I was killing time in a quaint little import shop a stones throw away from Picadilly Circus in the heart of London. I wasn't really looking for anything just browsing the curiosities they had on display.
"Hello, Michael." I heard a familiar feminine voice softly call out a name I hadn't been addressed by for some time. I turned and fell into a set of brown eyes that still found a way to make my heart skip. It's amazing the range of feelings that can come over you in a split second. I felt a flutter in my chest, surprise, confusion, a desire to throw my arms around this woman and finally settled into a cold bitterness. I stared at her for what felt like 10 minutes but probably was less than 10 seconds.
"Hello Gretchen, this is quite a surprise." I went back to browsing not really wanting to engage her in conversation but full well knowing it was not to be avoided. Gretchen, I knew, would never leave it at that.
"Got a few minutes to chat? I'll let you buy a girl some coffee and we can talk.", Gretchen offered teasingly.
"I don't think so, Gretchen. I have the time but I don't know that we have that much to talk about.", I stated flatly. I wasn't all that interested in being polite with the woman that destroyed my life. I knew she would persist but she was going to have to work for it.
I heard a soft sigh and then, "Please Michael, I really would like to talk to you and I'll... I'll buy the coffee." I stared blankly at her for a moment and then relented.
"All right. But call me Mike. I don't go by Michael anymore."
She rolled her eyes a bit and stated with a hint of arrogance, "I think I've earned the right to call you Michael if I want."
"Okay Pookie, have it your way.", I shot back.
She was visibly shaken by my use of a long buried endearment I used when we were together.
In happier days, I would teasingly come up behind her, cuddling and fondling her. I would always in a whiny voice say, "Come on upstairs, Pookie, and give me some loving. I'm in need, Pookie. I gotta have you. Please Pookie, lets go get naked." Invariably, she would scream and say, giggling, "get away from me you pervert, you ain't getting any loving til I'm ready. Go take a cold shower, you randy booger." Often times these one act plays would degrade to me chasing her through the house playfully or me getting sprayed with a kitchen sprayer. It was all in fun and we both loved it. Those were good times.
She got very flustered and thought quietly for a second. "Your point is made, ...Mike.", she softly said with a measure of sadness in her voice. I was actually surprised at her reaction and felt there was much more behind that surrender than words could ever explain.
She walked briskly to the counter and spoke to the proprietor in a language I had no clue about. The small Asian woman behind the counter looked at me, nodded somewhat solemnly and then bowed motioning us to a small coffee bar in the rear of the shop. There was two small tables in front of the bar ringed with wicker style chairs. We selected a table, sat down and two coffees were brought to us by the now smiling woman. Without even thinking about it, Gretchen chose the chair facing the coffee bar and the wall and I went around the table and took the chair facing the door. Muscle memory doesn't forget. This was a ritual we had practiced thousands, maybe millions, of times over the course of twenty-four years of marriage. I had to face the door. This was a leftover nervous 'tic', if you will, from a tour of duty in Vietnam. After all this time we still maintained our rituals. I think we both noticed it based on the little curious half smile that I saw cross Gretchen's pretty face.
We sat silently for a long minute and my mind went back, despite my best efforts, to the last time I saw this lovely woman who is my ex-wife.
We lived in a small town in Connecticut and I thought we were a happily married couple. My wife had seemed distant for several months. I saw and spoke to her everyday but I could sense this division coming between us. I tried to ignore it and doubled my efforts to engage her and bring her closer to me again; to make her happy. Our two kids were both out of our house by then, trying to get a foothold in their new role as adults. Bret, our son and the eldest, was 23 and had just graduated from college. He had married a sweet gal that everyone adored named Amy in his senior year of school. He and Amy both work in New York and commute by train back to their small townhouse in New Jersey. They were making some headway and were (and still are) deeply in love. It was beautiful to see. Our second child was our fireball daughter, Misty, who was 21. She is the apple of my eye (it's a daddy-daughter thing) and our wild child. I held my breath (and my temper) much of the time she was in high school. By her second year of college, however; she finally figured out that all the NO's we threw at her really were intended for 'her own good' and she settled down and will soon finish her BS degree with many appearances on the Dean's List. Go figure.
I was editing an article soon to appear in one of the magazines my employer published when I received a phone call from my wife. "Hello Michael this is Gretchen. Would you be interested in having lunch with me today? I know it's short notice but I thought it could be fun to do something a little out of the ordinary for a change."
I was thrilled. "Sure Babe, that sounds like a great idea. I'm glad you called. Did you have somewhere in mind or should I choose?"
"Meet me at the Cafe Paris in ... say, 45 minutes? Will that work for you?", Gretchen asked with a professional, measured tone.
It felt like the distance was still there but at least this was a start. I was overjoyed and very hopeful for a warming in our relationship.
"I'll be there with bells on! ... Should I wear anything else?", I said chuckling trying to lighten up the atmosphere and show how pleased I was.
"Yes, please", she stated not very amused.
"Okay, see you at... 12:15. Thanks Babe, this is a great idea. I love you.", I stated getting up from my desk, reaching for my jacket with a broad grin on my face.
She simply stated, "Okay, see you in a bit."
I hurried to my car and drove across town to meet my lovely wife for lunch. I can't describe the elation I felt at this simple gesture on her part.
She was seated at a table with a glass of wine when I entered. I touched her on the shoulder and bent down to give her a kiss. She turned her head away a bit and offered me her cheek. I guess that should have told me something. I said, "Hello, gorgeous looking for a date?" while smiling stupidly. She smirked a bit and said, "Let's order so we have more time to talk after." We ordered and she small-talked about some translating projects she was working on at International Trade, Inc. the import/export company she worked for as a language specialist. I ate and listened to her but started to feel a bit uneasy. She barely touched her food. After the dishes were cleared she paid the bill using her business credit card saying it was OK and that her boss knew she was buying me lunch.
She looked down for quite some time and was quiet. I was about to ask what was wrong when she looked me in the eye and said, "Michael, there is no easy way to say this so...
Michael, I've been having an affair for about eight months. I love him and I want a divorce."
I was stunned, shocked and destroyed in one mouthful. I looked at her in silence and couldn't speak. My world tore in half all at once. Never in my life, even with what I witnessed in wartime, was I shaken so thoroughly. I was broken at my very core. I couldn't think. I couldn't speak. All was lost. I was lost.
She went on to tell me that he was extremely wealthy, a billionaire actually, and that all expenses for the divorce would be handled by him. Since he was so wealthy, she/they would not ask for anything in the divorce. I could keep everything. I sort of remember her saying something about my little "estate" being left intact. She did that revolting, quote marks in the air gesture when she said "estate". I knew she was talking but I really heard nothing. It was like I was in a tunnel where I could see my wife's lips moving but no sound came out. All the words were like bells ringing my doom.
She then went on to say, "This is what I really want, Michael and it is in both of our best interests if you don't fight this. Fighting it will only prolong the agony but the outcome will be the same. I am leaving for Europe tonight with him and I shan't (did she really say shan't) return any time soon... at least until after the divorce is final. Please, let this happen without interference. You have always had an interest in my happiness and this is something that will make me very happy. I will call the kids when I get settled in Paris. I'm not sure how they will take it but you don't need to worry about that." With that little speech she got up and walked out of my life while I sat still not believing what had just happened.
The "kids" as it turned out didn't take it well. They were every bit as stunned and hurt as I was. She never did call them so I had to be the one to break the news to them. I actually got accused of killing her and disposing of her body. The months that followed my wife's departure were horrific. My kids and I fought bitterly, soul searched what we had done to cause this and traded accusations. I was able to find out the name and some information about Gretchen's beau from her office (unofficially). I then began to check the Internet for any pictures or articles of him. Luckily, I was able to find a couple of pictures of him with a beaming Gretchen on his arm taken after her "departure" so that put to rest the notion that I had something to do with her disappearance. Interestingly, none of the pictures mentioned her despite the fact that a number of people were listed in the caption. Guess they were trying to keep their home life private.
After about a year I was able to pull my new life back together and began to take an interest in living again. In that time, I made friends with a few select (read "disgruntled") members of Gretchen's old employer. I found out that upper-middle management not only knew about Gretchen's affair but provided cover for her. It seems that some of her beau's companies provided a lot of work and product for International Trade so they felt it was in their best interest to keep him happy. They even went as far as to send memos to some employees "advising" them to keep things quiet and look the other way. Gretchen's trysts took place during business hours on company time. Can you say "lawsuit"? Yes, I sued their ass. I am now living reasonably comfortable on their dime. I'm not getting my pound of flesh from Gretchen or her beau (note: part of our divorce agreement was that I would never reveal her beau's identity, blah, blah, blah.) but I'm not opposed to making some guilty party feel my pain. It's now three plus years after our last "lunch" and I find myself sitting at a public table across from my "lovely" EX wife.
She still looked quite beautiful. The best clothes, hair and makeup that money could buy but she carried a tired, sad look in her eyes. Those soulful brown eyes of hers... those eyes I always adored told me nothing. It was like she was dead inside. When she was happy or excited those eyes danced, flashed and sparkled with life. Today the fire was out. I guess happiness still eluded her.
"You look good, Michael ... errr ahh, Mike. Thinner perhaps and a bit more muscled.", she started the conversation. "Thanks", I simply said. This was her show. She wanted this so she can carry it.
"I can't believe we actually ran into each other in London. What are the chances?", she continued." "Yes, pretty hard to believe.", I parried.
"I'm doing a lot of translating in my new position and I've even picked up a couple new languages.", she continued to fish for an opening.
"That was always something that amazed me about you. You are an extremely talented and beautiful woman.", I finally opened.
She looked down suddenly and teared up. "Thank you.", she was whispering. "I don't get any sort of recognition these days. I'm not sure anyone even knows I'm alive."
"I would have thought that your husband would be showing you off to the world."
"He never married me. I'm simply a sex toy that can speak a few languages. If he wants to make a good impression on someone he marches me out to show them a good time and talk to them in their tongue. A forty-something American woman that can speak something besides English, can show people around most anywhere and is willing to fuck is rare, I guess. I have become a prized whore.", she said sadly.
"What! Why don't you leave? Get on the next plane and fucking get out of Dodge.", I spat hotly.
"It's complicated. I live very, very well but I am watched constantly. It would be very hard for me to leave. I'm able to talk to you now simply because we met by chance and I haven't left the store. Also, Marika, the owner, is a friend of mine and she kind of covers for me if I need to hide for a bit."
"It sounds horrible, but I guess it's your choice. Okay, change of subject. Why did you never call the kids? I had a hell of a time convincing them I hadn't killed you and disposed of your body. They were really devastated they never heard from you.", I was pushing for answers now.
She seemed to only shrink more into sadness. "I wasn't allowed to. I flew out that afternoon in a private jet and access to my former life was completely cut off from me. As I said I'm watched constantly." She suddenly leaned forward and looked straight at me. "Michael, I can't tell you how many nights I lie alone in a big house in an exotic place and wish I was still lying next to you in our house in Connecticut. God, I miss you and us.
I could feel myself falling back into an old habit. Fix everything to make Gretchen happy. I saw myself being sucked back and I stopped cold. "Wait, wait. Hold it.", I said putting my hands up in a sign of surrender. "I can't fix your life for you. More to the point I WON'T fix your life. How dare you sit here and whine about your life. YOU did this! YOU chose this! A whole lot of people I love dearly have had to live and deal with a situation you created for them. It wasn't something they wanted or chose for themselves. Their lives were forever changed because of choices and decisions YOU made without their consent or input. I accidentally bump into you for the first time in over three years and already it's all about you. Fuck! I'm tired already. Do you know you have not yet asked about your kids? What kind of a mother would do that? Just for the record, you are now a grandmother. Bret and Amy have a sweet little girl who will be turning two in a couple of months. Her name in case you care is Brianna Lynn. Your daughter Misty, remember her? She is planning to get married to a really good guy named Trevor in about six months. She is still holding out hope that you will be at the wedding, but it's real hard when we have no address or way of contacting you. Maybe I'll send the invitation here."
I was beginning to hyperventilate so I paused, but I was on a roll. All my buried anger and hurt was bubbling up now. "... As for me. What the fuck did I do to deserve the treatment you handed to me? I loved you with all I am and all I had. You threw me away without so much as a good bye. Do you realize you have never even apologized for the destruction you laid on my life? Don't sit here and whine to me. You fucked this up. You fucked us up. You fucked ME up. You looking for a shoulder to cry on? You don't get to do it here. You killed that privilege three damn years ago in a little cafe in Connecticut."
I was about to get up and walk out much like she had three years ago when an angelic voice with a decidedly English accent cut into the heated gloom. "Mike, I can't bloody leave you alone for five minutes without you chatting up some beautiful woman. I swear I should beat you to a bloody pulp.", she joked trying to look angry but those green eyes flashed with whimsy. I had been so wrapped up in my tirade I didn't even see Pamela come in.
I smiled warmly and said, "Hi Baby. Pamela, I'd like you to meet Gretchen; my ex-wife. Gretchen this is my lady friend, Pamela." Gretchen was still reeling from my verbal assault and now she was facing her "replacement". She was silent and struggling to maintain control. Pamela simply put forth her hand in the traditional gesture of friendship and said smiling, "I'm very glad to make your acquaintance, Gretchen. Mike has mentioned you often, but not very fondly, I'm afraid. I guess I should thank you for letting go of this randy bloke and allowing me the chance to get my hooks into him. He can be a lot of trouble but I'm slowly getting him house broken." Pamela looked at me and smiled widely. She smoothed my shoulder fondly and continued, "Mike, my crazy Yank, I'm afraid we have to be going if we are to catch the train to Ely. I'm sorry to interrupt but I am worried for the time."
I patted her leg and said, "No worries my sweet, I was just finishing up." I then turned to a still struggling Gretchen and said, "We have to run, but thank you for the coffee and the catching up time. I'll tell the kids Hello for you and I'll tell them you said you loved them even though it's a bit of a lie." I shook her hand and then said, "I hope you do find happiness someday, Gretchen but I think you're looking in the wrong place. Thank you also for twenty-three good years. They were mostly happy years for me and I do thank you for that. ... Good bye Gretchen."
Gretchen continued to sit looking shocked much like I had some three long years ago.
Pamela and I headed out into the bustling life of London to meet our appointed train. She never asked about the meeting but I think she heard enough to know it was not a joyful reunion. For the first time in a long time I felt free. Yes, I felt free and even a bit happy.