Chapter 2: RANCHO BERNARDO, CALIFORNIA (Part 12 and 13)
It is close to seven when I enter the house. I’m in our bedroom when I hear the front door open. I go downstairs.
“Hey, Babe,” he says. “What a day. But I made it home for you. What’s so urgent?”
I don’t respond.
“What?” he repeats.
I take my phone from my purse. I bring up the photos and I hand the phone to him.
“You tell me,” I say. I’m cool. My self-control shocks me.
He punches through the photos, slowly at first and then rapidly to get through the two dozen I snapped. His face dissolves to blank, but I know he’s working behind the façade.
He smiles tentatively. “Connie. She’s been a real trooper. You know what a hard ass I can be. Demanding, you know? She’s been the best about it. She’s not one for downtime. I knew if I told her to take it easy for a day, take some time to recharge, well, she wouldn’t listen. So I declared the afternoon rec time, and made sure she relaxed for a while.”
“I have a lawyer,” I say, now disturbed and agitated by his bold lie, his utter stupidity, at his opinion of me. “His name is Korbrin. He says you’ll be getting court papers tomorrow or the next day, probably at the office.”
His glibness evaporates. “What?”
I’m glad I arranged for the girls to stay with Kathy.
“One little incident and you get a lawyer. What’s with you?”
I bubble with fury. I shake and rattle, like a pot over a stoked fire. I try to lower the temperature of my anger, for I fear my voice will crack and breakdown.
“You’ll have to move out, Richard. Tomorrow will be fine. Tonight, I’d appreciate you staying at the RB Inn.” Sensing my resolve strengthening, I suggest, “Or the Sheraton. It seems like a nice place.”
“This is my house,” he screams. “I’m paying for this house, and I plan on going up my stairs and getting into my bed so I can get up tomorrow and go to my job and earn the money that pays for my house and you. You can get out, if you want.”
He brushes by me and disappears up the stairs.
I’m at a loss. I can’t force him to leave. I have no court papers that will allow me to call the police and have them remove him.
I can’t sleep with Richard. I can’t be in the same room with him. I go to Samantha’s room. Before I lie on her bed, I listen. Richard is banging around our room. I wait for him to quiet, and then I crawl into bed. But I can’t sleep. I am too disturbed. I toss until morning.
I rise as soon as the sky turns pearl. I am still wearing what I had on yesterday. I’ll change later, after Richard leaves.
I go downstairs, and I prepare lunch for Samantha and Emily, and coffee for myself. When I hear Richard on the stairs, I leave the house for Kathy’s.
After I’ve watched Samantha and Emily climb onboard the school bus, I wait with Kathy until I’m certain Richard has left the house. Then I return home. I am a wreck: tired, weepy, angry, but resolved.
I shower, dress, and feeling refreshed go to the kitchen. I make a cup of tea and sit with my Limoges at the table by the phone. I sit and sip for several minutes.
I call Korbrin. It’s as if I am his only client, or his most important, or, most likely, Korbrin understands my circumstances are acute. When his assistant hands me off to him, I describe what transpired. He says nothing.
“Having him served today would be best,” I say. “I have to get him out of the house today.”
“What time is it?”
“Ten,” I say, picturing as if beside him the giant clock in his office.
“He’s in the office today?”
“I don’t know. I think so. He likes to be in the office in the morning and travel in the afternoon.”
“You should get your wish around eleven. In any case, we’ve filed the papers, so if you have to call the police, you’ll have legal grounds.” He pauses. “Do you want me to file a restraining order?”
I consider it.
“No. Richard isn’t like that.” Though I’m not entirely sure.
It’s a typically warm and beautiful day, the complete opposite of my disposition. I wish for an overcast sky, cool air requiring a warm wrap and the low hum of central heating, and an expansive yard stark in the last days of fall, leaves eddying in a light breeze on a sloping lawn. I miss days like those, a variety of days to complement my various moods.
I stare at the wall and the decorative clock on it. I put the clock on the wall, along with trellises, up which slowly grows ivy, and shelves, on which sit potted flowers. I focus on the clock. It is ten thirty. I sip my tea and the minute hand ticks, ticks, and fades into a vision of Richard in his office. Connie perches on the edge of his desk, on his side of the desk. Her position hikes her skirt up mid thigh. Richard’s eyes drift from her face to her flesh and his hand follows and caresses her. The door is closed. His phone rings. He speaks. Probably he says, “Not now. I’m busy.” But the caller is insistent, and he hangs up, his face twisted with concern and anger. He says, “You’d better leave, Connie.” She slides of the desk and runs a finger down his cheek and sways to the door, reminding Richard of the Sheraton, of what he can have again, anywhere, anytime. She reaches the door as it opens. A woman shows in a man dressed casually in a short-sleeve shirt, kakis, topsiders, no socks. He smirks at the tableau, knowing what he carries relates to this little scene. “Mr. DeSantis?” he asks. Richard doesn’t pay him the courtesy of rising, just answers, “Yeah.” “For you. Have a pleasant day.”
I’ve finished my tea, unaware I’ve taken more than the first sip. I carry the Limoges into the house, prepare another, and return to the chaise. The clock reads ten fifty, and this fresh cup tastes better than the first.
Reflecting, I realize I’ve done the right thing, action I was stupid not to have taken sooner, certainly back in Cranbury; then I would not be far from everybody I love, who love me, when I need them most. I want to phone them, but I can’t, because of the distance. They will agonize that they cannot be here with me, and cannot help me, and that will just increase to my pain.
I’ve done the right thing for another reason: I can’t imagine Richard’s reaction if he were with me when the server appeared. True, I have never witnessed Richard in a rage, or lose control of himself, apart from last night. But nothing quite as monumental as the dissolution of his marriage, the loss of his home and wife and daughters—nothing of this magnitude has ever happened to him. Even when I forbade Bobby at our wedding, he was nothing more than mildly perturbed, slightly rebellious; but only for a short time, and after completely understanding and cooperative.
My tea turns bitter. I set it aside.
Of course, that was when Richard loved me. It was the start of our relationship, the beginning of our life together. Until this moment—clock hands now stutter to eleven—I have no idea how he feels about me. I think for the past several years I’ve just been there, a body in the house ensuring his after hours life runs smoothly, allowing him to concentrate on what means the most to him—his job, his rising stature, his girlfriends.
Do we have a lawyer? I now have Korbrin. But does Richard have his own that he has kept secret from me? Korbrin quizzed me about our finances and I could not tell him much beyond what I know of our household expenses, of the money Richard gives me, and what he doles me to spend, of the insurance. “How much savings do you have?” asked Korbrin. “I don’t know,” I said. Stocks, bonds, other real estate? My answer was, “I don’t know. I don’t know.” How little I know about Richard and certain aspects of our life; my ignorance amazes me. Why am I dumb about matters so crucial to my well being and that of Samantha and Emily? Yes, Richard never volunteers anything. I did ask on a number of occasions. But he demurred. My sin is I never pushed him, never insisted. This I must rectify. I decide to start now.
I enter the house and phone our bank. A recorded message greets me and asks me to enter my account number. I have the checkbook at hand and tap in an unwieldy string of digits. More messages ask what it is I wish to know. I wish to know everything. But I’m restricted by the limits of the phone system to the checking account. I press “O.” I idle on hold for several minutes. Finally a person greets me. I tell her who I am. I ask if she would mind giving me information on the DeSantis accounts. She asks for account numbers and I give her the checking number and tell her I don’t have the others. She requests my Social Security number. I supply it. A few moments pass. She returns to the line. She tells me we have four accounts. I know about the checking and personal accounts. We also have a money market account. The balance is a few thousands dollars. In addition, we have an IRA account. It contains more money, but not much more. That’s it, she informs me. No more accounts for Mrs. DeSantis or Mr. and Mrs. DeSantis. What about Mr. DeSantis? Mr. DeSantis will have to call about accounts in his name; privacy, you understand. I hang up.
I sit and wonder how after so many years I know so little, and it strikes me that my kitchen is awfully blue, blue as my spirits. Maybe I was blue when I had it painted. But the color is strange, unlike me, as normally, I am not a fan of blue, or at least this shade, which seems more appropriate for the sky, for the sky at noon.
My kitchen’s color occupies me, when a thought supersedes my unnatural contemplation: Mr. DeSantis will have to call about accounts in his name. Did the woman mean Richard has an account, several accounts, in his own name at the bank? Korbrin suggested Richard might have separate accounts.
Well, I’m not astounded he has sequestered money for his personal use; I too have an account that is solely mine. I had the account in Cranbury and I transferred it with me to California. I opened the account when I realized I would never work outside the house as long as I was married to Richard. I was and am on Richard’s payroll. I guess I understood the implication of my situation from the outset of our marriage: If he fired me, I would have nothing. Over the years I skimmed my personal savings from the top of the household handout. Over the years, it has accumulated into a respectable sum, not big, but enough to tide me over a couple of months while I mend my—our, because I have to think of the girls—lives.
The question with Richard is: How large are these accounts, where are they, and can I get a share, my fair share for having been his partner while he dumped our money into them?
The phone rings and I check the clock. Almost noon. Nearly forty-five minutes have disappeared. I shake my head and marvel. The phone is on its fifth ring. One more and voicemail will take it. I consider letting it. But I decide I must answer. I know who it is.
He says immediately, “You’ve done it now.”
“I told you last night, Richard,” I say, calm and a little bit pleased.
“You’re not getting away with this. Don’t think you are for one minute.”
“Getting away is exactly what I’m doing, Richard.”
He’s quiet for a few seconds.
“You’ll get nothing. I’ll make sure you get absolutely nothing.”
“Nothing is all I’ve ever had,” I say.
“You have everything.”
“I don’t have what’s important, Richard. I don’t think you are capable of giving me that.”
“A house. Children. A carefree life. What more could you want?”
“Love. Honesty. Trust. Devotion. But you’re incapable of providing any of them.”
“You’re ridiculous.” He says it, but without conviction. He may not be truthful but I’m hoping he recognizes virtue when hears it.
“You can’t have it all.”
“I think I can.” I pause. “At least I can try.”
He switches abruptly. “It says you want me out.”
“I told you last night.”
“Sure, and where am I supposed to go?”
“I suggested a couple of places.”
“Yeah, you sure did. All right, but I need my stuff. I can’t live in my suit forever.”
“I’ll pack you a bag for a week,” I say. “I’ll call you when it’s ready.”
“I’ll stop by later.”
“No? How do you propose I get my clothes?”
“Christ, I’m just picking up my clothes. In and out.”
“No,” I insist.
“Fine, I’ll find somebody.”
I’m relieved. I exhale powerfully and loudly. I can only pray Richard is, for once, truthful; if he isn’t, I’m not entirely sure what I will do. I can’t picture myself calling 911, but then I never imagined myself initiating my own divorce.
The entire extended episode has exhausted me. I go up to our bedroom—my bedroom now. I set the alarm clock for two-thirty to be sure I meet Emily at the bus stop as usual.