caroline referred to it as the Hump-Thump Agreement. That is, without condemnation or apology, when 2000 miles separated Caroline and her parents, she could hump whomever she wanted as often as she wanted and her parents could thump on the bible until the cows came home or until the resurrection, whichever came first. But while they were together, both subjects were off limits. And that was that. Thirty minutes late to the party was Caroline’s old flame, Joe, a now platonic friend. He brought along his younger 12


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sister Rachel (Ricky), who was new to San Francisco and a student at UCSF, an undergrad, studying business. Ricky was young, pretty and shy. She seemed a little naïve or maybe just overwhelmed by the rapid-fire conversation. The group laughed and talked for hours about everything from lovers to city architecture, hotspots and parties to street fairs and museums. When asked about her favorite haunts, Ricky told the group she hadn’t had an opportunity to venture far from campus or her sorority house and was embarrassed to report that she was intimidated by public transportation. So as a result, she was not yet familiar with the city, but quickly added that she looked forward to exploring its possibilities. Charmed by Ricky’s sweet awkwardness, Caroline spontaneously offered, “Fortunately for you, I am the ‘Fun Captain.’ I have about a million errands to do this weekend. If you’d like, you can come with me. We could have lunch. I’ll be happy to show you around.” Surprised and flattered by the invitation and Caroline’s generosity, Ricky looked over at her brother Joe, for a go ahead nod to accept. He did and she did. “Great! It will be fun to have some company.” Caroline confirmed the plan. “I’ll pick you up tomorrow around noon.”

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Caroline Starts Over - by Randi M. Sherman  

Starting over isn’t as easy as Caroline Matthews had hoped it would be. After living the lack luster existence of a frumpy housewife and mo...

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