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.