Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Our Valentine

Dana in courtship decor, 1981. Somehow my escape plan never materialized. Posted by Picasa

All the way to Heaven is Heaven.

---St.Catherine of Siena

If only I may grow: firmer, simpler---quieter, warmer.

---Dag Hammarskjold

Since everything is none other than exactly as it is, one may well just break out in laughter.

---Long Chen Pa

The marriage had lasted but 5 years. The exterior usually was ideal. Photos of us look perfect. Wonderful job, nice home, great friends, and most important 2 magnificent children. But there was discontent---unacknowledged, and it had spread fatally. The year was 1968, the sexual revolution just had begun, and there had to be a first victim. We were it.

I didn't take the divorce well. I didn't think it was right. I was ashamed. There never had been divorce on either side of my family---that I know of. That's the point: where I came from, dairyfarming and grapegrowing Western New York, such a thing was a disgrace. She was from Connecticut, where you took "incompatability" in your stride. When she remarried 4 years later she said cheerily, "Now the children will have TWO fathers." I didn't look at it as a grand opportunity. I was bereft not to be raising those kids under my own roof.

My journey of wild wander and mythic monsters had begun in a Bridgeport courtroom. Fifteen years later I was wreckage on a distant shore. There had been tumultuous relationships, all failed. Jobs came and went. In 1974, I found myself in Houston, at John Lomax Jr.'s funeral, sitting in a corner on the floor, weeping. I wanted to go home. I did.

Back in Jamestown after 10 or 15 years, looking for my roots and shelter from the storm, reunion with family wasn't exactly a bed of roses. Emotionally I was coming apart...and a couple of affairs and jobs attempted didn't help. By 1978 I needed a psychiatrist...and somehow got one just right for me then. He was from India and he talked all the time. He didn't think I was crazy, and gave me medication that had me floating like a butterfly. He said I had to succeed at my job, because otherwise I'd have no money to come see him. It was that simple.

A couple years later, I was introduced to Dana through her family. Cousins thought we'd like each other. They lived around my town and we were friends. She was visiting from Ohio. I'd never been there, only passing through a couple times to somewhere else, and I had no interest in visiting the place. I accepted the invitation to meet her down in Sugar Grove, Pennsylvania, one Saturday afternoon. She was younger and I felt like some kind of celebrity. I don't think we were attracted particularly, but we must have chatted pleasantly enough to consider going to a movie that evening. The only shows we wanted to see were playing as a double feature at a drive-in. Once we got there, some kind of magical chemistry took over...and that was it. We finally actually watched those movies at a later date.

The formality of a family introduction appealed to my 1950s sensibilities. I'm one of the only people I know of who's been called both a beatnik and a hippie. But underneath all that is an upbringing of structure and order. This was the first relationship since my marriage that was beginning with this kind of respectability. I had learned that when I "pick up" women---in a bar, a museum, a shop---I lose them the same way I find them. I couldn't take that anymore. Maybe I was ready to settle down.

We courted long distance for only a year. Perhaps we didn't know each other well enough, but we decided we wanted to live together. Dana wasn't that interested in marriage, even if we both wanted children, which we did. I knew my family would go off the deep end if we had a child out of wedlock, so it was I who pushed for getting married. I managed to get to Ohio in my dying Dodge, and asked for her hand in a formal meeting with her mother and father. They didn't know what to make of such a thing. Both well educated with careers, he professing English at OU and she directing a nursing service, they were liberated people...and hardly prepared to accept or refuse a daughter's suitor. "Whatever would make her happy." A date was set for the summer of 1982. One year later our son was born. We welcomed our daughter a few years after that.

Looking back at this Valentine over all those years, we probably are closer to agreement and happiness than we ever have been. We turned out to be the kind of couple that remains 2 distinct individuals. It takes so much hard work, often with irritable rubbing into each other's territory, that our children are surprised when they see us kissing and hugging. What has carried us through is our love of music and laughter, Nature and drama, religion and politics. When we do things together, like shopping and working, we have fun.

Dana is more creative than I am. The ideas she comes up with, supported always with careful research, never stop emerging. I have to be on my toes, and while I may moan and complain I try to balance it with my sincere admiration for her. She found me like some forgotten item at a garage sale. She took me home as a fix-up opportunity. She insisted I get off the butterfly medication immediately. (We informed the doctor a few months later, and he couldn't believe we had managed it.) Over time I see she has allowed me to put myself together, rather than turn me into something I'm not. She has a vast perception, and we keep up with each other. Often one is ahead on something and the other has to catch up...but gradually we are learning to walk together. Love takes time. I guess we both knew that. We are loving more. We are opening our eyes to see Heaven.

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