A Family Man or a Narcissist?
After a long night, I awoke to a sudden burst of light, the sun perfectly aligning in between the branches that flank our window. The blue she chose for the walls, so vibrant, almost violet. Glancing over, I see the-woman with the perfectly-cut-hair. It’s no surprise I chose her, after all those years of trying. Her arm lining her face, I can't help but stare at her still perfect body. Two children, and she’s here shining next to me. These moments feel endless.
This morning I expected to be up before my alarm, I have an internal clock that nags even my deep sleep. I fly back to Tokyo today to meet with Mio, CFO of sales for Toyota’s international dealings this morning. He’s a hard nut to crack, but I’m the only one who’s been able to do so in the past. They fly me first class. It’s nice, the luxury of it all. I’m gone for sometimes weeks, most often days of the week. It gives my family space to breathe, space for me to think. I can’t wait for Ellen to see the bloodstone I have picked out for her in Japan. Gifting is cliche, but it truly helps the relationship. That smile, I just have to see it. She’s been researching crystals lately, like most other moms today. A few months back she told me how bad she needed to strengthen her own self worth. Being a stay at home mom, I think she gets lost in the kids' lives. I’m thankful for her holding my family together. She’s absolutely my glue.
I pull myself out of bed and go to my closet for a suit which I packed last night. I always include an extra outfit in case I get stuck where I am. Meetings can run late, people can be indecisive. Oftentimes when I meet with Mio it leads to late nights drinking, cigars, multiple bars and his favorite escorts, then him giving me his decision the day after, not until afternoon, however. I can’t leave until it’s confirmed, so anyways, an extra set of clothing.
You’d think Ellen and the kids would hate me, say I’m absent for being gone half the time, but I truly find we’re the perfect family. The way our house is modest and unique amongst the flashy upper class mansions. Simplicity. I love the life I built us. I love providing for them knowing they’re in their mothers amazing hands. Seriously, I chose perfectly, and you could say my hard work paid off. Working in this intense, negotiating business world makes a man forget how good it is to be home. But I do love to travel, can’t hold that part of me in.
I don’t land in Tokyo until the next morning. It’s twenty-four hours with a stop in London and Singapore. After a whole day spent in pressure controlled cabins, I’m so thankful to be approaching the Hyatt. I thank my driver for getting me so damn early, and flash the bell hop a thank you wink to grab my bags.
And there she is, the beautiful Ms. Lee, waiting for me like always. Today her hair is in a delicate braid that falls beside her chest, flowers placed at the top and bottom of the braid.
“Hey, there she is!” I cheer toward her as I reach the front desk.
“Good Morning Jack. How was your flight?” smiling as she greets me with a glitter in her eye.
Breathing in a sigh of relief, “Long. Ready for bed.”
She smirks and scans my room key card, everything already arranged a month ago.
“New watch?” She nods toward the hand holding my credit card.
“Yeah. Finally gave up on constantly repairing the old one.” Truth is, I bought this when I closed my last big deal with Land Rover. I didn’t want to appear too flashy. Play it modestly.
“Thanks, my dear.” I grab my wallet from the desk and start toward the elevator. I know this place pretty well after all the years of working with Toyota. It’s not like it’s a big shot deal, but consistency is what’s important in this world too. Having relationships with important men is what gets you further every day.
As I reach the twentieth floor I grab my room key and phone from my pocket. It’s time to settle in and check on Ellen, so I open my phone while walking.
Missed text from Ellen, and my mother. Right when I go to open them Ellen is calling me.
“Good morning from Tokyo. What’s up?”
“Hunny, the boys found something in the backyard.” She sounds alarmed, could be an animal.
“Okay, tell me what happened.”
She went on to explain that the boys had had a snow day today. They’ve been watching Discovery lately and wanted to try ice fishing on the pond we live on. One of them pulled a clump of debris from the lake, and within it, the ruby necklace I gave away so many years ago. Ellen is completely unaware I bought it years ago for someone else.
“I seriously thought about keeping it, it was so gorgeous. I researched how to tell if it’s real or not and pretty much figured it was. I thought it could be a family heirloom or one of the neighbors, so I gave it to the police this morning. I bet someone out there reported it stolen! It was crazy beautiful.”
“Shit, what?” was all I could say.
During my meeting the following morning I was sweating under my suit. Mio was barely making his decision about whether to send us off with the newest model for rentals. He’s thinking if he makes people wait, they’ll be more likely to pay more for it. He’s not wrong, but my boss needs me to close this deal so we can be the only rental company with these models. I’m usually on my game, ready for negotiating whatever Mio needs to feel better about making a deal with our company. We’ve been in the game longer than most, there’s no reason for him not to trust us. Question is, how does he trust me when I’m dizzy and visibly ill. I’ll have to blame it on the jet lag. As soon as I’m out of this meeting though, I have to call Ellen.
She left the conversation yesterday sounding so confused, and I get why. She was confused by my reaction to a seemingly innocent find in our backyard. I was flustered, I was off. I’m never caught like this, I always feel in control of my emotions when I’m speaking with people. It’s confidence, sure, but it’s more than that. I can feel my gears turning perfectly, ready for anything. Anything except this. How could they find it there? Why would the necklace turn up thirteen years later?
Finally wrapping up way past lunch, Mio tells me he’s ready to sign. Thank god, there was no way I was going to make it through dinner. Hustling to the elevator, down to my taxi, and grappling for my phone, I see three missed calls from Ellen, and a text from my mother. Honey, come home as soon as you can. We know what happened to Rosalee.
Suddenly I’m thrust back in time to the heartbreak, admiration, love, lust. She was my very first.
Rosalee was my college sweetheart. She was a singer, went to Columbia for opera, and she was so beautiful on campus. Her success among the school was well known, she was popular and mesmerizing at what she did. That’s what drew me to her. I’d seen her around before I approached her. The first time was when I was going to the showcase to see Cass in her orchestra. My friend Cass opted for a suit that night instead of a dress for the first time since coming out, so it was a memorable night. We finally felt like adults being away from our parents. When I sat down with our friends Todd and Marina, the lights dimmed to reveal the glittering brunette in the spotlight. The opener.
The following week I saw her in the dining hall of my building. We caught eyes a few times in the bustling cafeteria, but I was nineteen and wasn’t ready to approach her until I was certain she was looking at me, not someone behind me. It was in the park that I spotted her reading alone. A picnic for one, I admired her independence. I sat in this moment when I saw her there, reading far away. Looking back I’m thankful I did, because I lost her all but five years later. Once we both finished our degrees, I convinced her to come home with me. She moved into my family home right before my father died, leaving the house to me. We lived there together, happily, until it got serious.
I’d never met someone as impressively talented and yet so troubled in my life. I still think of it with such a pain in my chest and see her face. I feel my mouth's edges creasing down: grief. She’s only a memory now. Often my hardest memory so far. Artists like her, they’re so lost my dad would say. He was right. Only a year after I lost him, she went missing.
I call her back once I’m alone in my room. Deep breaths, I can do this.
“Jackson?” She answers with urgency, she’s been waiting awhile for me I’m sure.
“Hey, hi, I’m sorry meetings went on all morning. Tell me what’s going on.”
“God, where do I start? The cops came by today. They knew whose necklace it was and, honey, it was Rosalee’s. They came because it was reported on her body when she went missing, do you remember? I had no idea. Well, anyways, sweetie they found her in the pond. They dove down where the boys made the hole for fishing and they found her down there. Oh sweetie I’m so sorry I have to tell you this. I mean I know you guys always assumed she was gone, but this must be hard to hear. She was right there all along”
Ellen was right, it was hard to hear. My head was about to spin off. I can’t believe they found her. I can’t believe they found her lying there, shrouded by the ice.
As I count my steps toward my flight’s gate, something I learned from piano lessons as a kid, I feel a heaviness in my feet wearing the business shoes I packed. I would have been so much more comfortable in sneakers if I had brought them. A sweatshirt, jeans, a hat to hide my bed head: they’d all come in handy right now. Physical discomfort weighs me down when I need to think. Complications, confusion, unclear situations; they all make me want to blend in and enter my own world. Standing out in this flashy suit, it’s not what I want to be wearing walking through the Tokyo airport. I don’t even want to order a coffee or have someone look me in the eye. At least I have first class on my side. With this, I might have a whole row to myself. I think of what it would be like to come across a middle seat in a time like this. Next to a child maybe, or a grandpa that uses my shoulder as a pillow. Being packed in like sardines for hours, my own personal hell.
Boarding the plane, I'm delighted to see no one in my row yet. The young flight attendant greets me with a friendly, warm smile when I take my seat. Flying out at sunset won’t be so bad, maybe I’ll order some drinks to take the edge off. Maybe that’s a bad idea.
The rush of adrenaline hits me as the plane starts to speed up. So familiar, but shocking every time. My brain can’t keep up with the speed of the plane and I begin to feel dizzy again. I’ll have to order food if I want to appear at ease for the flight. There’s no way I can survive to London without anything in my stomach. The sheer solidness of the air will make me sick.
Hours into the flight I find myself listening to the sound of my eardrums adjusting and readjusting to the pressure. I listen to the rush around me as I’m flooded by the vision of Rosalee standing over the kitchen sink. Her body was lined with silver in the afternoon light. I was so excited to be coming home to her that day. I had just arrived home from work and the afternoon seemed endless with possibilities. I wanted to ask her to get ice cream when I saw her blocking the light in the kitchen window, leaning heavily. She held her hands together tightly and did not turn around to greet me. The air grew thicker as I approached her. The red interrupted the white porcelain sink. She’d hurt herself for the first time since we’d been together.
There had been signs leading up to the first incident. Bubbly and sweet when I first met her, I began to realize there was a side to her that she couldn’t hold back. The pain would sweep over her face at any given second. I always tried to do what I could, tried to listen to her complaints about the world, but honestly it became harder and harder. I had to convince her to want to live. It seemed like a lost cause.
Her problems caused the fights. There’s no denying that. She’d be too stressed to see family, go to work, even call her mom back. Space, distance, opportunities to miss one another never came. I swore I would go crazy staying in with her month to month. I would stay up at night picturing us making it to retirement. Having no relationships, no life outside of ours.
“Good evening and welcome to New York. It is 9:58 local time, we made an early landing and would like to wish you a nice stay in the Big Apple. If it’s home, then welcome home.” the flight attendant sings over the intercom as I take in the city lights and reach underneath the seat for my briefcase. Sliding my hand into the side pocket I find my phone and turn it on. Looking at the young man who joined the row beside me, he scrolls through his phone and bops his head along to rock music I can make out from across the aisle. I look out the window to my right to watch the men loading our bags onto the conveyor belt. Mine stands out to me as the sixth bag to be deplaned. Off to it’s fated destination.
Hi Jack, hope your flight is safe. Call when you land. Xx-
For some reason her wording alarmed me. Ellen is a casual, laid back, sweet woman. She rarely sends so much punctuation. The kisses at the end are authentic though.
Since the flight attendant said we landed early I know I can sneak a few more minutes in before I have to call her. I decide I’ll take a minute at baggage claim to call back. One thing at a time.
We file off the plane and I thank the women for their time this morning. I reach for my airpods and make my way along the path to baggage claim beside the Dunkin’ Donuts and Panda Expresses. Counting my footsteps again, this time by fives. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5… Looking down and ahead at the tile floors that lead the way to home. I have to be ready.
Jesus- No. I did not think it would be this soon.
I turn the corner to baggage claim and I see them. They’re waiting for me, will I even be able to get my things?
“Hi Mr. Sanders. My name is Detective Pizzari. Please come with us.”
Two men stand before me, but beyond them I see three police cars watching. They’re both in suits and showing me their badges. Pizzari is more fashionably dressed than his partner, also taking the lead of the conversation with me. Bad cop, maybe? His partner is positioned slightly behind him, balding, and wearing a brown, more dated suit.
“Hi Detective. Can I ask what this is about?” I maintain a calm demeanor in front of him.
“You can ask whatever you want, but I’m sure you’re well aware of what this is about.”
“Will I need a lawyer?”
“Not just yet Jack, we just want to talk.” He says as he motions toward the door. I guess it’s no bags for me.
I decide to follow them without requesting a lawyer, I have nothing to hide. I want them to know that. The best thing to do is for me to calmly explain to them the tragedy of Rosalie. She was depressed, beautiful, and internally struggling. Her doctors knew this, her friends and family knew this, they all were so sorry for my loss when she went missing.
Once I’m in the detective's car, I feel as though they aren’t questioning my true intentions. They exchange conversation about the weekend's plans, their families, and the good cop's problems with his diet. After about fifteen minutes I feel comfortable enough to ask about my bags.
“So, not to be that selfish guy, but how do I get my suitcase, gentlemen?”
Good cop responds. “We actually got that for you before you came down from the concourse. Smart of you to label your suitcase, but we also knew what kind to look for. You do well at work, so it had to be a newer suitcase, right?”
“Yeah, got it over the summer. Thanks for that.”
Good cop opens a blueberry muffin from a Dunkin’ Donuts bag. The smell takes over my nose. I’m walking into my family's house after a day of work thirteen years ago.
“Hunny! It smells amazing. How was your day?”
She smiles toward her workspace, wiping down the excess flour as her muffins rise in the oven.
“It was fine, Jack.” Not a good sign. I sigh while setting down my briefcase by the kitchen table. Work was my biggest stressor at the time. I had an amazing degree, this was true, but the exhaustion hit hard every day when I was trying to climb the ladder. I fought hard to be noticed by my boss. Meanwhile, Rosalee wasn’t sure about touring. She’d missed being at home, being in one place. I think constantly being around people made things too overwhelming for her. When I came home to the smell of muffins, I knew it was a sign of a bad day. As I had spent year after year with her I knew she used baking, walking, singing; all her hobbies as an outlet. When she couldn’t focus, couldn’t feel grounded, she would get to a project that had no real purpose. It helped her feel accomplished at the end of the day, but all I saw was someone working endlessly on a constant cycle of muffin recipes. No use of her degree, no use of her talent. The talent was the light I saw in her, it’s why I fell in love with her. Without this ambition, all I saw was frustration. Failure.
The next day the water rushed out of the bathtub, down the front stairs, to the living room where I saw it trickling over my toes. I knew it. I rushed upstairs, rescued her from her own sinking. She made it that day, she was fine and just coughed up some water. It hadn’t been long enough for her to actually drown, but God, I know it was awful but I wished she had.
Taking a seat in the concrete room, I face the detectives for the first time to be interrogated. They have manila files in their hands as they ponder them with their fingertips like X-ray vision. The moment lasts forever, sitting there in the silence. I’m not nervous, I’m simply ready to get home.
“Alright, listen Jack, I’m sure you know about Rosalee’s body being found in the pond behind your house,” good cop begins.
“Yes sir, my wife Ellen told me about it. We knew she was gone years ago.”
“Yeah well, that’s not all. From our files when she went missing you stated you were aware of her mental health problems prior to her disappearance, right Mr. Sanders?”
“Yeah, most definitely. She had been struggling since we graduated school. I tried to do what I could, I really did. It hurt to see her in so much pain every day.”
Detective Pizzari raises an eyebrow in his partner’s direction. I’m sort of stunned by this. He’s playing bad cop for certain, but I can’t help but catch onto his disdain for me. It’s his facial expressions, his silence during this. I’m still not nervous, but I can see they’re playing a game.
“That must have been really hard for the two of you to go through that. And it’s not like you can do anything really, right? You can’t make someone’s mind change,” Good cop goes back to the conversation with me.
“No, it felt pretty hopeless at times.”
“Yeah, jeez, it must have put a lot on your relationship. You mentioned back when she went missing that the two of you had been fighting, is that true?”
“I mean, yeah, it was tough seeing her get worse while I was working, sure. I just wanted her to get back to doing what she was best at.”
“No kidding, and what a talent she was!” He motions toward Pizzari, “I was checking out her videos from back at Columbia, what a talent. It must have been so sad to see it go to waste. Did you guys ever escalate, get too feisty fighting? It’s okay if you did, I mean I don’t know a couple that doesn’t and most don’t go through what the two of you went through.”
“No sir, no way. We always respected each other.”
Pizzari leans forward to speak for the first time in this room, “Hm. That’s interesting, the police came back in June of that year, then again in September. Your neighbor called complaining of loud yelling. Said we needed to check on you guys, you remember that?”
“Oh God yeah,” I respond, “you guys were no strangers to her problems. She’d sometimes be so bad that she’d just pick fights with me about nothing, truly nothing. It was all in her head that I was causing her depression. Which I wasn’t, by the way.”
“Sure, I mean the report says the neighbor heard mostly you yelling. What was that about?” he asks.
“Well, sir, I was probably yelling at her for threatening to kill herself again. She did it so often, I couldn’t take it at times.”
“Jeez, that would hurt.” Good cop chimes back in, “I mean, if I loved someone that just wanted to off themselves like that, I’d be on edge all the time. Did you guys ever get into an altercation, physically?”
“No. No way.”
“Hm” he responds.
Pizzari leans to the edge of his chair and reaches for his manila file. He opens it up and takes a look inside before he lets me see it. He flinches, raises his eyebrows again in disgust and slaps it down on the table.
“She didn’t kill herself, Jack.”
“What- what do you mean?” I glance at the file, it shows her pale, decayed bones. Nothing more than her hair, some clothes, and her jewelry remains. I turn my glance away as quickly as I can, back to Pizzari.
“You see her skull, Jack? It’s not what a skull normally looks like, even after sitting in a pond that freezes over like yours.” He flips the first photo to show me the one behind, a close up of her skull. In the middle: a dent.
“Her skull was bashed in from behind, Jack. She couldn’t have done that. Any idea what happened?”
“I- I don’t know Detective.”
“I think you do son, I think you’re very aware of how this happened.” He leans back in his seat, like his job is done.
“I won’t be continuing this conversation, gentlemen, I’ll be speaking through my lawyer from now on.”
“Oh, we knew you’d say that,” Pizzari responds with laughter, as if he got me. I’m fuming from my ears. He closes his case files and motions to his partner to get up. They leave me in the concrete room, surrounded by cameras and police officers watching me.