It was early Sunday afternoon when my doorbell rang. I was somewhat surprised since I hadn't told anyone where I was living. My shock only increased when I opened the door. Standing in the hallway were my wife, her parents, sister, and brother-in-law.
I resisted my first impulse to quickly slam the door. I had been raised better than that. Besides, I thought the world of my mother and father-in-law, Chester and Dottie Hanson, as well as their younger daughter, Marian. I would never deliberately be rude to them. My wife, Debbie, on the other hand, created emotions in me that were far less charitable. Slamming the door in her face would have been my pleasure.
"Jack! We are here to discuss this problem in a civilized manner. Mom, Dad, and Marian felt they might be able to help me get to the bottom of this situation. Dave is just naturally included in family affairs. Please let us in," insisted Debbie, with no doubt that I would acquiesce.
I shrugged and stepped aside to let them all in. I didn't have enough furniture for everyone to sit, so I carried two chairs from my kitchenette for Dave and me to use. Then I carried a six pack of soda and another of beer into the room and set them on the shaky combination of plastic and wood that passed for an end table.
"Everyone can help themselves to soda or beer. It's all I have to offer," I concluded as I popped the top on an MGD.
"You must know that we are here to try to find a reason for your unforgivable actions," began Debbie. "None of us thought you were the type to sneak around and lie. We'd like to know why you did, and if you have come to your senses yet?"
Debbie's tone irritated the shit out of immediately, but I avoided blurting my response. I mulled her question over instead. I looked at Dottie and I relaxed. She was tense and wringing her hands. It was apparent that she was upset and I didn't want to make her more so. I turned my gaze to Chester and saw some anger in his face. That came as no surprise. He was a good man and felt his family was the most important thing in his life. I noticed that Marian's eyes were moist as she watched me. Dave was reading the label on his beer can and didn't look in my direction. I knew enough of how the family operated to be certain that Dave was pretty much forced to attend this gathering and wasn't here because he wanted to be.
"Well, Debbie, I'm sorry to be such a disappointment to your entire family, but that doesn't change anything. I'm going forward with the divorce. Your lawyer can discuss the details with mine. This drama is not necessary, or helpful," I added.
"You're going to throw away almost twenty years of marriage for some slut?" demanded Debbie. "That just isn't like you, Jack. You've always been responsible and level headed. You've never shirked your duties as a father and provider before. This makes no sense at all!"
"You can blame it on the old "middle-aged crazies" if you like, Debbie," I retorted. "You can blame it on drug use, excessive drinking, blackmail, or aliens, if it helps make more sense to you. The final result is that I am divorcing you, regardless of the reason, or whether it is logical to you. Just accept it."
"Jack," interjected Chester. "We've hired a private detective to find out what has been going on with you. He's only been working for us a couple days, but he quickly notified us of your new address. He has not, however, been able to find anything out about any woman you might be interested in. Does one even exist?"
This was a surprise! I should have known that Chester wouldn't accept the situation easily. He wanted facts, and names, so he had hired a private dick. I tried to quickly recall my actions of the previous two days; trying to remember everything I may have done, and everyplace I had gone. I couldn't remember doing anything that would have given my situation away. I had not discussed my personal business with anyone. There was nothing that anyone could have discovered about me, except where I was now living.
"I don't know whether to be more insulted that you are calling me a liar, Chester, or that you don't seem to think I'm capable of finding a female that would find me acceptable," I replied calmly. "I don't have to explain my actions to anyone. I especially don't have to tell you with whom I'm smitten. If there were another woman, she would be a lady, and I wouldn't drag her name into this shit-storm."
"Chester didn't intend to imply that you were a liar, or that you would not be a wonderful catch for any intelligent woman, Jack. It's more that no one that knows you, and I mean no one, can believe you have betrayed your marriage vows," responded Dottie in a conciliatory manner. "You have always been the strong, supportive husband and father. This desire for a divorce is way out of character for you. We 're concerned for many reasons."
"I understand your confusion, Dottie. I would give anything to not hurt you or Chester, but things happen and people change. With the utmost respect for both of you, I am telling you that I no longer want to be married to your daughter," I croaked out with a suddenly very dry throat. "You all need to accept that fact."
"Jack, if you are afraid to admit you made a mistake and want to come back, I'll forgive you," sobbed Debbie. "I'll never throw this indiscretion in your face or use it to turn the kids against you. I promise."
How about that? Debbie was willing to forgive me! She would take back her wayward husband. Her declaration caught me off guard. I had to ask the question.
"Why, Debbie? Why would you forgive me and take me back into your arms and bed?"
"W ... why?" repeated Debbie. "Because we belong together, Jack. Because we promised each other almost twenty years ago to remain as one. Because the kids need a father! That's why, Jack."
I saw Marian flinch a little at her sister's response. We must have noticed the same thing. Debbie's reasons lacked any conviction.
"That's it, Debbie?' I questioned. "You would take me back because we made a vow to each other? Not because you actually love me? You say the kids need me, as if I will suddenly stop seeing them when we are divorced. They are old enough to bear this burden quite well. They'll be on their own in a couple years. Even so, I will not forsake them. Don't kid yourself there. I'll still be a major part of my kids' lives. That, I promise."
"Of course, I love you, Jack!" declared Debbie. "It's just that you're behaving so foolishly. I simply don't want to pretend that I'm not upset, and hurt, by your actions of late. You have left me, probably for another woman. How am I supposed to feel much love for you in a situation like that? You can't love me, and that hurts. It hurts a lot!"
"I have always loved you, Debbie. I still do, but it isn't enough anymore. I have to get on with my life before it passes me by. I suggest you do the same. I think this meeting is pretty much over," I stated sadly.
Debbie, Marian, and Dottie were crying and wiping their eyes with tissues as I opened the door. Chester had a scowl and Dave just appeared to be relieved. As Marian moved to the door, she stopped to hug me. I had always gotten along very well with Debbie's little sister and I felt terrible that I had not, in her eyes, lived up to expectations. It was my hope she would never understand.
Debbie was the last to leave. She looked truly sad as she moved close and seemed to look into my soul. She appeared to be totally at a loss. She searched my face for some sort of a sign, or something. I just nodded and guided her by the elbow to the door.
As soon as I managed to close and lock the door, I went to the medicine cabinet and took a couple pain relievers. Then I lay down on my bed, exhausted mentally and physically. Eventually, I fell asleep.
Luckily for me, work was very busy. I have no idea how I would have made it through the next few weeks if I didn't have something to keep my mind off my personal problems. I did spend some time trying to determine if anyone was following me. I took different roads to and from work. Now and then I would take a hard turn without signaling my intentions. I never saw any cars swerve to follow. Either the PI was off my tail, or he was very good.
It was a Thursday night, over two weeks from the day Debbie's family had turned up at my door for that conference, when I received a call from Marian on my cell. I had changed phones and had a new number, so I was surprised that she had my number. My two sons were the only ones I had given it to, so it was obvious that Marian had cajoled it from one of them.
"Jack!" cried Marian into the mouthpiece. "Danni is missing! She never came home from school today. I've called around and no one has seen her. She never stays away from home without calling! Have you seen her, by any chance?"
Danni was Marian's fourteen year old daughter. She was a pretty girl, but very shy and quiet. She had an older brother and a younger sister, but she had always been my favorite. From the time she was able to walk, she would run to me and wrap her little arms around my legs. Marian, Dottie, and Debbie often commented on how Danni wouldn't give anyone else the time of day, but she always came to me. As she grew older, our bond only strengthened. I always took the time to ask her about her school and her friends. I played soccer with her and showed her how to catch a softball. Whenever we were at a family gathering, Danni was usually somewhere close to me.
"No, Marian, I haven't," I answered worriedly. "I guess you've tried her cell phone? Did you try any of her teachers at school? They might know something. Has she been healthy?"
.... There is more of this story ...