The papers arrived by courier early this morning. They are still on the kitchen table where I tossed them without even peeking into the un-labeled envelope. I don’t have to look. I know it’s a standard work up for an uncontested divorce. My husband had them drafted up last week. Well, I guess I should say estranged husband at this point. I haven’t even seen the man in seven years.
“What’s this?” David asks before plucking up the envelope in question.
“Oh it’s nothing, probably one of those fake loan companies trying to swindle us out of our money.” I plant a kiss on his cheek, taking the envelope in my own hand and twirling quickly away from him. Back at the stove I make a show of pulling the trash can out from under it’s hidden cabinet and sliding the envelope down the side of the can, careful not to actually get anything on it. We’ve been together four years now, but I still can’t bring myself to tell him about that part of my life.
“Well aren’t you going to open it and see?” his hands slide around my waist, “It could be a once in a lifetime all expenses paid trip to the Bahamas!” We both laugh at the thought. He’s always putting his name in those drawings you see at the mall hoping to win something amazing. I can’t tell him the truth about why I’ve never submitted my name. I can’t tell him that I don’t actually exist.
I lift the lid off the rice and fluff it with a fork, David still pressed against my back with his face in my hair. This is the life every woman dreams of. This is the life I carefully carved out for myself after slipping away in the night seven years ago. This is my life. So why haven’t I opened that damned envelope yet?
I thought that I’d covered my tracks well. More than a year was spent squirreling away a nice nest egg for myself before I put my real plan in action. The man had so much money that he didn’t even question the ‘donations’ I’d been making to a fictitious women’s organization, Salsarita Women’s Club. If that doesn’t tell you how out of touch with reality he was. It’s true what they say about the filthy rich.
Mind you I wasn’t raised in money like he was. We met in college and those first few months were like I’d been swept away into a fairytale. He pulled out all the stops. We never waited in line for anything. He showered me with gifts. He supported my every whim and flight of fancy. When he finally slipped that Graff Pear Diamond engagement ring onto my finger and promised me the world, I believed him. And that was the beginning of the end.
Without a second thought I left school behind me and stepped into my role as the submissive wife. I relied solely on him to help me navigate the waters of being in a well known wealthy family. I still found myself reeling at the thought of how much money we’d spend in one day. After a while I stopped asking to see bank statements and bills so I could work on a budget for myself. After being brushed off and given another hefty allowance so many times I just accepted it.
I know what you’re thinking; This is actually the life every woman dreams of. Let me tell you, for the first year after our extravagant wedding it was. Then his father passed away and he inherited the family company and all that went with it. The stress, the late nights, the press, the secrets, the lies. Everything. Running such a huge company and managing so many people and so much money is not an easy feat. I did my best to keep up and to help him any way I could. But soon he started coming home later and later. Speaking to me less and less.
The more I tried to make myself fit into his world the more distant he became. So I shrunk into the background. Most of the other women I knew were members of country clubs and tennis groups or what have you, but it was hard to connect with them. Most of them denied that they’d ever been anything but wealthy and hated me for not pretending I was something I wasn’t. I was alone. I was invisible to everyone.
Until one day, fifteen months into our marriage, he came home unexpectedly early and barged into the kitchen where I was eating lunch with our chef, Henrietta. There was fire behind his blue eyes as he tore his tie from his neck and stalked towards me. His once slicked back blonde hair was now a tousled mess. I could see the veins in his neck bulging with rage.
“Out!” He barked at Henrietta without even taking his eyes off mine. She scurried away towards her quarters, the clicking of her heels receding quickly.
“Darling, is everything okay? You’re home so early?” I managed meekly. He never answered with words. That was the first time. Almost every day after was the same. Everyday I wished I had stayed invisible.
The morning after the first time, I’d woken to find a beautiful bouquet of pink roses by my bedside with a typed note expressing his deepest regret for his actions. There was some nonsense about an investment losing him millions, something about how the day was just too much for him, something about coming home and seeing me enjoying my time without him set him off. I don’t really remember. But I know I fell for it for months.
For months it was a cycle of a few good days, then he’d lose his cool, then he’d avoid me for days while showering me with gifts. Rinse and repeat. When the good days started to become fewer and further between I finally hatched my plan for escape. The more I plotted the more red flags from the past jumped out at me.
It took over a year, but I had managed to funnel out two million dollars. Getting a new identity took a large portion of that, but it was more than worth it. The night I finally left I walked out the front door with two black eyes, a broken wrist, and a suitcase full of my most prized possessions. He’d only given me three of those things.
I traveled out of Florida by taxi as far as I could get before getting a bus ticket in Tennessee with my new identity. I wound up in Montana. That is where I rebuilt my life. Where I became someone I’m proud to be. Where I met the man who has only ever added joy to my life.
David gently turns me to face him, pinning me between the counter and himself with his hips, pulling me out of my thoughts. I have no fear of this man. My body reacts to his like they were made to fit together. Everything with him has always been so easy. His fingertips brush my hair behind my ear so he can plant a kiss on my jaw, sending heat down my body.
All I have to do is sign those papers and mail them off and I never have to think about that old life again. My stomach tightened as David slipped his warm hands under my shirt. My head fell back, granting him more access to my neck. I let myself become lost in the moment. Present in the here and now.
His lips on my neck. My hands in his hair. His strong hands setting me up on the counter. My shirt lifting over my head. The feeling of my heart rate steadily rising in my chest. Our bodies moving together in a comfortable rhythm. These are the things that are important right now. Nothing else exists. Nothing but this life I have built for myself.
Like every night we clean the kitchen together after dinner and David takes the trash to the garage. A small panic rises in my chest when I see him replacing the bag in the trash can under the counter. I quickly swallow it when I get a glimpse of the envelope still wedged between the wall and the metal track the can is mounted on. David hadn’t seen it thankfully.
It’s not late but while we ate a storm had rolled in, blocking out the last of the sunlight. We like to keep the curtains open since we don’t have many neighbors so far up the mountain. The light in the house had slowly gone from golden sunshine to the signature blues and greys of a good storm. The natural light and lack of neighbors had been huge selling points to me when I bought the cabin six years ago. It wasn’t long before I met David in the small town just down the mountain. He still works at the same little ski shop that I met him in all those years ago.
He has to be in the shop early in the morning for inventory, so our usual evening rituals are being put on pause for the night. Instead of catching up on our favorite shows or hypothetically planning our dream vacation, we settle for a kiss goodnight before he leaves me at my easel. I took up painting as a hobby those first few years of trying to reinvent myself. It kind of stuck.
Thunder rumbles in the distance as I realize how lucky I’ve been today. I don’t know how my husband found me. To say I was shocked when the first letter arrived from his lawyer last week would be an understatement. All the stages of grief for my new life flashed through me in an instant. When I landed at acceptance I called the number at the bottom of the letter with a pit in my stomach.
Again I was shocked. It turns out he did look for me for a while, but gave up after there were no leads for a year. He made up a story that I was at some foreign spa. Then when that had gone on long enough he said I’d met a man in Greece and had left him. Apparently this kind of thing happens all the time in his circle. So no one ever questioned it. The only reason he had begun the search again after all these years was because he’d met some heiress and wanted to marry her so they could merge their companies. He wanted to get our divorce settled before anyone could use our marriage against him.
To him this was another business transaction, for me this was the freedom I’d never had the courage to seek. With a simple signature I’d be free to live my life fully. Free to tell David the truth about everything. Truthfully, I was a little afraid of this freedom. What would I do with this freedom? Would David and I get married? Would I finally have a future where I wasn’t looking over my shoulder waiting for my husband to drag me back into the life I hated?
Silently I padded over to the trashcan and retrieved the envelope. I spread out the documents in the puddle of light on my desk. Exactly as I had predicted, they were pretty standard. There was one thing I was not expecting though. I had told the lawyers I wanted nothing from this man but to be free of him. But, they had slipped in a paragraph outlining a lump sum alimony agreement, under the condition that I never attempted to reach out to him in any way. Well that is all fine and dandy with me. The amount nearly knocked me out of my chair though.
I had stolen two million dollars from this man and he hadn’t even noticed. Now he was basically giving me ten million to continue to never speak to him again. I signed without a second thought. I really felt like I deserved it after all I’d been through. I signed and sealed the envelope before walking out into the garage. I slipped it into the back pocket of the driver's seat of my 1998 Ford Explorer with plans to drive into town in the morning and take it straight to the post office.
The garage door had been left open and a lightning strike lit up the opening like a beacon. The thunder rumbled, calling to me. Slowly I padded out into the driveway. The wind whipped my nightgown around my legs as the rain began to soak me head to toe. Aside from the lightning it was perfectly dark outside now.
It took me a few minutes to even realize I was crying. The cool raindrops mixed with the warm salty tears streaming down my face all too well. The storm raged on, not only around me but inside of me. Sobs wracked through me like the thunder that was now shaking the mountain. With each crack of lightning another piece of myself fell back into place. I mourned for the girl who once was and prayed for the woman I was still yet to be.
Finally, I let myself feel every emotion that I had hidden away the last ten years of my life. I let the rain wash me clean of everything that I no longer felt the need to hold on to. All the fear and pain that had been inflicted on me was washed away down the mountain. My body felt so light as laughter took the place of my sobs.
There in the rain on top of my mountain, I decided that I was going to take my future into my own hands and never live in fear again. Tomorrow, I’m going to ask David to marry me. To sweeten the deal I may even book that Bahama vacation he’s always dreamed of.