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Chapter 53: The Puzzle Pieces Finally Fit
Knowing my fear of financial ruin—I was now over fifty years old and had not worked full-time in almost two decades—Paul pushed every financial button he could. He sent me frequent emails about the dire financial situation his firm was in and made sure I was aware of our ever declining bank balance. Even if my lawyer and I were sure he was withholding paying himself and even asking his clients to not pay the firm until after his divorce was finalized, proving this would be a time-consuming and expensive gamble. If he was good enough at hiding the money, there was no guarantee that even an excellent forensic accountant would find it. Even if an accountant did find it, it might take years and hundreds of thousands of dollars to do it. In Utah, legal fees are rarely recoverable, even when you prevail. It was a huge gamble when my own personal cash flow was zero.
To maintain my fear about our finances, and to build the case that his company was doing so poorly that he could not pay himself, Paul even missed estimated tax payments on his income and sent me the documentation about the fines incurred. He hounded me about any expenditure I made, because we still shared a checking account and one credit card. He got so mad about the fact that I started working with a therapist (an expert on abusive domestic relationships) that when I wrote a check to her for $100, he drained our bank account and cancelled our remaining joint credit card. I found out when my credit card was declined for a pizza.
When I refused another “generous settlement” from Paul, he sent me back-to-back emails. The first email was blank but contained an attachment. The second read, Ignore the attachment in the first email. I sent it by accident. Of course, I took the bait. The attachment was a recent photo of Rebecca, Anne-Marie’s oldest daughter. She was smiling, proudly holding up a squash trophy. I had last seen Rebecca about a year ago during our shared family vacation shortly after moving to Utah.
Why did Paul want me to see this picture? Did he want me to be jealous about Rebecca’s success at squash? As I wondered about his motive, I keep staring at the picture—Rebecca’s smile, her eyes … I gasped. The eyes looking back at me from the picture were eyes I had seen before—eyes I saw every day. I printed the picture and hastened to the shelves that held our photo albums. I searched for pictures of Jessica and Daniel when they were Rebecca’s age. I found them and held them next to the picture. How could I have been so blind? How could I have been so stupid? The eyes were exactly the same, and the shape of the face, nose, and mouth were all remarkably similar. Oh my God!
All the pieces snapped together: the connection between Anne-Marie and Paul, the family vacations, the intrusion of Anne-Marie and Rebecca into our family time. Even strangers on our shared vacations had noted that Rebecca looked nothing like her “father,” while her younger sister was clearly a patchwork of both Anne-Marie and her husband. The answer had been there all along. Rebecca was Paul’s daughter! Bile rose in my throat. I choked it back. Another searing wave of despair pummeled me into submission, engulfing me in blackness and pain. Daniel, Jessica, and I had been nothing but a smokescreen of normalcy for Paul’s true life of sex, lies, and deceit.
How could I have been married to this monster? And for so long? Who was he? He was disgusting, and I had shared a bed and a life with him for almost twenty years. Not only had he betrayed me for so long, he had put me in the humiliating position of spending countless vacations with his lover and their daughter. How disgusting. How vile. In case I was too blind and stupid to figure it out on my own, Paul wanted to be sure I knew that Rebecca was his child. Only then would he be sure to inflict maximum pain and humiliation.
I would not give him the satisfaction of being sure that I knew and resolved to never reply to or acknowledge the email. I raced to the shower, but the feeling of being debased and having my life defiled would not wash away.
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Identifying names, places, events, characteristics, etc. that I discuss here and in my book have been altered to protect the identity of everyone involved.