Dear Jackie

Thanks for the monkey lamp. I’ll miss you.

lamp1lamp2lamp3lamp4lamp5lamp6lamp7lamp8Just a few of your antique lamps. We lit them up and I photographed them to remember them forever.

Dear Jackie,

I’d hoped to see you one last time, to say goodbye and give you some comfort in your final days — the kind of comfort you can only get when people who love you are near. But it was not meant to be. I got the phone call about your death on Monday morning, while driving back from the appointment that prevented me from coming sooner. Although I was sad that I missed you, I knew that you likely welcomed that final sleep. You were finally out of pain after years of deteriorating health and illness, able to rest easy.

Still, the plane tickets were bought and paid for and the time was scheduled on my calendar. My mom was already on her way, driving up from Florida. (She missed her chance to say goodbye by less than 24 hours.) Although you’d made it clear that you didn’t want a service, I knew we’d gather to lay your ashes to rest per your instructions. And then there was your house and all the things inside it — my mom and cousin Rosemary would have quite a chore ahead of them. So I came, of course, and even though I wasn’t able to say goodbye in person, I was able to say goodbye by revisiting my memories of you though the wonderful things you left behind in your home.

And what things! Yes, your house was a mess — but among the clutter were the amazing things you collected over your long career as an antique dealer. No one could imagine the treasures stuck in every corner of your house. I hope you don’t mind that I shared photos of your lamps and candlestick holders and all those VHS tapes with my friends on Facebook. I wanted to give them a glimpse of what we were experiencing as we went through the crazy, wonderful, chaotic clutter you left behind.

First were the lamps. You know how I loved your lamps! After Grandma left me her Jefferson lamp — which she’d bought from you years before — I came to your home to buy a similar lamp to go with it. You sold me another reverse-painted lamp, a Handel. I got so much pleasure out of them in the living room of my home, making sure to light them when company came. They were the first things I packed when I prepared to move out at the end of my marriage; it was vital to protect them from the desperate old woman who’d already begun cataloging my things, so eager to take my place in my home. Everyone in the family had a good laugh at her ignorance when she listed them as “Pairpoint Puffs” on an inventory my wasband submitted to his lawyer.

But although you’d shown me many reverse-painted lamps that day back in 1999, you didn’t show me all of them. Or any of the other styles that really didn’t interest me. One by one, my mom, Rosemary, and I lit them up to admire them. I took photos. I knew that they’d go to auction and I wanted to remember them all. So beautiful! Handel, Pairpoints, Tiffanys, and names I’ll never know. I was tickled when one of my Facebook friends suggested putting them for sale on Etsy, a craft web site. She had no idea that these were the real deal, worth thousands at auction. I’m sure they’ll make many collectors and art lovers happy — at least as happy as I am to have mine.

The Monkey LampThe monkey lamp. Yes, its eyes really do light up.

And yes, I finally got the monkey lamp. You know how much I admired it — how many times did I try to get you to sell it to me? Such an unusual piece in such an unusual house. It reminds me of you and of all the times my family visited you there.

Visiting you at that house when I was a kid was like a trip to a museum. Even though I didn’t really understand what I was seeing, it was all magical to me. So many wonderful things — most of which I wasn’t allowed to touch! Back in the early days, when Victor still lived there with you, you still had the shops in the basement and backyard. I remember walking through that basement shop with my arms obediently at my sides, just looking. Once, you let me pick something from a cabinet — it was a small portrait of Abe Lincoln decoupaged to a piece of wood. Do you know I found that little picture when I was packing last year? I still had it nearly 45 years after you gave it to me!

I remember those days well, especially the Christmas visits. You and Victor always did an amazing job decorating the house with a real Christmas tree that climbed up to the ceiling, covered with antique (of course!) ornaments. A fire was always going in the fireplace — a real treat for us because we didn’t have a fireplace at home — and you’d always make it extra special by tossing in some sort of crystals that turned the flames all different colors.

Backyard The backyard is nothing like I remember it.

And the backyard — in those days it had a rough but well-trimmed lawn with concrete paths that sloped down to the shops in the backyard. But today the yard is a tangle of young trees, weeds, and brambles. The paths are hidden beneath the brush. The small shop is a pile of wood and the large shop is a mostly collapsed mess.

vhsWe found about 1,500 VHS tapes among your things. Why did you have so many? We’ll never know.

But this week, the house was dark with drawn curtains and shades. Even all those lamps couldn’t brighten it up. The air was musty — the same antique smell I remember from childhood, but intensified. We went through your things, organizing, gathering, and discarding while reminiscing about you. The candlestick holders filled your dining room table. The soapstone carvings filled another table in the living room. As I cleared shelves full of VHS tapes that you’d collected for reasons only you know — more than 1500 of them! — we filled those shelves with crystal and silver and carnival glass.We cleared your closets, giving your clothes — including so many pants and shirts that still had store tags on them — and linens to Goodwill. Why did you have so many ties? We’ll never know. And eyeglasses — I’d never seen you wear them, but they were all over the house. Now they’re in a bag, ready to donate to the Lions.

recordsEvery room of the house had boxes of record albums, but the attic crawlspaces were absolutely crammed with them.

The record albums, stored in liquor boxes in every room of the house, were beyond my capabilities. We sent my brother in to handle those. Even he gave up after a while. I don’t know how many there are, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there were 5,000 of them. The boxes stretched into the darkness of the crawlspaces in your attic. We found a Craig’s List browser to take the VHS tapes for free; she came with her husband and a trailer. Those LPs, however, deserve better attention; a record dealer will be coming from New York to look at them on Monday and I hope he comes with a truck and helpers.

There were light bulbs in almost every drawer we opened — too many for even a lamp dealer to have on hand. And plastic bags — what was up with that? It looked to me as if you’d saved every plastic grocery bag you’d ever brought home and talked them into giving you bunches and bunches of brand new ones, too. Lots of paper towels and laundry soap — you must have gotten quite a deal on that stuff in the store to have been stocking up so much. More than once, the word “hoarder” came to mind, but although you saved a lot of things many people would have thrown away, I could never call you a hoarder.

I thought often during the week about our last few conversations on the phone. You’d heard from my mother all about my divorce ordeal, about the man I’d loved and trusted for more than half my life betraying me with lies and infidelity and trying to steal everything I’d worked so hard for my whole life. That’s when you confided in me about your own pain all those years ago, about Victor’s departure and some of the vindictive things he did to you. We had that in common: heartbreak. You understood my tears and tried to comfort me with words over the phone. I appreciated that.

Jack DeGaetano circa 1975.
Jack DeGaetano circa 1975.

I wanted so badly to see you before you slipped into the final sleep. I wanted you to feel the love of family members at your life’s end. I wanted to comfort you, if I could. I’m sorry I was unable to do that. I hope you’ll forgive me.

The monkey lamp is your parting gift to me and I will treasure it always. I promise that it will occupy a place of honor in my new home, never sold or given away. And when guests come by and comment about its oddness and glowing eyes, I’ll tell them stories about you and your home and your wonderful things. It’ll help keep you alive in my memory forever.

Your loving goddaughter,

Dear Julia

Dear Julia,

I was saddened — but not terribly surprised — to learn of your passing early this morning. After all, you’d reached that 90-year milestone and your health had never been very good throughout the 30 years I knew you. Both Mike and I were continuously surprised at your long life. “My mother is a force of nature,” he used to say.

At the Parade
Do you remember this day, Julia? I think it was Memorial Day, perhaps the first year Mike and I lived in New Jersey. You and Charlie were there, along with my family, watching the parade at the end of our street. It was so long ago — Mike almost had hair!

As I think back on all those years — the first twelve or so while your husband was still alive, and the later years when you were left without him — my mind recalls various scenes in which you were a player. In the beginning, you were a minor character, but over time you took on a more starring role.

I often think of the night your husband died so suddenly. Of getting that terrible phone call in the middle of the night — the one no one wants to get — and being at the wheel of Mike’s car with him sitting in stunned disbelief beside me as we sped the 30 miles from our home to yours. Of seeing the New York City police officers milling about your living room. Of seeing your husband Charlie laid out so peacefully on a bed in the spare room with a blanket up to his chest as if he were just sleeping. Of the shock you must have felt looking at your dead husband while the space he’d occupied beside you in bed only a short time before was still warm from his body and love for you. That morning was incredible, fixed upon my mind like an etching in stone. You were so unprepared for his death. One evening, you’re having dinner with him and 14 hours later, you’re shopping for his casket and cemetery plot. I honestly don’t know how you did it. You showed a strength that day that I know I don’t have. But I suspect that in private you were far more tearful than I am right now, just recalling and writing about it. (Yes, the tears are running down my face now as they have so many times in the past year when I think back to things that once were.)

Your family’s visit to our home at Christmas in 2005 was a bit trying, but not because of you.

Charlie’s death didn’t just change your life — it changed ours. It changed Mike’s role, forcing him to fill your husband’s shoes in caring for you. Charlie took such good care of you, handling all the little chores of life, that you could not manage so many basic things on your own. I clearly recall Mike and I teaching you how to write checks and balance your bank accounts. And the “honey do” lists you had for Mike! They were a bit of a joke — at least at first — and expected on every visit to your home. I have a clear image of you consulting a scrap of paper as Mike finished a task and asked you what was next. Oh, how he dreaded visiting right after the beginning or end of daylight savings time! All those clocks!

But Mike stepped up to the plate and did so many things for you — often without your knowledge. I did a few, too, but admittedly not as many as I could or should have.

Flying with Mike
I was really proud of you the day you climbed into Mike’s plane with him. I didn’t think you could do it; I should have known better.

Indeed, Mike was “the good son” and you wanted me to be the good daughter-in-law. How I must have frustrated you! The engagement in 1984 should have been followed by a wedding soon after, but I just couldn’t go through with it. I loved your son deeply — I still do — but he was sometimes mentally abusive to me, embarrassing me in front of family and friends. This was so painful to me and didn’t seem right. I remember how his father used to tease you and the bickering that ensued and I suppose Mike thought that was standard operating procedure for a married couple. But I hated it — just as I hated the bickering at your house. Marriage is supposed to be a forever thing — surely you and Charlie knew that — and there was too much doubt in my mind about my relationship with Mike. If I married, I had to be sure I could make it last forever — and I simply wasn’t sure. I kept putting off marriage so long that after a while it seemed like a silly idea.

After all, it wasn’t as if I wanted children. I know that bothered you too — as it bothers my mother to this day. Most women of your generation were raised to want children and grandchildren; I was not. And it likely bothered Mike — although I told him straight out, before I finally got my tubal ligation in 1997, that if he wanted kids he needed to find a different woman. I was not interested in motherhood, so I failed to give you and my mother the grandchildren you wanted.

The marriage did come many years later, but it wasn’t for the right reasons. Both you and my mother were cheated out of the big wedding you likely wanted to see. Because of the reasons for our marriage, our anniversary date became a source of pain for me. I flat-out told my stepmother to stop sending cards. And years later, in my divorce filing, I’d even get the date wrong.

But yes, I was a disappointment to you. No matter how much you bragged to your friends about me and my achievements, I know I disappointed you. We just never connected the way you probably thought we should. Although I’m sorry about the disappointment, please understand that I could not change myself to make someone else happy. My mother knows this, too. So does your son.

Mildred and Julia
I’m ashamed to admit it, but I always wished that you were more like your friend Mildred: fun loving, independent, happy. I knew that her death would leave an empty space in your life and it made me so sad for you.

In the later years of my marriage to your son you became a source of friction between us. As you aged, you seemed to become more and more dependent on Mike to help you with the chores of life. Even after we moved to Arizona, you had him near you a full week (or more!) every month — he maintained a separate home there! Later, when he gave that up, he spent all of his vacation time going back to New York to visit you, using Vitec business as an excuse. You spoke on the phone multiple times each day — hell, he talked to you more than me!

Was I jealous? Perhaps. But also frustrated. I couldn’t understand why you needed him so much and why he was so willing to put our life together aside to accommodate you.

Las Vegas
Do you remember that trip to Vegas? We flew up in my helicopter for an overnight stay at the Bellagio. I sent you a photo book to remember it and show your friends.

This all came to a head during your visit to Wickenburg in 2012. We’d arranged for a wonderful apartment for you in town. When Mike went to get you and Paul at the airport, I went to the store to buy groceries and other supplies. I stocked your fridge and cabinets with the kinds of food I thought you’d like, along with lots of fresh fruit and veggies. I bought flowers for your table. I wanted you to feel happy and welcome and at home in this place. After all, Mike had led me to believe that you were considering a move to Wickenburg and I wanted you to like the place we’d found for you.

I didn’t expect you to be at our home every evening, sitting at the table, playing cards with my husband. I didn’t expect everything we did for the duration of your two-month visit to include you. And I certainly didn’t expect you to laugh when I asked and tell me that you had no intention of moving to Wickenburg. I felt lied to, betrayed, manipulated — by your son. It should have warned me of things to come.

When Mike lost his job during that visit, I saw an opportunity for the two of us to get away for a few days in the RV before he started his next job, the dream job. A trip to Death Valley for the spring wildflowers. Some time away from home and the apartment. Some time to regroup and work out the tension that had formed between us since my return from Washington the previous fall. He said he wanted to go, but he delayed getting the plans together. He said he would tell you that we’d be gone for five days, but even the day before our planned departure you still didn’t know. And then he carelessly lost our friend’s dog in the desert and I snapped.

I was tired of being so far down on his list of priorities. I was frustrated with his inability to get his life together and make things happen. I was sick of listening to his excuses and feeling that he was hiding things from me. I was also tired of seeing how he feared you and your response to something that you might not like.

Yes, your son was afraid of you — as he was afraid of me. I’m sure he’s afraid of the woman who has taken our place, too: his mommy/girlfriend.

If only you knew how many times he lied to you — to “protect” you, he said. I realize now that he was lying to me, too.

I wonder how much stress you put on his relationship with that woman. I hope it was at least as much stress as you put on my relationship with him.

I’ll admit that if your son and I were still together, your passing would come as a relief to me. But now, estranged from your whole family by lies, betrayals, and misunderstandings, I feel only sadness and a sort of emptiness deep in my soul. Yes, we had our differences and you drove me nuts, but I respected you and your love for your children and your granddaughter. I respected your sacrifices for your husband, spending so many years making him a home. You did what you knew how to do and you poured your heart and soul into it. You did what you thought was right — even if it did have consequences you didn’t understand or even know about. I respected you for that.

Julia Chilingerian, 1922 – 2013

I regret that I was unable to talk to you one last time. To explain what happened between me and your son. To ask you if you knew why he gave up a 29-year relationship with the woman he claimed to love as recently as your last birthday for a manipulative stranger who led him astray. To forgive you for driving that wedge between us, for contributing to the friction that made him grow to hate me.

This letter will have to do. If there is an afterworld — a heaven, perhaps — you’ll know the truth.

I’ll miss you, Julia, as I miss the life I had with your son — good and bad. Rest in peace. You deserve it.

With love,
Your daughter-in-law,

On Marital Infidelity

From the point of view of a child, a spouse, and a parent.

This is going to be a pretty tough one to write, but it’s been brewing inside me for a while and needs to come out.

My grief counsellor, who was helping me get through the feeling of loss and betrayal I felt (and still feel) at the end of a relationship that lasted more than half of my life, recommended writing to help deal with my grief. I’ve been writing about this on and off since my husband first asked for a divorce on my birthday in June. Writing is cathartic — it helps me sort out my thoughts and put things in perspective.

Although I had hoped the ordeal of my divorce would be over by now — indeed, I’d hoped to be finished before Christmas! — it drags on for a variety of reasons best saved for another post. Every day I’m stuck alone in a house I once made a home with the man I loved is another day that gets me thinking of — and writing about — the tragedy of the situation. After all this time — nearly nine months now — I still have trouble believing everything that’s been happening. As a friend recently remarked, it’s bizarre.

But this post will concentrate on one topic: marital infidelity. You see, this isn’t the first time I’ve lived through a husband’s betrayal of his wife’s love and trust.

Childhood Lost

I was about 12 years old, the oldest of three children, when my parents split up.

My dad had been having an affair with a woman 13 years younger than him — only 9 years older than me. She was 21 and already had a child with another man who she’d apparently married and divorced. She was young and, I guess, attractive. My mother, who was only 3 years younger than my father, was overweight and caught up in the task of raising his three children. When we went away to spend the summer in a travel trailer in the Catskills, my dad was left behind to go to work and the affair began.

My sister, brother, and I were shielded from most of what was going on for quite some time. Shielded from the cause, but not the fireworks. The arguments were loud and fierce, leaving my sister and I to seek shelter from the verbal storm in our attic bedroom. Eventually, the situation became intolerable and divorce was inevitable.

You know how there are events in your life that you can remember perfectly as if they happened only yesterday? Well, I still remember the day nearly 40 years ago when my dad came up to our bedroom to break the news. I was sitting on the floor in front of a low table my dad had made out of particle board and formica and screw-in legs. I was working on a floorplan — I used to sketch floorplans of dream houses that I made up in my head. This one was a one-story masterpiece with a central courtyard that had a built-in pool. All the rooms had doors out to this wonderful courtyard. When my father came up to talk to me, I was painstakingly drawing in the irregularly shaped patio blocks around the pool.

He told me that they were getting divorced, but didn’t say why. I probably already knew about the other woman. He assured me that he still loved us all and would still see us a lot. I don’t remember replying. I do remember the tears dripping down my face and onto those carefully penciled patio blocks.

And just like that, my father left. There was a brief time when they attempted reconciliation, but I can’t say it lasted very long. My dad moved into an apartment with his girlfriend and her baby daughter. The divorce dragged on — in those days, I think there was a required separation period. My mom lost weight and started dating — she was in her early 30s and had two single friends (one divorced, one widowed) that she’d go bar-hopping with. It was important to her to not only find a new husband, but to find a new father for her children.

My father fought for visitation rights and got them — every Sunday, I think. In the beginning, he visited us regularly, taking us out to a local hobby shop where they had slot cars that we would race. We did other things, too, but I don’t remember them much. I do remember that over time the visits became less regular and the frequency dropped off. But by that time, the divorce was final and both he and my mother remarried. He married the woman he’d left us for and adopted her child, who is technically now my half sister. My mom married a divorced man who had been through a similar situation; his three kids lived with his ex-wife. We moved to Long Island where my stepfather started a new job. My dad came to see us just a few times a year. And then he stopped coming.

Lessons Learned

There are many ways all this affected me as a child and as an adult. It’s interesting to take a look at them.

  • I titled the previous section “Childhood Lost” for a reason. Although I was just 12 or 13 during my parents’ divorce proceedings, I was forced, in a way, to grow up fast. Because of the dire financial situation we were suddenly thrust into, my mom had to get a job. I had to take responsibility for watching my sister, who was 16 months younger than me, and my brother, who was 8 years younger than me. At age 13, I got a paper route — I still remember the first day of school one year when my paper route collection money was needed to buy school supplies for all of us. The financial situation qualified me for free school lunch and enabled me to get a summer job working with other underprivileged kids scraping rust off a chain link fence with wire brushes. Yes, I still played with other kids and had a life, but I’d gotten a very good look at a side of life most preteens don’t get to see until much later. It changed me and forced me to grow up a bit sooner than I should have.
  • Seeing my mother abandoned by her husband also taught me a lesson — it taught me that there’s only one person you can rely on in life: yourself. It taught me to be independent, to have my own career and goals in life, to not depend on anyone else for financial stability. It taught me to work hard for whatever I wanted and to save money and to keep my finances in my control. These are lessons I’ve carried throughout my life.
  • Being left behind to babysit while my mom and her friends hit the singles bars to find new husbands made me feel that having children can be a real burden. After all, she wasn’t just looking for a new mate. She had to find one who didn’t mind moving into a household that already had three young kids. That can’t possibly have been easy, especially for a 30-something in the mid 1970s when divorce was far less common. In the end, she found two men that she was willing to continue her life with, but she chose the one who would make a better father for us. I know it was a sacrifice, in a way, for her. But I also know that she made the very best decision, despite any doubts she might have had at the time. My stepfather is a wonderful man — a great provider who truly became my dad when my father left us. In any case, the lesson I took from all this is that having kids can keep you from getting what you really want in life. And I think that’s why I never had kids.
  • When my mother married my stepfather, our financial and social situation improved dramatically. We went from middle lower class to upper middle class (if there is such as class system in this country). We could eat better and dress better. My stepdad took us to museums, giving me my first real taste of culture. We ate in real restaurants — the kind with cloth napkins and attentive waiters. When we vacationed, we flew on airliners and stayed in hotels. We got a good look at some of the better things in life, some of the things within our reach. And, for the first time in my life, I started thinking college might be an option — indeed, I became the first person in the history of my family to graduate college.

As for my father, our relationship isn’t bad but isn’t good. It’s hard not to feel abandoned when he simply stopped visiting all those years ago. We talk occasionally on the phone and I did see him at Christmas time last year. He’s still married to the same woman. Their daughter is on her second husband and has two kids. I haven’t seen her since her first wedding years ago and doubt I’d recognize her if she knocked on my door right now.

I know my father reads this blog once in a while and can assume he’ll read this. I’m sorry if what I’ve written here hurts him, but it’s the truth. Actions speak louder than words. It’s one thing to tell a 12-year-old child that you love her but another to prove it.

Husband Lost

I’ve written quite a bit about my husband’s infidelity, discussing it in bits and pieces in blog entries since I discovered the other woman in August 2012. I’ll recap here. If you want details, follow the divorce tag.

My relationship with my husband had been deteriorating since about October 2011, when I got back from my summer work in Washington. He’d become moody and uncommunicative, never enthusiastic about doing anything interesting, always disapproving of anything I wanted (or needed) to do. He was 55 at the time, stuck in a dead-end job he hated, working for a boss who was becoming a bigger asshole every single day.

I was losing my patience with the situation, especially since he’d promised me five years before — right around the time we married — that he’d join me on the road in the summer months to pursue other more interesting ways of making a living. I was financially secure; he could be, too — if he’d just sell the Phoenix condo that was costing him so much money every month. Instead, for reasons I couldn’t comprehend, he insisted on keeping it; that forced him to be a slave to the 9 to 5 grind that was making him miserable.

There were some arguments — I won’t deny it. His mom’s visit from mid January through mid March 2012 was a serious strain. I’d been led to believe that she’d spend most of her time in the assisted living apartment he’d rented for her in Wickenburg, but yet she was at our house almost every single day. We had no time alone together at home. After a huge fight in February, I buried myself in my work, which had to be done at the Phoenix condo where I’d moved my office — ironically, so I could spend more time with him.

In March, he asked me to go to a marriage counsellor with him. I agreed. My anger had cooled off and I truly wanted to fix our broken relationship. We each attended one session alone and then one together. Maybe I’m wrong, but I’m pretty sure the counselor recommended that we talk things out. I tried on several occasions to get him to talk to me about our problems, but he always said, “Not now.” And then it was time for me to start moving my equipment — the RV and the helicopter — up to Washington for the summer. And to make a trip to Colorado to record a course for I left for the summer on the last day of April, feeling the strain of unfinished business.

In May we spoke on and off on the phone and exchanged emails. We started talking about him coming with the dog to spend the summer with me. He’d gotten a new job and he could work from anywhere. The job involved a bunch of travel. If he came with Charlie to stay with me, I could watch Charlie while he traveled for work. Then, when my summer work was over, I could travel with him. It was his dream job — my dream job for him, too — and I really thought it would save our relationship.

But despite what he said on the phone to me, he was really doing other things. I didn’t discover what was going on until much later, in August, long after he’d asked for a divorce and had assured me several times — including to my face — that there was not another woman.

In reality, less than seven days after I’d left for Washington, he’d joined at least one online dating site. In May, he went on at least one date with another woman — and may have even taken her on a trip in his plane to Las Vegas. When that affair fell flat, he tried again with a woman who sent him photos of herself in lingerie. He was dating her for less than a month when he asked me for a divorce. He’s living with her now, letting her manage our divorce for him.

The pain of my husband’s betrayal cannot be overstated. Simply put, after 29 years together, I trusted him with my life. Although we each did our own thing throughout the years of our relationship, I thought we were still partners working for the same goals. But instead, he’d changed his goals and hadn’t sent out a memo. I was working hard to make a good summer place for both of us; he was working on another goal: to replace me.

What makes matters even worse is the way he’s treated me since asking for the divorce. Lying and cheating is only part of it. Dropping all communication, leaving me to wonder what the hell was going on at home. Sharing my personal financial documents — like tax returns and investment statements — with his girlfriend and lawyer. Locking me out of my home and hangar. Fighting me in court to keep me out of my own home, thus trying to make me homeless. Lying about me in court, under oath. Demanding the return of a truck he told me I could keep in the settlement. Instructing his lawyer to send my lawyer threatening letters. Falsely accusing me — without any proof — of destroying his property. Preventing me from selling my personal property. Sending the police to my home to investigate me on unsupported claims of harassment. Allowing his girlfriend to present false evidence in court to support her injunction against me — which, fortunately, was overturned when I presented the truth.

Bizarre is a word a friend used to describe the situation. It’s fitting. Most of the people who know us both well can’t believe the things that have been going on — the things he’s been doing purposely to torment me for the past few months. It’s beyond simple marital infidelity and betrayal. It’s a systematic attempt to wear me down so I accept the absurd settlement proposal he insists on presenting to me and my lawyers.

And it hurts. It hurts because I remember what our lives were like for 29 years. I remember the good times and the bad times. Learning and doing things together. Traveling all over the country. Sharing the excitement of good news and achievements. Crying together at his dad’s funeral. Walking hand in hand on beaches and city streets. Cooking and cleaning and making homes together. Sitting across the table from each other at mealtime. Making plans. Making love.

I remember all of that. Doesn’t he?

I could never to do him what he’s done to me these past nine months. Never!

And I’m left wondering: How can he do this to me? How can he do this to us?

How does love turn to hate? How can he show such utter disregard for the woman he spent half his life with?

And that’s why I cry every day. I cry because I just don’t understand. I cry because I know I’ll never understand.

The Intent Makes it Worse

One of the most painful aspects of what my husband has done to me is the fact that he knows my parents are divorced and he knows why they split and he knows how I feel about it. He knows the emotional toll it’s taken on me and my siblings and how we all feel about cheating on spouses.

So never in my wildest dreams did I think my husband would do to me what my father did to my mother nearly 40 years ago.

But there is a difference here, subtle as it might be. It has to do with intent.

You see, I believe that my father had an affair because he was young and bored and wanted a little excitement in his life. I don’t think he actively went looking for a new wife. I think the affair probably just “happened” and he went with it because it made his life interesting. Sex with a younger woman, an escape from family life. I don’t think he ever intended his extramarital activities to destroy his family.

My husband, however, was actively looking for a replacement for me. He dated at least two women within a two month period before finding a replacement and promptly asking for a divorce. He intended from the start to dump me for someone else. He wouldn’t divorce me without a replacement lined up because he simply isn’t brave enough to live life on his own, no matter how unhappy he might be with his relationship. And, at age 56, he probably realized that his options would be limited so he took the first suitable replacement he could find, a woman who just happened to be 8 years older than him and even more desperate to secure a mate.

So although what my father did was bad, what my husband did was far worse.

Misleading me by making me think he wanted to stay together — even while he was shopping for my replacement — is despicable.

There’s More than One Victim

I think that’s what’s affecting my family — my mom, sister, stepdad, and brother — so badly. You see, it’s not just me who’s traumatized by what he’s done (and doing) to me. It’s also them.

As my mom said more than a few times, he didn’t just betray me. He betrayed all of us.

Family PhotoMy family loved him as a member of the family. My mother and stepdad thought of him as a son. My sister and brother thought of him as a brother — hell, my brother was still a kid when I brought him home for the first time. They all loved him and trusted him, probably just as much as I did.

I still remember the day, not long after we met, when I talked to my mother on the phone. “I think this is the one,” I told her. She was thrilled. We never thought he would be the one to shatter my heart and leave my life in shambles 29 years later.

Worse yet, knowing firsthand what I’m going through, my mom and stepfather are being forced to revisit the feelings they had when their spouses cheated on them. My mom is now talking about things that happened years 40 years ago, things she’s never told me, things that make me understand how much pain she endured while she was trying to rebuild our lives.

No parent wants to see their kid go through the same painful experience they suffered through. My mother has been losing sleep since all this began; it’s been affecting her health, too. Many times, when some new shit hits the fan in my life, I hold off on telling her about it until things settle down again. No need to make things worse.

Both my mother and sister are also angry about the way he’s betrayed all of us. My stepdad, who had a very strong connection with him — they used to hang out and talk or do little projects whenever they were together — doesn’t want to talk about it at all. Neither does my brother. I know it hurts all of them when they see or hear me cry.

Divorcing me because of irreconcilable differences is one thing. But cheating on me, lying about it, and then tormenting me for months afterwards?

How can he do this to us? None of us can explain it.

An Unusual Question from my Friends

There’s one more topic to cover in this blog post before I wrap it up and dry my eyes. It’s a question I’ve gotten from a number of friends.

Was my husband jealous of my friends?

You see, the vast majority of my friends are men: tech people, editors, pilots, winemakers, the list goes on and on. Even when we first met, my best friend was a guy — although personally, I think he was gay. In general, I find guys more interesting than women — they like to do more interesting things. Most women seem so hung up on petty things like gossip and shopping and getting their hair and nails done. Or family things like school or their kids or their grandkids. That stuff simply doesn’t interest me. Even my few female friends aren’t interested in that stuff. Most of them have mostly male friends, too.

So the question is, was my husband jealous of my friends? Did he think I was sleeping around?

Before all this crap began, I would have said, no, of course not! After all, I trusted him and I assumed he trusted me. Given my family history and my feelings about cheating on spouses, it was out of the question for me to even think about such a thing.

But now that I know he was untrustworthy, I can only wonder if he thought the same about me. After all, if he thought cheating was okay, did he think that I thought the same thing?

Was my husband jealous of my friends? At this point, I honestly don’t know.

But I do know this: I was faithful to my husband throughout our relationship. I never slept with another man. I never wanted to.

Even now that our relationship is over, I’m finding it tough to even think about sleeping with someone else. It just doesn’t seem right.

That’s just another thing I need to get over as I rebuild my life.

A Visit with Grandma

Real life turned to fiction from my files.

The following is a “short story” I wrote back in 1989. My sister might remember it; I’m pretty sure she read it back then. It’s a fictionalized account of a typical visit to my grandmother’s house in New Jersey. Out of all the things I wrote back then, this was one of my favorites. I found it earlier this month while cleaning out and packing up the papers in a closet.

My grandmother died about 11 years ago at the age of 89. Even on her death bed in the hospital she was looking ahead — “I’m going to be 90,” she said proudly to one of her visitors when asked how old she was. She was a hard-working woman who had a tough life. One of nine children, she began working in a garment factory in the Bronx when she was 15, lived through the Depression, bore two children eight years apart, had an alcoholic husband who later was paralyzed by a stroke, and worked until she was in her 70s. She was a simple woman with a minimal education who could do all kinds of mathematical calculations in her head.

I have her to thank for my work ethic, which has always convinced me that people who work hard (and smart) are rewarded for their efforts.

This is her birthday. She would have been 101 years old today.

I’m typing the 2,700 words of this story into my blog to help archive it in a safe place and share it with blog readers. I hope you enjoy it.

– = o = –

A Visit with Grandma

by M. L. Langer

The house sits on the right side of the street, beside the others it has been sitting with for the past forty-five years. It is a small, squat ranch, with a concrete terrace out front. There are five others on the street that looked exactly like it when they were new, but years of landscaping and home improvements make them look more like cousins now than the siblings they once were. This house has a dark green awning over the terrace — the stoop, your grandfather used to call it — and bright white aluminum siding. The driveway is straight and short; a rectangular piece of concrete with an irregular texture left on it from the sweeping broom that smoothed it down before it was left to harden. The grass is rich green and perfectly trimmed and, although it is the height of autumn and there are a number of trees in the yard, very few leave litter the lawn. Instead, they are piled neatly at the curb, waiting for the noisy vacuum truck to come by during the week and take them away.

You park on the street and start down the driveway, walking past the three-year-old Buick parked on the pavement. You remember the car before this one: another Buick, a pale green Skylark that had been bought the same year your brother was born. You remember seeing your grandmother maneuver it to the curb in front of your house when she was taking driving lessons and you remember hitting your head on the metal frame around the back window when, years later, it was rear-ended on the highway while she was driving you and your sister to visit your grandfather in his nursing home. For years your grandmother had said she was going to replace it, but it wasn’t until your brother was in his last year of high school that you finally dragged her to the Buick dealer and made sure she left a deposit on a new one. She still talked about the old one, and how faithful it had been all those years.

The garage door is open and you go inside, right up to the door in the back. You knock loudly, then open it, then shout into the house so as not to startle the woman you know is inside. The television on the kitchen counter is on, showing a commercial for a series of home improvement books; the announcer’s voice is blaring into the empty room. As you turn down the volume, your shout is answered by a voice coming from back toward the bedrooms. You wait, pulling off your gloves and jacket, and your grandmother appears, talking a mile a minute about how she was just getting ready to do some work in the yard.

You kiss her hello and ask why her house is so cold. Don’t you have the heat on? you want to know.

It’s on low, she tells you. Are you cold? I can turn it up.

But then she goes to the television and turns up the volume a little and starts telling you about how much trouble she had getting her neighbor to start her lawn mower for her the day before. In the middle of a sentence, she stops suddenly and asks you if you want tea. You say that would be nice and she goes over to the stove where a kettle is waiting. She fills it at the sink, now talking about a birthday party she is going to later on for one of the girls at work. You watch her put the pot on the stove, then turn on the gas beneath it. The automatic lighter clicks twice before the gas comes to life. She stops talking long enough to concentrate on lowering the flame, then starts up again, now about your mother and how she called just the night before. You sit down at the kitchen table and listen with one ear; you know that if you miss something important, you’ll get a chance to catch it later on.

While she talks and busies herself with a ceramic tea pot, you look at her carefully. She is a very short, stout woman, with an almost barrel shape to her. She is wearing one of her sweatsuits, this one black. The pants are too long and bag up around her ankles, the top is comfortably loose around her big chest and stomach. She has short blonde hair with silver gray roots. Her nose is long and hooked at the end; if it were green and had a wart, it would look just like the one on a witch. When you look at the face around it, the cliché wrinkled with age comes to mind. You remember all the times she told you she was going to get a face lift and how, each time, she’d pull the skin up and away from her face with her fingertips. It had always amazed you just how much younger she would look. But although she could well afford the expense, you knew she’d never do it.

From the sink, she asks you if you heard from your father lately. You tell her you haven’t. She tells you that she drove past his house a week ago and saw that he’d cut down another tree. Then she starts talking about one of the trees in her yard and about how many leaves come off it each fall. She tells you that she’s thinking of cutting it cut down. She asks you if you know who she can call about it and you tell her you don’t. You tell her to keep the tree, that it shades a quarter of the yard in the summertime. You tell her that if she needs help in the yard, you can come by with the blower. She tells you that one of her neighbors has a blower, then comes to the table with two cups and spoons and starts talking about the new menus they got at work and how much the price of a hot dog has gone up to. She tells you she doesn’t understand why people eat there because it’s so expensive.

You watch her go over to the cabinet under the television set and open it, talking the whole time. She bends over to get out some napkins, then asks if you want some cookies. You tell her you don’t, that you’re really not hungry, and watch her come back to the table with a package of Peek Freans anyway, now talking about how she went to pick up a few things at the supermarket earlier that morning. She tells you that she bought two bags of Halloween candy for the kids in the neighborhood and would you like to take some home with you? Before you can tell her you wouldn’t, she starts telling you about the time when your mother came to the elementary school to watch you and your sister in the Halloween parade and a man from the newspaper took a picture of her and your baby brother, who was wearing a Mighty Mouse costume. On Wednesday, when the paper came out, the picture was right on the front page. You remember the event well; you were about ten years old when it happened. You remember how your mother had drawn whiskers on his face with her eyebrow pencil. You remember the little mouse ears she’d sewn onto a sweatshirt hood. You just don’t remember what your costume had been that year.

Restless, you get up and walk over to the stove to turn up the flame under the tea kettle. Your grandmother is bending over the cabinet again, looking for something else while she tells you about the birthday party she’s going to later that night. It’s a surprise party, she tells you, and the birthday girl’s roommate is throwing it. She’s going to be twenty-two. She straightens from the cabinet with a package of the same brand of raisin cookies you’d been eating at her house for years and tells you about how the girl graduated from college in May but couldn’t find a job as a teacher so she still works at the store. She tells you that she doesn’t understand why girls go to school to be teachers when there isn’t enough jobs for them and the pay is bad anyway. She tells you that she tells all her friends at work about you and about how you’re a CPA. She pronounces the three letters clearly and separately, giving each equal importance. You try again to tell her that you’re not a CPA, that you’re just an accountant, but she’s not listening. She’s telling you how she told her friend Sally Connelly about your promotion and about the time she came to see your office.

She puts the package of cookies on a plate and sets it on the table while you walk over to the television and turn down the volume. Then you tell her you’ll be right back and you head down the hall to the bathroom, past the confused collection of valuable antiques and worthless nicknacks that sit side by side on tabletops and in glass-fronted cabinets all over the dining room and living room. On the way, you check the thermostat and find it set to fifty-five degrees. You turn it up to seventy, catching bits and pieces of her voice as she talks to you about your sister and her new apartment. Then silence as you close the bathroom door behind you.

When you come out, the tea kettle is whistling loudly and your grandmother is talking away, now about how she wants to have her bedroom repainted. As you come into the kitchen, she turns off the flame and removes the screaming kettle from the stove. She pours the water into the carefully prepared tea pot, telling you about how her mother used to dry out the tea bags so she could use them again. You open the refrigerator and retrieve a half gallon container of skim milk. You see the other things in there: cans of Shop Rite soda and eggs and blackened bananas. You ask her why she has beer in the refrigerator. She tells you she keeps it for when Sally Connelly and her boyfriend come over. Her boyfriend John likes beer. Then she starts telling you about what your mother had to say on the phone when she called the night before.

You sit down at the table, putting the milk down on the plastic tablecloth beside a tin tray of Sara Lee pound cake that she must have pulled out of the freezer and sliced while you were in the bathroom. She comes over with the tea pot, which is now wearing a crocheted sweater your mother calls a tea cozy. You look at her hands as she pours your tea, telling you the whole time about the trouble your mother and stepfather are having with the roof and how much money the men want to fix it. Her hands are small but broad, with short, crooked, big-knuckled fingers. Hands that have done a lifetime of work. Real work, not the writing and punching of calculator keys that your hands do. These hands helped raise sisters and brothers. They went to work in the sweater factory at age fifteen and didn’t retire from that work until they were age sixty two. They raised two children and kept a spotless house for a husband. They tended to that husband when he got ill, bathing and feeding him until the task of lifting him out of bed every morning became too much for them to handle and was turned over to more experienced, less loving hands. Now, five days a week, they go to work in the restaurant where they scrub tables and seat customers. They take care of the house and the lawn, they scoop leaves out of the gutters and pull down the heavy, dark green awning every year. They make tea for you when you visit and, when you leave, they take the dishes out of the dishwasher and wash them by hand.

She puts the pot down on the table, now telling you that she gave your brother fifty dollars before he went back to school because he needed a new pair of sneakers. She walks over to the sink to rinse off a knife that she used to cut the pound cake, talking about how big your brother is getting. You tell her to come sit down, that her tea is getting cold. Then you get up and look in the cabinet on the right of the stove for the sugar bowl. She opens the cabinet on the left and removes a jar filled with sugar packets from the restaurant, then comes back to the table with you.

You sit there drinking your tea, eating Peek Freans and partially frozen Sara Lee pound cake. She sits on the edge of the chair across from yours, a piece of pound cake in her gnarled fingers, telling you about your cousin in the Marines and how beautiful his two sons are. She tells you that she spoke to the older son last week while she was at your aunt’s house and that he told her he missed her and wanted her to come to North Carolina to visit him. You listen with one ear again, thinking about the chores you’ve got to do at home and wondering what you’re going to make for dinner.

When your second cup of tea is gone and she starts telling you about your mother’s phone call for the third time, you realize that it’s time to go. You rise and start clearing plates and cups from the table, putting them in the dishwasher. She tells you not to worry about it, that she’ll take care of it, that it’s no bother. Then she helps you, telling you about her boss and how much he thinks of her because she helps clear the tables when other hostesses don’t. She tells you that he gave her a raise and you wonder if it’s another raise or the same raise she told you about last time you visited. Then she starts telling you about your uncle and how he came by the store one day last week while she was working. You listen politely, pulling on your jacket and gloves. Then you thank her for the tea and bend down to give her a kiss on the cheek. The kiss comes with a hug and you hug her back, feeling how small and warm and soft she is and remembering, for a minute, all the times you slept over her house when you were younger and how she made farina and tea with lots of milk in it for you in the morning. You remember your grandfather, now long gone, and how he used to call you skinny melinks. You remember how you and your sister used to get into the old, green Buick with them on autumn days like today and go to the farm stand where you’d get apples and pumpkins.

Then the hug is over and you stand up straight again, telling her that you’ll invite her over for dinner soon. You go out the door and she follows you, talking about what nights she works and what nights it’s best for her to come. It’s cold out and she’s wearing only her sweatsuit and slippers. You can see wisps of vapor by her mouth when she talks. You tell her to go back inside, that it’s too cold to be out without a coat on, but she follows you down the driveway anyway, right to the end where your car is parked. As you get into the car, she bends down to collect a few leaves that lay on the grass near the curb, then points up to the tree in the side year, saying something that you can’t hear through the closed windows of the car. You start the engine and toot the horn once, then wave and drive away.


Grandma’s Table Photos

Lost photos, odd traditions.

I spent Christmas with my mom and stepdad at their St. Augustine, FL home. They do a great Christmas, with lot of decorations and gifts for everyone — even dinner guests! Very festive.

In addition to my sister and me, my mom invited some friends of hers: a couple slightly younger than me and their two college-age kids. That put a total of eight at their dining room table.

TableAs expected, my mom set the table with her good china and silver on a lace tablecloth. She also had gold plates under the plates, linen and gold napkins, and holiday napkin rings. And candles. The table looked beautiful.

It reminded me of holidays in years gone by. My grandmother, who passed away more than 10 years ago, always took a photo of the holiday table — no matter what holiday it was. She had an old Kodak 110 point-and-shoot film camera — the kind that took so-so photos because of its tiny negatives. She’d wait until the table was all set and then point the camera at it. Flash! An image was captured on film. Maybe she’d do a second one just to make sure. And if there was a turkey, it was always photographed before being carved, sometimes after staging it in the middle of that beautiful table.

The odd thing about this is that I don’t recall seeing any of the table photos she took. Come to think of it, I don’t recall seeing any photos she took.

Yesterday, I wondered about this. Did the photos ever exist? Had the film in her cameras been developed? Was there even film in the camera? If the pictures existed, what happened to them when she died?

These are questions I know I’ll never get answered.

But as I thought about it yesterday and I admired my mother’s beautiful table, I decided to take my own photo — sort of in memory of my grandmother and all those lost photos she took over the years.

I miss you, Grandma.