Divorce takes Wall Street player's stock from bull to bear and back again.
Thanksgiving week of 1997 I was a couple weeks short of thirty-three, technically unemployed, eleven months sober and had been recently served with divorce papers.
I had finally made it out of my week-to-week furnished studio hovel and into a two-bedroom apartment. Each morning I sat in my bay window with a view of the State House in the distance, watching the sunrise over Boston. On Friday nights, my three-year-old daughter, Grace, and one-year-old son, James, came over. James always ended up in bed with me, his head nuzzled into my neck, while his sister slept in the bunk beds across the hall.
While still in my twenties, I had tasted the fast lane. I managed to sneak my way into a senior job at a major media company by wearing impeccable blue suits, white shirts and black polished shoes, by speaking only when spoken to, and by keeping cool under the pressure of large and vexing financial transactions. I took the company public after decades of near-obsessive privacy, only to play a pivotal role in selling it for billions of dollars ninety days later. I went ahead despite the cries of outrage by the community, who saw the initial public offering (IPO) and quick sale as the abandonment of a public trust. My crowning achievement, being quoted on the front page of The Wall Street Journal, was crushed a few days later.
It was a Saturday, and I was hungover from our closing dinner—barely able to open my eyes as I tried in vain to watch the kids. I fell back asleep on the couch in our family room. My wife Erin was tired of my shit. The sale of my company had finally been announced; I may have been king of the financial world, but to her it was time for me to start acting like a father. She flew upstairs and rifled through my bag from my overnight stay after the dinner. Finding a package of contraceptives inside, she came downstairs to confront me.
"I know you're having an affair. Why don't you just admit it?"
I tried to deny it, as I had any number of times before, but this time she would not relent. The barrel of the revolver poked the roof of my mouth. I wrapped my forefinger around the cold metal of the trigger. She continued to press harder and harder for an answer. I squeezed off one clean shot: I told her the truth. There was terror in her eyes. She took a moment to collect herself—looking down—the tsunami brewing. Then she exploded, "Get out of this house, now!"
As she screamed, trembling with anger, I couldn't even hear the words she was saying. The courage I'd had while taking my company public flew out of me. My feelings for my young girlfriend drained from my body as the barrage continued. My head hung in the shame that Erin's words exposed in a final dagger to the heart:
"You're not the big shot deal maker you think you are. You're a cheat and a drunk! Leave and don't come back. Don't even think about seeing your kids again. You have given up that right!"
Ten minutes later my green Saab 9-3 sat in an empty church parking lot just outside town. The sun was out, but I was cold. Like a person approaching death, I saw my body from the outside, watching quivering hands, rapid breath, and wet cheeks. I couldn't get my perspective back inside my body.
I gripped my cell phone in my right hand waiting for it to ring. My father was unreachable in Mexico, hoping to not get shot by rebels as he tried to provide relief to the poorest of the poor. My mother was away at a conference. My phone finally rang. I answered it, snapping back into my body, feeling the moisture on my face for the first time.
"Mom, I'm physically okay. No one has been hurt. But I've got a very big problem."
Through gritted teeth, I told her. I was outside my body again looking down at the Saab from above, waiting for my mother's response. She was stunned. I heard frustration in her voice; she was mostly worried about my safety. As we talked, there was a microscopic relaxation of the terror in my chest. I forgot for a second where I was and what was going on. Then it all came back to me, opening fresh wounds. When I hung up, I had no idea what to do next.
I turned the ignition on and started driving. My brother and his wife owned a condominium and two children close in age to my own. I stood outside their front door, my face still wet, desperate for human contact. My brother answered the door. Two years my elder, he and I had fought and competed in the past. But I lurched forward then, in desperate need of support. I held onto him for dear life.
"Matt, what the hell happened?" he asked. I started to tell him. Each time I repeated what Erin has said about my never seeing my kids again, I sobbed hysterically.
"I can't take it. What have I done?" I told him I had no place to stay and only the clothes on my back. He reassured me that I could spend the night. After several hours of this conversation, he went to the kitchen to make a phone call. He talked to our sister in a whisper. I strained to overhear him say to her, "Do you think he is suicidal? What signs should I look for?"
My sister-in-law finally made my bed on the living room coach. Before turning in, she went to the kitchen and carefully took all the sharp knives and locked them in the basement. She pocketed the key before coming to say goodnight.
My drinking had been out of control for years. At business school, I