WORLD SHARING: THE DEAD, THE LIVING, AND THE REST OF US – Marilyn Armstrong

Sharing My World – 7-16-19

QUESTIONS:

Why do we seem to respect the dead more than the living?

Who respects the dead more than the living? I don’t. I grieve for the dead, but that’s not anything like respect. I respect the accomplishments of the dead, but I also respect the accomplishments of the living.

Why is beauty associated with morality?  Or not?   (a few weeks back I asked a similar question, but the keyword was MORTALITY, not MORALITY).  
Beautiful Griffin. Was he moral? I don’t think he thought much about it.

In my world, beauty is not associated with morality. One thing has absolutely NOTHING to do with the other. I’m not even sure what morality is anymore.

Have gadgets and apps taken away emotions?

Do they?

Am I now emotion free?
Is there a perfect life?  What’s your version of a perfect life if you care to share?

I have no idea. If there is, I’ve never heard of anyone living a perfect life and frankly, I’m not sure if there is one, that’s what I want for me or mine. I like a little grit in my life. A bit of uncertainty. A hint of abrasion between people. It keeps life from getting dull.

SOME THINGS SHOULD GET EASIER WITH AGE – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I believe that one of the benefits of age and experience is that romantic relationships should be easier than when we were young.

When I was young and married for the first time, I was insecure and didn’t know how to stand up for myself. But I was way too rigid and sure of my opinions and views and way too intolerant of people with other perspectives. I was hypersensitive to any slights or criticisms yet unsure how to express those feelings constructively. Looking back I realize how difficult I was, in many ways.

When I met Tom, my second husband, at age 49, after 25 years of marriage and two kids, I was a different person. More confident and not willing to put up with shit from people, yet easy-going and accepting of differences. Tom and I bonded instantly over the similarities between both of our mentally ill exes.

We got along seamlessly and talked until 3 AM on our first date. We spent the next weekend together and from that point on, we were a couple. That was 20 years ago. We didn’t marry for three and a half years, mainly because my kids were still living at home. But we knew we were till death do us part from the very beginning.

Tom and I on our first trip together early in our relationship

Our relationship has been as easy and positive as our prior marriages were difficult and negative. We understood what was important in a relationship – two ‘normal’ people who respect and accept each other as we are; who enjoy and appreciate each other without reservation, and who support each other 100% no matter what. All the rest is window dressing (except making each other laugh and the passion part, which goes without saying). Maybe we should have known all this in our twenties, but we obviously didn’t. We thought we could ‘help’ or ‘change’ our spouses. That rarely works.

My relationship with Tom has been smooth since day one because when there’s an issue, we talk about it and it’s over. We don’t hold grudges or bring up past issues. We deal with the issue at hand and never attack the other person. Then we immediately go back to friendly behavior with no anger residue. All of this is basic ‘Relationship 101’ advice. But I think time and experience helped us understand the importance of these maxims.

Another trip before we got married

I have two friends, one in her mid-fifties and the other in her late sixties, who have been dating online. Each had a recent nine-month to one-year relationship that ended a few months ago. Both of these relationships were difficult and up and down with lots of negative mixed in with the positive.

I felt that these men were wrong for my friends because they weren’t a good fit. It wasn’t ‘easy’ for them to be together. These women saw the negatives but didn’t want to give up on the positives. One woman kept questioning if she should break up with this guy and the other actually did break up, at least two or three times. I just don’t believe that if a person is right for you, things should be that full of angst at our ages. No roller coasters for the fifty and over crowd if you’ve found ‘the one’.

Luckily both women have met new guys with whom things are going smoothly and quickly. One had a first date on a Saturday night that lasted till Tuesday! Way to go! The other said she felt so comfortable with this new guy after just a few dates that it felt like they’d been together for a long time. That’s what I’m talking about! Both women have slipped easily into relationships with major positives and no major negatives. No obvious ‘red flags’. They both feel as if this is too good to be true but they’re going with the flow and enjoying every minute.

This is the first time with these friends that I feel they’ve found the right guy for them. At this stage of life, it should come relatively easy if it’s right! I wished for them what I had with Tom from day one and I think my wish for them has come true.

HANDSOME WITH A CLASSY SASHAY – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Sashay

Garry and I were just talking about attractive people we knew to whom we were not attracted. He said when he started at Channel 7 and they were beginning to “diversify,” the station hired three really gorgeous brown-skinned women, one of whom was so exceptionally beautiful that she had pretty much all the guys drooling.

She knew it, too. She dressed for it. When she sashayed into the station in the morning, the temperature in the room went up. She liked the attention. She sought it. But she left messes, Garry told me, that other people had to clean up. He didn’t appreciate the poor work ethic, so while he was not immune to her charms, he was uninterested in her in any other way.

This got us talking about attractive people we’d known to whom we were unattracted. I remember one guy, after hanging out with him (I like him, I just didn’t like him “that way”) finally looked at me and said: “You don’t find me attractive at all, do you?”

“No, I guess not, ” I admitted. “I like you, but there’s no chemistry for me.” I didn’t try to explain that for me chemistry wasn’t merely physical. It was also mental. He could look great (and he did) and had lots of ladies interested in him. I just wasn’t one of them. Why not? Because he was an artist and very focused.

I liked art, but I had other interests too. History, writing, music, philosophy. I was a serious reader and wanted to natter on about the 14th century and current politics. It was Vietnam and there was a lot going on.

D-Day at the Mumford River

But in that area, we had no meaningful connection. Many artists are highly focused on their work and that is how it should be, but at that age, I was interested in everything. I was about as unfocused as anyone could be. There was almost nothing in which I was not interested.

It would take another 20 years before I settled down mentally. I think Garry was also a slow starter that way. It took him years of working to fully emerge as a personality.

It’s a hard thing to explain to someone that you need more from a relationship than physical attraction and the ability to have fun. Especially when you are still not sure yourself what you need. That attraction is nice, but it’s only a piece of the thing. There also needs to be intellectual compatibility and a sense that both of you agree on essential things. Those were as important in the 1960s as they are today.

Home in the trees

A sexy body and a bit of a sashay in the walk are enjoyable, but not — by themselves — something on which to build a life.

That is also why, now that we are older and not so beautiful, we can still be happy. The foundation things keep you together. Even when you scrap about who takes out the trash and who forgot to turn out the lights.

A BIPOLAR LIFE – BY ELLIN CURLEY

My first husband, Larry, was bipolar, but he wasn’t diagnosed until thirteen years into our 25-year marriage. However, the ups and downs were a part of my life from the beginning. Larry could be fun, smart and affectionate. He had a wicked sense of humor (including clever puns), tremendous energy (sometimes too much, manic energy), a great “joie” and endless enthusiasm.

Larry in a jocular mood

He loved to read and was interested in a wide variety of subjects, ranging from physics and biology to history and sociology, to law and mysteries. He also loved the arts, particularly the theater and at one point we had five theater subscriptions at the same time. In addition, we also went to Broadway shows quite often, which kept us very busy and very up to date on the theater scene of the day.

One of Larry’s passions was shopping and when manic, he was a true shopaholic. He couldn’t resist buying anything that tickled his fancy, which was a lot of stuff. On the other hand, I loved it when Larry would shop with me in my favorite stores; craft shops, art galleries and jewelry and clothes stores. He would even come into the dressing room with me and help me pick out what clothes to buy. He had wonderful and sophisticated taste, though his taste was often a lot bolder and flashier than mine.

I really shouldn’t complain, because Larry loved to buy things for me. However, when he was manic, he would overspend and buy everything in sight. I was in charge of the budget and it was frustrating to see all my budgeting and saving go out the window with Larry’s shopping sprees. It got to the point that I would pretend that I didn’t like things we looked at because if I said I liked it, it would be mine in no time flat!

Two pendants with matching earrings Larry bought for me on trips out West

Once my son, David, then around twelve, went to an electronics store with Larry. Before they left, I pulled David aside and instructed him to try to keep his father’s purchases down. They returned with not one, but two VCR’s and I asked David why he had failed to rein in his dad. “Hey!” he said. “I talked him down from three, so don’t complain!”

Another positive side to Larry’s love of shopping was that he was always an active partner with me in decorating our homes, helping me choose everything from wallpapers and fabrics, to furniture and window treatments to bathroom fixtures and door knobs. We also designed our house in Easton, Connecticut together with the help of an architect. It was a wonderful, shared experience and the house meant so much more to both of us for the experience we had in creating every nook and cranny and picking every design element. I remember jumping out of bed late one night to draw out a new plan I had just thought of for the kitchen/breakfast room area. It was a wild idea and it was the design we eventually used in the house. I still love it 30 years later!

The kitchen design – with rounded eating area and round sunroom off of kitchen island area

Larry exhibited his sense of humor and fun one Christmas when he and David, like many other Jews, went to the movies on Christmas day. Before the show started, as a joke, Larry stood up and started singing the Jewish classic “Havanegela”. To his delight, the rest of the audience joined in and Larry acted as conductor for the group sing-along!

Larry didn’t sleep much and was always on the go. I needed a lot of sleep and ample amounts of downtime, which created much conflict between us. On weekends, he would get up early and want to go out and do something, get something to eat or just window shop. David was also not a morning person so we would take turns appeasing a very persistent, and often annoying and inconsiderate Larry.

Larry playing with David, 6 and Sarah, 1

One day, when Sarah was about eighteen months old and couldn’t talk yet, Larry got up and started pestering David, who was six and a half, and me to go out with him. Suddenly, our toddler ran into her bedroom, grabbed her coat and then ran to the front door. It was her way of saying “Take me, Daddy! I want to play with you!” Now Larry had a new playmate for his early weekend excursions and David and I were thrilled! When Sarah could talk, she’d say to Larry, “Let’s go sopping!”

Larry and Sarah continued their ‘sopping’ trips for the rest of Larry’s life (he died shortly before Sarah’s 21st birthday). He and Sarah also traveled and went to lots of shows and movies together from early in Sarah’s life and it was something wonderful she shared with her dad. Those memories are important and comforting to her now.

But there was a dark side to Larry’s bipolar disorder. When he cycled manic, as he did every year or so, he became volatile, paranoid, angry and agitated. He would fly into rages about the slightest thing, real or imagined and he would become verbally abusive. To our frustration, he would often ‘forget’ these episodes as soon as he calmed down. He was what is called a “rapid cycler.”

A classic example of that syndrome happened one Thanksgiving when we were supposed to drive from New York to Larry’s sister in New Jersey. In the morning, Larry was curled up in a ball on the bed, refusing to even get up. I eventually got him up and we started to drive to New Jersey when he suddenly went berserk over something.

I don’t remember what it was on that occasion, but once the kids were making too much noise in the back seat of the car and once I left the dirty dishes in the sink. To Larry, that proved that I didn’t care about him, that he didn’t matter, that he wasn’t important to me and that I was a bitch.

The four of us when David was 13 and Sarah was 8

On this Thanksgiving drive, Larry pulled the car over to the side of the street and stormed off, refusing to come back to the car. David finally talked him down and got him back into the car, because, as usual, Larry refused to even talk to me. We eventually made it to New Jersey, but Larry had gone from paralyzing depression to raging mania in the course of one day.

Another holiday in New Jersey ended badly because of Larry’s manic overreactions. He stormed out of a lot of rooms, houses and cars over the years, often on major holidays with family. But this one was special, even for Larry.

We were playing a game with Larry’s sister, Robin and her family, my kids and Larry. Larry was being hyper-competitive and was trash talking everyone constantly, which I think he thought was funny. After asking him to stop several times, Robin finally got exasperated and told him to shut up and Larry snapped.

The four of us when David was 16 and Sarah was 11

He stormed out of the house, but this time he took our car and disappeared. We eventually got a call saying he was at the train station and was taking a train back to New York, even though he was supposed to be going back to Connecticut with me and the kids for the long holiday weekend. Robin had to drive David to the train station so he could drive our car back to Robin’s so I could drive back to Connecticut with the kids. Robin talked to Larry at the station and they patched things up, but Larry still insisted on taking the train to New York, disrupting and appalling everyone. I was mortified and everyone else was shaken and upset. This was not an uncommon situation for me, but each time it happened, it was like a punch to the gut.

In some ways, it would have been easier for me if Larry had always been abusive and impossible to live with, but he wasn’t. He was eventually put on Lithium, which worked well and contained his mania, but he kept going off the meds.

I loved the non-manic Larry, so the hope that Larry would get help, and then that he would stay on his meds, kept me with him for 25 years.

MY TWO UNROMANTIC PROPOSALS – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I’ve been married twice so you’d think I had two wonderful, romantic proposal stories. You’d be wrong. I don’t even have one. I could argue that I never really got a proper proposal at all. And to top it off, I’ve never even gotten an engagement ring.

I was in law school dating my first husband, Larry and we moved in together in January of 1974. Larry had said several times that we should get married. He may have even asked me to marry him, technically a proposal, I guess. I said I wasn’t sure and needed more time since we had only been dating for a few months. In response, in true lawyer form, Larry said that his offer of marriage had an expiration date, January 31, 1974.

Larry, shortly before our wedding

Sometime in February, I decided that I was ready to accept his proposal. I asked Larry to take out the garbage. He said if we were married he would gladly take out the garbage so I said okay, then let’s get married. In our law school classes, we learned that in contract law, once an offer for a contract has expired, any belated ‘acceptance’ is deemed a ‘counter-offer’. These semantic distinctions have legal significance but they are too abstruse to explain here.

Of course, Larry cited this legal principle. He said that since his ‘offer’ of marriage had lapsed, my ‘acceptance’ was now a ‘counter-offer’ of marriage and he accepted my counter offer. For the next 25 years of our marriage, Larry told everyone that I had proposed to him!

Skip ahead half a lifetime. Now it’s 2002. I was divorced from Larry and living in Connecticut with my two kids.

I had been dating Tom for over three years and Tom and I had discussed marriage several times. But Tom was not ready.

I told him that my alimony ended on December 31, 2003, and that when that happened, I would no longer be able to afford to live in my house unless we were married and I had Tom’s income to supplement mine. So that meant that by Jan. 1, 2003, we either had to be married or I needed to have sold my house and moved to a smaller, less expensive place in another, cheaper and distant county.

Tom and I at our wedding

I reiterated this situation to Tom in May of 2002. He said that he wanted things to stay the way they were but I patiently explained, again, that that was no longer possible. When faced with having to commute to see me (we lived ten minutes apart at the time), or marry me, he said something like, “Okay, I guess we can get married.”

Once we were married, Tom apologized for his reticence about getting married and he admitted that he had no idea why he was so gun-shy about remarrying. In his defense, he had been married to a crazy woman for 22 years. On top of that, he had the most horrific experience moving from Long Island to Connecticut and dreaded the thought of ever having to move again. Nevertheless, I ended up with less than a heartwarming, romantic proposal – a second time.

Apparently, unsentimental proposals run in my family. My mother also had to settle for an iconic proposal from my father.

My father had told my mother that he never wanted to get married. He was in his late 50’s and had never even lived with one of his girlfriends. So my mother took him at his word.

My Mom and Dad before they were married

After dating him for close to three years, Mom told Dad that she wanted to get married again and so she was going to stop dating him and start dating other men in a few months. My Dad did not take this news well. He stormed out of her apartment and didn’t call her for days, which was very unusual. He reappeared, disheveled and unshaven and announced that they would get married in June. He then told her that he had decided that “living without you is worse than living with you!”

Mom insists that he then got very romantic and told her how much he loved her and that he couldn’t live without her. But I still categorize this as a classic, unromantic proposal.

As for an engagement ring, Larry and I decided to use our wedding gift of cash from my parents on a three-week honeymoon in Europe rather than on buying an engagement ring. Interesting aside – Larry and I were still in law school and wanted to get married over our summer vacation at my mother’s summer house in Connecticut.

My mother insisted that we get married in her New York City apartment, to which she would return in September when we were back in school. So we had to take a pre-wedding honeymoon in June, three months before the September wedding.

Larry and me – our pre-wedding honeymoon

Four years after my first wedding, in December of 1979, my father went to their vault at the bank and came home with a small box. Luckily I was at their apartment that day. Dad said, “Look what I found!” and opened the box to reveal this gorgeous, emerald cut diamond ring. My mother’s first husband had died suddenly from a massive coronary at the age of 42. After his death, my mother had put her engagement ring in a safe deposit box and refused to even look at it.

Mom and her first husband

So, when my father showed her old engagement ring, my mother recoiled, like a vampire on seeing garlic.

“Take it away!” she said.

“Over here, Daddy!”, I said.

I had the ring sized the next day so my mother couldn’t change her mind about it! I’ve been wearing that ring for almost 40 years! I’ve had to have the setting redone twice in that time. But I always kept the inscription, with the bride and groom’s initials and the date, June 1936. I have promised it to my daughter when she gets engaged since this ring was never a real engagement ring for me.

My mother’s engagement ring, now mine

So, no rings, no romantic proposal stories to tell. But I got two wonderful kids from my first marriage and I have a terrific, happy second marriage. So all’s well that ends well!

STRAWBERRY JAM – Marilyn Armstrong

I was 46 years old when my homemade strawberry preserves jelled properly.

Probably what broke the barrier was overcoming a longstanding aversion to putting sufficient sugar in the mix. Alternatively, I could have solved the problem by adding tapioca starch or pectin, but I’m a bit of a food snob.

I wanted my preserves made of just fruit and sugar.

The day the preserves came out perfectly was the day my first husband finally died. He had been dying for a long time. It was a Friday, a rare brilliant spring day in New England.

Jeff had been sick for almost a year in what we politely called a coma, but which was actually a vegetative state. Now gone. I had not come to terms with it though I’d had plenty of time. Probably no amount of time would have been enough.

Other than Jeff’s dying, it was a good time for us. Garry and I were happy. We were good together, busy with career and friends.

Yet there was an underlying sadness we could not avoid, the knowledge that death was near.  Happiness and sadness don’t cancel each other out. The good things are not a balance against pain. Feelings aren’t an equation. You can’t add columns of positive and negatives in your life and come up with a number in the middle. In the real world, joy and misery cohabit. We live with both.

Emotions are messy.

My head was a wheel of memories, a slide show carousel. Faces, places, good years, bad. Bittersweet, sad, joyous, funny. Strawberry jam that never jelled.

I married Jeffrey at 18 and thought myself very mature. He was almost 30, but he thought me very mature too. Both of us were wrong.  We muddled through. We were hard triers. When we had no idea what to do, we faked it.

Eventually, we became the people we pretended to be and it turned out, not the people we needed to be.

1965 in the WVHC office

Though we went in different directions, we stayed friends. No matter where on Earth I was, I knew Jeffrey was there for me. We had a better divorce than most marriages.

Decades passed.

Jeff’s health deteriorated. He survived things that should have killed him, so what a shock he should die of the thing that was supposed to extend his life. The heart surgery should have given him years, maybe decades.  When Sue called late on an August evening it upended reality.  His body wasn’t dead, but his brain was. The future world would be without Jeff.

I would never call to tell him something funny that happened, hear his sarcastic, drawling response. It wasn’t supposed to be this way. Someone rewrote the script when our backs were turned.

Fall passed and winter too. Jeff remained in a vegetative state. Someone who looked just like him was wearing his body and that shell remained alive through the seasons. We visited. I stayed for weeks to help care for him. Finally, as spring was nearly summer, the piper played. Now, the ashes were scattered.

Just the other day, Garry glimpsed someone in a crowd who looked exactly like Jeff.

HAPPY 80TH BIRTHDAY, JEFF – Marilyn Armstrong

I married Jeff in 1965. I was 18, he was 26. I was still finishing my B.A. Both Jeff and I needed to get out of our parent’s homes and make a life. It was a  classic “jailbreak” marriage and for a long time, it worked well.

But time marched on and I wanted to move on. He wanted everything to stay the same — and so we parted. I went to Israel and he stayed where he was.

Graphic Jeff, Studio A

When I was sad, Jeffrey used to sing to me. This is the song he sang.

For one birthday, I bought him a wind-up snow globe. It played “You Are My Sunshine” and had a big green frog on a lily pad in the water. When you wound it, it played that song. He kept the globe as long as he lived, which was not nearly long enough.

Happy birthday, Jeff. You would have been 80 years old today and I wish you were alive so I could tease you about your age.

You should still be here.