Saturday, November 19, 2005

My Half Century: Part Two

1985 - 1995
It occurs to me that I've set myself an impossible task. Why did I ever think I could write about ten years a day? Without any notes, for heaven's sake! What arrogance.

I've got half a bookshelf full of Henry Miller's books, and those only cover a few years in his life.

The best I can hope for is to hit the high points as they come to me.

We got married in April 1985. Mary went to Korea in 1995. We divorced in 2000.

Since I have said that the Murrah Building bombing signals the de facto end of our marriage - as I look back through my 20/20 glasses - it's fair to say this decade corresponds with the length of my marriage.

We had met in 1983, or so. I was in charge of the music for our mission church, and I hired Mary to be our church organist. Before long, we were doing social things together, and not long after that our social outings became dates.

Within a year and a half, we were engaged. I insisted on a year long engagement.

In hindsight - with those 20/20 glasses - I don't know what difference I thought that year would make. We were already sexually active, and fairly well enmeshed. For example, when Mary's electricity was cut off, I ran extension cords out my window to her apartment (immediately below me) so she could keep her fans going.

I should mention that Mary is ten years older than I am - she's slightly over 60 as I write this. She had been previously married, and had two teenage boys, who were just a couple of years apart in age. As a single mom, it was sometimes challenging to make ends meet - thus the electricity cut off.

Economically, I was doing slightly better than she. I was the Receiving Room Supervisor at the Infernal Bookstore. When Mary heard "supervisor", she thought I must be doing fairly well. I was free enough with my money when we went out to give her that impression. But the truth was that I had a subsistence life, with most of my money going toward entertainment.

I was living in a three-story house that had been converted into apartments. The most interesting characters lived there - folk on the fringe, like me. The interracial couple across the hall. The guitarist downstairs. The lost hippy on the top floor. And me, also lost in my own way.

When I moved in, Diane's mother lived on the ground floor. She was an alcoholic, drinking peppermint schnapps every night to get her little buzz on. She was there about a year and a half after I moved in, then she moved to a house closer to Diane. Mary moved in not longer after, to be closer to me.

As I say, we were engaged within a year and a half after that.

The first few years of marriage were fine. Many people, when they heard we'd been married one or two years, would say, "Oh, you're still on your honeymoon." It's only in retrospect I understand what they meant. We worked together to manage the boys. That common task helped keep us together.

I think I did fairly well by the boys. I asked them, as well as Mary's parents, for her hand. I told them early on that I wasn't their substitute dad, big brother, or pal. I was there to support their mom, and to enforce her rules.

Problem was, they hadn't had any rules enforcer before.

They pretty much did their thing, and we did our best to keep them centered, going to school and all that. They were both bad about curfew. We finally sat the oldest, J, down and told him if he couldn't even call his mom so she wouldn't worry, he would need to move out. He moved out.

B, the younger son, was having serious drug problems. I saw a bit of my prior behavior (which you will hear about in a couple of days) in him. I had compassion. But I also recognized how powerless we were over the self-destructive pattern.

I forget how or why, but he soon moved out as well.

We now longer had a steady common project.

It took a while for things to start unthreading, but there were warning signs.

Mary had trouble holding a job. There were two things I noticed happening: she always thought she knew better than management, or was too good for the job, and the resentment would come through. The other thing was how she would decide someone in the office was out to get her, and try to form alliances against that person. Problem was, she was trying to form alliances against someone these people knew better than her.

Eventually, she would create her own reality: most people in the office would not trust her, perceiving her as a manipulator or back-stabber. Sooner or later, most in the office would indeed think she needed to be somewhere else.

I had a steady job, at the Infernal Bookstore, but it was a dead end. It became even worse when it was bought by a national chain (one parodied in You've Got Mail). The boss was pretty hard on me. And I'd come home complaining every night. Instead of taking my side, Mary would tell me I just needed to play the game.

Christ! I was trying to play the game. For a full year, it seemed like nothing I did was right. And besides, shouldn't the wife say a few supportive things rather than take the opposing side?

She sure as hell wasn't playing the game at her jobs! If she had, she would have kept the jobs.

Things fell more and more apart.
Then there's the terrible year. November '91, Mary's mother died. February '92, Padre died. March or April '92, Mary's brother Rob died. We were buffeted by those tragedies. Lost our footing. All that may have signaled the beginning of the end.

Somehow I survived the change in management at the Infernal Bookstore. I simply put my head down and decided I would prove that manager wrong. Not sure I really did; I simply outlasted him. I was never bad enough to get fired. And he was relocated to torture another employees at another acquisition of the Minor Demiurge.

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