Home Alone

On Mother's Day, Constance Rolon will be waiting for her son. Waiting for answers.

For most of their lives, they had only each other.

Constance Rolon was orphaned at age fifteen. She married, then lost her husband in World War II. Another man abandoned her while she was carrying his child. After Paul was born, Constance raised him on her own, working as a clerk and living in affordable housing.

When Paul came of age, he watched over her. He handled the bills, lugged home the groceries, took out the trash. At age 47, with no wife and no children of his own, Paul still lived with his mother.

Mother's daze: Constance Rolon with pictures of her only child, Paul Michals.
John Johnston
Mother's daze: Constance Rolon with pictures of her only child, Paul Michals.

"He was a good son," Constance says. "Very considerate. He always remembered me on my birthday and on the holidays. He was never in any trouble and he never caused me any trouble. A mother likes to feel that she's taking care of her son, no matter how old he is, but he helped me with everything."

Now he is gone.

Last July, while vacationing in Crete, Paul vanished in the sweltering Mediterranean heat. Constance still does not know what happened to her son.

She sits in her living room, sorting though stacks of Paul's personal papers. She's not sure what lies before her, can't decide where to begin. But she knows this: Somewhere in the jumble of letters, receipts, postcards and printouts lies the answer.

"I never worried about him," she says. "He was a good and sensible man. But now I tell young people to have more than one child, because you never know what can happen. He was my world."

Paul was born on February 6, 1953. His father was long gone, but Constance still thought it was proper for the boy to retain the man's surname, which was Michals. Young Paul was bright and inquisitive, with mousy brown hair, hazel eyes and a shy smile. He did well in school, made friends easily and wanted to excel at everything he did. In grade school, when he received a C in math, Paul studied and studied until he earned an A. He collected Superman comics, ran track and won academic scholarships from the Elks and the Masons.

After graduating from West High School, Paul attended the University of Northern Colorado, where he earned a bachelor's degree in physics. He studied for his master's degree but never completed it. Instead, in 1979 he took a job as a researcher and switchboard operator at the Denver Public Library, where one colleague described him as "someone with a great sense of humor who could talk about anything." Paul liked to jog, read history and science fiction, and settle back on the couch with old movies. He considered himself "a consummate Jimmy Stewart fan" and designed what he thought was the "definitive" Web site on It's a Wonderful Life.

Paul would spend hours at his computer terminal, surfing the Net and becoming such an accomplished computer programmer that he formed his own online consulting and development company, Distant Star Inc. The business was successful, Constance says -- so successful that in 1995 Paul bought them a three-bedroom home in a modest northwest Denver neighborhood.

The business allowed Paul to indulge another passion: archaeology. He was fascinated by ancient cultures, particularly those of Greece, since he was half Greek on his father's side. Paul attended seminars, conducted research and even completed a course in Linear B, the archaic Greek language. In 1990 he joined an excavation in Ithaca, where a team from Washington University in St. Louis was trying to link the historic Greek city to Homer's Odyssey. Paul volunteered in Ithaca again in 1992, 1995 and 1998. He signed up in 2000, but canceled at the last minute.

On vacations, Paul crisscrossed the globe, visiting places as remote as Antarctica and as bustling as China. He snapped hundreds of photos, dispatched dozens of postcards, and then returned home to mark each excursion with a red pin on a large map in the living room. He also made close friendships overseas that he maintained through vigorous e-mail and correspondence.

"He had a lot of girlfriends over there," Constance recalls. "Well, I call them girlfriends. Maybe they were just female friends, but he had lots of them. Not many here, though. In fact, I don't think he had any girlfriends here."

Paul had his quirks. He could be secretive, aloof, moody. He collected Olympic pins, seldom threw anything away, and walked or took the bus wherever he went. A car, he told his mother, was simply an "added expense." Even after being struck while crossing Federal Boulevard in 1997 -- which left him with six steel pins in his left leg and steel supports in his left shoulder -- Paul insisted on walking.

"And he was a fast walker," Constance says. "Though not as fast after the accident. He had a slight limp."

Paul also grew depressed after the accident, recalls Richard O'Connor of Sausalito, California, who traveled with Paul frequently and worked with him on the dig in Ithaca.

"He was distant," O'Connor says. "He would not answer his e-mail. We were very worried about him. I'm just theorizing here, but he might have thought that his crippling accident ended his chances of finding romance, or of finding the right woman. The accident definitely pushed him into a depression."

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