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Sunday, July 9, 2017

"I'M TIRED OF LIVING WITH JESUS CHRIST," LEON SAID. (15)

                                          Bump, Bump, Bump
Winnie-the-Pooh comes “downstairs now, bump, bump, bump, on the back of his head, behind Christopher Robin.  It is, as far as he knows, the only way of coming downstairs, but sometimes he feels that there really is another way, if only he could stop bumping for a moment and think of it.”
- from “The World of Pooh,” by A.A. Milne, 1926

The plane ride to Los Angeles was a nightmare.  I gazed out the window into the blackness, aching to find solace in sleep, unable to close my eyes.  The image of Charles’s lonely face swam before my eyes.  Leon’s terse comments on the phone as he objected to my late night arrival grated in my heart.  For years, my husband had been my anchor; now he was part of the storm.
I thought about Leon’s insistence that I come with just a suitcase.  He’d told me to ship everything to Connie, to her commune near Amherst.  He’d started a new life and wanted me to do the same, with no reminders of what we left behind in Miami.  As much as I wanted to please Leon, I couldn’t do as he asked.  I had no desire to forget everything in my past and begin anew.  I treasured my past.  Every piece of furniture was special to me, in some cases awakening memories going back to childhood.  It was with a heavy heart that I acquiesced to sending most of our belongings to Connie, but I just couldn’t part with it all.  I decided to bring some china, silverware, and figurines with me to California.
To outsiders, it may have seemed that the hardest thing I’d done in my life was leave the paradise we’d created for ourselves years earlier in Newton and move to the cotton fields of Mississippi.  While it’s true that those days were difficult, I had Leon by my side as we tried to change the world.  This time, I didn’t know where I stood with Leon.  I did, however, know where I was going to work.  I’d flown to California during my spring break to visit Leon and interview with the Pomona school district and was offered a position teaching at Fremont Junior High School.  Although I was sad to leave Allapattah, I looked forward to starting at a new school.
With the exception of finding a job, it had been a difficult week  Leon was a stranger to me, with even his appearance changed dramatically.  He wore leisure suits with shirts open halfway down his front and a chain hanging around his neck, a middle-aged man trying to look 20 again.  He proposed furnishing our new home with bean bag chairs and hanging beads in the doorways.  While I’d had no difficulty accepting hippie behavior from my children, I was taken aback when my husband said he wanted to experience that freer lifestyle.  He spoke approvingly of the sexual revolution, saying he felt cheated that it hadn’t happened until he’d been married for many years.  To top it off, he handed me the book Open Marriage, written in 1972 by Nina and George O’Neill, and suggested we explore the possibilities.  He even went so far as to tell me he’d had sex with another woman.
To say I was shocked by Leon’s confession and proposals can’t begin to capture my reaction.  We’d had the kind of marriage that others saw as ideal.  We were the perfect couple, companions in everything we did.  I couldn’t believe that Leon now felt as if this wasn’t enough, that he wanted new sexual partners and a new way of life.
As I sat on the plane thinking back to that week, I worried about what I would find when I landed.  At least I could look forward to seeing Philip and Deborah, who would be there when I arrived.  They’d left Brown University and were settling in Los Angeles, Philip transferring his junior year to UC Irvine and Deborah starting a graduate program at UCLA.  They’d arrived a few weeks earlier and had been staying with Leon while they looked for an apartment for themselves.  The thought of having them close by helped ease the pain of leaving Charles and my parents behind in Miami.
Interestingly, it didn’t bother me to think of Jo’s upcoming departure for her freshman year at Reed College in Oregon, even though she was unusually young to be doing so, having opted to leave high school early rather than transfer to a new school.  I’d never found it difficult to send my children off to college.  I knew I’d provided a loving home for them as they were growing up and they were ready to head into the world on their own.  Rather than suffering from the empty nest syndrome with which so many women my age had to deal, I saw it simply as a new phase of life, one which would bring its own adventures, mine and theirs.
Leaving Charles behind was another story, however.  He wasn’t going to be away at college, but living in a commune or out on the streets.  I’d been unable to give him the supportive environment he needed, and now I was going to be 3,000 miles away.  Every time I started to fall asleep during the plane ride to Los Angeles, I would see Charles showing up unexpectedly to go to the airport with me, unable to let me leave without one last good-bye.
I stepped off the plane and found Leon waiting for me at the gate.  My mind flashed back to World War II when he greeted me at the train station with a corsage, a hug, and a welcoming smile.  This was a different world, a different time.  His greeting was cool, his manner efficient as he picked up my bag and headed for the car.  Instead of chatting about what we would do in the days ahead, we sat silently staring out at the road.
It wasn’t just that we were tired.  Leon was clearly still annoyed that I hadn’t waited until morning to arrive and I was still feeling displaced and alone.  When we got to the apartment 40 minutes later, we tiptoed to our bedroom so as not to waken Philip and Deborah, and then Leon quickly undressed and lay down facing away from me.  No goodnight kiss.  No “I’m glad you’re here.”  Only silence.  I stared up at the ceiling until I fell asleep and when I woke in the morning, Leon had left for work.
I told myself not to be concerned, thinking, “At least I’ll have a nice breakfast with Philip and Deborah before they leave for their temp jobs.”  I was eager to catch up with them and find out everything about their decision to move to California.  Again, I was disappointed, for they were in a hurry and barely had time to say, “Good morning.  We’ll see you tonight.”
I was alone in my new home, one I’d had nothing to do with selecting.  There was nothing wrong with it.  The complex was nice and had a swimming pool.  The apartment with its two bedrooms would be big enough for Leon and me while we searched for more permanent housing, although I knew we’d be a little cramped once Jo arrived from vacationing with Connie.  She’d have to sleep on the pullout couch in the living room until Philip and Deborah found an apartment, but that was certainly workable.  We’d always made room for everyone in the past.
The logical part of me said everything would be all right.  It was, after all, a work day.  That was the reason everyone had deserted me so early in the morning.  It had nothing to do with their not being glad I’d arrived.  And Leon’s sour mood the night before was due to his being tired.  My emotional side, however, felt something was wrong.  Leon and I had been apart for so long that I’d hoped our reunion would be special, that he would welcome me, make me feel missed.  Instead, I felt unwanted and unloved.
As I paced about the apartment aimlessly, my empty stomach began to rumble.  Thinking breakfast would cheer me, I explored the kitchen but all I could find was tea and toast, enough to satisfy my hunger, but not the ache in my heart.  A few months earlier, I would have seen this as a challenge, happily jotted down a grocery list and headed to the store for a shopping excursion.  In my depressed state, however, the bare kitchen was one more reminder that Leon had done nothing to prepare for my arrival.
I went to the bedroom to unpack my suitcase, expecting to find some empty drawers in the bureau.  Instead, I saw that Leon had used every one, spreading his clothes out, with each drawer holding only a couple of items.  Two different drawers had a couple of pairs of socks each.  Another two drawers held his underwear.  In better times, I'd have laughed at Leon’s absent-mindedness, reorganized the drawers to make more efficient use of the space, and then put my things away without giving it another thought.  But given the chilly reception from Leon, it appeared that taking up every drawer was his way of telling me there was no longer room in his life for me.
I closed my suitcase and slid it under the bed.  I remembered Leon saying earlier in the spring, “Maybe you shouldn’t come.”  He had suggested I stay in Miami when he moved to California.  I knew that others had successful long-distance marriages.  Even Dr. Walker had recommended it when I first told him I was leaving, pointing out that my career was taking off in Miami and there was much more I could do there.  My sister and her husband had lived in different cities for years, with Karyl staying in Hartford and Herb working in Washington, coming home only on weekends.  But that’s not what I wanted from our marriage.  I wanted the partnership we’d enjoyed before and it hurt terribly to recognize that Leon might no longer value that.
Perhaps if I raised my concern with Leon, told him my reaction to his not having made space for me in the bureau, he would laugh at what he’d done, reassure me he hadn’t meant anything by it, and hugged me.  On the other hand, he might become angry, as he did so easily these days.  Not wanting to risk a fight, I didn't speak about it and chose instead to live out of my suitcase.
           A few days later, I triggered Leon’s wrath with what I thought was a useful comment about logistics.  Although his clinic was nearby in Pomona, the central administration for the facility was in Los Angeles.  I noticed he was calling several times a day from the apartment and suggested he ask for a corporate credit card so the calls wouldn’t appear on our personal phone bill.  I hadn’t meant to criticize his company or him, but he must have thought I was doing so because he said that I didn’t know a thing about his job and should keep my mouth shut.  Fearful of responding lest I begin to cry, I didn’t pursue the issue.
          When the phone statement arrived a few days later, Leon opened it and began to scream at me for spending too much money on long distance calls.  I hadn’t made many and assumed the large bill was due to his business calls.  Not wanting to prolong his anger, however, I didn’t respond.  He yelled some more and then stormed out of the apartment.
          Deborah had observed the whole thing and in an attempt to help me, she said, “I made a call to my folks last month and told Leon I’d reimburse him when the bill came in.  You can do the same thing.  Let’s go over the statement together and circle our calls.  Then we’ll each pay our share of the bill, leaving the money for Leon on the table.”
         We did just that, making it clear from our notations that over a $100 dollars of charges remained unaccounted for, presumably from Leon’s calls to Los Angeles.  When he returned later in the day, he looked at the bill and the cash.  Puzzled, he muttered, “What’s this?”
        We didn’t answer, waiting to see what he would do.  Eventually, he pocketed both the money and the paperwork without saying another word.  I had hoped for an apology when he realized I hadn’t been a spendthrift, but none was forthcoming.  I noticed a few days later, however, that he had begun to use a credit card for business calls.  I considered telling him how hurt I’d been by his harsh tone and how glad I was that he’d decided to take my advice, but I didn’t want to risk another argument.
         How to handle the phone bill was the first of many lessons Deborah taught me regarding how to be a more independent woman, a feminist, my own person.  For example, when Deborah and I went out for lunch, she insisted that she occasionally pick up the tab.  When she first offered to do so, I thought she was just being polite and protested.
        Deborah said, “When you are always the one to treat, you are acting as if I’m still a child.  I don’t want you to view me that way.  I’m an adult and your friend.  It makes me feel good to treat you on occasion.”
         She pointed out that when men pay for everything on a date, the implication is that women can’t take care of themselves.  It was important to her that she and Philip split their expenses in a fair manner.  
          Whenever Deborah and I talked, she urged me to view myself as an independent adult and stand up for myself.  When it came to my relationship with Leon, I found this hard to do.  With few exceptions, I’d always placed Leon’s needs above my own,  as I’d been taught to do by my mother.  It was only when I thought his desires might jeopardize the well-being of our children that I would openly disagree with him, as I did the time I fought to ensure proper housing for the family when we moved to Mississippi.
          In the past, Leon had not been disturbed by my disagreeing with him, with two exceptions.  One was if I criticized someone Leon admired.  The other was if money was involved.  For some reason, whenever we discussed finances, Leon would yell at me.  He often used to apologize later, saying, “When I was growing up, whoever yelled the loudest won the fight.”
          I told him it was different for me, that in my home we never raised our voices. Together, Leon and I  decided we preferred the idea of discussing issues quietly and from then on, Leon mastered his tendency to scream at me.  On the rare occasion when he lost control – typically involving finances – I withdrew, unable to cope.
         After I moved to California, Leon’s outbursts occurred more frequently, and he yelled at me several times a week regarding issues that in the past would not have bothered him.  When Jo flew out from the East Coast to join us for the rest of the summer, the apartment became more crowded and Leon’s temper flared even more.  He complained that with Jo sleeping in the living room, he had no place to relax when he woke in the middle of the night, which he did fairly often.  It got even worse when Charles decided he wanted to come as well.
         While Jo seemed oblivious to Leon’s objections and was content to live out of her luggage, Charles felt hurt by Leon’s obvious annoyance.  At one point, Charles complained to me that nobody had left him any drawers or closet space for his things, so I showed him my suitcase under the bed and invited him to share my space there.
         With the exception of Philip and Deborah, who spent their days at work and had a room to themselves in the evenings, no one was happy.  Charles got on Jo’s nerves and she wasn’t pleased about having to share a pullout bed with him.  She was so eager to get away from the tension in the apartment that she left each morning in search of a job, walking along the main street of town until she found a place that would hire her.  Charles felt unwelcome.  Leon was mad.  I didn’t know what to do.  Like Winnie-the-Pooh being dragged down the stairs by Christopher Robin, I knew there had to be a better way.  But while I was going “bump, bump, bump” on the back of my head, I couldn’t think well enough to figure out what that might be.
          When Leon couldn’t stand it any longer, he told Philip and Deborah it was time for them to leave, and that same day they found an apartment in West Los Angeles.  They moved out and Charles and Jo moved into the second bedroom, leaving the living room available for Leon.  Charles at first was happy to have some space of his own but then grew tired of feeling unwelcome and returned to Miami.
          For the rest of the summer, Jo and I rarely saw Leon.  He worked long hours, frequently driving to Pasadena and downtown Los Angeles to visit the other clinics in his group.  Here was a man who years earlier had an office in his home because he hated traveling to work.  Here was a man driving an expensive car who used to believe that doctors should not flaunt their income.  Here was a man who had become a stranger to me.  During our months apart, while I was longing for the day we would be together again, he was enjoying his bachelor life.  He had changed and I didn’t know him anymore.
          I saw Jo’s departure for college as an opportunity to reconnect with Leon.  After dropping her at the airport, I began preparations for the evening, the first time in 25 years that Leon and I would have dinner at home with no children around.  I stopped at the mall and bought a new tablecloth in honor of the event and set a festive table, including candles.  I cooked one of Leon’s favorite meals and then waited for his arrival.  Six o’clock went by, seven, eight.  No Leon.  No phone call.  
         I began to feel light-headed from hunger and had a bite standing up in the kitchen, not wanting to disturb the table, hoping Leon would arrive any minute.  He walked in after nine and sat down to watch TV, taking no notice of my preparations, and offering no explanation for the late hour.  Trying  not to break down and cry, I asked why he was so late and said I’d hoped to surprise him with a romantic evening.
         “I never know what my timing will be these days," he said.  "Don’t count on me for anything.”
         Leon’s schedule had been erratic since we'd moved to Miami almost five years earlier.  I was used to that.  But never before had he spoken so coldly.  My marriage was disintegrating in front of my eyes, although they were too blind to see it.  Like Winnie-the-Pooh, I continued bumping along the rest of the summer, hopeful that when school started in the fall, I would regain my balance and my perspective.
         When my first day at Fremont Junior High School arrived, I kept replaying Dr. Walker’s words in my mind, “You are smarter than you think you are.  You are stronger than you think you are.”
          I walked to the office with my head held high and a smile on my face, determined to succeed at school despite the problems at home.  I’d already met the principal, Raphael Estupinian in an interview the previous spring, but I reintroduced myself and told him how happy I was to be there.  The first order of business was a meeting with all the teachers, during which I saw Mr. Estupinian in action.  Listening to him speak about the upcoming year, I knew I’d landed in a school with sound leadership and a dedicated team.
          My new principal reminded me in many ways of Dr. Walker, but whereas my first inner-city mentor had taught me about the politics of racism in the black community, Mr. Estupinian addressed the concerns of his Hispanic students and their families.  How fortunate for me to have as guides two such knowledgeable, caring individuals in the field of education.
         At that first teachers’ meeting, I met the two assistant principals and they proved to be friendly, helpful, and resourceful.  It was apparent that everyone knew each other well except for one other new teacher, Nancy Dalmont.
        Nancy was in her early 20's and taught home economics.  We spoke often of our doings in the classroom and she was eager to hear my ideas for working with junior high school students.  After having spent four years learning from Dr. Walker, it was satisfying to become a mentor myself and help a new teacher along.  Nancy helped me as well.  Our friendship grew beyond a work relationship and we became personally close.  Her loving support would help me through the difficult times with Leon.
         On my first day with the students, I passed out file cards and asked everyone to write their name, address, phone number, and homeroom on the front and something about themselves on the back, so I could get to know them better.  In one of my ninth grade classes, a young man responded by yelling out, “Fuck you!”
        There was silence as everyone turned toward me.  Most teachers would have followed school policy and sent the student to the office for disciplinary action. Instead, I said, “This is a class in communication, and as our vocabulary increases, we will be able to express ourselves in more acceptable terms.”  A sigh of relief went through the room as the young man stared at me.  My first crisis had been avoided.
         The incident reminded me of those first few days in Mississippi when a student had raised a brick to throw at another student.  Just as Rivers Washington ultimately grew to trust me and allow me to help him find other avenues for his anger, Carl Ingram eventually confided in me as well.  He had six older brothers, all in jail, some of them for violent crimes.  He approached me after class one day and asked if he could come in for a few minutes after school.  Other students, overhearing his request, suggested it wouldn’t be safe for me to see him alone, but  I had dealt with this type of situation before and knew I could do so again.
        When Carl came in after school, I intentionally avoided sitting behind my desk.  By taking a student seat next to him instead, I was demonstrating my respect for him, my willingness to speak with him as an adult.  He responded with more consideration than anyone at the school could have imagined.  First, he apologized for his behavior on our first day together.  Then he admitted he was unable to read.  He said he’d rather be considered bad than stupid, and thus hid his reading difficulties behind foul language.
        I assured Carl he wasn’t stupid.  It wasn’t he who had failed to learn to read, but the system that had failed to teach him.  When I suggested he enroll in a reading class, he said, “I’ll take a reading class if you think it’ll work, but only if I don’t have to give up your class.”  I promised wouldn't, and we shook hands.
        If only it were as easy to fix my marriage as it was to help Carl.  For every success at school, there was a bitter moment at home.  The harder I tried to please Leon, the more he withdrew into his work.    
        One evening he had a distressing phone conversation with a friend from medical school, Dick.  They  had been residents together at Children’s Hospital in Boston.  When Dick finished his residency, he and his wife had moved to California where he set up practice.  We’d been out of touch for years, but once I arrived in Pomona, Leon decided to look him up and get together again.  During the phone discussion, Dick said he was in the midst of a divorce.
        Leon was shaken.  His voice cracked as he turned to me and held me tightly, telling me what had happened to our friends.  I didn’t know what to make of this sudden show of affection.  It was wonderful to have Leon’s arms around me again but somehow it felt fake.  Still afraid that anything I said might anger him, I said nothing and simply let him hold me.
        In the weeks that followed, Leon continued to distance himself.  I told myself it was because he was busy, doing important work for the community through his clinic.  I, in turn, buried myself in my career, trying to keep as busy as he appeared to be.  I was rewarded with successes at school, but little by little – bump by bump – incidents began to happen at home that I could no longer ignore.
        The only time I challenged Leon about his behavior occurred after an evening we’d spent with a young couple from the clinic.  Usually when we socialized with them, their two children were there, as well.  Leon and the couple would talk about work, leaving me to take care of the little ones.  If I tried to join in on the adult conversation, Leon was irritated.  
        This particular evening, the children stayed at home.  Leon flirted shamelessly with the woman, never taking his hands off her.  At first I was angry with him for putting the young man in such a difficult position.  Not only was Leon their boss, but he also was a white man coming on to a black woman in the presence of her fiancé.  It brought to mind images of slavery, when it was expected that the females would yield to the advances of their masters.  I don’t believe that Leon was thinking in those terms; he was simply attracted to her.
       His flirting continued, as he focused his attention on the woman as if I wasn't there.  By the time we got in the car to go home, my temper had boiled over; I said in no uncertain terms that he was never to put me in that position again.  He shrugged and smiled, but said nothing.  No apology.  No promise.
        A few days later, Leon left for work and didn’t return for a week.  Before our move to California, I would have been frantic that he’d been in a car accident and was lying in a coma in some hospital.  I would have called the police and every emergency room in town looking for him.  Somehow, I knew this wasn’t the case.
          I told no one, made no phone calls.  I assumed he went to work each day because nobody called looking for him.  I figured he was with one of the friends he’d made while I was still in Miami, friends he’d never chosen to introduce to me.  I forced myself to get up each morning and go to school, returning each night to an empty apartment.  I turned on the television but had no idea what I watched. I stared at the newspaper, yet didn’t read the articles.  I tried to avoid thoughts of Leon, where he’d gone, what he was doing, when or even if he’d come home.
        I don’t know how I would have made it through the weekend, for it was only by letting my work consume me that I managed to survive the week.  On Saturday morning, Leon came home.  No apology.  No explanation for his absence.  He did, however, ask me to sit down for a talk.  Not knowing what to expect, I was surprised when he handed me a bottle of medication and said, “I’ve caught crabs, which means you’re probably infested as well.  This shampoo should work fairly quickly.”
        Unwilling to deal with the implications of what he had said, I thought instead about how wonderful Leon had been in 1942 when we did our pre-marital blood work and I tested positive for syphilis.  I had been devastated, scared that Leon would think I’d been unfaithful to him and contracted the disease through promiscuous behavior.  In those days, most people broke off an engagement upon receiving such news. Leon was willing to assume there was some logical explanation and told me not to worry.  My relief and appreciation were so great I vowed that someday I would find the opportunity to do something heroic for him.
        That time was now. Instead of getting mad at Leon for having an affair and giving me crabs, I shrugged, took the medication from him and put it on the bathroom shelf.  Deep inside, I knew that Leon had slept with someone else, but I didn’t dwell on that and was willing to view it as a one-time event we could put behind us.
        I’m sure Leon was surprised at my reaction, since I didn't tell him this was my way of thanking him for his kindness when we were about to be married.  In response to my lack of anger, he came home each evening for dinner for the next few days and attempted to make our home what it used to be.  It didn’t work.  Our conversation was stilted and he seemed strained in my presence. Within a week, he went back to using the apartment like a hotel, staying there only long enough to sleep each night.
        I did notice, however, that he began to prepare for Christmas in a way he hadn’t in years. Every time I saw him, he’d just purchased another gift for one of the children.  Throughout our marriage, Leon had always left the shopping to me, trusting that I would find something special for everyone on our list.  Not this year.  As the holidays grew closer, he was bubbling over with enthusiasm, thriving on the role of Santa.  Thinking he must be shopping for me in the same way, I started looking for special gifts for him.  With each purchase, I thought about how things were going to change and our relationship would regain its former intimacy.
        I began to look forward to Christmas, to a time when my home would feel cheerful once again, to a time when Leon and I would exchange our carefully selected gifts and the children would bring laughter back into our lives.  Jo arrived from college and Charles flew in from Miami.  As soon as Philip and Deborah’s classes ended for the semester, they drove up almost every day to spend time with us.
        I had high hopes when Christmas morning arrived.  For the first time in weeks, Leon stayed in the apartment as if nothing were wrong between us.  Everyone oohed and aahed over their presents, and for a short time I was able to forget the last few months of Leon’s hurtful behavior.  That changed as I opened his   gift for me and found my expectations shattered.
        Leon hadn’t shopped for me with the same consideration he’d shown the children. I had hoped for something romantic, like a beautiful piece of jewelry, something to represent a rekindling of our marriage.  Instead, Leon gave me a sewing basket, exactly like the ones he'd given me twice before over the years.
        It didn’t help that the children had all chipped in to give me a beautiful tablecloth.  In less stressful times, I might have been pleased with their thoughtfulness, but this Christmas all it did was remind me of that awful  night when Jo left for college and I’d set a candle-lit table for Leon’s favorite dinner, only to wait for hours to have him come home and ignore the setting.  I felt as if they all saw me as a hausfrau, a housewife good for nothing but cooking and sewing.
        I needed to be alone.  I left the apartment and walked for a couple of hours, remembering in detail the painful moments of the last few months.  As I turned back toward home, I assumed everyone would have noticed my absence, realized how upset I was, and tried to make me feel better.  Instead, nobody seemed aware I’d been gone.
        We settled down for a game of bridge, as we did most afternoons over the holidays.  Charles, Jo, Philip, and I played while Deborah studied.  Leon left, presumably to check in at the clinic, completely unaware of how upset I was by his gift selection.
AS GOOD A PLACE AS ANY TO PUT THIS PHOTO
   OF AN INTERACTION BETWEEN AURA AND CAT
        A couple of days later, Leon came home with a kitten.  As he handed it to me, he said, “Here’s another Christmas present for you.”  While I’ve always loved animals, I wondered if this was a half-hearted attempt to make up for his earlier cruelty in buying lovely gifts for everyone except me.  He didn’t even make the effort to bring along supplies for the kitten, so I had to worry about getting food and a litter box.  Philip and Deborah, seeing I was distressed, offered to take on the responsibility and hurried to the store.
        Perhaps, given more time, I might have grown to accept or even love the kitten.  As it was, I never got the chance. In the middle of the night, half asleep, I reached toward Leon and he pulled violently away.  That woke us both. I said, “That does it.”
        He answered, “You’re right,” and got dressed to leave.
        Feeling hurt and angry, I said, “Take your cat with you,” and he did.
        I couldn’t sleep the rest of the night, wondering if Leon had left for good.  In the morning, I pretended to everyone that Leon had gone early to work.  Aura, the actress, deserved an Oscar, for the children saw nothing strange and had no idea how much I was churning inside.
        A few hours later, Leon walked in as if nothing had happened, cheerily saying it was time for us to move and he’d spent the morning apartment hunting in Pasadena.  I didn’t know what to make of his announcement.  On the one hand, I was pleased by the implication that he wasn’t leaving me and was ready to commit to a renewal of our life together in a new home.  On the other, I felt left out by his once again taking such a major step without consulting me.
       I asked him what made him look in Pasadena rather than  in the towns near Pomona.  That’s when he told me he no longer worked at the clinic in Pomona, but in downtown Los Angeles.  How could he have failed to share such an important detail of his daily life?  Before I had time to consider this development, he went on to say that Pasadena was perfect because it was halfway between our two jobs, and he’d already found a place he thought I would like.
        Although I felt left out of the process, I was willing to look at the apartment.  It was nice enough but didn’t allow children.  When I pointed out that this meant 16-year-old Jo couldn’t stay with us when not away at college, Leon agreed to continue searching.  I never knew whether it hadn’t occurred to him that our youngest was still a child or whether he didn’t care that she would be excluded, or whether he assumed an exception would be made for her because she was a college student.  
        The Christmas holidays came and went and Philip, Jo, and Deborah returned to school.  Charles flew home to Miami.  I still had a few days before I started teaching again, time I hoped would be spent with Leon, going to movies and out for dinner.  Instead, he went back to his long hours at the clinic, leaving me alone.  I’ve always been able to keep myself entertained by writing letters, reading and knitting.  I’d passed many hours devoted to those tasks when I was following Leon about the country during his pilot training in World War II.  This time, however, I was lonely, for even when Leon was there physically, he was removed emotionally.  I thought of our life in Salt Lake City when we used to sit side by side, working on a cross-stitch rug, chatting as we made progress each evening.
        When I first arrived in California, I saw he’d renewed our old hobby and was making a latch-hook rug.  Happy with the memories this evoked, I stood beside him and began to help, only to have him stop working and walk away.  By the third time this happened, I had to accept that Leon didn’t want to be near me.
        It helped when school started again, for then I could lose myself in the classroom, going for many hours without wondering what had happened to my marriage.  It was only a couple of weeks into the new term when Leon called me at school and asked me to meet him in Pasadena at the end of the day, saying he’d found a magnificent two-bedroom condo downtown.
        The building had been an apartment complex until recently and was now undergoing a complete renovation as it was converted to condominiums.  As a result of the conversion, everything was clean and new and, best of all, because only a few condos had been sold, apartments were offered rent-free for three months.  If enough units sold at that point, we would have to buy ours.  If the building didn’t sell that quickly, we’d start paying rent instead.  In either case, it was an excellent deal.
        I was unhappy with the condo from the day we moved in.  It had a rich feel to it that was incongruous with my work with poor students.  I was surprised that Leon valued the elegance; he used to look down on expenditures he viewed as wasteful.  I’d grown up in a luxurious environment, and it was my husband who had convinced me that a simpler life was better.  
        Another problem was the condo's inconvenience.  It was all well and good for Leon to suggest we split the commute, but it was a nightmare for me.  Because I traveled east in the morning and west in the afternoon, the sun was always in my eyes, giving me blinding headaches.  To make matters worse, I was driving a gas-guzzling car.  Leon’s company had leased a Mercedes for him and when I first arrived, he had given it to me and bought a Ford Pinto for himself. Although I enjoyed the smooth ride, I was uncomfortable driving such an expensive vehicle.
        The car would have been acceptable if we weren't in the midst of an energy crisis.  Drivers were not allowed to fill their gas tanks.  Instead, with each visit to the gas station, we could buy only a few gallons, so I had to go every other morning.  This meant I had to get up at 5:30 a.m. several times a week and wait in line for my turn at the gas pump. I found myself in a constant state of exhaustion and was in bed each night by 9:30, before Leon got home.
        He was asleep in the morning when I left and I was asleep in the evening when he returned.  We barely saw each other and, when we did, we didn’t talk.  Something was wrong, but I would not conjecture.  I would not analyze.  I just went “bump, bump, bump.
        Even Connie’s arrival from Amherst with our two-year-old granddaughter didn’t make things better.  When she first called to tell me she wanted to fly out, I told her it was a bad time for a visit.  Unbeknownst to me, she was going through marital difficulties of her own and it was important for her to get away and have some time to think things through.  Although I didn’t know why it mattered so much to her, I could tell that it did and told her to come ahead.
        It was a disastrous weekend.  Leon wasn’t in a mood for conversation and when he did talk, it was strictly about the baby.  Perhaps in his mind, he was trying to be a good father and grandfather, for he joined us for an afternoon at the zoo and was present in body if not in spirit.  Throughout Connie and Sarah’s visit, I felt as if I were walking about in a bad dream from which I couldn’t wake.  I could tell my daughter was hurting but was in such pain myself that I could offer no support.  She returned to Massachusetts and I retreated into the shell I’d created.
        By the middle of March, the condos were selling well and I knew we’d either have to buy ours or move to another building.  At first it was easy to avoid thinking about the implications of that, but when an official letter arrived presenting us with a bill for a $3,000 dollars down payment, I dreaded what I knew was likely to turn into an unpleasant confrontation.  I couldn’t see making the commitment to purchase a new home without first discussing our relationship.
        Throughout the evening, I couldn’t concentrate.  I’d finish an article in the newspaper and realize I had no idea what I’d read.  I tried to knit, but kept making mistakes.  I watched television, only to discover that an entire show had come and gone without my seeing or hearing it.  My bedtime arrived with no sign of Leon.  I knew I had to wait up for him, since we no longer could avoid the issues that were tearing us apart.  When he finally walked in the front door, he was surprised to find me awake.  We stood facing each other across the dinette table as I told him about the letter we’d received.
         “Just send in a check,” he said
         “Leon, before we put money down on the condo, we need to talk.  There’s something terribly wrong between us.  We never see each other any more.  We never share a meal or spend time together.  I’m afraid that if we buy the condo, we’re like the young couples who have a baby to save their marriage.  Maybe we shouldn’t buy the condo.  Please, let’s talk about it.”
        I was stunned by his response.  “There’s nothing to talk about.  I want a divorce.”
        A divorce?  That possibility had never crossed my mind.  I knew we were in trouble, but I’d always assumed we’d get through it.
        I said, “Well, I don’t.”
        When Leon answered, “In California, that’s an irreconcilable difference,” I knew he must have already researched the issue.  His use of the legal terminology told me he’d discussed the question with his friends and made his decision long before now.
        I looked at him in shock, and he added, “I’m sick and tired of living with Jesus Christ.”
        Before I had a chance to ask him what he meant by that, he said, “Besides, there’s another woman.”    
        With that, he walked out of the apartment.  I don’t know how long I stood staring at the door before I made myself undress and go to bed.  As I lay there, I willed myself to sleep, knowing the alarm clock would ring in just a few hours and I’d have to get up and go to school.  When the morning arrived, I ate breakfast, and got dressed.  When it came time to walk out the door, however, it dawned on me that my life had fallen apart and I needed to get my priorities straight.
        Rather than going to school, I decided to wait at the apartment for Leon to return, so I could try to talk with him one more time.  I knew he’d assume I wouldn’t miss school and would therefore be gone by seven in the morning, leaving the condo empty so he could come home and change without risk of running into me.  I wouldn’t let that happen.  I would be there when he arrived and somehow persuade him to stay with me.  I wanted our marriage to survive regardless of what he’d done and I had to be sure he knew that.  
        I called school and told my principal the truth and said I would be back in school the following Monday.  He said I could take all the time I needed and wished me well.  Then I sat on the living room couch and waited for Leon.
       At eight o’clock, I heard his key in the lock.  He was surprised when he opened the door and saw me sitting there.  I had guessed right – he hadn't expected me to stay home from school.  The look on his face said everything.  He’d planned to slip out of my life without a confrontation.  He might have turned around and left if I hadn’t stopped him: “Please, Leon, let’s talk.”
        He answered, “There’s nothing to say,” and walked to the bathroom and locked himself in.  I waited for him to come out, planning to try one more time to discuss the matter.  After ten minutes, however, I saw that he wasn’t coming out and probably wouldn’t as long as I was there.  He meant it when he said he had nothing to say.
        Giving up, I went to the kitchen and phoned Deborah.  I told her what had happened, said I’d decided to move back to Pomona, and asked if she would help me hunt for an apartment.
        She said, “I’ll be there in less than an hour.  Just sit tight.”
        Needing something to do while I waited, I called my parents, my children, Leon’s sister and brother, and my sister, and told them the news.  I warned them I would be incommunicado for a short time and promising to let them know as soon as I had a new address and phone number.  They all urged me to move back to Florida where I could return to my old job and have the support of my parents, but there was no way I would go back and allow myself to be “poor Aura” to my family and former colleagues.  I had learned my grandmother’s lesson well.
        Deep down inside, there was another reason, one I almost dared not admit to myself – I still needed to be as near to Leon as possible.  It’s not that I thought there was any chance of reconciliation.  The finality of Leon’s words the night before made it obvious my marriage was over.  And his remaining in the bathroom  to avoid talking with me left no room for hope.  But that didn’t mean I could just stop loving him. 
        When I’d run out of people to call, I left the kitchen to find the bathroom door open and Leon gone.  At first, not wanting to sit alone with my thoughts, I busied myself with moving Leon’s things to the empty guest room.  His pictures, some Harvard memorabilia, his clothes, I placed in neat piles in anticipation of their eventually being boxed up and moved elsewhere.  Then I did the same with my own belongings.  
       Running out of tasks I sat quietly waiting for Deborah, just as I had earlier in the day waited for Leon.  When she arrived, she was a godsend, efficiently helping me start a new life, teaching me things that all young women of her generation knew, but to which I’d had no exposure.  For example, when we got to Pomona, she picked up a green sheet that listed vacant apartments and helped me understand all the abbreviations.
        I don’t know what I would have done without Deborah. It’s not that we discussed what had happened.  We tended to practical matters, like the logistics of finding an apartment and moving.  I couldn’t bring myself to even think about my heartbreaking conversations with Leon, let alone talk about them.  I never shared the details with anyone until 30 years later when I began writing this memoir.  The apartment hunting went smoothly and in less than an hour, we found a beautiful townhouse in what I thought was Pomona, but turned out to be Claremont.  I signed a year’s lease, phoned a moving company, and returned to Pasadena.
        In the morning, the moving company arrived, and we drove to my new home.  Philip and Deborah joined me and by Saturday night I was unpacked.  We made a list of things I would need, and I realized for the first time that I could no longer afford simply to go to the local department store and purchase everything.  It had been a long time since money was tight and when it was, my parents had always been there to help.  I was no longer the wife of a physician, but a schoolteacher with a limited income and no assets.  At 51, I would have to start over again. [As Aura's classmate was doing at almost exactly the same time.  See Adrift. bbm]  
        Philip and Deborah showed me how to find everything I needed for as little money as possible, looking in the papers for used furniture ads and shopping at the second-hand discount stores.  What a far cry from the way I grew up.
        By Monday morning, I was ready to return to school, grateful that at least my commute was now only four miles instead of thirty-five.  I discussed my predicament with only two people at school, the principal, and my young friend, Nancy Dalmont.  I had enough trouble telling myself I was soon to be a divorcée with an ex-husband.  Until I could accept myself in my new skin, I found it difficult to expect others to accept me.      
       It helped immensely when my daughter Jo said, “If it bothers you to refer to Dad as your ‘ex,’ then call him something else, like `former husband.' And you don’t have to introduce yourself to people as a divorcée.  Let them assume you’re single and clarify it casually when the time feels right.”
        A couple of days later, while still trying to redefine my self-image, I had my first experience dealing with Leon in our new relationship.  He called and said, “I have to take back the Mercedes because it’s leased by my company and you’re no longer eligible to drive it.”
        Before I had a chance to think about what I would drive instead, he added that he knew I couldn’t drive his Ford Pinto since it wasn’t designed for a short person.  He’d done some research and decided I should have a Buick Opal.  He told me to meet him at the local Buick dealer where he would pick up the Mercedes from me and turn in his Ford.
        I didn't question his decision or suggest I might want a different car.  It wasn’t that I was incapable of selecting a vehicle on my own, for I’d done this in the past and could have done it again.  It was a long time before I stopped trying to please Leon by doing what he wanted.  If he wanted me to drive a Buick Opal, then that’s what I would drive.
        It wasn’t until it was time to sign the papers that I realized Leon had deserted me.  After telling the salesman I would take the Opal, he drove away in the Mercedes.  When he disappeared, I assumed he had just stepped out for a minute and would be back to help finalize everything.  I was wrong.  Leon had picked out a relatively expensive car but left me to pay for it on my teacher’s salary.  Perhaps if I weren’t so disconcerted by the bump, bump, bump of everything that had happened in the last week, I would have slowed everything down, evaluated whether I really wanted this particular car and could afford it, given that Leon was not going to help with the payments.  Instead, I went ahead and signed the papers, thus becoming the owner of a vehicle I hadn’t chosen, didn’t want, and didn’t like.
        Several weeks later, Philip convinced me I didn’t have to keep the Opal.  “Just because Dad said you should have that car doesn’t mean you should.  If you don’t like it, trade it in.  You’ve always wanted a small car.  Now’s your chance.  I love my little Datsun.  Drive over there and see if they have something you like.”
       I realized Philip was absolutely right.  I was now an independent woman with the luxury of making decisions for myself without worrying whether anyone else – even Leon –thought I was doing the right thing.  It might seem that the choice of a car was relatively unimportant, but for me, the act of trading in the Opal for a Datsun became a symbol of my new life.
        Philip often provided support that spring, sometimes by offering sound advice and sometimes just by being there.  He and Deborah invited me to come see them in the Irvine area and were constant weekend visitors in my home.  One Saturday morning, Philip called to check on me.  I must have sounded depressed because a few hours later, he knocked on the door and said, “I was in the area, so I decided to stop by for lunch.”
       My son had grown up.  The boy I raised had become a man who now watched out for his mother, and I was grateful.  It was Philip who convinced me I should get a lawyer.  Leon had told me to do this when he first said he wanted a divorce.  Since I didn’t want the divorce, I didn’t think I needed a lawyer.  Perhaps I was subconsciously hoping that if I didn’t get one, Leon would realize I still loved him and the divorce wouldn’t happen.  When Philip first raised the issue, I said I had no idea how to find a lawyer.  Recognizing this for the excuse it was, Deborah called the local chapter of the National Organization for Women – known by the acronym NOW – to get a recommendation.
        Urged on by Philip and Deborah, I set up an appointment.  When I went to see Dan Fox, I began by telling him I didn’t know why I was there;  I didn’t need a lawyer because I didn’t want a divorce.
        He interrupted me with a question.  “Let me ask you, Mrs. Kruger, does Leon send you a check each month?”  Of course my answer was no.  It had never occurred to me to ask for money, and it obviously hadn’t occurred to Leon to send any.
        Dan said, “That’s why you need a lawyer.  He should.”
        When he learned that I had supported the household for 18 years, that I’d  put Leon through medical school, internship, residency, and worked 12 years in his pediatric office concurrently with doing all the paperwork for my father’s restaurant business, he was appalled that Leon had walked away with no offer of financial support.  He said I was entitled to half of Leon’s earnings for the rest of his life.  Even in California, the home of no-fault divorce, a judge would see that Leon wouldn’t have the earning potential he did if it hadn’t been for my income early on in our marriage.
        I heard Dan’s words, but I didn’t want Leon’s money; I wanted Leon.  However, I thought twice about my decision when Dan pointed out that in addition to owing money to me, Leon had a responsibility to the children as well.  Given that two of them were still minors and a third was a full-time college student, their father was obligated to contribute to their college expenses.  So I agreed to follow Dan’s recommendation and, as it turned out, it was fortunate I did.  I later learned that five minutes after Dan filed the paperwork on my behalf in Pomona, Leon’s lawyer did the same in Pasadena.  Because my lawyer had filed first, the proceedings took place in Pomona and I didn’t have to commute back and forth to Pasadena for meetings I didn’t want to have in the first place.
        Over the next few months, my relationship with Dan grew beyond that of lawyer and client.  We became friends.  As my adviser, he spoke of the importance of getting on with my life.  As my friend, he helped me to do just that by taking me out to lunch, showing me his favorite bookstores and gift shops, and introducing me to his friends and acquaintances.  Most important of all, he talked me into attending a NOW meeting.
        Dan’s wife was an active member of the National Organization for Women and he was a strong advocate as well.  He’d seen how beneficial it had been for several of his clients and took every opportunity  to persuade me to join.  Finally, not taking “no” for an answer, he handed me a piece of paper on which he’d written the time and place of the next monthly meeting and said, “I expect you to be there.”
        Throughout this time, my friendship with Nancy Dalmont had continued to grow.  When I told her of Dan’s insistence that I attend a NOW meeting and my reluctance to go because of my shyness, she said she’d pick me up and go to the meeting with me.  
        The meeting took place in a dormitory room at one of the Claremont Colleges.  There were many young women present and several older ones like me.  Some were single, some married, and some divorced.  Everyone was accepting of everyone else.  Friendship and support were offered and no judgments made.  At the end of the evening, I signed the guest list so I could be notified of future meetings.
        When I got the call about the next meeting, I took down the pertinent information but the thought of driving there alone was daunting.  I realize, in retrospect, that my reaction was typical, for my fellow NOW members anticipated it.  About 30 minutes before the meeting was to take place, I received a call telling me a group of women was coming to pick me up.  For the next three months, I was collected for every meeting.  Then I was told I was not only ready to stand on my own, I was also ready to help others.  Of course, by encouraging me to pick up newer members and bring them to the meetings, my friends were ensuring I would continue to come myself.  The women I met through the NOW organization became a crucial part of my life and I’ve remained friends with many of them for the last 30 years.

AURA WITH LEON'S NIECE, ROCHELLE
        At the same time, another woman I’d known previously came back into my life and we grew close.  It was my husband’s niece, Rochelle, the older daughter of Leon’s half-sister, Eleanor.  She came to visit me in Claremont and insisted that we dress up to go for dinner.  After Leon left, I’d stopped taking the time to dress with any care except for school activities. Rochelle said, “Just because there’s not a man joining us doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t look our best.”  She did much to help me begin to take care of myself again.
        My children were supportive, as well.  One day, I found a small package from Connie in my mailbox.  The card said, “Mom, right about now you need a special ring for yourself.”  How did she know?  One of the most difficult things I did after Leon left was to put away my engagement and wedding rings.  
        When I opened the box and looked at the ring, my eyes filled with tears.  It was made from a spoon I remembered well.  In the early years of our marriage, Leon’s parents would invite us for dinner.  I’d always help my mother-in-law in the kitchen and every time I got the relish tray ready, I would remark on her unusual Repoussé sterling silver serving spoon.  Years later, when Connie was a little girl, my mother-in-law came to visit and presented it to me wrapped in a paper napkin.  She rejected my efforts to refuse the gift, saying, “Do not say a word.  Do not say a word.  I want you to have this.”
        I treasured that spoon, finding in it a warm memory of my mother-in-law and how thoughtful she could be.  In the meantime, Connie grew up and came to visit us in Florida.  She was helping me prepare for dinner  found the little spoon.  She said she’d always loved it and asked if she could have it.  I said yes without hesitation, reminding her that she'd been there on the day Nannie Annie gave it to me.
        When Connie learned of my divorce, she knew that putting away my wedding and engagement rings would be difficult and with her artistic creativity, took the spoon to a jeweler to have a ring made from the handle, retaining the bowl as a medallion for herself.  During difficult moments, I could finger my new ring and be reminded of my loving daughter.
        One of those difficult moments arose when I had to discuss with Leon the terms of our divorce.  Dan Fox had arranged the meeting and at one point, the two lawyers left the room and told us to talk about the financial arrangements.  We sat across the table from each other, and at first neither of us spoke.  I thought about what Dan had said regarding my entitlement to half of Leon’s earnings for life but didn’t want to ask for that.  I still wanted him back and didn’t want to risk antagonizing him by making any demands.
        Our silence was broken when Leon said, in an icy voice, “If you are unreasonable, I will move to Africa and you’ll get nothing.”  I knew as he said those words that he meant them.  Leon had always been opposed to alimony on a philosophical level, saying a marriage should never be a financial investment in the other person.
        I said, “My main concern is that you help pay our children's college tuition.”
        He answered, “In exchange for paying one half the tuition, I want a reasonable alimony settlement and I want it to cease entirely in ten years.”
        I’d never planned on being anything but reasonable.  In fact, until Dan had pointed out to me that I was entitled to some of Leon’s income, I hadn’t planned on asking for anything.  It was easy for me to tell Leon that his proposal was fine with me.
        When the two lawyers came back and we told them of our discussion, Dan was disturbed and pleaded with me to reconsider.  He reminded me once again that I should receive half of Leon’s earnings for life, but I was adamant.  Dan was so unhappy with my decision that he asked me to sign a document stipulating that I was aware I was going against his advice and was accepting full responsibility.
        With that, Dan agreed to prepare the divorce papers.  He did, however, insist on adding a caveat  stipulating that at the end of ten years, alimony payments would decrease to one dollar a year, rather than disappearing completely.  By doing that, he made it possible to go back to the judge without starting over, should my attitude change at any time in the future.
        As it turned out, I was grateful for the advice. I  re-opened the case 10 years later to ask for additional funds, which I used to help Charles finish college.  Neither Leon nor the courts inquire as to why I sought more money, nor did I clarify it, worried they’d say that in his late twenties, Charles was too old to  be covered by the previous agreement.  My son, who had dropped out of high school before completing ninth grade, finally returned to school to earn both under-graduate and master’s degrees, a task that would have been impossible without the extra financial support.
        The entire negotiation left me exhausted.  During those first few months without Leon, I felt fatigued much of the time.  Despite that, I often found it difficult to sleep at night.  I’d lie in bed, tossing and turning, overwhelmed by a sense of loss.  One night without warning, I began to sob, gasping for breath.  The more I tried to stop, the more overwhelmed I felt.  Without Leon I was a shell with my insides torn out.  This was not the life I’d planned for myself, nor one I wanted.  Thoughts of suicide arose.  I couldn’t bear the idea of the next 30 years by myself.
        Scared by the direction my thoughts were taking me, I convinced myself I was upset because of my sister's ongoing battle with alcoholism.  My sobs turned to whimpers as I diverted my attention to Karyl's  problems and gradually fell back to sleep.
        In the morning, I threw myself into my teaching, finding in my students and colleagues the family I no longer had at home.  As the end of the term approached, a decision was made to have all the junior highs in my district convert to middle schools.  This meant that our current eighth graders would begin ninth grade at the high school in the fall instead of staying with us.  Although I’d been happy at Fremont, I longed to be with the older students so I could teach the more advanced curriculum, including English literature, with a focus on Shakespeare.
AURA TAKES THE FLOOR LITERALLY, SURROUNDED BY
INNER-CITY STUDENTS 
        I was surprised at  how hard it was to tell Mr. Estupinian of my desire to transfer to Garey High School.   There were tears in my eyes, tears that reflected the unending support I’d received from him and my fellow teachers during this most difficult year of my life.  But transfer I did, and never looked back.  After saying goodbye to my students on the last day of school, I drove to my new school to meet with the English Department and the Vice Principal for Curriculum.  They asked if I’d be willing to teach Drama as well as English.  Would I be willing?  I was thrilled!  I had minored in theater arts in college and looked forward to returning to the field.
        In the meantime, there was much discussion about what to do with the new ninth graders.  Since the school had never had such young students before, the curriculum coordinator wanted to try something special.  He proposed dividing the year into quarters and rotating the students through four different disciplines:  literature, writing, speech, and study skills.  All the English teachers liked the idea, but nobody had ever taught speech before or been trained to do so.  When I described my background and what I’d done in Mississippi and Florida, it was obvious to everyone that I should be the school’s new speech teacher.  Come fall, I would teach older students with the more advanced curriculum that was so dear to me. I would develop new courses in Shakespeare and drama. And, as the only speech teacher, I would get to know every ninth grader in the school.  It was with a light heart that I began my summer.
        The first day of vacation was fine as I enjoyed the total relaxation.  However, in the middle of the night, I found myself feeling suicidal again.  Unable to sleep, I went downstairs and played solitaire at the kitchen table, as I had done many evenings these last few months.  I shuffled cards until I could hardly move, and then dragged myself back to bed, thinking I was finally ready to sleep.  Instead, thoughts of suicide returned.  Then I remembered the children.  Aura, who at five years old knew she wanted to be a mother, had achieved that dream and now had not only children, but a grandchild.  When I contemplated suicide, I thought about the impact it would have on all of them and realized I couldn’t do it.  While I felt as if my life was no longer worth living for myself, I knew I had to live it for my children.  I wasn’t happy as I continued to “bump, bump, bump” along, but I survived.
       Within a couple of days of school ending, my sister's husband Herb called to say he’d be in the area to make a presentation at a meeting and would have time to visit.  I invited him to stay with me, looking forward to the companionship.  The meeting turned out to be a two-day conference on the Special Olympics.  Herb had been intimately involved with the creation of this program in the mid-1960s, working closely with Eunice Shriver to develop and implement the concept.  Over the years, he’d continued his commitment, and I was delighted when he asked me to join him for the conference.  I learned a lot about the mentally and physically challenged and was proud of Herb’s excellent presentation.
        Once he arrived, Herb called Leon and arranged to spend an evening with him.  They’d been buddies since college and I didn’t expect my divorce to get in the way of that friendship.  The following morning, Herb described their conversation, remarking casually that Leon had said he'd married me for my father’s money and left when the funds ran dry.  Although I didn't think this was true, the comment was devastating.  I wanted to believe we’d had a good marriage, one that fell apart only at the end.  I had to believe that.  
        While I was still recovering from this blow, Herb laughingly remarked that the last thing Leon said to him the night before was that he should divorce Karyl, since she was obviously an incurable alcoholic.  Perhaps this was some warped joke, or perhaps once Leon decided to leave, he felt a need to have other men do the same.       
        The moment I arrived home after driving Herb to the airport, the lonely ache returned.  I devoted many hours to devising curricula for my fall classes at Garey High School.  I stocked up on foods I thought Jo would enjoy when she came home from college in a few days.  I went through the clothes I’d be taking to the East Coast the following week.  And in the middle of every night, I played solitaire.
        When Jo finally came home, our roles were reversed.  How different our time together in Claremont was from our last six months in Coral Gables.  In Florida I took care of her.  Now she looked after me.  At the time, I saw it as a normal part of her growing up.  In retrospect, I can see that Leon’s and my marital problems made her grow up too quickly.  As Philip did, she took it upon herself to help in any way she could.
        For example, I told her about my frustration at constantly getting lost as I drove around the area.  I would head for Upland and find myself in LaVerne. All my adult life I’d used maps efficiently.  Why couldn’t I do so now?  Jo suggested we spread the local map on the table and show what was happening.  She laughed when she saw I was looking at the map upside-down, placing the ocean to the right.  In my mind, having lived on the East Coast for most of my life, that was where it belonged.  With my daughter's help, I adjusted to the ocean being west instead of east.
        On a more serious note, Jo remarked one night that I’d lost weight and she was concerned that my eating habits had deteriorated.  They had, without my realizing it.  No longer did I cook dinner each evening when I got home from school.  Instead, I either skipped the meal entirely or snacked on something unhealthy.  When Jo pointed this out, I told her how difficult it was to prepare a meal, knowing I would be by myself, with no conversation to pass the time.
        She suggested I try making dinner as I’d done in the past, but instead of sitting alone at the table – which brought back memories of dining with Leon – I should sit on the couch and watch the evening news on television.  When I complained that I couldn’t balance my plate comfortably on the couch, she took me to a department store to buy a TV tray table.  It was so like Jo not to accept any excuse, but to keep exploring alternatives until she found one that was right for me.  This particular approach worked so well that I’ve been using it ever since.
        When Jo was home, we sat at the table.  During our first morning together that summer, Jo began the meal by saying grace, something we’d never done while she was growing up.  I was startled when she finished by crossing herself.  When I asked her about it, she said she’d become Christian.  Was this my daughter, the one who’d been asked to leave a Catholic school at eleven for refusing to cross herself?  Throughout the years I’d always respected my children’s choices so long as they were not harmful to themselves or others.  And so I accepted Jo’s.  I was thankful, however, when she said she still considered herself to be Jewish, as well.
        Jo had been home only a short time when it came time for me to leave for the East Coast.  I planned to spend a week in Miami visiting Charles, my folks, and my friends at Allapattah, then go to Amherst for a week with Connie and Greg.  I was excited to be going, but somewhat nervous.  It would be the first time I’d see everyone since the divorce, and I had no idea how they’d react.  Would they feel sorry for me, viewing me as a failure?  Would they be upset with me for being unable to make my marriage work?
        I needn’t have worried.  When I arrived in Florida, my parents wanted nothing more than to take care of me and to make me feel cherished.  Mother served my favorite foods, chastising me for losing weight and declaring she’d see to it that I regained my former strength before returning home.  We swam each day, lounging by the pool for hours on end, reading novels and chatting about my exciting life at school.  Although it was obvious she wanted to know what had gone wrong with my relationship with Leon, Mother never pressured me to talk, knowing I’d open up when I was ready.
        Dad, on the other hand, was bursting with curiosity, frustrated with his lack of information, angry with Leon for hurting me.  One night he began to criticize Leon, perhaps thinking this was what I wanted to hear.  It wasn’t.  I still loved Leon and couldn’t stand hearing my father say unkind things about him.  I didn’t fault Leon for leaving me. I blamed myself, believing that since he no longer loved or wanted me, I must have done something to make him turn away.  When Dad found fault with him, it made me feel worse, so I asked him to stop.  When he continued, I threatened to leave.
        While my father’s anger made it hard for me to talk about what had happened, my mother’s patience had the opposite effect.  One night after Dad went to bed, Mother and I sat in the kitchen having a snack and she could tell I was finally ready to open up.  She said, “Talk to me.  Tell me all about it.”
        As I started to speak, Mother looked around as if she heard someone.  I waited, thinking my father had gotten up and our conversation would be delayed.  After a few moments, she turned again to me, and again I started to speak.  This time, she looked concerned and repeatedly waved her hand in front of her face, as if shooing away a fly.  When she stopped and looked at me again, I tried to speak for the third time.  Again, she put up her hand to brush something aside.  After my fourth attempt, she said, “The spirits don’t want us to talk tonight.”  And that was the end of that.
        I didn’t know what to think.  At the beginning of the summer, I’d accepted Jo saying grace and crossing herself before a meal.  Now I had to accept my mother’s inability to hear my story because of ghosts.  I smiled to myself as I thought about how unusual my family was when it came to religion and the supernatural.  I was about to discover it was even stranger than I’d realized.
        Charles had called and we’d arranged to meet for lunch in a quiet restaurant in Coconut Grove.  I arrived first and looked about the classy restaurant with its elegant ambience.  When Charles walked in to join me, people turned to stare.  He looked like the hippie he was, with his long hair and beard, torn and dirty clothes, and open sandals revealing filthy feet.  I could see other diners grimace, but this was my son and I would accept him no matter how he looked or smelled.  As the maitre d’ showed us to a table, I could see the look of pleasure on Charles’s face.  He’d always appreciated fine food and he was looking forward to our meal together, oblivious to the hostile looks of our fellow patrons.
       After we ordered, Charles asked if I minded if he said “will.”  I asked him what that was and he said it was essentially the same as saying grace.  Thinking of Jo’s quiet words before each meal and my mother’s discreet interaction with the spirits, I said, “Of course I don’t mind.”
        A moment later, I wanted to slip under the table.  Charles raised his glass of water, rapped violently on the table three times, and began, in a voice loud enough to be heard out in the lobby, “IT IS MY WILL TO EAT AND DRINK." He continued with half a dozen similar phrases, each one said as if he were standing on a stage, projecting his voice to the last row in the theater.  I knew that everyone in this posh restaurant who hadn’t noticed us when we entered certainly noticed us now.
        From that point on, our luncheon together was normal and satisfying.  Our conversation ranged from the philosophical to the events filling Charles’s days.  Although I was pained by the sight of his physical debasement, I felt blessed that he seemed to be happy, surrounded by friends, and intellectually stimulated.  His strength in the face of adversity was evident, and I was optimistic that my worries about his well-being might soon be over.  He was growing up, turning into a young man capable of managing his life, just in time for his 19th birthday.
         Recognizing that Charles was surviving on his own led me to thoughts of my own independence.  It had been several months since Leon’s departure, and like my son, I was managing.  Thoughts of suicide occurred less frequently and I could feel my confidence beginning to bloom.  Sue Stevens helped me nurture that growing self-sufficiency. While visiting in Miami, I phoned her and suggested we meet for lunch.  It wasn’t just that I had fond memories from our days working together at Allapattah. I also called because I sought her advice.  She was close to my age and had been divorced a few years earlier.  I’d been impressed at the time by how she handled it, coming across as happy and well-adjusted, and I needed to learn what had made that possible.
        Sue said she initially threw herself into a number of different activities, joining several organizations and frequently attending cultural events.  She always bought two tickets and invited a friend to go with her.  If, on occasion, she ended up with no one to accompany her, she made herself go anyway, even dining alone in restaurants, something rarely done by women in our age group.  She kept this up for three years, at the end of which she evaluated her life as a divorcee, keeping what she liked, discarding what she didn’t.  I followed this sound adfice as faithfully as I could, and it did wonders in helping me build a life without Leon.
        Soon after my lunch with Sue, it was time to head north to Massachusetts to spend a few days with Connie at Ball Farm.  I’d been there once before and admired my daughter’s ability to live successfully with nine unrelated adults, four children, and a cow.  They lived as if they were one big family, some working outside the home to bring in cash, others taking care of running the household and bringing up the children.
The house was old and dilapidated, but livable.  It protected its residents from the elements and had all the requisite rooms.  My accommodations wouldn’t be luxurious, but I knew I could manage.  What I didn’t know was that the group had decided to tear down and remodel the house.  Prior to starting their effort, they had had no experience in the building trades, but they were intelligent and resourceful. They obtained manuals describing how to proceed and then began the immense task of rebuilding their 100-year-old house.
        I was shocked when I arrived to see that one entire wall had been torn down.  The house looked like a movie set with an invisible wall to allow for filming.  While the downstairs rooms were intact other than this, the internal walls upstairs had all been taken out, with the exception of Connie and Greg’s room.  There were mattresses on the floor and a bathroom with no walls.  When I went upstairs, the first thing I saw was a man  lying in the tub with a woman sitting beside him on the toilet lid, reading aloud.
        I came downstairs and told Connie I’d be happy to go to a motel, but she begged me to stay, saying the only way I could understand how she lived was to spend my nights at the farm.  Always eager to strengthen the bonds with my children, I agreed to give it a try, though I did tell Connie that using the open air bathroom would be a problem for me.
        “Don’t be silly, Mom, just tell me when you have to go.  It's no big deal.”
        I delayed as long as I could, knowing I would find it awkward, but eventually I could wait no longer.  I spoke to Connie and she yelled up the stairs, “Everybody down!”
        Several people appeared and Connie assured me the coast was clear.  I climbed up self-consciously, knowing 13 people would know exactly what I was doing.  Inhibiting, to say the least.
       With the exception of my discomfort with the bathroom facilities, I had a wonderful time.  All the residents were friendly and went out of their way to make me feel welcome.  When evening came, I slept on the floor on a mattress along with everyone else.  I couldn’t help observing, however, that I was the only one wearing a nightgown.  The others were nude.
        When I awoke, I washed up and went downstairs for breakfast.  People were milling about, helping themselves.  While I waited for Connie, I sat at the table, watching the others in their morning routine.  Within moments, the cow appeared in what would have been the doorway, had there been a wall.  She looked around as if searching for someone to milk her and then walked in.  You cannot realize how large a cow really is until you see a close-up of that face in something other than a pasture.  What amazed me was that nobody else seemed to notice.  I was the only one who found a cow in the kitchen the least bit odd.
        I also found it unusual that each person, as they came downstairs, walked over to the stove and gave it a sharp rap with the palm of the hand before starting to cook.  I thought about Jo saying grace, Charles saying will, and my mother saying nothing at all because the spirits interfered, and wondered what sort of ritual Connie and her friends were following.  When Connie came in, I asked her about it.  
        “Mother," she said, " that’s not a ritual.  It’s how we light the pilot.”
        By the time I was ready to leave Ball Farm and head home, I felt as if I were an old hand at communal living.  I could rap on the stove to make the pilot light.  I slept soundly without noticing the naked bodies nearby.  I got used to the idea of a cow in the kitchen.  I even grew more at ease with the fact that Connie and Greg had no money, realizing they didn’t view themselves as poor, for they had all that they needed.
        My students back in California were a different story.  In addition to having no money, many of them had no stability.  Not only were their homes inadequate, their lives were often desperate.  They were looking for confirmation and love, and when they found it, they latched on.
        At my new high school, the principal recognized this, saying at a faculty meeting,  “The students walk around with a portable umbilical cord waiting to plug in.  Isn’t that so, Ms. Kruger?”
        Ms. Kruger?   Ms.?  Thanks to my friends at the National Organization for Women, I had become Ms. Kruger.  I never imagined that a little change like that could make such a big difference in my attitude.  I felt joyously independent.  No longer need I be defined by a relationship to a man.  I was happy to take the title Mrs. when I was first married but now introduced myself as Ms. with a sense of pride.
        My experiences in Mississippi had made me fearless when it came to dealing with violent situations. but my confidence was put to the test at school when a boy advanced menacingly toward a girl.  He was yelling at her and she was cringing in alarm.  I stepped between them, facing the boy.  Each time he tried to get past me, I blocked his way, shielding the girl with my body while I spoke quietly, calming him down.
        The girl ran from the room to the principal’s office, where she reported I had turned my back on her, taking an interest only in the boy.  Hurt by what she perceived as my indifference, she said she would never return to my class.  The principal told her she must have misunderstood my intentions and called me to the office.  Once there, I explained that by standing with my back to her, I had forced the boy to deal with me instead of her, thus protecting her.  As she listened, her belligerent attitude fell away and she asked if I could ever forgive her for so misunderstanding my actions.  I told her of course I could, and we hugged.
        Contributing to the tension of the incident was the fact that the girl was white and the boy black.  This was new for me.  In Mississippi, I’d become accustomed to working in the black community.  In Miami, when Cuban students were placed in our school, I broadened my exposure to include the Hispanic community as well.  Now, for the first time, I had white students mixed in as well and that brought new problems.
        One day, one of my white girls was visibly upset when she walked into my drama class.  She told me she was afraid to go to the bathroom because black girls would gang up on the few white girls and push their heads into the toilets.  I asked if she would mind if I shared her problem with the other students.  When she said this would be okay, I invited the class to think about ways to address the problem.  They discussed the matter enthusiastically, considering alternative approaches and conidering the pros and cons of each.  By the end of class, a few of the black girls offered to accompany the white girls to the bathroom to protect them from harm.
"I ALWAYS CAST THE BEST STUDENT FOR EACH PART,
REGARDLESS OF NATIONALITY OR COLOR."
        The students in my drama class became a cohesive whole, helping and protecting each other, recognized throughout the school as a group to which others could turn for help in getting along in our new, integrated environment.  Our impact became even greater when we began putting on theatrical productions with integrated casts.  I always cast the best student for each part, regardless of nationality or color.  Black students played opposite white ones, Hispanics opposite Asians.
        Agreeing to teach drama satisfied my girlhood ambition to be in the theater.  I’d never wanted to be a director when I was growing up, only an actress.  I was surprised to discover that as the drama teacher directing shows, I got to act every day as I helped students hone their skills.  Directing plays did something else for me.  The late afternoons and weekends were no longer empty hours in which I longed for happier days with Leon.  Instead, they were filled with rehearsals.  I developed a special relationship with each of my young performers, getting to know them not just as students and actors, but as individuals.  By the time we were ready for our opening performance, we had become family.
        Our first production took the community by storm.  I selected Hart and Kaufman’s 1938 sitting-room comedy You Can’t Take it With You for the accessibility of the plot and characters and the relatively even size of the parts.  We rehearsed in my classroom and performed in the choir room.  We had no curtain, few props, and no sound system, but we made do with what we had.  We performed on Friday night and Saturday afternoon and evening, expecting only a few friends and family members.  My students and I were amazed when the house filled to capacity for every show.  A new era had begun at Garey High School.
        Following the success of our first production, the students were willing to trust me when I said I wanted them to compete in a Shakespeare Festival.  Each year, one of the local universities hosted the event, inviting high school students to perform scenes and monologues.  When I received our school’s invitation, I asked for volunteers, not just from my drama classes, but from all of them.  I told them it would be fun, but time consuming.  Since we couldn’t rehearse during class, they’d have to commit to working before and after school, and maybe even on weekends.
        Eleven students volunteered and I assigned to each of them a monologue or scene.  Before they memorized their parts, I told them the story lines of the plays and the significance of their selections.  Then we went over the texts, line by line, essentially translating them into modern English so the students would know what they were saying.  My actors worked tirelessly, enjoying the process and eager to prove to themselves and others that they were not only competent, but first-rate.  For years they’d been told that disadvantaged students weren’t smart enough to understand and perform Shakespeare.  I’d been fighting this stereotype all term, and now I watched with pleasure as their foray into Shakespeare helped build their confidence and enhance their self-images.
        Everyone at school knew of our quest.  My students would walk from class to class reciting their lines as they practiced memorizing the unfamiliar words.  Wherever I went, my young performers followed me,  eager to demonstrate how much they’d improved and to hear my critique as to how they could do better.  When it was my turn to serve yard duty and stand outside to ensure orderly behavior, my students rehearsed at my side, sometimes caught up in passionate discourse and sometimes jumping about in their make-believe swordplay.  I would see the other teachers smile as they watched our antics, both entertained and impressed by the intensity of our efforts.
        In addition to preparing my students for their performances, I described to them what the Festival would be like.  I warned them they were likely to get stage fright and should use it to focus their energy.  Despite all my comments, however, it was disconcerting when they walked into the lecture hall and saw a sea of white faces staring at them in disbelief.  Never before had a minority school participated and veteran performers were shocked when I entered, followed by eight black and three Chicano students.  There was a  gasp from some of the students already seated.
        The director of the program, Dr. Lillian Wilds, was gracious.  Noting how our entrance was received, she made a point of welcoming us.  She introduced herself, shook everyone’s hands, and escorted us to our seats.  There was no question for anyone watching that she would insist my students be given fair treatment in the competition.
        When it came time to step out on stage, my students all performed well, competently representing our school.  Gail Thompson won a first place trophy with her rendition of Lady Macbeth’s sleepwalking scene.  I had watched her rehearse countless times before, yet was still enthralled by her hypnotic voice crying, “Out, damned spot!” as she frantically tried to wash the king’s blood from her hands.
        One of my most talented actors, Michael, had selected Hamlet’s soliloquy in which he contemplates suicide after watching his uncle wed his widowed mother less than two months after his father’s death.  I had hesitated when he first suggested tackling the famous lines, “O, that this too, too solid flesh would melt…,” for Michael was heavyset and I was afraid the audience would laugh.  As I watched him begin to speak during the competition, I thought to myself, “If nobody snickers at the end of his first line, he’ll win an award.”  The angst in his voice captured the listeners from his first word, and he walked away with a second place trophy.  The rest of my students received honorable mentions.
        At the same time that I was experimenting with what it meant to be a drama teacher, I continued to develop my expertise as a traditional English teacher.  Although I’d never received training as a remedial reading teacher, I’d become increasingly proficient in the area over the years, primarily through trial and error.  An incident occurred during that first year at Garey High that provided a major breakthrough.  It happened in my tenth grade class when we were studying ancient Greek and Roman mythology.  The students were to read three myths and rewrite them in their own words.  One young man came up to my desk after having read a one-and-a-half page rendition of Damian and Pythias.  He said, “What do I do now, Ms. Kruger?  I have no idea.”
        I asked him to tell me the story and he stared at me blankly.  He couldn’t do it.  I had seen him looking at the book, his eyes moving over the page, so I knew he’d read the myth.  Why couldn’t he tell me about it?  I asked him a few questions, thinking he was just having trouble getting started, but he couldn’t answer them.  He knew nothing about the myth he’d supposedly just read.  I realized then that although he’d read with his eyes, he’d not engaged his thought process.  He’d looked at every word on the page, but never internalized what he was seeing.  I told him to return to his desk and read the story a second time, slowly, picturing what was happening.  He came back to me with a sparkle in his eye, told me the story, and trotted back to his seat to write.
        Here was a boy who was capable of doing the work, of reading and writing, but had never before put all the steps together.  No one at home encouraged him to strive for higher grades and many of his teachers were content with his progress because he was quiet in class and appeared to be doing the work.  I was  excited by my discovery and eager to find other students who were ready to make this giant stride in their reading ability.
        Inspired by this incident, I decided to use plays as a jumping off point for discussion, writing, and critical and creative thinking.  We read Romeo and Juliet out loud, stopping frequently to discuss the meaning of the words.  I asked my students to picture the scenes, often describing productions I’d watched while growing up.  I focused on the sexual puns in the opening scene to capture their interest, showing them the difference between the censored textbook version – which eliminated the bawdy nature of the lines – and the paperbacks I had distributed for us to read instead.
        By the time we finished the play, my students were intrigued with Shakespeare.  Never again would they view the bard as a playwright for the rich kids who lived in the valley.  Shakespeare had come alive for them, the battle of the Capulets and Montagues a poetic portrayal of the violent gang activity they saw around them every day.
        I felt as if my efforts were validated when my students begged me to do another Shakespearean play the moment we finished our first one.  I said to be patient, that I had a different treat for them.  I told them that Shakespeare’s treasures had become the basis for many books, plays and movies, and that we were going to explore one of my favorites, Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story, a modern-day musical version of Romeo and Juliet.  Instead of taking place in Verona, Italy, several centuries earlier, it was set on the streets of New York in the middle of the twentieth century.  The feud between the two families was replaced by gang warfare.
        The students found it easy to relate to the teenagers in that marvelous musical, seeing themselves in many of the characters.  They were spellbound with the forbidden romance between a white boy and a Puerto Rican girl, painfully aware that they themselves were expected to date only within their own cultures.  We listened to the song There’s a Place for Us, moved by the words describing dreams of a time and place where people would be free to love whomever they chose.  I knew my students cherished the play as much as I did, but had no idea of the extent to which it had touched their lives until I saw the yearbook in June and saw that they had used the title, There’s a Place for Us.
        During the spring break before the yearbook came out, I had gone to visit my parents and Charles in Florida.  While I’d been pulling myself together after Leon left, I hadn’t given a lot of thought to how my folks were doing.  Of course I’d visited them at Christmas and wrote every week, but I found to my shock when I arrived that Dad was ill and fragile.  The day after I arrived, the man who always insisted on driving everywhere we went, never relinquishing the wheel to anyone else no matter how tired he was, said he just wasn’t up to driving, and asked that I take over.
        Early the next morning, I was wakened from my sleep by the sound of Dad crying out “Bert.”  Then I heard a crash and ran from my room.  Dad was lying face down on the floor with his crutches askew.  I stared at him for a moment, not sure what to do.  I kept expecting him to move, at which time I would lean down and help him get up.  But he remained absolutely still.  It seemed like I stood there watching him for a long time, though I realized later that it must have been a matter of only a few seconds because my mother had heard his cry and was now standing beside me.
        Suddenly aware of her presence, I jumped into action, helping Mother to a chair in the living room, telling her I would take care of everything.  I rushed to call for an ambulance, grateful that Herb had placed the number on a large placard on the wall near the phone.  When I first saw the sign, I’d been annoyed with Herb, knowing Mom and Dad probably hated it as a symbol of their advancing years.  Now, I appreciated his wisdom and foresight.
        Within minutes of my call, two police officers arrived with a stretcher.  They took me aside where Mother couldn’t hear them and told me they thought Dad was gone.  One of them added, “Take your mother into another room while we move your father.  She shouldn’t have to see this.”  I did as he suggested and then returned to the living room, arriving just as Dad was being carried out.  The policeman had been right about making sure Mom wasn’t there.  The sight of my father on the stretcher haunted me for years.
        It wasn’t long before the hospital called to say that Dad had passed away when he first collapsed.  I made arrangements with the funeral home and then called Karyl and Herb, the rest of the family, and my parents’ friends.  I could have taken some time for myself before making all the calls, but it felt good to keep busy.
        Although I thought I was in complete control of my emotions, it wasn’t until later that I found out I hadn’t been thinking clearly.  Jo told me I’d mixed up the time zones and called her in Oregon long before dawn, thinking that she was three hours later than we were, rather than three hours earlier.
        Once the calls were made and Mom and I were waiting for Karyl and Herb, she said that Dad had held onto life until my arrival, knowing I would be there to take care of her.  I told her that sounded like Dad, remembering how amazing my father had been.

        Karyl and Herb arrived soon and started to help.  They stripped Dad’s bed and remade it for me, knowing they would be taking over my bed in the guest room.  Herb got rid of the oxygen tank and all the sickbed paraphernalia, so they wouldn’t be a constant reminder of Sam’s last few hours.    
        Despite all of their efforts, I found it difficult to sleep in my father’s bed.  I was tempted to move to the couch in the living room, knowing it was comfortable and that I’d slept on it many times through the years, but I also knew that Mother needed me to stay in Sam’s bed.  For months afterwards, Mother told me that whenever she’d wake in the middle of the night and look over at the empty bed, she pictured me in it instead of my father, and this composed her, for otherwise, her fear of the dead would have tormented her.
        As I lay awake at night staring up at the ceiling, I thought about my mixed emotions.  Part of me was grateful that my father was no longer in excruciating pain.  Although he rarely complained, I knew that his last few months had been torture.  But part of me was terribly concerned for Mother, knowing how she dreaded the thought of life without Sam, of growing old alone.  I didn’t worry about my own well-being, for although my father had tried to provide a safety net for me all through the years, I knew that it had been some time since he’d had the resources to do so.  Fortunately, his inability to take care of me had coincided with my growing independence and ability to take care of myself.
        The overwhelming feeling was a sense of sadness at what I considered to be the passing of an era.  In one year, Leon had walked out of my life, Dad had passed away, and Charles was upset with me for deserting him in his time of need.  Although I had repeatedly invited him to join me in California, he’d turned me down and seemed to blame me for all his difficulties.  I had lost three of the most important men in my life within a year, one to divorce, one to death, and one to adolescent angst. Once again, it was time to redefine Aura.  As if to thrust this task upon me, I received a telegram from my lawyer saying that the divorce decree was final and I was free to remarry.  Remarry?  For me it was “once for always all my life.”  I had loved Leon from a time when I was barely more than a child and couldn’t imagine loving anybody else.
        Not so for Leon.  He remarried less than four weeks later.  I didn’t know what to think when I learned that his new wife was a black woman from Jamaica.  Ever since we’d lived in Mississippi, I’d known that he’d been intrigued with certain aspects of the black culture and had been physically drawn to black women.  This had been a change from his high school days, when he loved tall blondes.  He’d always been open with me about what he found attractive, not realizing how it had contributed to my belief that one day he would leave me for another woman.  Those insecurities tumbled in on me again as it occurred to me that I could  never attract Leon, for I could never be black.
          As the end of the school year approached and my one-year lease was running out, I decided the time had come to leave my townhouse.  When I’d first selected it, I thought it was in Pomona, the town in which my school was located, and was surprised to discover a few weeks later that my street marked the city limit and I was instead in the town of Claremont.  This was an important distinction because only Pomona citizens were permitted to speak at school board meetings.  This was done to encourage teachers to live where they worked.
        Being the political animal I am, I never missed a board meeting.  I listened, but couldn’t join in the discussions, which frustrated me when I knew I had something important to contribute.  So I began to search for a home in Pomona and found a two-bedroom apartment that would suit me beautifully.  It was only a few blocks west of my Claremont townhouse, but those two blocks made all the difference in the world.  I left an upscale complex with professionals and Claremont College students to live in the black ghetto, where my neighbors were the friends and families of my high school students.  Philip and Deborah rented a U-Haul, my drama students arrived to help, and in five hours I was established in a new home.
        Prior to moving day, I’d called the utilities company to ask that they shut off service in Claremont and start me up in Pomona.  They said there would be no problem and even promised to make sure that service overlapped by a day so I’d never be without it.  Despite that, when I arrived home from school the first Monday in my new home, I walked into a cold, dark apartment.  When I called the manager to complain, he said this happened all the time and asked if I’d paid the fifty-dollar advance to the utilities company.  When I said they hadn’t required any advance because I was already a well-established customer, he just shook his head and suggested I give them a call.
        The ensuing conversation was quite different from the one I’d had a week earlier.  The clerk treated me as if I were a thief, trying to get away with a service I didn’t deserve.  I soon realized that my new address in the black ghetto made him assume I was poor and untrustworthy.  Apparently, it was an unwritten policy that black customers were required to submit an advance and white customers were trusted.
        I was furious but spoke politely and quietly, using a college level vocabulary to convey my annoyance.  I refused to accept their policy of treating ghetto residents as second-class citizens and demanded that a service representative be sent immediately to turn my power back on.  Realizing from the educated manner in which I spoke that a mistake had been made, the clerk agreed to send someone over.  Within 15 minutes, a utilities employee arrived at my door.  When I opened it, he said, “I’m sorry for the confusion.  We thought you were bl…”
        I stopped him instantly with, “Don’t say it.”
        On a similar note, I at first had difficulty getting the apartment manager to repair a hole in my dining room window.  He was accustomed to taking his residents for granted and providing a relatively low level of service, despite the fact that our rents were no lower than in nearby Claremont.  Each time I complained, he said, “It’s just a little hole.  Why do you care?”  When I finally said that looking at a bullet-hole every day was not conducive to my peace of mind, he was surprised, having assumed that I had no idea what had caused the hole in the first place.  When I arrived home from school the next day, the windowpane had been replaced.
        With the elimination of this constant reminder that I lived in a dangerous neighborhood, I settled into my apartment for the last few weeks of school, looking forward with mixed feelings to my summer vacation.  I was exhausted and physically needed the break but worried that the long hours by myself might send me back into a depression
        I responded with excitement when I learned that the State Board of Education had passed a resolution allowing speech or drama to account for one English credit.  I loved the idea and thought we should take advantage of it by offering a summer school class in drama.  By the time I met with my principal to make the suggestion, I already envisioned mounting a production of South Pacific with the help of the music teacher.
        We started rehearsals the Monday after school ended.  At first, my class was made up primarily of students I’d had during the year, students who already knew how much fun it was to be in a show.  Although I was having a wonderful time working with them, they weren’t the targets of the new law.  They’d already passed their English courses and had no need of the extra credit.  Within a few days of beginning rehearsals, I saw an opportunity to reach out to the students who most needed it.
        I noticed a group of Chicano boys hanging out on campus and recognized some of them.  It was the 11th Street gang, feared by many of the students and teachers for their violent and destructive behavior.  My first exposure to them had occurred in an English class, and it was the most frightening moment of my teaching career.  I’d called on a student who wasn’t paying attention and asked him to stand up. Before responding, he looked at the leader of the gang for direction.  Only after the leader indicated with a hand gesture that the boy should stand up did he do so.  I realized in that instant that I wasn’t in control of my classroom; the leader of the gang could decide at any moment to tell his members to stop cooperating with me.
        Fortunately, I never had to deal with what would happen if he chose to take advantage of that power, for he decided fairly promptly that I was someone who cared about him and his fellow students.  He trusted me and demanded that his gang members behave themselves while in my class. Other teachers had problems with this group of boys, but I never did.  Instead, they became some of my most devoted students.
        With this shared history, I had high hopes that I might interest them in joining our drama class.  I began to leave the choir room door open so they could see how much fun we were having.  It worked.  They spent less time vandalizing the school and more time tapping their feet to the music or sprawled on the ground near our rehearsals.  One day, I told the class to keep working and went out to talk with the gang members.  I said they were welcome to come in and that if they came every day and helped with the show, I would see to it that they’d receive an English credit.  They conferred quietly among themselves and then stood up and followed me into the choir room.
        When it came time for the male chorus to rehearse the song, There is Nothing Like a Dame, I turned to them and said, “You’ll earn your credit just by coming to class and working backstage when we perform.  But you’ll have more fun if you act in the show.  What do you say?”
       They all stood around the piano and learned the words and music.  From that day on, they were my sailors, throwing themselves into the parts and having the time of their lives.  One day, I overheard one say to another, “This sure beats writing graffiti.”
        I don’t know who loved rehearsals the most, my original group of students, the gang members, or me.  Certainly working on the production kept me so busy that I didn’t have time to think about my own situation.  When the show closed, however, I found myself succumbing to depression once again.  Not only was I alone all week, I lost two major sources of weekend companionship.  Philip graduated from UC Irvine, and he and Deborah moved north to the Sacramento area so he could go to law school at UC Davis.  I was happy for him, but I missed them both terribly.  To add to my loneliness, my friend Nancy Dalmont moved away, as well.  She was getting married and moving to New Jersey.
        The next to leave was Jo, who was transferring to Massachusetts to attend B U.  When I waved goodbye to her at the airport, I felt completely abandoned.  For a few days, I was content to write letters to everyone and fill my time with needlework and reading but soon realized I needed more.  The quiet, lonely hours were driving me deeper into depression and I didn’t know how I was going to make it until the start of the school year.

3 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  2. What a marvelous love story with all its complications, heartbreak, hard lessons and finally a gratifying happy ending. Thank you for this account from your personal life, Tracy.

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  3. For the first time, more than two years later, I noticed the removal of Tracy's comment. I can't imagine why. It's very disappointing. Question for blog administrator: Can you give me your reason for removing this comment?

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