By Ken Gross
October 17, 1988 12:00 PM

The food lies untouched. The only sounds across the breakfast table in the Bernardsville, N.J., mansion are the loud silences of words being swallowed.

Finally, Robin Givens, 24, star of the ABC-TV sitcom Head of the Class, pushes herself away from the table and announces, “I have to pack.”

“Me, too,” says her husband, Mike Tyson, 22, the world heavyweight boxing champion. Suddenly the Sunday morning atmosphere is tense and full of menace.

“Now, Mike, we agreed,” says mother-in-law Ruth Roper, trying to placate him. “You can’t go to Los Angeles. It would be distracting on the set.”

“I’m going,” insists Tyson, who followed his wife to the Soviet Union recently after a series of ugly domestic squabbles. The Russian trip seemed to be the last nail in the marital coffin. Tyson was unable to sleep in Moscow. He reportedly chased his wife, her mother and her mother’s publicist, still in their nightclothes, through the hotel lobby. He hung from a rail over a seven-story atrium. And he came home early.

With this memory still fresh, Givens slams her hand on the table and refuses to allow Tyson to follow her to Los Angeles. “If this is the way you’re going to be, Mike, we can’t be married.”

This Sunday morning the prospect of another separation drives Tyson over the edge. The two bodyguards whom Givens hired to protect her brace for trouble. Tyson doesn’t disappoint them. He picks up a sugar bowl and flings it through a dining room window of the great neo-Tudor mansion. (“So what?” he says later, “I paid for it, didn’t I?”) Then he grabs an andiron and begins to smash dinnerware, crystal, windows. He flings it through another window. He begins to break apart antique chairs, tossing them, piece by piece, through the broken windows. One of the bodyguards slips away and phones the police.

The call reaches the Bernardsville police station shortly after 10 a.m. Chief Thomas Sciaretta is alerted at home. Two cars are dispatched, along with a unit from the Somerset County Sheriff’s office. A kind of standing alert for trouble at the mansion has been in effect.

When they arrive, police officers find the domestic fire storm is still smoldering. Tyson stands furious in the driveway, his hammerlike fists clenched in frustration, as his wife and mother-in-law throw half-packed luggage into a car, then speed away.

The marriage, Givens tells an aide, cannot survive. The wife and mother-in-law drive a few miles down the road, stop and telephone the mansion. They have left behind a few vital pieces of luggage, as well as a script for Head of the Class. They call for police protection and go back to retrieve the forgotten items.

Meanwhile, Tyson departs in his chauffeur-driven Bentley, vanishing into his private urban haunts. He turns up in manager Bill Cayton’s office to embrace him—a not-so-oblique slap at his mother-in-law, who has been contesting Cayton’s role in Tyson’s affairs. Later he appears at a Queens gymnasium with middleweight boxer Mark Breland and announces he is ready to fight again. “He was in a marvelous mood,” reported Cayton later. “He’s looking forward to getting back into training and said he wants to get on with the Frank Bruno fight.”

Tyson, who seems as if he cannot be hurt in a boxing ring, seems singularly vulnerable outside it, an awkward though dangerous foil for his sophisticated wife and her mother. Two weeks ago he and Givens appeared with Barbara Walters on national television, presumably intending to lay the rumors of wife-beating and explosive behavior to rest. Instead Givens branded her husband, sitting passively beside her, a dangerous manic-depressive. Afterward Tyson began to brood over this public humiliation. But the bad feelings had been set aside by that Saturday night. It was Ruth Roper’s 45th birthday, and there was a party in the mansion. Gifts were exchanged. A cake was cut. Affection was displayed.

“But underlying it all was the specter of the separation,” explains a source close to the couple. “She was going to the Coast and he was staying behind. He didn’t like it.”

After flying to California on Sunday, Givens and her mother announced that they were not yet ready to launch divorce proceedings. Cynics interpret that to mean that Robin would wait until February, when the couple will have been married a year, in order to strengthen her legal situation.

For the moment, the heavyweight champ hardly seemed concerned about the money. In a somber phone call, he had told his sister, Denise, that if anything happened to him, he wanted to be buried with his mother. “I’m hurt because I’m in love,” he told the New York Post. Later his mood improved and the champ was ready to let Mike be Mike. “I’m not going to any doctor. I’m not taking any pills. I’m okay.”

As for his wife, Tyson told the press, “I’m not in a hurry to see her.” He loves her, he said, “but love is a feeling. I’m not going to give up my life for that.”