She asked if he would give up pro hockey.
"You don't even know me," he said.
She played the piano the day he packed—just some cardboard boxes of books and clothes. He saw her waving from the doorstep as he drove away from their 25 years together and headed to his new job in New York.
A sudden emptiness seemed to flow now from the windows and the great doors, endowing with complete isolation the figure of the host....
His footsteps echoed inside the 10-room house he had bought for $1.3 million in Greenwich, Conn. He walked outside. Yes...exactly. "Exactly like The Great Gatsby," he says. "All those big houses, and you'd never see the people who lived in them." The teenager who had raced away from the GM plant in Canada had finally made it. Double A.
Months passed. Most of the rooms remained empty, the refrigerator virtually bare. Some nights, rather than go home, he slept on the sofa at the Rangers' practice facility in Rye, N.Y. Some nights he never slept at all. He pretended that Gayla had gone away to boarding school. "Pain," he says, "beyond what you can imagine."
It was not just the pain of a failed marriage. It was pain from all across the map of his life; the past that had seemed to evaporate behind him was now dripping down his cheeks. The six miscarriages Rita had suffered as he was hurtling up the ladder, one of them occurring as late as seven months into her pregnancy...God, he had never stopped to mourn them until now. The knock on the door when he was four, the policeman standing there telling his parents that Mike's baby brother had just died of pneumonia in the hospital...somehow it had never really hit him until now. Suddenly, driving down a street, he would find himself sobbing for the little altar boy with the big black glasses. "Just a likable, easygoing kid," recalls his sister Marie. "Never controversial. Everyone wanted to be his friend." The little boy who couldn't understand why his parents were the only ones who screamed at each other, why his father was the only one in the world who came home smelling of alcohol, why his mother was so compulsive that when her three children stumbled out of bed early on a Saturday morning just to go to the bathroom, they might find their beds stripped by the time they stumbled back.
Moments before Ranger practices began, it could happen to Mike; it was scary. Tears for the adult who still couldn't bring himself to go back to 225 Lee Avenue and look at the home of his childhood. Tears for the impatient young man who fled at 18, in too much of a hurry to appreciate the gifts that came from that home: the self-discipline from his mother, the love of song and laughter from his dad, the scrimping that a man and woman without high school educations had done to make sure that Mike always had skates and sticks and lessons.
But it had all been just too extreme, too contrary—control and chaos at the same dinner table. Ted coming home after a 12-hour shift and a few "brown pops" at the Legion hall, wanting to keep the good times rolling; Thelma returning from six hours selling men's clothes feeling as if she had to be the one who asked why every B wasn't an A and every jacket wasn't in a closet. Ted hissing at Thelma to leave the kids alone, and Thelma....
"You know, sometimes I wish I could've done what Ted did, just drink a couple of beers, let go, relax, party time," she says. "But I had to be the ogre. I'd say to Mike, 'You could've done better,' no matter what he did. Our family doctor said he'd never seen a son turn out to be more like his mother.