I think this might be the most honest photograph of me, ever. I remember Joe set the camera on a table, messed about for a bit, and then set the timer. This was us in 1984. I was twenty, he was twenty-six, and the dog was a rescue, so who knows.
This is certainly the most beautiful photograph I have with my first husband, although there are quite a few. This is the one.
The only way I'm sure of the date is the location, the dog, and the length of my hair. I'd chopped off close to ten inches because it was utterly unmanageable. I think it only ever got that long because I wanted to know what waist length hair might look like; gorgeous and nowhere near worth the trouble. I cried every time I had to get a comb through wet hair. Why is this important?
Because it's a memory that has not quite become a snapshot. It will though. All memories eventually become snapshots as the truth of the texture, taste, smell, and sound fall back too far to reach with any sort of clarity. These memories are in the time of the Halcyon Days; after the war, but before the deluge.
There is a pinkish ribbon still tied to a button on my field jacket. I don't remember where the balloon came from, or why it was tied to the button, but I remember the fact of it. Mostly I remember deciding to leave the ribbon when I cut loose the deflated balloon. That was an act of holding something close; not so much the event as the moment in time.
I can't feel what I see in this photograph anymore; not most of it. I hang on to what I can feel because it roots the memory of our halcyon days.
I feel an ache in my chest, I feel tears well up in my eyes, I feel just the edge of an unbearable loss. These were things I couldn't see coming; not the day we took this picture. I remember how much I loved this man. I recall the moment I understood that I was truly and completely loved. The thing is, when I look at this photograph I am aware of how much I do love him. Might be he loves me too but the world moves on. I loved who he was in that time, the same way he loved that twenty year old girl. I don't really know who he is today and he surely does not know me.
The day he stopped saying, 'hey, this is me, remember?' is the day he was finally gone. I think I miss that most of all.
A lot of stuff has passed under many bridges and there have been times when I thought he'd kill me if he could. That's my stuff; I don't think he's ever hated me and I don't think the root of his anger had a damn thing to do with me. Maybe that's why most of it didn't stick. I do remember he had dreams. His dreams were palatable and true and to this day he pushes into those dreams. His eyes look out over the horizon, but he's still pushing. For some reason I'm ridiculously proud.
Between 1964 and 1983, in one form or another, the primary purpose or focus of my life was survival. How am I going to survive? How to not die. That's it. If you ask a person like me where they see themselves in five years, there's only ever one answer: Alive. Later that answer turned into Employed, but it's the same gut reaction.
Stop and think about that for a minute. What happens to a child when survival is priority number one, right out of the gate? Can you imagine that for just a moment? Happens all over the world and certainly all across America. We just don't want to look. It's really hard to look; raises questions we don't want answered.
But that's not the point. The point is this:
Joe and I moved to the deep, dark forest of Weston in January of 1984. It was the first time either of us lived without roommates. The first time we were alone. I think we were only together from the middle of June or July, 1983. The number 19 is still there, written on the back of a matchbook from Dunville's in Westport. I can still see the worn blue at the edges.
In January, 1985 we were married at St. Catherine's in Greenwich because that was his family's parish. It was my first mass, and the last mass I attended without trepidation.
On March 17, 1985, less than a month before his company's insurance would cover me, I got very, very sick. What amounted to multiple ER visits in the same night, emergency surgery the next morning, and five days in the hospital left us with about $8,000 in debt. That was after the professional courtesy extended by his father's colleagues.
$8,000 1985 dollars is roughly $19,600 2020 dollars. We had a combined income of $27,000 a year.
In June of 1986 with the help of his father and my mother, we purchased a 6 acre farm in Oxford, CT for $190,000 at 7.25% variable that hit the 11.5% cap very quickly. Our first child was born that November and the shit really hit the fan.
In 1986, a company was not required to carry something called a 'Maternity Rider' unless more than 20% of its employees were female AND married. This was Blue Cross/Blue Shield at the time. We asked before we even tried to make Mike. Yes, you are covered. That statement meant 50% of my prenatal care, $125 for the baby's hospital stay and nothing else.
I had a case study perfect labor and delivery. Short, painful, and uneventful. Just a shot of demerol and nothing else. After three days they let us out. We had a $12,000 bill, after professional courtesy. Add another $28,500 to the original $19,600 and you're looking at $48,000 in medical debt with a combined income of $21,000 because I wasn't working.
Do you know that in 1986 you could not, in the State of Connecticut, purchase private medical insurance? This falls under the heading of: You're shitting me, right? This became an issue when my husband started his own business (long series of events). The medical bills continued to accumulate because periodically one of us really needed a doctor and certainly that baby boy wasn't going to want for anything. It wasn't the first time I went hungry and it wasn't the last, but it was the hardest and scariest.
We had four perfectly solvent parents, but in that time we were held entirely accountable for our circumstances. I don't want to talk about why we bought that farm but it wasn't really the problem. Eventually I asked my dad and S for help and we got a loan. Eventually they forgave the balance of the loan, for which I have no words. The intensity of the gratitude is still a firm memory.
The rest of it doesn't matter. The only thing that is relevant is that the halcyon days came to an end.
I cannot think on the day I said I was leaving because I'll be right back on the kitchen floor where we cried together all damn day. If I could find a way to have found a way to stay, I would take it all back in a heartbeat. I wasn't angry, I just couldn't breathe and I lacked the language to explain exactly why. I don't know that he could have given me the air, but I sure do know he tried.
The last thing he said that day was this: 'but we haven't had our time in the light!' Tears and snot and god knows what else covered our faces. Eyes swollen shut, we dragged ourselves to the bedroom at the end of the day.
With the break in continuity comes the final loss of innocence.
I am still grieving. Two marriages and divorces later, and I am still grieving. So, you see, every year on January 12 I post just a few words. It is January 12. I have not forgotten. It has never gone unnoticed or unacknowledged.
I wish you all halcyon days, or the memory of having had them. That brief suspension of time and motion when we return briefly to the age of discovery and the time of trust.