Two days after Concha Alborg's husband died of cancer in January 2006, she asked her younger daughter to help her search his computer for the love notes she had requested he leave her.
They logged in, and there they were: hundreds of letters, sorted and labeled in folders, along with photos and references to trips - not to Alborg, but to Jamie, Juanita, Josie, Dodi, Peggy . . .
Peter Segal, Alborg's husband of 21 years, had been a serial cheater.
"Nothing prepares you for that kind of information and deception," Alborg recounted recently.
In those early months, she lost 15 pounds and developed high blood pressure and insomnia. But over eight years, she used that experience to write a book, Divorce After Death: A Widow's Memoir. Earlier this month, 25 people gathered at Head House Books on Second Street to hear her read the recently published series of poignant, and often humorous, essays.
A full-time writer since retiring as a professor from St. Joseph's University in 2009, Alborg never intended to publish a memoir, her first.
"But, my story ended up being better than any of my fiction," the Spain native quipped.
It was, of course, cathartic, but Alborg also hopes that readers will see how a widow in her 60s reclaimed her life.
"Concha took a deeply personal experience and tried to find the absurd in it," said Linda Lelii, a psychologist in St. Joseph's counseling center and one of Alborg's closest confidantes.
Writing first helped Alborg when Segal was sick, her essays trying to make sense of her husband's three-year ordeal of surgeries, radiation, and chemotherapy for esophageal cancer.
But after discovering Segal's betrayals, writing helped her again. She was most frustrated that she couldn't confront Segal, so her therapist encouraged her to pen him a letter, which is included in the book.
"She told me to let him know how I felt. It didn't matter if he couldn't listen or respond."
She thinks the deadly disease turned out to be a metaphor for his life, something corrupt that devoured him from the inside out.
Other narratives chronicle her attempts at dating and helping her older daughter, Diana Day, through an illness. She also writes about happier times with Segal at their Ocean City home and, finally, how she forgave him when she took a trip to Jerusalem's Western Wall last year.
People often ask Alborg how she didn't know, but it turned out that Segal, who died at 56, successfully lied to everyone, except one childhood friend (Alborg calls him "the pimp"). In fact, his mistresses say they weren't aware the others existed. And it wasn't until Alborg and her daughter phoned them that they learned he had even died.
Alborg was newly separated with two young daughters when she met Segal in 1982 at a guitar concert at Rowan University, then Glassboro State College.
To Alborg, Segal possessed a shine of success. He was a classically trained guitarist. He was a music professor at Temple University. He also held an undergraduate degree in accounting. He loved the Philly sports teams and prided himself on being a master chef. Both Alborg and Segal enjoyed traveling, he, sometimes, spontaneously: " 'Do you want to go to Italy?' he'd say," recounted Alborg, "and, soon, we'd go."
He also was tremendously technical, always "fidgeting" with his computer. He happily shared his knowledge with Alborg's younger daughter, Jane Day Rasmussen, a move that would set up his fate: Rasmussen uncovered his indiscretions. Nonetheless, his stepdaughter still treasures the relationship she had with Segal.
"He was the one who convinced my mom that I needed to have the puppy I'd been longing for," said Rasmussen. ". . . and he was the guy I ran to when I'd been in a skateboard accident and needed to go to the hospital to get stitches. I may not understand the choices Peter made, but I do not judge him or his actions."
According to his computer files and cellphone, his multiple affairs went on for at least 10 years; he communicated with his lovers until the eve of his death.
Looking back, there were signs of Segal's dishonest nature. In 2000, while trying to obtain a mortgage, Alborg learned that Segal was hiding from her that he'd lost his job at Settlement Music School. And, she thinks the reason her maid abruptly resigned one day was because she'd caught him with a woman.
But why didn't Segal, obviously an experienced secret-keeper, delete the files? "I don't know and, obviously, I will never know. I was told by a psychiatrist that he had a narcissistic personality."
Alborg's next book will be a memoir in Spanish about her parents' relationship during the Spanish Civil War, to be amassed from 816 letters that they wrote to each other when her father was a soldier. Years ago, Alborg learned that her father carried on extramarital affairs, too.
"I have discovered that we all have secrets," said Alborg. "Some are just bigger and more dangerous than others."
Concha Alborg: "Divorce After Death"