"You have an appointment with these people in thirty minutes. Whether or not you keep that appointment is your decision, but I suggest that you do." He stood up and was ready to leave when I stopped him.
"Mr. Gordon, why are doing all this for me?"
He looked down at the floor for a long time before raising his head to look me in the eye.
"Because I was in your position myself a long time ago. Besides, Mrs. Lopez told me this morning that if I didn't help you, she was going to bring her husband in to beat the crap out of me. The scary thing is I believe her. I don't know what you did to earn her loyalty, but that's the kind of people I like to have around me. She started this morning as my personal secretary."
"Thank you Mr. Gordon...and please tell Mrs. Lopez thank you and that I will miss her."
"I think she already knows that Robert, and good luck. I know it doesn't seem like it right now but life will get better, you're just going to have to trust me on this one."
One more time he looked at me and grinned.
"This morning an independent auditing firm will begin examining the accounts that Andrews managed. I'm very interested in seeing what they find."
He shook my hand and walked out the door.
I did keep the appointment with the attorneys. Obviously Gordon had set this up himself because they already had some background information about what had happened. We spent the rest of the day going over all the options that were available to me and any possible consequences. I made it clear that for all the pain and the shit that Barbara had dumped on me, I did not and would not seek any revenge. I did not want to destroy her, to have my "pound of flesh." All I wanted was out of the marriage as quickly as possible and to never see or hear from her again. I had already taken the few things I wanted to keep from the last five years and just wanted to walk away.
I finally left the lawyers around 7 PM that evening and went back to the hotel. I was able keep some food down and for the first time in days felt as though I was taking back some of the control over my life that had been yanked way from me. I waited until I knew it was after dinnertime in San Miguel before I called Colleen. It was such a joy just to hear her voice when she answered.
"Bobby, where are you? What's going on? Barbara has called here a hundred times; she says that you're missing."
"Do you know if she's talked to Mom or the twins?"
"Yes she has, she's been calling everyone from what I can tell. What's going on?"
"I'll explain everything later but right now I need some help."
"Anything you need, you know that Bobby."
"Thanks. I need you to pick me up at the airport. I'll get into San Miguel Friday afternoon at 5:30, TWA flight 1649. I also need a place to stay for a while; I was hoping I could stay with you and the girls."
"Of course you can, I'll move Molly in with Meghan. They will love to see you."
"One more thing, call Mom and the twins and ask them to come to your house Saturday morning, but don't let them know that you've talked to me unless you have to. I don't want Barbara to know where I am just yet. I'll explain everything on Saturday."
"OK Bobby, but the explanation had better be a good one."
After a few minutes of banal conversation we hung up and I lay back on the bed. I tried to compare what had been the two most important people in my life up to now. Barbara was cutting edge fashion and all night dance clubs. She was all angles and flat planes and tight muscles; she was smoky darkness and a promise of sensual erotic delight. You knew that sex with her would turn into an athletic event.
Colleen was clean simple lines, all curves, classic, timeless traditional beauty. She was daylight and PTA meetings. She gave you a feeling of contentment. I can put on a perfectly tailored suit and it will look like I had slept in it for a week before I reach the sidewalk. My sister on the other hand, can put on discards from the Salvation Army store and look elegant and sophisticated. She makes people, male and female, want to go find their partner and reproduce the species so they could have children just like her.
More from total exhaustion than anything else I did sleep that night, but the dreams made me wake up the next morning in a cold sweat.
I spent most of the morning back at the lawyers finishing everything so I could leave Chicago the next day. I told them about Barbara calling my family. They immediately started the paper work to get a restraining order that would prevent Barbara from contacting my family or me. I signed a power of attorney so that I wouldn't have to be involved in every little detail of what was going to happen. In the afternoon I tried to tie up all the loose ends I could think of and packed everything to leave.
And then I waited.
By this time all of the rage and anger had dissipated but in its place was a constant dull throbbing pain that was starting to wear huge calluses onto my soul.
The next morning a secretary from the attorney's office drove me to the airport in my car. The lawyers were going to sell the car and the money would be added to the final settlement. The divorce papers were to be served to Barbara that afternoon. From the time I left the hospital Sunday afternoon until I got on the plane Friday morning, I had not seen nor spoken to Barbara. And if there was a God in heaven I never would in the future either.
I don't remember much about the flight. I kept trying to force myself to stop thinking about what I was leaving behind and concentrate on where I was going. I had a three-hour lay over in Denver where I changed planes for San Miguel. Everyone left me alone as I waited; it felt like I was sitting in some type of isolation both. When I went to the men's room I was startled by the dead face staring back at me from the mirror. I was lucky I wasn't hauled away as a suspected terrorist.
John Gordon was right; being close to family was just what I needed right then.
The only emotion that I could feel was a small flicker of excitement at being able to see Colleen. It's funny how genetics works. The twins, Jimmy and Mike, and I look like Dad. Fortunately Colleen looks like Mom. Growing up, Colleen was the typical girl next door. She was cute and bright and sunny and everyone's best friend. When she was in high school she was the head cheerleader and had at least two dates every weekend. She was so sweet that the twins and I teased her that she would give us diabetes, but every boy in town knew that the twins would beat the crap out of them if they didn't treat our sister right.
Colleen had made the transition to adulthood beautifully. If you look in the dictionary under Soccer Mom you will see Colleen's picture. She is five foot four and had complained to me one time that her wedding dress was a size 6 but after giving birth to my nieces she was now a size 10 and her bra had increased a full cup size. Just like Mom her hair is the color of gold and she keeps is short, not even long enough to pull back into a ponytail. The twins and my eyes are blue like Dad's but Mom and Colleen's are a deep brown that has a completely serene look. I know it sounds corny but it is true; when she smiles the sun shines.
After the plane landed, I walked through the gate and started to look around when I heard two small voices squealing, "Uncle Bobby! Uncle Bobby! Over here." Meghan, age seven and Molly, age six were jumping up and down, waving their arms and each holding a bright red balloon on a string. Colleen was standing behind them, smiling and they all rushed over to hug me. I have never seen a more beautiful sight.
We collected my bags and on the ride to the house Meghan and Molly were chattering a mile a minute telling me everything they had been doing since the last time I had seen them. Colleen lives in an older part of town in a large craftsman style cottage that had been built in the 1920's. She and Bill had spent a lot of time and money restoring it to a pristine condition. Pulling into the driveway, I felt as though I had come home.
After we had unloaded my stuff, Molly took my hand and pulled to show me her room where I would be staying. While the girls and I talked, Colleen went to the kitchen to start dinner. After we ate, she told the girls to get ready for bed and that she had surprise for them. Grandma and Uncle Jimmy and Uncle Mike were coming tomorrow for a visit. This caused more squealing and jumping and it was another hour before she could get them into bed.
After closing the bedroom door on the girls, Colleen went to the kitchen and came out a few minutes later with two cups of tea. She set them down on the coffee table and sat next to me on the couch. When several minutes of a comforting silence had passed she put her arms around me and gave me a little kiss on the cheek.
"Is there any thing you want to talk about?"
"Not just yet, wait until tomorrow. I don't want to go through this more than once."
"Ok." She stroked the back of my head and gave me another peck on the cheek. "It's good to have you here. The girls are really exited about you staying with us."
"Thanks, I think this is where I need to be right now."
Colleen stood then took my hand and pulled me up after her. "I gather that tomorrow is going to be a tough day and you look beat. Why don't you go to bed and I'll see you in the morning."
I lay on the bed but did not get undressed. I lay there staring up at the ceiling as every emotion in my body slowly drained away, leaving me completely numb. I must have eventually fallen asleep because the next thing I knew it was daylight and Meghan was shaking my shoulder to tell me, "breakfast is ready and mommy said to come and eat." After breakfast, I took a quick shower and then spent the rest of the morning letting the girls introduce me to their favorite Saturday morning activities.
Mike pulled up in the driveway just a little before noon with his wife Sharon and their three kids. Mom arrived with Jimmy and his wife Mi Lin and their two kids about 10 minutes later. Mike has a successful and growing construction business and Jimmy is a deputy sheriff. No one was interested in lunch right then so Colleen asked Meghan and Molly to take their cousins out in the back so the grown ups could have a little talk. On the way out, Mike's youngest, two-year-old Patricia, turned back, climbed into my lap and refused to leave. Somehow that seemed right so I kept her there and five minutes later she was asleep in my arms. I was sitting on the piano bench facing everyone else who was spread around the living room.
Over the next hour I told them everything, the story of Barbara's infidelity, the baby and Derek Andrews, spilling out all the anger and pain and frustration that had been overwhelming me for the last week. I held nothing back and didn't try to sugar coat anything. Jimmy and Mike only stopped me a couple of times to ask questions and Colleen and Mom said nothing. By the time I had finished, Colleen and Mom had tears in their eyes and Colleen said, "No wonder you only wanted to tell this once." After several minutes of silence, Colleen asked what my future plans were.
"Bright and early Monday morning I officially start at the San Miguel office of Willis, Goldman & Reed. After that I'll just play it by ear I guess."
From that point every one started in trying to carry on ordinary conversation and catch up on things from the last few years. All too soon lunch was started and finished and it was time for everyone to make the drive back to Santa Teresa. For the first time since we were kids, my brothers gave me a hug when they said good-bye and Mom hugged me like she would never let go.
The next day was Sunday and after church, Colleen, Meghan and Molly drove me around introducing me to my new hometown. The girls showed me their favorite parks and had a spirited argument about which restaurant had the best pizza. That night after the girls were in bed, Colleen and I sat talking late into the night and then I went to bed. I lay in bed staring at the ceiling again, trying to sort out what was happening to me.
At 8:01 AM the next morning I was seated in a chair across the desk from Mr. Harold Peterson handing him the envelope from John Gordon. He laid the envelope on the desk in front of him without opening it. He picked up the phone, punched in a number and said, "Miss Jennings, would you step into my office please." A moment later a young girl that appeared to be a recent graduate from a secretarial school came into the office.
"Miss Jennings, this is Robert O'Conner. He will be taking over for Barry, would you show him around and to his office. Robert, Miss Jennings will be your secretary. When you're done, come on back in here for a few minutes."
After the tour, I was back in the chair across from Peterson. This time the envelope was open and a pile of papers sat in front of him. He got up and crossed the room to shut the door and sat back down. He tapped the stack of papers with his finger then spoke.
"John speaks very highly of you and his word is good enough for me. Did he tell you that we were room mates in college?"
"No, I don't think he mentioned it."
"Oh well...here is the plan. For the next six months you will be doing the same job you had in Chicago, only not so much of it at one time." This he said with a small smile on his lips and then continued. "After that we will sit down and chart out your future with Willis, Goldman & Reed. Welcome to San Miguel."
San Miguel was as different from the Chicago office as anyone could possibly imagine. Chicago had over 300 employees and was the stepping stone to get to corporate headquarters in New York. San Miguel had 65 employees and suits and ties were discouraged unless corporate drones flew in from headquarters. Working in this office was a welcome relief from Chicago and I fell into the routine rather quickly...same job, new faces.
Peterson was a dream to work for. He was 40% manager and 60% cheerleader. He set incredibly high standards for his staff then spent most of his time convincing them they could do it. As a result, our office had the highest profit margin in the company. I was able to meet and interact with all of the employees, even fake a laugh at the typical office humor. But inside I kept myself separate and apart, never letting down my guard for one second about my personal life. I was living inside a glass booth.
And then the numbness came.
I had always been a person that enjoyed his life, but now...nothing. At times it almost seemed that people could hear a dry wind blowing through the hole in my soul. Before, I had been open and comfortable in almost any situation, but now I was closed and guarded.
The only pleasure that I had was being around Colleen and the girls. Meghan and Molly and I struck a bargain. Each night after dinner I would help them with their homework, how to add and subtract, learning to read a chapter book. They in turn would teach me every "Knock, Knock" joke known to mankind. They insisted that Colleen and I tuck them in together before allowing the lights to be turned off and go to sleep. Afterwards, Colleen and I would sit together in the living room and talk or watch TV or read or do nothing, just sit on the couch next to each other before going to bed.
It was at night that it was the worst. I had not slept alone for almost six years and it was then that everything could creep back, all the images, all the thoughts. Some were real pictures from my memory, others were pictures from my imagination, constantly playing in an endless loop until I couldn't tell the difference. But now they meant nothing to me. I had no feelings, nothing good, nothing bad...only mental pictures that just wouldn't go away.
Only the numbness remained.
Life became an emotionless routine for me. Routine was something that I desperately needed. During the day when I was at the office, Colleen was at home. After Bill died, Colleen sold the business and between that and the life insurance, she and the girls were set financially. This gave her the time to be a full time mom and do the thing she loved the most while they were in school. Colleen was an illustrator. She had illustrated seven children's books, none of them best sellers, but she was proud of them and rightly so. In between she had freelanced a couple hundred drawings to several greeting card companies. All of this allowed her to work at home and set her own schedule.
Living together, we become this odd family unit. Each morning I would say good bye to the girls as they sat at the table eating their breakfast. Colleen would meet me at the door and send me back to my room to get rid of that hideous tie or put on socks that matched. She was still preventing me from humiliating myself in public.
Saturday mornings the girls would get me out of bed early and drag me half asleep to the couch. There I would lie down and they would lie on top of me watching the early morning cartoons. At 8:30 everyone would eat breakfast, get dressed and take Meghan and Molly to their soccer games.
If Colleen and the girls had not been there to prop me up, suicide would have been an attractive option.
About three weeks after I had arrived in San Miguel, I came home to find a large manila envelope lying on the dining room table. The return address was for the attorneys in Chicago. I opened it and inside were two other envelopes. One was an empty envelope that was already stamped and addressed to the attorneys, obviously meant to be used to return something. The other envelope was thick with papers and across the front was hand written, "Robert, please read this. PLEASE!" I recognized it immediately as Barbara's handwriting. I stared at it, studying it for several minutes. Without opening the envelope, I tore it in half and put the pieces into the return envelope, sealed it and took it out to the mail box for the postman to pick up the next morning.
I continued to sleepwalk through my days and nights. Colleen did everything she could to draw me out of my emotional coma. The best part of the day was when she would kiss me on the cheek in the morning as I went out the door, or when the girls hugged me good night before bed. But for the most part the emotional numbness had taken over my life.
One Monday morning six months after leaving Chicago, Miss Jennings brought a FedEx man into my office saying that I had to sign for the package personally. After signing, the deliveryman said that his instructions were to wait until I had signed the papers and return them.
I opened the package and inside was the final divorce papers. I signed in the marked places and handed them back the FedEx guy. He stuffed them into another envelope, turned and left. It took less than ten minutes and four years of marriage to Barbara was over.
Six days later on Saturday morning, the doorbell rang and outside was another FedEx delivery from the attorneys. I signed for the package and went out back onto the deck. I sat on the glider and watched Meghan and Molly as they played in the yard. Finally I gathered what strength I had and opened the package. Inside was my copy of the final divorce papers signed by Barbara, the judge and myself. Also included was a check for my portion of the community property settlement. My marriage to Barbara was now officially over and the four-year investment for me had a monetary value of exactly $7,827.59.
I was lost in my own private misery when I felt something next to me. Meghan and Molly were standing mere inches away, holding hands and just watching me. Meghan sat next to me and put her arms around me. Molly crawled up into my lap and put her arms around my neck. She quietly said. "I love you Uncle Bobby," then lay her head on my chest.