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Monday, December 13, 1999

'Dad, we have to talk ... '
Cristi-Lynne Sacht told no one of her mother's long-standing affair with her father's best friend -- until she was 21. The secret nearly destroyed her and her father
Kate Jennison
National Post

Mark Brett, National Post
Cristi-Lynne Sacht with her dog, Cindy. Cristi and her younger brother and sister now live with their father. They have stopped communicating with their mother.

Cristi at age seven, with Linda, Aleah and Tyler

Newlyweds Len and Linda Sacht during happier days in the early '70s

Cristi and Adrienne: "Adrienne was like my guardian angel."

June 5, 1997. It was raining in Campbell River, B.C., as Cristi-Lynne Sacht wrote her father, Len Sacht, a note. Len was due back that day from logging camp and his car was parked down at the Tyee spit where the float planes flew the loggers in and out. Cristi wanted to see him as soon as he landed.

She'd been up all night and just writing the note seemed to drain her. "I need to see you," she wrote. "We have to talk about something ... please ... drop by work before you go home." Cristi put the note in a zip-lock freezer bag, drove to the "spit" and placed it under her father's windshield wiper. Then, tired and anxious, she drove to her job at a local commercial diving company.

When her father showed up, Cristi found herself stalling. "We went and had dinner and we talked, and I just couldn't say it, couldn't find a way into it ... I'd had this thing on my chest for so long ... but I just kept putting it off. Finally it got to the point where he had to start driving home to Sayward and I had to drive home and I just thought, OK, this is it."

Cristi looked her father in the face. "Dad, I've got to tell you something and don't, don't say anything until I'm done ... Mum has gone to a lawyer and she wants you to move out of the house and get an apartment in town and she wants to stay in the house and she wants you to keep paying the bills and she wants to keep Aleah and Tyler with her and the dog ... but there's something else you should know Dad ... Mum ... Mum and Marty have been having an affair for years ... I've been catching them together since I was seven years old ... I didn't understand it then ... but I came to ... years Dad, and I'm sorry, sorry I didn't tell you sooner but I couldn't ... just couldn't."

Cristi gasped for breath. She'd said it. After 14 years of secrecy and confusion, at the age of 21, she'd broken her code of silence.

It was a silence Cristi was to break over and over again. Nearly two years later, in April of 1999, Cristi found herself testifying in open court about her mother's affair in a bitter divorce action between her parents, Linda and Leonard Sacht.

It would be the first time an extramarital affair would be used in a B.C. court to challenge what could and could not be viewed as a family asset. Cristi's testimony would corroborate the long-term nature of the affair and enable Len Sacht to successfully argue that some assets were for retirement, a retirement Linda Sacht obviously wasn't planning on spending with him.

But on June 5, 1997, Cristi had no idea what she had set in motion. All she knew was she'd finally found the courage to tell her father.

"I knew," says Cristi, "knew that somewhere in the back of his mind he must have had suspicions, but this was his wife of 25 years ... and it was Marty, his best friend of 35 years, who us kids had grown up calling Uncle Marty, and it was like in one second he'd lost them both."

Len Sacht froze. He couldn't feel, couldn't speak. All he could do was stare at his daughter. "He was looking at me with this pleading in his eyes," says Cristi. " ... please ... I could tell he just wanted it not to be true."

Finally a few hoarse words broke the silence. "Are you sure?" Len asked his daughter. " ... Cristi, are you sure?"

"And I knew right then I had to tell him everything I'd seen so he could put it together himself ... so I told him," says Cristi, "right from the very beginning, right from the time I was seven."

It was one of the times Len Sacht was away at logging camp. During stretches like this, Len's best friend, Martin Deforest, would often come to the Sacht household to help Len's wife, Linda Sacht, with some of her chores. Martin and Len had known each other since they were 16. When Martin and his family had moved to Sayward, B.C., the Sachts' hometown for generations, the two boys had hit it off immediately.

"My dad says they were into hot cars and wild living," says Cristi, laughing. When it came time to earn a living, Marty chose to drive a logging truck and Len worked as a mechanic and general handyman in the nearby logging camps. When Marty married Lorna, Len Sacht's second cousin, things were truly sealed between the two men. "As far as Dad was concerned, Marty was family," says Cristi.

The Sachts' home was on Sayward's logging road, and Marty would often park his logging truck in the Sacht driveway and have coffee with Linda Sacht on his way to work. In fact, Cristi has a recurring memory of waking up as a child to the sounds of Marty and her mother talking in the kitchen. This particular morning was no different.

"I figure, though, there's a reason I never forgot [this one] day," says Cristi. "Out of all the days I was in school, ask me about another and I just wouldn't know.

"It was September. I was seven and I was riding a bike that had the big Harley handlebars and a banana seat. I had a lunch box and it was morning and I got up and I was getting ready for school ... and I remember going into the kitchen to get stuff and I looked at my mother and she was standing in the doorway of the kitchen ... She was in shorts and she had my dad's wool socks pulled right up to her knees and her hair up in a ponytail but she hadn't pulled it through so it was like a big loop and you know she looked like a dork ...

"And I remember saying something to her and she said, 'Oh I just got out of the shower and you'd better get off to school' ... and I remember riding down to the Crossroad, which is a couple of hundred metres from our house, and thinking, Oh my gosh, I've forgotten something.

"Anyway, I hadn't been gone from home more than five minutes and I did a U-turn and rode back. I got off my bike, put my lunch kit down and went to open the door and it was locked ... and I mean in Sayward [a community of approximately 450 people] we didn't even lock our door when we went away for the weekend ... and I was thinking this is so odd. Why is the door locked?"

In between banging on the door and yelling for her mother, Cristi began rummaging through a bucket of junk by the front door, where she knew there was a key.

"I remember going to put the key in and I heard someone coming up the stairs of the basement and it was Mum and she came running to the door just as I unlocked it ... and she was standing there in a velour pale blue housecoat, the kind with the long zipper and the collar and it wasn't zipped up, and I mean she always zipped it up to the top, and her hair was all down and messy and I said, 'Mum, why are you in your housecoat again?' and she said 'Oh, I just got out of the shower.'

"And I was thinking ... that's odd. Mum said earlier she'd already had a shower ... so I went in my room. I got whatever it was I'd forgotten ... and as I was coming out of my room I remember looking down the basement stairs and there was Marty coming up the stairs doing up the buttons on his shirt, and I'm thinking that's weird and so I asked Mum, 'What's Uncle Marty doing in the basement?' and I think she said he was doing something with the wood stove -- and at that time we had a spare bed that was actually down in the basement and I never thought anything of it. I just grabbed my lunch kit and went on my way.

"But it was an incident that stuck with me. It just didn't click. I knew something was strange but I couldn't understand it at that age."

The incident remembered but pushed aside, Cristi got on with her childhood. She had a brilliant birthday party in which her whole grade was invited to a pool party at Sayward's local swimming pool. She rode horses, picked berries, spent hours roaming her father's and grandfather's 300 acres with her younger brother, Tyler, and younger sister, Aleah, and looked forward to the wonderful parties her mother held at Christmas and New Year's. There was Brownies to attend, spawning salmon to catch in nearby creeks, and Uncle Marty, always Uncle Marty, to fill in while Daddy was away, emptying his pockets full of change so that Cristi, Aleah and Tyler could rush off to Sayward's general store to buy candy.

In 1985, when Cristi was eight and a half, her mother was diagnosed with an acoustic neuroma (a nonmalignant growth on the nerves leading from the brain to the ear). Luckily it was operable, and Linda Sacht was adamant that she go to a clinic in Los Angeles that had excellent statistics for reducing the facial paralysis that often accompanied the surgery. Linda's appearance was important to her.

The surgery cost $40,000, and when the bank turned Len Sacht down, family and friends scrambled to raise the money. For nearly six months Cristi, Aleah and Tyler lived with different families. Cristi moved to Parksville, B.C., to live with family friends Bob and Judy Erickson. "I noticed that they and other families didn't have an Uncle Marty always at their house and so when I came back home and Uncle Marty started coming over and hanging around Mum when Dad was away I began to feel a little uneasy about him."

Whatever Cristi may have seen when she was seven, according to Linda Sacht, it was after her surgery that she and Martin Deforest, or Mr. Deforest as she calls him, "fell into" sexual relations. Linda was 35, Martin 41.

"My husband was never around," says Linda Sacht, "and when I became ill I felt so alone ... I never intended to have an affair -- who ever does? But after the surgery I couldn't ... be the person everyone wanted and expected me to be.

"With Mr. Deforest there were no demands. He gave me emotional support and the relationship just happened ... He was kind to me. He helped me. He wasn't in a happy relationship at the time ... he needed sex and I needed his emotional support." Anger creeps into Linda's voice. "And yes, I'm not afraid to admit it, YES, I had an affair ... but so what, obviously I had an affair because I needed something that was lacking in my marriage. It was crumbs of life of survival ... it was the stuff people need."

Things finally came to a head between Cristi and her mother shortly after Cristi turned 13. Len Sacht was away at logging camp and Marty had dropped by to visit Linda for the evening.

"I was lying in bed, I guess it was around 10 o'clock," says Cristi, "and my mum came and checked on me and closed my door. My bedroom was right by the front door, and Mum and Marty [were] getting ready for Marty to leave, and by the time I was 13 I'd dated a little bit, and all of a sudden I heard Marty say, OK, I better get going and I heard them go to the door and I heard them kissing ... I HEARD THEM KISSING -- like you know what kind of a kiss you have to hear? -- and it lasted what felt to me like forever, and I mean I'm lying there in my bed with my ear right against the wall thinking oh my good God. And so right then it all started to make sense like everything -- all of the hugs ... the kisses ... the talking ... the coffee ... the velour housecoat ... Marty buttoning his shirt -- all of it.

"So I'm lying there and my mum came to check on us again and she opened the door and looked inside and she whispered 'Are you asleep?' and I was just vibrating from adrenaline and I had all of these emotions and I sat right up and I said, 'NO I'M NOT' ... and so my mum walked in and sat down on the bed and tried to tuck me in ... and I said 'MUM, WHY WERE YOU KISSING UNCLE MARTY?' and she just said, 'Oh well, Cristi, you must understand that sometimes friends kiss ... and I said ... 'YOU KNOW WHAT MUM? I NEVER KISS MY FRIENDS LIKE THAT' ... and she just sat there and looked at me and said, 'Oh Cristi, just go to sleep, go to sleep, it's none of your business anyway SO YOU JUST GO TO SLEEP' ... and she walked out of my bedroom and slammed the door."

Cristi pauses. "I never thought of telling my dad at that point. I just felt so overwhelmed ... and I felt there was nothing I could do about it. I mean it was my family."

Cristi's secret knowledge of the affair took a heavy toll. "Nothing, nothing made me feel good," says Cristi. And so to mask the pain she found a new vocation. Cristi became Sayward's "girl next door."

"I was the girl who'd babysit, the good girl, the nice girl, the girl who waited in all the restaurants, who brought you your coffee, who served you at the gas station, who had a smile on her face, and who got good grades at school."

Then one night, shortly before her 15th birthday, Cristi found herself walking down the hallway to the bathroom. "Things were consuming me and I don't know why I did it but I took over 150 Aspirin tablets."

Cristi was lucky she woke up the next morning. "I could feel my body dying. It was just eating me from the inside out." Unable to walk, Cristi informed her mother what she'd done when her mother came to see why she wasn't getting ready for school.

"I remember Marty was there and he and Mum rushed to get the Aspirin bottle and he dumped the pills out on the counter and began madly counting them to see how many were left and how many I'd taken, and my mum began phoning around to see what she should do."

When it was clear Cristi had to be taken to Campbell River Hospital, Linda Sacht did not call the Sayward ambulance. Instead, with the help of her friend Eve Hrybko, Linda got Cristi discreetly to the hospital in what Cristi says was Eve Hrybko's red Jeep and what Linda Sacht says was her own Jetta.

"Anybody who goes anywhere in the Sayward ambulance, everybody knows about it," says Cristi. "An ambulance from our house would compromise the status quo, indicate all was not well in the Sacht house."

At the hospital, friends who visited were told by Linda Sacht that Cristi was simply "dehydrated." "It was Cristi's business," Linda Sacht says firmly. "Nobody else's." When Cristi left the hospital and returned home, a family meeting -- Cristi, her mother and father -- was called. According to Cristi, her mother decided that the incident was not going to be talked about, that it belonged within the family and that Cristi did not need therapy. Cristi's mother disputes Cristi's memory, saying that these were in fact Cristi's own wishes.

Somehow, with the help of a girlfriend, Adrienne Miller, Cristi got through the next few months. By this time, Linda Sacht and Martin Deforest's relationship was the subject of some speculation in Sayward's tiny community. Adrienne Miller, who had known Cristi since she was two years old, knew "implicitly," says Cristi.

"I think many people did, but Adrienne was like my guardian angel. Whenever I couldn't handle things she'd just come and get me, and we'd go for hours."

When Cristi was 16, her mother decided it would be in Cristi's "best interests" for Cristi to live with her grandparents in Courtenay, B.C., and attend high school there. Cristi agreed to the plan even though it broke her heart to leave Adrienne. After high school, Cristi continued to keep her distance from home, but desperate to keep some semblance of a family, she decided to keep her mother's affair a secret.

Then, shortly before Cristi's 21st birthday, in May of 1997, Cristi had a very difficult conversation with her mother. Her mother confided in her that she was thinking of legally separating from Cristi's father and "she was worried that everything financially was in my dad's name."

Martin Deforest's own marriage had been over since 1995. He had recently bought property directly opposite the Sacht home and moved into a trailer there.

"It just seemed so unfair," says Cristi. "I mean, here was Dad who'd slaved for our family, wrestling, trying to understand why things were falling apart, why he and Mum couldn't talk about what was going wrong with his marriage -- when I knew, I knew all these years he'd never really had a marriage. And I thought, that's it, it's time, time all the cards were on the table, time Dad knew."

Len Sacht drove home "numb" the night Cristi told him. "Linda and I were married for over 20 years," says Len slowly. "Marty was like a brother to me. I just didn't want to believe it was possible. I felt guilt. I felt isolated. I felt isolated from Cristi."

Unable to confront his wife, Len found himself in Marty's trailer, demanding Marty tell him the truth. Two days later, he moved out of the family home he had built with his own hands and moved in with friends Bob and Judy Erickson.

But the worst was not over. One morning, Cristi got a phone call from Judy saying her father had made his bed, taken his stuff and left a note. "Read me the note," Cristi demanded. "Read it."

"He's left a key," said Judy, and she began reading a note that explained it was the key to Len Sacht's safety deposit box, and in that box was his will.

"This is the only way," the note said, "I can ensure that my estate goes on to my children. All I've ever wanted is to pass our family's heritage on to my children and this is the only way. Please take care of Cristi, Aleah and Tyler."

Cristi panicked. "I was trying to think of where my dad would go to end his life. Would he go to Sayward, to my grandfather's property? And I called a friend and we began driving around looking for him and the police all over the island were looking for him, and I was just chewing the skin off my fingers thinking, I'm losing him, I'm losing him."

Finally Judy told Cristi that Len Sacht had been found by two police officers in Mud Bay. "He was sitting in his car right on the edge of a cliff and there were tire prints," says Cristi. The police explained that Len Sacht must have been driving backwards and forwards for hours.

"He told me," says Cristi, " ... the thing that kept stopping him was us kids, he just kept thinking about us kids ... and I felt so guilty that I'd told him. If I hadn't have said anything ... maybe ... but I couldn't get away from feeling that knowing the truth at least we could all move on."

The police took Len Sacht to Saint Joseph's hospital, in Comox Valley, B.C. There, having not slept or eaten for over a week, he was admitted into the psychiatric ward and treated for depression. On June 17, 1997, one day after his discharge from hospital, Len Sacht filed for divorce in Nanaimo, B.C.

Since then the Sacht children, Aleah, 17, Tyler, 20, and Cristi, 23, have all chosen to join their father in a house in Campbell River. Aleah is attending high school, Tyler is working as a tuna fisherman, and Cristi is completing a degree in child psychology at the University of Victoria. Len Sacht is driving a dump truck and picking up whatever work he can to make ends meet.

The divorce action took nearly two years to divide 300 acres of Sayward property, a 2,400-square-foot ranch home, cars, RRSPs and a pleasure boat. At the end of the divorce, Len Sacht's RRSPs were drained and he'd lost his father's estate and the marital home, but he was able to retain a substantial property he'd inherited from his grandfather.

Linda Sacht has returned to her maiden name of Matthews and still continues to "see" Mr. Deforest. After several attempts by Cristi and her siblings to collect childhood memorabilia from their mother, the majority of which have descended into shouting matches on the front lawn, Cristi, Tyler and Aleah have stopped communicating with their mother. "We don't speak," says Cristi simply. The one thing the Sachts were able to snatch from their childhood was their much beloved dog, Cindy, who now resides with them in Campbell River.

"It's been hard to lose so much of what I've worked for," says Len, "but I know I've got the main thing left. I've got the children."

"We talk openly and now my father is not only my father, he's my friend," says Cristi.

"I love my kids," says Linda Sacht. "They were my life, but I know, know there will never be a relationship like there was."

Copyright Southam Inc.