Copyright © 2005 Texas Refugee. All rights reserved.
I wish I had said that; a shameless act of literary piracy.
In the preface to his novel "the Adventures of Huckleberry Fin", Mark Twain wrote the following:
"Persons attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot."
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Mythology tells the story of the Phoenix; a powerful bird that at certain intervals will build a nest and sit in it as it is consumed by flames. Out of the ashes the Phoenix is reborn to once again grow in strength and wisdom. Sometimes in life, the thing that kills and destroys us is the very thing that is life's greatest blessing.
My name is Robert O'Conner. My family calls me Bobby but the rest of the world knows me as Robert. Immediately after graduating from college I was recruited by Willis, Goldman & Reed and assigned to the Chicago office. There were eleven new hires that started on the same day and that is when I met Barbara. We were given desks next to each other and as the new kids on the block we sought safety in numbers in defense against the veterans. The rookies started having coffee together at the break and then meeting over lunch to commiserate or cheer each other on as we all tried to integrate ourselves in the corporate world. After several months the group began to dwindle until there was just Barbara and myself.
Barbara was gorgeous. The kind of physical beauty that could make a dead man stand up and dance. After we got to know each other she admitted that she had been featured in one of those photo spreads that Playboy magazine occasionally runs, "Sorority Girls of New England Colleges." I immediately went out and found a copy of that issue and kept it in the drawer of my nightstand. Every guy in the office tried to date her but she rebuffed them all.
She had long thick red hair, a mass of curls that hung below the middle of her back, and dark green eyes. Her skin was flawless and she used very little makeup, she didn't need to. Even without lipstick her lips were a deep red. She stood six feet tall in her stocking feet, an inch above my own five-eleven. Most of the time she wore slacks to the office but on those occasions when she wore a skirt the male employees were treated to the blinding vision of her perfectly formed long legs. Her breasts were neither large nor small, just the right size and shape. Every thing about her body was in perfect proportion. Each movement she made was a symphony of sensuality, from walking across the office to get something from the filing cabinet down to the simple act of putting a paper clip on a piece of paper.
As for myself, I am not a Golden Adonis nor am I the elephant man. A girlfriend in college once described me as being "six points above average." I have been told by several women that my best features are my blue eyes and my smile. One of my few regrets in life is not being able to reach six feet like my two brothers. If genetics hold true, by the time I reach fifty I will be thirty pounds heavier than the day I graduated from high school...with absolutely no hope of ever losing them.
I am not the life of the party but can hold up my end of a conversation and do reasonably well at telling a joke. For all of her beauty Barbara is fairly quiet but not shy, she was the center of attention no matter what the setting. Without even speaking she would have men gathered around her, just waiting for the pleasure of her smiling in their direction. You don't realize how intelligent she is until you have been around her for a while. I could never figure out how we ended up connecting.
From having coffee and lunches at work we progressed to catching a movie after work and then on to dinner and drinks Friday nights. From there it was Friday and Saturday nights and then several nights during the week. Six months after our first official date we were married.
Life was good. We were madly in love with each other. By working in the same office we could go to and leave work together. We had our own little universe that had little room in it for other people. The daily sex was fantastic and together we learned new ticks and moves that made it more intense as we went along.
Several years after we were married, corporate headquarters sent in a new manager for my unit. Derrick Andrews was a tall muscular black man with his head shaved smooth and an arrogant look in his eyes. He was smooth with the women and a real bastard to the men in the office. Gradually I found more and more of the workload being put on my desk as I struggled to get it all done. Instead of coming to work with Barbara, I increasingly had to go in early and stay late, not getting home until eight or nine most nights plus having to go in to the office on Saturdays. It became obvious that Andrews was trying to force me to quit the company.
During this time the only thing that kept me going was Barbara. Every night she would sooth my battered ego and take away all the stress. During the day she would call my desk just to say, "hi" or come by my desk with a cookie or slice of somebody's birthday cake. I had just about reached my breaking point when Barbara gave me the news. She was pregnant.
All thoughts of quitting immediately flew out the window. There was nothing that Derrick could do to me that I couldn't endure. The joy of knowing that I was to be a father took care of every thing. The sex on the night she told me was one of the greatest experiences of my life up to that point.
I had heard the stories from the other guys in the office about how horny their wives got during pregnancy. At first it was true and the sex was almost non-stop at home. But as the due date got closer Barbara seemed to run hot and cold. One night she would literally jump me and tear my clothes off as I walked through the door. The next night she would be cold and distant. During the last few weeks she had completely withdrawn and would flinch whenever I tried to touch her.
At last the day came. Her water broke on Sunday morning and we rushed to the hospital. By the afternoon we were in the delivery room with the doctor telling her when to push. Finally there was one last push and the baby came out of the birth canal. The doctor immediately looked up at me and then over to Barbara. The room was oddly silent. Without saying a word the nurse placed the baby on Barbara's chest.
The baby's skin was back as coal.
I stood there, stunned, looking at the baby. Barbara's face had a horrified look. It seemed as though everything was happening in slow motion. I backed away from the delivery table, then turned and walked out of the room. As the doors closed I could hear Barbara screaming, "Robert come back here."
I made it as far as the parking lot before I stopped to throw up in the bushes. In a daze I was somehow able to find the car and take off. I drove around aimlessly for a while and then headed home. For the next several hours I paced back and forth trying to make sense out of what just happened.
I wrestled with my emotions for hours. Had I made a mistake, could I be wrong? Did I misunderstand about the baby? Had I misjudged Barbara? Where do we go from here? What possible explanation could there be? Had I done something to cause her to be disloyal? What signs of her cheating could I have missed? Was there more than one man she had cheated with? Could the marriage be saved, or was there any thing left to save? It always came back to one simple fact.
There is no way in hell that two people of Irish descent could produce a black baby.
After my third trip to the toilet to vomit I lost any sense of self-control and completely destroyed the bathroom. Barbara, my reason for living, had betrayed me. The emotional pain of her obvious infidelity became a physical pain as well. After all the years of what I thought were love and devotion for each other, Barbara had been unfaithful and bore a child fathered by another man.
We all make choices about where our lives will go. It was very clear that Barbara's choice did not include me; she had not honored the wedding vows we made to each other.
The phone had been ringing constantly since I returned to the house. The first time I let the answering machine pick up and heard Barbara's voice demanding that I return to the hospital so we could talk. She called five more times in the next hour, each message becoming less demanding until the final one when she was crying and begging me to come to her.
I couldn't take it any more and unplugged the phone so I wouldn't have to hear it. I went to the garage and came back with a hammer. I placed the telephone on the kitchen counter and left it in a thousand pieces before throwing the hammer through the closed window above the sink. By now the rage had subsided enough that I was able to put together some coherent thoughts.
In situations like this it is surprising how quickly material things become meaningless to your life. Over the next several hours I gathered up the few things that I now valued and piled them in the middle of the living room floor. Everything fit into three cardboard boxes that I found in the garage and I loaded them into my car. I threw all of my clothes into the car without bothering to pack them into suitcases. I put the empty suitcases in the car planing to pack them later. I had to get out of that house that held so many memories of Barbara's and my life together.
The last thing I did was to go to the garage and come back with another hammer and nail. I went into the bedroom one last time and looked around. I took off my wedding ring and nailed it to the wooden headboard. I heaved the hammer through the mirror over the dresser and left. By 11:30 that night I pulled out of the driveway and went in search of a hotel.
I got no sleep that night and in the morning I called my secretary, Mrs. Lopez, to tell her that I would not be in that day. Mrs. Lopez asked how Barbara was doing and I quietly hung up the phone with out answering. I spent the entire day inside the hotel room trying to get control of my thoughts and emotions.
The next morning I knew I would go crazy if I stayed there any longer, and not knowing what else to do, I went into the office. I was standing outside my office door trying to focus on what Mrs. Lopez trying to tell me when Derrick Andrews walked up.
"It's about time you showed up for work O'Conner. I'm getting tired of your work habits lately. The only reason I don't fire your ass is because I need to keep you employed so you can raise that little bastard of mine."
Mrs. Lopez and I both stared at him with our mouths open. With a smirk Andrews continued.
"Didn't know about that did you. I've been fucking your wife non-stop for the last two years. Your wife is one sweet pussy."
I am not a violent man and I don't actually remember hitting him, but I watched as Andrews flew backward knocking over several chairs before bouncing off of John Gordon and sliding to the floor. Blood was flowing out of his nose leaving a large red stain on Gordon's shoes. Mr. Gordon was a corporate vice president and head of the Chicago office. It was rumored that he was first in line to become the next CEO. When Andrews tried to get up from the floor I kicked him in the ribs three times as hard as possible. After the third time he remained on the floor curled up into a ball. I spun around and walked past the other people in the room that were cowering wide-eyed in the corner and left.
Outside I walked away from the building. My hand was really starting to hurt so I stopped at a deli and bought a large cup of ice to stick it into. I kept walking until I came to a bench that overlooked Lake Michigan and just sat, staring out at nothing. In the space of three days my life had turned to complete shit. I was twenty-seven years old and had been betrayed by my lover, my marriage of four years was in ruins, I was out of a job and was probably going to be arrested for assault. I am normally a laid back type of person, but today I had turned in to some kind of homicidal maniac. As I sat there, words like love, betrayal, cheating, dishonesty, commitment, infidelity, deceit, unfaithful kept floating around, racing in and out of my thoughts. Eventually I noticed that it was getting dark so I returned to my hotel room.
At 9:30 that night I was wrapping my hand in a fresh batch ice when someone knocked on the door. I opened the door and was surprised to see John Gordon.
"Good evening Robert, you're a hard person to find."
I only stared at him in confusion.
"Do you mind if I come in? What I have to say may take a while."
"Sure, why not." I stepped back to let him in. "Look, Mr. Gordon, I won't apologize for what happed this morning, but if you don't mind there are a few personal items in my office...excuse me, my former office that I would like to get."
"Ah yes, this morning. You certainly have an interesting way to start your Tuesdays." I opened my mouth to speak when he raised his hand to stop me. "Please don't interrupt me just yet. I need to say this and get on my way before my wife reports me as a missing person. First off I want to assure you that you are not fired. In fact, I am very grateful for what you did this morning. Derrick Andrews is a shithead and I've hated him from the moment he walked into our office. But he was sent by headquarters so my hands were tied."
"After you left, Mrs. Lopez grabbed me and pulled me into your office and started yelling in Spanish. At first I didn't understand much of what she was saying, but gist of it was 'you have to fix this.' I thought she was mad at you but she wasn't, it was Andrews. She told me about the things he had done to you in the office over the last two years...and about your wife." At that point he paused and looked around the room before continuing.
"By eleven o'clock this morning, Mrs. Lopez had seven women lined up outside my office telling me that they were going to file sexual harassment charges against Andrews and the company. I spent most of the afternoon on the phone with the legal department in New York. The upshot is that the women are not going to file a complaint against the company, but in return our legal depart will represent the ladies in court when they do file against Andrews personally."
"I have done nothing today except try to put out the fires that you and Andrews started. I interviewed every single person in your unit and they all confirmed what Mrs. Lopez told me. You may not be aware of it but you are the most respected person in that building. Within twenty minutes after you left the entire unit was writing their letters of resignation. Andrews has completely destroyed the morale of that unit and most of the people only stayed out of loyalty to you. Fortunately the staff has agreed to hold their resignations until I get a chance to sort everything out."
"You have several options to think about here. If you want to come back to the office, you will be coming back in Andrews' position as manager. If that is too much for you right now, I know several CEOs around the country who will hire you at a moment's notice on my recommendation...or here in Chicago if you want to work on your marriage." Again he paused for a moment.
"There is a third option I would like you to consider. You are too valuable an employee for the company to lose. I understand that you're originally from California. I can arrange for you to be transferred to our San Miguel office in California...at times like this it helps to be around family."
The minute he said San Miguel I knew my answer. I opened my mouth but before I could speak he stopped me again.
"I don't want an answer tonight, I want you to sleep on it, although it doesn't look as though you've been doing very much of that the last couple of days." He handed me a small card with a telephone number on it. "This is my private line, call me at 9 AM tomorrow." With that he headed for the door. He opened it and turned around with small grin on his face. "Just so you know, the score was one broken nose and three cracked ribs. I made certain that assault charges will not be filed against you. Here's the good news. When Andrews gets out of the hospital, he is going to explain to the district attorney how a man on his salary is able to pay cash for a Mercedes-Benz." His grin got bigger and then he left.
The news about San Miguel was the only good thing I had heard in the last few days. I was born and raised in Santa Teresa, about one hours' drive south of San Miguel. My mother and two brothers still lived there but that was not the good part. My best friend in the world lives in San Miguel. Colleen has always been the most important person in my life, from childhood and on to our "grown-up" lives. We share everything. I was the best man at her wedding and she was a bridesmaid at mine. There was nothing that we would not do for each other.
Colleen is also my sister.
There are four of us. Colleen is the oldest and three years older than me. In between are James and Michael, the twins. We all love each other but as children the natural paring was always Jimmy & Mikey against Colleen & Bobby in all the games we played. That same bond just continued as we grew up.
Colleen taught me how to tie my shoes and held my hand crossing the street. She sat behind me when we went down the giant slide and let me hide in her bed under the covers when the monsters in my closet were ready to come and get me.
When we were in high school, she watched out for me and kept me from doing anything stupid that would end up branding me as a hopeless dork for the next four years. Colleen gave me the best birthday present any fifteen-year boy could possibly imagine. She convinced her best friend on the cheerleading squad to take me to the Senior Class Christmas Ball as her date. I was the hero of every male in the freshmen class. Afterwards Cindy would wink and wave to me in the hallway and I became a living legend.
Colleen had married Bill after college and moved to San Miguel so he could open his business. They soon had two daughters and everything looked bright. Bill became an extension of Colleen for me and there was nothing I wouldn't do for him. But then Colleen's world fell apart.
Bill was diagnosed with a particularly aggressive form of cancer. After five months of agonizing pain, Bill died at home in Colleen's arms. Two months later our father suffered a massive heart attack and died instantly. The strain was almost too much for Colleen but somehow she survived, became stronger and kept herself involved in her daughters. Even though we talked on the phone at least weekly, if not daily, I had not seen Colleen since Dad's funeral two years ago. I was excited at the prospect of living in the same town with her.
Surprisingly, I did get some sleep and after a shower in the morning felt almost human again. That was the physical part. On the inside, I could feel my soul, my spirit, whatever you want to call it, starting to shrivel up and die. At 9 AM I called Gordon and told him my decision about San Miguel.
"Excellent choice Robert. There is a Starbucks around the corner from here on 53rd and Randolph. Meet me there in one hour." And he hung up.
By the time I got there he was already sitting at a table with a box in front of him.
"I don't have much time so here is the deal. Mrs. Lopez put all of your personal things in this box. Right now, Mrs. Lopez and I are the only people that know you are going to San Miguel and it will remain that way unless you tell someone personally." He handed me a thick envelope that was sealed and stamped CONFIDENTIAL. "Harold Peterson is the head of the San Miguel office and is expecting you at 8 AM Monday morning, he loves punctuality. Give this to him when you get there." He handed me a second envelope that was not sealed and I pulled out the contents. Inside was a first class airline ticket, one way to San Miguel. The other item was a piece of paper with the name and address of a law firm a few blocks away.