We all knew that HAL had gone through one hell of a divorce. His ex-wife had taken every material thing he’d ever loved. The 52” television, the boat, the summer home in the Hamptons, the Bentley… she took them even though she’d never use them. That wasn’t the point. She wanted him to hurt. She wanted him to feel a loss comparable to when she found him astride that young girl in the bathroom during the Christmas party.
Things didn’t get much better for HAL after the divorce either. After his disbarment, the result of frequent attempts to sue his wife for being “dead inside”, a lot of the guys from the firm stopped talking to him. At first it was just the acquaintances who turned down his invitations to social events but eventually even his closest friends were ignoring his calls. “It’s just…”, his friends would admit in hushed tones, “… I mean… it’s embarrassing! He’s really lost it, man. You can’t talk to the guy for more then ten minutes before he’ll ask you about your family and break into tears! How do you spend time with a guy like that?” Eventually, HAL fell off the radar. There’d been rumors that he’d started stalking his ex-wife and children, that he’d gone into therapy at an institution, that he was homeless. Within three years of his humiliating collapse, it was as though he’d never existed.
In reality, HAL had taken what was left of his once-ample fortune and poured it into the one thing his wife hadn’t destroyed his passion for: golf. He’d always loved taking clients out on the links during counselling sessions and considered himself pretty good at the sport. He purchased a derelict course a few counties over where less people would know his name. A fresh start. The course had been abandoned for at least a year when he visited the property. The grass was long, foliage was sparse… the club house had been broken into. A fixer-upper, he thought.
It cost HAL every penny he had left to get the course up and running again. He cut costs by doing much of the grounds-keeping and management himself. He even slept at the club, in a modest bachelor apartment that doubled as his office. Before long, he got the place running and started to make enough money to sustain the business. He’d always been a hard worker, so I guess that’s not much of a surprise.
What was a surprise, however, were the invitations to a tournament at his course some of us at the firm received one day. That night, my wife talked me into going. “Everyone deserves a second chance,” she said, “and besides, you two were friends once. You’d want him do the same thing if you were in his shoes.” She was right, I suppose. HAL and I had gone fishing together a few times. During the early days of his divorce I’d gone boating with him and he confided in me about the problems he’d had with his wife… how she’d spent less and less time with him, how he was battling depression…
So, I left work early that Friday afternoon in order to register for HAL’s golf tournament. On the drive out I wondered to myself if HAL had really bounced back. I thought about the capabilities of the human spirit. HAL had been a wreck of a man and here he was running a golf tournament! He was building a whole new life for himself! Remarkable!
It wasn’t until I got there, however, that I realized I was the only one from the firm who’d decided to come. This might not have been such a big deal had HAL invited anyone else.
He had not.
So there he was at the registration table… head in his hands. I had to admit that he certainly looked more fit than ever before. Clearly the exercise had done him well. I looked around and saw enough people to believe he’d actually crafted a successful golf club. Why had he only invited people he’d worked with? I cleared my throat.
“Oh!” he stuttered, collecting himself. “I can’t believe you actually came! I’d almost given up! I’m so glad someone came!”
He ran around the table to give me a hug and it was clear he’d been crying. “Of… of course I came HAL! Couldn’t pass up an opportunity to check up… on… thi… an old friend! Yeah… I’ve been hearing a lot about this place!”
“You’re too kind, friend, too kind. Quick, come this way and I’ll get you all registered!”
Since I was the only one who’d registered, HAL said he’d be my partner for the day. He met me at the first hole with a man dressed in a suit. “HAL, who’s thi..”
“WELCOME!” the man interjected, “to the first annnnnual HAL’s Golf Tournament!!”
“Is this really…”
“It’s a BEAUTIFUL day here on the links where our inaugural tournament is about to kick off! And, as a special treat, the first drive will be struck by HAL himself!! Good luck, everyone!!”
“Was that really necessary?”, I asked as the man walked off the course.
“Well, HAL admitted, “I was expecting more people… and the guy was paid in advance. Seemed a waste not to use him. You’ll see him again at the ceremony.”
Before I could even parse how pathetic that ceremony would be HAL drilled his ball about three-hundred yards straight down the fairway. I suppose that a man who owns a golf course would be pretty good at golf. “Oh well,” I thought, “it’s not like there’s anything on the line here. Might as well just have fun and roll with the punches.”
As I placed the ball on the tee I heard HAL stifle a giggle. I stood in front of the ball, thought about the advice my golf instructor had given me about my shoulders being square to the ball, made sure my grip was proper, and started to swing. About halfway through my swing, HAL blurted out “I slept with your wife!” Throughout his laughter I watched my ball get about half the distance of his and land in heavy rough.
“What the fuck was that?!” I yelled.
“Just a little psych-out,” he said. “Nothing personal!”
And with that, we started the most humiliating and aggravating experience of my adult life. On every hole HAL displayed a mastery of the course he’d lovingly hand crafted, and on every hole HAL also displayed shockingly bad sportsmanship. He mocked me for bad shots, he mocked me for good shots, he mocked me for my choice of clothes, I think at one point he even suggested my daughter was a whore but it was under his breath so I couldn’t be sure. It didn’t take long to realize that the whole tournament was a way for HAL to feel superior to those who’d abandoned him. Patience was running thin.
On the 12th hole, drastically behind, I hit the ball into a water hazard. “Ouch,” HAL said, “at least you can still make something wet.”
That was quite enough. I turned around and punched HAL in the face. He toppled over backwards into a bunker where he struggled to get up.
“What’s the matter you son of a bitch?”
HAL grabbed his chest and struggled to speak. He was still half laughing but obviously in distress. I knocked him down and kicked him in the ribs. I probably kicked him at least three more times before I realized he was having a heart attack. I pulled out my cellphone and called 911.
On the drive home that evening I thought about my wife and how glad I’d be to see her. I thought about HAL laying there in the bunker, sand stuck to the perspiration on his face while he struggled to get up. I thought about how we’d all treated him and wondered if we’d been unfair. Mostly though, I thought about HAL’s ex-wife the last time I saw her. We were at the Christmas party and tears were streaming down her face while HAL leaned over that prostrate girl from the catering staff. She said “I can’t believe you did this to me! I loved you! And WHO THE FUCK SPELLS THEIR NAME IN ALL CAPS?!”
Who the fuck, indeed.