I never said I was perfect. I worked in a small town. I had an affair with my boss, a married man who was nineteen years older than I. I was part of breaking up a twenty-one year marriage and a family. When you tell a story, sometimes you have to go back to the beginning. This is my story.
The College Years
1988. I graduated from high school, not really thinking of college, what I wanted to do with my life, my future. I hadn’t taken any campus tours, I didn’t apply for college until May, the month before I graduated. I had good enough grades in high school, ranking 17 out of 117 in my class. I took the ACT a week after I graduated from high school. Honestly, I didn’t really care.
I went to college at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. I was accepted at UW-Madison, but there were too many people there for me. I don’t really like people and crowds. I went to a music summer camp the summer between my freshman and sophomore year in high school, and I liked the campus, so I thought it was a good place for me to go to school.
The real reason I went to UWGB? Each dorm room had its own bathroom. Seriously, I’m not kidding. That’s the real reason I chose UWGB.
I had no idea what I want to do with my life or for a career, so I started with education, thinking I could teach music. I felt that was what was expected of me. I changed my major from education to business administration, to computer science, to communications, to public administration, and towards the end was thinking of changing it to human resources. I never saw a guidance counselor to discuss my path, I chose my own classes based on what was easy and what I had to take for my general education credits.
I was one of the freshman chosen to move in a week early to take the Introduction to College class. I passed the class, but still had no idea about college. My parents helped me move into the dorm, and when Papa Thor dropped my tampons all over the sidewalk, I was absolutely mortified! Leif sent me off to college with twenty 12-packs of Pepsi. Such a thoughtful brother!
That first semester, I had my eyes opened to drinking and sex, not things a pastor’s daughter from a rural town of 600 came across on a daily basis. Introduction to College didn’t cover those subjects. It was a learning experience, for sure. Guys living across the hall and next door to me. Guys all over the place. My roommate came from Rhinelander, and her boyfriend visited every weekend, and sometimes stayed during the week too, though that was against the rules. We had bunk beds, I slept on the top. Yes, I figured out what was going on in the bottom bunk when it rocked back and forth at night.
September, 1988, I met a guy named Peter who was a senior and studying theater arts, and we started dating. I stayed overnight at his apartment one weekend. I didn’t sleep very well, because I was afraid my parents were going to find out where I was and what I was doing, or they would call at my dorm room in the middle of the night and I wouldn’t be there to answer. It was that weekend that I met Peter’s roommate, Jerry. Jerry pursued me, and wanted to date me. I broke up with Peter, and started dating Jerry. Jerry was the first guy I ever had sex with. I was extremely anxious about getting pregnant, especially being a pastor’s daughter. My parents would disown me if I ever had come home and told them I was pregnant. My relationship with Jerry didn’t last long, because that was all he wanted from me – sex.
There was a time when I was thirteen years old. Momma Marilyn and I were walking into the mall in Janesville, and she said “your father would be so disappointed if you got pregnant before you were married.” I had no idea where that topic of conversation came from. I had only learned a little about where babies came from from the first sex education class ever had at St. Paul’s Lutheran School, I think in seventh grade. Ironic how the teacher, Mrs. Schultz, ended up pregnant herself that semester.
My roommate at the time told me about Planned Parenthood where I could get birth control for free. I scheduled an appointment, with no idea what to expect. I met with the doctor, and I was definitely not prepared for my first gynecological exam. I was shocked, I was embarrassed, I was scared. I never wanted to do that again! But I got the birth control. Now to figure out how to hide it from my parents whenever I went home for a weekend, or for an entire summer.
That roommate left after the first semester, and I came back from Christmas break to my new roommate. She was a 49-year old professor from Mexico, came to the United States to take some classes at UW-Green Bay. I left home to go to college, and now I’m living with my Mom?! Who doesn’t speak English?!
March 17, 1989. St. Patrick’s Day. The guy living next door was of Irish heritage, so he made corned beef and cabbage. Not a dish that I will ever eat again. Being St. Patrick’s Day, and even better that it landed on a Friday, was a time for drinking! That was the first time I ever drank alcohol. I drank way too much, I was drunk, falling up the stairs in the dorm. Drinking was not something we did in our family, not only because Papa Thor was a pastor, but because I had an alcoholic grandfather.
December, 1989. I failed You and Your Foods. Why is that a class?! What do you mean I have to take it again?!
It would have helped if I actually went to class. I said many times that I would have rather worked than go to class. I had gotten a job at Prange Way, where I started working as a cashier. There were no scanners back then, I typed the bar code numbers into the cash register for the prices, and I figured discounts manually in my head. I did well working at Prange Way and I was moved to the front desk for customer service, and then to the layaway department. Prange Way was the first time I was able to get a credit card, and I used it for Christmas shopping that year because of the employee discount. This started my downfall with credit cards.
While working at Prange Way, I met Tony, and we started dating.
September, 1990. I went back to college after the summer break. During the summer I had worked as a legal secretary at O’Leary Law Office in Janesville. I was contacted by another law firm that wanted to hire me because I knew a great deal about a new time and billing program that had just been released for law firms. I turned down the job offer because I was going back to college. I still didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life, but I knew I was going back to college. I struggled with that decision for that job, because I wanted to work, I didn’t want to be in school. I went back to classes of Human Information Processes, Bibliographic Organization and Control of Information, Introduction to Computer Science I, Elementary Functions – Algebra and Trigonometry. Yuck. What was that going to teach me for my future? My GPA was down to a .85 and I was on probation for lack of progress. I did not want to be in school.
I went to Kelly Services to find a temp job, and I ended up working at Bay Beach Amusement Park running the kiddie rides on weekends. I also worked at the Prange Way distribution center, putting price tags on clothing. I wanted to work in a law office, as I had worked in law offices since I was fourteen years old. Law is what I knew, law is what I did, and I did it well. Finally, there was a temporary position at a law office in downtown Green Bay.
I always got the Sunday paper on campus to get the coupons and check for jobs. I saw a job advertisement for a legal secretary position at Mleziva, Dalebroux & Abts in Casco, Wisconsin. I didn’t know where Casco was, but I was sure I could find it. I sent my resume to the address in the advertisement, and the call came from Gary Dalebroux for an interview. I met with the three attorneys, Dennis Mleziva, Gary Dalebroux, and Dennis Abts, and I got the job.
January, 1991. I started working at Mleziva, Dalebroux & Abts with a schedule that worked around my classes. The work was just what I wanted, making money to pay my bills, and keeping me busy so I wasn’t lonely and missing my family. There were eight or so other legal secretaries in the office for the three attorneys. It was an old bank building, the three largest offices belonging to the attorneys, and the legal secretaries scattered throughout, both upstairs and downstairs. Being that it had been the old Bank of Casco, there was a large vault on the first floor, where all of the client tax files, financial records, and computer backup disks were kept. At the beginning of each day, the first person to the office would open the vault, and at the end of each day, the last person to leave the office would close the vault. There was a smaller vault in the basement where the closed files were kept, just inside the basement conference room/library. It was a unique place to work.
Summer, 1991. This summer was the last summer I went home to live with my parents in Orfordville. I worked four jobs that summer, from four in the morning until eleven at night. There were times that I would work a double shift until three in the morning and only get an hour of sleep. I worked at the Panoramic factory making boxes for Parker Pens , I worked at Lab Safety Supply as the Customer Service receptionist. I worked at SSI making anti-lock brake parts with molding machines, where one of my supervisors, in a freak accident, got her fingers cut off while showing me how to run the machine. I also played organ on Sundays at two churches. My fun consisted of playing softball on Sunday nights for the church team. It was that summer Papa Thor railed at me for the credit card debt I had accumulated, and I got my first lesson on loans, collateral, and loan payments. I worked hard to make money to pay off the loan. I had another opportunity to stay back from college as Lab Safety Supply offered me the receptionist position full-time, but again, I declined the opportunity and went back to college. I felt that I was supposed to go to college and get my degree, whether I wanted to be there or not, and I didn’t believe I really had any other choices.
Fall, 1991. I returned to college, changed my major to Communications, taking classes such as Law & the Individual, Introduction to Graphic Communications, Introduction to Communication Processes, and Law in Society. I still wanted to graduate in four years, but I knew I wouldn’t be able to. I was already starting my fourth year in college and still taking introductory courses. But I worked hard and got my GPA back up to a 2.25 and cleared probation. I also returned to work at Mleziva, Dalebroux & Abts as a legal secretary to Gary Dalebroux, again working around my school schedule. My school schedule forced me to work early mornings and late evenings. During these late evenings, Gary and I had many conversations, ranging from office management, computers, religion, marriage and children, family relationships, and life in general.
November, 1991. It was in November of 1991 that the Cadigan sisters who lived just outside of Casco were murdered. I was working after school at the office one evening, Gary had gone home to get supper and told me he would be returning to the office afterwards. While I was at the office alone, I would always lock all of the doors of the office. There was a loud knock on the large front window, and when I got up from my desk and looked, there were two badges flashed at me in the window. I unlocked the front doors and allowed the two men to enter, at which time they introduced themselves as FBI agents there to speak with Gary. Gary had done the estate planning work for the two sisters within the previous month or so. Over the next few days, all of the attorneys and legal secretaries in the office were fingerprinted to exclude them as suspects in the murder. To this day, I have my own opinions about the murders, but my opinions are just that – my opinions.
May, 1992. I was sitting in Introduction to Urban Studies in Wood Hall on campus, class was almost over. I looked out the door of the classroom and Gary is standing there among the students waiting for their next class in that room. Is this for real? Is my boss really standing outside my class? What does he want? I left the classroom when class was finished, and Gary told me he was there to take me to lunch. We got lunch from the McDonald’s close by on Webster Avenue, returned to the campus parking lot, where we sat in his silver four door Buick car to eat lunch. He had been listening to the Righteous Brothers on cassette tape. We talked as we usually did about various topics, the office, my classes, the current news. I was stunned and didn’t know what to think, other than hoping he didn’t get a parking ticket for not having a campus parking permit.
I was still dating Tony that I had met while working at Prange Way. Since we had an ongoing relationship, I decided to find an apartment to rent for the summer and stay in Green Bay. I found a one bedroom upper apartment on the west side of Green Bay on Leo Street off of Military Avenue. My neighbor was a little old lady who kept her shoes outside her apartment door, which for some reason I found hilarious. Papa Thor and Leif drove up to bring me furniture and help me move in after I was done with final exams. They brought my grandmother’s sleeper sofa, my twin size bed, a dresser and mirror, two wicker chairs, and helped me move my stereo and moon chair from my on campus apartment.
My oldest brother Todd made a beautiful round table for me to use in what could be called my dining room.
Whenever the phone rang, I answered as I always had growing up, “Thoreson residence, Erika speaking” so no one calling would believe that I lived alone. Had to be safe, you know. Especially when the Valley Motel was just a hop, skip, and a jump away, and it was well known that it was the hotel where the parolees went to live after being released from prison.
Tony lived about five blocks away with his parents, and he came over now and then when I was done with work and school. We would order Domino’s pizza, watch TV, have sex, and then he would go home. Remember, I only had a twin bed. I did have a sleeper sofa in the living room, but, heaven forbid, I should ever be caught with a man sleeping over in my apartment. For some reason, I always thought that my parents could show up at any time to check up on me, and that scared me to death.
Dennis Mleziva had been elected Kewaunee County Judge, and the partnership was breaking up, with Gary keeping some of the office staff and remaining in the Casco office, and Dennis Abts being forced to move to an office in Luxemburg with a few of the office staff. It was unfortunate how the breakup of the partnership happened, as there was some strong-arming that went on, on Gary’s part, and he wasn’t at all nice about the whole situation. Seeing this side of Gary made me cringe, but I was just a young, nobody legal secretary, I didn’t know all of the details, and my opinion in that matter didn’t count.
The day I was moving into my apartment, Gary called me to meet him for lunch at Perkins to discuss office management. I told him I was moving in to my apartment and Papa Thor and Leif were there to help me, but Gary insisted that I meet with him. I didn’t understand why he wanted to discuss office management with me when I was just his legal secretary. I know we talked about a lot of topics, but there were other, more qualified secretaries in the office that could manage the office, including his wife, Sue.
July, 1992. Gary and his wife Sue, and their children Troy and Kim were spending the month of July at a condominium in Fish Creek, Door County, Wisconsin. Gary kept working from the condo, with a fax machine and a computer. But he also spent time with his family, swimming, boating, going to the amusement park, and eating out.
One weekday afternoon I drove up to Fish Creek to bring client files for Gary to work on. He met me at the door of the condo wearing nothing but red speedo swim trunks. I averted my eyes and was embarrassed. That was nothing I had expected, he was my boss, and I had never seen an older man in this fashion. I entered the condo, went up the stairs to the main floor and put the files on the table. I told Gary I needed to leave and go back to work, but he insisted that I stay and he’d show me around Fish Creek since I had never been there. I agreed, since he was my boss after all. He climbed into the passenger seat of my little Chevette, still dressed in his speedo swim trunks. I was uncomfortable, but again, he was my boss, so what could I say to him?
We drove into Peninsula State Park, and he told me where to drive and turn, in between his tour guide information about the park. The park was beautiful, lying along the Bay of Green Bay, full of winding roads and trees. He showed me the ancient cemetery in the middle of the park. I love to walk around cemeteries and read the gravestones, imagining what life was like in the 1800’s and early 1900’s when people married and died so young.
We left the park and were on the highway on the way back to the condominium when Gary spotted Kim and two of her friends walking along the highway from the amusement park. He asked me to pull over so we could give them a ride back to the condominium. They squeezed into the back seat of my too small car. Kim asked her dad why he only had on his swim trunks, I believe she was clearly embarrassed.
We arrived back at the condominium, where Gary went in to put on shorts and a shirt. He asked me to walk with him to the pool area where Sue was supposed to be. Troy was swimming in the pool, and Sue was sitting next to the pool reading a book. She said hello and asked me to stay and go out to dinner with all of the family and friends. I thanked her and made an excuse about having allergy medicine back at home that I needed to take, and I walked back to my car and left to go home.
Wednesday, July 15th, 1992. It was the first day of my period that month. I didn’t feel well, so I called in to work. I didn’t think it would be a problem since Gary was in Fish Creek anyway. I was taking a bath to try and relieve the cramps and my phone rang. It was Gary. “You need to come to Fish Creek to spend the day with me, and bring your swimsuit.” Bring my swimsuit? I have my period! How was I to say no when he was my boss? I didn’t want to lose my job, I needed the money to pay the rent. I was confused, somewhat excited about the attention, I didn’t know what to think, I didn’t know what to do. I did know that what I was about to do could lead me into a lot of trouble.
I called Mary at the office. She had worked with Gary since he and Dennis Mleziva opened the law office in 1975 after graduating from law school. I looked at Mary as kind of the mom of the office, since I didn’t have any family of my own around in the area. I told her about the phone call, and I asked her what I was supposed to do since I called in sick to work and Gary told me to come to Fish Creek.
I took a couple Tylenol, and within a half hour I was driving to Fish Creek in my blue two door Chevette, sunglasses on, sunroof open, stereo blaring. I met Gary at the condo, where he informed me that Sue, Troy and Kim had gone back home since the rental period was done at the end of the week. Gary stayed back for the rest of the week to pack up and clean the condo.
He told me we were going to go out on his boat to Chambers Island.
It was a beautiful, warm day, the sun was shining, not a cloud in sight. The boat was tied in a slip at the marina downtown, a small boat amongst the larger yachts moored around the marina. We left the boat slip and headed out towards Chambers Island. Again he was wearing the red speedo swim trunks, dark black hair blowing in the wind, wearing oversize sunglasses, and looking positively regal driving the boat.
We reached Chambers Island and he threw out the anchor. He put the seats down so we could lie down and get some sun. We laid there, soaking in the sun, conversing about work and life. My fear was that I was going to bleed all over everything since I had my period.
He got quiet and I heard him move, and felt him sit next to me. He slowly took down my swimsuit. I kept my eyes closed, my thoughts spinning around and around. This can’t be happening. This is wrong. But it feels good. My mind immediately flashed back to the sexual abuse.
He rubbed, massaged, and touched me for what seemed like hours. I was getting burnt by the sun, and I was embarrassed as I knew what we were doing was wrong, so wrong. I had a boyfriend, he had a wife. I pushed him away, told him I was getting burnt and needed to get out of the sun. I got dressed, and we headed back to Fish Creek.
Back on land and in town, we stopped at the grocery store where Gary picked out two steaks. “What kind of wine do you like?” I told him that I don’t drink alcohol. “Come on,” he said, “you can try some wine.” He picked out two bottles of wine and we returned to the condo.
Gary poured the wine. After a while, I didn’t know how many glasses of wine I had, but I determined that I liked the white zinfandel, it was refreshing and fruity tasting. I was feeling good and having a buzz going on in my head, and all the while Gary was talking about fate. I didn’t get exactly what he was talking about, as he was talking in circles about fate, and us, and I was sufficiently drunk.
“I need to go home”, I said.
“You can stay here, you have my word I won’t bother you, I won’t touch you.” offered Gary.
“No, I need to go home.”
I drove seventy miles home, at midnight, drunk. Thank God for my guardian angels.
I got home to several messages on my answering machine from Tony, not knowing where I was, not answering the phone when he called, he was worried sick about me. I went to the bathroom, and I called Tony. “I’m home, I’m fine.”
“Where were you all this time?” he said.
I explained, “I was in Fish Creek with my boss.”
“What were you doing?” he asked.
“We were working.” I lied.
“This late?? Are you drunk? You sound drunk” he yelled.
“Tony, I can’t go out with you anymore. I’m breaking up with you.”
“Why??!, he whined.
“I just don’t want to be in a relationship anymore.”
“Are you sleeping with your boss?” he accused.
“What is going on?” he whined again.
“Nothing. I just don’t want to be in a relationship anymore. This isn’t working for me.”
He said, “You’re drunk. We’ll talk about this tomorrow.”
“No! I don’t want to go out with you anymore! We are done!” Click.
And that’s when the affair started.
The End….for now.
Love to you all! ~Erika~.
You may not publish or reprint this article without the written permission of Erika Balza. Thank you.