I write this from Santiago, Chile. It's been a strange trip, full of luxury and hardship. Three days ago we crossed the Andes, by boat and bus and boat again. Somewhere in the middle of that journey, as our bus skidded in a heavy downpour down a one-lane dirt road, I thought: Gosh! One thing I can be glad of is that my darling but violent second husband isn't driving this vehicle, and I don't have to be in the passenger seat screaming, "Stop, Tom, stop!" Which, of course, only ever made him speed up.
Tom was beautiful, lithe, and lean, with a head full of preposterous golden curls. He was a long-distance runner, and birds would swoop down to pluck threads of that glistening hair for their nests, which put him in a foul temper. But he was always in a foul temper, except for when he wasn't. He spent his downtime delivering soliloquies on the nature of the universe, the beauty of Mexican music, the ecstasies of spear-fishing, the perfidy of his first wife, and, after we married, the perfidy of his second—me.
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We were married for 10 years, both with daughters from our first marriages, and then with a daughter of our own. Tom's favorite pastime—again, when he wasn't drinking tequila or driving in reckless diagonals across the vast Mexico plains—was to turn to me and say, loudly and with conviction, "The trouble with YOU is..." I didn't take to it. I didn't like it. (Except that he was so beautiful and funny and, when he wanted to be, so kind.) He hated my housekeeping. He deplored my unathletic ways. He even hated the way I gardened. "You never look up to see the sky!" he would say.
Then, the '60s came and he had a lot of girlfriends and I found out and caught him, and there was shouting, and in the last six weeks of our marriage, some hitting. During one of our arguments I accused him of being low-life, wife-beating scum. "I'm not a wife beater," he countered in a tone of sincere aggrievement. "You hit me back!" And then we both could only laugh, since I was no picnic to live with either.
All that was more than 30 years ago. Tom got married again, to a world-class long-distance runner, and I took up with a world-class scholar. Tom and the woman I insisted on calling his new wife, even after they'd been together for over 25 years, live in a cabin in Topanga Canyon just outside of Los Angeles—a place so isolated that to get to it you have to climb across a cliff, on a harrowing switchback path.
Word had begun to come down from that cabin.
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"I'm worried about Dad," our daughter would say. "He doesn't remember much of anything anymore." And one night he told me, "My memory's going." Keep Reading...
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