I stepped from Plank to Plank
A slow and cautious way
The Stars about my Head I felt
About my feet the Sea.

I knew not but the next
Would be my final inch -
This gave me that precarious Gait
Some call Experience.

Emily Dickinson, c. 1864

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Life with Don

This picture of the two of us was taken by Don sometime in the mid- to late 1960s. I'm not sure when exactly, but it was during that time that I was being taken care of by someone other than me, who told me what to do with every minute of every day. I was happy, I'm sure of it. But the truth is, I remember very little from that time, except for having difficulty being around small children. Averting my eyes and doing everything I could think of to avoid remembering my previous life. And Stephen.

Don had been living in the house on Covert Road for many decades and had raised his five children there. Divorced for many years, I now became the Mrs. in every way. Even though I had a full-time job, as did Don, I did all the cleaning, made every meal from scratch (there were few, if any, fast food places at that time). Don bought me a car; I remember it was metallic pink. Just remembering how different things were then: no seat belts, no safety devices of any kind except for the brakes. It was automatic, so I just slid in and when Chris was with me, he slid into the front seat next to me.

My job was quite interesting. I was the secretary for the Mott Inter-University Clinical Preparation Program, teaching educators from around the country how to set up community schools. This is now an integral part of many communities, but back then it was a novel concept. Although the job doesn't resemble the work I did in my later years, it was very well defined. I knew shorthand and used it, going into my supervisor's office with notebook in hand, then sitting at a typewriter and translating those squiggles into words. I also answered the phone and basically set up appointments and kept track of the community interns. They would come for half a year to Flint and then would return to their home school district or university to carry on the message.

Don also owned a beautiful and remote cabin on Lake Superior. Materials had been brought in during the winter when the lake was frozen and then the cabin was built in the summer. He bought it from the builder, and we had many wonderful excursions up there: Don, Chris, me, and sometimes his teenage children from his previous marriage. I remember that when the sun would go down, the mice would begin to come out, hundreds of them, and fall against the window trying to get it. Of course some did, and Don set traps for them, which would snap all night long. They frightened me, the sheer numbers of them. But the walks along the rocky beach day after day was very soothing to me.

Sometimes Chris would spend holidays or even a summer with his dad, who had remarried and had two small boys. When Chris was gone, at first I would miss him terribly, but after a short while it seemed normal for him to be gone, and then a re-entry period would be needed when he came home. Chris was a quiet but very normal boy growing up in these years. When he was grown sometimes we would talk about that time, and he remembered Don as being strict but not mean to him.

Little by little, I began to heal from the trauma of losing Stephen. Don and I began to argue, not often, but he wasn't pleased by my beginning to question his authority. I remember one year when he decided I should make all the Christmas gifts for everyone, including his children, so I would come home from work and sit at the sewing machine for hours, making dresses, shirts, jumpers. There is a little resentment that rises up from that time. Don paid attention to what I wore to work, and if my skirt was short enough to show my knees, he demanded that it be lengthened.

After about four years, I began to develop interests that were separate from Don. Then there was a really attractive intern from Sacramento, California, who was very attentive to me. David would sometimes come to my desk for no reason except to tell me how pretty I looked that day, and we would occasionally go to lunch together, which was the only time I could get away from Don's scrutiny. David always seemed vulnerable to me, sweet in a slightly needy way.

The inevitable happened. I grew more and more interested in finding ways to meet David, and we would sometimes kiss behind closed doors. I became smitten and we talked about running away together. Don and I had more frequent arguments and I moved in with a friend for a short while, but I came back to Don because I felt so guilty about Chris being pulled away from his stable life.

After a very tumultuous period in my life, I began to spend more time with David and less with Don, and although I don't remember exactly how I separated from him, David and I would see each other and drink the night away. I began to drink during my life with David, who drank Canadian Club on the rocks every night, and I began to drink wine every night. The days and nights began to pass in a blur, and while little stands out for me during those times, I missed the clues: David was an alcoholic.

This period for me is just a blur because of the drinking, and because it was actually pretty painful to remember. Don did some terrible things, but so did I.  I don't even remember who I lived with after I moved out from Don's house. I think it was Don's son and daughter in law, but I really could not say for sure.

Chris had the stability, still, of his father's home, and I remember he stayed there for longer periods as I began to figure out a way to go back to California with David. Since he was a vice principal at a school in Sacramento, we pretended to be married so that he wouldn't be confronted with what in those days was really unacceptable behavior. I was still married to Don, or I suppose I would have married David right then.

Eventually David, Chris and I took a road trip to Sacramento, and I established a life there with David. He had also been married before and had a boy and a girl from a previous marriage who visited him every summer and occasional holidays. Now the three of us moved into a beautiful house in Sacramento, and I began my life with David.

My guilt over what I had done to Chris' life has never died away. He was only 10 years old and I had already pulled him all the way across the country, out of his father's life, out of the frying pan and into the fire. One conversation we had about all this stands out in my mind: I asked Chris how he felt about all this and he said something that still stings: "Mom, you've had so many husbands, it doesn't matter what you do any more."

The next post I'll talk about my life with David, and how totally appropriate the analogy of "out of the frying pan and into the fire" really was.


Lucy said...

You look like a movie star in that photo! We do the things we need to at any given time. That is how we survive, by bending and molding to the situation. Remember, if you hadn't had all those things happen to you, you would not be where you are today.

Whitney Lee said...

That was well said; all the choices you have made have led you where you are today. I'm not sure that having had several husbands is something so strange. Back then it was the way things were done. These days women just have relationships, sometimes living together, sometimes not. Based on my experience and those of women close to me, it's not unusual to have several 'serious' relationships before getting married. You just happened to be married first.
It sounds like you had an incredible amount of hardship in a short span of time. You have glossed over your time with Don, but as difficult as it must have been it seems to have given you a safe haven of sorts for the time it took you to be able to make the day to day choices again. He sounds like more of a parent than a partner, but that's not uncommon in a lot of relationships.
Your stories, and your courage, continue to amaze me. Thank you for sharing.

Historical sites with charmine said...

D-Jan,I'm sure you had a tough life and your brave to share all this with everyone now.....I wonder why you choose to do this now.

Stella Jones said...

When we look back, we wonder why we took a certain path, don't we? At the time it seems the logical answer and our emotions push us forwards. I think we are meant to follow a path that is mapped out for us and we have to take what is given and make the best of it. People come along at times when we need them and then disappear out of our lives when we no longer need them.
This is an honest post. It is hard to write about people who may still be around to read what you have put. Maybe that doesn't apply in your case.
Blessings, Star

Kate said...

This post is very moving and I wish you all the best.

Kate x

The Retired One said...

I believe you were still so numb and so devastated, that you turned to the only human offering you attention and a sense of worthiness.
It was bound to happen, as your husband then was more of an authority/father figure who had rescued you out of the trauma of losing your son..not a romantic, equal partner.
This new man needed you more than you needed him, but you enabled each other at the exact time in your life where you needed another escape.
You really have had some trauma in your life and I can see that the next post will lead to even more pain coming for you then, I bet.
It is like I am reading a novel and I am calling out to the heroine not to go to the next thing in the chapter to come and she can't hear me.....

Far Side of Fifty said...

Hi DJan I am still reading...you are a good writer..it reads like a novel. I am not sure if you want to hear that or not. The photo is smashing..you are beautiful..and so was your son:)

Leave a Legacy said...

I agree with the others, DJ. You are an excellent writer and I can't quit reading. Most published books don't captivate me like you are. Again, memories are flooding back to me of my past and I certainly am a much different person today than I was then. It's almost as if I had someone else's brain in my 20's and 30's. I have a lot of guilt, too. There is just no way I could write about it at this point in my life as you are doing. I admire how you've taken these events in your life and formed them into the person you are today that can tell this story.

Rhapsody Phoenix said...

hmmmmm....living in an abusive relationship is never easy, forgive me for saying this but this is what Don sounded like in terms of the obsessive control he kept on you. Nothing is more oppressive and stifling. Its no wonder you sought an escape.

Wow... I actually cringe at your son's statement. I know what you mean by sting. Children have a way of cutting through the heart of the matter.