Archive for April, 2022

Love and Marriage

Human mating is something that nobody understands.  I suspect there are as many hypotheses concerning the subject as there are questing minds that consider copulation of our binary species.  I dread turns of conversation which require me to confess I have been three times married and divorced.  This exposes the conservative underbelly of my nature that I do my best to deny and conceal.  In the hidden heart of my world view, man and woman were meant to love one another.  The best people are the ones who can enjoy one long and healthy marriage.

My inability to live up to that value must mean that I am inept at selecting a man who just might keep me forever-after happy.  I blame myself for this dilemma, since I have reliably been the one to end marriages.  My husbands have been, if not blissful, at least willing to declare the coupling viable and to keep on keeping on; it was always I who wanted out.  My three choices were excellent examples of good decent men, ill-matched with a well-meaning woman who just didn’t quite understand how things were supposed to work.

First there was James Charles Taylor, a West Virginia farm boy who joined the Navy to see the world.  A stateside leave for his ship’s company coincided with a trip to hillbilly country for me, during my high school rising-senior summer vacation.  I played at being Daisy Mae on a neighboring farm, while a guest of my step-mother’s aunt and uncle.  I was no stranger to farm life, having visited every summer with my paternal grandparents on three-hundred or so gentlemanly tilled and pastured acres west of Ft. Worth.  Cluck-clucking neighbor farm wives wasted no time introducing James and me, and soon a well-worn path through scrub brush wound its way along the river bend that demarcated the two farmsteads.

It was an enjoyable summer for both James and me.  I knew enough about the charms of rural life to preclude being terrified, and actually enjoyed being allowed to help with chores on both the dairy farms.  Jim was certifiably handsome, with his hay-harvest tan and authentic muscles acquired pitching bales and wrestling livestock.  I devoured the attention of a boy who seemed to think I was even a little bit pretty, unlike my dorky classmates back at school who resented being bested at math and science by a girl.  All that was left behind in snooty Westport, and Jim didn’t even know that I, with my penchant for trying too hard at everything scholarly, was probably the least popular girl in my school.

There was the hint of fireworks between us, but it was 1954, and one thing our divergent cultures shared was strict moral codes.  It wasn’t until the night before my departure, having staked out a private spot on the grassy hill overlooking the Fourth of July small-town fireworks display, that we explored the possibilities of a smooch. It was my first time to really kiss a boy without valid intercession from a party crowd and a spun bottle.  We parted, I to prep for college, he to fulfill his commitment to the US Navy.

Then halfway through my first year at Carnegie Tech, my father’s business went bankrupt, and I completed the year by re-upping for the debt myself.  My stepmother filed for divorce, and Daddy was staying in a serial progression of motel rooms, so I had nowhere to go.  Recalling the charms of West Virginia, I crawled to Aunt Winnie’s to clean house, cook, milk cows, and make commercial butter in the mornings; I learned to drive tractor, harvest hay, and work the garden in the afternoons.  Evenings were for reading and writing letters to Jim.  Ever since that idyllic summer vacation, he and I had corresponded.  When, months after a maiming shipboard accident he proposed by air mail from Portsmouth Naval Hospital, I accepted.  I was horror-struck, but what kind of person would have said no?

That was husband number one.  Number two was an equally twisted choice.  At Varo, Static Power Division, I was working as a production engineer.  Since the product being manufactured was an electrical device, the electrical engineering department called most of the shots.  Electrical engineers were the top of the heap.  Mechanical and manufacturing engineers were just a bit less in that work environment.  It’s odd to experience how power stacks people up in an organization.  With my recently completed BS in Divisional Science, I was a lowly also-ran, with a crush on Varo’s Electrical Engineering’s resident genius, Brian McGuinness, who looked so much like my dad it was weird.  While I chased him, Larry Duker chased me.  Larry liked to lean out his office door when I walked down the hall and ogle my retreating passage.  It was the legs.  He admired the gams, built from hiking West Virginia hills in search of errant cattle and pirouetting on green hilltops.  I noticed the attention and paid him enough credence to find out that he was tech savvy.  He knew a mountain about the nuts and bolts of electrical enclosure design, and I soon began to spend time with him just to pick his brain.  Larry had his own problem with credentialing.  He hadn’t finished college, but had joined the Navy, not to see the world, but to decide what to do with his considerable talent.  He had been coasting on his own brilliance.  US Navy in-service testing sent him to technical school immediately, advancing on completion to the highest rank possible without holding a university degree.  He finally mustered out as Chief Petty Officer, honorably discharged.  Then he went to work as an engineer—a good one— but without a university degree his pay was chicken scratch.

When he asked me to go out, I said no, but later agreed to just one Saturday and only the  afternoon.  He picked me up in his MG Midget to the delight of my sons Dale (10) and Lane (6).  They were all over him with demands to go for a spin in his red hot convertible.  They got their ride, and then they began pestering me to marry its owner.  That was nuts!  I refused and remonstrated in every direction, but then we began singing soprano-tenor duets on my apartment balcony after the kids went to bed, and slowly all the parts of our friendship began to adjust to each other.  It felt natural to snuggle into Larry’s tutelage, truly valuing his mind and his ability to share knowledge.  Larry was a born teacher.  We married, but even after such an auspicious beginning, things devolved—a sad and tawdry ending. 

I was triply careful with respect to choosing husband number three.  Eleven years my senior, he fit the pattern of father obsession, Kenneth Howard Ibsen was a brilliant researcher at University of California Irvine Medical School.  His subject was biochemistry, MD candidate’s most challenging area of study.  In spite of the frightful nature of his subject matter, students every year voted him top medical school professor.

I would have never noticed Dr. Ibsen had I not attended a Parents Without Partners extravaganza one night at the Irvine Community Center.  Two hundred or so upwardly mobile, yet viable but romantically unaffiliated, heterosexual adults gathered to hear about the wonders of the Kiersy Temperament Sorter.  Everybody grabbed a test, checked the requisite boxes, and waited for instructions.  Boxes totaled and cross-referenced scored me an “intuitive feeler”—and at the dizzying apex of that scale.  So what does that mean?  The leader pointed to the four echoing corners of the gargantuan ballroom, assigning to each a definitive personality type.  Then she asked everybody to gather in the quadrant that matched their scored personality.  The entire assemblage clotted in three of the quadrants while only Kenneth Howard Ibsen and Dorothy Jeanette Martin stood, a solitary couple in the fourth, exchanging phone numbers.  The rest is an exercise in the obvious—as well as the oblivious.  The brochure’s fine print suggested that people would do well to choose partners of complimentary traits, not matching ones.  Hardly anybody read the fine print.

Traits aside, I seemed to prefer men with gargantuan problems.  Ken fit that bill.  He was born with Osteogenesis Imperfecta, a genetic defect that caused the sclera of his eyes to glow blue and the cartilage of his entire body to disintegrate.  Mercifully the male organ is not in the least cartilaginous, so paternity boded well.  He had spent most of his childhood in an adult hospital ward waiting for assorted bones to heal.  As soon as he would be declared good to go, he was out and about, but then the next fracture would land him back on his back in his favorite hospital.  Luckily, he had a mild case of OI so that he didn’t suffer the usual grotesqueries but only matured as shorter than his genes would normally have been expressed.  Instead of 6’-4”, like the men in his family, he stood only 5’-6.”

Spending all that time in bed with books, and verbally jousting adult intellects had the obvious developmental effect.  Ken was bright and articulate.  He chose biochemistry to study and researched OI for his dissertation.  For many years he enjoyed the status of being that genetic anomaly’s leading expert.  His personal position at the nexus of the problem no doubt contributed to his notoriety.  Who wanted, after all, to challenge such a position?  Googling “Kenneth H. Ibsen,” alas, still brings up numerous scholarly articles tagging Osteogenesis Imperfecta, but fewer ones concerning his research and invention of the first chemical marker published for breast cancer.  OI is more fascinating than breast cancer.

When Ken got around to calling me, he suggested a meal at what was my favorite Japanese dinner house.  We met there and began sizing each other up.  He was passably good-looking in a professor sort of way, was fantastically well educated, and was a certified expert in my favorite subject—biochemistry.  I swooned!  Unlike most guys, he didn’t hold forth loudly mansplaining all the things the little woman must surely not understand.  He looked at me with those deep intelligent eyes and liked what he saw.  It was reciprocal.  He answered my questions to the level of my understanding, just like my father always had—a dear deep drink of cool water.  He handed me the menu and said, “Order anything you want.”  I trusted him and asked for a romantic steak for two that would be cooked tableside on sizzling rocks and divided between us by a lady in a kimona.  It was the start of something intense.  He told me later that I was the only date who had dared to order any but the least expensive entrée, hoping to be seen as a cheap date who might extrapolate into an economical wife.  Ken felt like home to me.  I had finally met a man I could admire and honor.  I must have cast him in God-like proportions, since when finally he proved himself to share the frailty of men the world over, I was affronted and disappointed.

Three, they say, is the charm.  Who am I to argue?  It has long been apparent that dreaming the thing is what casts the spell.  The building of it is where it disappoints.  A stupid tactic prattles about what glory waits as future amazement.  Better it is to hold a silent happiness to your breast until you make it an actual thing that can be seen and wondered at.  Otherwise it becomes an obligation to perform and mayhap disappoint.  The energy to create takes its vigor from the shivering delight of possibility.  Actuality rips that to shreds. What is, is, and can never return to the giggly dream of what if.

I have learned to faux consummate the bliss of marriage bed, a recent example being my repeated trysts with that scruffy old coot Eustice Conway.  I’m not the first to image the smooth softness of buckskin trousers against bare shaven leg.  Elizabeth Gilbert wrote a whole book about what it is to be The Last American Man.  I can taste the honey dripping off her tongue as she describes his twenty-something lithe body, what it can do, how, and why not.  Now I must have my daily fix of Mountain Man on INSP cable.  Eustice teaches me some wonderful new thing every day, something I can use if I get stranded in a winter wood and need to keep on living to mark another sunrise.

The worst thing of all would be to stumble into Eustace alongside that snowy track and have to follow him home where he would, no doubt, expect me to perc up a pot of camp coffee, and like Yentl, darn his socks.  No—I prefer the Eustice of my imaginings, burly, bright, and beautiful, rising to every occasion and ready to plug the gaps in my own woodland understandings with his own twice lived lore.  If he’s the man I think he is, he would darn his own socks with a carved bone needle or conjure a new pair out of deer gut casings.

The best aspect of such matrimony is that the Mother Church holds no purview over its enchantment.  No priest is required to bless the soft pine boughs of my marriage bed.  The cleric must articulate his unique thesaurus of delights.  Mine is mine alone—and maybe Eustace’s—if I can sort out proprieties, tenses, and logistics, not to mention pronouns: him/her, his/mine.  Like MMWG’s Michael Kelly, Eustace Conway is out to save the world.  I hope they succeed so Volodymyr Zelenskyy can live another day to glorify Ukraine and for me to dance all twitter pated about his triumph, after I achieve some polite disposition of Putin’s cold, stiff, and silent carcass—the one I dispatched in my head.  Should his corpus face the rising glory of the sun or the vivid beauty of its setting?  Is six feet an adequate depth, or would six miles be a safer more satisfying distal measure?  Dream up your own shovel.  Mine is already firm in hand.

Read Full Post »