Conflicting Illusions

This is another story about disillusionment but this time from the viewpoint of someone who thinks they have everything they’d ever wanted. This story isn’t quite finished and it has some inconsistencies, but this is a first draft…whatever that means in the days of Word…LOL

 

 

Carolyn Kendrick always made a point of arriving early to partners meetings of Hascomb, Broecker, Kendrick and Sandon, LLP, so that she would be able to observe the other partners’ demeanors as they arrived. They were meeting in Bill Hascomb’s office so she couldn’t technically arrive before him, although he wasn’t present in the meeting room when she was led in by his assistant; he was in his inner office, so Carolyn took the opportunity to make herself a scotch and soda from his well-stocked bar. She took a moment to reflect on why her name was third in their firm’s name; she was bringing in more money than Bill, who was the managing partner, and Hans Broecker had compartmentalized himself into his environmental cubicle, where he brought in a decent amount of income but lost too many cases, in her opinion. He simply was not well grounded in legal theory; his successful litigation history, which was second only to Carolyn’s, was due to his knowing the legal mindset of the courts he most often appeared before.

She sipped her drink and looked out the window on the Manhattan skyline until Bill Hascomb appeared from his inner sanctum. He was the senior partner in the firm, literally, because he was seventy-five. He was dressed in his usual grey pin-striped Brioni suit and calfskin Amadeo Testoni shoes; he always said that he was willing to pay for the best work clothes because he spent a lot of time wearing them. Knowing him for thirty years, she knew he was speaking the truth. He had removed his tie for the occasion, however, but his face wore the serious façade that came from being a successful litigator and the managing partner. Perhaps that was why his thick, receding hair was white. He acknowledged her presence with a nod as he went to the bar and made the same drink Carolyn was sipping.

“Early as usual, Carolyn, so what disturbing proposal are you going to share with us today?” He took a drink from his glass and gazed down at her from his six-foot-three height with dark eyes.

She scoffed and said, “No more than usual, Bill, but I’d rather not discuss our immediate business without the other partners present.” She paused and added, as if it were an afterthought, “There have been some changes in the Southern District of New York, and I can’t help but wonder how that will affect our trial strategy going forward. Judge Smith is a well-known textualist, but he’s also known for being activist—he’s going to become a judicial legislator…”

Bill nodded curtly and said, “Hans and I have discussed this at length and how it will impact our decisions on which cases to take in the future. He doesn’t see it as a problem, however, and I’m inclined to agree with him.” He avoided meeting her gaze and she knew he didn’t have a ready solution.

Bill Hascomb and Hans Broecker had created the firm from nothing thirty years before and they had a personal bond of loyalty that she could never break, even if she had wanted to; and she had no desire to turn the two old friends against each other. She understood the importance of friends and family. She would let them figure it out.

She cleared her throat and said, “We could hedge our bet by having a litigator who was an even stauncher originalist than Judge Smith himself; someone who would have already seen what the court was waiting to be shown in court documents.” She stopped, not wanting to say too much.

Bill ignored her comment and said, “I understand. You want to become the managing partner…” He looked at her askance and added, “Don’t push your luck, Carolyn.” He was smiling as he finished because he knew that she had never counted on luck in any aspect of her life.

She thought a moment and then replied, “It’s not a matter of luck, Bill; you know I’m right on this issue. Despite whatever bullshit Hans has been feeding you, I want nothing more than for this law firm to represent its clients ethically and transparently in a constantly changing judiciary environment so that we can hold our heads up at the end of the day and pronounce that we have always been for the people.”

Bill waved his hand dismissively as he took a long drink from his glass, before saying, “You will become the managing director, Carolyn, because you have the spirit of a real partner. Hans and I have argued about your future ever since you became a partner. He doesn’t like your realist approach to the law, but he admits that you understand both positivist and consequentialist perspectives equally well.” He took a seat in one of the leather armchairs and finished, “There’s no one more qualified than you to make certain that the partnership of Hascomb, Broecker, Kendrick and Sandon, maintains the same ethical standards upon which it was built.”

They were interrupted when a medium-height balding man of seventy-one, wearing a black suit with thin lapels entered. Hans had always resisted wearing contact lenses because he insisted the black-rimmed glasses he wore made him look smarter than he was. Carolyn knew better; Hans Broecker had very dry eyes and had tried wearing contact lenses decades ago and almost gone blind seeking relief from a water cooler. He didn’t like wearing bifocals, so he had integrated changing glasses into his courtroom performance, which worked because he had a disjointed way of speaking that gave the appearance of confusion. But he was never confused, especially on matters of the law.

He went straight to the bar and, picking up the half-empty bottle of twelve-year-old scotch, said, “We may have to make these meetings BYOB.” He then looked uncertainly at Carolyn and, holding up his free hand to ward off what he thought she was going to say, headed towards his favorite armchair as he added, “Don’t even start, Carolyn, because I’ve found our guy in some backwoods country courthouse in Tennessee. He actually got himself elected a circuit court judge on the Republican ticket; I’ve been examining his decisions and he makes Judge Smith look like a consequentialist. Strict originalist interpretation of the state constitution but not a big believer in common law.”

Carolyn’s mouth fell open in amazement. She had known Hans for thirty years and she knew that he was brilliant and an expert in his field, but she had never shown such an ability to accept change before. Before she could respond, he continued.

“I’m going down there for a couple of days. You know, meet him where he feels empowered…” He waved his drink around and continued, “I looked up some of his early work, which was published in the University of Missouri Law Review and he looks like our man; he’s definitely not destined for greatness on the bench, but he argues well and does his homework.” His proud look made Carolyn smile.

Before anyone could respond, the door opened again and in stepped the youngest partner, Donna Vaughn, wearing the same dark blue business suit as Carolyn, her blonde hair (she was only fifty-three) looking unkempt, in keeping with her desire to be as misunderstood as Hans. She had built an impressive career by misleading opposing attorneys and judges into thinking she was a blonde bimbo. Hiring her had been one of Carolyn’s first suggestions as an associate in the law firm; she had felt that Hascomb and Broecker needed to expand into high-profile civil and criminal cases involving celebrities, who would pay well for expert advice regarding their often legally questionable endeavors, and trial defense when they went too far. She had become the newest partner when her clerks outnumbered Bill’s and even Carolyn’s. Like Carolyn, she had never lost a case, mostly because she knew which ones to accept.

Donna went straight to the bar without saying a word and poured herself a full glass of chardonnay, before plopping down in an armchair next to Hans with a triumphant expression.

Bill looked at her steadily and said in a deadpan voice, “Let’s her it, Donna. Why are you queen for a day?”

She sipped her chardonnay and, with a look of pride, said, “My son is going to law school. Actually, he was accepted to Harvard and, even though it will cost me a lot, I’ll die knowing that my last will and testament will be executed properly.”

Everyone congratulated her and refilled their drinks before they got down to the regular business of a partners’ meeting. Carolyn’s suggested that they offer non-equity partnerships to some of the most promising associates, which initiated a lengthy argument about what such a plan would mean to the full partners’ remuneration.

The discussion was ended when Bill, as the person with the most stake in the firm, said, “I have more money than I ever thought I’d see. My children all went to good universities and I have a nice apartment here in New York and a vacation home in Belize. My family will inherit several million dollars when I die, which will probably be caused by arguing about just such nonsense as this. If I’d wanted to become rich and famous, I wouldn’t have become a lawyer.” His patriarchal gaze, which was directed at everyone, made his meaning clear.

It was decided that Carolyn would write up a preliminary draft of the plan and they would discuss it at their next meeting. With business out of the way, their conversation turned to their families. They already knew about each other’s professional lives.

Bill and Hans’s disappointment that none of their children had gone into law was well known, so Donna naturally asked Carolyn about her children’s careers; this was a topic that she had always avoided. She would summarize what she knew.

“My daughter, Janine, has finished her residency and has joined a medical partnership in Phoenix as an anesthesiologist. She works with a lot of elderly patients and she’s very busy, so we don’t hear a lot from her. My son, Peter, has started a business designing and installing solar panels…it’s actually more than that; his company builds custom solar power systems for small companies. He’s in Atlanta.” She had gotten through it without misspeaking, but she wondered why she felt so nervous when talking about her children.

Bill surprised her when he said, “What about marriage? As I recall, Janine was living with a guy who was also a doctor. Do you have any grandchildren yet?”

Carolyn didn’t know the answer to that question, so she lied. “Not yet. She’s pretty busy, just like her brother. I think they’ll have families later in life, which is becoming more common these days.”

She saw skeptic looks on all of her colleagues faces but they were polite enough not to press her further; they had their own issues to deal with and no lawyer wants to set a precedent with unforeseeable consequences. They took the elevator together and parted ways in the garage, where Carolyn sat behind the wheel of her Mercedes and breathed a sigh of relief, for reasons she didn’t understand herself.

The drive home on Park Avenue wasn’t too bad at eight o’clock on a Tuesday evening and she parked in her reserved space only fifteen minutes after leaving the World Trade Center, where the law office was located. She noticed that her husband’s car was sitting in its space next to hers. As she entered the elevator, she hoped he hadn’t eaten yet because she was in the mood to cook; ceteris paribus, she would make a curry chili while she told him about her day. As she glided up to the fortieth floor, the thought occurred to her that they hadn’t had a vacation in several years. She would also suggest that they spend a week at their beach house in Costa Rica since she didn’t have a pressing schedule for a couple of weeks. She could work from wherever she happened to be, although she was always more comfortable being close to her staff during pretrial motion preparation.

Carolyn exited the elevator and appreciated the recently remodeled hallway that led to her apartment; the decorator had fortunately retained the nicer prints and interspersed some modern art, and the bright new paint was so much better than the mauve it had replaced. She entered the code in the lock and pushed the solid oak door open, expecting to find Darrell siting on the sofa watching the business news.

Darrell Filbert (she hadn’t changed her name when they were married) was a mid-level account executive with Goldman-Sachs and, after thirty years of marriage to a lawyer, he still took no interest in legal affairs, instead focusing on the financial markets. His unwavering attention to his field had turned out to be an asset for Carolyn and him because he had diversified their portfolio so well that the financial crisis of 2008 had barely affected them. She had given him all her excess income to invest, in addition to his own, smaller, salary; in fact, she had been earning twice as much as him for more than ten years. Their earnings discrepancy didn’t matter because of his careful investments, which amounted to more than she was getting from her lucrative law practice. He was worth keeping.

Instead of seeing Darrell reclining on the sofa, Carolyn found his large roller suitcase sitting in front of the door, with her husband nowhere to be seen. She walked around the obstacle and set her briefcase on the coffee table, stopping to admire the view of Central Park at night, before heading to his bedroom, which was at the opposite end of the apartment from her own. Her high heels tapping on the wood floor must have gotten his attention because he appeared from his room with a frustrated look on his face.

“What are you doing home? I mean…you usually don’t get off work until ten or so…” he stammered.

Not being particularly sensitive to other people or their behavior, unless it was relevant to a case or her status in the law firm, Carolyn responded, “We got off early today. In fact, I was thinking that we might take a week and go to Costa Rica. It’s been more than a year since we walked on the beach and watched the sun set together.”

Darrell looked at her a moment and then went back into his bedroom without saying a word. Oblivious of what was occurring, she followed him as she continued her monologue.

“Is someone ill? I noticed your suitcase in the living room, and I can’t imagine why you would be leaving without notifying me unless it was a family emergency. Is it your father?” She was genuinely perplexed.

He went to the bathroom and returned with his electric shaver and its cord as he shook his head and responded, “My father is fine. There is no family emergency…at least not involving anyone but us.” He was very distraught by this time and, had she been more observant, Carolyn would have noticed his demeanor—he was acting as if he had to get out of the apartment at that instant, as if the building were on fire.

“I guess this is a business trip, then, but why didn’t you text me? I was planning to make that curry chili you like so much for dinner, if you had been home.” Then, without thinking, she added, “You should try and think about others more often.”

Darrell shoved his toiletries into the carryon bag in a haphazard manner, while grimacing painfully, before closing the small suitcase and walking around Carolyn to get some fresh air in the living room, only a few feet from the front door. Having reached his objective intact, he turned to her and visibly relaxed as he said, “Let’s have a glass of wine.”

Without waiting for a response, he went to the kitchen and opened a bottle of Bordeaux, before taking two wine glasses from the cupboard and filling them. He pushed one across the granite countertop in their luxury kitchen and looked at her expectantly.

Carolyn was finding his behavior quite unusual, but she accepted the proffered glass and offered a toast. “To us and many more years of happiness.” She held her glass up but, instead of matching her toast, Darrell shook his head and, after taking a swig of wine, responded.

“I’m moving out, Carolyn.”

“Whaaaat…what are you saying, Darrell?” she stammered.

He took another drink and said, “This isn’t something new. I have not fallen in love with another woman and, in fact, I have been faithful throughout our marriage; I am simply tired of living with someone like you. I don’t want to say anything else because you have been a good spouse and I won’t say anything bad about you, not even to my friends. I just have to get away from you for my sanity.” He looked so distraught that Carolyn felt pity for him, to have become so depressed by his low income that he felt a need to act out in such an irrational way.

She drank some wine and, looking at him condescendingly, replied, “Why didn’t you tell me that you were suffering from depression? We can afford professional help. Everything will be okay as long as we work together. As a team.”

Darrell emptied his glass and immediately refilled it without looking at Carolyn, before he took another gulp and responded. “Do you know where our children live? Do you know what they have done with their lives? Do you know anything about the people you brought into this world?”

Her mind went blank and she couldn’t remember her children’s names. She recalled that the oldest was a girl and she had gone to medical school and the boy was an engineer. Before she could offer these tidbits, Darrell prodded her poor memory.

“Where do you think Janine is right now?”

Carolyn knew that. “Phoenix, where she’s an anesthesiologist in a medical firm, but I don’t know if she’s on vacation or not…I don’t know her address…why is that?” She took a drink as large as his and looked at him blankly.

“Janine lives in Philadelphia with her husband, Kyle, and their two daughters, Renee and Cynthia. She finished medical school and is now a pediatrician, working with disadvantaged families.”

Carolyn felt her jaw drop. Her daughter had given up a lucrative medical practice to help poor people. Why would her gifted daughter have done that? Before she could voice a reply, Darrell continued.

“In case you have any more memory gaps, caused by your children not wanting to tell you anything about their lives, our son, Peter, is installing solar panels for small businesses in New Mexico. Does any of this ring a bell?”

Carolyn took another drink and said, “I thought he was in Atlanta. When did he move? Does he have a family too?”

Darrell shook his head in disgust and replied, “Peter asked me to not tell you where he was living after Christmas five years ago; when both of our children flew to New York to spend the holidays and you were never seen, not even on Christmas day. You didn’t meet your granddaughters or Peter’s fiancée because your obsessive-compulsive dedication to your precious law firm precluded spending the holidays with your family. Sure, I knew you would be busy and miss a birthday now and then, but you’ve missed a lot more than an occasional celebration, Carolyn, and apparently you decided that you could spend even less time with your family as you got older.”

Carolyn took another drink, emptying her glass, and immediately refilled it while collecting her thoughts. Sitting at her dining table across from her husband, hearing him describe his feelings about her, she realized that he had never said anything to her about how he felt. Neither had the children.

“I don’t recall your ever complaining, especially when we had the money to send the children to good schools, live close to work in Manhattan, and go on family vacations wherever we wanted. Did you forget all of that?”

He retorted, “And you worked every free minute. We never saw you until it was time for dinner.” That was a blatant lie and he knew it, as was revealed in his avoiding eye contact.

She had kept track of her time because it was all billable, so she had the facts to back up her response. “I never worked more than four hours a day during our vacations and, in case you’re about to say that’s a lot of work, I restricted it to times when everyone else was watching TV or playing on their phones. Besides which, you worked as much as me on several trips. I can’t believe that any of this bothered you and yet you never spoke up; I think you’re using selective recall to justify something you want to do. Are you having an affair?” That wouldn’t surprise her because he had plenty of time to carry on if he wanted to.

He got up and angrily set his empty wine glass on the table before responding. “That is so like you! You always go on the offensive when confronted with an unpleasant truth. I guess it works in the courtroom, but it doesn’t work here. Never has!”

Carolyn couldn’t help having been born with a mind that always looked for inconsistencies in the words people used; and it was working overtime in this conversation. He had just done what he accused her of doing in the same breath. She didn’t doubt that he resented her and that her children did as well, or that she had spent more time than most people working. That was how it was in a career where the schedule was set by the courts and there was no room for error, if you wanted to be successful. One thing she wasn’t was passive-aggressive, which she already knew Darrell was. She would have to talk to him as if she were deposing him.

“You didn’t answer my question. Are you having an affair?”

His mouth turned down in frustration and he looked at the table a moment before facing her and saying, “That’s none of your business. However, since I don’t have to worry about losing anything in a divorce settlement, what with your making so much more than me and never having been a homemaker, I’m glad to share the news with you.” He took a drink from his glass and, with a triumphant look, as if he were having the last laugh, said, “I met someone who doesn’t spend all her time working and, in case you’re wondering, the kids know about her.”

He mentioned divorce, which had never crossed her mind. Then she remembered that he was in the middle of moving out when she interrupted him.

“How long has this been going on?” she asked, her chest feeling as if there was a gorilla sitting on her.

He appeared to be quite proud of his infidelity as he responded, “Two years, not that you would notice. She tells me that you two have met on several occasions, when she was leaving when you finally came home. We weren’t very careful because I knew our marriage was over five years ago.”

Carolyn recalled meeting a younger blonde several times in the hallway, who she’d assumed was a neighbor. They had even spoken. She needed confirmation.

“Is she a tall blonde woman in her mid-thirties?”

He nodded. “Jennifer. That’s her name. She works in the same building as me. We met in the elevator and had lunch a couple of times before I realized I loved her the way I never loved you. You and I have a business arrangement whereas she and I actually love each other. It’s completely different.” He didn’t seem embarrassed any more.

Carolyn realized that she didn’t know Darrell at all, even after thirty years of marriage. She probably had never known him. He had been putting on an act the entire time. Then, she recalled when the children had become distant, not responding to her calls and text messages about ten years before. Was it possible that he had been working against her for so long? She had to know.

She smiled sadly and tried to get him to admit what she suspected with her next words. “I guess it was inevitable once the children were grown. I’m not angry but I am disappointed. How long have you felt this way? Did it begin when you met Jennifer?” She had to be careful now.

He shook his head in disgust, no doubt feeling quite proud of himself, and said, “I could see that you were a narcissist within a few years of our marriage, but I accepted your egotism as your personality and tried to work with you. It got harder to play along after the children were born and you hired a nanny to stay with them because you were unwilling to take time away from your precious law firm. Finally, when they were both in that private high school you insisted that they attend, I realized that you had never wanted a family. We were all just props in your life’s play, and they recognized it as well.” He looked at her boldly and added, “You don’t give a damn about anyone but yourself, Carolyn, and we all knew it.”

She was well aware that she had a strong ego, but no one had ever called her a narcissist to her face before; apparently, Darrell had thought that for years and had probably acted on his belief. She was pretty sure the kids had help from him in coming to the same conclusion he had. She didn’t see any purpose in defending herself to Darrell because this wasn’t a recent revelation for him. It was a conspiracy. Still, she wanted to know how deeply his plot against her went. Thus, she began innocently enough.

“Are you saying that the children, on their own, came to the same conclusion as you? That sounds a little farfetched, Darrell; I mean, they hadn’t expressed any dissatisfaction with their lives to me, and I saw them every day. When they were in high school, they exhibited no more antipathy towards me than do most adolescents. How do you know they agree with your diagnosis?” She couldn’t help releasing some of the anger rising in her chest like the gases from a volcano about to erupt.

He refilled his glass and took a sip before answering, apparently not having noticed that he was being interrogated. “They expressed their growing concern to me, and I naturally explained the situation to them, that you were too busy working to care about them, and always had been. Children notice things like their mother never being home and paying someone to make their dinner.” He shrugged as if that gesture released him of responsibility for what he had done to turn the children against her.

Carolyn was dumbstruck by this confession. Darrell had repeatedly made sweeping statements not supported by the facts and expressing more certainty than a psychologist would in diagnosing her personality; made conclusory claims against her; and purported to understand her motivations for acts that had been necessary to maintain her career and family. Instead of her children resenting the intrusion of her work in their personal lives, which would have been understandable, they thought she had never loved them. No wonder they didn’t return her calls. Their adolescent minds had been poisoned by Darrell’s persistent undermining of her role as their mother, all because he had avoided confrontation until he had been caught sneaking off; and his passive-aggressive streak a mile wide.

Carolyn was so angry she would have killed Darrell at that moment, but she decided instead to correct what apparently had been a failed marriage from the beginning. She emptied the bottle of wine into her glass and announced, “We can get a divorce based on irreconcilable differences. I won’t contest it and I’m certain we can come up with an equitable division of assets. You have done a good job with our finances and, whether you know it or not, I’ve always respected you and loved you.” She took a long drink as he sat there stunned and staring at her, and added, “It seems that we’ve both been fooled by the illusions of our marriage: I thought I was happily married, with two children who loved me as much as I do them; whereas you thought you were being marginalized and dominated by your wife, a situation which you obviously found unacceptable.” Her hands were trembling with anger as she finished speaking.

Darrell pointed his finger at her as he retorted, “I almost wish you would contest our divorce because I would enjoy nothing more than showing the world what a bad mother and wife you have been for thirty years!”

The volcano erupted.

“Goddamn you, Darrell!” she shouted as she stood up. “You reneged on our marriage contract, you son-of-a-bitch! And not because you met a younger woman and had an affair; you have created and maintained a conspiratorial atmosphere to alienate the affection of my son and daughter. You should be kicked out on the street penniless for what you’ve done.” She fought back tears as she stared into his eyes.

He couldn’t meet her burning glare, so he gulped the last of his wine and got up unsteadily after drinking a half-bottle of wine. He picked up the small bag he had hastily packed and took the handle of his roller suitcase and, opening the door to their apartment, with his teeth clenched, responded.

“I’ll see you in court, Carolyn!”

As the door was closing, she retorted, “That is the one place you don’t want to see me, you fucking asshole!”

Carolyn sat back down and sipped what was left of her wine. She had loved Darrell in her own way, and she’d thought he understood her and accepted that she couldn’t be a stay-at-home mother. There was one thing she wasn’t confused about however; she had lived with someone who had spoken ill of her constantly and done everything he could to isolate her from her children. She would reach out to Janine and Peter and make amends for acts she hadn’t intentionally committed. She didn’t think Darrell’s future would be as clear.

She picked up her phone and found Peter’s cellphone number. It was two hours earlier in New Mexico. She pushed the call icon and tried to think of a way to undo the damage done to her relationship with her children by ten years of being fed an illusion.

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