51 Ways to Leave Your Lover


Several years ago I wrote of an incident that occurred during a Thanksgiving trip to visit family in the Washington, D.C. area. Now, every Thanksgiving people who allege to be my friends ask me to reprint the story. I bow to the request reluctantly.

Some years ago Paul Simon popularized a song entitled, “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover.”  Well, I’ve got number 51 if anyone is interested. The 51st way to leave your lover was discovered inadvertently during a Thanksgiving trip to Washington, D.C.

I left my lover, in this case my wife Mary, at a convenience store and gas station along route 301.  We were driving to Reston, Va. to join my son John and his family, and my son Jim for one of those story book family Thanksgivings.  Story book indeed.  If our trip was a story book trip the book was written by Stephen King.

It is a simple story.  We had stopped for gas at a station on 301 and, unbeknownst  to me, my wife had awakened and left the car.  When she emerged from the station only a few minutes later she was greeted with the wholly unwelcome sight of our car reentering 301.  I not only left her, I left her without cell phone, money, or purse.  As you know doubt can imagine, this only makes a bad situation worse.

It took Mary about an hour before she was able to contact friends who then contacted my son John as he actually knew my cell phone number.  That didn’t help immediately as I didn’t have it turned on.  Meanwhile my wife had managed to engage the sympathy and  assistance of the owner of the facility and she was being plied with strong drink, salty snacks, and chilly-dogs on a vague promise of payment once her idiot husband returned.  (He even provided cigarettes as she had started smoking again.) Fortunately, as it turned out, the gas station was connected with a liquor store and a convenience store.  She can now testify a handy liquor store and some credit help one over the rough spots.

Meanwhile I was happily motoring north.  This was the best period for making good time as Mary always slept in the back seat and we could avoid time consuming stops.  I was listening to a book on tape recording of Smiley’s People and the miles were rolling by.  About noon I decided to call my son and report our progress as we had just entered Georgia. (The pronoun “we” is still appropriate as Molly the family dog was still sleeping happily in the back seat.)  I fired up the trusty cell phone and was greeted with, “where is Mary?” After inquiring what the hell was he talking about, I was informed I had left her at the service station some 2 ½  hours and 160 miles ago.  No one, not Mark Twain, not Herman Melville, not even William Shakespeare ever had a command of the language sufficient to describe my feelings at that moment.

I turned the car around at started to retrace a 2 ½ hour drive.  The return trip was not pleasant. I was possessed with the ambivalent feeling one gets when you have the urge to drive faster so as to arrive at your execution sooner.  Despite feelings of dread I continued on and finally arrived at the station that had been Mary’s refuge for some 5 hours.

As you can imagine, the first few moments were rather intense. I can’t repeat what she said as this is a family newspaper, as the editor constantly needs to remind me. Suffice to say, she had a lot on her mind.

Mary has her faults but being passive aggressive is not one of them.  After she had addressed the many defects in my ancestry she told me of the good Samaritan owner of the facility. “Give him a $100.00 tip because he saved my life,” was I think the exact quote.  For some reason I inquired if maybe $40.00 would not suffice to thank the gentleman.  This was a mistake.  It is not a good idea to tell a woman so recently ill treated that her safety is worth only $40.00. It was now obvious I was not having a good day.  Bad decisions outweighed the good ones by a wide margin.

Mary carried the conversation once we were back on the road and it was obvious she needed to vent some bottled up feelings. I remember thinking if venting were a sport she would represent this country in the Olympics.  She opened with what can best be described as a dramatic recitation of  my faults.  Since I have many faults this required some time especially since she integrated the review of my delinquencies with many helpful hints about how to improve as a husband and a human being.  I have to admit if anybody had a right to be a bit cranky it was her.  At the same time listening to a list of ones faults, complete with examples from the past, is a bit like reading an anthology of O’Henry short stories in one sitting — a bit much.

The next stage of what I would later realize was the recovery of good feelings was for her to start telephoning every person she had ever known.  This includes friends from high school, college, and her social and working life in Washington.  The calls all went the same.  She would start with, “You can’t believe what Tom did.”  Obviously they couldn’t believe what I did because she immediately commenced a detailed description of her ordeal.  After several minutes of explanation liberally punctuated by laughter, she would hand the phone to me.  I would be greeted with, “how could you?”  I learned very quickly they really didn’t care “how could I” because when I tried to explain they would laugh hysterically.  This only ended when it was her turn to drive but she took up the task the next day and by the time we arrived in Washington everyone we had ever known had been duly informed that their long held suspicions were correct — I was an idiot and had married far above myself.

It cost her five hours and some nervous moments but she came out ahead in the game.  The general consensus in our circle of friends and acquaintances is that Mary is nothing short of a saint for having lived with me for over three decades.  The Good Samaritan even observed she should get a presidential medal for having lived with me all those years.  While she has been elevated to a new divine status I find people looking at me with a kind of curious grin as if they are wondering just how I managed to become the “poster husband for spousal abuse.”

That, my friends is the 51st way to leave your lover.  Frankly, I can’t honestly say I would recommend it.

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