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By Dina Matos McGreevey
HyperionCopyright © 2007 Dina Matos McGreevey
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Chapter OneFirst Encounter
When I think of all that happened during the eight years of my relationship with Jim McGreevey, the beginning-how I met him, how I fell in love with him-is the hardest story to tell, or at least to tell in the right way. When love goes out the door, courtship stories may go into the attic, never to be told again. It's no fun to recount the birth of a love that died a horrible death. My sadness and yes, my anger, cast long shadows and obscure much that was hopeful and happy. But if I don't tell this story carefully, Jim will look like someone you wouldn't trust to feed your cat over the weekend, much less someone who was the repository of so much trust, public and private. And if that's the man who emerges, what does that say about my judgment in marrying him?
Jim was devastated when his wife left him without any warning, and therefore he came to doubt his ability to read the emotions of someone he loved. Ironically, he put me in the same position, so that now, because I failed to read him, I've come to question my own ability to read anyone I might love. It was my own extreme sense of privacy that kept me from asking questions I would have considered intrusive if anyone had asked them of me. I know that now. And I know that it was my tendency towards privacy (not to mention mysteadfast loyalty), that allowed Jim to keep secrets from me and, ultimately led to a marriage in so many ways counterfeit. Ironically, the person I was most suspicious of was Jim's first wife, Kari. That was a tragic red herring. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
Jim and I first met in October 1995 at the Armory, a Perth Amboy restaurant. The dinner was in honor of a Pretender. The irony isn't lost on me. Jim, as both a State Senator and the Mayor of Woodbridge, was a guest of honor, but the real Pretender, if that's not too much of an oxymoron, was the Duke of Braganca, heir to the Portuguese throne who was honored annually by a local Portuguese-American organization. This year the dinner was being held in Perth Amboy, a town near Woodbridge.
I noticed Jim when he came in. I didn't know who he was, but I thought he was handsome in a Tom Hanks kind of way, despite his old-fashioned barbershop haircut. He had a wide easy smile and exuded a kind of warmth that seemed to extend to each person in the small group he was talking to. It was early in the evening and things were just getting started when Manny Viegas, a friend who took an avuncular interest in me, came over.
"I want you to meet someone," he said. "Come with me."
Manny, like me, was an officer in the Portuguese-American Congress. He and his wife Grace lived in Woodbridge and had invited Jim to the event. Manny was a kind man who had been happily married for many years and had two children my age. He knew a lot of people in the community and wasn't shy about putting them together, so I was pretty sure that his "someone" was a guy he was trying to fix me up with.
"Meet someone? I don't think so, Manny," I said. "Not tonight." It was a festive evening and I was dressed for it, but I really wasn't in the mood to be fixed up.
"Oh c'mon." he said. "See that good looking guy with all the women around him?"
He gestured in Jim's direction.
"I see him," I said. "Who is he?"
"Jim McGreevey, the Mayor of Woodbridge." I knew Jim McGreevey by name and reputation. I had heard he was an ambitious politician on the fast track to somewhere interesting. I'd also heard he was charming and good looking. When I saw him that day I had to agree. I remembered that a guy I dated while at Rutgers-a poli sci major named Frank-had told me about Jim. Frank and I had gone our separate ways years earlier, but because we were both active in local Portuguese-American political circles, our paths often crossed. Frank was working for Sen. Frank Lautenberg at the time. Jim, in pursuit of the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, had consulted with various high level politicians including Lautenberg, and Frank had been very impressed with him. "You have to meet this guy," he said. "He's smart. He's going places."
Meanwhile, Manny, his hand at my back, was piloting me toward Jim.
"Jim," he said, "There's someone I want you to meet?"
He introduced us, and Jim gave me a friendly smile.
"Oh," I said, returning the smile. "I've heard about you through my friend, Frank, who works for Senator Lautenberg."
"Oh yeah, I know Frank," Jim said.
Then he eyed Manny, with a grin.
"And you know this guy, too," he said. "Well, I won't hold it against you."
We chatted a bit more, and then we each moved on to speak with others.
Jim had a seat on the dais that night, and I was seated nearby at Manny's table. After leaving my table for a quick trip to the lady's room, I came back to find that someone was sitting in my seat. "There's an empty seat next to Jim McGreevey," Manny said, missing nothing. "C'mon," he said to me, "Go sit with him."
Manny, it appeared, was intent on filling a number of roles, and the one that was foremost on his mind this evening was matchmaker.
"Manny....," I said, a note of mock exasperation in my voice. In truth, I was not interested in taking Manny up on his matchmaking services because I had been dating someone for nearly a year, and had recently called it quits. He was a nice guy, but he wasn't comfortable with how independent I was, nor how busy I was with my civic and political involvements, and I wasn't about to change. Still, despite my self-imposed "break" from dating, I was interested in sitting down, so I joined Jim on the dais where soon we were chatting easily in between the evening's interminable speeches.
I hated these dinners and went only because my friends were hosting and would have been upset if I didn't. Thankfully this event happened only once a year. The previous year's dinner had been unquestionably odd. The Duke, a fastidious-looking man with a prominent mustache, had greeted the guests not only in uniform, but wearing a rubber snake around his neck. It had always been hard to take him or his speeches seriously, but now it was impossible. And yet, here I was again, listening to him ramble on, first in Portuguese and then after that in English, feeling more than anything like a kid stuck in high school detention. In this mood, I was quite ready to strike up a conspiratorial conversation with a fellow detainee. That happened to be Jim. "I don't know what this guy is actually saying, but he sounds like he's certain he's going to save the world," Jim whispered.
"Actually, he's saying the salad was good," I replied. "He does this every year?" "Every. Single. Year. " "Any references to the snake?" I had already told Jim about the Duke's rubber snake.
"Not yet. Maybe by the time he works his way through the menu and is ready to praise the dessert?"
It was more than easy chatting. I felt a kinship with Jim right away. We were bantering as if we'd known each other a long time.
When the Duke's speech was over, we continued talking. "How many people are going to speak?" Jim asked me. "Too many," I warned him, rolling my eyes. I liked this man. I liked laughing with him and, truth be told, I liked flirting with him, too. But there was more to it than that. We connected. We talked about my job doing community outreach, patient relations and public relations at St. James Hospital, and about Jim's work on the Health Committee of the State Senate.
"If there's anything I can ever do for you, let me know," he said. If anyone were listening, and I'm not even sure I was, they might have heard the sound of a door opening.
Excerpted from Silent Partner by Dina Matos McGreevey Copyright © 2007 by Dina Matos McGreevey. Excerpted by permission.
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