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The Goal (Goldratt E M)

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scheduled for the first week or two of July and ship them in June instead.

But what am I going to do after that? I'm going to be putting us into a huge hole in which we have nothing else to do. We need more business.

I wonder where Jonah is these days.

Glancing down at the speedometer, I find to my surprise that I'm zipping along at eighty. I slow down. I loosen my tie. No sense killing myself trying to get back to the plant. It occurs to me, in fact, that by the time I get back to the plant it'll be time to go home.

Just about then, I pass a sign saying I'm two miles from the interchange that would put me on the highway to Forest Grove. Well, why not? I haven't seen Julie or the kids in a couple of days. Since the end of school, the kids have been staying with Julie and her parents.

I take the interchange and get off at the next exit. At a gas station on the corner, I make a call to the office. Fran answers and I tell her two things: First, pass the word to Bob, Stacey, Ralph, and Lou that the meeting went well for us. And, second, I tell her not to expect me to come in this afternoon.

When I get to the Barnett's house, I get a nice welcome. I spend quite a while just talking to Sharon and Dave. Then Julie suggests we go for a walk together. It's a fine summer afternoon outside.

As I'm hugging Sharon to say goodbye, she whispers in my ear, "Daddy, when are we all going to go home together?"

"Real soon, I hope," I tell her.

Despite the assurance I gave her, Sharon's question doesn't go away. I've been wondering the same thing myself.

Julie and I go to the park, and after walking for awhile, we sit down on a bench by the river. We sit without saying anything for a while. She asks me if something is wrong. I tell her about Sharon's question.

"She asks me that all the time," says Julie.

"She does? What do you tell her?"

Julie says, "I tell her we'll be going home real soon."

I laugh. "That's what I said to her. Do you really mean that?"

She's quiet for a second. Finally, she smiles at me and says

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sincerely, "You've been a lot of fun to be around in the last few weeks."

"Thanks. The feeling is mutual," I say.

She takes my hand and says, "But... I'm sorry, Al. I'm still worried about coming home."

"Why? We're getting along a lot better now," I say, "What's the problem?"

"Look, we've had some good times for a change. And that's fine. I've really needed this time with you," she says. "But if we go back to living together, you know what's going to happen don't you? Everything will be fine for about two days. But a week from now we'll be having the same arguments. And a month later, or six months, or a year from now... well, you know what I mean."

I sigh. "Julie, was it that bad living with me?"

"Al, it wasn't bad ," she says. "It was just... I don't know. You weren't paying any attention to me."

"But I was having all kinds of problems in my job. I was really in over my head for awhile. What did you expect from me?"

"More than what I was getting," Julie says. "You know, when I was growing up, my father always came home from work at the same time. The whole family always ate together. He spent the evenings at home. With you, I never know what's going on."

"You can't compare me to your father," I say. "He's a den- tist. After the last tooth of the day is filled, he can lock up and go home. My business isn't like that."

"Alex, the problem is you are not like that," she says. "Other people go to work and come home at regular times."

"Yes, you're partially right. I am not like other people," I admit. "When I get involved in something, I really get involved. And maybe that has to do with the way 7 was brought up. Look at my family-we hardly ever ate together. Somebody always had to be minding the store. It was my father's rule: the business was what fed us, so it came first. We all understood that and we all worked together."

"So what does that prove except our families were differ- ent?" she asks. "I'm telling you about something that bothered me so much and for so long that I wasn't even sure if I loved you anymore."

"So what makes you sure you love me now?"

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"Do you want another fight?" she asks.

I look the other way.

"No, I don't want to fight," I tell her.

I hear her sigh. Then she says, "You see? Nothing has changed... has it."

Neither of us says a word for quite awhile. Julie gets up and walks over to the river. It looks for a second as if she might run away. She doesn't. She comes back again and sits down on the bench.

She says to me, "When I was eighteen, I had everything planned-college, a teaching degree, marriage, a house, chil- dren. In that order. All the decisions were made. I knew what china pattern I wanted. I knew the names I wanted for the kids. I knew what the house should look like and what color the rug should be. Everything was certain. And it was so important that I have it all. But now... I have it all, only it's different somehow. None of it seems to matter."

"Julie, why does your life have to conform to this... this perfect image you have in your head?" I ask her. "Do you even know why you want the things you do?"

"Because that's how I grew up," she says. "And what about you? Why do you have to have this big career? Why do you feel compelled to work twenty-four hours a day?"

Silence.

Then she says, "I'm sorry. I'm just very confused."

"No, that's okay," I say. "It was a good question. I have no idea why I wouldn't be satisfied being a grocer, or a nine-to-five office worker."

"Al, why don't we just try to forget all this," she suggests.

"No, I don't think so," I tell her. "I think we should do the opposite. We ought to start asking a few more questions."

Julie gives me a skeptical look and asks, "Like what?"

"Like what is our marriage supposed to do for us?" I ask her. "My idea of the goal of a marriage is not living in a perfect house where everything happens according to a clock. Is that the goal for you?"

"All I'm asking for is a little dependability from my hus- band," she says. "And what's all this about a goal? When you're married, you're just married. There is no goal."

"Then why be married?" I ask.

"You get married because of commitment... because of

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love... because of all the reasons everybody else does," she says. "Alex, you're asking a lot of dumb questions."

"Whether they're dumb or smart, I'm asking them because we've been living together for fifteen years and we have no clear understanding of what our marriage is supposed to do... or become... or anything!" I sputter. "We're just coasting along, doing 'what everyone else does.' And it turns out the two of us have some very different assumptions of what our lives are sup- posed to be like."

"My parents have been married for thirty-seven years," she says, "and they never asked any questions. Nobody ever asks 'What is the goal of a marriage?' People just get married because they're in love."

"Oh. Well, that explains everything, doesn't it," I say.

"Al, please don't ask these questions," she says. "They don't have any answers. And if we keep talking this way, we're going to ruin everything. If this is your way of saying you're having second thoughts about us-"

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