7. Wealth

“One gives freely, yet grows all the richer;
another withholds what he should give, and only suffers want.”
Proverbs 11:24

“In the blink of an eye wealth disappears,
for it will sprout wings and fly away like an eagle.”
Proverbs 23:5

She hurried quickly down the hallway and entered the room with the words “Doctors Only” stamped above it. What a night it had been so far, and she still had three hours to go before her shift ended! Walking into the break room, The Friend took a deep breath. This was her first moment to stop and collect her thoughts since her shift had started nine hours prior. She always hated when her holiday to work was the 4th of July, especially when she was on nights!

Walking straight for the coffee station, she selected her favorite K-cup, the Italian Roast, and inserted it into the Keurig. As the machine whirred to life and the smell of coffee filled the air, she pulled up a chair and rested her head in her hands. Her eyes burned, and she knew they must be bloodshot. She was so tired. 

It wasn’t just the physical exhaustion from her picking up extra night shifts; it was the emotional exhaustion from so much turmoil in her marriage of five years. She reached into her scrubs’ pocket and toyed with the Tiffany wedding band that she had carried all night. Usually, she stuck her wedding ring in her locker and replaced it on her hand at the end of each shift. But after the fight she and Chip had last night right before work, she was so distracted when she arrived at the hospital that she forgot to take it off. It wasn’t until she was scrubbing in for an emergency appendectomy that she realized the immense diamond-studded band was still on her left hand.

The Keurig’s light turned green, indicating she could retrieve her coffee. As she stood to prep her coffee with three sugars and two creams, she thought through what had gone wrong with Chip. It seemed that their marriage had been nothing but discontentment and strife lately. Why couldn’t they return to the happy, care-free days of their earlier years? She remembered clearly the fiery romance they had shared. 

Marrying an older man had upset her parents at first, but of course she didn’t care. Chip Maxwell had swept her off her feet the moment he approached her at the nightclub. She had just ended her long-term relationship with Joe, and she was enjoying a night out with friends. She’d spotted the older man eyeing her earlier in the evening, but she had not returned his attention at first. 

Chip wasn’t the most handsome man she had ever laid eyes on, but when he later approached her, his confidence, charm, and obvious wealth all spoke of a man of power and charisma. His lavish and well-timed compliments wooed her from the start. Chip was good with words. He drank a whisky, neat, and a cigar rested in the chest pocket of his untucked button-down shirt.  Twelve years her senior, she learned that he was one of two senior partners at Maxwell and Monohan. They were the most well-known defense attorneys in the area. 

As they talked that night, they discovered they already shared a past that intersected. It had been just a year after the tragic train accident that killed her best friend, Sarah. She learned that a junior partner at Chip’s firm was actually The Man who had survived the train accident, though he would not be employed there for much longer. She never met that Man, though she’d seen plenty of him on the news and heard about him quite a bit around town. He had even been treated at the burn unit in her hospital, but she’d never felt compelled to go meet him. Her parents told her at one point that The Man was now attending their church. Big whoop, she’d thought, not caring in the least.

When she and Chip had become pregnant about a year into their relationship, they’d decided to quietly get married to avoid any scandal. Though a premarital pregnancy didn't bother either of them in the least, their town was still held hostage by many archaic beliefs. As two powerful people in the community, they didn’t need anything to tarnish their “good” reputations. 

They had, of course, considered an abortion, as The Friend was concerned with how a child might affect her blossoming medical career. However, The Friend also had a painful secret, never admitted to anyone, that still tortured her heart. She and Joe had become pregnant years prior, in the midst of her residency, and chosen an abortion. Try as she might to medically justify the abortion, she still felt a great sense of guilt and loss over it. Thankfully, Chip wasn’t getting any younger, he liked the idea of a child to carry on his name, so this put an end to the discussion of an abortion.

Seven months after they’d said “I do,” their tiny, beautiful Sarah was born. All of her concerns washed away the moment Sarah was placed in The Friend’s arms. Named after her best friend who had died on the train, The Friend delighted in having a baby girl to carry on her best friend’s namesake. Chip, always driven by a goal, had been disappointed that it was a girl, so he pushed on The Friend to have another child pretty quickly. Thankfully, the next pregnancy produced a son, and Charles Richmond Maxwell, Jr., emerged into the world just 12 months after his sister had been born.

Two close pregnancies had really been difficult on The Friend. Even though she’d worked up until the last minute possible in both pregnancies, she felt that the pregnancies had hurt her professional advancement, nonetheless. She secretly resented Chip for putting her through all of that. Thankfully, she didn’t have to take off the full maternity leave for either child, as she and Chip had hired a fantastic live-in nanny named Esther. 

She was sure that her resentment of Chip played quite a bit into their marital strife, but she never voiced to him how she truly felt. She did love Chip, and she wanted to make their marriage work. But his long work days often rolled deep into the night and meant she sometimes didn’t even see him before she left for the evening shift at the hospital. This certainly complicated an already turbulent marriage. 

Taking a slow sip of coffee, she shook her head as she remembered the subject of last night’s brawl. Money. How do two incredibly successful and wealthy people have money problems? she wondered. Yet their lavish spending was catching up to them, and Chip was concerned. Their mortgage on the $1.4 million home they’d bought last year was crushing them. Last night, Chip had been angry at The Friend for the huge shopping spree she had gone on the weekend before, purchasing new wardrobes and a few of the newest toys for the kids. 

The audacity of that man, The Friend thought. Ordering me to return everything! I don’t get to spend enough time with the kids as it is since he’s now pressuring me to take extra shifts to help bring in more money. And why can’t he cut out all of his late-night spending at Ricky’s Bar? A married man shouldn't be socializing there, anyway! I will not deny my children any of their desires or needs just because their father can’t get his spending under control!

The most embarrassing moment of the fight had come when Esther walked in on them yelling at one another. It was obvious she was embarrassed by the intrusion, but she’d needed to let them know the kids wanted to say goodnight. Rather awkwardly and without much emotion, they kissed the children goodnight and sent them on their way. The Friend had watched as Esther ushered her children to bed, this woman who was like their second mom. She wondered why Esther continued to stay on with them. They did not pay her enough for her time and attention toward their children. Though she had free room and board, her pay on top of that was pitiful compared to what other nannies in the area made. “Generous” was not a word someone could use to describe the Maxwells. 

“Dr. Wilson-Maxwell, you are needed in trauma room 1,” the intercom buzzed overhead just as The Friend’s pager erupted, interrupting her thoughts. She took one more sip of her coffee and hurried out of the room, tossing her half-empty cup in the trash can on her way out.

The rest of her shift sped by quickly, as she was needed in several different emergency situations. When she was finally able to leave the hospital, The Friend was relieved to see that the time was a little after 7am. Lately, she hadn’t been getting home until 9 or 10. Maybe she could see Chip before he left for work. Pressing the gas on her brand-new BMW, she sped along the turnpike. 

As she pulled into their lavish home on the outskirts of town, she drank in the beautiful view that had cost them so much. It was a gorgeous home, no doubt. Having grown up with parents who often left her wanting in her desires, The Friend loved Oscar Wilde’s quote, “Anyone who lives within their means suffers from imagination.” This had become her mantra and her life mission. She took a deep breath, allowing their small mansion to bring her some measure of comfort.

As if on cue, 5-year old Sarah and 3-year old Charles came running out of the house. “Mommy!” they both shouted as they hurried to embrace her. 

“Hello there, my two cuties!” The Friend said excitedly, scooping them into her arms. 

Esther followed the children out, quietly waiting in the background as The Friend talked briefly with her children.

“Mommy, Esther’s sister is sick! Can we help her?” Sarah asked with a look of concern spreading on her little face. She had icing from a cinnamon roll smeared on her cheek, and her straight, blonde hair stuck to her cheek. The Friend turned to Esther with surprise, wondering if she’d set her children up to ask this question. 

Esther quickly stepped forward and shushed the girl. “I’m so sorry, miss,” she replied with broken English. Her embarrassment seemed to be genuine, but The Friend was suspicious still. “The children heard me on the phone last night with my sister. She is in the hospital at my home in Chihuahua.” Esther looked away, and it seemed that she was stifling tears as she talked. 

Not able to hide her curiosity, The Friend probed for more information. “Oh, what’s wrong with her?” 

“Breast cancer, ma’am. It is not good. It was caught in late stages.” 

Little Sarah interjected at this point. “Can we help them, mommy? Esther’s sister can’t pay the doctors to help her get better!”

An awkward silence came over the group as The Friend struggled to answer. It wasn’t her custom to give her money away, even to someone as dear to her as Esther. Especially after her fight with Chip last night, she knew there was no way she would help.

“I’ll talk to your dad about this, Sarah,” she said, bringing an end to this conversation. “Now you and Charles run along while mommy takes a shower and talks to daddy.” 

Esther looked away quickly when The Friend mentioned Chip, which she thought was odd. The kids’ faces showed their immediate disappointment, but they were used to this routine. While The Friend often felt guilty for pushing her children away, she had so many things on her mind, and she knew they could not enjoy this elaborate lifestyle if she did not remain on the top of her game. She desperately needed rest.

“Daddy’s not here! He never came home!” shouted little Charles, his innocent eyes showing concern for his dad. He glanced around, as if he knew he was telling a secret.

“Yeah, we don’t like the nights when daddy doesn’t come home. I am always sad when I wake up and you and daddy aren’t here,” Sarah added now that Charles had told on their dad.

This was all new information to The Friend, who had not been aware that Chip was in the habit of not coming home some nights. She looked to Esther with a raised eyebrow, and Esther glanced away. “Is this true, Esther? Does Chip not come home some nights?”

“Miss, I am so sorry, but I am uncomfortable with this. Please, you should talk to Mr. Maxwell instead.” She then quickly gathered the children and led them to the swing set in the backyard. 

The Friend immediately fished her phone out of her purse, dialing Chip’s number right away. The phone rang several times before she was sent to voicemail. Calling back two or three more times, she finally left a frustrated message before heading inside. Her imagination whirred with the many reasons her husband might not come home, and she burned with anger over the possibilities. 

She walked into their en suite, which was the size of most people’s master bedrooms, and she reached into the shower to turn on the hot water. As the multiple faucets erupted with waterfalls of steaming water, she stepped in and wished that she could wash away all of her troubles. 

She remembered her younger years when she had dreamt of all the money she would make as a doctor. In many ways, her dreams had come true, yet she wondered why she felt as if she was missing something. In all of her striving, she still felt unfulfilled. 

She had imagined a home just like this one, extravagant and opulent in every way. Now she had it. She had envisioned herself in the most expensive clothes as she took vacations that most people only read about in magazines. This, too, she could check off her list. She had pictured herself with children she could spoil and a husband who loved her. It was this part of her dreaming where she felt things had truly fallen apart. Did Chip still love her? She felt fearful and vulnerable as she considered the possibility that he might not. 

When she had finished showering and dressing, the clock showed that it was close to nine. Yet her calls to Chip were still unanswered. When she called his office, the secretary was uncooperative, telling The Friend that Chip was unavailable all morning due to trial prep. 

The Friend closed the curtains of their bedroom, ready to fall into their luscious king-sized bed alone. She hoped that the burning anger she felt toward Chip would not keep her from the sleep her body desperately needed. She had to work again tonight. 

Just as she was settling in and allowing her body to succumb to sleep, she heard the doorbell ring. Who could that be? she wondered. A few moments later, a gentle knock at her door told her that she was needed. She hurried to make herself presentable, then she walked out of her bedroom to see who this visitor was. She couldn’t help but feel frustrated that her sleep was being interrupted.

Descending the grand staircase winding to their front entryway, she saw a young man with a file folder at the door. A solicitor has dared come to my door? she fumed.

“Whatever you are selling, we aren’t interested. Did you not see the ‘no soliciting’ sign when you drove in?” she said with great annoyance.

“I’m so sorry, ma’am, but that’s not why I am here.” He glanced in the room, nervously eyeing the children who stood behind their mom. He took a deep breath, and it was obvious he was not on a mission he enjoyed. “Ma’am, you have officially been served,” he finally said, reaching up to hand her the papers he held in his hand.

The surprise that hit her face mirrored the shock that took her body captive. Served? For what? she wondered. She closed her front door and backed away, numb. She could hear the children asking questions in the background, and she could feel Esther leading her to a couch in the sitting room. Soon, all was quiet as Esther ushered the children away.

The Friend looked down at her hands, which trembled. Her eyes focused on the words at the top of very fancy letterhead.

Petition for Divorce.