Recently promoted to middle management in my company, I was delighted and excited when told I had been enrolled in a management course at business school. The three-week program was to be residential at Ashridge Management College in November. Set in 190 acres of English countryside a little way north of London, Ashridge was located in a former residence of Henry VIII with extensive subsequent neo-gothic additions.
One Sunday, mid-afternoon, I headed to Ashridge. I was excited by the prospect of the program I would attend, the “Younger Managers” program. I was also looking forward to Ashridge itself and all it had to offer. With hindsight, I can see the building has some resemblance to the latter day, “Hogwarts.”
Although excited and motivated by three weeks at Ashridge, other aspects of life were not quite so hunky-dory. My marriage to Kayla definitely seemed to be experiencing a very spotty patch. She had become more distant and less engaged over the past few months. Hang-up phone calls didn’t help. And taking a week’s vacation on her own in Sardinia was out of character. She usually didn’t enjoy being on her own anywhere, and especially in a foreign country. I tried to keep all of these things out of my mind. I focussed on what had become a very demanding management position in the technology company for which I worked.
Even so, the hour-long drive to Ashridge on a dark and bleak November Sunday afternoon brought on feelings of emptiness, doubt, and mistrust. On the journey, I thought of Kayla and how remote she was becoming. I thought of her two children from her previous marriage, Natasha and Austin, Now in their mid-teens, I had been a father figure to them since pre-school age. And of course, I thought of our daughter, Rhonda, who had just turned five.
Once I arrived and settled into my assigned room, I called home. Austin answered the phone. He told me his mother wasn’t there and he didn’t know where she was or when she would be home. “So who’s looking after you all?” I asked. “Carol, the baby sitter will be here soon.” “OK, tell mom I called and that I arrived safely.” Similar phone conversations happened each evening, Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. They all garnered the same responses from Austin, “she’s not here, I don’t know where she is. And I don’t know when she will be back.”
Finally, on Thursday evening, my wife, Kayla, answered the phone.
“There you are at last. I called you every evening since Sunday, and every time, Austin told me you weren’t home. When I asked him where you were or when you were coming home, and he said he didn’t know. Where have you been, and what have you been doing since last Sunday when I left?”
“I’ve just been swamped this week, had a lot to take care of lately,” said Kayla sounding offended at being questioned regarding her whereabouts the last three days.
“Take care of? Take care of what? What in the world takes you out of the house for three consecutive evenings? What’s going on, Kayla?”
“Would you, would you?” Kayla hesitated for a moment.
“Would I what?” I demanded a little impatiently.
“Would you let me go?” She said, her voice unsure and wavering.
“Let you go! Let you go with who?”
“With Giles. I’m sorry, but I am in love with him, and I don’t think I can change that. We want to be together, and to be honest, I really didn’t think you would care very much – if at all.”
“What about the kids, Natasha and Austin, and then Rhonda – she’s only five. What are we supposed to do about them in all this? Have you thought about that?”
“Of course I have. Giles will have to understand that you and I will still have joint responsibility for the kids, especially Rhonda. He’ll have to get used to it.”
“Kayla, this is what I think right now. My goal is to keep you and stay with you, my wife, and keep our family together. But if eventually, if you still want to be with Giles, then so be it.”
“Thank you,” said Kayla. “I don’t want to have to run away with Giles, but I’m prepared to if I have to.”
“OK, Kayla, we can leave this for now. I’m here at management college for another two weeks. When I come home, we can talk again.”
“Yes, we will. See you in two weeks.” Kayla hung up. I walked through the lobby, thinking about the implications of my conversation with Kayla. Not a lot of good news there, pretty much all bad news, really. There was, however, one small light on the distant horizon. But it would almost certainly be a harrowing journey to be approached with trepidation.