The house was fabulous. I couldn’t wait to move in and make it ours. Julie was thrilled with Paul’s plans for the backyard playground. It was perfect for the three of us, and we’d be settled in time for the SPCA benefit we’d host in November.
The closing was to be Tuesday. Paul had to travel to Chicago again for business the week before, but would back on Saturday.
When he didn’t arrive by dinnertime Saturday, I started to feel uneasy. It wasn’t like him to be late and not call. By 8:00, I was worried. By 9, I’d called the Chicago hospitals and police.
Sunday I was frantic. Nothing from Paul, the hospitals or the police.
By Monday, I felt a strange migration of emotions, as my fears turned to anger. He’d run off. He’d been going to Chicago all these trips not for business but for someone else.
Mid-morning, the phone rang. The bank.
Mrs. Bell? This is a courtesy call to notify you that a check has been deposited in your account for $100,000.
Huh. The ‘other woman’ theory vanished. $100,000? Not nearly enough to close on the $3M home we’d be buying on Tuesday. Why would he send a check for this partial amount?
By Tuesday, still no Paul, no word, no $3M. No dream house…the closing was canceled.
The red flags, which I had neatly folded and stashed in the back of my brain over the past four years, all rose up and started waving wildly.
My brain buzzed as I tried to imagine what might have happened. Four years ago, he’d wooed me with meals at the finest restaurants across the country, travels to Australia and Peru, a Mercedes S-class, the 3-carat emerald. His millions, he explained, were from his investing skills. And from the secret trust fund from his grandfather. When he proposed and asked me to help him give away his money to a good cause, I chose to believe he was the complete package. Not too good to be true, as a friend suggested. No, not too good, just very, very good. And I deserved it.
But that package I thought I knew was coming unstrung as I thought back over the warning signs I’d chosen to ignore. Why had he balked when the bank asked for a credit report? Why had he been so agitated when he returned from Chicago last time? Why was I never to mention his trust fund in front of his family?
When I saw the actual $100,000 check, the pieces started coming together. The check was from BondCo, Paul’s bond-trading company, the company in which I’d invested my IRA funds and savings. The company in which my parents had invested their savings. In which my sister and friends had invested. Yet, I realized, I’d never received a statement, a dividend, a communication from BondCo. But now, a check from BondCo for our personal family expenses? It dawned on me at that moment what he’d done.
In shock, I had to come to terms with the fact that I did not have nearly-limitless funds at my disposal. In fact, the investments Paul boasted about were vapor, and worse, I realized the trips and the toys he’d bought for me had all been paid for with my own now-empty IRA fund, and with the funds of my family, friends and others.
I sold what I could, including the Mercedes and the emerald ring. I moved with my daughter into a month-to-month rental and went to work in the gift-wrap department of Macys.
Four months to the day after he disappeared, I received a call from the Chicago police. Mrs. Bell, we’ve found something. We’ll need your husband’s dental records.
Standing at his funeral, I sobbed in anger and grief. Who was this man I had called my husband? Nothing but a fraud! The last four years of my life had been a sham. My daughter’s father was dead – by his own hand. Was that the final act of betrayal? Or was suicide his last effort to communicate his remorse? Had he loved us enough that he couldn’t live with himself for having betrayed us so completely?
I’d lived four years in a fantasy world. I’d chosen to believe the lies that were indeed too good to be true. The era of living high was over, replaced by a reality of loss and deep, deep regret. The question of what I deserve remains.
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