An Education in Love & Secrets
I was my mother’s first child. I don’t know if my mother truly wanted children. It’s difficult to even guess at it because, from what I know of her past, she had very little to do with any of the decisions that marked her life. That’s how she landed in medical school at the tender age of 20. (She made Ripley’s Believe it or Not as the youngest woman, at that time, to have been admitted to medical school in this country.)
It had been clear to my mother’s father, probably even before she entered elementary school, that she was a genius. Her father had been orphaned in the first few years of his life, and raised by an aunt. He was pretty much self-educated, and had been no intellectual slouch himself. He was an inventor of sorts which had led him to make important connections in the business world that he went on to parlay into landing him in the top 1% of his day but he’d lost everything in the crash of ’29.
He’d enjoyed his money while he’d had it; he maintained one home on the West Coast, in Beverly Hills, another on the East Coast, in Ocean City, New Jersey, and a third in Pottsville, Pennsylvania, a small but well-off community in the midst of coal country. That’s where my mother was born and began her education. As soon as her father realized her potential, he became determined that she make the most of it and began insisting that she skip grades in school, cutting her time spent in elementary and high school almost in half and entirely eliminating opportunities for her to make friends. The girl next door was her only connection to anyone her age and, by the time she entered college, and her neighbor went off to work for the phone company, (where she would work for the rest of her life), Molly Brown had not one friend in the world.
I can only imagine what my mother’s time spent in medical school was like because she never spoke much about it. I know only two facts about her from that time. 1) She became engaged to a redhaired young man and broke that engagement to marry my father. 2) She acquired a nickname from “the boys in med school.” They called her Rabbit, a name that my father continued to call her for the rest of her life. A name that, I strongly suspect, had more than a little to do with her very strong sexual nature. A name, that I also strongly suspect, lay behind the absolutely insane jealousy that my father displayed towards her throughout their entire relationship.
It was a jealousy that began, according to my mother, immediately after they started dating. She told me that on the train trip that they had taken together, to introduce him to her parents, he had spent the entire trip monitoring where she was looking and accusing her of watching other men. Her eventual rise to fame within her chosen profession added fuel to his paranoid fire but never dimmed his own passion for her as the 11 children she gave birth to testified. There would likely have been more children had my mother not secretly had her tubes tied at the birth of the eleventh, throwing still more logs on that paranoid fire of his. In the heyday of their marriage, around the time of the births of the third through the eighth of the children, it was not an uncommon site to see my father sweep my mother off her feet and carry her upstairs. They were naked in their bedroom all the damn time.
Even after he divorced her, many years later, to marry one of his numerous secretarial conquests, he still proclaimed his love for my mother. In his final years, dying from colon cancer, my mother and his wife alternated care of him. His new wife had begun a catering business and worked mostly at night and on the weekends. My mother, by then world-renowned in her field and an expert witness around the country at trials involving “sudden and unexpected death” in infants, worked mostly in the day. Every Sunday afternoon the three of them would dine together.
My mother had maintained her love for him throughout their marriage and beyond; she was hurt by his constant infidelities yet she clung to him. My father had proclaimed from the beginning of their relationship that it was a man’s right to sleep with however many women he wanted to sleep with and she married had him, knowing that, perhaps thinking she could change it. She had gone in with her eyes wide open and she kept them open, as much as it hurt. When he began incest with his children, she maintained an even keel, allowing him to do as he pleased within what she must have imagined were reasonable limits.
As a child, I observed personal relationships of many kinds closely. Partially because of the incest, I suspect, I was very inquisitive about other people’s relationships. My parents were occupied throughout the day with their jobs and with each other when they came home. Their kids were of secondary importance unless ‘needed.’ My paternal grandparents lived in Cuba. I never knew my paternal grandfather who died when I was about two years old, and I visited my grandmother only a few times as a child. I never saw any displays of affection between my father and his mother, between my father and his sisters, or between his sisters and their mother. I never received so much as a pat on the head from the woman. Presents, yes. Affection, no. Everything seemed a bit formal to me and everybody had their clothes on whenever anyone else was around.
My maternal grandparents, I saw more often than I would have liked. Unlike my parent’s relationship, her parent’s relationship seemed rather perfunctory. I never once, in all the years I knew them, saw any kind of display of affection between them, not even a loving look. I’m not even sure they liked each other. The only communication I ever heard between them was strictly tactical: when to go shopping; when to go to a doctor’s appointment; one or the other alerting the other that he or she was about to do something or go somewhere. They never walked around naked either but they did have art with naked people in it.
They maintained only two residences by this point in time; the one in Beverly Hills having been let go sometime before my birth. My grandmother’s domain was the kitchen and my grandfather’s was anywhere he could sit comfortably and read or watch television, or alternately, in his “workshop,” a huge room with shelves from floor to ceiling all around it and numerous work tables. The shelves held countless baby food jars filled with all manner of hardware. The workroom was where, according to my grandmother, “he fiddled with things.” It was also the one place — the only place — where he walked around freely. Outside of his workshop, my grandfather walked with canes… canes he didn’t really need… not for walking anyway. What he did need them for was to put up the appearances of having been crippled from a fairly minor car accident in order to continue receiving the insurance payments that now supported them both, albeit not quite in the manner to which they’d become accustomed.
The most “normal” relationships I can recall being exposed to were those of the occasional married couples that would be hired as housekeepers for us. Early in their marriage, my parents hired one woman at a time. They started with an elderly Caucasian woman when I was an infant but once the second child came along, they went from one old white woman to one exceedingly attractive young black woman. I stress the “exceedingly attractive” part because I strongly suspect that’s what my father wanted. The man was nothing if not an opportunist. By the time the third child came along, it was apparent that two women would be needed which would, of course, be twice as expensive, so they sought out a service where less expensively obtained women of color could be hired by the day or by the week. Since there was no choice involved, the women who showed up — Father Divine’s Angels -were the women who showed up. Every one of them was gentle and kind to me and to my sisters. This was critical, I can now see, to my maintaining sanity as by then I was being sexually trafficked by my mother’s father in order to supplement his insurance payments.
As the family grew, so did the house size and ultimately my parents decided that hiring a married couple would be more useful, as the man could play a handyman role, fixing things around the house and could also act as a chauffeur in the used limousine that he had purchased. The first couple they hired were Gilbert and Edith. Gilbert and Edith were from Haiti and they lived on our third floor where my bedroom also was. After the dinner dishes were done, Gilbert and Edith would retire to their spacious bedroom — effectively the master bedroom of the third floor — where he would paint and she would make paper flowers and where I would sneak off to learn from them.
I loved being with them. They were as kind and gentle to each other as they were to us and while I could not understand the language they spoke to each other, I understood the tone of their exchanges and I was comfortable with them. Ultimately though, when my father went looking for me one night — I had become his “favorite,” a dubious distinction — he discovered me there. Gilbert and Edith were gone the next day. And while other married couples followed them — some from Europe, some from the United States, some older, some younger — there were never any others like that. Gilbert and Edith had loved each other in a way that was very different from the way that my parents loved each other. It didn’t even seem to me like the same thing. Through the years I saw many different relationship dynamics in the many couples that were hired to care for the house and for us. But Gilbert and Edith remained as the ideal couple in my mind. When I look back on those years, it seems as if their marriage was the only real love I’d seen, at least it was the only kind of love that I could understand and would want for myself… but that love would be a long time coming.
I had a boyfriend in high school whose parents, while they didn’t like me very much, probably accepted me because of who my parents were. Although he and I dated for a number of years, from high school into college, and although I visited his house a number of times, I can only recall sitting down to a meal with his parents a few times during that period. Once, during the college years, I stayed at his parent’s house for a few days and the lack of any communication between his parents was downright odd… they barely spoke, but then, my boyfriend was a bit odd too. His most outstanding attribute was that he had been the first person I had consensual intercourse with. I broke the relationship off the second time he asked me to marry him.
I didn’t love him. I wanted to love the man I married.
Nor did I love the man I eventually married and had two children with… or the man I left him for 14 years later by which time I had grown used to the idea that love just wasn’t in the cards for me. I had a lot of consensual sex with a lot of men both while married and not. The incest and sexual abuse I’d endured throughout the first 18 years of my life had broken me in ways I did not know how to fix and I’d had only one example, in all those years, of what a loving relationship could look like… my exposure to Gilbert and Edith had been brief but it had made an indelible impression.
My first husband’s parents built a house a stone’s throw away from ours as they did not trust me to care for my children whom I loved like life itself which had surprised me as I’d grown up with babies, babies, babies and never really cared much for any of them. The relationship between my husband’s parents was nightmare-ish; they either argued or ignored each other. She, was the sort of woman who, in Shakespearian times, would have been called a shrew, and her husband gave her every reason to be like that. He made advances towards my sisters and made outright and explicit sexual proposals to me. Based on the things he said to me I can only imagine how he spent his days “at work.”
My second husband “was not speaking to his parents.” His father had regularly beaten him with a belt when he was a kid and his mother berated him every chance she got, which was validated for me by the newspaper clippings she would send him of his classmates and their many achievements. His birth had been “an accident,” and they’d not even had a name for him nor could think of one. He was given the name he got by an aunt.
I have exactly no idea what his parent’s personal relationship must have been like, nor did I ever ask. But I knew what his idea of a marriage relationship was: me and him and no one else, not even our children from our previous marriages. Oh, I got to see my children, and he made a point of seeing his, but he was never happy about having to share me with anyone. Visits to friends were out of the question.
I behaved accordingly. What did I know?
I’d grown up watching a very ‘obedient’ mother who did what she was told to do by her husband… when he was looking. I handled both my husbands — and the marriages — in a similar way, getting pregnant ‘secretly’ in attempt to “save” my first marriage by having children to care for and, because my children had been blackmailed away from me, throwing myself into my work in the second. There were a lot of “business lunches.”
When I ended my second marriage, at the age of 62, after 23 years, I determined to spend the rest of my life as a single woman. I used my time alone to heal, practicing a technique for emotional cellular reprogramming that had come to me in a dream. I also worked with healers that I had met along the way. The most profound thing, though, was spending nine months living alone, being alone. It was the longest period in my entire life that I had spent without my body being penetrated by a male. What happened was that I developed the most important relationship I had ever had which was a relationship with myself, with my own body. I finally fell in love… with myself.
That was in 2008, the year that the markets went to hell. I had been working for a small printing company and was told that if I wished to keep my job I would have to move from the small apartment I had established in Rhode Island in order to be near my daughter, to New Jersey. I had no choice. Good friends came to my rescue and helped me move, another good friend took me in when the small apartment I’d moved into flooded, and while I felt fortunate for all the help I received and fortunate to have a job, I also felt emotionally exhausted. I decided to save up my money and take a weekend away to go somewhere that I could rest, zone out, and do my favorite things: read and dance naked all by myself in a crowd, alone. I knew just the place, a place where a single woman was guaranteed to be left alone to do as she pleased, a clothing-optional resort I’d visited with my second husband.
That weekend, I met the man I love. The first man I have ever loved. I love him still. I will, no doubt, love him throughout time. And I recognize what we have. We have what Gilbert and Edith had. We are two creative souls at once both gentle and a little edgy. We are very much alike and where we are different, we fill in gaps for each other. It was a long time to wait for love but we were both very busy becoming the people that we are now. Our pasts are as different as night and day and I saw that the first time that I looked in his eyes where I could see how much he had been loved by his mother. He had grown up being loved and valued and cared for. I had only just learned how to love and value and care for myself… but he saw that in me. I am his third wife. We both “have history,” obviously. I have clearly made more egregious errors in my time than he as he has always been a man of integrity. We have both learned from our mistakes… and from many other things as well. We are rich in experiences and that is all we are rich in, but we have each other in the most profound way that there is, and that is all that either of us has ever desired.