1. The End
As he stomped out, Mike Kimmel slammed the front door of their plush, new tract home in the Gleneagle development just south of Arlington, Washington so hard it shook the windows. His poor wife, Anna, was visibly shaken as she melted into the couch in tears. Why did he have to always resort to the insults and shouting? Wasn’t it enough for him to just humiliate her and leave her in smug self-righteousness? Why did he have to insist on breaking her emotionally? He was likely cutting her down because he wasn’t getting his own way this time. Mike always got what he wanted. He had always based his decisions on what was best for Michael Kimmel, not what was the proper thing to do nor what was best for his family. Now he was upset because Anna’s lawyer had given him a call. He was going to have to keep making mortgage payments even though he wasn’t even living here anymore and he was not happy about the whole situation. To his way of thinking it was all Anna’s fault.
“Are you okay, Mom?”
It was Mike and Anna’s ten year old daughter, Kayla. She and her little sister Gretchen had tiptoed back up the stairs at the slam of the door which had signaled the end of the private “discussion” between their parents. Both girls threw their arms around their mother as all three melted into tears together on the couch.
“We’re going to be okay, girls,” Anna stated with all the resolve she could muster. “Dad doesn’t have to live here for us to be a family. He hasn’t been with us here for the last six months anyway and we’ve managed all along, haven’t we? We still have each other and we’ll be okay.”
It was only a half-hearted declaration she hoped would come true. Anna Kimmel was not okay nor did she know if she ever would be. Anna was a broken woman, broken by her compound problems and her relentless husband. Her mother had suffered a debilitating stroke in October and poor Anna could no longer phone her for words of advice and wisdom. Words were out of question now for Lillian Manchester. The stroke had rendered Anna’s mother speechless. What hurt even more was when Mike had referred to her as, “The vegetable.” Mike and her mother had never been close. Anna should have listened to her in the first place. Lillian had Mike figured out even before they had been married. Anna’s mother had been through a struggle with her own alcoholic husband and Lillian had raised Anna and her sister Katherine on her own. She knew a self centered man when she saw one and had allowed the ice to form between them. The disdain was mutual. Mike had cursed Lillian behind her back as a meddling old mother-in-law.
Just before her stroke Lillian had warned Anna that Mike’s apartment was his first step out the door. The man had insisted he had needed to rent that condo in nearby Everett to eliminate the tiresome commute in snarled traffic, at least that was his justification for the second residence. More than likely he just wanted to be away from Anna and the girls. Mike had always lived life on his own agenda so that he could shoot pool or play golf with his buddies. He had even insisted on separate vacations last summer. Up until 1999, the Kimmel family had always taken family vacations together even if Mike had wandered off to do his own thing. The year 2000 had been different, however. Mike had said he was tired of tagging along after a bunch of females. He announced he was going to Reno with his buddy, “Roger”, instead. Anna and the girls had ended up going to Disneyland as planned and actually had more fun than if Mike had been along with them.
Over time that phrase, “Anna and the girls,” had become a constant litany. Anna and the girls went for bike rides while Dad stayed home to practice his putting. Anna and the girls went to the aquarium while Dad went to Bernie’s to shoot pool. Anna and the girls began attending church on Sunday mornings while Dad stayed home to watch the golf tournament. Anna and the girls went to see the high school play while Dad took in a round of golf with two of his clients. No, Michael Kimmel wasn’t cut out to be a family man nor was theirs a marriage any longer. It was technically a marriage on paper but not in actuality.
“Does Daddy still love us?” little Gretchen wondered through the tears.
“Of course he still loves you, Gretchen. It’s just that your father and I have our differences. It’s me he doesn’t love anymore but he will always love you and Kayla. That will never change.” She spoke with all the assurance she could summon even though she might very well question what she had just stated.
How do you explain a separation to a second grader? How do you justify the unjustifiable? How do you tell a little girl her father has found a girlfriend who was fifteen years younger? How do you explain what a sugar daddy is? How can anyone explain things that don’t make sense to a little girl who is witnessing her family fall apart before her eyes?
“Well, I don’t love him!” Kayla declared, “I don’t like the way he yells at you, Mom! He treats you like dirt!”
“Ex-squeeze me?,” Anna responded in a playful phase she used quite often. The words always defused an emotional situation. It let a child know she was out of line but was still loved. “Please, don’t talk like that about your father, Kayla. You know he still loves you.”
“I’ll ex-squeeze you if you’ll ex-kiss me,” was the girl’s oft repeated come back as she buried her face once again into her mother’s chest. Anna responded by kissing her head.
It’s hard for a fourth grader to comprehend a disintegrating marriage. The secure world poor Kayla had always known was coming unraveled. Today, March 10, 2001, was the first day young Kayla Kimmel had come to grips with the fact that she was officially part of a broken family. She understood there was now no hope her parents would ever get back together again.
From that day forward Anna and the girls would truly be on their own. Anna would rarely have any free time. She would always be responsible for the girls, even more so now than in the last year or two when Mike had been shirking his paternal responsibilities.
Anna Kimmel put up a brave front all that week. She needed to appear self-confident for the children’s sake. She taught her Sunday school class on the eleventh and poured herself into her responsibilities as a fifth grade teacher at Eagle Creek Elementary School in Arlington the rest of that week. Friday, March 16, 2001 was an in-service day for teachers. Anna needed to go to work but the girls would have the day off. Since Mike informed her in no uncertain terms would he was available to babysit the girls, Anna had again arranged for her good friend from church, Gwen Clayton, to come stay at the house with Kayla and Gretchen.
At home later that same evening an item on the local television news caught Anna’s attention. There had been a terrible automobile accident in nearby Smokey Point, not three miles from where they lived. A mother and her son had been killed by a drunken driver who had senselessly sped through a red light at a busy intersection. The only survivor of the horrible crash was a little girl who had been pulled unconscious from the wreckage by someone on the scene just before the tiny compact car had burst into flames. The news report said the girl had been rushed to an Everett hospital and was in critical condition. Pictures of the charred wreckage on the news report were horrifying. It was a wonder anyone had survived such a crash. The irony of the news report was that the drunken driver who had slammed into the little car with his four-by-four pick-up truck had received only a slight cut on the bridge of his nose. Anna wondered if she knew the children involved but of course no names had been given pending notification of the family. The news was only that both children had attended school in Arlington. For some reason Anna was moved to tears just listening to the tragic report.
It was at church on Sunday morning that Anna Kimmel learned the identity of the victims. The mother and son who had been killed were named Cindy and Jason Davidson. Cindy’s mother, Susan Taylor was a member of Anna’s church and was also a close friend of her babysitter, Gwen Clayton. Understandably Mrs. Taylor was not in church that Sunday. She was holding vigil at the bedside of her young granddaughter who was fighting for her life in a Seattle hospital. A special collection was taken for this family in their unfortunate crisis. In addition the ladies at church had already begun talking about bringing prepared meals to Susan Taylor and her family once they returned home again. Prayers were then said for this grieving family. Anna could only imagine how heartbreaking such a horrible event would be for anyone. Her personal problems of a crumbling marriage and an invalid mother paled by comparison. Nonetheless the awful news seemed to depress poor Anna all the more.
There was a special faculty meeting called before school on Monday morning, March 19. The Eagle Creek School principal told the staff about the terrible traffic accident on Friday. The two children had been students at nearby Presidents Elementary School. The little boy had been in first grade and the girl was a fourth grader, the same age as Kayla Kimmel. A special letter had been composed at the district office to be sent home with every student that day explaining what had happened. They were also advised that the school counselor would be on special assignment at Presidents for the next day or two so that she could assist in the handling of the grieving process.
It was probably the accumulation of all the awful events that had occurred over the last week or two that was to blame but it all seemed too much for her. Anna Kimmel had always put up such a steely front in the face of adversity but here she was in this early morning faculty meeting wiping away the tears. She didn’t know this family and barely had a recollection of the grandmother from church but she had a strange feeling of overwhelming grief at their loss as if these people were a part of her own family. Why were so many sad things happening all at once? It was time for good news instead of all the bad news followed by even more worse news.
“Are you all right, Anna?” Fellow teacher, Tom Churchill, asked with concern.
“I’ll be okay in a minute or two, Tom. It all just sounds so terrible. It’s just that I can’t imagine what that father and grandmother must be going through. Thanks for your concern.”
Tom had become a close friend and professional associate ever since she had come to work at Eagle Creek seven years ago. He was a good listener, a great teacher who was well liked by both staff and students. Unlike Mike, Tom was a gentleman and Anna had fallen for him if the truth be known. Tom was a happily married man though and she was not about to do anything that might destroy his life. Anna had heard all the gloomy statistics about the odds of single mothers. Good men like Tom were already taken and only slim pickings were left out there. Anna was never going to find another life-companion and she knew it. The odds were against her. She was resigned to living the rest of her life as a single parent just like her mother had done before her.
Anna realized she was letting all these bad thoughts to take over her emotions but she couldn’t allow that to happen. She was responsible for the education of a room full of students. How could she ever be in charge of the classroom when she wasn’t even in charge of her own emotions? She had neither the time nor the inclination to dissolve into a puddle of self-pity. A quick look at the clock told her she had about ten minutes to compose herself. Anna took a deep breath and sighed. Grabbing another tissue and the compact from her purse, she swept aside the tears and brushed away the self pity. She managed a smile for Tom and he nodded his head with a kind word of support. Putting on her teacher face, she marched back down the hallway to her classroom where she would play the part of a stoic instructor who could always be calm and in charge in the face of any crisis.
Time had always seemed to tick away so quickly when she was busy at work. Planning, teaching, and evaluating had made the minutes disappear like kids eating a bowl of popcorn. Before Anna knew it, it was already the end of the work week but Mike hadn’t yet bothered to leave a phone message. It was just as well. He could have fallen off the end of the earth for all she cared.
How had it all gone so wrong? She had fallen in love with Mike Kimmel back then while they were both attending Western Washington University in Bellingham. He was such a confident, handsome young man, a good catch, and he knew it. Anna Manchester had been swept off her feet by his smooth talking, flirty ways. To tell the truth, she’d willingly participated in the flirting as well. Anna had been pleased at the time that she had found quite the catch. The two had been married a couple years after her graduation and Mike was already set for success. He’d landed that great job with the prominent accounting firm in Everett through some connection involving a friend of his father. Anna had snagged a man who would always be in the money. After teaching school for a couple years in Everett, Anna became pregnant with Kayla and had taken a leave of absence. She and Mike had figured at the time that the leave would become more or less a permanent situation. That leave had even stretched over six years and another child. In that time Anna had found herself alone in raising the girls while they were still toddlers. Mike vowed never to change a diaper and had spent very little time playing with the girls. The man just wasn’t cut out to be a father and it began causing a lot of turmoil between them. He didn’t seem to understand how demanding it was to raise two little ones and didn’t care to share in the responsibility. He was more interested in making money and acquiring things. He was always after the latest vehicle, electronic device, or the nicest set of golf clubs. He couldn’t give up on his social life because of the kids. Of course little girls couldn’t play golf so Mike insisted he had no choice but to leave Anna alone with them whenever he needed to hit the links. He had to maintain important business connections. It didn’t help Anna to express her dismay either because Mike had labeled her pleas as nagging.
It had been Mike’s decision that Anna should return to teaching as he wanted her to be out there earning even more money. At the time she had actually looked forward to the opportunity to be out of the house. Anna landed the job up in Arlington and began commuting to work from Everett for two years, all the while shuffling Kayla and Gretchen off into daycare and school. Her revived career quickly became a grind and poor Anna had little time for herself. When Mike decided it was time to move into a huge, fancy, new house to match his status as a successful accountant, he came across the Gleneagle housing development in Arlington that had been constructed around a golf course. What a perfect location for a home! He was sold on sight and it didn’t take long to convince Anna when he pointed out the lack of the long commute for her. It was a brand new two story house with a split level entryway. The backyard was generous and was just off one of the fairways. Mike also loved the fact that it was just three blocks from the clubhouse. The only addition Anna insisted on was the redwood outdoor play set for the girls. As long as they had a place to play, she was convinced Mike’s move was in their best interest, although the mortgage payments seemed awfully high. In time Anna had grown to appreciate the structure as she turned it from a house into a home.