More with the Cake, originally uploaded by olympia2x. Photo by Corinne Simpson. All rights reserved. Collection of Michele Wallace.
Hearing him say that he wanted a divorce was one of the worse moments of my life. It came as a complete shock to me. I immediately asked if he would do a double session with my therapist. My hope was that it would turn into couples therapy and a healing of our marriage, that she might talk him into staying with me and giving it another try. But as I would subsequently realize, he had already given it several tries and I had not been able to make the compromises he needed me to make to make it seem worth his while.
I could not see a bit of that then, even after the double session with my therapist but I can see it much more clearly now. Maybe I am wrong but I think I was an impossible wife to have for a man like Gene (traditional, Southern, proud, gregarious and fun). Also, the situation we were in as a married couple, particular vis a vis my fairly frequent bouts of illness (lupus) were bound to run through the marriage and make it untenable in a decade or so.
Most importantly, I had manipulated him into marrying him. I say this with no shame at all. I thought this was what a woman was supposed to do. No man in his right mind would ever get married I thought so you had to prod him a little. We had been a couple for five years, during most of which we were living apart. For the first two, I was living in Norman, Oklahoma teaching at the University of Oklahoma and he was doing his MFA in Theatre at UCSD in San Diego. That was from 1985 through 1987. Then in the winter of 87, I returned to UCSD to do a second stint as Visiting Professor in English in Sherley Anne William's position while Gene completed his degree and went for a season to the Milwaukee Repertory Theatre. Meanwhile, I had procured a post as an Assistant Professor in Women's Studies at SUNY Buffalo. We decided that he would next move back to New York where he had a small apartment. So then the two of us drove my car across the entire country from San Diego to New York City, with a stop in Norman, Oklahoma to say goodbye to everybody there and pick up my things in storage.
Another two years passed during which I taught at SUNY Buffalo, finished my M.A. with Professor at CCNY, and he did the actor thing in New York. We were together either in Buffalo or New York as often as possible. Then in the fall of 1989, I had landed the job at CCNY, with the first year at the Center for Worker Education running the Life Experience Program. We got an apartment together in Brooklyn, and I've been at CCNY ever since.
When we married, I was the breadwinner. He was a freelance actor, caterer, a little of this and a little of that and very happy about it. He had learned how to be an actor in New York and live on very little and he had just finished his MFA in Acting at UCSD. His goal I think was to have a woman with full employment who had benefits and insurance while he pursued the more creative task of cobbling together a reputation and a living in the theatre, television and/or film.
Except the work was extremely unsteady and I simply was not convinced that acting was the right career for him. Arrogant I know but that was me. I didn't do boundaries well at all. I pushed him and prodded him into teaching as an adjunct at CCNY and then pursuing a full time position as a professor. We masterminded the counter-job offers at SUNY Buffalo. If CCNY didn't hire him, they would lose me to SUNY Buffalo. I actually wanted to go to Buffalo. I hate New York but as an actor, New York was always the preference for him for obvious reasons.
As I see it now, once Gene had the full time job at CCNY, he didn't need me the way he had up until then. Added to this he wanted to buy a little house somewhere, a fixer-upper. But I knew I was not the fixer-upper type. I have very sensitive skin and I can't live in any kind of dust or filfth. Gene was a procrastinator. A broken metal bed frame laid by the side of our bed waiting for him to fix it until the day I left. When the housekeeper came, she would have to dust it. It was a permanent part of the furniture. Which made me so mad I thought the top of my head was going to blow off? Just let me throw that crap away. But no. Mr. Green Jeans never wanted to throw anything away. These are the kinds of things you want to check before you marry somebody.
Also, he wanted to have a baby and as it turned out given that I was already in my late 30s by then, I couldn't get pregnant. With the lupus, which I didn't fully realize I had until 1993, it might have been a disaster. Then in 1994, I went back to graduate school, this time in pursuit of a Ph.D. I was not then aware of the impact advanced degrees have on relationships and libido. It's disastrous. Soon he was also pursuing a Ph.D. but there was never any doubt I was going to get there first.
In any case, once Gene had the job and the pension and the paycheck, my behavior issues did not get better, they got worse. School is stressful. The discipline concentrated in one area isn't likely to lend itself to greater discipline in other areas. First, I like to shop and I was controlling the bank accounts because he would never pay bills on time. I needed my bills paid on time so I could shop. He didn't think I ever needed to buy anything new, so I lied and hid new items.
Everything we ever bought I had to cajole and manipulate him into allowing it in the house. I often thought about how if it had been left up to him we would have had a bed and a chair and no other furniture because we couldn't afford it. He was right of course but I was somebody who believed in using credit, unwisely but with conviction.
Moreover, in a social context I was unpredictable, intrusive, nosy and often downright rude to his friends and family. I didn't mean any harm, most of it was good natured and in fun but he didn't like it. In my family we are more confrontational and humorous and loud. I realized this the day we met with my therapist when he complained about incident after incident in which something confrontational had ocurred with his friends or his family. Something or other he had begged me not to do or to say, which I had done or said anyway. As far as I was concerned, I had won every one of those debates but it seemed the point with the friends and family of the partner was not winning the debate but avoiding the debate to begin with. That day the scales began to be lifted from my eyes and they have continued to fall away to this day. I still don't like what I see but I know that that was, is me and that I probably can't change. I still find myself so amusing. And I am thinking, more often than not, husbands just get in the way. At 57 I feel comfortable admitting that. God bless those who are willing to work with the brothers. I gave it 18 years of my life.
So Gene was a darling, remains a darling. He stood by my side in sickness and health and we had a fabulous time most of the time. He also got me through my craziness for which I will always be grateful but I know I wore him out. I kind of feel sorry for whoever follows me because I think I got the best of him. Not sure where he is now or who he is with but God bless both of them.