Upper East Side, Manhattan
“You knew!” I screamed at my father late one night, long after the twins’ second birthday party had wrapped up and all the girls had been put in bed.
Gordon was out.
“No, I didn’t know, Cassie,” he protested helplessly in the face of my rage, all bubbling up like a volcano. Twenty-four years old and looking at a life living with a man who didn’t want me, but wouldn’t admit what he did want. “I suspected, and only that morning. I had nothing to go on. What if I’d said something, and I was wrong? It would’ve ruined your lives, both of you.”
I turned on my mother, who sat humped over on an expensive sofa, wringing her hands. “You knew,” I snarled.
She looked away from me and refused to answer and, I realized, she simply didn’t want to speak of it at all, as if ignoring it would make it go away.
“I want out of this marriage,” I growled, looking at my father again. “And you’re going to help me.”
“No!” breathed my mother, horrified, now staring at me wide-eyed and frightened. “No. That will not happen.”
I stared at her, unable to figure out what part of “divorce” she wasn’t getting.
“We don’t do that,” she said in her sternest voice, the voice that had always quelled me into behaving as a proper debutante from the Upper East Side should behave. I was the good girl of my sisters, except for the times they had persuaded me to sneak out to go clubbing with them.
I couldn’t resist the lure of the salsa floor, the chance to put my sterile ballroom dance instructions to the test, improve on them, become flushed with incomplete desire—
—still incomplete after six years of marriage and four children because my husband was gay and he wouldn’t admit it.
Not that I cared.
It had taken six months for my crush to dissipate. The mystery of sex was gone and there was nothing to write home about. I’d since learned a saying: “Lie back and think of England.” I didn’t know where it came from; I’d just overheard it one day when my friends and I were out to lunch.
I’d come to terms with Gordon, with living with him. I had a nice life, really, although my friends thought I was crazy, spending time with my kids, cooking, being a housewife. I had to hide my copies of Martha Stewart’s books when they visited, as if I had something to be ashamed of.
Hire somebody, Cassie. I mean, it’s not like you can’t afford a nanny and a housekeeper at the very least.
I had a housekeeper. They meant a live-in housekeeper.
My frugality was ingrained, and that was another area where I didn’t dare reveal myself to my friends. For whatever other faults my parents had, they had not let me have much money. My mother had drilled it into all of us, my sisters and brothers, that they had not been born into a rich family, as we had been, and we would learn how to work and save, what was a luxury and what was a necessity.
They wanted us to know how to survive losing everything we had, how to not only survive, but to rebuild.
The instruction had proven useful during Black Monday, October 19, 1987.
You probably don’t remember, but I do.
My father had prepared for months, bearing the scoffs and scorns of his colleagues as he turned decidedly bearish.
No topic having to do with money had been sacred in our townhouse. The TV was constantly on, tuned to FNN. We had several phone lines, all but the house phone dedicated to trading. You see, my father was a rare breed: He dealt in everything. Stocks, bonds, commodities, currencies, precious metals, derivatives, REITs, and mutual funds. Each phone number was dedicated to one instrument or another, and he could shift gears as fast as hanging up one phone and answering another ringing one.
My mother had always kept the household books, and it seemed my parents worked seamlessly together: He made it and she spent it.
But my instruction—and my sisters’—had only gone so far as to the management of a household because we were not expected to go to college; we were expected to marry well. It was, after all, why our parents had deemed the expense of the International Debutantes Ball a necessity. We were … well, chatelaines.
My brother went to college and I secretly seethed with jealousy because my girls’ school had left me wanting, my thirst for knowledge unbearable, but with no idea how to begin a self-education and no time to do it. Yes, I wanted to be a wife and a mommy more than anything in the world, but to my mind, that shouldn’t impede an education. Martha Stewart had done it, and Martha Stewart was my god.
It was 1988, six months after that nasty day when the market crashed, and the only thing that had saved Gordon and me was my preparation, the frugality in the face of my husband’s scoffs and profligate spending.
I had sneaked money, slowly insinuated myself into our joint account and edged him out—which he never noticed as long as he couldn’t tell that I was the one incrementally lowering his available funds, always letting him believe he’d simply “over”spent that month. I scrimped and saved, bore his complaints about the “poor people food,” let my children whine about their homemade clothes when all their friends were wearing designer clothes.
I had a garden in the twenty square feet behind our townhouse. Thank God, the house was paid for—by my father.
In preparation for that day.
Now, a year later, I stood here in front of my mother, wanting to be free of my marriage once I figured out Gordon’s problem, and having been driven almost to the brink of bankruptcy because he didn’t have the business sense God gave a hedge fund, yet knowing that, no, we don’t do that.
“Then give me an education,” I snarled.
“You will!” I screeched, knowing I sounded like a little girl throwing a temper tantrum, but dammit, I’d just found out my marriage was a sham.
For all his brilliance, my father had been swindled— By a man who knew his dilettante son—the one draining him dry of money—was gay and wanted to forestall any further rumors about his status as “confirmed bachelor” and get Gordon out of his bank accounts.
So he’d married him off to me.
I whirled on my father and pointed at him. “You will give me an education. You will give me a bank account and this house and everything in it. If I can’t divorce Gordon—” And really, why would I want to? He had one redeeming quality: He loved his girls and they adored him. He was the fun parent, and yes, I resented that, too, his showering them with gifts and taking their side against me.
But I knew I wouldn’t take him away from my girls, no matter how bad I thought that was, how far against my training it went.
“—I want everything in my name so I can control it. I want an education and I want to be somebody.”
In the end, I got what I wanted, but it took years of constant war, threats, and cheating on Gordon with NYU.
My father had aged rapidly after that night, watching me try to navigate this foreign world all on my own, foreign to me only because I now saw it for what it was, knowing he had done this to me, unwilling or unable to release me from it.
And I despised my father-in-law.
My spirit broke somewhere around my twenty-eighth birthday when he cornered me—again, after my twins’ birthday party when everyone had gone home—
I’m five-nine, but I’m rather skinny, and I never was prone to great strength. What muscle I had was because of my gardening and housework. I didn’t have to constantly exercise to keep my weight down; on the contrary, I couldn’t keep weight on.
I didn’t know if that was because of the stress of living the life—lie—I lived or because I simply never cared much about food; it wasn’t as if I hadn’t always been skinny to the point of ridicule.
On the other hand, David was much bigger than I, bigger than Gordon, even, and he trapped me in the corner of my kitchen cabinetry, his big hands planted on either side of my hips, while he propositioned me.
I might have to lie back and think of England with Gordon, but I certainly didn’t have to with his father.
“Back off,” I gritted.
“Cassie,” he crooned smugly and buried his face in my neck. “I can tell a woman who’s not getting any satisfaction. I’ve wanted to fuck you since your wedding day and now … well … ”
That’s when I knew:
I was a whore.
Not because I had set out to be, but because this man and my father had made me one.
He’d had been waiting, biding his time, until he thought I would welcome his attentions. Too bad I wanted nothing to do with sex or men or anything but survival—both emotional and financial.
“Get away from me,” I growled, shoving at him with strength I didn’t have. He didn’t budge, but chuckled low in his chest.
“I’ve seen you looking at me, Cassie,” he murmured. “Don’t be a prude now. It’s not like Gordon will care.”
“You’ll care when I out your son.”
He froze. Said nothing for half a second. “You wouldn’t do that.”
“Try me. Get out of my house and take Gordon with you. I’m filing for divorce.”
He drew away from me slowly, hatred written all over his face. “I’ll make sure he takes everything from you, including those brats you love so much.”
That terrified me. It was all mine, but at that moment, it felt like he could do that. I could rebuild my wealth, I knew, with a bit of help from my father—who owed me. But I couldn’t bear losing my girls to a man they adored.
“You know if they had a choice, they’d choose Gordon,” he said smoothly, sensing my fear. “Mean bitch that you are. You aren’t fit to be a mother.”
I gulped because he got me where I lived, trying to rear my daughters with some semblance of discipline, which failed at every turn because Gordon swooped in to save them from me and, well … I couldn’t always say I was right.
Maybe it was true that I was too hard on them, too demanding.
“They’d testify as to your unfitness.”
Yes, they would.
No matter I didn’t want to be a whore anymore, I couldn’t take the chance he’d take my children away from me.
I lived with that for a year before I was even willing to risk it.
You see, I had been watching Gordon, watching him cast hungry glances at men he found eye-catching, and I had started to see a pattern.
He would see Attractive Mr. X, and look away, immediately angry, which he would take out on me in some snide manner.
I shrugged it off. It wasn’t as if I had any investment in the way he treated me insofar as it didn’t affect the girls’ opinion of me (though that was a problem).
But his resentment toward me deepened and broadened until he couldn’t hide his contempt of himself—disguised as contempt for me—from either the children or anyone else.
I was turning into the villain.
Everywhere we went, I was the villain. I couldn’t escape it. Our friends’ glances flickered over me while Gordon was petted and coddled and commiserated with over his intractable and shrewish wife.
This would not go well for me in divorce court if I ever got up the gumption to actually do it.