Woody Hayes used to say that when you put the ball in the air three things can happen and two of them are bad. ‘Tis true too of falling in love.

“Are you sending your ex a birthday card?” “I was asked recently.
The response, void of anger or sarcasm, came not so much from the heart as from a cave of deep neutrality.

The Jersey Girl was my first. From winter quarter junior year (when romance took off), through final decree a quarter century later, it was a time of love, sweat, and ultimately tears. Only now, two decades after the fall, am I finding perspective. Only now—through a keener lens—do I see the inevitability of it all. What chance did Grace Slick and Richie Cunningham ever have…. really?

I was crazy about her, in the day. I was at once doting, insecure, possessive, smitten and naïve. What I wasn’t, ever, was confident—confident enough in myself to address our differences. And there were many. Even in those years of passion, there were many.

We came from different worlds; we wanted different things. Maybe.

She was east; I was midwest; she was cool; I was not. And those were just headlines. On good days she had insouciance, legs and looked like young Shirley Maclaine dating Ronnie Howard; in tough times it was more like her Moe to my Curly. Surprisingly—despite the contrast—it worked.

When we met she spoke of graduating and travelling Europe. My plans were different. I wanted to see Ohio—all of it. There was the time, indeed, that I urged her to move to Columbus. “You’ve got to be kidding me!” she cried, (and we settled on Cleveland).

And so we fought. Even in the good times—and there were many—we fought.

It’s an unfair equation—divorce. The folly of fighting lingers long after smiles fade. Unfair to all, perhaps. Seven progeny later, do not memories of good times deserve longer shelf life?

She was, though, a better fighter than me. Not meaner—just better. I fought defensively: afraid to show strength, to take stands—afraid to just be myself, to let the chips fall. Like the poker player sitting short stacked at a table, I played not to lose. Indeed, a bit more confidence in myself, a bit more confidence in our pairing….

(Thinking back: did I always run scared? How often—in all parts of life— was I ruled by fear?)

I recall one time, even before the wedding. Selling Highlights in Indianapolis… insecure…my mind started playing the “What if?” game. Stopping at a payphone, I dialed: 1 201 973 6617
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
I didn’t believe her. Aware her east coast friends felt she could do better, I panicked. I don’t know what others do with anxiety, but here’s what I did: Stopping work on a dime I drove eleven hours straight through to Jersey. From Indiana to Ohio to PA—-I 80 wasn’t done back then— to her steps in Passaic.

“Ha, ha…Bruce, my boy,” her Dad greeted me. It was dark by then. “Sherry’s at Roberta’s. She didn’t say you were coming!”

Even with real issues, (and not my imagined ones), she fought better. Not meaner, —just better.

When we tussled then, I craved closure. Immediate closure. I just wanted to know that everything was going to be OK. Not Jersey though; she’d wait. So we’d have a blowout, let’s say, moments before going out with another couple. And then, twenty minutes later, over dinner with the Mandels or Fentons, she’d be smiling, chatting, laughing—as if nothing had happened, as if nothing was pending. Me? I’d be aching inside, studying her facials, wondering just what shoe would fall.

Then it ended. Not immediately, but over time. Not with a bang, but with a whimper. Out of the bedroom in ’91; out of the house in ’93; RIP in ’95. Overnight the loving didn’t matter, the fighting didn’t matter, who was right didn’t matter….and all the kings horses and all the kings men couldn’t put…

I was reminded the other day just how awkward I felt as recently as Michael’s engagement. There we were, mother and father of the groom, in tandem. Long past the last bullet, years into cease fire—yet awkward.

Alas, this too has passed. Time, as it always does, works wonders.

Today I stand in a place of serenity, neutrality. Forty years after she was my first, I feel peace. Yes, our differences, pronounced as ever, remain. And yes, we’re night and day. But there is peace.

People ask me, time and again, “What’s with your ex?”
“I never see her,” I say, “Except for life cycle events.”
(Once, I’m reminded— it was years ago—I walked into Zin with Rolo and the hostess shooed us downstairs quickly—the ex was in the rest room). Rarely though, do our paths cross.

Which is fine.

Today I laugh at the past and if nothing else, accept its unfunny. Three kids…four grandchildren later, it makes for a pretty happy ending.

2 Responses to “WAR AND PEACE”

  1. Jackie says:


  2. Editor says:

    you are right, ms. jackie.

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