Excerpt: 'Anyone Can Grow Up'

Back on shore, it occasionally occurred to me that in addition to not being meant to sail boats, we weren't meant to be married. But I stopped having any such thoughts once Courtney was born. I was transported to a galaxy of such bliss that I could have been married to Ted Bundy for all it mattered. As time went on, Gene and I were sufficiently respectful of being parents not to split apart, but insufficiently drawn to each other to live together. When Gene got a Neiman Fellowship in 1975, he went off to Harvard and visited on the weekends. When the next year he got a job offer from The Wall Street Journal, he went off to Hong Kong and couldn't visit on the weekends. With deep family discounts on United, he came back often enough to remain a critical part of Courtney's life.

Real estate finally separated us. We sold our big house. Gene leased an apartment in Hong Kong and I bought a colonial in disrepair in Washington. Because the breakup had been so gradual and we had no financial entanglements other than the house, it took less than a half hour answering questions posed by an administrative judge to sever the bonds of matrimony. I walked down the aisle of a D.C. courtroom and out the door, struck that in its dissolution, marriage has no equal and opposite reaction. No drama marked the occasion.

Who better to provide the missing drama than parents? We had to move our parents away from the comfortable fiction that work was keeping us apart and introduce the reality that it was the two of us who were doing it. Divorce produced an onus of sin (mortal and excommunicative like my grandmother) and banishment. When an older cousin told my grandfather she was getting divorced, he lowered the venetian blinds and sat in darkness for the rest of the day, saying he would never see her again. He relented, but the black cloud never lifted. That my parents initially objected to Gene's reserve and Protestantism didn't matter. Marriage was a sacrament. Ours took place at the church in which I was baptized. Once they made their peace with Gene for not being an altar boy and keeping a statue of Buddha in his office, they wouldn't hear any talk of it not working out. Years passed and they never acknowledged I was divorced.

The Carlsons were equally disappointed and silent, since that was their way. But Eddie did write me a letter, describing how devastated he'd been when his own parents divorced, which made this all the more devastating for him. If I was no longer his daughter-in-law officially, he wrote, he would treat me like a daughter. His own daughter, Janie, was sweet enough to share. His devotion never wavered.

After rejecting the life of associate at a downtown law firm, I went to work at the Legal Times, a halfway house for fallen-away attorneys, writing about the legal profession instead of being in it. It paid poorly, and one day Eddie was waiting for me to go to lunch and overheard an intense auto repair conversation about how long a leaky water pump could last and the life expectancy of the radiator. That night he took me to get a new car. He was buying, but with my parents whispering in my ear, I convinced him what I really wanted was a used Honda.

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