Chapter 1: A Gut Instinct…
1964 - New York City – Manhattan - Central Park West
The clock read 8:00 PM. I had been staring at it for the last two hours, willing my husband Gregory to come home. We had been married for a year and a half and in all that time Gregory had never made it home on time unless there was a family function to go to. My gut instinct told me where he was, but I was too scared to do anything about it. What could I do? Divorce didn't happen in my circle; not ever.
Gregory was ten years older than me; thirty to my almost twenty years. We met a handful of times before we had gotten married. Our marriage was as close to an arranged marriage as you could get these days. My parents had started introducing me to society the day I turned sixteen. Gregory had been older, but my mother was definitely thrilled when I caught his attention.
Gregory made his intentions clear on our first date and while I considered other young men, my parents had pushed me to choose Gregory. It was easy to understand why. On paper, Gregory was the perfect specimen –handsome, graduate of Harvard Law, could trace his ancestry off the Mayflower. He was already a partner at his law firm and his father had political connections and was interested a possible run for governor of New York.
The reality fell short of the fantasy. In public, Gregory was the perfect husband. He was attentive to my needs, caring, and polite. In private, well, there wasn't much to say. We barely spoke to each other and he was never home except when he needed to present the perfect family to his colleagues. And sex? I could count the number of times on one hand and the experience didn't live up to what I had read in books.
So, here I was, 19, staring at a clock and wondering how much longer I would wait until I gave up and went to bed.
Tonight, something was different. I wanted to know what he was doing. I needed to know. My need reminded me of a mosquito bite or having chicken pox; you had the need to scratch, but you knew if you did there'd be a scar left behind. Once you scratched hard enough you would feel better for a moment, but the scar would always be there. For once in my life, the scar didn't frighten me.
Little did I know I would be able to relive this night in vivid detail for years to come.
It was pathetic, but I kept up the appearance of the perfect stylish wife. I put on my new Chanel spring coat and grabbed my matching handbag. Once I was downstairs, I decided against taking a cab as the doorman suggested. I had a feeling that he would call Gregory to warn him I was on my way and the last thing I wanted was for Gregory to have any warning. Instead I told him I was going to the movie theater around the block. That wasn't an unusual thing for me to do.
I walked one block over, out of sight of my doorman, and used the subway. I stood out like a sore thumb standing there in my designer clothes, but I didn't care. All the travelers were staring at me as they got on and off, but again, I didn't care. I had a goal and no one could deter me from seeing it through.
Finally, Gregory's office stop came and I got off the subway; almost on autopilot.
Calmly, I signed into the office building with security, explaining that I was one of the senior partner's daughter. He obviously didn't care and he didn't ask for my ID.
I watched the dial, waiting for the elevator door to open. When it arrived, I pushed the button and watched the floors pass by. The atmosphere of this place was starting to wear on my nerves. Stuffy, dark and pretentious.
When the door opened, I saw the rich elegance of the reception area. Dark wood with oriental rugs and pompous paintings and decor. Muted light made it more ominous.
I walked down the hallway, all the past and present partners' faces looking at me from their portraits, begging me to go back, telling me I could still have my charmed life, not to open Pandora's Box. But I had come too far and I couldn't resist, the apple was beckoning. When I got closer to the end of the hall, I could hear noises coming from Gregory's office, confirming what I had long suspected.
Taking a deep breath, I walked to his door and peeked inside. On his desk was his secretary, Cynthia, spread out naked, except for her gartered stockings, with my husband's head buried between her thighs. Her white blond hair was hanging off the edge, while she grabbed his head, moaning loudly.
It was erotic, it was also something I had only read about in forbidden Harlequin novels. I could see she was enjoying it, if her moaning was any indication. As I stood there I didn't feel angry but cheated because the few times we had sex it was nothing like this. Gregory was on me for a minute and right back off. There were no loving caresses, no passion, no moaning or hair pulling like I was currently watching. It was also confirming what Gregory had always told me - I was frigid and undesirable.
There was no need for me to stay any longer, I had gotten the confirmation I had been looking for about my husband's "work activities", but before I could turn and leave, Gregory looked up from his perch, getting ready to stick his penis in her.
"Lillian!" he hissed, spotting me by the door.
Cynthia squealed trying to cover her breasts while Gregory seethed at me. I didn't wait to see what he would say and turned on my heel to leave. I ran down the hallway, past the portraits, frowning as my heels clicked down on the hardwood floor. Who knew I could run in Chanel?
I made it to the elevators, hitting the buttons, willing the elevator to come before Gregory could catch up to me. But he had been following me since I took off.
"Lillian!" he yelled, buttoning his pants. "What are you doing here?" He was furious, but I didn't care anymore.
"What am I doing? I came to visit my husband who neglected to tell me he would be late, yet again. I thought I would come by and ask if you would like me to keep dinner on the table," I yelled, no longer caring about pretenses.
"Keep your voice down," he hissed, grabbing my shoulder so hard I could feel the bruises start to form. "Well, Lillian, what do you expect? You're horrible in bed."
"Maybe I just need a better teacher," I retorted, finding my courage for a moment, then regretted it immediately.
Gregory turned beet red and grabbed my shoulder tighter. "Watch your mouth," he demanded. "I'm your husband."
"And I'm your wife! How long, Gregory? How many?" I asked, the sadness creeping up, the fight going out of me. Why couldn't he show that kind of passion with me? Maybe I was broken, like a shattered vase you can't repair no matter how hard you try.
Gregory got very quiet for a moment, regret briefly flitted across his blue-grey eyes. His eyes had always reminded me of the ocean by Martha's Vineyard during a storm. Cool, calculating and sorrowful.
"The number is irrelevant Lillian," he stated after a moment.
"Then why, Gregory? I would have done whatever you wanted." I cried, the adrenalin that had been fueling this caper was now gone and left a deep pain in its place.
Gregory scowled at me and grabbed my shoulder again. "What I do, Lillian, is none of your business. Now you listen to me. You're going to go home and forget what you saw here. You will do as you're told. You are my wife and you will play the part. When it's time for us to have a child, then we will spend more time in bed, but until then I don't want to ever see your frigid ass back here!" He dug his fingers in harder.
"Let go of me, you're leaving marks on my shoulder and people will see," I told him quietly.
Gregory was all about appearances and could see the start of bruises where my shirt opened at the top. Suddenly I got a vision of how my future would be if I stayed and it made me sick.
"No," I said, surprising both of us, "I don't think so."
Gregory started to howl with laughter. "Really? Lillian, what are you going to do? Go to your parents?" He laughed cynically. "You go ahead and do that. See how far you'll get."
"Thank you for the suggestion, Gregory," I told him, barely keeping my tears at bay. I felt so humiliated. My parents would take me back. I was their daughter after all.
Gregory's cruel laughter haunted me as the elevator operator opened the door. This time as I exited the building, I allowed the doorman to hail me a cab. My earlier bravado had exited my body with the revelations I discovered. I could feel myself turning into that meek girl who was denying what was happening in her marriage.
For some reason, I had a feeling that Gregory was right about my parents, but I didn't want to believe it. My parents could be cold, but surely they wouldn't turn away their oldest daughter? Right?
When the cab arrived, I gathered my wits and walked into my parents’ apartment building, walking past the doorman, Mr. Lynch, who nodded and smiled at me. He had known me since I was three. As a small child, I thought he was Santa Claus.
"Miss Lillian," he said, looking at me.
"Mr. Lynch," I replied shakily.
"Are you alright, Miss Lillian? I can call for your father or brother," he replied concerned, realizing it was too late for a social call.
"No, thank you Mr. Lynch, I need to speak with my parents," I told him.
"Alright, I'll get the elevator for you," he said pressing the elevator button.
For the second time this evening, I could feel this was a bad idea, but I soldiered on once again. Using my key in the lock, I was surprised to see my parents waiting for me. I wondered if Gregory had called them, but he had looked too confident in assumptions to warn my parents about my impending arrival.
"Mother, Father," I said, a little startled.
"Lillian," my mother greeted me, "Mr. Lynch notified us you were coming up."
"Why did he do that?" I asked, confused. This had been my home for eighteen years.
"He always does that when we have a guest. You should be glad he let you up without notifying us first. That would have been embarrassing; almost as embarrassing as the reason why you're here, Lillian," my mother said, dropping some of the ash from her cigarette into her ashtray.
I guess Gregory decided to call my parents after our encounter. "I'm assuming Gregory called you?"
"Yes, he did, Lillian," my mother said. "What we don't understand is why you are here. You should be at home with your husband. A wife's place is at home."
"But he's having an affair with his secretary. Did Gregory tell you that?" I stuttered.
"And?" my father asked, lighting up his own cigarette.
"It's wrong and it goes against our martial vows," I retorted.
"Lillian, this is not a reason to leave your husband," my mother replied. "You must have done something to make your husband stray. Go home and fix it."
"But this is my home," I replied quietly, my throat was so tight it felt like I was trying to swallow a boulder.
"No, Lillian, your home is with your husband. This is just a misunderstanding," my father said, in what I would describe as his gentle voice. "Many husbands have relationships with their secretaries. When you have a child, you will feel better and have something to focus on."
"To have a child, Father, one must have sex," I replied, enjoying the shocked expression on my parents' faces. "I'm not having a lot of that. Gregory's secretary has a better chance of having a baby than I do."
My mother took a deep breath, "You should leave now, Lillian, and please call before you come again."
I nodded, realizing that this would never be my home again. Briefly I glanced at the picture of myself, my brother Mike and my sister Kitty, on the mantel. Mike was two years older than me and our sister was 14. I shuddered to think what would happen to Kitty in a few years.
I left my parents opting to walk back to Gregory's apartment.
On the way back, I realized I was trapped. I didn't have any marketable skills and I knew that if I got a divorce I would be a social pariah. No one wanted to associate with someone who was ostracized in my circle.
I had no choices. It was a small wonder why so many women in my social circle lived off gin and tonics. I wondered how many of them were in my situation.
When I got to the apartment I had the sudden urge to pawn my jewelry and go to the Greyhound station and get on the first bus to wherever it was headed. Looking up at the opulent building, I wondered if I could do that…. Just leave.
Chapter 2: The Catalyst…
I looked at the building and then the subway a couple of blocks down, that would take me to the Greyhound station. Oh how I wanted to do that, just get on a bus and disappear, forget my problems. I could feel the wind on my back, encouraging me to go, just choose any city in the country and go.
I must have stared at that building a good twenty minutes when a policeman came up to see if I needed help.
"Miss, are you alright?" he asked quietly, the light from the street lamp shining down on his brass buttons. "You've been standing here for a while now."
"No, not really. I’m not okay but thank you. You've been the nicest person to me this evening. More so than my parents or husband. Isn't that pathetic?" I asked, numbly. A complete stranger cared about me more than my flesh and blood.
"Can I help you with anything?" he asked concern on his nice face. He looked older, around sixty. He had white hair and reminded me of Mr. Lynch.
"No, thank you. I'll just go home now. Everything will be fine in the morning. What other choice do I have? That's what my mother said anyway. Sorry to trouble you."
With that I left the cop standing there and walked into my building. I could feel his eyes on me. Poor man probably thought I was going to have a nervous breakdown. The sad thing was, he was probably right. I felt so numb, I was tempted to go back to the subway and jump on the tracks.
Entering my building, I nodded at the doorman who nodded back and got me the elevator. The building actually had a modern elevator so I just pressed the button to my floor. Unsurprisingly, I was alone. Gregory usually came in at 1:00 or 2:00 am in the morning.
Going to my bathroom, I pulled out the bottle of Valium and thought about taking one. An older acquaintance of mine gave them to me during a luncheon when she realized who my husband was. I could see why she thought I would need them. It was tempting to forget my rejection for a night or take the whole bottle for a more permanent solution, but I put them away and went to bed. All pills were left untouched.
The next morning, after a restless night, I got up at 6:00 am and walked through the apartment. Gregory was sitting on the couch, cigarette and scotch in hand.
"Took you long enough, Lillian." He got up and gripped my chin tightly. This time I didn't flinch. "Let me remind you of a couple things. You are never to embarrass me with your parents again. Understood?"
I nodded, hoping he would let go of my chin. His fingers had a steel grip on my jaw bone.
"Good," he said releasing me. I stumbled back. "I'm the man, and I decide what happens. Tonight expect me home. Have dinner ready. I’ll even sleep with your frigid ass."
"As you wish," I told him, turning my "frigid ass" back to the bedroom so I could get dressed.
As I turned around, I felt him follow me. "You know Lillian, you are the most boring woman in bed, but your body almost makes up for it," Gregory said, slapping my backside.
I grimaced at the thought of him touching me intimately again. The few contents in my stomach threatened to make an appearance.
"Say thank you Gregory," he told me, patting me more gently this time.
"Thank you, Gregory," I parroted, realizing this was going to be my life from now on. I cursed that solidarity brave streak for giving me the courage to confront his infidelity.
"Good girl," he replied, walking into closest. "Have breakfast ready for me."
What he should have said is ‘check with the help and make sure it was ready’.
My sole purpose in life was to boss people around my house. I didn't have to cook or do laundry. Sadly, I didn't know how to take care of those things myself, not even how to clean properly. No one had ever taught me. I felt useless and inept, no wonder no one took me seriously.
I called for the staff to get breakfast together and to go over the day’s itinerary, including choices for the evening's dinner. Gregory got the final say. Knowing him, he would probably opt for steak.
Of course, this was the only thing I could predict with certainty about my husband - his food choice. I was right, he choose steak and baked potatoes for dinner; two things I didn’t care for but would have to eat for our "romantic dinner".
Once the staff went back to their jobs and we were alone, Gregory smirked at me and reminded me to expect his company. Last night I would have been thrilled, but now I had the vision of Gregory making love to me like he had with Cynthia and it terrified me. I had a feeling he wanted to do something cruel tonight to keep me in my place. I dreaded his return.
Ten minutes later he gave a gentle kiss on my cheek and left for work. Finally I was able to breathe a sigh of relief. After Gregory left, I dressed and spent the day like I normally did; working on my social activities, planning dinners and what outings we would be attending.
I called in my secretary Francine to finalize times and dates, and for a moment I wondered if Gregory had slept with her too. Given the looks of pure hatred she often sent my way, I wouldn't be surprised, but I was too much of a coward to confront her. Other than the constant sense of dread, my day was pretty typical.
Typical until 2:30 that afternoon when Millie, our housemaid, came to me. "Miss Lillian, there is someone here to see you. A Miss Becker?"
How dare that tramp come here? I was seething. I was sure that even my parents and Gregory would have hit the roof over his mistress coming to my home. Wasn't there some adulterer's code out there?
"Send her in," I croaked.
Cynthia came in a few moments later, her flaming red hair in a twist, her business suit immaculate. "What are you doing here?" I asked coldly.
"We need to have chat," she replied just as coldly. My mother would have been impressed at her demeanor.
She pulled a paper out of her purse and handed it to me with a flourish. I took a look at it and saw it was a positive pregnancy test from a physician's office.
"Guess who the father is? I’m sure Gregory will be very happy to hear the news," she said smugly.
I could feel the blood drain from my face. Realistically I knew that Cynthia was loose with her charms and there was a good possibility that this baby, even if she was pregnant, was not Gregory’s.
Gregory was a lot of things: an adulterer, and a cruel, miserable human being, but I knew he was obsessed with condoms. He kept several boxes of them in his night table. Given his father's political aspirations of becoming governor, I doubted Gregory would have been stupid enough to risk not using one. But looking at her smug expression, all that logic went out the window and I snapped.
Standing as straight as a rod, I shocked myself by grabbing Cynthia by her arm roughly. She gasped, realizing I wasn’t as meek as she thought. But I wasn’t meek anymore and I did have it in me and I wasn’t about to let this go like I had so many other things.
"Get out of my home!" I yelled at her, marching through my hallway yelling for our butler. "George!"
George came around the corner seconds later. Mille, Francine, and Dina, the cook, converged in my sitting room to see what the commotion was about.
"Yes Mrs. Banks?" Gregory said coming forward.
"Please take this woman downstairs and instruct the doorman that she or any other tramp that Mr. Banks might be fucking is not to be allowed in my home," I shouted, pushing a very shocked Cynthia to him. Francine shrunk to the doorway confirming my suspicion about her relationship with my husband.
"Yes Mrs. Banks. Come Miss." George took Cynthia, who had started crying, gently by the arm and escorted her to the door.
"Don't worry Cynthia, I’m sure you’ll get just what you want," I told her, slamming the door on both of them. Turning around, I faced the remaining people present, who were standing there shocked. Probably with my use of the "f" word and not the fact my husband was fucking around me.
"Two things," I told them very quietly. "All of you are off the rest of the day. Secondly, if any of you say anything to Mr. Banks about this, I will make sure that this was your last day of employment here. Are we understood?"
Millie opened her mouth as if to say something, but stopped herself. "As you wish, Mrs. Banks."
"Thank you," I told her heading back to my bedroom. I hated that woman, she had been working for Gregory before we were married and was always forcing her opinions about how to manage our home down my throat.
Looking in my closet, I pulled my suitcase out of my closet and started throwing clothes into it.
A few minutes later I heard the door close confirming that I was indeed alone. Grabbing the phone, I called my parents' number and became more irate when my mom’s social secretary, another woman I couldn't stand, answered saying she couldn’t come to the phone.
I knew the only thing she could be doing this time of day is meeting with other “ladies” for the sole purpose of gossiping, drinking, smoking, and berating others.
"But Mrs. Banks, Mrs. Hawthorne is hosting a luncheon right now," Mrs. Crawley told me.
"I understand that, but this is an emergency," I told her, rubbing my eyes for the umpteenth time, wondering how some ridiculous luncheon was more important than her child. "Maybe I should come over instead."
"Do not do that, please hold," she said with an air of authority.
"I hate that bitch," I muttered, the fact I was cursing more this afternoon then I had in the nearly twenty years of my existence was not lost on me.
My mother got on the phone a couple of minutes later. "Lillian, what is so important that you needed to interrupt me during an important lunch?" she asked in her cool voice, laced with irritation.
"Mother, I need to come home," I blurted without much thought.
"Not this again, Lillian -," she started to say.
"She's pregnant!" I screeched, interrupting her. "Gregory got her pregnant!"
"Oh my," she replied, and remained quiet for a minute. "Well, that is unexpected, but manageable."
"Unexpected? Manageable? Mother, he is having a child with another woman," I yelled.
"There are things that can be done to prevent that," she replied, like this was a dress you could take back to Saks if you found it wasn't your style.
I took a deep breath. "So, you're saying I can't come home," I said, defeated by her blasé attitude towards my pain.
"Like I said last night Lillian, this is an issue for you to sort out with your husband," she replied.
"So basically, it is okay for my husband to fuck around and get other women pregnant?" I shouted, beyond exasperated.
"Lillian," my mother snapped, presumably by my language, "these are common things in a marriage. Things you will get through, but not a cause for you to leave your husband or swear like a sailor."
"All right Mother, I'll sort it out," I replied taking a deep breath and hanging up the phone back on the receiver gently before she could reply.
I went to bathroom adjoining our bedroom. Going to the cabinet where our toiletries were stored, I took out a box of Tampax. No one, not even Millie went through this box. I checked inside to make sure that the contents were still there.
Going back to my bedroom, I made a few more calls from Gregory's private line. While I had the staff leave, I wouldn't put it past Gregory to have someone listen to my calls.
My paranoia was in overdrive. My heart was pounding and I was starting to wonder if this was the start of a heart attack.
Turning back to my suitcases that I filled haphazardly earlier, I realized I did not want anything in there.
Pushing the cases off the bed, I grabbed a pair of scissors and began cutting out all the crotches on Gregory’s suit pants. I put all his underwear and black shoes in a trash bag which I stuffed in the garbage chute. Going back to the bedroom, I grabbed an ink well and a fountain pen. Aiming the pen at his white shirts, I squirted the ink like a water gun, making sure I got each and every one. I rearranged the clothing in his closet to make it look pristine. A dark smile crossed my face when I imagined his face as he tried to get dressed for work tomorrow. I left my clothes alone. Maybe Cynthia would like them. Of course she was twenty pounds heavier than me, sans baby. Let’s see how she would like it when Gregory would start demanding she keep her figure.
Making a call to Woolworths, I purchased several practical outfits which I had delivered immediately. I paid for the delivery in cash from Gregory’s stash in his desk and gave the delivery boy a healthy tip plus Gregory's porterhouse steak that had been marinating all day. After that was done, I did what I always seemed to do, I waited.
In my very uncomfortable, high winged chair, I sat, just like I had at the night before. And just like last night, I could feel the hairs on my neck stand up, but I also felt determined. This time I wasn't backing down.
Surprisingly, Gregory actually arrived at home on time, at 6:30 pm. "Lillian?" he said, looking around. He was probably expecting Millie to come with his drink and George to take his coat. Why we needed servants was beyond me. Frankly, I didn't even see why I had a social secretary, but I did. Francine was a wedding present from my parents.
"I gave the servants the night off so we could be alone," I replied, my mouth turning up slightly. Surprise crossed Gregory's handsome face. He clearly wasn't expecting us to be alone. For a moment I wondered about my wisdom in dismissing the staff. Gregory looked almost dangerous in that moment, but I doubt that Millie or George would have stepped in to help me even if they were here. Either way it was irrelevant; I would no longer be here in another ten minutes.
"Where is dinner?" he asked finally, the only smell in the air was the sterile cleanser Millie used. I almost smirked at the thought of giving his beloved steak to the Woolworth's delivery boy earlier.
"That's not what you need to worry about, Gregory," I told him, giving him a martini. "What you need to worry about is your impending fatherhood."
Gregory turned red for a moment, his look murderous. "How the hell are you pregnant?" he finally asked.
I almost burst out laughing. Of course the idiot would assume I was pregnant and had been unfaithful. Since we hadn't had sex in four months, I suppose I could see the basis of his conclusion.
"Hardly Gregory, we haven't had sex, well with each other that is, in months. No, I'm referring to your secretary Cynthia who showed up this afternoon with news of her impending arrival and that you’re the father," I told him calmly, emulating my mother for a moment. She would have most definitely approved of my tone and language now.
This time I had the enjoyment of watching the color leave his face. Then he finally noticed the bag at my feet.
"Ok, so you're leaving now, Lillian?" He laughed menacingly. "Do you think that your parents are going to let you come home?"
"No," I replied calmly, picking up my bag, "they already told me that was not an option."
"You leave here and I will cut you off immediately. And don't think that you can access your trust fund either. I have control over that as well," Gregory threatened. I almost started laughing at his threats, typical Gregory. Trying to bully someone into submission.
"Gregory, it doesn't matter where I'm going or how I'm going to pay for it. Just know I'm leaving you and you need to do the right thing by Cynthia since she is carrying your child," I emphasized.
"That's ridiculous, Lillian," he said, starting to come over to me, raising his hand. "YOU ARE MINE!"
"No, I'm not," I replied coolly, heading to the door. "Cynthia is yours and I'm sure your parents are going to make sure that you do the right thing. I informed your mother this afternoon."
"You bitch," he cursed, knowing that I just released a can of worms. His father was going to have some choice words for him, but the sad reality was that was all it was going to be...words. Gregory's father was not going to let his son marry his lover. He would lose my father's political connections. All I had really done was buy myself time.
I took a deep breath, refusing to back down. "Before you come any closer Gregory, Mike is downstairs waiting for me. He knows to come up if I'm not down in the next few minutes."
That stopped him. Gregory might not have any qualms about getting physical with me, but he definitely did not want to get into a fight with my 6'5, 270 pound All American quarterback brother. Not to mention that Mike was also ROTC.
In short, Gregory was a coward. At that moment, I didn't doubt that he wanted to hit me but his self-preservation took over.
"Fine, Lillian," he said after a minute, lighting his cigarette, "you want to leave? Go ahead, but I warn you, if you leave don’t ever think about coming back."
"That's fine, give Cynthia my regards and best of luck," I told him sweetly, opening the door. "The poor woman is going to need it."
I quietly left the apartment and pressed the button for the elevator. I didn't want to wait long. I wanted out of this building before Gregory had time to rethink anything and come after me. I wouldn't put it past him to call my parents or have someone look for me immediately. I needed to get out of New York and more than likely the East Coast.
Mike and his fiancée Elizabeth were waiting for me when I got out of the elevator. "Are you okay, Lilly?" he asked hugging me. Mike was the only one who called me Lilly - the name I always preferred but wasn’t allowed to go by.
I shrugged my shoulders not sure what to say. On one hand, I was happy beyond belief and on the other, I was scared to death. I had just left my husband and I had no idea what I was going to do.