(Names and some details changed to protect the….hurting)
A guy , name of Wally, who I know…
I’ve known for most of my 30 year career. When I was a young engineer fresh from college I had accepted a job selling a very common petrochemical commodity from which many plastic and rubber products are made. Wally was a legendary buyer of that chemical. His employer was one of the largest buyers of the product in the U.S. And he was known to command the very best price, terms, and conditions. His business was the kind of business that those of us making and selling this commodity chemical needed to have in order to load up our plants. But we’d better make profit on others because none got through Wally.
I was fortunate because I got to cheat. My boss, an equally legendary seller of this chemical, a tall Texan with two initials for a name, was close friends with Wally. By XX’s (two letters, Texan, remember) introduction I was tolerated by Wally despite his reputation for not suffering young fools too well. Over the next 20 years Wally and his boss and me and XX became closer as a group, doing many things together. We attended an old plantation in northern Mississippi where we ate outstanding greasy food, drank beer and shot pool by night, and shot every configuration of skeet, trap and sporting clays at the places exclusive course. I grew up behind a tavern in a small town, so I took their money at pool, and they helped me learn to shoot their Benelli’s.
Twice yearly we stood, separately but together, beside water tanks scattered among oil rigs in West Texas, under blazing early fall sun. We were watching for dove to fly in for water at which point we would, wink-wink, take a limit by noon. We’d tear the breast medallions from them by hand, toss the carcasses to the side (knowing later we’d come back here and watch the coyotes tear into the discarded dove, it’s a way they teach their young about hunting, by mock stalking dead prey, the lights of our rented pickups would illuminate the coyote eyes and reveal startlingly large gatherings drawn by the dove bodies) then go drive past one of the funniest retail establishments Ive ever seen and on to a BBQ place in Monahans where we’d eat. After lunch we’d put the cooler with the meat in it back at our hotel and we’d go back out and , wink-wink, take a second limit.
The funny retail place mentioned above is a truck stop on I-10 outside Odessa called Texas Interstate Truck Stop, The first letter in each word was huge and bold, so, from a distance the sign read T.I.T.S. We returned there a couple of years ago, XX and George much longer of tooth, and me, the impetuous young fool, in middle age, and that truck stop was abandoned, rusted, windows broken, but the T.I.T.S. still beckoned (I hear they never stop)…red block letters on plain white background, 60 feet high, up on the mounted sign. It’s a heck of a metaphor for the passage of time but the water tanks and the doves provoked no feelings like that sign did.
On two occasions one each in consecutive years, one of the rotating group of other participants actually shot another member of our group. The first year he shot XX from close enough to knock him down, some shot penetrated his cheek and he was spitting it out while cursing in his voice that sounded like gravel and splintered dry bones. His sweatshirt and hunting vest stopped all but a few pellets from hitting skin. The second year, when the same guy shot another one of us, the sheriff of the county where Big Spring Texas is came into the regional medical center and saw us, the same group, pacing around in the waiting area and he said wryly as Texans uniquely can, “well I’ll be a sonovabitch; should I ask more questions this time?
We were not at war together, but we came close, what with all the GSW’s and such. It bonds men to be there, like that.
After 23 or 24 years selling that chemical, managing other sales reps selling that chemical, then speculating and arbitraging that chemical, I wound up unemployed when my employer bankrupted. I languished in depression for a long time. Then, the first call I made seeking employment was to Wally’s company. Wally’s boss specifically, who was by this time also a dear friend. I was looking for any leads on jobs in the industry, and the boss, Frank, tells me (providentially) that he is looking for someone. He said that he and Wally were getting older and they needed to replace themselves. I took the job and moved to where they were.
I was working side by side with Wally, the object of my admiration and respect from my early career. I told him often how strangely wonderful these twists had been. And here I was, at 45, the young guy. After five years, Frank announced his retirement. Frank is younger than Wally, but Frank was well saved and ready to retire. Wally was to work another year. Providence gets stranger. The company then offered me Frank’s job and a few months ago I became Wally’s boss. It’s a nostalgic thing, heavy with emotion for me, that this all happened. It is so so so very much more than a story about a job. The job is not the point at all.
I told Wally, “Wally, I am responsible for all that happens in this department, and the other four guys, especially the new younger ones, yes they report to me, but not you Wally. It’s an honor that I am even on paper shown as your superior.” And that’s how it’s been. But more…
In Spring of 2013 Wally had a hip replacement. Late 60’s, he never made it all the way back, physically nor mentally/emotionally. So, as Wally slows I start, with his agreement, allocating some of the products he is responsible for to other guys in the group. I find myself also taking extra peeks at his work and hurting a little bit inside when I find, at first small, but increasingly larger mistakes. He has stewarded his work for more than 40 years, a master’s degree chemist and very clever in business he has left his mark, and another mark, and another. But he is slowing noticeably and I was concerned. I watched his animation drain and his eyes fade some. Wally is a Marlboro man of a man. Stoic and stern, gravelly even. But he trusts me and I him and eventually he shared something with me that gets me to the reason I am telling this long story.
He told me of his wife’s insistence, when they moved here, that they buy what is a massive house for two people and would even be huge for my family of six. He told me he had always payed cash for his houses since the first one, which he financed and paid off and never borrowed again. When they moved here, the previous house they had sold at a big premium to what they had paid. His wife wanted to put all the money, including the gains, into the home they now have. He told me how prepared he is for retirement. He gave me specifics. And he is well prepared. He shared his dream of buying a modest home in the city where their 30 something daughter lives and has had their first grandchild. And then the light comes into his eyes as he says he wants to also have a small place put on some land they have bought in a rural part of the state, near a lake, and some mountains, and he can hunt and fish and be content.
He then said that his wife was moving out. That the big house she insisted they buy 19 years ago was not selling. He was actually looking forward to it. He said to me “Empath, I cannot keep up with her, she has all these projects and from ther minute I wake until I sleep that night I have her talking talking talking about her projects to sell this house and her plans for a new one.” First she had gone OCD in the way women can and said that if they just had different hardware, knobs, cabinet handles, faucets and shower hardware, all in the bronze antique look, that would help sell their out of date old home. She retired a year ago and had lots of time. So, she spent 18 hours a day taking those things apart, sanding them, and painting them, all the while incessantly calling him at work with needs needs needs. “Wally, come get these dow rods and take them to Home Depot, yes I mean now just leave work and come, they are the wrong size”. When she calls, he never gets to speak. he begins words, Uh, er, bu, duh, …….and she is speaking 90 to nothing. Then she hangs up. He has been nothing but dutiful. I have never heard him even once sound irritable with her.
Eventually, she was taking shower hardware off in a spare bathroom and ruined the hardware. It is not made anymore, they cannot find parts, and the configuration means they have to toss the entire shower enclosure basically redoing the whole bathroom. A few thousand bucks. And he dutifully and cheerfully organized all that. He tells me he is mentally and physically and emotionally drained by his wife and that he cannot keep up. He said “She’s killing me and she doesn’t even notice”. Instead of noticing that Wally has one leg that is twice the size of the other from poor circulation, that he is winded in short walks because he has very early heart congestion, and instead of noticing he is growing increasingly depressed about retiring, she got frustrated at the home not showing much, and has decided to move without him to be near the grandchild. I’m guessing he’s OK with that. But what he is not OK with is that she has glommed onto real estate in the new city and wants to spend every dollar they get for their house, and a few hundred thousand more, on a new grandiose home there that will be, yes, too big for two people. In fact, he said, she follows him all over the house with her laptop, yammering right to the side of the bed when he is about to sleep, showing him home after home saying “we need to see this one Wally, I’ll call tomorrow” . No rest from her talking about buying a house he doesn’t want. And he said, sadly, his thoughts of a country cabin or cottage are over.
I asked him, has he ever said no. He told me that he sort of had. He said he told her, “Dear, I am not going to enter retirement with a million dollars in new real estate”. Even I know what that means. It means the the sum of what she wants and the cottage or cabin and land (already bought, but now will be sold) would be over a million dollars. Wally didn’t have to tell me that his wife’s failure to even answer meant that she heard what he said about the million dollars like Charley Brown hears his teacher. Just like that. His comment to me then is a metaphor for the life of the American married Christian man. He looked grave and serious, and some of it I already knew but it’s so very sad…he said “Empath, seriously, I do not expect to live past 75 and that’s a stretch, she will likely live to 90, so who am I to deprive her of where she wants to live after I am gone”
As I left his office his final comment, muttered to himself, was , “I never dreamed retiring would be so hard”.
I cannot get this off my mind.
This story encompass the totality of the Christian manosphere’s claims about the nature of Christian marriage and women in the United States and the ridiculous expectations placed on men. Many hide it well. The case here though is an open book, and it is what happens when women have unrestrained entitlement.
Please pray for Wally. God knows who he is.