Monday, June 19, 2017


October 13, 1972
Framingham, Massachusetts
To Jack
Querido mio—
I am in the Trailways terminal, waiting for a bus that will take me away from my Jack. Bad bus! A talkative fellow traveler named Henry has just excused himself, explaining that he is going to the salon de caballeros. Why he chooses to visit a beauty shop for cowboys at this moment is beyond me, but it is helpful of him to start conversing in Spanish so soon. By the time we get to Acapulco I should be fluent, no es verdad?
     I’m sorry I missed you when I phoned goodbye this morning. The receptionist offered to take my message, but how could I say “I love you” to a woman I’ve never met?
     I’m in room 6R in the Holiday Inn at Kennedy Airport.
     “What did she pack in that suitcase?” my neck bone complains to my shoulder bone, “--the Westwood Public Library?”
     Henry invited me to join him for a nightcap. I declined, saying I was going to take a shower and write a letter (with my pen that writes under water).
     I wish I’d remembered to bring my book of magic spells with me so I could conjure up something that looks like you and smells like English Leather. Mmmmm!
October 18, 1972
El Presidente
To Jack,
     After such a long separation are you still—yes, of course you are. Now that we have that settled,
I’m riding on a bus with a guide named Pepe. If we had driven straight through, we could have reached our Acapulco in three hours, but thanks to Pepe, we made three stops, ostensibly to use the facilities and have refreshments. In truth, it was to allow more of our Yankee dollars to be extracted by the owners of tourist traps.
     Henry and I are sort of paired off. He sits next to me on the bus, consults with me on “our” plans for the next day, and follows me around when I’m trying to take pictures. Mexicans are camera-shy, and it’s hard enough to charm them into cooperating without Helpful Henry at my elbow. So far I haven’t had the heart to be rude to someone who means so well. He’s all right, the way scrambled eggs without salt are all right.
     I plan to take a parachute ride on the back of a speedboat if I don’t lose my nerve. I talked with a girl who had just floated down to the beach (I was taking pictures of her descent and had to dodge to keep from being landed on), and she said it took her two days and three nights to work up her courage. It would be a sure way to lose Henry for a while.

November 4, 1972
     My shock value is beginning to fade. Now when I come out with a word or expression Jack never heard outside the navy, my name is underlined only once. I rather miss the exclamation points, but the grin he gives me compensates.
     My climactic moment was the day he said his first bad word. That was one for the memory book.
     Discussing how he stormed out after a fight we had last week, he said, “I got home at twenty minutes of ten, still all shaved and fresh. It was the type of thing you say `shit’ to. Like the little pig:
`shit-shit-shit all the way home’”
     Our relationship may sound idyllic, but of course it isn’t. My biases are: Darwin yes, God maybe, Nixon no. His are the reverse. He is a hawk, I am a dove. I’m for McGovern, he’s for Whatsisname. Whether it’s politics, social issues, or the temperature of the water in the shower (he likes it hot, I like it scalding), we argue oftener than we agree. He is adamant about one thing. He wants to keep seeing me, no matter how misguided my thinking is.          
     There’s one other problem with Jack. He makes me laugh so much that the creases around my eyes are deepening. I’ve warned him that he’s got to quit the funny business, or it’s all over between us. But the man is irrepressible.
     On a cold morning he said, I wish I had a bedpan.”
     “Do you want me to get your pajama top?”
     "My pajama top? Oh, you mean the one with the pocket?”
     I giggle like a ten-year-old. “Jack, you’re so ridiculous! I love you!”
     “Good. Next time someone asks me, “What in hell does she see in you?” I’ll explain, `It’s because I’m so ridiculous.’”
December 4, 1972
     Jack would appreciate a wife. Someone to have dinner waiting for him, keep his house neat, do his laundry, darn his socks. Damn his socks! I love him too much to let marriage in through the door while courtship slips out the back window. The excitement of seeing each other again after a few days’ separation, the shared jokes, the touching—all destroyed by a scrap of paper that would make an honest woman of me. No!
     Jack accepts our part-time affair on my terms, albeit ruefully. “Some fellows can settle back occasionally when they’re seeing a lady. Others never can.”
     Not as long as I stay single, they can’t. I said to him last night, “Jack, I’ll bet we wouldn’t make love nearly so often if we were married.”
     "That’s the best reason for not getting married I ever heard," said Jack.
December 10, 1972       
     Knowing nothing about Jack except that there is a Jack, Ed refers to him as “that marshmallow.” He admits he’s jealous and unhappy. My better self is sorry that he is suffering. My baser self isn’t. Both selves feel guilty that I am having so much fun. Whenever Jack and I are laughing or making love, a small corner of my psyche is aware of Ed. I wish he could find happiness, too.
     I have agreed to go to Fort Lauderdale with him for the holidays.
December 12, 1972
     Mother invited me to lunch so we could say goodbye before she leaves for Florida. She was waiting for me in her doorway still radiant and beautiful at seventy-nine.
     I talked of nothing but Jack, of course.
     “Last night we were holding hands when his daughter called. He talked with her, still holding on to my hand. Then he needed a pencil for a phone number. Would he part with my hand during this maneuver, even for a minute? No, Mom, he tucked it under his leg, like this, as if telling it, `Don’t go away, I’ll be right back.’”
     Mom liked Jack’s definition of bittersweet. I was talking about a colorful arrangement I’d seen and asked him if he knew what bittersweet was. “Sure I do,” he said. “It’s that stuff you pick up off the floor after it’s dried out.”
     And his response when I lovingly referred to his soft, caressable arms. “Soft arms? Will you please give me something I can use? How can I tell that to the guys at the office?”
     I kissed her good-bye and wished her a safe trip.
December 15, 1972
     I didn’t know I would miss her so much. I didn’t know how much I still needed her. Mother died of a heart attack day before yesterday.
     Ed called from Detroit and was stunned by my news. “Oh no, not your mother! I loved your mother!"
     I calmly made the funeral arrangements. Then, last night, the enormity of my loss hit me. My reaction was to turn, not to Jack, but to the comrade I had known for thirty-two years. PLEASE COME, I NEED YOU. And I clung to him through the long, dark hours, lamenting, lamenting.
December 27, 1972
     For the umpteenth time I have read Mother’s poem, “The Measure,” and am struck by how poignantly it applies to her, as well as to the beloved person she had in mind, my father.
     The strong warm hand, the broad and steady shoulder,
     The face you love grown dearer, kinder, older,
     The comrade-glance, the peace, the burden-sharing,
     The well-loved voice, the touch, the tender caring . . .
     O, you who have this, guard it well and treasure it,
     For only when you've lost it can you measure it!
B  You know what I want you to tell me again? The story of your being on the train, and how you tripped over somebody’s suitcase.
J  Yeah, the stupid jerk.. He’s left it out in the aisle, you know? You get up from the outside seat, you’re expecting to start down the aisle. Naturally when I first get up, I can’t imagine why I’m falling all of a sudden. You don’t think to yourself, somebody left a suitcase and I’m tripping over it. All you know is you can’t budge. Jesus, it was unbelievable. I was so goddamn mad I couldn’t even look at him. If I’d looked at him I think I would have strangled him.
B  And meanwhile you’re falling on the lady.
J  I’m on the lady. I can’t get off the lady. Did you ever have your weight shift so much that you just can’t get off what you’d like to? Her hat was unbelievable . . .
B  You knocked off her hat?
J  No, I flattened it.
B  You told me she seemed to be upset.
J : Well, she was moving when I was on her. I could feel her trying to get away. She wasn’t happy.
B  And you said you were torn between the two emotions of anger at the guy and dismay over what you were doing to the woman.
J  Really, the most important thing was getting off her. My weight had shifted so much, and there was so much of it on her, there was no way of getting me off without pushing down on her. There was nothing else to get leverage on. That’s probably why she was upset.
B  And were your feet still flung over the suitcase?
J  Yes, my feet were all fouled up. That’s what banged up my knee and everything.
B  Aww.
J:  Right here, see? This was swollen, right here. (B kisses spot to make it better.) I was kind of worried about it.
B  Poor Jack. So you never looked at the lady and you couldn’t look at the man . . .
J  No, I didn’t look at the lady. All I saw was the mess of her hat. It was higher up on her head before I arrived.
B  You could write that story and send it somewhere.
J  I could like hell.
B  Maybe I should try to write it up.  Ed read the article I wrote about you, and in one of the early paragraphs—I tend to exaggerate—I describe you as being a Don Quixote-ish type, etcetera, etcetera.
J  Where’s the exaggeration there?
B  I was writing about my dancing lessons and I said, “He wasn’t the much-younger-than-I suitor that I had daydreamed about flaunting in front of my wandering husband’s wondering eyes. He was a Don Quixote-ish type who didn’t know how to dance--that’s not true, but that’s so that later on I can say, “Goodbye Samba, Mambo, Tango.”
J  What do you mean, “he didn’t know how to dance, that’s not true?”
B  You do know how to dance.
J  I don’t know how to dance, so don’t finish that way.
B  Well, anyhow, then I went on to say, “I worshipped the ground he stumbles around on. The first thing he says as he falls through the door is, “When am I going to see you again?” Ed picked up on that and told me he tried it on Claire. The minute he saw her, he said, “When am I going to see you again?” Then he laughed, and she said, “What are you laughing about?”
J  I really meant it when I said that, you know? I really did. It was important to me. This is okay for tonight, but what about later? I wanted to get that straightened out. . . .

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