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“What a day!” I said to Betty as we went down the mountain on our way home. “I’ve got this one mother who just keeps trying to run my classroom, and she’s been doing it all year. She keeps making suggestions on what I should teach and how I should be teaching it. You know how I adapted Tikki Tikki Tembo to put on this Friday for my classroom play?”
“Well, she suggested I adapt Winnie the Pooh, and use it instead of the other one.”
“And that isn’t the first time she’s tried to tell me how to teach a class. I want to ask her exactly where she got her teaching credential, but I never do.”
We’d just come around the bend and saw the panoramic view of the ocean that we got every time we made that drive. That was about a year ago, and a lot’s happened since then. Betty and I are still making the drive, but the town’s in trouble, and it looks like it’s going to last for quite a while. In October we had the Loma Prieta earthquake. It was a seven on the Richter scale, and it shook the foundations of our little town. Our house made it okay, but most of downtown was wiped out. Buildings that weren’t demolished in the quake later met their fate at the hands of the wrecking ball. We still don’t have full access to downtown. But that disaster was nothing compared to the one I met just four months earlier.
When we got down to the highway, I made a left turn and went south into town. The neighborhood was quiet as it usually was on Monday afternoon. I pulled up next to Betty’s car. She got into it and drove away. Then I pulled into the driveway, got out of the car and opened the garage door. I noticed Soc’s car wasn’t there, so I just assumed he’d gone surfing again. I pulled my car into the garage and closed the door. Then I went out the side door and across the patio to the back door of the house. I set my tote down on the dining room table, and while unpacking it, I noticed the note. Soc’s handwriting. I picked it up and read:
I’ll be gone by the time you get home today. I love you. Remember that always. I just can’t stay here any longer. I don’t know what to do to get my life back. I guess, nothing, so I’ll just be on my way. I must be dead. I love you.
My first reaction was anger, but it quickly turned to hurt feelings. Tears welled up in my eyes. What was going on? Was Soc really gone? Was this a suicide note? I went into our bedroom and checked the closet. All of his dress clothes were still hanging on the rod. His casual clothes, pants and sport shirts, were all missing. The same for the drawers where he kept his shorts, T-shirts and underwear. They were empty. So was the cup that held his toothbrushes, and the drawer with the toothpaste and dental floss. When I saw all that, I knew it wasn’t suicide.
Back in the dining room, I looked at the note again. I didn’t know what I expected to find in those few words of farewell, but I was looking for a clue, any clue, that would tell me where Soc had gone. I wanted to go and look for him. I wanted to kill him. Not literally. It was kind of like when Caroline was little, and I would say something like, “I could kill you,” when she did something I told her not to do.
A very ominous thought occurred to me at that moment. What if he really was dead as he had said in the note? I didn’t actually believe it was a suicide note. I wasn’t ready to believe that Soc could do something like that. What if it was a prophesy rather than a simple statement? What if he’d been killed by some other means? What if he’d had a blowout along the coast and was down in one of those ravines that go under the highway and the railroad tracks to the beach between Gaviota and Santa Barbara? The thought lingered, and then I wondered if it was possible to live without him, which would be the case if he was dead. Scary thought. I didn’t want him to be dead. I wanted to get him back, and I’d make sure his voice was a little higher when I got him here. Of course, I’m only speaking metaphorically. I was really more interested in getting our lives back to normal. But right in that moment, I really did want to kill him. How could he do this?
I went into the living room and sat down on the couch to think. Our problems started when that obituary was published in the newspaper the Saturday before last. The whole week that followed, our lives were hell. Soc was moody, and he acted disoriented all week long. And when I got home that Monday afternoon, my husband was gone. Disappeared. He was certainly suffering more than I was, and that made complete sense. After all, his life was affected more than mine.
I had to decide what to do to find him, how to track him down. Who did he talk to in the last week before he left? I thought of following that path, and I could start doing it the very next day. I’d take a personal leave day and go to all the places Soc told me he’d gone to the Monday before. Talk to those people. See if he mentioned to any of them what his plans were.
As it turned out, my actual search would wait a couple of months for school to get out. That would be the soonest I’d be able to do it, the soonest I’d be able to find someone to help me. And I knew who that person would be, a good friend of mine from school, Danielle Bourdain. She’d been my aide a few years back. When she left, she took a job teaching in a nursery school downtown. She and her husband, Jason, didn’t have any kids. He worked for a start-up company in Silicon Valley. We remained friends over the years. We’d probably gone out to lunch at least once a month since she’d been working downtown. Danielle was always a lot of fun to be around. Both of us had the same kind of sick sense of humor.
I went to the front door to get the mail. There were no clues among the assorted bills due and junk mail ads. I went into the bedroom, sat down on the bed and sobbed uncontrollably. After about five minutes of crying and then laughing, I finally pulled myself together and started thinking about a plan. When I thought about it, this was all really quite humorous. Then I suddenly remembered the money we kept in the file cabinet. The last time we both looked together, there were twenty-five thousand dollars in there. I took out my key and unlocked the bottom drawer. In the back there were three envelopes, each with five thousand dollars in hundreds. We’d just checked it the week before when the trouble started, and there were five envelopes. That thieving sack of shit! Well, at least he left me more than he took. I was prepared to spend it all looking for him.
I got up and went back to the kitchen. As I was passing the full-length mirror on the wall in the hallway, I stopped. I turned on the light and looked at myself. Even with my eyes red from crying, overall I saw a handsome woman in the looking glass. In fact, the crying eyes made me look kinda’ cute. Younger even. Although, cute wasn’t really the word I’d have used to describe myself. That’s mostly because of my height. It’s hardly petit. I’ve been five-eight since sixth grade, and I’ve weighed about a hundred and forty-five pounds since sophomore year in high school. As I looked at myself in that mirror I thought what a good-looking woman I was with my gray streaked auburn hair and blue eyes. I wasn’t a classic beauty by any means, but I was very attractive, and, with my sense of humor, it was the full package. I went into the dining room and took another look at Soc’s note.
How could he have done what he did and think he’d get away with it? My mind was made up. I’d find him and make him pay. When all was said and done, we’d had a good life together, and I really couldn’t see any reason why it couldn’t continue. I was going to make myself something to eat, and then I’d sit down and make up my list of things to do. One thing I’m really good at is organizing my thoughts, writing them down, and formulating a plan. So that’s what I started to do.
I went into the kitchen and made a salad, another one of my specialties. When Soc and I were first married, he was always complimenting me on my salads. He would tell me how good they tasted, and they did, but I like salads more because they’re good for my health, and good for my figure. Now, just for plain good taste, I’d rather have a medium rare steak and baked potato dripping sour cream and chives. That might be the best tasting thing on earth. I like mine bloody. But I could only eat that kind of a meal every once in a while. If I did it even once a week, I’d gain weight, and I didn’t want to do that.
After I finished eating, I washed the dishes and cleaned up in the kitchen. I took the phone and my address book into the dining room. I looked up Danielle’s phone number and dialed. She picked up on the third ring.
“Hi, Danielle,” I said.
“Jayne, hi, how are you?”
“Oh? What happened?”
“Remember what we talked about on Saturday at lunch?”
“Yes, Soc’s obit? What about it?”
“I’ll read the note he left this morning after I went to work,” I said and read the note to her.
“Noo!” she said in that incredulous way she had of saying it. “What happened?”
“I honestly don’t know. This whole situation has obviously been bothering him a lot. It’s bothered me too, but I’ve thought from the beginning that we’d get it straightened out. Apparently, he didn’t. Well, he’s not getting out that easily. I wan’a find him and bring him home. You wan’a help?”
“Tell me what you want and I’ll do it.”
“First thing I’ll do is take the day off tomorrow and trace his footsteps from last Monday. See if he left any clues to where he might’ve gone. If I find out anything, I’ll think seriously about hiring a private investigator. To be honest with you, I think he might’ve gone to Baja California. Over the years, he’s talked about Baja with a certain wanderlust gleam in his eye. I know my man.”
“Boy, you sure are easy to forgive.”
“I wouldn’t go that far. I haven’t found him, yet. When I do, I may be singing a different tune.”
“Have you thought that he might be dead? Suicide comes to mind.”
“I’ve definitely considered that possibility, but I just don’t think so. It’s completely out of character for him. I guess it’s possible that he might die before we get to him. Like maybe he could run off the road before he gets to where he’s going, or if he’s heading for México, I suppose he could be held up and killed by banditos. But I’m not worried about suicide. I’m going looking for him, and the search starts tomorrow.”
“You want me to go with you? I can take the day off, too.”
“Actually, no. Tomorrow’s just the beginning. I was thinking more like summer when school’s out. Think Jason’ll let you get away for a while?”
“It’s not a question of him ‘letting’ me do anything. If I want to, I’ll go. How long do you think we’ll be gone?”
“I have no idea. I may know more after I find out where he is. I just can’t say for sure.”
“Okay. Just let me know. The earlier the better, so I can arrange for a couple days in our timeshare in Las Vegas. If we’re going to Baja, Vegas is kinda’ on the way. We may as well stop there. Do a little gambling. Have some fun. You deserve a treat after what that man is putting you through.”
“Absolutely, and a couple of days in Las Vegas sounds like fun. You’ve just made my day a lot better than it was a little while ago.”
We hung up. I made one more call to Margot, my regular sub. She said she could cover for me, and I briefly told her what my lesson plan was. After we hung up, I sat down and had another good cry at the dining room table. Then I started making plans.