At a Halloween party last October, Macarena Gomez-Barris, dressed as a flamenco dancer, put out a bowl of her homemade guacamole and checked on the boiling pot of fresh corn in the kitchen. She’d recently separated from her husband of 12 years, and the friends streaming in now were eager to meet her new love, who, on this night, was the pirate in the three-cornered hat carving pumpkins outside. After her marriage broke up in 2007, few of those who knew Gomez-Barris had thought she’d be single for long—”a catch,” they called her—and they were right.
An animated 38-year-old, Gomez-Barris seemed to have it all—a brilliant career, two children, striking looks. Her family had come to the United States from Chile when she was 2 to escape Augusto Pinochet’s military dictatorship and to pursue the traditional American dream. While studying for her master’s degree at UC Berkeley, she met a charismatic Chilean exile and fiction writer named Roberto Leni at a salsa club in San Francisco. “We had instant chemistry, and he was my soul mate,” Gomez-Barris says. They married and eight years later had their first child, a son.
The trouble began after they moved to Los Angeles, where their daughter was born and Gomez-Barris’s academic career took off at the University of Southern California. Leni spent his days caring for the house and children. “I was in the more powerful role,” says Gomez-Barris, a PhD and an assistant professor in the sociology and American studies and ethnicity departments. “I made more money and was struggling to balance my work and home life.”
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