I twisted the knob of the door that had been waiting twelve years for my hand. Looking down the hall to the kitchen, I could see a woman standing at the stove. The woman was my Mom, older, grayer and looking somewhat sad, not like she had been when I knew her before. Mom apparently felt or heard the door opening, although I had done it as quietly as I could. "Hi Mom, I'm home."
She turned to face me and with tears brimming in her eyes spoke slowly. "I'm glad you're home, Tony. It has been so long I thought you must be dead. Can you forgive me for what I did to you twelve years ago? I have suffered every day since."
"Gone. He left eleven months after he forced me to tell you to leave."
I felt I could come into this home now, with the reason I left not here anymore. I walked towards my mother and we clung to each other. She was sobbing softly, and I had tears in my eyes. Finally she led me to a chair and started making a pot of coffee. She had been making dried beef gravy for her evening meal, so she put in a couple more slices of toast to feed me. I watched her as she busied herself doing this. She stopped several times and just looked at me. It was as though she had to remember what I looked like at eighteen and fit it to the man I had become.
I looked at her too. She was still the tall, striking Irish woman that was my Mom. She sat opposite me drinking her coffee while I ate the food I hadn't had in years. It was as good as I remembered. I felt now I was truly welcome. "Mom, I only have an hour before I have to be back at the motel. I left my daughter alone and I promised I wouldn't be gone long."
"You have a daughter? That makes me a grandmother."
"Yes, her name is Seely. She just turned eight."
"Is she pretty? I'll bet she is if she looks like you did when you were that age. You were so cute."
"I may have been cute at eight, but look at me now. I can't even be considered handsome. I think Seely is beautiful though. Mom, tell me about you and Pat. I never met anyone I hated more than I did him. You say he left after a few months. What happened? Did you marry him? I know you were planning on it."
"No I didn't marry him, thank God. I think he was after the money that I received from your father's life insurance. He kept wanting to borrow money and said when we married it would be his anyway. He pushed me too hard and I began to have my doubts about him. I quietly went to Bill Grogan at the police department to see if he had a record. I wish I had done it before I made you leave. Pat was just no good and had done this to other women. By the time I found out, you had disappeared and I have been waiting all this time for you to come home."
"I'm sorry it didn't work out for you."
"He was a con man through and through. He was so charming and knew just how to push my buttons. I have to say, your father and I loved each other and we had a pretty good time in bed. Pat though, made a practice of seducing women and he made me reach places I didn't think it possible for a woman to reach." Mom was shaking her head at the memories. "I have to admit I miss that part of him and I'm not ashamed of it either." Again she was lost momentarily in reverie.
"What about you? Do you have a wife to go with the daughter you have?"
"I have one, but we have our problems. She isn't much of a mom either. She told me a week ago that if I didn't like her lifestyle to leave and take Seely with me. I don't think she thought I would, but I did and here I am."
"When can I meet Seely? Why don't you both stay here with me? A motel is no place for a child. How does Seely feel about being away from her Mom?"
"Seely is okay as long as I am near her or she knows where I am. Would you go with me when I pick her up? She is pretty excited to think she has a grandmother and wants to meet you. I've told her a lot about you--all the good things I remembered about growing up. I told her I ran away when I left home so don't say anything otherwise." This brought tears to Mom's eyes, because she had sent me away when I couldn't get along with Pat.
Mom got her sweater and while we were driving to get Seely, I reflected on my parents. We were a solid middle class family. Dad was a fireman and was killed when a forest fire overran his escape route. Mom was wild with grief for over a year and then Pat moved in with her.
He eased into her confidence and before I was aware, he had her totally in his control. I watched him and I suppose I resented him for I missed my father. Dad had been my friend and companion all through my youth. I felt a year was too short a time for Mom to replace him. This led to many heated arguments between us. Looking back now, I think this was all staged by Pat to isolate Mom from me. He was subtle and before I knew it Mom gave me an ultimatum to get along with Pat or leave. I left, and at eighteen I was on my own.
Mom asked, "What did you do when you left here?"
"I joined the Army. I signed up for the engineers. It was the smartest thing I ever did. Luckily there was no overseas duty and I was able to go to night school as I fulfilled my service duties. When I finished my enlistment, I had a skill and I had the education to move right into civilian life. I'll tell you how I met my wife and where I am with her now sometime when we have more time. I've been very careful not to disparage Seely's mother in front of her. I do not want to turn Seely against her mother."
I was afraid Mom would rush to Seely when they first met and demand a hug or kiss. She was too wise for that, as I soon saw. Mom kept her distance as I introduced Seely to her grandmother although Seely could see love shining in Mom's eyes. "Daddy says you were a wonderful mom to him. He must have made you awful unhappy when he ran away. I hope you forgive him."
"I forgave him as soon as he ran away. He likely felt he had reason to leave. I'm so glad he has finally come home and I'm glad he brought you with him."
"Can I call you Grandma?"
"You certainly can."
"Seely why don't you start packing. We are going to move into Grandma's house. You can sleep in the same bed I did when I was growing up. Grandma is a great cook. She will teach you how to cook just like she did me."
"My Mom said that I shouldn't have to learn to cook. That is what Mexicans do and we shouldn't take their jobs from them."
"I know Seely, but we don't have many Mexicans living here, so we cook for ourselves." I glanced at Mom, and she understood that my wife was used to hiring help to cook and probably do other chores as well.
Later that evening I tucked Seely into my childhood bed. As I kissed her goodnight, Seely asked me if it was all right to ask her new grandma for a kiss before she went to sleep. Rita Morales, our housekeeper, usually kissed my daughter goodnight because my wife, Pam, was often out at her various charities and clubs. Rita had slowly taken over a lot of the care of Seely. Pam withdrew from her motherhood duties as time went on.
"Of course you can ask her for anything you want. She will do anything for you. She is so happy that I came home and brought her a granddaughter."
When Mom came down after waiting by Seely's bedside for sleep to come to her granddaughter, she said, "Alright Tony, tell me about your wife? It doesn't sound like you are very happy in your marriage."
"Maybe not in most peoples eyes. The thing is, I love Pam--some. The biggest problem is she has too much money and too much time to spend it. Another thing, I think Pam loves me just as much as I love her. We are just from two totally different backgrounds. Me, I'm from the middle class and she is from the rich and famous. Things were going well for us until shortly after Seely's fourth birthday. Pam's grandmother died and left her a huge amount of money. About the same time I was away for several weeks working on an engineering project.
"When I returned, Pam confessed she had been unfaithful to me--no details. I couldn't stand for her to tell me the circumstances. She admitted that when I went away she probably would be unfaithful again with the same person. We compromised. I said that if she didn't humiliate me, and kept her indiscretions from reaching my eyes or ears, I would still stay with her. This was in consideration of Seely.
"This is the way things were until a few months ago. She wanted to go on a cruise with some friends. When she came back she had changed. She has even denied me sex sometimes and it has been one argument after another. A week ago she said she was going on another cruise. It would be to Greece this time and she would be gone three weeks. I asked her not to go, for Seely needs more of her attention. That didn't seem to register with her at all. Then I said she couldn't go. This is when she told me to leave if I wanted to and to take Seely with me.
"For some reason, you have been in my thoughts more and more as the years have gone by. I made a phone call to an engineering firm here in town and I was assured of a job if I cared to relocate. I was hired this morning. Pam doesn't know I have left her and I have called her father and mother to inform them that I couldn't be reached. I did say I would call Pam when she returned from Greece. This is where I stand now with my wife."
"Are you going to divorce her?"
"I don't know. First I have to find out what her problem is. I'm going to wait until I talk to her. In the meantime I'm going to try to forget that part of my life and pick up with you, just like things were before you met Pat. I think you will find Seely a joy to be around. She shows a lot of the same qualities as Pam. I just want to emphasize what the good qualities are."
Seely very seldom mentioned her mom in the next two weeks, but she did want to know if she could call Rita Morales. Rita was more of a mother to Seely than Pam had been recently. When they talked, Seely raved to Rita about the new grandmother she had. I even had a few words for Rita myself about the one thing we had in common, other than Seely. I often helped Rita evenings in studying for her citizenship.
I was enjoying my new job and found it suited me better than my previous one. Seely had about seven weeks until school started again in the fall. Hopefully things would be settled between Pam and me before she returned to school. Mom was doting on her grandchild. She was lavishing all the affection she could on Seely to make up to me for my years of absence. Eventually I determined that Pam should have returned from Greece by now.
I called the house. Rita said she was back in town, but not home this evening. I called my mother-in-law and got the same answer to my query. I phoned the next morning about eight and got a sleepy "hello."
"Pam, it's me."
"You aren't home and neither is Seely. Where are you?"
"You told me to leave and to take Seely with me--so I did. You might as well know, I quit my job and have moved out of town. I figured you weren't interested in me or your daughter anymore, so even with all of your money there was no point in staying with you longer. Besides that, Seely was picking up on too many of your bad habits. I want her to have my values, not yours."
There was silence on the line and then I heard a shuddering intake of breath. "God Tony, I don't know what to say. You are so right about so many things, but you don't know why. I'm in bad trouble and it is getting worse all the time. I should have talked to you when I came back from that first cruise, but I thought I had the problem solved. Now it is very much worse."
"Maybe you better tell me all about it as soon as possible. I'm still your husband and I still have a little love for you--just not as much as I did."
"You probably won't love me at all when I tell you what has happened to me and what I have been doing. I have to though, because it has become more than I can handle. Can you come home so I can talk to you?"
"No I can't. I have just started a new job and I can't leave. You will have to come here. Seely is here with me and is being well taken care of. You might show a little interest in her as well. You haven't even asked anything about her except to verify that she is gone."
"Give me your address, and I will come as soon as possible. I'm pretty sick, but I will be there as soon as I am able to travel."
"How sick are you?"
"I don't know for sure. I seem to have an awful cold that has hung on forever. It could be something even worse."
"This is something you may have picked up sexually?"
"Am I at risk?"
"I don't think so, but you better have some tests done. Now you know why I have been denying you sex these last few months."
"Is there anything I can do before you get here?"
"Just take care of Seely and yourself. I'll call you when I get into town, but it may be several days before you hear from me. Bye Tony, and I don't really blame you for moving out on me."
I called my mother-in-law and asked if she knew what was wrong with Pam. She didn't know. She said she was acting like she had the flu. I was really concerned. Did Pam have AIDS? How about me? Had I contracted it from her? I immediately called the clinic to get tested for STDs. I found that it would take several days to either confirm or deny if I had contracted anything.
Every morning when I woke, I lay in bed asking myself how I felt before getting up. I seemed to feel okay. This is the way I started every day, but the fear was always present. Three days later the reports started coming back from the clinic. They were all negative, which was a relief. When I was questioned about when I thought I might have been in contact with a carrier, I said it had been at least three months. The doctor said he was positive I was free of any diseases.
I called Pam that evening and told her I was confirmed clean. She was so relieved to hear that she hadn't transmitted. She informed me she was feeling much better herself and would be coming to talk to me within a week. I asked if she had any results back from the tests she had taken. She said she had some, but the one she was the most worried about would take a few weeks to be sure she was safe.
I still had not heard any "I'm sorrys." I didn't know what my wife had been up to for the last few months, but it must have been pretty bad to have caused her to not care about me and Seely like she had done. Knowing Pam, I felt most likely she wasn't totally to blame. I couldn't think of anything I had done to cause her to stray, to the point of wanting to rid herself of me anyway. I know I had condoned her infidelity for years, but she had been totally discreet and if she hadn't told me about it herself, I would never have known.
I had given Pam my cell number and one Thursday afternoon she rang me at work telling me she was in town and was staying in a motel. It was a coincidence because she had booked herself into the same one I had before I went to meet my mother. The coincidence--she was in the same room that I and Seely had booked. Before she hung up she said she had Rita with her.
Pam met me at the door when I went into the motel. Pam looked like she had been through hell. She was thinner than she was several weeks ago. Also the bloom was off of her. There was just no glow to her at all. Usually even when Pam was sick she kept herself made up. That was gone now. I walked into her with my arms out and gave her a hug. When I went to kiss her, she turned her face so my kiss landed on her cheek. And stiff--there was no relaxing her body.
"Hi Pam. It's been weeks."
"I know. Come in and we'll talk. I brought Rita with me. I've told her all about my troubles and she has helped me survive. We can talk in front of her or she can go for a coffee somewhere."
"Either way, I don't care." I went in and Rita stood and came across the room to me.
"It is so wonderful to see you, Mr. O'Rourk. How is Seely? Can I see her today?"
"Of course. We'll go there as soon as Pam and I finish talking." I noticed that it was Rita who asked for Seely, not Pam.
"This is going to take awhile. Please don't say anything until I finish telling you about the past several months. You remember when I told you I was unfaithful and you accepted that. As long as you weren't made aware of it on any level we could continue as we had been on the surface?
"The man's name is John Bordon. I have been as faithful to him as I have been to you. What I am saying is that I have two men in my life that I have loved equally although I am married to you. John accepted this because he is married to a woman who is in an institution and he couldn't marry even if you and I divorced.
"A few months ago my banker, Tim Rowell, saw John and me out together and we were acting too much like lovers. He contacted a private investigator with the idea of getting evidence for blackmail. Tim had always flirted with me at the bank, but I was never interested. Anyway, he got some very explicit evidence against me and John. He said if I didn't go on a cruise with him and two of his friends, he would mail the evidence to all my friends. This included you John, my folks, and to some of the charities I belong to. He promised that it was a one-time thing and then he would leave me alone.
"Foolish me, I believed him. On that cruise he kept piling up more evidence of me having all kinds of sex with the three of them. When I came home, he left me alone for a few weeks and then he demanded that I be with him once in a while of an evening. Then he let his two buddies know what he was doing and now I was having to take care of them too. Then they got together and demanded I take a longer cruise with them. That is when I told you I didn't care about you and Seely. I planned on going overboard during the cruise, but they kept me in my cabin all the time.
"We were a few days out from port when I came down with a terrible cold. I went to sick bay and talked to the doctor. He could see that I was worn down and observed the rough abuse marks on me. I started crying and told him part of what was happening to me.
"Do you want those men to stay away from you he asked, and I said I did.
"He said he could do this two ways. He could report them to the captain, or he could scare them into leaving me alone. I opted for him to scare them. He gave me a note for the three of them to get into sick bay immediately, as I most likely had a case of STDs. My white bloodcount was way too low and as long as they were having sex with me, they should be checked."
I stared at Pam. "What happened then?"
"The doctor had really scared me too, for I was sick and they were the only ones I had associated with. I didn't know who they had for sex partners other than me. They are all married, but I didn't know their wives. Maybe they weren't any better than their husbands. Anyway the stuff hit the fan when I gave them the note from the doctor. We got into a fight and I accused them of giving me VD. They said it was something I had contracted somewhere else and not from them. The fight ended when they left my cabin and headed for sick bay.
"I was alone the rest of the trip. I didn't get off the ship even when we were in Greece. I wasn't bothered by Tim. Actually I spent the time thinking about what my life had become and where it was going. I was hoping I didn't have a disease, but if I had contracted something, I only had myself to blame. I realized that I didn't deserve you or Seely or even John Bordon."
I guess Pam was being as honest with me as she was capable of, but including John Bordon in the list with me and Seely, hit me where it hurt. Pam didn't seem to realize that I would condone her stepping out if I didn't know about it, but she was now telling me she loved this other person as much as she did me.
I looked at Rita and she could see my pain. I said nothing and the silence grew until Pam became aware that something she had said upset me. "Tony, I'm sorry. What I just said was so thoughtless. I'm so used to thinking of both you and John as my loves. You really do love me don't you and I have hurt you so. I've screwed my life up and I wish now that I had thrown myself overboard."
"You didn't and I suppose I'm glad you didn't even though I may feel differently later. Why don't we all go and meet my mother and you can see Seely. I feel bad for Seely more than I do for myself. You have been a terrible mother to her. It is about time you decided life isn't all about you, but about the people that love you." Pam went silent and stayed like that on the way over to Mom's house.
I entered the house with Pam slightly to my rear. Seely spotted her mother as Pam drew even with me. "Hi Mom, you left Dad and me and I was wondering if you were ever coming to see me again." Finally she saw Rita who was standing behind Pam and me and squealed, "Rita, oh I've missed you so." She ran and hugged Rita.
The affection shown for Rita wasn't lost on Pam--or my mother. I had to say that this gave Mom a poor opinion of my wife, just from what she had observed in the last two minutes. After introductions, Mom said she would get supper. Rita followed Mom into the kitchen with Seely clinging to her as if she didn't want to lose her.
Pam and I sat on the couch in the living room. We couldn't think of much to say. Pam did say she was feeling much better and thought she would be well soon. That is if the specter of the dreaded AIDS didn't make itself known. We decided that we needed to talk in depth about where our life was heading. I suggested that Rita stay here with Mom and Seely tonight. I would go back to the motel with her and then she and I could talk.
I had to work tomorrow, so Pam and I went back to the motel before it was Seely's bedtime. I told Seely that Rita would tuck her in and give her a kiss goodnight and might even sleep in the same room if she wanted. She did. At the motel, it was strange sleeping in the same room my wife again. We had separate beds at home and mostly went our own way--and had for the last few years. The last few months we rarely saw each other.
"Tony, can you tell me what you are going to do about me? I have been the most unfaithful and thoughtless wife. I am just realizing how bad I have treated you. Also, maybe you can tell me what you think is wrong with me. You must have thought about it a lot. You probably hate me."
"I don't hate you. You haven't treated me very well. I have a whole list of what I think your problems are. Do you really want to hear what I think?"
"Okay, but stop me anytime if I get carried away. First, you have always had too much money. It wasn't too bad before your grandmother gave you so much. When you received your inheritance you thought, 'Why does Tony have to work? I can support him.' Pam, I don't want to be supported. I love what I do and I'm good at it. My reputation says so and I'm proud of it.
"Next, I've never seen any affection between you and your parents. I suppose they care about you, but you wouldn't know it to see you with them. You treat Seely the same way. A kid has to have somebody to love and to love them. Look at Rita and how she loves Seely. Do you feel any of that?
"I don't suppose I have a very high sex drive and maybe you have a higher one. You must have if you have taken a lover all these years. I just gave up making advances when I wanted sex, because more often then not you turned me down. Then again sex with you has been great--sometimes. I see now I should have been more demanding of you and not let you have your own way so much. I guess I have put all that energy into my work to compensate. Do you know that the firm I used to work for offered to double my salary to keep me with them? That was because I am so good at what I do.
"You seem to always take the easy way out of something. You say you were blackmailed and had to comply. Stop and think--one letter to the bank manager's boss would have solved your problem. Instead you let it go and maybe it might turn out to be your death sentence. I hope not, for lurking in your soul somewhere there is a good person. You're just too damned beautiful and you have too much money."
"You're going to divorce me, aren't you?"
"I think so. When you refused to stop going on the cruise and told me to leave and take Seely with me, I made up my mind we were done. I haven't started any proceedings yet, because I wanted to have this talk. I came home to my Mom. She kicked me out twelve years ago and through my being so stubborn, we have had a lot of heartache. I'm back now resolving those issues. I should never have let things go so long with her."
Pam didn't look at me when she made the comment, "I think you are smart in planning to divorce me. I've thought a lot about how I have used you. You've let me do things no other husband would or should let his wife do. If the world knew our situation, they would say you are the worst kind of wimp. I know that isn't true. I think you just couldn't let me go because you loved me so much. I've thrown that love away through my stupidity and selfishness.
"Not only that, I have lost Seely as well. I have to be honest, I never gave Seely too much thought and I suppose that makes me an unnatural mother. I watched Seely with Rita tonight and the love they have together finally got to me. I find I ache to be treated the same way by her."
"At least you have someone to go to when the divorce is final. This John Bordon must be waiting for you."
"I don't know that he is or will be. I talked to him immediately when I came home from the cruise. To be honest he doesn't think much of me either. Not for himself as much as for the way I have treated you. You definitely have an ally in John. In a way you two are a lot alike and I know you would be best friends if I wasn't in the picture. Right now I'm feeling pretty down and awful lonely--and I deserve every bit of it."
"I'm sorry Pam. You've brought this all on yourself. I do feel sorry for your situation, but I'm beyond helping you. Now I have to work tomorrow and need my sleep. In the morning we'll go back to Mom's for breakfast."
God, this woman had caused me untold heartache and still I loved her. I just had to harden my heart and get over her. It took me a long time to get to sleep. It didn't help to hear the person in the next bed quietly crying. When I awoke in the morning, I could hear the shower running. I hoped Pam wasn't going to be long because my kidneys were screaming for relief. I sat on the edge of the bed waiting.
It wasn't long before Pam came out of the bathroom. She had thrown a dressing gown over her shoulders. Startled at seeing me awake, she quickly turned her back and buttoned it up before turning back to me. "I'm sorry, you didn't need to see me undressed under the circumstances."
"That's okay. You are my wife and you are still one of the most beautiful women I have ever met. That is something I can appreciate and will always remember forever."
"That is one thing I will always love about you. No matter how angry you are at me, you can still manage a compliment." Pam came towards me and leaned down and brushed my lips with hers before continuing around the bed. I headed for the bathroom.
Mom and Rita were laughing together when we reached the kitchen. Rita gave us a long look as we came in. Seely was flipping pancakes and hollered a "hi Daddy" as I stood watching her. I said to her, "Feed me child," as I sat down to breakfast. Pam stood, not being a part of the family unit. Usually Pam was the one to be at ease in any group, but she was out of her element here.
Mom finally saw this and said to relieve the tension, "Pam, there are cups in that cupboard over the sink. Pour Tony some coffee. He has to get moving. Pour some for Rita and me too. There is juice in the fridge for Seely." Pam flushed a little at Mom's bidding. She had seldom served me before and definitely never Rita, her housekeeper.
Rita, sitting across the table from me, started to rise. I shook my head for her to remain seated. Pam's hand was shaking just a bit when she poured the coffee. I said, "Thanks, Pam."
Rita said, "Thanks Mrs. O'Rourk."
Mom spouted, "There is only one Mrs. O'Rourk in this house and she had better be called 'Mom.' There is a Rita, a Pam, a Seely and a Tony. Is that clear to everyone?" Seely started giggling and soon we all were. That is the way things were when I headed out for work. And I was glad to go. Family problems could be pushed back for a few hours.
The evening brought its own problems. I think Pam wanted a repeat of last night. Christ I was divorcing her and seeing her practically naked wasn't going to make it easy for me. The decision was finally made that Rita and Pam would stay at the motel, which made Seely unhappy because she wanted to be near Rita. Seely made so much noise it was finally agreed that she could go and sleep with Rita.
Mom and I were alone later in the evening. Mom threw out the statement, "You have a beautiful wife, Tony. I understand that she is very well-to-do."
"Yes she is. Sometimes she is a good wife too. Not so much lately though, and I told her last night that I was thinking of filing for a divorce. I am going to miss her and in a lot of ways I feel sorry for her."
"Keep her then."
"No, I have to think about Seely. Pam has been a poor wife, but she has been a poorer mother."
"Rita has been telling me about her. She made me promise I wouldn't interfere. Rita thinks her parents are the ones to blame for the way she is."
"I agree, but the damage has been done, so I'm bailing out."
"I hope you won't be sorry. What are your plans for Seely? You know Pam will get her if she fights for her in court."
"We haven't talked about Seely yet. I think Pam and I can come to some agreement that we can all live with."
"Well you better make sure that Rita is employed by one of you. If you pass Seely back and forth between you, you better plan on having Rita there to take care of her."
"I don't think either Pam or I would have it any other way."
Mom hit me with a shocker. "You know Rita is in love with you, don't you? What are you going to do about that situation?"
I stared at my mother. "I didn't know. I wish you hadn't told me. Christ, life is complicated isn't it?"
"You couldn't do any better than Rita. She is loyal and smart. I'll bet you didn't know she has a degree from the university did you? She told me she wanted to get her citizenship before trying for a teaching license and you have helped her with that a lot. You also might take a good look at her too. Your wife's beauty is spectacular, but Rita is every bit as lovely. I bet she wouldn't be a cold fish either as I think your wife must be."
I had a lot to think about tonight. Wasn't I ever going to get a good night's sleep again? Saturday and Sunday were pleasant days. Mom treated Pam just like she did Rita, being warm and friendly to both. She questioned Pam about me and our life together. Pam was very forthcoming about the early years of our marriage and telling her how happy we had been. She was evasive about the last two or three years and Mom didn't press for answers.
Sunday afternoon Pam asked if Seely could go home with her. After careful consideration I said yes she could go with her. I said that I would make the trip myself the next weekend, as I had some things I needed to take care of. Seely cried when I told her she was going home with her mother, but I said that Rita would be with her all the time which seemed to mollify her.
Before the next weekend I said, "Mom, why don't you travel with me? I would like you to see where I have lived for the last few years. I have some unpleasant business to do and I want someone to keep Pam from thinking about what I am doing."