Friday, May 4, 2012
Imagine being threatened and....
forced to give up your child. That's exactly what happened to me. Oh, I'm Vanessa Gleason, by the way.
In my wildest dreams, I never imagined giving up my daughter. Not for any reason. Not for any amount of money. But I did.
Let me start at the beginning. I’m Vanessa Gleason, formerly Sanford. I married Charles Sanford five years ago after a whirlwind romance. I met Charles when I worked at a law firm in Cleveland. He was from Cincinnati and often had dealings with our law firm.
His charm and smooth talk soon swept me off my feet. It didn’t take long. From the minute I first saw him, I was attracted. Not just by his good looks, but they sure didn’t hurt. There was something about him. His attentiveness, probably. When he asked me to dinner the first time, well let’s just say I was more than a little flattered. Charles had quite a reputation. Not only was he wealthy, his came from a very prestigious law firm, and his name was very well known in society.
I couldn’t imagine what he wanted with me. I mean, seriously. I was nothing. A lowly secretary – okay executive secretary, but still, that was nothing compared to Charles.
After a year, he convinced me to leave Morgan, Wilson, & Howe and work for him. I didn’t have anything holding me here in Cleveland. My parents were deceased. I didn’t have any other family and not even any close friends. It was the opportunity of a lifetime. Sanford, Pillar and Dunmore wasn’t just a prestigious law firm, they were the elite. The top. Not to mention, I’d get to see Charles every day, a fact he didn’t need to point out. I was already infatuated. I wanted to see where our relationship would lead. Seeing Charles on a daily basis as compared to his occasional visits to Cleveland would surely turn into something more permanent.
He showered me with gifts. Jewelry, artwork, flowers, you name it. He never showed up without something for me. He literally swept me off my feet. His attention and affection had me head over heels in love.
When he asked me to marry him, I didn’t have to think twice. So after a whirlwind, fairy book romance, we married. Charles’s mother, Mrs. Sanford, took charge of everything. From picking out my dress to the smallest detail of favors for the tables. After all, what did I know about planning a society wedding for almost a thousand people? I was more than willing to let her do it. Although, I would have liked to pick out my own dress. But, she was paying for it, after all.
Married life wasn’t much different than being single. Other than Mrs. Sanford convinced Charles I should quit my job. There was more than enough to keep me busy learning to run his home and volunteering with her and Joanna, Charles’s sister. Besides, Sanford women didn't work. It would look like he couldn't provide for me.
I didn’t mind. I was ecstatic. Finally, I was part of a family again and Charles certainly had a large house-twenty-five rooms, fifteen servants, cooks, butler, and chauffer. They soon became my friends, much to Mrs. Sandford’s chagrin. One didn’t fraternize with the help. Not that I had much time. Mrs. Sanford whisked me off to every charity event imaginable, not to mention the garden club and bridge club-something I never mastered. All that and giving the servants orders filled my days. Evenings were spent at the club.
It was one constant whirlwind of activity and at first I loved it, but it wasn't a life I was used to and after a few weeks, I wanted to just stay home and spend time with my husband. Once I got pregnant with my daughter, I didn’t go as often. Mrs. Sanford, who never missed an opportunity to criticize me, became more vocal, insisting we attend. I gave in, as usual.
After I had Alyssa, I flat out refused to go. For a week or so, Charles stayed home with me, but then his mother nagged and nagged. The next thing I knew, we were constantly arguing. He insisted I hire a nanny for Alyssa and go with him. I flat out refused. This was my daughter, and I was raising her, not a nanny. That’s when Mrs. Sanford really turned on the viciousness. Nothing I did was right.
Charles went to the club every night. I heard through the grapevine, Emily Winfield joined him. Emily was the woman Mrs. Sanford chose for Charles. To use her words: ‘Emily was much more suitable for Charles.’ Well, they were welcome to each other as far as I was concerned. The nastier Charles got, the more I realized our marriage was a lie. Charles didn’t love me, probably never had. I’m not sure why he married me when he could have had Emily to begin with. Something about Emily being engaged to someone else, from what the servants said. So, I was just a pretty face for him to entertain his clients.
I didn’t care. I had Alyssa and that’s all that mattered. Until Charles asked for a divorce that is. That’s when my world fell apart. The divorce he could have. I didn’t care. But not my daughter.
To learn more you’ll have to read the book, available from Amazon
Vanessa blinked back tears. The empty feeling inside wasn’t going to subside any time soon and hiding away in a hotel room wouldn’t change anything. Besides, tears wouldn’t bring Alyssa back. But, somehow, someway she was going to get her daughter back. What was her baby doing? Did she miss her? Was she crying? God, she missed her daughter. Missed their morning ritual—the loving and hugging and cuddling. Every day for two years, they started the day the same way.
At least they did until two weeks ago.
Never in her life had she felt such anger and pain. Tears burned her eyes, slid down her cheeks. Powerless to stop them, sobs shook her body. Gulping back the sobs, Vanessa looked around the small hotel room. Okay, so it wasn’t the Ritz, but it was clean and reasonably priced. Luxury wasn’t important. Never had been before and sure as heck wasn’t now. The important thing now was figuring a way to get her daughter back. Time to pull herself together and get on with life, find a job. Two weeks of self-pity was enough. Vanessa swung her legs over the side of the bed, went to the bathroom, and turned on the water for the shower. She needed a plan. Crying didn’t solve a darn thing.
The hot water ran down her gaunt body, and Vanessa lathered her tangled auburn hair. Was it only two weeks ago life seemed normal? How could things have changed so suddenly? But it wasn’t sudden. A divorce had been coming for a long time. She just never expected it to end without Alyssa. Vanessa shivered getting out of the shower and wrapped the towel around her. Her only chance of getting Alyssa back was to find a job, and to make a fresh start.
Showered and dressed, Vanessa caught her reflection in the mirror. High sunken cheekbones sat beneath green eyes that stared back at her with a vacant look. How had her face become so skeletal in two weeks? What happened to the woman, who had her hair done weekly, never appeared without makeup, and worked out every day? Not that she cared about all that pampering. None of that mattered, never really had. What mattered was her baby. Living without luxuries was easy. She’d done it all her life. But losing Alyssa left a hole in her heart. Never had she experienced such pain. Not even when her parents died. Losing her child tore her apart. Tears burned her eyes again.
Vanessa gulped back the tears and turned away from the mirror, straightened her shoulders and stood to her full five foot eight height. Through the years her height had afforded her many advantages, and she’d been proud of it. Not so long ago, it had given her confidence and security. Time to regain that confidence. She was down, but not broken. No other way to beat Charles and his mother to win custody of Alyssa, and beat them she would. She’d be darned if Mrs. Sanford was going to raise her daughter. Not in this lifetime.
Charles—what a mistake he turned out to be. Although he had provided well for the past five years, the past was over. He didn’t matter anymore. Hadn’t really mattered for a long time.
She brushed the hair from her forehead, smoothed her blouse and took a last look at the unfamiliar person that stared back at her.
“Time to get down to business, first thing to find a job.” Her voice in the empty room shocked her. It was the first time she’d spoken in almost two weeks.
Clutching her sweater tight to block out the wind, Vanessa hurried across the parking lot to the motel lobby and purchased a paper. Back in her room, she shivered, poured a cup of coffee, sat down at the small round table, and opened the paper to the classifieds. The settlement money from Charles was safe in an account, but she didn’t want to count on it to live. Besides, it wouldn’t last forever. It was time to do something for her, to feel worthwhile again, and that money was the start to getting Alyssa back. Vanessa smiled. Nothing would make her happier than beating Charles with his own money. But it would take a lot more than what she had to find a lawyer who could beat him.
Memory of signing the papers and taking the money invaded her thoughts. That sneering smile and hushed tone of Mrs. Sanford made her skin crawl, even now. The words would be forever implanted in her mind. “Charles has been more than generous in his settlement. You ought to be grateful, dear.”
Oh yeah, more than generous, but at what price? And grateful, for what? That they forced her give up her daughter? That Charles had threatened her? Mrs. Sanford’s idea of grateful and hers sure didn’t agree. And that dear, if she never heard that term again, it would be too soon, especially the way Mrs. Sanford said it. But they weren’t going to win. Not by a long shot.
Vanessa set the paper aside, closed her eyes and remembered how happy she had once been. How could things go so wrong? All she had wanted was to fit in, to be the perfect wife and part of Charles’s family. Quitting her job at Mrs. Sanford’s insistence was her first mistake. Filling her time managing Charles’s large house, fulfilling commitments at the club and volunteering with Mother Sanford and Charles’s sister, Joanna, was supposed to be fun. Fun, yeah right, nothing with Mrs. Sanford was fun.
Pushing the memory from her mind, Vanessa picked up the newspaper, circled some help wanted ads, and made a few phone calls. It didn’t take long to figure out Christmas Eve wasn’t the best day to look for a job.
Christmas Eve, God, she had lost track of time. Christmas, when she should be with her daughter. She had begged Charles to let her stay until after Christmas, but with his mother behind him, as usual, he refused. How could anyone be so cruel?
“What difference does it make what day it is?” He waved her off. “It’s over, the papers are signed. Take the money and leave before I change my mind.”
Vanessa left, knowing he meant it. She wouldn’t put anything past Charles Sanford these days. He sure wasn’t the man she married, or had she been so blinded by love to see the real Charles?
“But the fight isn’t over, Charles Sanford. Somehow, someway I’m going to win Alyssa back. No way is your mother going to raise my baby.” The choked sound of her own voice startled her. The thought of Mrs. Sanford raising Alyssa sent chills through her. No, that cold, unfeeling witch wasn’t going to raise her daughter.