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Friday, July 21, 2017

(1) "IT'S LIKE QUICKSAND," HE GASPS.

      I am fortunate that my eighty-four-year-old ex‑husband’s wife not only doesn’t mind his making long‑distance calls to me but also calls me regularly herself to regale me with Ed’s latest mishap.
      For instance, Aliceann called recently with a familiar introduction: "You'll never guess what Edward has done now."
      She told me he had an earache, so he went to the doctor. The doctor dug around for a while and wrote out a prescription.
      “He just came out of the bathroom with a bottle in his hand," Aliceann continued.  "He said, `What's this?' I looked at the bottle. `Edward, that's the cat's medicine.'  He said, `I think I've been putting it in my ears.'"
      Aliceann looked in the basket on the bathroom counter, where Ed always tosses his keys so he won't forget where they are. She found the still-sealed bottle from Cunningham's Pharmacy.
     "Edward, this is your medicine. The other bottle is Jasmine's stool-hardener."
     My ex, who was on the other line, joined in.  “I called the doctor’s office and told the nurse what I’d done. She didn't seem concerned. In fact, she was laughing so hard, I thought she'd have a heart attack."
     Who but Ed would absent‑mindedly put the cat's stool hardener in his ear? A man who was capable fifty years ago of mistaking our little neighbor Mimi Dean for his daughter Vonnie, carrying her across the beach, and putting her in our rowboat, is capable of almost anything. All those times Ed was dining and dancing and who‑knows‑what‑ing with attractive ladies, he probably thought they were me. Why didn't he think of that excuse at the time? Maybe I'd have accepted it, and maybe we'd have lived happily ever after. But then there’d be no second wife in our lives entertaining me with the latest Eddiosyncracies.
     Now in her mid-sixties, Aliceann is a striking-looking woman, addicted to the chunky necklaces and bracelets and the large, exotic earrings that have been her trademark for as long as I’ve known her. She is tall and gangly, her dark eyes expertly fringed with mascara and eyeliner, her braided masses of salt-and-pepper hair wrapped up in a crown on her head. She wears long flowing blouses and slacks in browns, beiges, and gray, highlighted by her dramatic adornments. Sprays of smile wrinkles surround her eyes, and laugh wrinkles reflect her determination to grin and bear it, no matter how sorely she is tried by outrageous fortune.
PHOTO OF SECOND WIFE TAKEN BY FIRST WIFE
                                           AT  TIM’S COOKOUT IN 1988
     Not your shy, retiring type, Aliceann has never been accused of making an unceremonious entrance. Rather, she swoops into a room, gesticulating energetically, clanking gaily, like a slightly out-of-control gypsy on roller blades. Armed with an uncanny memory for names, faces, and entire family histories, she is a formidable rival for a life-of-the-party award.
    There was, for example, that night in July of 1988, when Ed was recuperating from quadruple-bypass heart surgery. After we visited him at Mass General Hospital, each of us holding one of his hands, I invited her to be my guest for dinner at the Cohasset Golf Club. As a long-time faithful member, I discovered that accompanying Aliceann to the club was like escorting a rock star.
     No sooner had we made our appearance than I was ignored, jostled, and all but trampled underfoot by a Triple-A onslaught, the Admirers of Aliceann Association, rushing to welcome her with hugs and kisses. Although she hadn’t seen them for several years, she warmly greeted each and every one by name. I stood there in awe, as she asked how this one’s real estate business was doing, that one’s Aunt Minerva, and the other one’s Labrador Retriever. Was Hoby still chewing up her upholstery or was she good dog now?
     At seventy-eight, I've often thought my whole life would have been different if I had been born with Aliceann’s gift for total recall. I wouldn’t be constantly embarrassing myself by mixing up names and faces, and resorting to an inadequate “Hi there” and sheepish smile to acquaintances I’d known for decades. My memory bank would be an empty vault if it weren't for my habit of recording events in journals and letters as fast as they happened. Ed claims my recall was altogether too meticulous during bumpy spells in our marriage, many of which occurred at the onset of my BTOM (bad time of the month)..
[Flashback]
February 18, 1956
     This morning I could feel a bad mood coming on. As my dear ones will testify, when I get in a bad mood I should be put in a padded cell for the duration. Recently, a more practical solution turned up in the form of some little pills recommended by Ed’s company doctor. He claimed they were helpful in relieving tension.
     Ed brought home a handful last month, and when my nerves began to jangle, I started taking two a day. It may have been the power of suggestion, but they seemed to work. I became so gentle and patient with my children, they asked me what was the matter. My attitude toward Ed was one of such loving understanding, an outsider would have sworn we weren’t married. I faced the usual daily emergencies with good humor. To show his appreciation, Ed gave me a corsage of camellias on Valentine’s Day. Instead of wanting to know what he’d been up to now, I thanked him. There was no getting around it, I was much nicer than I really am.
     But now I lay in bed thinking black thoughts and refusing to resort to the Disposition Pills. Maybe they were habit-forming. It would be a terrible thing if I couldn’t be agreeable without taking a pill first.
     All I needed was a little sleep.
     I envied Ed the way he could sleep. The way that man could sleep while I was wide awake was intolerable. I remember Mother telling me that Dad sensed it when she had insomnia, no matter how careful she was not to disturb him. “What’s the matter, honey bun? I can hear you thinking,” he would say sympathetically.
     When I have insomnia I could use a little husbandly sympathy myself. To make it easy for him, I didn’t even try to be quiet last night.
     “Ho-hum,” I said when the town clock struck 2:00. I up-heaved my blankets and rolled over with a thump, hitting my head on the bookcase headboard. The door rattled along its track like the Toonerville trolley. Not a sound from Ed.
     “Ouch!” I said lonesomely.
     There was a soft snore from the bed next to mine, followed by a breezy sigh. He must be dreaming it’s his birthday and he’s blowing out the candles. Snore, puff, snore , puff, snore, puff.
     I turned on the light and shined it on Ed’s face to see if he was just pretending. Snore, puff. I read a few more chapters of Marjorie Morningstar. I reached the point where Marjorie was on the brink of an exciting career and losing her virginity. She was twenty-one. At twenty-one, where had I been? Out in the laundry, washing diapers for his children.  What had my life been since then? More children and more diapers, and anyone who calls that an exciting career is a man.
     I dropped Marjorie Morningstar on the floor and switched out the light. My exciting career was dreaming about girls. Sigh, wolf whistle, sigh, wolf whistle. I stabbed him in the back with my forefinger.
     “Humph, flumph, hunh? Wassa matter, cancha sleep?”
     “Aren’t you the perceptive one. I haven’t closed an eye for hours, if you’re really interested.”
     “Z Z Z Z.”

     I look forward to sleeping late Sunday morning while the children get ready for Sunday School. This morning I wearily focused one eye on the clock and tried to make out the time without waking up. I heard Kathryn call from the foot of the stairs that it was after 8:30 and breakfast was nearly ready. If Vonnie would remember to rouse Teddy from his ivory tower on the third floor, I could go back to sleep.
     The harrowing thing is, sometimes she remembers and sometimes she doesn’t. Remembering is only half the battle. Ted is like his father; he can sleep through anything, especially the hour before Sunday school. On Saturdays he’s up and dressed with no prodding: basketball practice starts at nine.
     I drag myself from bed and call up the stairs, “Teddy, are you up?”
     “Yah,” comes the sleepy answer.
     “Well, come on down and get dressed right away or you’ll be late for Sunday school. Don’t forget to make your bed.”
     I close the windows and crawl back into bed. I wait for the sound of bare feet pounding down the stairs. Ten minutes later I get up and call Teddy again.
     “Yah, yah, I’m coming. You want me to make my bed, don’t you?”
     “Well, not from scratch, Teddy.”
     Back to bed. Bare feet pound down the stairs and into Timmy’s room, where the boys share a closet.
     As time passes, I know I’d better check on their progress. I rap on the door and look in. Timmy, in his underpants, is in the midst of a flying tackle.
     I blow my top. “Okay, you two, if you’re not ready to go downstairs in five minutes—teeth brushed, beds made, hair combed, faces washed—you’re both going to bed early tonight.”
     “Don’t we have to get dressed?” Timmy asks.
     “I mean it, now! I’m sick and tired of going through this same nonsense week after week, two big boys like you, what are you, babies? Well, if you’re babies, you can go to bed early like babies. From now on, either you kids are ready for breakfast at nine o’clock every Sunday or you go to bed early. Is that clear?”
     As I stomp out of the room Teddy mumbles something and Timmy says loyally, “She is not!”
     “I’m ready, Mummy,” Vonnie calls virtuously from the bathroom, where she is polishing her shoes.
     “Oh, goody for you!” says her older brother.
     “Vonnie!” I scold. “That’s not the right polish, look at the mess you’re making, what are you doing with Daddy’s polish?”
     “I like to open the can.”
     “Honestly, Vonnie, what a mess. You’ve got little bits of polish all over the floor. You’re stepping on it! No, don’t use the good towel! Put the can away and use the shoe polish in the bottle and don’t spill it. Besides, why are you wearing your school shoes instead of your patent leathers?”
     “Because my patent leathers don’t need polishing,” Vonnie says with patient eleven-year-old logic.
     “Vonnie, some rainy day you can polish all the shoes in the house. Now go put on your patent leathers, Kathryn is calling you for breakfast.”
     “Hey, Mummy, I can’t find any socks,” Timmy says.
     “There must be some in the laundry room. Take your shoes and go downstairs before your breakfast gets cold.”
     “I’m having cold cereal,” says Timmy, always ready for an argument.
     “Get going!”
     Ed is awake when I return to our room. “Honestly, those kids of yours are going to drive me out of my mind!” I say, glaring at him.
     “Why don’t you take a tranquilizer?”
     “Take a pill? It’s not me! It’s those kids! They’re irresponsible, inconsiderate, lazy, careless—“
     “Children.”
     I snatch open a bureau drawer and the handle falls off. “You see?”
     “Take a pill,” says Ed.
      Vonnie comes in, carrying a pad of paper.
     “What now, Vonnie,” I sigh.
     “I want to show you the picture I drew of you. I think it’s the best picture I ever drew.”
     “Not now, go down and have your breakfast.”
     “It’ll only take a minute,” she says, leafing through the pages. “Here it is—oh no, that’s not it, I’ll find it in a minute.”
     “For heaven’s sake, Vonnie!”
     “Oh, here it is. It’s a picture of you. Isn’t it good?”
     “Very good. Now run along.”
     She gives me a hug and runs downstairs. I look at the picture again. Under it is printed:  “My mother is a beautiful picture to me.”
     I put down the picture and go to the bathroom medicine cabinet. I take two tranquilizers.
     Breakfast might have been pleasant if I’d taken the pills sooner. I prepare our breakfast while Ed drives the children to Sunday school and picks up the Sunday papers. When he walks in, he throws his coat down on one of the dining room chairs.
     He does this every night of the week. When I’m not in a bad mood, my thought process is as follows: “The poor, tired boy! He works so hard at making a living for his family, he’s too exhausted to hang up his coat. What a privilege it is for me to hang it in the closet for him.” I put the coat away with a tender smile of understanding. (I know I’m sincere about this because I don’t wait for him to come downstairs and see how understanding I’m being.)
     When I’m in a bad mood, there’s nothing that irritates me more than this habit of throwing his coat on a chair. “For Pete’s sake,” I say to myself, “how am I supposed to train the children to be neat if their own father doesn’t set them a good example! Suppose we all tossed our coats on a chair, wouldn’t the house look lovely.  I’ll bet it takes him longer to walk into the dining room and drop his coat than it would to open the closet door and hang it up.”
     This morning, while ostentatiously transferring Ed’s coat to the closet, I express these thoughts aloud. Ed looks surprised and promises to set a good example hereafter.
     Then there’s the way he eats his grapefruit. Usually I don’t notice this because I’m busy tackling mine. But today I watch and listen with distaste.  Can’t he take a spoonful without that silly gasp? He goes after it as if someone were going to steal it from him. After slurping up the last section, he squeezes the grapefruit over the bowl, which he then raises to his lips, gulping the juice with the gusto of a parched water buffalo.
     “If you could see yourself!” I exploded. “Would you eat grapefruit that way if you were having breakfast with Marilyn Munroe?”
     Ed looked thoughtful. “No,” he said. “I’d have her feed it to me.”

     For thirteen years there was never a dearth of stories from Aliceann about my ex‑spouse. But then the tenor of the calls from Florida shifted to a minor key. There wasn’t much to laugh about, although we all took a vow to maintain a sense of humor no matter what happened.  Ed was eighty-two when he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 1997, but it was a year before he developed alarming symptoms, such as falling on the floor when his legs collapsed unexpectedly. He told me he had installed handholds all over their house in Palm Beach Gardens and could often grab one when he started to fall, but failed to catch himself at least two or three times a week.  I asked him if he is still able to enjoy his pool.
     “Not really,” he says. “I can fall into it with the greatest of ease, but I enjoy that the way I used to enjoy getting snow in my boots. When I go in voluntarily, I’m able to hang onto the sides, but I can’t kick my legs the way I used to.” My heart aches for him.  Ed had been a champion swimmer at Wesleyan and right up until the time of his illness was a golfer with an inimitable style.
[Flashback]
Although he’s creeping up on seventy, Ed is as dauntless, bold, and calamity prone as ever.  Take away his boat and his airplane with all their potential for misfortune, and you’d think the man might welcome a spell of tranquility.  But no.  Even amid such serene surroundings as a golf course, my ex seeks out adventure where lesser men might hang back.
     Consider the new water hazards that some diabolical engineer claimed would solve the drainage problem at the golf club. They wind picturesquely across fairways that could now be called un-fairways.  The pro shop is doing a lively business in twenty‑five dollar retrievers because there’s no way the average golfer isn’t going to lose a lot of balls in those damn ditches.
     But who ever accused Ed of being average?  He was not about to sacrifice any of his 25‑cent second‑ hand balls (he kindly keeps me supplied, too) if he has anything to say about it.
     Not long ago we were on the fifth hole when I hit my second shot into the ditch.  We’d had a lot of rain, so there was more than the usual amount of muddy water for the ball to conceal itself in.  Poking around with a golf club, Ed gives an exclamation of triumph when he spots it.
     “Careful, dear, the bank looks slippery,” I said, as he started over the edge.  In his hurry to join me, he was wearing sneakers instead of cleated golf shoes.  One foot skids, then the other, and down the bank he slides, looking rather like an otter, only less playful.
     Not neglecting to rescue my ball, Ed clambered up the bank and stood there, his shirt and pants covered with mud.
     “You go on without me,” he says.  “I’ll walk back to the club and go home.”
     It was such a beautiful, balmy October day, easily in the seventies, that I hated to see him leave.       
     “Gee, honey, it’s so warm out, I bet that mud’ll dry right out.  Do you really have to go home?  Couldn’t you keep on playing?”
     “Okay, why not?” he said agreeably.  We continued on to the next hole where there was a foursome of men on an adjoining tee.   It wasn’t hard for them to guess what happened to Ed.
     “And he was going after my ball,” I reported.
     “You must be pretty grateful,” one of the golfers said.
     “Oh, I am.  But I thought it was a shame he didn’t stay in there and find a few more while he was at it.  Couldn’t convince him, though.”
     The golfer studied me thoughtfully.  “And your relationship to him is . . .?”
     “Well—um—“(I could not tell a lie), “I’m his ex‑wife.”
     The foursome looked at Ed as if to say, “No wonder!” and went on their way.
     Then there was the adventure that took place on the twelfth hole.  This one was almost as scary as boat‑sinkings or plane‑crashings.  It started peaceably enough when two elderly ladies let us younger folks go through on the eleventh, not knowing about Ed’s ball‑hunting digressions. 
     Sure enough, on the twelfth tee he hits two drives into the new drainage ditch, a serpentine beauty about four feet deep with sheer sides and sludgy depths.  Ed finds one of his flyaway treasures—it landed in the ditch and is barely visible in the murky water.  He is able to retrieve it by getting down on all fours and coaxing it toward him with his sand wedge.  While I watch him, it occurs to me that if I had a hidden camera and walked around taking pictures of golfers in strange positions, at least ninety percent of them would be my ex-husband.
     The October sun is sinking fast, and the ladies are finishing up on the eleventh green, but Ed continues his search for the second ball.  He spies it wedged in the mud on the far side of the bank.
     “Come on, Ed, it’s not a gold nugget,” I say.  “The ladies are catching up with us.”
     “They haven’t even left the green yet.  I’m going to get that ball,” Ed says with a determined look.  At this point, a patient and practical man would walk back to the cart path and cross the bridge over the ditch, not forgetting to bring his clubs with him.  Then he would walk to the point where his ball was wedged in the mud, use his retriever, and continue on with only slightly dampened spirits.
     Ed neither patient, practical, nor the owner of a retriever, decides to take a short cut.  There are two pipes extending across the ditch, each about four inches in diameter and a foot apart.  He is wearing his golf shoes on this occasion. the cleats designed for clinging to sand, not metal.      
     Nevertheless, Ed sets out while I observe his acrobatics, mesmerized.  Hand alternating with foot, he teeters across the pipes like a chimpanzee in a circus act.  He almost loses his balance, but at the last minute, manages a lunge to terra firma.   This challenge behind him, it’s a cinch to lie flat on his stomach and squirm over the edge of the bank until he can reach down and pry out the embedded ball.
     “The ladies are coming up to the tee,” I say. “Should I wave them through?”
     “No, they’ll hold us up.  I’m ready, let’s go.”
     Then Ed realizes his clubs are still on the other side of the ditch.  This was my fault.  I should have gotten them for him, but I was too spellbound by his performance to leave in the middle.  Moreover, I wasn’t sure which side he would end up on—the near side, the far side, or the inside. 
     Now, before I can stop him from tempting fate again, Ed is making the return trip across the pipes.  Midway he sways from side to side, struggling to maintain his equilibrium.  The cleats slip, and down he goes.
     Wringing my hands and whimpering, “Oh dear, oh Ed,” I watch helplessly as he tries to get to his feet.  It can’t be done, it seems.  Hanging onto the pipe with one hand, he rolls from prone to supine, making futile attempts to stand up.   His visor slips off and floats downstream. 
     “It’s like quicksand!” he gasps.  “I can’t seem to get any purchase.”
     What can I do, I think frantically.  I have a vision of myself sitting on the pipes with my legs hanging down like a sort of ladder.  Then I see that the two ladies, no doubt having noticed Ed’s sudden disappearance and my anguished pantomime, are walking towards us.  Maybe the three of us would be strong enough to haul him out.  I have a feeling he wouldn’t like that, though.
     Ed is finally making progress.  He has managed to clutch the pipe with both hands and is dragging his mud‑soaked body along its length.  When he reaches dry land and crawls up the bank I hear him mutter, “This damn game.  Never again!”
     The ladies, relieved to see that Ed was safe, return to the twelfth tee.  I know better than to suggest we finish our round.  Looking like a chocolate-covered gingerbread man, he leaves for home and a soothing shower.  By the time I arrive for dinner, an hour later, my ex is downright chipper.  Doesn’t remember saying Never Again. 
     “It’s supposed to be beautiful tomorrow; how about meeting me at two o’clock?” he proposes.  The man’s recuperative powers are almost as amazing as the feats that cause him to need them.
     The next day I notice Ed has a retriever, but he didn’t shell out any twenty‑five dollars for it.  He found an old broom handle and taped a rusty tea strainer to the end of it.  Worked fine.
 ~~~
      In my ex-wifely wisdom, I figure Ed’s uneasy mixture of saving pennies and spending big bucks is rooted in his childhood experience as the only son of an Irish immigrant. The luxuries of his mature years—swimming pools, boats, airplanes, a beach-front house in Cohasset, a house on a canal in Fort Lauderdale—are a far cry from the poverty of his youth. He even found himself in an orphanage for a while, never understanding why. His mother later insisted he was there for only a few weeks while some family problems got straightened out, but to him it seemed like a year.   
     When he finally was collected and brought home, not only his home but also his name was anchored firmly on the wrong side of the tracks—as was made abundantly clear by the mothers of girls he got crushes on. He couldn’t date them, and certainly couldn’t go to dances at the Newton Center Women’s Club. No Irish wanted. He still recalled all to well the loneliness and isolation that led to his resolution to become rich enough to buy anything he desired, including acceptance.
     After graduating from Moses Brown and Weslyan, Ed set out to conquer the business world, armed with a persuasive personality and an oft-repeated repertoire of platitudes that would one day be a source of head-shaking irritation to his older son (You can’t make a silk purse . . . Promise him anything but   . . Sufficient unto the day . . . If wishes were horses . . . and of a competitor’s office: I'd like to be a fly on that wall.)
     There were lean years at first, but his perseverance, his gift of gab, and his belief in himself enabled him to accomplish most of his aspirations. Now he feels as if everything he’s achieved is giving way as fast as his legs—not that the collapse keeps him from being almost as obstinate, willful, and waggish as ever.

2 comments:

  1. Dear Barbara -

    Just stopping by to enjoy the company, and accompanying photos. Can hear the jangle of Aliceann's bracelets, got a good laugh at the impromptu mud bath, and puckered up at the grapefruit story...

    Thanks for painting these wonderful pictures with your words!

    Love always,

    rhapsody

    ReplyDelete
  2. Dear Rhapsody,

    Can you believe I just found this comment well over a year since you made it? I had been feeling rather blue and discouraged for various reasons, and your encouragement gave my spirits a huge lift.

    Thank you, dear friend, brightening my day and life.

    Love right backatcha,

    Barbara

    ReplyDelete