HELEN (Los Angeles) Autumn morning, Marina del Rey. Workmen sip their coffee, parked by the mouth of the Grand Canal. The painters and plasterers will be plying their trade as soon as their clients are decent. A young girl walks her dog. And I, the pride of Fontana, so many years ago I came to the towers of downtown. Pretty, but oh so green, I needed a mentor. I found one in Ken. Smooth as Glenlivet, polite and kind, son of a banker back East, a prince of the board room. Charm to spare and wavy hair, he showed me the ropes, in more ways than one. -- And we always had fun! Off to Vegas, with the top down, weekends in Baja Sur. The slopes at Mammoth, sparkling in the moonlight. Sunday brunches in Laguna, strolling along the sand. I outmaneuvered the other girls and rose with the arc of his star. My marvelous man. And over time, the closeness grew. Sometimes I wondered what he saw in me. I gave up my flat in Van Nuys. We married and bought in the Palisades, thanks to the money that his parents left. Boom times, our times ... Soon a child was on the way. I quit my job since Ken was almost up to the top. My golden life seemed so secure, unfolding like the proudest bird of paradise. The years rolled on. Some friends melted down into the white powder, others wrapped themselves in the flag. We stayed with what we knew -- or should I say, I stayed. Held by the fear of it slipping away, my life narrowed down to a point. And I froze. I couldn’t see, but Ken was turning, turning away from me. More and more time at the office -- or so he said. My focus was our son, a chip off the old block -- sociable, bright and easy on the eyes. I hardly see him anymore. Finally, my husband brought forth his creature. Much younger, so lithe and smart, a walking tribute to the plastic surgeon’s art. His plan was perfection, a fait accompli. As I was reeling, the lawyer called to announce Ken’s terms. They were generous, I suppose. It all happened so fast, no time to gauge the damage to my heart. That was twenty years ago; where have I been since then? A new life, unscheduled. No map or guide for this blasted landscape. I have wandered in the wilderness, a trackless swamp of time, where songless birds are flying. Now I live in this place by the sea, manicured, windswept and lonely. Life on the Via Dolce has never been sweet. But maybe tomorrow I will finally turn the page.