I enjoy telling stories orally and that has led me to take up the pen and write down some of the stories of my life. I usually try to inject humor into my tales and that is not an especially hard thing to do as there is almost always humor in life if we will only look around and try to find it. There are times and events however which admit to no humor. Our lives can take dark and painful turns which we never see coming and demonstrate to us that life can be a fragile and unpredictable thing, subject to pressures which crush the spirit and leave you just trying to get out of bed in the morning and make it through another day. I have experienced these times, as have most people, and I will now write about one of them. In February of 1976 my wife, whom I will call Clarice since I believe that in reality I do not personally know anyone by that name, announced to me her desire that we should separate. I had sensed a growing distance between us but believed that it would pass and we would somehow get back on our usual track. With this announcement I now saw that the rupture of our relationship was much worse than I had previously thought it to be. I didn’t say much, but instead went outside into the cold winter evening in Northern California to get my thoughts straight. After a while I returned to our house and we talked about the issue. “It would only be a separation” she said. “Just to see if things could get worked out between us.” The thought gave me some hope although in fact that hope was pure fantasy, a straw clutched at by a drowning man. “Would you see other guys while we are apart?” “Sure. I’m not going to become a nun. You would be able to see other women too”. I had no interest in doing the dating rat race and the thought of Clarice with someone else made my stomach turn. “Can we at least agree to not be with other people until we are actually separated?” I asked. She agreed to this, and the date of June 1 was set for our separation. I immediately stopped the construction work that I had been doing for ten to fourteen hours per day, sometimes seven days per week, and found a part time job that gave me a good deal more free time to try to mend fences with Clarice. This did little good however because Clarice was gone most of the day. She worked part time also and was part of a local actors group, and was always rehearsing or taking singing lessons or doing something or other which kept her away from our home for most of the day. I rested on our agreement, however, and hoped that something would change before the agreed-upon separation date arrived. One of the things that I did in my new-found spare time was to reconnect with a lot of my college friends. With my ‘now’ descending into a depressing progression of one empty day leading into another as our separation date approached I reached out to those who were my companions in happier and more care-free earlier times. On one day I happened to be at a house rented by a couple whom I knew when we lived in the same apartment complex at school. There were some other people there, and we drank a few beers and smoked a joint or two, and being highly gregarious I just naturally ended up talking with a complete stranger. We both exuded a melancholy air and ended up listening to Aretha Franklin records and telling each other our blues as Aretha sang her own. This guy, whom I’ll call Eugene, was telling me of the breakup which he was in the middle of with his girlfriend. I listened with great sympathy and then began to tell him of my situation. “My wife, Clarice, works at such and such a place, and is involved in such and such activities,” I explained. “We’re separating next month and I hate it. At least we’re staying faithful to each other. I can at least feel good about that.” Eugene looked at me in a funny way, but I was a little bit stoned and drunk, and was deep in my sadness so it didn’t register with me at all. Finally he asked “what did you say your wife’s name is?” “Clarice Durden” I responded. Eugene sat for a minute, looking out of the window at the chickens scratching at bugs in the dirt of the fenced yard outside. In another minute he asked “Where did you say she works”. “She works at the college” I replied, still unprepared for what was coming. Eugene sat for another minute, sipping his beer and looking out of the window, and then he put on another Aretha record. “There’s something I got to tell you man.” Eugene went on to tell me of the relationship that Clarice was already in with another man. I said that it couldn’t be true, but Eugene knew too many names, facts, dates and descriptions. I sat in my chair like a pig that had just been whacked in the head with a sledge hammer. Lisa, one of the couple who lived at the house, saw what was going on and came over to thump Eugene in the back of the head. “What are you doing man? They were going to be separated in another month and he would never have to know about that shit!” “A man deserves to know this kind of thing” he responded. “It’s not right that she’s making a fool of him”. Well, Eugene was partly right. I did have a right to know. As for a man deserving to know more than a woman in the same situation, I don’t think so. I would tell a friend anyway. As for the part about being made a fool of, well, I was pretty much doing a good job of that all by myself. The signals, if I wasn’t as naive as a six-year-old, were all there to be read. I just didn’t want to read them. Now, a perfect stranger had just pointed out to me that I was the last person in the entire county to know what was going on. I went home right after that and sat in my kitchen until Clarice returned several hours later. She entered the house as she usually did with a cheerful greeting, but I confronted her with what I had heard right away. Clarice denied it, but I could finally see the truth in her face. She continued to deny the relationship and at last I said “If you won’t tell me the truth I’ll take my .38 and get the truth out of your boyfriend”. I actually called him something other than that, with a few adjectives thrown in for good measure. I didn’t really own a .38 or any other type of firearm and wouldn’t have dreamed of using one if I did, but Clarice wasn’t sure about that, so she admitted at last to the affair to prevent a possible murder. I was crushed. I went into the garage and pounded my fist onto a 2 X 4 handrail and roared my pain in inarticulate sounds. Clarice just sat down in a kitchen chair and didn’t move until I finally returned. I had nothing to say; nothing that would have made any sense. I told her I was going to bed, and I actually showered and got into bed. I was running on automatic pilot, not thinking because my brain was imploding. I had only programmed routine to keep me sane. That last night that we spent in the same building together we had sex. As I said, I had lost the ability to put one coherent thought together with another. Routine took over while my mind retreated to some distant and protected place where the teeth and claws of a now-malevolent present life could not be able to reach it and finish the job that it had begun of driving me over the edge. Finally, exhausted with grief, I passed into a fitful sleep. Early the next morning I arose, dressed myself, threw a number of clothes and personal items into a backpack and a couple of shopping bags and drove my Ford pickup down the gravel drive to the street and finally onto the highway, with my home behind me and nothing that I was certain of before me. I decided that I would first go to see an old college roommate who was now caretaker at a rural volunteer fire department nearby. Driving down the road my Ford sputtered and died. This was not the first time that this had happened, but on this occasion my frustration was magnified two hundred percent. I rolled to a stop on the shoulder of the road and walked a short way to an offramp. Down the offramp was a store where I got some change so that I could call my dad from a phone booth in the parking lot. My mother was away visiting her relatives in Kentucky and Dad was alone when he answered. “Dad, I just left home” was all I could say before I was blubbering incoherentely. My father, who would never be described as a sensitive, new age sort of guy, listened patiently as his youngest son broke down on the phone. After I regained some composure we talked for a bit, and Dad said to call when I needed to; every day if that’s what it took. That was exactly what it took. I called Dad each day for a month. When I hung up on that first morning I returned to the truck, which fired up immediately, and I completed my trip to the fire station, where a sofa in the recreation room would be my home for the next four days. This all happened in May, and I quarterbacked our divorce proceedings through the courts in August. We remained friends, oddly enough, and I harbor no resentment towards Clarice to this day. We had no business being married at all, let along to each other. Neither one of us had a successful model of marriage in our lives and our chances of making a marriage work were doomed from the start. I had no idea of what a spouse is supposed to bring to a marriage and neither did Clarice, although we both had fantasies which unfortunately turned out to be contradictory. Probably the only maturity that either of us showed in the whole of our relationship was in refusing to let the separation and divorce descend into rancour ( know that the word is properly spelled ‘rancor’, but adding the ‘u’ makes it seem,well,British, and adds to the effect I think). It took me about three months before I laughed again. I know this because it was pointed out to me by one of my new roommates. It was a year before I could sit in a bar or restaurant and not sink deeper into depression as I sank deeper into my cups. I finally remarried, as did she. My second marriage has lasted for quite a few decades now. Clarice’s lasted a couple of years, but then she left him to marry someone new and stayed with him to the end of his life; several decades later. I must admit, and it is petty of me, that I derive some pleasure that the man for whom Clarise left me got to enjoy some of his own medicine. I know that I shouldn’t, but I hope it hurt. If I have a moral to this story it is that marriage is not to be entered into lightly and never to be taken for granted once the vows are said. Those who are successfully married have an obligation, I think, to model their marriage to those who might otherwise walk blindly into a meat grinder that, if you are not prepared for it, can turn your heart into sausage and make your soul a prison of pain. But I didn’t write this to moralize; I’m just telling a story.
Published by gdgdurden
I am an ultrasound technologist in the Pacific Northwest who grew up listening to the stories that the grown-ups told in living rooms and around fires. I love a well-told story and try to continue that art. View all posts by gdgdurden