I have attended many graduation ceremonies through the years. First as a student, then as a professor, now as a psychologist for Repair Hope. This graduation was a bit special. Rhiannon Tremayne is simply, one of a kind. As her psychologist, I am proud to be part of this moment in her life. Cary Alden, my dear friend, and founder of Repair Hope sat on my right and on my left the indispensable Mrs. McCarthy, the household chatelaine.
Cary sat up tall as the president of the Hospitality and Culinary Arts program moved toward the platform. I saw Mrs. M. retrieve a hankie from her purse with which to dab her eyes. A smile crossed my face as I saw Rhiannon standing in line. We were all so proud of her. She snuck a quick look back to see where we were seated.
The President of the College began to read names. As I watched Rhiannon walk across the stage to accept her diploma I felt a deep sense of pride. Her radiant smile was nearly as big as her petite frame. She looked very sophisticated in the beautiful cyan blue suit Mrs. M. gifted to Rhiannon for this auspicious day. She looked so different from the day I met her at the Repair Hope office.
Rhiannon and I came to Cary Alden’s Repair Hope network like wounded falcons. The Cary did not clip our wings to keep us safe. Instead, Repair Hope tethered us to a foundation of life until we were ready to fly on our own. Hope never breaks the desire to soar it affixes one to a focal point to which we can return time and time again for strength.
After the graduation ceremony there was a party at the Repair Hope house/office. (they were one and the same) The Tremayne family, Rhiannon’s parents and siblings, had come to celebrate with their college graduate.
I stood talking to a few of the young people Rhiannon invited to the party when Mr. and Mrs. Tremayne came and stood by my elbow. I excused myself from my current companions to address them.
“Mr. and Mrs. Tremayne, I’m Emma James it is wonderful to meet you.” I said. Rhiannon was such a lovely girl it was obvious they’d done an excellent job raising her.
Mrs. Tremayne, a bubbly woman about my age, said “We’ve been looking forward to meeting you Dr. James.”
“Call me Emma, please. I feel so old when people call me Dr. James.” I laughed.
Mr. Tremayne said “You’ve done wonders with our daughter. We expected that one day Rhiannon would do great things, but we never would have fathomed how far she’d come in just a short time. She’s polished and professional!”
“I assure you it’s all Rhiannon’s doing. She was very motivated to learn! She soaks up all that she can from those willing to invest in her education. Your family has been her inspiration.” I replied happily.
Just then Rhiannon walked up to her parents and spoke, “Mom and Dad, it’s time for me to change into my uniform. I’m going to help Mrs. McCarthy prepare the food right in front of everyone! Why don’t you come sit down? I’ve already seated the rest of the family.
They drifted off to the dining room where the food prep was about to take place. Mrs. McCarthy and Rhiannon were very excited about the demonstration.
As the dishes were brought from the Kitchen for preparation I moved to the back of the room. My mind began to drift back to when I first met Cary Alden.
I became acquainted with Cary on the heels of his graduation from medical school. He was already a talented surgeon. Hospitals all over the world were clamoring for him. I was a PhD candidate at State University of Albany. I was young and ambitious. Cary dreamt of helping the world through medicine. I was competing to become a professor of social psychology. I was tough, and passionate. He was driven but compassionate. We made unlikely friends. Cary was, and is, a quiet, gentle, yet, an incredibly brave man. His heart is as big as the ocean. In my early years I was “as bold as brass”, Cary liked to say. I wasn’t going to change the world, I was going to beat it into submission. I was, and continue to be, gregarious, an open book, opinionated and fiercely protective. We may have been very different back in our college days, however, we did have one trait in common, loyalty. A fierce ally of friends and family, almost to a fault. Cary would prove this not just to me but to everyone around me in the years to come.
In 1977 I earned a Teaching Assistant position at State University of Albany in the Psychology Department. My supervising professor was a brilliant man, though a little quirky. For several months we worked together very well. Then he began to rely on me for everything. For an entire year I taught classes, graded papers, helped him with his daily planner, kept his meetings with his students and helped him with his medical appointments. Professor Gilland was dying of cancer. He said he wanted to “stick around long enough to make sure I got his teaching position.” He did live long enough to ensure that I got his teaching post. It didn’t make me popular, at first, but it did make me a full-fledged professor directly after I graduated with my PhD. That was rare at SUA.
Over the years I became a highly rated teacher, professor, ally to the college, a fundraiser, and I helped out at the free health clinic on campus when I could. The only thing I did not have time for was a personal life. My friends got married, had children, did all the usual “mom or dad” things while I graded papers, did adult continuing education lectures in the city, and kept an exhausting schedule on the world lecture circuit. For the most part I enjoyed my life. The students kept me sharp. My well-meaning friends often tried to fix me up on blind dates, find me suitable escorts for various functions, and planned dinners where there just happened to be a single guy seated at the table.
I met Cary, quite by accident, at a function for the college. A black tie affair where I was to present a legacy award to a fellow professor. The college insisted that I couldn’t possibly attend unattached, so they put me at a table with a visiting archaeology lecturer from Oriel College in Oxford. While he was quite charming, he was in fact a full 2 inches shorter than I even though I was wearing flats, not to mention the fact we had very little in common. As the long night wore on I stepped out of the hall for a breath of fresh air. Standing against a wall apparently taking the air himself, was Cary Alden. All 6’ 3” of him. I startled him, he startled me, then we both laughed. I must have looked like a deer in headlights because he was quite honestly the most handsome man I’d ever seen in person. I introduced myself. He said he recognized me from my picture in The Annual Review of Psychology. I blushed. He shook my hand and introduced himself as Cary Alden. His mother had given him the perfect name. He was every bit as handsome as the movie star by the same name. I asked him if he was there at the behest of the college or as someone’s plus one for the evening. He told me, as politely as he could that he was someone’s plus one but that the “date” was not going well. He said that if my date continued to go badly I could count on him to help me make a swift escape. He pointed to his sports car across the parking lot.
We did eventually say good night to our dates. He invited me to meet him at a quaint little Italian restaurant around midnight for a slice of cheesecake. I gratefully accepted. From that night on Cary and I remained very close friends. Though I think at times we both wanted more from the relationship, neither of us had the time.
By 1990 Cary was a successful surgeon and inventor of various lifesaving medical devices. While he did perform surgeries, his real passion was for inventing. His devices were essential therefore, held international patents. However, he always kept a low profile. Cary was not the egotistical, stereotypical “television” caricature of a surgeon. He was incredibly humble. I could always count on that humility and gentleness to help me when I needed advice or a shoulder to cry on. No matter where he was in the world he always took my calls day or night.
I had been a professor for 13.5 years. In the Fall of 1990 I became acting department head. I was in the position for less than a year when I began to notice that something was terribly wrong with the entrance exam test scores for our incoming applicants. It was part of my responsibility to assess the students applying to our department. I noticed that the test scores for coveted athletes and children of the well-to-do were altered in our department computer. My understanding was that our terminal was password protected. I changed the password on the computer, I also made note of the grade for each prospective student before I left for the day.
I arrived home later than usual. Exhausted, I sat down to a slice of pizza and a small salad, but I didn’t feel much like eating. If what I suspected were true the University could be in big trouble with those that provide funding to the school. Since my computer was the master for the department, it would look particularly bad for me. Was this all about money? I needed to talk to Cary. I called his pager number inputting our usual code for when there was an urgent situation. He called me back within the hour.
I told Cary what had happened. He told me to make notes of everything that happened including dates and not to say anything to anyone else before I had hired a lawyer.
It wasn’t long before the whole sordid story came out in the local rag. There was systemic cheating on entrance test scores. The Psychology Department was the worst offender. Whether I knew of, or was involved with the scandal was immaterial. I was acting department head. I was at the helm when the scandal broke. It was my career at an end. I’d never teach again.
I turned my evidence over to my lawyer with my resignation. I asked him to give the resignation to the Board of Directors of the school. The pain was so excruciating. I was in mental and physical pain. I had no idea what I was going to do. My whole life had been about psychology and teaching psychology. I had no husband or children of my own, my friends evaporated, as did my job prospects. I’d never work in this town again with the scandal hanging over my head.
The stress became too much to handle. I would go to bars, restaurants, bookstores, libraries, anyplace that there were people and noise, or music. I just didn’t want to be alone. I wanted to shut everything out. As if that would solve the problem. Having been a psychology professor, shouldn’t I have known better? Probably. I’d worked so hard and for so long, for what? To be cast out without the courtesy of an investigation. My mind raced constantly, I couldn’t eat, and consequently I couldn’t sleep. The anxiety was getting to be too much
When Cary read about the scandal in a magazine. I hadn’t even called him. The humiliation was too much. He knew me well enough to know that by now I was very likely spiraling downwards. He wasn’t wrong.
The Aldens had a private plane. Cary and the wonderful Mrs. McCarthy came to look for me. They scoured the city. They finally found me sitting in some lounge sipping a martini with some guy I’d never met. I was dangerously thin, seriously stressed out, and losing my grip.
I spotted Cary and Mrs. McCarthy across the less-than-attractive, smoke filled bar. I stood to try to intercept them at the door. My clothes hung on me like sackcloth, my hair barely styled fell across my face as if I’d just stepped out of a horror movie, the makeup under my eyes could not hide the black circles from lack of sleep. As I got to my feet I started to faint. Partly from the surprise of seeing the two of them and partly because I hadn’t eaten. Cary caught me on my way to the floor. Mrs. McCarthy helped walk me to the waiting car. I heard her start to sob quietly.
Behind the scenes the ever loyal Alden family began to expose those who had destroyed my career and my good name. Having acquired certain papers which revealed the true nature and depth of the corruption at State University Albany. I did not ask how he achieved this, I was grateful to have my name cleared and by a man whose reputation was beyond reproach.
Cary took me to his family home where he and Mrs. M. nursed me back to health. Repair Hope was in its infancy at the time. I was asked to consult on some cases while recuperating. I was excited about the possibilities. Within three months of my arrival at the Alden Estate, now headquarters of Repair Hope, I had made Cary an offer. I would use my skills to help the clients and the organization. They would need someone to do psychological consults, help with testing for school placement, college entrance exams, tutoring, and of course preparing any promotional materials as needed. In return, I would be allowed to stay at Repair Hope’s ample facilities. In the Spring of I was officially offered a position as Psychologist and Education Director.
Perhaps we became a bit of a cliché, Cary and I. We didn’t plan to start a personal relationship. However, that’s exactly what happened. Neither of us had ever invested ourselves in a serious romantic relationship. We simply did not feel the need. Now that he and I were both in our 50s it became evident that we had the best foundation for a romantic relationship. There had been no denying that we had walked into this deepening romance with our eyes wide open. He gave me butterflies the first time I laid eyes on him. That should have been my first clue.
I must have been smiling when Cary came over. He touched my arm, causing me to give a little start.
“Where have you been?” He asked with a smirk.
“Far away and long ago.” I replied.
“Really? Well how about coming to dinner?” he asked.
I laughed as I took his arm.
Rhiannon smiled broadly as we sat down in chairs at the end of the table. Cary sat at the head and I sat on his right. Mrs. McCarthy winked at me. I smiled in return.
As we ate I chatted with the Tremayne family. They sat wide-eyed at the artistic plate presentation and the carefully chosen gourmet dishes. They complemented their daughter and Mrs. M. on their excellent cooking. The evening had been a complete success.
As the perfect end to our week the board invited Rhiannon to be the Assistant Executive Director of Hospitality and Nutrition. Though this may have felt like the end of the story, in reality, it was just the beginning.