By Jo Cooper
"Your ex-husband died at 4:00."
That was how the yellow, lined pad note started. I found it in my bathroom when I returned from a night writing class. My son had written several more lines of sketchy details.
What was I supposed to feel? The first thing I thought about was how several of the writing students had mentioned their reason for taking the class. They wanted to have a book on a shelf that would live on after they were gone. Immortality. After 25 years of published work, I didn't feel that way about my writing, but, the death of anyone near your age shakes your belief that you'll live forever.
But how should I feel? I had divorced him 38 years ago and hadn't seen him for seven or eight years. My feelings for him had run the gamut of young-love, hate, and eventually nothingness.
I phoned his mother and our daughters, but I didn't cry. I also didn't sleep for most of the night. I remembered him.
We met when I was 16, ripe out of high school and working as a file clerk in San Francisco. His mother had befriended me in my first job and raved about her handsome son who was in the Army, (World War II). She was afraid he might marry some girl he'd met that she wouldn't like. I was shocked when he was discharged and came to work with us to find that he was indeed, as handsome as his mother had pictured him. Tan, blonde, and "older" than I was. A few years at that age makes so much difference! Our first date was dinner and I ordered a B & G Special, a triple decker sandwich. Every time I took a bite, he'd ask a question. It was awful. I have never in all my life ordered one again. But our relationship bloomed. We walked the streets of San Francisco, hand-in-hand, young faces clearly showing our awakening into a new world of love. I remember riding home over the Oakland Bay Bridge on the bus. It was like gliding along with the clouds floating out the Golden Gate.
I'm sure my mother was relieved when my father was also discharged from the service and we moved away. I was only 17 and it did seem to be getting serious. Ah, but, I had a plan. He and I each bought one season ticket to the San Francisco Opera Series. That way, I knew I would have to return at least once a month to see him.
And I did. Every few weeks, I would take off from my job early and take the afternoon train, the San Joaquin Daylight, to the Bay Area. I wore the same dress the entire season. It was black with black sequins and I had a black sequin beanie bobby pinned to my long blonde hair. He would meet me at the end of the line in Oakland and we'd enjoy the leisurely Ferry boat ride to San Francisco and then a hectic streetcar/bus trip to the Opera House where we'd check my overnight bag and rush to our seats. We couldn't afford a taxi.
I slept overnight at his house, in his bed, but of course he slept somewhere else in the house. He was the oldest of five good, Catholic, children. We bundled a bit and talked half the night, but nothing more.
We were both virgins when we married about six months later.
We lived in a basement apartment. A huge furnance faced our bed, the laundry sink was at one side of the long room and at the opposite side was an ice box, (real ice and an overflowing drain pan), a hot plate, and a table for two.
Am I supposed to feel some of that frustratiom/love now?
Our second apartment was an unfurnished, third-floor-walk-up in San Francisco. My mother-in-law gave us twin beds she bought at a garage sale. I sold my beautiful baby grand player piano for $300 and replaed it with a hide-a-bed and a chair.
I worked his way through the Universtiy of San Francisco for two years, then right after he graduated and went to Army Officer's Training School, I delivered our first daughter.
When the baby was six weeks old, I began the Army wife routine. We lived in 13 different places in the 10 years we were married.
A year later, pregnant with our second daughter, he went to Korea and I returned to my parent's home.
Instead of growing up together as we'd planned, we now each grew up fast, and apart. He as a 2nd Lt., Forward Observer, in enemy territory most of the time, me pushing a stroller to a usually empty mailbox everyday and dreading the government's telegrams that came to so many of my friends. His letter were business-like, with what he was doing, and who had been killed or wounded that I knew. Mine were passionate, full of feelings, but never answered.
Am I supposed to feel something now?
When he returned, things were never the same. He'd become an alcoholic and I was afraid he might abuse the children, as he did me. He never did, and he loved his girls very much. By the time the girls were three and four, my family physician advised me to get a divorce, but I stuck it out, "for the children's sake," until they were seven and eight.
After he remarried, and they assured me he didn't drink anymore, (sounded reasonable to me as I figured that living with me had caused it), I let the girls go to live with him in Germany. It was a mistake. He hadn't stopped drinking and it was Hell for the girls, but I didn't know it until years later. I lost custody of them because my papers were only legal in California and all he had to do was be sure he was stationed somewhere else. So I didn't even see the girls again until they were grown.
This was the hate period. Should I feel hate now"
The nothingness came after many years, and his other three wives, before I could be civil to him and occasionally see him when he visited my daughters and I happened to be there.
So now at 60 years of age and a retired Army Colonel, he was dead. I still can't cry, but he was an important part of my life and it seems as if I should feel or do something. Maybe writing this is my way of saying, "Goodbye, John."