Monday, August 25, 2014

Sex and Marriage, Redux

Our little boy is four years old and quite a little man
So we spell out the words we don't want him to understand
"D-I-V-O-R-C-E," by Bobby Braddock and Curly Putnam

Growing up in Southern California in the 1950's, none of the boys I knew gave a moment's thought to the possibilities of marriage and raising children.  Unlike the girls playing family with their dolls and dreaming of a white wedding dress, our concern was how NOT to have kids.  It was before the pill when coat hanger abortions were common and dangerous.  Many of us carried around a condom in our wallet, and its outline could be seen long before we had the opportunity to use one.  Horror stories about flawed rubbers were exchanged over the lunchroom table in school.

The story of how I stumbled into marriage was recounted in the initial episode of Sex and Marriage. I consented to calm my first wife's hysteria about the possibility of my leaving.  And when I finally walked out the door (or rather was locked out late one night), I left my two young boys behind, telling myself that she would kills herself if I took them away from her.  I had sufficient reason for leaving from the confession she taped to the TV set before I came home one night that told of multiple affairs -- with her best friend's husband, several next door neighbors, a number of one-night stands with strangers, and my brother's friend whose hair she offered to cut. Strangely enough, we had a reconciliation of sorts for three weeks until the night I came home drunk to find I was unable to open the door (it was only because of a wind storm which I misinterpreted, but took it as a sign). But, truth be told, I left to get my freedom from marriage and from my family.  

Getting locked out was not the worst of the breakup.  A friend in Santa Monica let me stay with him for a few days. And on Sunday I went to the weekly volleyball game on Venice Beach between fellow workers in the rock and roll biz.  Who should show up but my wife and our children!  She was not content to keep our problems private, but began shouting at me, asking where I'd been.  I walked off the beach without looking back and drove up to a friend's farm in Mendocino for a week of distance and healing.  On the way back I stopped off in Bolinas to visit a friend for some sexual commiseration.  And back in Hollywood, my friend Diane, who was also Chuck Berry's girlfriend, found me a room in a apartment house for retired film folk next to Grauman's Chinese Theatre (torn down long ago).  Eventually I found a crash pad in a duplex just off Venice Beach where I lived for two long years.

I had no idea how to be a single father.  Once she saw the breakup was permanent, my wife agreed to weekend visits by the kids every two weeks.  I bought bunk bed cots and a big TV, and subjected them to a routine of fast food and movies.  Swimming in the ocean was always an option, but Venice was not yet a safe tourist destination.  Junkies and Jewish refugees cohabitated in the run-down beach-front apartment buildings.  When I bought my eldest a bike, it was stolen within a day. My lifestyle was increasingly drug related.  LSD and speed was easy to obtain and I remember one all-night party which culminated in a dawn drive in a convertible with wired and blitzed friends. I took along my two boys, and I should have been arrested.

Leaving them with their mother may have been the worst thing I ever did.  She remarried an artist and they moved from Sierra Madre to Durango to Sonoma, giving them a half-sister along the way.  While I had moved north to Santa Cruz and dried out, my children's parents got heavily into cocaine and booze.  Their mother has been a lifelong user of Valium which she argued made her almost normal.  Although I'm not giving up my share of the blame, their lifestyle had similar yet different effects on our sons.  One became an alcoholic who would die from substance abuse at the age of 42 and the elder became a workaholic whose obsessions would prove uniquely successful.  

My wife handled the divorce and did not ask for alimony, probably because she assumed I would use her "confession" of serial adultery as evidence against her.  After the breakup and before the move north, I indulged my senses and wrecked my body in a two-year bacchanalia fueled by rock and roll and drugs.  My access as a PR man to musicians was attractive to groupies and star fuckers.  I toured with Elton John, the Rolling Stones, The Who, Eric Clapton and Crosby, Stills Etc.  I went to concerts in Hawaii and London, a conference in Paris where St├ęphane Grappelli played dinner music, and a recording session by the Stones in Kingston, Jamaica. There was always a dealer handy.  My one romantic affair during this time, with the younger sister of my secretary, ended when I chose cocaine over her.   Friends identified me as a basket case and I lost jobs, finally getting fired by my boss when I wouldn't leave my office where I'd locked the door and played music at full volume.  On alternate weekends I would take my sons to dinner and the movies (my eldest still remembers all the titles). My surviving son, who hasn't spoken to his mother in 10 year, chose not to have any children with his wife, for obvious reasons.  

In the Santa Cruz Mountains I became the hippie I'd always wanted to be, lived on unemployment and wrote poetry which I read at local restaurants and coffee shops on bills with singer-songwriters.  There I fell in love with a chef from one of the restaurants who wooed me with steak and shrimp take-home.  She'd been a topless-bottomless dancer for a brief spell in Alaska and was then cooking and drawing pictures.  We met at a luncheon to celebrate her divorce from a man who had made a fortune in the early Silicon Valley.  Our days consisted of sleeping in late, going to outdoor parties, dancing at the Catalyst, taking mind-altering chemicals, and sunning at the nude beach. And sometimes my boys would come from far away to visit and sleep our couch (after I moved into her tiny apartment).  

She had tried unsuccessfully to get pregnant when she was married.  The daughter of an alcoholic airline pilot from Connecticut, she was very close to her mother and I think wanted to duplicate that relationship with her own child.  I was of two minds about having children.  My first experience had been such a failure that I never wanted to repeat it.  On the other hand, it seemed like the most loving thing I could do for her.  We were quickly successful, but when she told her mother, she learned in no uncertain terms that marriage was required before further communication.  We were married in March under flowering fruit trees at an organic farm by a lawyer with a certificate in the Church of Conservation.  His wife played the guitar and sang songs to Kahlil Gibran poems.  

Our daughter was born in a big brass bed in the birth center of a local hospital where we spent the night after I gave her a warm bath.  We buried the placenta under a rose bush in front of our house. I was entranced by this little thing with lots of hair.  We swung together in the hammock I put up between two trees in our yard, and I was very good at dancing her to sleep.  Now my thought was that perhaps I could do it right, be the kind of father I saw in the models around me in Santa Cruz of caring men who easily put their own needs aside for that of their children.  When she was three, we moved back to the town where my wife grew up in Connecticut and lived in a large house with a yard that required a ride-on lawn mower.  I got a good job and commuted to Manhattan by train.  We got a dog (who promptly ran away), and our daughter trick or treated in the neighborhood on Halloween in a ballerina's costume.

When my wife began her campaign to have another child (so our daughter would not be an only child, now seen as a bad thing), I should have paused to reconsider.  In the early months of her first pregnancy, she had experienced some bleeding, and our sex life screeched to a halt.  After the birth, she moved easily from the role of lover to that of mother.  The wild and crazy earth woman I'd encountered in the Santa Cruz Mountains went into hibernation.  I responded to diminished intimacy by studying religion in my spare time, reading books and visiting churches. It only took a week for us to get pregnant the second time and it was the last sustained sex I would have in our marriage.  After the pregnancy and birth (it only took an hour at Yale New Haven Hospital and we left before the free filet mignon meal), we drifted into separate worlds.  I was the breadwinner and the intellectually curious student of a wide variety of subjects.  When called upon, I fulfilled my fatherly duties.  But I increasingly felt alone.  We were no longer a couple or a team. Just as her father had been a threat in her family (he would pass out at the dinner table into his food), I took on that role for her in ours.  We rarely agreed about child raising issues and she would frequently defend the children against my attempts at discipline (the main thing I'd learned from my father).  

After returning to California with our son and daughter, I converted to Catholicism and returned to school as an undergraduate majoring in philosophy.  We turned a succession of small mountain cabins into comfortable homes and socialized with a wide network of friends.  Many looked upon us as the ideal family.  When I received my diploma at a school ceremony, my wife stayed home with a bad back; it was a sign that I missed at the time.  A high school dropout, she was intimidated by my university friends.  As the kids got older, she took up jazzercise, then weight lifting, and finally African dancing and drumming.  At one point I counted our sexual encounters and determined they averaged once every six weeks.  She said it was because she was afraid of getting pregnant again, and suggested I get a vasectomy.  After a horribly painful week, I was sterile.  But it didn't seem to change her lack of interest.

Is sex on the internet adultery?  When Macs could capture high quality photography and video, I got a new model.  Given my experiences in the music business, I had little resistance to temptation.  I locked my office door and pretend to be doing research.  Our problems were complicated by two sizeable inheritances that my wife kept separate from our income, mine as a student teacher and hers as a face painter at county fairs. When our children were small and I had a decent income, I supported the family and gave her the check book.  But when her ship came in, she sailed without me and resented any of my thoughts about sharing.  By then our daughter was out of school and I cooked dinners for my son while she went to various African dance classes and events.  In my spare time I studied and surfed for porno.

Aside from some of the more sordid details, the end came quickly.  She went on a trip to Mexico for several weeks with friends, and I went to the urologist for a biopsy.  It came back positive for prostate cancer.  I worried that my wife would interrupt her holiday for this bad news, but she was hard to reach.  When she returned I learned that she had been more than friendly with their guide. My upset seem to exacerbate hers.  After visiting an oncologist about killing the prostate with radioactive seeds, we got into a horrendous fight on the drive home.  Once there, sitting at our dining room table, she announced that she wanted to live alone.  She wanted to be with people like her brother (a macho real estate salesman, but a really nice guy) and people in their 50s, not 12 years older geriatrics like me.  I felt like little more than a sperm donor.

I left that night, later moving out my things (including a very large book collection), lived in a collection of borrowed or rented rooms, and we were divorced a year later (she did it by herself since I refused to participate in mediation).  She'd found a new boyfriend a couple of months after I left, who taught her to surf, and they were soon married (for the insurance, she told me).  She bought out my share of the house which allowed me enough funds for a couple of years of world travel.  Both of our kids took her side in the divorce, and although we maintained cordial relations for a few years, we now are estranged.  They're appalled that I would marry a woman younger than they (a story for later).  My daughter, after tricking me into co-signing a school loan that she used to live on for a couple of years without telling me, now wonders if I molested her when she was 2 (it used to be the nursery school teacher but now her target is me).  I didn't know what to say, except "no, I didn't," and to tell her to get psychological help. 

So now I'm a twice-divorced, thrice-married man, an expat in Thailand who has unexpectedly found a deep love and fulfilling relationship late in life with a woman from Phayao in the north of Thailand (another, much different, story from these).  One of my children died (and I often ponder the amount of my blame), two no longer speak with me, and my eldest son and I exchange light thoughts on Facebook.  I think he was right not to have children. It didn't provide me with much satisfaction.  I could talk about my father and mother as being poor role models (my mother said HER mother didn't know how to give affection, and my father was sent to military school by his step-father after his father's early death), but that would be to unfairly to shift the blame.  In the long run, I can't say much about sex, marriage or love.  I never got any of it right.  Until now.

This song is for my boys and I, and my father as well.

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