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Portrait of a Marriage

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Summer 1978


I have a photograph in my hands.

I received it today in a letter from Vanessa's parents and the note said it was found in her belongings.

And thus ends the brief series of exchanges that started with two successive phone calls on the night of Vanessa's birthday.





“Kenneth, it's John, Vanessa's father.”

I could tell he had been drinking.

“I know who you are John. So what can I do for you?”

“The reason I called is that there is something I don't understand.”

“And what is that John?”

“You have told us Kenneth that Vanessa came to see you after four and a half years. And you have told us that she told you she was having a biopsy and was scared to death. Did you then make sure she got to the hospital safely? Did you see that she had a place to go after the operation? Were you concerned about her grave situation? “

“Of course I didn't, you know that! For heaven's sake she lied about all that! Look John, maybe we should have this conversation another time?”

“I'm drunk, if that's what you are insinuating. It is my little girl's birthday!”

"I know what today is, John. And I am so, so sorry about Vanessa's death. But there was nothing I could do about it."

“So you say, Kenneth. But you have told us that Vanessa let you know that her activities were not all that legal. And why do you think she did that? You are a police officer for God's sake Kenneth! She sought your help! So what I don't understand is why for the love of God didn't you interfere, Kenneth? Why did you let her die?”

And with those words he ended the call.


Then came the second call.



“Kenneth is that you?”

The voice of Vanessa's mother was sad and drunken. Like her husband's.

“Yes Martha, it's me.”

“There is something I want to tell you Kenneth. I was having my brandy and suddenly I remembered how my Vanessa liked her Brandy Alexander. Do you remember that Kenneth?”


“And then I remembered something that Vanessa told me. She said that she would have given anything to have a beer with you in some watering hole of yours.”

“What? Vanessa hated those kind of places, Martha, you know that. And why are you telling me this?”

“Because I want you to know Kenneth how important it would have been to her if she had been the one person you preferred to have a beer with!”

“I didn't know that.”

“Of course you didn't Kenneth. You were always with that Polish partner of yours. Doing what ever you were doing... ”

“He's not Polish. Martha, maybe we should continue this another time?”

“No! I want you to listen! Do you know that she sometimes called me at nights when you were with that partner of yours and she cried for you. She just wanted you home Kenneth!”

“I was working on those nights for heaven's sake Martha! And what is all this anyway?”

“Your work... Do you really think it was your salary that she detested Kenneth? Or your career prospects?”

“She left me for those exact reasons!”

“You tell that to yourself Kenneth. Vanessa had her pride and she never would have admitted these things to you. You broke my little girl's heart! You and that partner of yours! She still loved you Kenneth. You were the love of her life! “


But I saw behind Martha's words. And it all came down to the simple fact that I had loved my partner more than I had loved my wife.

“And Kenneth? We have something for you. I found it in Vanessa's nightstand and we feel it belongs to you.”




I look at the picture in my hands.

Its slightly faded colors indicates it was taken a long time ago - in the mid 60s I suppose – in an era long gone.

Van, still fresh out of college, the quintessential flower child in her faded jeans and knot-tie t-shirt, her dark hair flowing free and her face radiating idealism and innocence that life and I hadn't quite yet soured.

On her left side stands her new husband with his mustache adorning his upper lip and his blond hair almost touching the serape he is wearing and smiling a big smile.

A portrait of a young happy couple ready to take on the world and start their life together.


I put the photo into my wallet.