It happened on a Saturday. The college library at the Downtown Campus closed at 6 PM, by Melissa and Joseph, the library assistants on duty. Before closing time they checked the entire library, the computer area, the stacks, the sitting areas, the carrels, and the study rooms, to make sure there were no students still inside. It did happen sometimes that a student would fall asleep, or that a study group would lose track of time. Nobody. All clear. Melissa turned a switch with a key, and the metallic door came down. They were ready to leave through a service door, when someone began to bang at the door very hard. It was a man, who said, "I'm looking for my wife, she came here to do some homework." Melissa said, "We cannot open the door for you sir. Everybody is gone. Please go to the campus police for help."
A police officer brought the man to the library. He was accompanied by his two children .They checked the library twice. "What about the restrooms?" The officer said, "They are outside the library, by the hallway." Checked. Meeting rooms and classrooms in the building. Checked. No wife to be found. They went to the parking lot. Her car was still there. Her cellular phone was on top of the front passenger seat.
The officer told Mr. Wallis that all he could do, for the time being, was to write a report. He took his details, and told him Sergeant Miller, a senior investigator, would contact him. John Wallis was not very happy; he was the type of person who wanted immediate action and results; someone used to give orders. The officer patiently repeated what he had told him before. He calmed John somewhat, when he asked, "Were you in the Marines, sir?" He said he was, "You too?" The police officer nodded. Helpfully, some trust was built between them. For the moment, Officer Vogel had done everything he could do. He reassured Mr. Wallis that he would be contacted as soon as possible. John Wallis and his two children left, and Vogel returned to his office. He had the feeling that it would take time to resolve this situation. He picked up the phone and called Sergeant Miller to inform him of the situation they would have to deal with in the coming weeks, and maybe months.
Miller started working on the case on Sunday. He accessed Student Records, and saw that Elena was a non-degree student enrolled in a Religion course as an auditor. Elena was enrolled under her maiden name, which was nothing out of the ordinary. Next meeting was on Tuesday, so he would have to wait until then to talk to the students in that class. On Monday he would contact the professor teaching the course. Vogel would interview the library assistants, Melissa and Joseph. Miller ran a criminal check on everybody, and everybody was clean.
No useful information was obtained from the interviews. Instructor and students remembered Elena as a pleasant and friendly person, who usually asked a question or two, and who often participated in the discussions. Soon, the investigation hit a dead end.
Elena Solis was born in Arizona, in one of the ethnic enclaves of the big city where Spanish was predominantly used. Although she was fully bilingual, she spoke English with a distinctive accent. By nature she was a very independent young woman. In High School she did not excel in any particular subject, but she managed to get good grades. The only course that caught her interest was Health and Safety, because she had an interest in nutrition. That was only part of the course. The rest of the course made her wonder why would people put harmful stuff into their bodies, and why people would be mindless about diseases.Looked to her that many people were simply mindless.
In her junior year of high school, Elena began to work part-time in one of the biggest and most popular Mexican restaurants in the city. It was a family owned restaurant. It had been opened more than seventy years ago, and the business had been passed from generation to generation, within the same family. Elena absolutely loved to work there, and the owners loved her. They had never seen a teenager with such a work ethic. She had such great attitude and she was friendly. She really belonged in the restaurant business.
Immediately after graduation, she became a full-time employee. Whatever task she was given, she did it with commendable enthusiasm; dish washing, kitchen helper, food preparation, food server, and hostess. She was a people person. About that time, her parents were getting a divorce. Her father had decided to return to Mexico, and subsequently her mother remarried, and moved to Wisconsin with her new husband. Elena chose not to go with them. She didn't want to leave her job. She was making good money, and she would make it on her own.
Almost a year had passed since Elena had started living independently, when John Wallis entered the restaurant, to have lunch with a few members of his crew, as he was a Construction Foreman. Elena took their orders, as all of them stared at her with admiration. John said he loved her accent; he thought it was very cute. John became a frequent guest of the restaurant. He came alone and every time there were brief exchanges; the usual social amenities, and her polite responses to his positive comments about the food. After several months he asked her, "Do you have a boyfriend?" Elena said she didn't. "That's hard for me to believe,"said John. Her response was, "I have many ex-boyfriends. They all did a disappearing act when I wouldn't have sex with them." John loved to hear that. A beautiful young woman from Old Mexico, with old traditional values. His misperceptions of her matched his expectations, which were based on his antiquated beliefs about the role of women..
Elena saw in John a pleasant and charming man. He was polite and respectful. He evidently enjoyed his work and had a good work ethic. She liked him for it. What she did not realize was that John was not just looking for a wife; he was looking for a housewife. There were other aspects of John's personality that she only became aware of after they were married.
Dating and courtship went on for several months, almost a year, before Elena agreed to marry John. They went to Hawaii for a week for their honeymoon The honeymoon period went on at home for several months. Elena gave up her apartment, and moved with John, who already owned a home. Upon their return from Hawaii, John asked Elena to quit her job. There was a note of urgency in his voice; he said he had an excellent job and that she didn't need to work. To her, this was somewhat strange, but she dismissed it, thinking that simply he wanted to have more time together, in the evenings, after a hard day's work. Since they were planning to have kids, she eventually would have to quit her job anyway. So, she quit her job.
Since she not longer would have a paycheck, John reasoned that Elena did not need a bank account. They would have a household account at his bank for expenses. He asked Elena to close her account, and get a cashier's check, which would be deposited in said household account. Elena saw nothing wrong with that, because she thought they would go to the bank together to open a joint account. John said he would add a matching amount of money to the household account, to get them started.
The first inkling of John's controlling behavior was when she learned that John had already open the household account, with her as an 'authorized user.' She received a debit card in her name, and John asked her to keep all receipts, and put them on his desk, so he could keep track of their expenses. He would be in charge of the finances. It was then that it dawned on her that she was not in a domestic partnership.
To John's delight, Elena, in the span of two years, gave birth to two healthy baby boys. That kept her occupied. When both children started school, she began to have some 'me time.' She was, like other moms, taking her children to school, and picking them up. Midday was her own time. She would have something to eat, have some herbal tea, and listened to soft music. But there was little interaction with other grown-ups. There was a church three blocks away, She told John she would like to attend the first service, which was at 8 o'clock, Sunday morning. No problem because she would be back in time to prepare brunch, since all the men in the house got up late. Tired from Saturday male bonding activities, T-Ball, and maybe a high school basketball game. And on Saturday evenings, a poker game was hosted by John on a regular basis, where Elena would be busy preparing sandwiches and snacks, and bringing cold beers to the card players. The card game ended very late.
In the past, Elena did not go to church very often, but now she needed to go. She needed to interact with other adults during fellowship time. There was coffee and doughnuts or pastries. She really hit it off with Annette Morris, who was in her early fifties. They began to talk after the religious service on a regular basis. Annette was a high school cafeteria manager, and had work there for more that twenty years. The food industry, yes, that was of interest to Elena, who told her new friend about working for 5 years at a Mexican restaurant.
Annette told her place of work was very different from any kind of restaurant. She said, "It's a very intense work environment; we have more than 2,000 students, so we have 3 lunch hours. We are always looking for part-time lunch helpers, but there are few takers. Not enough hours, and the pay is low. But It would be great to have you. At least it would get out of the house for a while."
Elena took it all in, but didn't say anything. She was thinking about what Annette had said. She was thinking about it very carefully. Two weeks later Elena asked Annette, "What work hours are we talking about here?" Annette responded, "4 hours a day, 3 days a week. Budget limitations, you know."
Elena was quiet, then she said, "Well, you now enough about my home situation. I would like to try this, but I would be more comfortable with fewer hours, and 2 days a week."
Annette smiled and said, "Well, that's not a problem. We need all the help we can get. How many hours do you want to work?"
"How about 11 AM to 1:30 PM, twice a week?"
"Mondays and Fridays OK?"
"I would prefer Mondays and Wednesdays. Fridays they have early dismissal at the school my kids go to."
"No problem. I'll bring you some paperwork to fill out next Sunday. We'll do this after the worship service."
The employment paperwork was completed, She was using her maiden name, but there was one snag. The school district paid by direct deposit only. Elena told her friend she could open a bank account with no problem. She had not changed her name on her drivers license; it was the last vestige of the individual called Elena Solis. Could she use Annette's address as mailing address? She didn't want her husband to know she was working, and although everything could be done online, banks always sent solicitations by mail. Annette said it was all right to use her address to receive mail and told her to get a prepaid phone, and give that number to the bank. Annette had a locker at work,and Elena was welcome to keep her phone, her debit card and anything she didn't want her domineering husband to see.
The friendship between the two women flourished in spite of the limitations of time, both after church, and during working hours. During their brief conversations, Annette learned that John checked the call history of Elena's phone, and checked her emails and texts on a regular basis. John couldn't find anything questionable since her life was so isolated. Phone calls and texts to mom in Wisconsin, and that was about it. Just keeping in touch; no mention of any problems.
Elena shared with her friend that she felt humiliated because when John started to give a weekly allowance to his two boys, Elena had to be present, and she would receive an allowance also. She was being treated like a child. She asked why he was doing this when she could get cash from the household account, and he replied, "That account is for household expenses only." And he added, "I told you I would be in charge of the finances, didn't I? Why are you questioning the way I do things?"
As time went by, John became increasing sarcastic in his exchanges with Elena. Annette thought John was becoming frustrated. "He cannot totally change the way you are, Elena. You are strong and you cannot hide your independent streak. I'll come out and say it, you are being abused verbally and emotionally."
"I'm so glad I met you. I really needed someone talk about these things. You are such as good friend. You seem to speak from experience."
"In a way yes, but my experiences are different from yours. I didn't go through what you are going through. My husband divorced me. I brought into this world a child with language and speech disabilities. I was an imperfect mother with an imperfect child. He couldn't cope with it. I raised my child by myself, and now he is a happy perfectly functional adult. He became a better man than his father, I can tell you that. My ex-husband and John want everything to fit to an unrealistic vision on how thing should be. They get frustrated, bitter, hostile when reality crashes their vision."
One year before her disappearance, Elena confided in Annette about the most recent situations in her marriage. Things had come to a head. The children did not respect her at all; they gravitated to dad, and did whatever John said. No need to consult anything with mom. The last straw was when John began to mimic her accent, and then soon the children were doing the same thing. It was a laugh-riot for the three of them. She wasn't laughing; she realized she had to find a way to leave this toxic marriage.
Annette told her, "Everything you have done so far, is part of an escape plan. You have a bank account, a debit card, money saved and a phone. You have me. Next thing for you to do is to get yourself a small canvas duffel bag, and pack some clothes, toiletries, and so on. We will put that bag in my locker, until is time for you to leave. You should sign up for a course at the university, for the Spring Term. A class on Tuesdays and Thursdays, mid morning. This will help you, not only by being with other grownups but also to cope with your situation a little longer. Be patient. You will be able to use the computers at the library. You need to do research about where you are going to go, and what assistance you can get as an abused wife."
Elena followed her friend's advice. She found a course about the Bible as Literature. Since John had made the concession of allowing her to go to church on a regular basis, there was a very good chance she would be able to convince John, and get his approval. She told him she wanted to learn more about the Bible, not mentioning the Literature part, and pointed out she would be just auditing the class. She was not interested in degrees, certificates, or credit. There was no other course of interest to her. The class was on Tuesdays and Thursday, from 11 AM to 12:15 PM. John was quiet for a moment, and then said it was okay, but he would call her no later than 1 PM to make sure she had arrived home safely.
Towards the end of Spring, on a Saturday, John and the boys went on a family outing; as usual, she was not included. A baseball game, then a pizza parlor, and finally a visit to John's parents who lived thirty miles away. They would return by dinner time. Elena left home after lunch, leaving a note about her going to the university library to do some research. At four o'clock she went to the Circulation desk, where there was a courtesy phone for the students' use. She dialed Annette's number. She misdialed it and apologized to the person who answered. She redialed and Annette answered. They spoke briefly, softly. Annette drove to the university's parking lot, and picked up Elena and they went to Annette's house. Annette had taken home Elena's bag and other belongings, after work on Friday. They relaxed, had some dinner, and waited until it was time to go to the bus terminal.
Elena was headed to the East Coast. She would put 2,500 miles between her and her abusive husband and his disrespectful children; his children because they were molded in his image; a work still in progress, which made John proud. It took her three days and two transfers to reach her final destination. The women's shelter she went to was located in the State with the strongest confidentiality laws related to shelters and transitional housing. Not even the addresses for these facilities could be disclosed.
Julie, the Shelter Advocate who talked to Elena when she arrived, told her she could stay at the shelter for a week; then, she could move to transitional housing for no more than 3 months. She told Elena that most of the women there were battered women; Elena was lucky; she had left her husband before he could have turned to violence. It was very common for emotional and verbal abuse to be a prelude to physical assault. Learning more about Elena's background, she mentioned that many women who arrived there only spoke Spanish. She also mentioned that meals were offered to the residents. Elena immediately volunteered to help with translations and food preparation.
Sergeant Miller, the campus police officer in charge of investigating Elena's disappearance, was informed by Julie that Elena was safe and sound. Her whereabouts could not be disclosed according to state law. Miller related the available information to John Wallis, and told him the case was closed.
John did not try to find Elena. He realized it would be a difficult and expensive task. Instead he filed for divorced by abandonment. It was clear Elena could not be found, in order to be served with divorce papers. So the Court required the petitioner to publish a legal notice in the local newspapers. John complied and soon he was granted a divorce.
Elena regained her independence, and returned to the work she loved, in the restaurant industry. She still volunteers one day a week at the women's shelter. She would never marry again. She currently shares her life with a domestic partner, whose name is Richard. He is a chef. Both Elena and Richard are very happy, both at work and at home.
Elena and Annette are still in touch, and they have long, unrestricted telephone conversations.