June 1 1991
My Dearest Sam,
I love you. Just wanted to let you know that. And that it’d be nice if you tell me you love me too every once in a while. Not like a robot or because I’d said it first. But because you want to and because you mean it.
And that’s another thing: a lot of the time I feel like you don’t want me. Like you’re bored. Or tired. Or both. And even though I know how you hold all your emotions in and put on the stoic face irrespective of whether its summer or winter, the knowledge is no comfort when I go to sleep at night with you only arm’s length away but still thousand miles apart.
Maybe you’ll see this someday. Maybe you won’t. Irrespective I’d just like to say I love you.
December 13 1992
My Dearest Sam,
Today is Samantha’s birthday. You forgot. Again.
I really don’t know how that happens. Or how you can forget the importance of a special day as this, but you sure do pull it off with irreverent ease.
I’d asked over breakfast today before you left for work what the date is. “December 13th” you replied without a second’s pause, and I watched your face and waited for you to remember. You kissed me dutifully and walked out the door, clueless. And all I kept thinking all morning, even now as I write this note you’ll probably never read is that you’ve never once missed a board meeting…
I believe that says a lot about who you think of as your true family.
March 9 1993
My Dear Sam,
Samantha asked me today if you love her. I said yes. But here’s the curious thing, I had to think about it first. Really think about it.
I had to ponder my reply before assuring our daughter you love her. And I keep wondering why that is.
Do you love her? Do you love me?
It would be a relief to know these things…
May 7 1993
I’m unhappy. I packed my bags to leave today but one thing kept me. The knowledge that I have nowhere else to go. And that I can’t be without my child.
Samantha is all the happiness I have left in the world now. And I guess I have you to thank for that.
I felt the tears begin to cloud my vision as I read Adrienne’s letters. Words she’d have liked to say to me but didn’t. Testament to the emotions she’d kept bottled on the inside, and my failings as a husband and father.
The letters became shorter over time, save this one she’d written on the day of Samantha’s Matriculation.
March 4 2009
My Dear Sam,
Our baby girl is all grown now. And I know how proud you are. I saw it on your face. Heard it in your voice.
Today was one of those wonderful days when you break habit and surprise me.
You kissed me and it felt like you really wanted to. And you said thank you. I don’t know exactly what that was for, but I think I know why. I saw the answer each time you looked upon the wonderful child we had created today.
Thank you too Sam. For putting sunshine in my life.
I love you. Always…
I stopped intermittently between letters while my breath would catch in my chest and I’d feel like the tears were going to choke me.
I’d had a very wonderful woman in my life and I’d made her miserable. And sad. And now it was too late to take any of it back.
I imagined her writing the letters that I read. Calm as she always was, articulate in thoughts as with words.
It took conscious effort to keep my teardrops from splattering any of the pages and smudging the ink. I wanted the letters preserved just the way they were. Even the very short ones, like the one she wrote late last year, which read simply: “Dear Sam, I have regrets…”
The shortest and the most puzzling of all her letters was the last one, which I realized as I got to it, had been written on the day she’d died in an auto-crash. It read:
My Dearest Sam,
Just that. I’m sorry…
Naturally I found this last letter very puzzling, especially because of the timing.
What was she sorry about?
I tried to flash back to that fateful day. The day I’d been called up at work to be informed that my wife had been in a fatal car crash.
I had woken that day at the crack of dawn like I did on every other day, and after a hurried breakfast had gone to work. I couldn’t recall having said anything unusual. Or if even I’d said anything at all besides the usual good morning greeting.
I honestly couldn’t remember anything about Adrienne from that morning, except of course that she smelt like summer oranges.
What had she worn that morning? Had she said anything to me that had been out of place? Had I done anything that could possibly have offended her?
I drew a blank on all counts. I’d walked out the door on that morning without even a backward glance, certain that Adrienne was going to be home when I returned to take my briefcase, ask me how my day went, and make me dinner.
And then the call came…
I’d only just finished meeting with some of the company’s Chinese investors when the intercom on my desk buzzed: Pamela, my PA informing me that there was an urgent call for me, and that the caller –a paramedic –had been ringing insistently for the last hour.
I’d left very strict orders not to be disturbed during the meeting. “Not even if the sky begins to fall…” I’d instructed Pamela. And my word was commandment within the halls and offices of Macrolink.
I’d gotten to the hospital a few minutes too late to see my wife alive for the last time. She’d probably died while I was just turning into the hospital premises.
The Chinese guys had pulled out their investment only weeks later…
I’m sorry… I really did have a lot to be sorry for, especially for the omissions that trailed my domestic life. But yet Adrienne felt the need to apologize to me.
Sorry for dying? Sorry for leaving you and our daughter? Sorry for words unsaid? Or just sorry for you?
I felt sorry for myself. And I felt a deeper sense of loss in that moment than I’d felt standing graveside and mouthing the words: “dust to dust… ashes to ashes,” while throwing dirt into the hole in the ground and watching it land with a thud on the polished oak casket.
The pain seared my insides with a heat that was almost physical; rising upward from my belly and sputtering out of my mouth as sobs.
I was angry too. Enraged at myself. Irritated at how shabbily I’d treated my family all these years. All the things that couldn’t be undone, all the time wasted irretrievably.
I’d never before felt so unaccomplished, realizing then how everything I’d worked for all my life was worthless and without value in the final scheme of things.
I’d failed in my primary vocation as a father and a husband. I was a failure. And it didn’t matter what the world said about me or how the magazines made me seem superhuman, the truth was forever going to be like an aftertaste on my tongue. And it was the taste of loss and self-loathing. The cloud from the past that would forever dim the future…
The anger burst out of me and with one anguished cry I flung the drawer across the room, struggling for breathe and feeling choked by the wave of emotion, the tears fogging my vision.
I killed her, I kept thinking. It was something I did. I’d finally pushed her over the edge. And I thought if that might be true in more ways than one…
What if Adrienne had purposely driven her Jeep off the road, down a sheer drop, and into a ravine? What if the car accident had been no accident at all?
I wiped my tears on my pajama sleeves, willing myself to calm down.
I gathered the letters and fastened them together again with the rubber band, placing them reverently on the bedside drawer like they were sacrosanct. And to me they were; relics of my life with Adrienne. Then I went across the room to pick up the drawer where it had landed upside down, gathering pashminas scattered all around as I went.
Something fell as I raised the drawer, landing with a dull thud. It was a thin wooden board and on it was a large brown envelope.
A false bottom, I realized with sudden alarm. Adrienne’s drawer had a false bottom!
I stood rooted to the spot a moment longer before bending tentatively to pick the brown envelope. The brown envelope Adrienne had apparently tried to hide, concealing it beneath the false bottom of her drawer. The false bottom I hadn’t known existed.
Adrienne had had the chest of drawers made by a furniture-maker in New York, which was several hours away, and delivered to our doorstep. And though I didn’t understand why she couldn’t have bought one or have one made by a furniture-maker close by, it was the odd unexplainable thing she did, and I decided she must have had her reasons, which apparently was true: specifications that included false-bottoms and God-knows-what-else…
I felt the brown envelope. For something that was going to shake my world and lead me down a path of lies and secrets it felt disappointingly thin.
Inside were two photographs: a black and white picture of a baby that couldn’t have been more than a few months old when the photo was taken, and then a picture taken of a young man wearing a mortar-board and gown at his matriculation or perhaps his graduation. The young man looked to be of Indian or Middle-Eastern descent, and he was very good looking with striking green eyes.
At the back of the matriculation/graduation photo the name “Kazeem” was written in Adrienne’s hand alongside a heart etched in black ink.
I had no idea who the man or the baby in the photograph was, what they had meant to Adrienne, and why she had decided to keep their photographs hidden, but I knew it in my gut that I had stumbled upon something that was going to affect me adversely.
In the envelope also was a letter that read:
Do not rendezvous with him. You’ve come too far in your new life to look back now.
Moreover he wouldn’t know to find you. It could be a trap!
Please forward any other message you get from him to me. And inform me before you take any action.
I know how hard this must be for you but you have to think straight and be objective. You have too many enemies to take such chances.
Please be careful…
That was all: J.
I remember thinking how 007 the signature appeared. Just “J”. A lot like the famous Double-0 spy-handler “M”, and it probably would have been laughable if I wasn’t so frightened. Not just by the fact that Adrienne obviously had a secret life I didn’t know about but also because the letter suggested she had been in mortal danger…
Who was the “he” J had warned Adrienne not to rendezvous with? And what did J mean by “your new life”?
She had an old life? Did it include orphanages and foster homes or was that a cover story?
Who was the woman I was married to? Who was Adrienne?
I shook out the last content of the envelope: the receipt for a firearm. A Smith & Wesson .22 semi-automatic pistol registered to Mrs. Adrienne C. Cohen.
I fell back a few steps, my knees becoming rubbery as I stumbled across the room to sit on the bed, stunned by the shock of discovery.
I couldn’t imagine Adrienne holding a gun, much less buying one. And with this realization came certainty that I had been married to a stranger.
I remained seated for a long time, the envelope and its contents clutched in hand. Then getting my feet under me, finally, I went about ransacking the bedroom I’d shared for several years with a woman I had apparently never known. A woman with deep secrets.
I pulled out and emptied drawers, upturned the mattress, tore the linings of some of her dresses, searched shoe boxes. Searching… Looking for some clue that could shed some light on findings that didn’t make an iota of sense.
What could I possibly find? I wondered. And there was a part of me that hoped to find nothing, but more than anything else, I was frightened. Scared of what I might find.
Terrified of what the truth might be…