Note: for privacy reasons I will share only this one reference to husband #1, no references besides basic profile facts, e.g., occupation, marriage dates, etc. of husbands #2 and #3, and nothing besides birth dates and possibly a photo here and there like the one below of the kids if it doesn’t show the face. There will also be no further details on my parents with the exception of my father since he is dead. I hope it’s ok to share some photos of old loves and friends but will remove them if asked.
This post is dedicated to my friend Anne.
The decision to marry the Friendly Ice Cream King was made not only at a time of diminishing options but also right on the heels of losing beautiful boy #2, Jan, during my freshman year at SUNYA. The situation was similar to what had happened with Dan. Jan was a senior and on graduating, returned home to live with his family. He was not ready for a serious long-term relationship. I wasn’t either but didn’t know it at the time. More crushing heartbreak. As the subsequent Summer and marriage plans unfolded, it seemed like I’d been cast in a role in movie that was already playing. I was numb and it felt inevitable. I thought, I could have a child. This was very appealing as I’d always wanted children. In fact, the names my children have today are the ones I thought of in high school. There were also practical benefits of marriage, such as the ability to fix the front tooth I’d broken in half the previous Summer and which made me look like a Jack-O-Lantern when I smiled. This was the best I could come up with in the way of critical thinking in the Summer of 1977.
We were married in January 1978 and things were nice for awhile until the reality of our profound incompatibility became impossible to ignore. In the Fall of 1980, when I was twenty-two and my son just shy of two, the marriage ended, in part because of a sense of feminism dawning on me after reading The Women’s Room by Marilyn French. I became determined to finish my college education. My husband was wary of this goal and of books in general, believing that knowledge leads to discord. He had a good point but I wanted the knowledge anyway. A smidgen more grown up at this point, I figured out how to cover education expenses via a combination of financial aid and loans, as well as some funds from a hard won divorce settlement.
College re-entry with a shared custody arrangement worked well in that I was able to get all of my school work done on the days I didn’t have my son with me and mostly focus on being a Mom the days he was, though it was necessary to arrange for day care during classes that weren’t child-friendly (such as literature courses designed for in-class discussion). Large lecture classes were easier, as we could sit in the back and take up a huge surface area for toys and books and puzzles.
In one of my classes, I met Judy, a funny, super smart and newly separated woman a couple of years older than me. We hit it off immediately and decided to rent a 2nd floor flat together in a set of early 20th century row houses in downtown Albany, NY, near the Medical College and Law School and near the SUNYA campus bus line. We sanded and refinished the oak floors, painted the plaster walls white, and decorated in vintage early eighties bohemian style: house plants galore, wicker mats on floors, a butterfly chair. We listened to Willie Nelson, The Cars, Depeche Mode and all of the great 1970s bands while studying or typing papers, sometimes until two or three in the morning. We thought we were cool, making it on our own.
Judy introduced me to wonder boy #3. Mark was a recent graduate of Albany Law School, a collector of antique rugs mostly from Iran and a James Joyce devotee. Our romance fizzled out after just one year, but not before he convinced me to read The Portrait of the Artist As a Young Man and I discovered in reading it a true passion for literature. I strongly identified with Stephen Dedalus’s utterly dispiriting adolescence and ached for a lyrical, transcending experience similar to the one that led him to develop a theory of art and beauty. I wanted to be Stephen Dedalus, the perennial student, artist and philosopher. I got fired up enough to take a course on Joyce taught by a Joyce scholar, a colleague and friend of William Kennedy, also at SUNYA at the time. This was my favorite class ever.
I somehow managed to combine the asceticism of Thoreau, the aesthetic theory of Stephen Dedalus, the symbolic system of William Blake and some stuff from the Bible-read-as-literature into one big unified field theory that fueled three years of English papers and exams. Whatever it was I thought and wrote, it involved hours of typing and smoking cigarettes and thoughts of climbing great intellectual heights. I won an academic award and a professor suggested applying to graduate school at Columbia. In the Fall of 1982, my senior year, it seemed like things were falling into place.
This was when I started getting serious about next steps. Several of my friends were lawyers, which seemed like a practical profession; I applied to Albany Law School and got in, but then decided not to go. I didn’t want to go further into debt and worried about how the demands of law school would impact my time with my son. But literary criticism wasn’t listed as a viable career path in the SUNYA career center manuals and it never came up in the job compatibility questionnaires I filled in at the counseling center. What to do with an English major? If I’d had any experience in freelance writing, it might have occurred to me to try that, but I think the career center professionals must have set me straight on the probability of being able to support myself and my son and also pay back $12,000 in student loan debt as a freelance writer. I changed my second field from Women’s Studies to Computer Science, a decision that disgusted a few of my women professors.
I fell in love with Computer Science and also with the teacher of my first Computer Science class, effortlessly slipping into a new character role designed to fulfill the same old longing for validation and love. Dreams of writing novels while listening to classical music in a charming bungalow or gentrified 19th century row house in downtown Albany were put aside. I would become a Jew, the very best one I could be to please my husband-to-be and future in-laws. We would move to suburbia where the excellent schools were and live in a well-insulated home with a central vacuum system conveniently located near a large indoor mall. We would pursue professional careers in high tech to comfortably support our family and save for the future.
We got an apartment together in 1983, the year I graduated and went to work as a Technical Writer for the same company he worked for as a Programmer. In 1984, we built a new home in a suburb of Albany and were married that May. Our daughter was born the following year, in June 1985.
Several years ago during my third marriage, my friend Anne, who has a memory for literature, sent me a bouquet of lavender and cream and pink roses like the ones Stephen Dedalus thinks of when he’s in the middle of the sums hour at school, contest teams divided into York and Lancaster. A York, Stephen is lousy at sums and gets distracted noticing the beautiful colors of the cards for first and second and third place, and imagines those same colors as roses: lavender and cream and pink. I hunted for my old copy of The Portrait of the Artist as A Young Man and read it as well as some of the Dubliners stories and sections of Ulysses. It stirred up the old fires and got me thinking about the long ago promises I made to myself of living with spirit and of being a writer. The lavender and cream and pink roses, placed as a table centerpiece, served as a reminder that I had meant to keep art and beauty at the center of my life.
Flowers are like that, giving you moments to step back and take stock of things.
Thank you, Anne.