I was beat. The twelve-hour flight from Tokyo was always an ordeal and it didn't get any easier as I got older. Even with one of those berth seats in first class on the big triple seven, there wasn't much sleeping for me. I hated flying – not because I was afraid – no just because of the sheer drudgery of it, especially the trans-Pacific routes that took to me to my customers in Asia, Australia and New Zealand.
For a change Sarah had agreed to pick me up. She hated driving from our home in Piedmont in the East Bay to San Francisco International. I didn't know if it was me or the drive she found onerous, but things were going to come to a head in our marriage soon. Over the last couple of years she had become a stranger to me. As her drinking increased, my pleas for her to get treatment not only fell on deaf ears, but usually invoked an outburst, actually more than an outburst; usually scathing verbal attack where she told me to mind my own business. I tried to explain that our marriage was my business, but to no avail.
I hadn't told her why I insisted she pick me up, but she grudgingly agreed, reminding me that the BART train home was faster and more convenient. Maybe for her it was, but after traveling for many hours a seat in her big Mercedes was much preferable to the seats on the train. Anyway I wanted her full attention and I also knew she would not be drinking if she was going to be driving, so at least at the start of our conversation she would be sober.
But now it was 7:30 AM on Sunday morning and I was on the first train of the day from San Francisco International. Sarah and I had arranged to meet when my flight arrived Sunday evening, but my business wrapped up early in Taipei and I snagged a seat on an earlier connecting flight out of Tokyo. I must have called Sarah half a dozen times before I left Tokyo, but there was no answer at our home or from her cell. I was going to arrive about twelve hours early, which put me in to San Francisco about six on Sunday morning. Even if I reached her, I figured it was highly unlikely I could convince her to get up that early to meet me. With no answer, all kinds of thoughts went through my head. Had she finally just packed up and left? Unlikely, but if she had, did I care?
I knew I did care. We'd been married for over twenty years and had two wonderful children. I'd loved her ever since we were kids when we lived across the street from each other. We grew up together and shared the discovery of many joys of life. She had also introduced me to crushing heartbreak.
I grimaced as I thought about how, during our junior year at Berkeley High, she had abandoned me. I was just a math and science geek and she had become an in-crowd cheerleader. We both grew up a lot during the six years we were separated. I hated it but I learned I could live without her. I was now convinced that I was going to find out if I could do it again.
Sarah's alcoholism has worsened over the last few months, especially since our son Matt left for college.
"Dad you've got to get her some help. I know she's drinking a lot, but I've seen her taking all sorts of pills. I told her not to expect me back home ... I love you both, but I can't take her abuse ... and the disrespect she shows you ... I just can't."
He gently chided me for being gone so much but told me he understood.
"I'm worried about her, dad ... I want my mother back."
I hugged Matt and promised to see if there was any way I could get her into treatment. So far I had been rebuffed. It was my intention to tell her today that I was divorcing her. I didn't intend to tell her it was treatment or a divorce, because I knew she would dig in her heels about that. No, I was just going to tell her I was throwing in the towel and that it was obvious whatever we once had was gone. This saddened me greatly. Maybe once I moved out and started the divorce she would come to her senses. Alcohol was a powerful drug, but I knew my Sarah could beat it. I just couldn't figure out what started her down this self destructive path, and why she refused to get help. Did she despise me so much?
So there I was, sifting through the Sunday Chronicle, having the train car almost to myself at that early hour. I paid little attention to the stops as the train moved under the city. I barely registered the driver's announcement of "Embarcadero Station" when I heard the click clack of high heels on the marble platform in the deserted station. I love women in heels and peeked over the top of the paper as she entered the door at the other end of the car. My heart skipped and my stomach lurched when I recognized the woman as Sarah.
What the hell is she doing getting on a train out of the city at eight in the morning?
At that point what she was wearing made its way into my confused and jet- lagged brain. She's dressed like a slut!
She had on a sheer white sleeveless sweater without a bra. Her dark pink nipples were prominent. Below the sweater was a red leather skirt that did nothing to cover the reinforced stocking tops of the dark hose she wore. I could easily see the silver color of the suspender clips. On her feet were incredibly high red patent leather pumps with stiletto heels. Her Auburn hair was disheveled and there were runs in her stockings.
She sat with her head down, doing nothing to hide the tears that streaked her cheeks. She shivered.
I lowered the paper and examined her more fully. She took no notice of me. My Sarah looked like a street hooker on her way home from a rough night. She pulled a dark leather jacket from the large leather tote she carried and pulled it around her shoulders.
I watched her, mesmerized. Part of me wanted to go to her and comfort her, and part of me that was enraged wanted to go to her, shake her and force from her answers about what she'd been doing. It was my turn to shiver as a horrible sick feeling made its way though my body.
How long had this been going on? Did she have one lover, or had she descended to the point she was turning tricks in hotels in San Francisco?
As the train raced under San Francisco Bay her sobs increased. She made no effort to stifle her misery. We were alone in the car and she still hadn't noticed me sitting twenty feet away. I pulled out my phone, and as we came into the daylight of the West Oakland Station I took several photos.
What had happened to her - to us? Why was she doing this?
I knew when we got home I would confront her. I didn't know where I was going to go, but I vowed to pack up today and move out.
Drinking was one thing, but this obvious infidelity - infidelity hell, whoring more like it, was the final indignity. My heart was breaking for what we had and what she was throwing away. My sadness threatened to overwhelm me.
I had only four more stops to think what I would do. I knew it was futile to confront her on the train or in the station. Hell, I'd probably get arrested. No, I'd follow her home and confront her there. Now it wasn't a matter of threatening divorce - threats had been overcome by events. Divorce was a certainty.
Eight minutes later the driver announced, "Rockridge Station". I waited for her to get off first, but she hardly moved. She had wrapped her arms around herself and was crying and shivering, rocking forward and back. Finally as the doors slid open she seemed to realize she had to get off. She moved slowly to the door.
When had she gotten so thin?
As soon as her back was to me I grabbed my carryon bag and left through the forward door just as it started to close. I watched her walk slowly down the now sun drenched platform, her head down. She produced a handkerchief and wiped her tears. My beautiful Sarah, my wife, the woman I loved, looked as miserable as anyone I had ever seen. I was devastated.
Following about twenty feet behind her as she walked down the stairs from the platform, I doubted she would have noticed me had I been right beside her. She fumbled for a few moments in the large tote until she found a small purse and she pulled out her BART ticket and made her way through the turnstile. I followed her down the escalator and into the parking lot as she made her way to her new silver Mercedes S-Class. I photographed her as she opened the car, got in and drove away.
I headed across College Avenue to the other parking lot and then realized to my chagrin I didn't have a car at the station. My car was at the dealer for servicing and they had dropped me off at the train station for my outbound flight, promising to bring it to my home after the work was done.
I stood in the sun on this bright Sunday morning and looked for a taxi - without success. I mentally shrugged, put the strap of my bag on my shoulder, and started walking the two miles home. Fortunately I had dressed casually on my return; polo shirt, khaki Dockers, a silk and cotton sport coat, and comfortable shoes.
As I walked I passed several benches and thought of just sitting and thinking, but I knew it was time for me to get home and face her. Delay would not make things better. After about ten minutes I realized that walking was probably the best thing that could happen. The morning air was still cool and the sun on my face seemed to help restore me. It also helped me vent some of my anger. I knew I could never harm Sarah. I pondered her reaction when I arrived at the house. Would there be tears and apologies, of would there be only a drunken tirade. She seemed so devastated and frail that I doubted she had the strength to put up much of a fight.
What would Matt and Nicole say? Matt seemed to know our marriage was in peril. Nicole had been at college most of the last four years, although she had to have picked up on the tension in the household and her mother's drinking during her short visits home. I really didn't think she'd be surprised.
After about 40 minutes I climbed the hill to our house, the exercise warming my cramped muscles. We had lived there more than a dozen years, most of them happy. I recalled how excited Sarah was when we decided to buy the home. It was two story stucco Mediterranean style, with a huge kitchen and a large master bedroom upstairs that contained an enormous sunken tub and a shower for two. I thought of our first weekend in the house and how we made love in both places. Now our dreams were ashes.
I fished my keys out of the pocket of my sport coat. The house was silent as I walked through the main level to the kitchen. The house was spotless, as usual. Between Sarah's demand for cleaning perfection and a cleaning person every week it usually had the look of an impending photo shoot for Sunset magazine. Even drunk, Sarah cleaned and scrubbed. I did notice a glass and an empty bottle of scotch in the sink. That was unusual.
I headed up the stairs calling Sarah's name. I didn't want her to be startled, although God knows what kind of condition I'd find her in. I fully expected that she'd have changed her clothes and showered and might actually be asleep in our king-size bed. She looked like she hadn't slept in weeks.
I pushed open the double doors to our bedroom, softly calling her name in case she was asleep. I had decided if she was in bed I would just leave her there and talk to her later.
There was no sign of her, although her "whore" clothes were strewn about the floor. That was also unlike Sarah. Somehow my muddled brain noticed there were no panties amidst the garments.
Through the door to the bathroom I heard a song from Sarah's favorite album - something by Sarah McLachlan. I found her music a bit too syrupy, but Sarah loved to listen while in her bath and in her car. I started to turn the knob when Sarah's phone beeped indicating a message. The sound came from the small purse on the dresser. At that point I noticed the mirror and the used lines, of what I suspected was cocaine. There was also a small mound of cocaine on the mirror. I wondered if it was for after her bath.
Good God, Sarah, what are you into?
Next to the mirror was a plastic sandwich bag filled with white powder. It looked like a huge amount. Where would she get that much cocaine? It must have cost a fortune. Was she feeding her habit by trading sex for drugs?
The phone beeped again.
I pulled the phone from her purse and flipped it open and saw several missed calls, all from the same San Francisco number.
I went to her voice mail and put in her password. It had always been the same – our daughter's birthday.
"Sarah, baby ... where'd ya go? We're still having a party here. Call me."
The voice was slightly slurred but I thought it sounded familiar.
I listened to the next message.
"Sarah ... enough fun, baby ... you need to get back here ... you know the deal ... no more candy for baby ... unless you play. You better come back soon!"
That time I recognized the voice as one of the partners in Sarah's firm. His name was Greg Modine. The next message was much more strident and demanding.
"Sarah ... God damnit get you ass back here right now ... we're not done playing! If you're not back here in the next ten minutes ... all the photos ... will go to your limp-dick husband ... you wouldn't want him to find out what a cock-loving slut you are would you? Anyway you know you love it ... wait a second ... Hal says he needs you back 'cause he knows you want some more of his big black cock!"
I didn't listen to the next message. I had heard enough. Sarah had somehow gotten involved with Greg and she was using cocaine, apparently supplied by Greg. I was also sickened by the thought that Hal Jones was involved. While Greg had always seemed a bit oily, Hal seemed a decent family man ... but now this.
I leaned against the door hearing the quiet and now almost mournful singing and knew it was past time to confront Sarah. My hands trembled in fury as I opened the door.
Why ... why ... why?
I stepped into the bathroom fully expecting to hear a shriek of surprise or some kind of response from Sarah. Instead, she was just lying there in a bubble bath, a serene smile on her face. An empty bottle of champagne was lying on its side near the tub. Nearby, on the floor, was an amber pill container. It also was on its side, empty.
I went to her and shook her, furious, wanting to wake her and what? Somehow hurt her like she had hurt me. Why had she done this? I wanted her to tell me.
I still had her phone in my hand and I called 911. Sarah was unresponsive.
Suddenly all my rage evaporated as fear for Sarah set in.
I drained the cooling water from the tub and lifted her out while wrapping her in a large towel. She was so thin I hardly recognized her body. She seemed to weigh nothing as I carried her to our bed. Sarah had always kept herself in shape with diet and exercise, but for years she still had plenty of womanly curves on her tall frame. Now she was ice cold as I hugged her to me. I took her to the bed and covered her with the blankets. Her pulse was very slow and her breathing shallow. I knew I would have to act fast if she stopped breathing.
"Please Sarah ... please don't die ... please don't do this to us."
I lay close with my arms around her, trying to give her some of my warmth.
With great reluctance I did leave her for a few moments to hide the bag of cocaine and open the front door. I left the remainder of the cocaine on the mirror. I knew the medical people would need to know what she had taken. I looked at the pill container as I listened to the fast approaching siren. The pill bottle said it should contain 20 pills, and the date on the label showed it was purchased a week ago.
The fear of losing Sarah ... fear of being without my wife and lover and my friend, turned my stomach in knots. Despite what we had been through the last couple of years I never considered letting her die. I knew I still loved her with all my heart and I wanted desperately for her to live.
I also knew there would be a reckoning for those responsible.
I heard the aid car pull up and then doors slamming and footsteps. I called down to them. I didn't want to let her go. I feared this would be the last time I would hold her. The two young men and a pretty blonde woman gently took her from me, uncovered her, and stretched her out on the bed. She looked so pale and emaciated. She was naked and I was embarrassed for her that these strangers would see her like that. I was also ashamed that I had failed her ... failed to get help for her ... failed to notice how she had changed physically. I couldn't remember the last time I had seen her naked or when we last made love.
As they quickly began to work on her a second woman appeared. She gently pulled me from the room and out into the hallway. I told her about coming home and finding her in the bath. I gave her the pill bottle and pointed through the door at the cocaine on the dresser. I also told her about the bottle of Champagne in the bathroom next to the tub, and the bottle in the sink downstairs. She left me there and quickly moved into the bedroom to brief the other three.
From that point until hours later at the hospital my memory was a blur. I remember them taking her out on a stretcher/gurney and that one of the men was using a bag to breathe for her. She had tubes in her and was covered with a large blanket. Somehow I was glad no one could see her nakedness now.
There was no room for me in the aid car. I followed in her car, and by the time I parked she had been swallowed up in the emergency department. I vaguely remembered a nice young woman helping me through all the hospital and insurance forms, and then talking to a policeman. I knew that anytime a spouse ends up dead or in the hospital the other spouse is automatically a suspect. I told him I had just gotten home from a two-week trip to Asia and had come home and found her. I didn't think there was any reason to tell him about seeing her on the train. He asked if we were having martial difficulties. I told him the truth. After awhile he left me alone. I was sure he would talk to the ER docs before getting back to me.
Somehow I did manage to get hold of Nicole and Matt. I didn't give them many details other than she was very ill and was in the emergency room. They both promised to get there soon.
The voice sounded like it came from far away as I sat on the hard waiting room chair. I didn't know how long I'd been there.
Eventually I looked up and saw a young man in green scrubs.
I nodded, trying to gauge his expression. Was he there to tell me Sarah had died?
"Will you come with me, please?"
I stood on shaky legs as he indicated a small office nearby.
I shook my head as he offered coffee.
"Mr. Anderson ... your wife is out of danger."
I didn't hear the rest of the sentence as I put my face in my hands and cried. He left me alone for a few minutes. Finally I felt a hand on my back.
"Mr. Anderson, I'm Doctor Franklin". The younger man had been replaced by an older man, also dressed in green scrubs.
"Are you okay enough to talk now?" I looked at him and could only nod. He handed me a glass of water. I drank it gratefully.
"Mr. Anderson, I know it is very difficult ... when ... when a spouse tries to take her own life, but just know that she will probably make a full physical recovery. She is very thin and dehydrated. She had a huge quantity of alcohol in her system, the sleeping pills, and of course the cocaine. In a strange way the cocaine may have saved her from the immediate effects of the pills she took. The medics did a great job in not waiting to pump her stomach. If you had waited to call for help maybe even five minutes she might not have made it.
"Can I see her?"
"Yes, but she's still out ... and may be for a few days."
My whole body ached from lack of sleep and the fact that the adrenaline that coursed through my body had done its work and now left me drained. My legs felt like lead as I made my way to the intensive care unit. I trembled as I looked at her. She was very pale and her hair was tucked under a surgical cap. She hardly looked at all like my Sarah, my sweet love ... the mother of our children and my lifelong friend. The heart monitor showed a steady but slow beat. They told me she was on the ventilator just as a precaution, and once her breathing stabilized they'd take her off.
"Sarah, please don't die." I whispered
The ICU nurse finally ushered me out and I found myself in the Sunday morning quiet hospital cafeteria. I was exhausted, but my mind refused to shut down. I knew I needed to sleep, but that had to wait. I poured myself a cup of thick black coffee and poured cream and sugar in it. I took my coffee black, but today I needed the extras.
I sat in the hard cafeteria chair and thought about the years we had been together and the events that lead up to Sarah's suicide attempt. Actually there was no attempt about it. I didn't know much about the pathology that causes people to take their own lives, but something stuck in my mind that many people who attempt suicide are crying out for help. That was not the case with Sarah. With both Matt and Nicole away in school and with me not expected for another twelve hours, Sarah was not crying out for help. She had been determined to kill herself, knowing that no one would find her until I got home that night.
I shuddered at the thought of that scene – no Sarah at the airport – making my way home and finding her dead in the bath. It was a near enough thing as it was. What if I had decided to sit on one of those benches for even a few minutes?
I could have prevented the whole thing if I had been man enough to confront her on the train or at the station – or without my stupid pride if I'd been able to go to her, comfort her and hold her, and let her know things would be all right. No, I sat and watched as she fell apart in front of me. I should have known I was seeing the woman I loved reaching the end of her rope.
Now Sarah was upstairs unconscious and the fault was partially mine. I ignored her and abandoned her as her drinking got worse. Yes, she did everything she could to drive me away, but I was her husband ... sickness and heath and all that. Was I looking for her to hurt me again as she had done years before? Was that why I always held back just a bit? Was it a defense mechanism? I did love her, and I relished the many happy years we had together.
Could we ever put Humpty Dumpy together again? I didn't know.
I shook myself loose from these thoughts and forced myself to drink the now cold coffee. I made a decision, now it was time to go. I had things to do and people to call and actions to take. Actions I hoped would lead to retribution against those who had hurt my Sarah and destroyed my marriage. I had maybe fours hours before Matt and Nicole arrived.
I got up and gazed around the empty cafeteria as I pulled out my cell phone and walked outside.
It rang once, and then I heard a familiar voice.
"I need access to a building."
"Is she okay?"
"No, but she'll recover."
"What'll you need?"
"A prox with a blanker ... and a twenty-three."
"You got it. How much time do I have?"
"I'll be there in about an hour."
"Okay ... stop and buy a Chronicle across the street."
"Thanks. I owe you."
"No you don't"
"Okay, man ... I hope she gets better soon."
He hung up.
Our phones used encryption technology, but still we kept our conversations short.
I was going to pay a visit to the law offices of Madison and Trasker. The phone call had been to a long time friend who spent most of his life on the other side of the law. We were kind of the Yin and Yang of the computer security business. I had ordered a proximity badge that would get me access to Sarah's building in San Francisco, and all the offices. The badge would have my photo on it and look real to anyone. It also had a built in "blanker" which would temporally blind the security cameras as I went through the building. Anyone who was watching the monitors would see it as a momentary computer glitch that caused a loss of the video feed from that camera. I also knew there was typically only one person on duty in the One Market building on Sunday mornings, and the chance he or she would even think twice about a blip of the cameras was remote, even if the security guard was anywhere near the monitors.
The twenty three was another thing altogether. It was a computer virus he and I developed. After I downloaded everything from Greg Modine and Hal Jones' computers, I was going to infect them with a nasty virus that would destroy everything on them beyond recovery. No one would ever know I had even been there. If anyone had the knowledge to try to trace the bug it would seem to come from a porn site outside the country. I might do the same for Sarah's computer, depending on what I found there. Hell, I might bring down every server at the law firm.
I turned up my collar and ran across the street from the hospital to the parking garage. I had a train to catch. I was going back to Embarcadero Station. The morning sun had given way to winter darkness and heavy rain. It fit my mood.