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Chapter 51E: The Earthquake Strikes
Jessica was spending a lot of time at Paul’s but had not officially moved in with him and Linda. One day, prior to Paul and I going to court for the first time to work out our pre-divorce separation agreement, I noticed a light on in our basement. Paul’s home office was on that level, but with him gone, Jessica, Daniel, and I rarely, if ever, went down to that part of the house. It struck me as odd. Tension rose within me.
As I reached the bottom of the stairs to turn off the light, I noticed that the door to Paul’s office was ajar and a closet light was on. My body tensed even more. I took a deep breath to clear my thoughts and to manage my mounting anxiety. I had not left Paul’s office like that. Seeing as it was unused, all the lights were kept off and the doors closed. Paul had always been above everyday menial tasks like shutting off lights or closing doors. My blood pressure surged. Paul had been there. How had he gotten in?
I asked Daniel if he knew anything about his father being at the house. He didn’t. I believed him. Then I asked Jessica if she had let her father in. She denied it, but when I confronted her with evidence that I knew Paul had been inside, her story changed.
“So what if I let Dad in?” she said defiantly. Parroting what Paul must have told her, she continued, “It’s his house, too, and you have no legal right to keep him out. He just needed to get some of his stuff.”
“Jessica,” I replied, horrified, “I was clear with you that your father can never be in this house.”
“It’s no big deal, Mom!”
“It is a big deal!” I said, trying to control the mixture of fear and anger welling up inside me. “We both need our privacy during the divorce. I don’t have access to where he’s living now. He’s not supposed to have access to where I’m living. I have to prepare documents for my lawyers. So does he. We both need privacy to do it.”
The issues were much bigger than those I expressed to Jessica, but I tried to couch her father’s ban from the house in as neutral terms as possible.
“I can’t believe you think Dad would ever do anything wrong,” Jessica said. “He never would. You’re just paranoid. He says what you’re doing is illegal and that he’s being so nice and reasonable to respect your stupid, controlling wishes.”
“Your father broke into this house before and took things!” I said, against all the advice I had been given to not say anything bad about Paul to Jessica and Daniel. I did it to buy some credibility with Jessica. It was a mistake.
“He’d never do that! You’re making it up!” Jessica cried.
“Jessica, have I ever lied to you?”
Jessica glared at me without answering.
“You can never let you father in this house. NEVER! You have to trust me. I have good reasons.”
Jessica shot me a look of pure hatred and contempt and then stomped off to her room, slammed the door, and did not come out for hours. Paul’s credit cards and promises of total independence went a long way.
A week later, I felt eerie when I got back to the house. I had been volunteering at a lacrosse tournament for hours, someplace Paul knew I would be. I found a receipt of Paul’s from a purchase months ago near my desk that I was ninety-nine percent sure had not been there hours earlier. But was I 100 percent sure? Sometimes when I was locking up for the night, I discovered a window unlatched that I could not remember unlatching during the day. Had Jessica left it unsecured so Paul could gain access? I would never know.
One day when I walked into the house after being away for hours, I noticed a curtain askew that I typically left pulled over a glass door to keep sunlight from overheating the house. It was positioned as if someone had exited via the door and, therefore, was unable to pull the curtain back into place. I walked around the house, but nothing jumped out at me as looking wrong or missing.
Later that evening, I went to use the toilet in my bathroom before going to bed. I lifted the seat cover. The toilet was filled with excrement. Blood drained from my face. My pulse quickened. Could Paul have gotten in and done that? Could the toilet have backed up? Could Jessica and Daniel have used my bathroom and forgotten to flush it? When I asked, they said they hadn’t used my bathroom. What were the odds that any of us had used my bathroom and not flushed it? Almost zero.
Thoughts flooded my mind. How was Paul getting into the house? Was I safe? Were the kids safe? I waited until Daniel and Jessica were asleep, and then I barricaded all the doors after checking the locks on all the doors and windows. I slept with my cell phone and home phone in my bed. I set the alarm clock unusually early so I could remove my safety precautions before Daniel and Jessica awoke, so as not to alarm them. Sleep eluded me. My mind overflowed with fear, and adrenalin coursed through my body.
The next morning, I called a home alarm company. I did not want to spend the money alarming a house I knew I had to sell soon, but I had no choice.
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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.