“Hey, Davis! Boss said he needs that pitch by 8 tomorrow morning.”
Steven sighed. It was already just past 10PM and he was putting the finishing touches on another ad campaign, thinking he’d finally get to head home at a reasonable time tonight. But with this new deadline, he’d definitely have to pull an all-nighter.
“Thanks Michael. Looks like I’m staying here tonight.”
“Sucks,” said Michael, “but this is the life we signed up for! I’m meeting up with a couple of the guys for drinks at the Hilton before we have to do this all again tomorrow! See ya!” He did a little wave as he power walked to the elevators and out of sight.
Sighing again, Steven wondered why he ever thought he’d get a full night’s sleep tonight. Most nights he spent working and taking power naps in the office anyway, frequently pulling all-nighters as ad campaign pitches needed to be completed on a tight schedule.
He didn’t know why, but he suddenly thought of his first ex, Beth Stanton, the only woman he had ever truly loved - besides his mother, of course. He hadn’t thought of her for so long. They’d broken up over 15 years ago. This is why she had been so afraid of moving to New York with him, the long hours, the fast paced lifestyle - and she wasn’t wrong.
Before he could fully think about it, he found himself looking her up on Facebook. Scrolling down his hefty friend list - he did tons of networking - he finally came to what looked like a picture of her, a little bit older, with a man and 2 little boys next to her. Only her name wasn’t Beth Stanton, but Beth Lawrence.
She was married and had kids. She still lived in Oregon.
He didn’t know why he was surprised when that’s exactly what she had expressed what she wanted all those years ago. Before his brain fully could comprehend what he was doing, he found himself typing a message to her, “Hey, it’s Steven. Decided to reach out to some old friends and found you and wow, you’re married! That’s great! Feel free to reach out if you want to catch up.” He clicked send.
Three hours later, Steven stood up and took a break, extending his arms over his head, standing on the ends of his toes to try to work out the sore muscles in his legs. He took a sip of his coffee, willing himself to continue to finish his presentation, take a brief nap, and have a long shower - all in less than 7 hours.
His cell phone vibrated, indicating a call, and he reached over to his desk to pick it. It had an Oregon area code. Could it be?
“Hello, you got Steven,” he answered trying to sound super casual, as if he were laying on a beach instead of stressing to meet yet another deadline and hiding his nervousness at answering the phone.
“Hi Steven. It’s Beth. I got your message. I hope it’s okay I’m calling you so late. I know you used to be up at all hours. I just got the kids to bed and well, I’ll stop rambling.” She waited for him to answer.
“Yes, hi Beth! So good to hear from you! And yes, I’m up! Looks like an all nighter.”
“No different than when we used to hang out.” She laughed.
He laughed too. “Yeah, same ol, same ol. How are you? I just saw that you’re married and have kids! That’s amazing!”
“Yeah,” she said. I’ve been married to Brent for 10 years now! And we have two little boys, Brian and Brandon. They’re 9 and 5. Ya know, got to keep the B theme going!” She laughed.
He found himself laughing with her, although his laughter felt fake. She had two little boys? What if he had decided to stay with her in Oregon and have a family with her. Maybe he would have felt more fulfilled. He thought of the top of the line Mercedes Benz he bought new each year that sat in the parking lot, the sick two-story penthouse he bought in Manhattan that looked over Central Park, and the increasing salary he made year after year, thinking about whether it was worth it? He didn’t have much free time as he was constantly stressing over meeting deadlines in the office. And he didn’t have anyone special to greet him when he went home. It was much easier to stay single and pay for escorts on the occasional night he was feeling extra lonely. No girlfriend stuck around too long after he worked his, at minimum, 80 hour weeks.
“They look like such sweet boys,” he found himself saying into the phone.
“Yeah, they’re a handful, but great. And Brent is such a fantastic father.”
She didn’t mention how they were barely making rent and getting food on the table because of Brent’s gambling addiction and how she didn’t realize how hard being a mother would actually be. Brandon had recently been diagnosed with oppositional defiant disorder and was making life difficult for everyone. He didn’t want to do anything he was told and every event turned into a screaming match. And she could tell that poor Brian was feeling neglected, often retreating to his room for hours to play Minecraft and read on his own, often putting on headphones to block out the screaming matches between her and Brandon or even her and Brent. She couldn’t help but wonder what life would be like if she decided to leave her small town for the glitz and glamour of New York, having enough money for whatever she wanted, having the time to do whatever she wanted without kids. Steven had never wanted kids, saying they would hinder his career. He was right.
“So, you’re a big time ad exec, right?” She said, wanting to hear his voice more.
“Yeah, pretty much,” he responded. “Trying to work on becoming partner, but that won’t work without pulling a lot of all-nighters.” He neglected to add, “for almost the past 15 years.”
His ad agency was one of the top in the nation and it would take a lot more work to make partner, to show himself willing to do anything for the company. He had come a long way, but still had a long way to go. But he couldn’t help but think of Beth and her loving family and wonder if all the sleepless nights, the loneliness, and if the stress was all worth it? If he had stayed with Beth, they’d probably be cuddling on the couch after a night of movies and a bottle of wine. He’d get a solid 8 hours of sleep and on the weekends, they’d go hiking, see a movie, visit family. Wow, he thought, he hasn’t even seen his parents in so long. It was just work, work, work.
“Anything you’ve worked on that maybe I’ve seen?” she continued, thinking about how she gave up her own career as a florist with her own small shop to put money into Brent’s fishing business idea.
The business didn’t work out and Brent promised her he would provide for the family. She soon found out that all he was frequenting liquor stores to buy scratchers, looking for a big win, sucking their savings dry. For now, he worked at Ace Hardware, making barely above minimum wage and now they had to survive on food stamps and rely on food banks. Although he felt ashamed, she’d still catch him skipping a shift at work to head to the stores to buy scratchers and try to recoup the money he lost. Every day was a struggle and the only bits of sanity she had were crafting a story of a picture perfect family on Facebook because one day, maybe it would come true?
“That Cheerios commercial. Oh yeah, and the Fiat one,” he responded, trying not to sound too proud. Those two commercials had gone viral, and had led to his most recent promotion.
“Oh wow! That was you? I shouldn’t be surprised though. You’ve always been incredibly talented!”
“And you’ve always been so caring and kind,” he said. “It sucked having to break up all those years ago, but I’m really happy for you. You seem to have a very beautiful life.”
She felt like crying. She was 30 pounds overweight, her nerves fried, her marriage teetering on the edge of destruction and she wanted to tell Steven everything, but simply replied, “Thanks. I’m glad you have everything you want too! New York is fast paced and the perfect place for you!”
“Thanks,” he acknowledged, tears in his eyes as he wandered if he wasted his youth in the office, not getting to genuinely know anyone in the past 15 years, his buddies really acquaintances he never saw outside of the office or a bar, always networking to get the sale and nothing more.
“I better get going,” Beth finally said. “I need to get some sleep before it’s tomorrow and I need to wake up and do it all again.”
“Of course! Thanks for calling.”
“And thanks for reaching out. It was nice taking the time to do a mini catch up.” Beth responded. And she didn’t know why she added, “I’m glad we made good choices. It was a hard breakup, but we’re both happy, and that’s what matters. Anyway, have a good night Steven.”
“You too Beth.”
He hung up the phone. And started to cry.