Friday, May 4, 2007

The Man I Used to Know

I met Greg on a blind date 32 1/2 years ago. An old fraternity brother of his with whom I was teaching in Harlem had fixed us up. (Actually, the frat brother had the hots for me but was married. Very married, sort of - you know, the type who brags about his homemade chocolate brownies in the teachers' lunchroom every day, possibly to compensate for a priapism that he seemed unable otherwise to control.)

I fell in love with Greg immediately, though he said that his first impression of me was, "This is not an attractive girl." Greg, however, was a very attractive man, though he wore his totally broken soul on his Bloomie's jacket sleeve. In fact, the utter brokenness of his heart was a very endearing quality: his first wife had betrayed him; his profession had not worked out; his stepmother was out to get him; his father was following his current wife and Greg's real mother and sister had long ago run away to parts unknown. I, of course, would save him. I would save him, and he would stay with me forever: that was our unspoken deal.

After a few weeks, I followed him to London and Paris, where we got engaged. Everyone thought we were crazy to get engaged so soon: we, in fact, KNEW that we were nuts, and that only added to the charm. Buckingham Palace, The Who, Samuel Johnson's house, the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, the patisseries - one endless whirl of wonderful places and times to retrieve and remember and savor in the dark days that would come.

In my naivete, I thought that such wonderful fun would heal his broken heart. Of course it did not. Soon after our very short engagement and sudden marriage, which had been essentially boycotted by the family members he cared about the most, the dampness inside Greg's soul only became worse. Unable to help him, the darkness spread to me, and the horrors of repressed pasts and our mutually horrendous present overcame us both.

So we left the complexities of Queens, New York and moved to the lush greens of Greg's childhood Louisiana, where we learned that G-d, family, love and good home cooking could cure the soul. Two years later we were fit as fiddles and moved to Texas.

And we flourished: we worked; we bought a house; we shopped; we explored a pristine city; we found intellectual stimulation in the deserts of Dallas. We became pregnant! We raised a son via simple, unspoken rules: We would give Jeff all of our hearts, all of our devotion and all of our love. Greg, shy Greg, found his own way at bridge games at lunchtime at Chilton Corporation, where he climbed the ranks. And I spent my days totally in love with my baby boy.

Greg - MY Greg - always there for my son and me. ALWAYS THERE. No matter the time of the day or night, he would do our biddings. At 6PM every night he would open the screen door and hear Jeff call out the Sesame Street number and letter of the day. In those years he fit Gloria Steinem's definition of a perfect husband: He would NEVER say anything bad about me in my absence; he could always be trusted to care properly for our son when I was not around.

And then everything changed: the bottom fell out of Dallas, and Chilton needed to banish Greg because the company was going to be sold.. The beginnings of hormonal diseases were brewing in him; at the same time, I lost my mother, became hooked on Xanax and needed badly to go back home. The betrayals and the breaches of trust, too painful even now to dissect and describe, became more numerous and difficult to ignore; MY Greg had disappeared.

Back home in NYC, we three struggled. Sometimes we struggled alone; sometimes we struggled together. As Jeff grew older, he came and went more and more. As Greg and I became older, he went more than he came. Soon I found myself frequently eating alone in restaurants; I also found myself turning away from my family and towards people who had known me in NY long before the Dallas days.

Then Jeff left for Columbia. Although we remained the parents who climbed the Heights on weekends and took everyone out on special occasions, our lives had already radically changed. I never knew where my husband went after work almost every night; he pretended he did not know how I spent my evenings while he was away.

But that was only the beginning of the end. MY Greg still rushed to my school after 911 to make sure I was all right. MY Greg helped me with my Computer homework during the year of my precious sabbatical; MY Greg became my best friend again for the brief while that Jeff was away in London.

Then came the true end. The day after Mother's Day, two years ago, Greg moved out. Even the arguments, which had grown progressively louder and more bitter, ended without either of us being aware of the silence: We had simply stopped talking. At some unknown point, we had stopped seeing each other as people and only acknowledged our own unspoken grievances and complaints.

We had become divorced on March 15, 2007, five days before Greg saw me through the removal of my cancerous kidney. I have never seen his apartment in Forest Hills, and never will; the pain would simply be too great. He still has some clothing and books here at home to use when he returns on weekends for certain family events...

I do not know how much longer I will live, but I know I want him in my life. I do not know how soon I will die, but I know I'll want to die in his arms when the time comes.

The tears are streaming down my strange, post-cancer face as I write because I can still see that handsome, grief- stricken man - MY Greg - who came to my door 32 1/2 years ago. I believed he would stay forever.

No comments: