Running away never occurred to Kate Adams, until her husband Clifford inadvertently let it slip that he had had a fling with a woman half his age. Kate was devastated; she had trusted him! But what could she do? She couldn't leave; her job was to care for their children while Cliff traveled all over the world, finding exclusive stories to enhance his career in journalism. When a trip meant covering a news story in Florida, Kate would ask, "Can I go with you this time, please?" Clifford would playfully pat her on the head, smile and say, "Katie, I'll be so busy, you wouldn't enjoy it." Did he really think I couldn't enjoy sunny Florida in the winter, by myself? It was after their four children finished college and were deep in their chosen careers, that Kate, with Clifford's permission, took a long, life-changing trip across the country in her car; a trip destined to change the way she saw her life; change the way she wanted to live, sending Kate into unforeseen and challenging directions that neither she nor her husband had ever expected.
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By Gloria Boyd
AuthorHouse LLCCopyright © 2014 Gloria Boyd
All rights reserved.
I'm running away! Twenty-five years into our marriage and I'm getting into my car and leaving everything familiar in my life ... husband, family, friends.
When I told my women's group, each one of them looked at me like seven versions of Munch's 'Scream,' then they shouted,
"Kate! Are you crazy?"
"You're forty-nine years old ... you can't do that!"
"Is Cliff letting you go?"
"You're not getting a divorce, are you?"
"Oh, Kate. You leave now, and you risk losing everything!"
"Aren't you afraid to go alone?"
But the comment I found most heartening was from my best friend, Sara. "Oh, how I wish I could run away, too!"
Up until now I have lived the "American Dream": a lovely home in the suburbs, a successful husband and four fantastic, healthy, children, Henry and Alice, already in careers of their choice, Ken in medical school and Jimmy, the youngest, about to graduate from the University of Colorado.
I am forty-nine years old, but with a good haircut and a healthy diet, I can pass for thirty-nine. I've been a loyal wife and a good mother for over twenty years, but somewhere along the way, I've lost part of myself, or maybe gained something; it depends on how I look at it.
Our marriage was pretty smooth during those early years, while I was a stay-at-home mom, raising our four children, until my husband, a prize-winning journalist, let it slip that he had had a fling with a twenty-two year old cub reporter. That was when my life changed.
I didn't hear about it until years after it happened, but that didn't make it any easier to accept. All four of our children were in school at the time, the eldest in junior high. We lived in a four-bedroom, two-story brick house, in a town about ten miles north of Washington, DC. I was the typical suburban wife and mother back then; book clubs, PTA meetings, church bazaars ... everything wives did in the 70's. That was until I was torn from my comfortable state-of-mind, and dropped into the somewhat slippery morality of the Washington scene.
We had invited a neighbor couple in for one of Julia Child's dinners, topped off with my famous lemon meringue pie. The meal bought compliments and the evening was near perfect, until our guests were ready to leave. I was getting their coats, when one of them happened to mention the play, "Man of La Mancha." I smiled and shook my head. "We haven't seen that one yet, but ..." Clifford interrupted, nodded his head "Sure we did, Kate," he smiled knowingly. "Don't you remember? It was in New York a few years ago. I was trying to get a story about some politician for the magazine and ..." A cold shiver ran down my back as I interrupted ... "Clifford? I haven't been to New York since our two-day honeymoon back when ..." I held my breath and watched as he struggled to keep his words from stumbling over each other. "I mean ... oh ... well ...um, I ... Oh, God," he mumbled and his face turned scarlet.
So much for Cliff's journalistic skills, but it didn't matter; I knew exactly what had happened. Damn! How could I not have known? Not even guessed!
Sensing the tension, our dinner guests mumbled their hurried thank you and goodbye, grabbed their coats from my arm and slipped out the front door, leaving a pitiful Clifford, and a seething me, to play out the scene, as if we were in a grade B movie.
"You slept with another woman? How could you!" my words spit out through clenched teeth; tears started, and I shouted again. "How could you?"
"Relax, Katie, it was ages ago, it didn't mean a thing, I mean ... it was just ..."
"It didn't mean a thing? You screwed around with another woman and, it didn't mean anything? Is that what you do when you're off chasing a story, while I sit home like a stupid idiotic wife, waiting for you?"
"It was years ago, Katie, the hotel was full ... she was all alone and, well, I had to help her." He reached toward me.
"Keep your damn hands off me," I whispered, fighting back tears. My stomach burned; bile rose in my throat; I wanted to hit him, pull out his thinning blond hair. HA! For the first time I noticed, he was graying at the temples. Good!
"But Katie ..." he groaned.
"Don't 'but Katie' me!" I felt my life spilling across the floor for the whole world to see. I stared at him. I couldn't think. "When were you in New York, anyway!"
He shook his head. "It was years ago, Katie. I can't remember ... oh, I guess, it must have been when I was covering Humphrey's campaign."
"That wasn't all you were covering!" I hissed through my teeth.
"Come on Katie, she was just a cub reporter ... hanging around ... trying to get a story. All the rooms were taken. She needed a place to stay for the night and ...
I can't believe he's trying to weasel out of it.
"I had a room and, well ... it didn't mean anything, Kate, really. She was just a young kid and ..."
"Young? My stomach tightened. "How young?"
He stammered like a tongue-tied illiterate. "I don't know," he shrugged, "probably ... oh, she must have been, well ... maybe," the next words spilled out as a tight little whisper, "twenty-two?"
That did it! I stopped listening, grabbed my coat, my car keys, stormed out of the house, slamming the door so hard, something inside smashed to the floor. "GOOD!" I shouted. "I hope to hell that was the picture of you shaking hands with the president!"
I ran to the car, jumped in, jammed the key in the ignition and careened down the driveway, squealing the tires as I went. He hated it when I squealed the tires, so I squealed them again, and skidded away, sending road stones and slush arching up behind the car.
In tears I pounded the steering wheel and headed somewhere——anywhere, just to get away. I turned the heater on. Cold air rushed in, evaporating my tears as I raced toward the Beltway. Damn! I was doing it again, just like when I was a seven-year-old, jumping on my bicycle, heading as far away from home as I was allowed.
I held onto the steering wheel tight and sobbed. "He didn't have to tell me she was twenty-two." Of course he couldn't hear me, but it felt damn good to say it out loud."
I kept driving, giving into my anger, my crumpled ego ... my fears. When had I ever had a chance to be twenty-two? At that age I was wallowing in Pablum, changing one baby, being pregnant with another and at the same time ridding our crowded second floor Louisiana apartment of four-inch, stair-climbing, cockroaches.
I drove well above the speed limit for miles before I realized I didn't have my purse. Damn! Speeding? No driver's license? Reeking of after-dinner-cognac? I could be arrested on all three counts, and the gas gage was one tick away from being empty.
Easing my foot off the gas, I slowed down; I had to think. I'll be damned if I'd give him the satisfaction of returning home ... not yet anyway. But what could I do? Where could I go? And that was when I heard a nagging little voice inside me whispering HELP.
I could easily have fabricated an ending to this part of my story, one I could tell my friends in my woman's group and save face. It wouldn't be what really happened; they wouldn't accept what really happened. I could hardly accept it myself, but if I were to conjure up a lie, it might go something like this:
"After Clifford confessed what he had done, I ran to the car, drove around frantically for a while, then went home. Clifford said he was sorry and vowed it would never happen again so I forgave him."
If I told my group that, they would have given me all kinds of advice ... everything from, 'Oh Katie, I'm so glad you forgave him, Kate, your marriage is your whole life,' to, 'Kill the bastard!'
But I couldn't tell them what really happened. Oh, there were elements of truth in the story I would tell them, but it wasn't what really happened.
What really happened changed my life; it changed the way I looked at the world; it changed the person I see staring back at me when I look in the mirror.
Truthfully, I was tired and scared. I felt my life ... the life I'd been living ever since we were married, slipping away.
I had forgotten my purse; I couldn't go to a motel without money or my credit card——his card, really. At that time, I didn't have one in my own name. I didn't even know I could have one in my own name, and I couldn't go to a friend's house, not at this late hour.
There were very few cars on the road and I lost track of where I was. I could have driven around all night, but if I ran out of gas, I'd be stranded. And if I parked and waited in the car until morning to drive home, I'd probably freeze to death. Frantically, I kept driving, praying I wouldn't run out of gas. Suddenly, through my tears, I recognized a familiar street fairly close to our church.
The parking lot was empty at this time of night. Surely, if I parked there, bundled up in the back seat of the car, no one would see me and I'd be safe until morning.
I pulled into the parking lot. The gas gage was so low I turned the motor off. I could always turn it on again if I got too cold. I knew the office wouldn't open until eight in the morning, so if I stayed in the car and only used the heater when I was desperate, I could drive home after Cliff left for work. I certainly didn't want to see him tonight. Tears came again and I sobbed, "He probably wouldn't even care if I froze to death!
I shivered, my teeth chattered and I shook my head. No, I can't stay in the car all night. I hated him, but certainly not enough to risk freezing to death.
I looked at the keys dangling on my key ring; front door, the back door, a few others I didn't recognize; and yes! There it was! The key to the church office, left over from when I had done committee work during off hours a few months ago. Perfect! I can go in, get warm and leave before anyone even will even know I was here.
The office was quiet except for the low hum of the latté machine the secretary must have forgotten to turn off. I poured myself a cup, sat in her chair at the desk and typed Clifford a seething letter full of typos. I read it over, ripped it up and tossed it in the trash basket. I unplugged the coffee machine, turned the lights off and settled into the deep-cushioned oversized maroon sofa in the inner office. Surely no one would mind if I stay for a while. I'll just curl up for an hour or so, and be gone before anyone arrived in the morning.
Light from the streetlights slanted through the blinds, making prison stripes across the carpet, and the aroma of strong coffee wrapped around me like a warm blanket. I closed my eyes as the word kept re-playing in my head. Why did he do that? Twenty-two ... That magic age when life beckons and everything is within reach, even other peoples husband. What would our children think if they knew? They were almost that age themselves; the boys chasing after their dreams in art, music and the business world; Christie well into a teaching career, she owned a car, had her own apartment. She even had a credit card in her own name. Mine was in Cliff's name, but that would change soon. Twenty-two! Damn! He had pleaded ... said it would never happen again, and that was the last thing I remembered before I felt someone shaking me.
"Kate? What are you doing here?"
I opened my eyes and sat up. Everything went black for a second, and then I realized where I was. The sun was streaming through the blinds, and standing over me was Alexander Huntington, the young minister filling in at our church until we found a replacement for our retiring rector.
I didn't know Alex very well, but since he was a counselor of sorts, he could help me. But what will he think when I tell him? "Alex? I know I shouldn't be here, but ... well ... I was so upset I couldn't go home last night. You see, my husband, Clifford——you know Clifford, don't you?" I cleared my throat, sat up and pushed at my hair. I knew I must look a mess. Tears came and I blurted out, "I want a divorce!"
"Whoa! Katie, what do you mean, divorce; what are you talking about?" He looked nervously around the office, as if he suspected there might be someone with me. "And what are you doing here, anyway?"
I stood up and straightened my skirt. "I'm sorry, but, well ... I couldn't go home last night." Tears came again. "I didn't think anyone would be here until morning, and I could get out before ... Oh, Alex, it's my husband ... Clifford," I stammered. "He had an affair ... with a twenty-two year old!"
"You're kidding!" Alex stifled laugh, then coughed to cover it up and said, "Clifford? Had an affair?"
How could he laugh! Was he making fun of me? But it did sound like such a small thing when I said it out loud. Actually, affairs were common in Washington these days among heads of state, politicians and ... I suddenly realized ... journalists, too. I burst into tears again. "I never knew until last night. What am I going to do?"
He covered his mouth with his fist and pulled at his nose.
Damn! Was he laughing at me? "I'm sorry, Alex, but I don't think this is funny! My marriage is over. After all these years ... I never dreamed it would end this way." I wiped my nose with the back of my hand and sobbed ... "I want a divorce!"
"Now, calm down, Kate, I'm sure everything will be all right." He walked me across the room, handed me a box of tissues, sat me down in a chair and leaned on the edge of his desk.
I pulled out a wad of tissues, blew my nose and stared at him. "Can you help me or not?"
He looked at me with as much pity as he could muster this early in the morning. "You've got to calm down Kate."
"Alex, can't you see? My marriage is over. I just want a divorce!" I felt like an idiot. He probably hears stories like this every day. "Just tell me what to do, Alex. Do I get a lawyer or move away, or what?"
"Now Kate, slow down and let's talk about this." He glanced at his watch. "Look, I want to hear your story, but I have people scheduled this morning. Can you come back later?"
He checked the clock on the wall. "My schedule should be free by three this afternoon. Why don't you come back then; you really do need to talk this thing out."
I gathered myself together, apologized for letting myself in, said I'd be back at three and stumbled through the snow toward my car. I knew Clifford would have already left for work by now, so I drove carefully toward home, praying I wouldn't get caught without my driving license.
Some of last night's party dishes were still on the table. Cliff had shoved them aside and left his dirty breakfast dishes at his place. Without thinking, I cleared the table, stacked the dishwasher, and there sitting on the kitchen counter, was Cliff's half grapefruit rind right next to the trash compactor, spelling out the story of our life together. "Damn!" His job, as a journalist, was to write up the news, make the money and be served; my job was to cook and clean up after him, take care of our children and be at Clifford's beck and call whenever he needed me. Well, things will be different when I leave him. He'll have to learn to clean up his own messes.
I made myself a peanut butter and banana sandwich, ate only half of it and tossed the rest. I cleared away my dishes, went upstairs, took a shower and changed into a skirt and my green cashmere sweater, something that wouldn't make me look like a frumpy, complaining wife.
I went back downstairs poured a cup of coffee and stood gazing through our large living room windows at our giant fir trees laced with last nights snow. Those magnificent evergreens were one reason we bought this house. I watched as every slight breeze sent snow gently filtering to the ground.
What will our children think when their dad and I split up? We will probably sell this house; tears came at the thought. Or would Clifford bring another woman to live in it? I stiffen at the thought, then suddenly realize it was time to leave, and I grabbed by coat. Now that I had my purse I could stop at a gas station, have the tank filled and make it back to the church by three o'clock.
His secretary smiled, "He expecting you, go right in." I nodded and tapped on the door and let myself in.
Excerpted from Runaway Mama by Gloria Boyd. Copyright © 2014 Gloria Boyd. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse LLC.
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