Read an Excerpt
disguised BlessingsA wife's story of her Wall Street husband turned bank robber
By Jeanne Callahan Trantel Jill Hofstra
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2010 Jeanne Callahan Trantel
All right reserved.
Chapter OneJust About Perfect
I thought I had the perfect life. The stage was set, and it seemed as if all my dreams were coming true. I always wanted a family, could not wait to be a mother, and there I was with a loving husband, Stephen, and two beautiful, healthy sons-Stephen, who was six years old, and Ryan, who was three. After nine years of marriage, Stephen and I had finally been able to afford the house we wanted. We packed up our belongings from our house in Long Beach, New York, and moved into our dream home in Rockville Centre, New York, an upscale town on the south shore of Long Island. We had always wanted to move there, and now we finally were. It was the town where I had grown up, and most of my childhood friends still lived there. Only thirty-five minutes from New York City, many of its residents, like Stephen, worked on Wall Street. For us, it was the perfect setting to raise a family. Although Rockville Centre is a community close to the energy, opportunities, and excitement of Manhattan, it still has a small-town, friendly feel, and almost everyone knows his neighbors.
Stephen also grew up in Nassau County, Long Island, only a few towns away, so we both had active lives with a lot of family and friends surrounding us. My father, who was an attorney, lived there, and Stephen's father, who was a retired police officer, lived there as well. Our backgrounds were similar, as were the values we had been brought up with. I had a happy childhood; so did Stephen. Since we both had loved living on Long Island, we were thrilled to return. Now, our dream had become a reality.
Following college graduation, I traveled around Europe with friends of mine, catching another glimpse of life outside the little world of Rockville Centre where I had grown up. The streets of Amsterdam and the other European cities like Paris and London were unlike any I had seen before. They were overflowing with constant excitement. The pulse of those cities was fast, and I loved the cosmopolitan feel and being exposed to such different cultures. Growing up in the suburbs of New York City, I had always thought I was so worldly, but I started to realize that my Long Island life had also kept me quite sheltered in many ways.
When I returned home from my jaunt around Europe, I was thrilled to land a job with American Airlines in their ground passenger service department at nearby JFK Airport. I readily took advantage of the company benefits and the ability the job offered for me to travel. I was twenty-four years old, single, and had the freedom to enjoy doing all the things young people do. It was fantastic, and I loved it. It was so exciting to be in the travel industry, to be around so many people all the time, to enjoy the people I was working with, and to be employed in a position that was as far as I could possibly get from a regular office job.
At the same time, as much as I enjoyed touring and being exposed to the different places my job took me, I was still always happy to come back to my hometown. I was living at home with my parents, and I was quite content to be within the confines of where I grew up, especially because I was surrounded by the people I had known all my life. As I look back now, my world was small, safe, and very secure.
I met my husband in 1991. One evening, my girlfriends and I had planned to meet at a bar in Long Beach, a neighboring community, for dinner. I arrived first, and as I was waiting for my friends to get there, I caught the eye of the young man working behind the bar. He was full of energy, attractive, and quick to smile. His name was Stephen Trantel. The bar wasn't very busy yet, so we had time to talk for a while before my friends showed up. As I came to know him while we talked that night, I found that unlike many young men in their twenties, Stephen had his act together. He was ambitious and hard working. As a clerk on the trading floor of Wall Street by day, and a bartender by night, he was very focused and ambitious. I felt an instant attraction to him, and by the time my girlfriends arrived at the bar for dinner, I had come to realize he was someone I could see myself with.
Over the course of the night, Stephen, being a skilled and witty bartender, was friendly with everyone and gave a lot of attention to each of the patrons. He was charming, outgoing, and by all accounts a very popular person. At the end of the night, when he asked me for my number as I was leaving with my two girlfriends, I was taken by surprise. I hadn't known he was interested in me; I figured he talked with everyone, so there had been nothing different for him about me. Needless to say, I was more than happy to give him my number.
A few days later, I again went to the bar where Stephen worked, this time just pretending to be meeting my girlfriends. Stephen and I had been talking on the phone by that point, and I wanted a chance to see him again. That night, as we talked at the bar, there was no doubt in my mind that there was chemistry between us.
Like all couples, we had our arguments, but talking things out and making up never took very long. After one particular fight, knowing I wouldn't be home, he went to the apartment I had just moved into and left me a large plant he had bought for my living room. Later that year, on Christmas, he told me he had a big surprise for me. I couldn't imagine what it was, though I wondered if it might be a puppy. He took me to his apartment, opened the door to his bedroom, and led me in. A fur coat he had bought for me was draped over his bed.
I suppose the most pivotal point in our relationship happened on one of our dates, though it wasn't the date itself that was memorable-it was what I felt inside that night. I remember meeting him at the Rainbow Room in New York and thinking, this is the man I'm going to marry. I was wearing a short black dress, and he was already seated in a booth, handsomely dressed in a suit, waiting for me to arrive. The maître de walked me to the table, and it was as I was on my way over to him that time seemed to slow down to a near stop. I had a feeling I had never before in my life had. The love I felt for Stephen in that moment was so deep, and the certain knowing I would spend my life with him was as close to an out-of-body body experience as I had ever had. I simply knew I would marry him.
Two years later, that is exactly what we did.
After we got engaged, his thoughtfulness and generosity continued. I was able to plan our wedding and focus on the details of what would become one of the best days of my life without the heavy weight of debt bogging me down.
Stephen and I were married at the bar association in Garden City, and we had our wedding ceremony at a church in Rockville Centre. The celebration had all the makings of a traditional, classic, elegant wedding, from the band to the flowers and the delicious food. I loved my wedding dress; it was long, straight, and sleek with exquisite beading. I felt like a queen. Our friends and family were as thrilled as we were; there was a unanimous feeling that Stephen and I belonged together.
After our fairytale wedding, we spent nine incredible days on our honeymoon in Antigua's Jumby Bay. Since I was still working for the airlines, we were able to get amazing discounts, making the trip that much more enjoyable. We were off to the perfect start.
Our marriage was idyllic in the beginning. Sure, we had our share of difficulties, but Stephen and I had many common interests, we were best friends, and we were very much in love. We were a fun-loving couple who truly enjoyed each other's company and doing thing together like skiing, biking, and traveling. We loved taking walks together, going camping, playing cards at night, and taking the truck out to Robert Moses Beach where we would spend hours upon hours fishing and talking.
Stephen and I started our married life in Long Beach, the town where we both met, only a few miles from Rockville Centre where we would eventually buy our dream home. We enjoyed living close to the beach and spent a good deal of time with both of our families. We had a large but close-knit circle of friends and socialized with many couples that we had both known since childhood. We lived a simple and modest, but comfortable life. I didn't need to work full-time in order to make ends meet, but I did work part-time so that we would have health benefits. Stephen was trading on his own at that point, so we didn't have insurance coverage through his job.
After two years of marriage, we were blessed with our first son, Stephen, and then four years later, we had our second son, Ryan. We were both thrilled. Stephen was making good money in Manhattan on the commodities floor. He provided a comfortable lifestyle for our family, and we lived in a nice home and in a nice neighborhood. Since it wasn't necessary for me to have a full-time job and Stephen never wanted to have the boys in daycare, I continued to work only part-time, but just until our second son was born. After that, we both agreed that I would be the traditional stay-at-home mom and not have to try to balance the children, the house, and a career.
I was so thankful to have that freedom and threw myself into making a happy and healthy lifestyle for us. I had many other friends who were also at home during the day with their children, so in addition to shopping, cooking, and cleaning, I was busy with play dates and providing plenty of activities for the kids. I really love the outdoors, especially the beach, and so I would often take the boys in a double stroller and walk the boardwalk. We were always doing something, and I enjoyed every minute of it.
Motherhood suited me well, and Stephen loved being a dad. He never hesitated to jump in to help care for the boys, and they absolutely adored him. As a hands-on father, Stephen never shied away from changing diapers, getting up in the night with the children, or doing the things that many times are typically left for the mothers to do. Stephen also paid all the bills, not wanting me to have to deal with our finances.
Even after our children were born, Stephen and I always made sure that we still had our time together as a couple. We did our best to keep up a tradition of going out for a "date" once a week, and we often stayed up late talking or playing cards. Our relationship was strong; we were totally committed to one another, and we were both very much devoted to our family. Though we made sure we spent the weekends doing activities with children, kept up the tradition of doing Sunday night dinners with Stephen's family, and got together often with friends who had kids the same age as our children, our relationship as a couple always remained a top priority.
Another priority for Stephen was his job; I had always known that his career was important to him. Although trading was an extremely high-pressure profession, the market was good, and in the beginning, he seemed to thrive in the fast-paced environment. Stephen said it was the best job when making money, and the worst when losing money. He used to tell people that going to work was like being in a football game every day. Some days you'd win, some you'd lose, and there were always a lot of other players on the field. There was lots of action every day, and he loved the challenge of Wall Street.
Though it was certainly exciting at times, it was also a constant roller coaster. Stephen's job on the trading floor was extremely stressful with lots of highs and just as many downs. He was gambling with his money every day, not knowing where a trade would leave him financially at the end of the day. He was fully aware of the big risk he was taking and regularly felt the pressure of that responsibility. He wasn't one to hide how he felt, and over time, I grew accustomed to his mood swings. On a good day, he was in a great mood and would come home and exclaim he had won the market that day. On bad days, when he lost a lot of money, his mood showed it. Anyone married to a Wall Street trader knows what this is like; one week we had a lot of money, the next it was gone. You just get used to it after a while, though the stress about needing to still somehow keep a budget to ensure financial security for the family never quite diminishes.
Despite the cons, overall Stephen and I were happy with his job and the success he often had. Like most of our neighbors, many of whom also worked in Manhattan, we were living a comfortable life. For the most part, our life was simple and relatively worry-free; we had no big problems to speak of.
Outside of work, Stephen had an active life, too. He had many friends he liked to spend time with, and at home, he was adept at doing repairs and odd jobs. I had always considered Stephen to be the opposite of lazy. He was handy around the house and constantly doing something. Though he wasn't a plumber, if there was a leak somewhere in the house, he would know how to fix it. He did a lot of the construction work that needed to be done, including putting in new windows. If he couldn't figure something out by himself, he would ask a friend to help him or show him how to do it. But the job always got done. He was the type of person who, after doing all our lawn work and trimming the hedges, would wander over and help the neighbors by trimming their hedges as well.
Though we didn't take nearly as many vacations after the children were born, we still made full use of our weekends and time off. We were no longer using our time share and going to the Bahamas, skiing in Vermont and New Hampshire, or spending the sporadic night in New York City-as we had before the children were born-but our "at home" vacation time was always special for us. Stephen made it a point to spend lots of time with the boys and me, going to parks, camping, and lounging on the beach. As often as we could, we would take the boys biking and hiking. We were always busy, and always together as a family. Our lives were very full.
Then came 9/11 and the World Trade Center disaster. Long Island was filled with communities where so many people lost so much. It seemed as though everyone was in mourning. In the weeks following the tragedy, many of our neighbors buried or memorialized their loved ones. It was heartbreaking. Everyone knew somebody who died, or somebody who had lost a loved one. Several of Stephen's business friends and associates had died during the attacks on the World Trade Center, so at that time we were aware of how very blessed we were.
We were so focused on the tragic deaths that surrounded us that neither Stephen nor I realized how the ramifications of 9/11 would eventually affect our financial position and, ultimately, our future. As Americans, we were all affected emotionally, but Stephen and many others like him were also affected professionally. Following 9/11, Stephen went back to work, but eventually lost his job.
After six months of searching for a new position, he was still down on his luck. Though he had started to dabble in real estate in Rockville Centre, he never made one sale. No matter what he tried, nothing seemed to work. Finally, Stephen decided to return to work as a trader. This time, however, he worked on his own. He traded crude oil with his own money. Stephen rented a seat on the COMEX Exchange, spending 9:30 AM to 2:30 PM in the "ring." I did not realize it at the time, but an individual trader with limited funds and high expenses was in a very tough position. I was very concerned, however, when he returned to trade because I knew he was not the great trader he had once been; somewhere down the line, he had lost his touch. I wanted him to get a real job with a steady paycheck. I encouraged him to go in that direction and was constantly his cheerleader, but in the end, you can only cheer for so long; he had made his decision and was determined to stick with it.
The pressure was intense, and in many ways, Stephen, now trading on his own, seemed even more anxious than when he had been out of work. He had always been a smoker, but he now constantly had a cigarette in his hand. This time around, his work as a trader started to take a heavy toll on our family life and marriage. It wasn't as easy to go along with the predictable roller coaster I had grown accustomed to. Whether things were up or down, he was always high-strung and anxious. At times, he would snap at me and the boys, and eventually, that type of behavior became the norm instead of the exception.
Excerpted from disguised Blessings by Jeanne Callahan Trantel Jill Hofstra Copyright © 2010 by Jeanne Callahan Trantel. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.