Now that the frame of My Life’s puzzle is close to completion, I’ve decided to start attending to the center — the difficult part, the section where many of the pieces are seriously discolored. For me this poses a considerable challenge because I’m finding it almost impossible to describe the nature of my personal relationships which may well be attributable to the fact that I really haven’t had any — at least on a deep emotional level.
Emotional attachments aside, it’s anyone’s guess where I would be today had it not been for my x-wife’s stabilizing influence, but it is highly likely that had she not been in my life I would have dropped out of college and subsequently found myself being drafted and shipped off to the jungles of Vietnam like so many of my old high school acquaintances. Needless to say, I am grateful for that.
If success is to be measured in terms of academic and professional achievement, in addition to patiently awaiting my maturation, Connie did a spectacular job of raising our daughters. When I was stationed at Wright Patterson and we were living in Dayton, OH, I remember watching her pull our first born in the little red wagon they took to the library branch every week. On their return, the child would have to walk because the wagon was full of books. That image fairly depicts the nature of her tireless and never ending commitment to the education of both of our girls.
Years later, when I wasn’t on alert or on remote assignment, I remember reading to the second born most nights. Her favorite stories came from two separate collections of Grimm’s and Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales. One had a blue cover, the other red. I don’t remember which was which. I don’t remember doing the same thing with the elder though I suspect I must have.
It did not come as a surprise to me when Connie told me at our final face-to-face meeting on the south steps of the Riverside Convention Center that she had been happy throughout our marriage and, thinking back, it stood to reason. For her motherhood was the ultimate fulfillment and while I had played a key role in making that happen for her, I didn’t share her single mindedness.
Connie loved being a mother, being there for the girls 24 hours a day, 365 days a year for the first 18 years of the elder’s life and the first 13 of her sister’s. That commitment, incidentally, would have continued indefinitely had she not been forced by circumstance to make use of her degree in education when I left the military and re-entered school. The change was a traumatic one for her because for the first four or five months of teaching she was frequently and literally incapacitated by migraine headaches.
I’m no psychologist but I think her all consuming desire to be the best possible mother was in large part a positive response to the instability of her childhood which I briefly alluded to in an early post. This isn’t to suggest that there was something wrong with her. There wasn’t. She just wanted to make sure her children did not experience what she experienced as a child — that history not repeat itself.
Once separated, it took me six months before I decided to file for divorce and that came when I came to grips with the final realization that our marriage had been personally unfulfilling. After the kids had reached their majority I had little to look back on and even less to look forward to. We had little in common apart from raising the children. In a sense we co-existed. She thrived at home. I thrived at work.
So what happened? I really don’t know. Looking back, I can count on one hand the number of times we hired a baby sitter so we could spend quality, private time together. When I was working at St. Mary’s and Connie was completing her degree in art education at Purdue, her mother often attended to her but only to accommodate our working habits.
When I was undergoing flight training at Mather AFB, we must have hired a baby sitter on one occasion because we attended the dining out ceremony at the officer’s club after graduation. Five years later after the younger daughter had arrived, I recall only one occasion when we took time to ourselves outside the home and that, again, was to attend another a formal dining out dinner at the officer’s club at Minot AFB.
Apart from the kids we just didn’t have any common interests so toward the end of our marriage I attempted to rejuvenate our relationship joining a sailing club in Long Beach. We took sailing lessons but it was apparent from the start that the idea really didn’t much resonate with her or for that matter either of the girls. Once the lessons were completed, I think we went sailing together as a family two or three times.
Too, there were times in the final years of our marriage I felt as though my presence in our family was tolerated. That sense of alienation was never more apparent than the night before the eldests’s graduation from USC. That day I had a full schedule at work and couldn’t break away in time to beat the traffic to make it to downtown LA to attend the eldest’s baccalaureate. I arrived shortly after 8:00 p.m. and joined Connie and the kids in a room that had been reserved in the motel across the street from campus. Of all of the celebrations and events in the oldest’s life, this was the only one I ever recall missing.
Anyway, that night the eldest invited her sister to stay the night in her dorm room so shortly after 10:00 I suggested the girls retire to her dorm so we would all get some rest for the following day’s festivities. She subsequently burst into tears and it was then that the three of them took turns chastising me for being so characteristically insensitive — ruining the child’s life and their celebration in the process.
The scolding was so bad that I seriously contemplated getting back in the car and just going home to leave them to their own designs. Of course, had I done that it would have made things all the worse.
It was obvious to me that I really didn’t belong there. It was also apparent that she was either unaware of or totally unappreciative of the fact that I had personally funded her education using my father’s inheritance. Her education did not come as a family sacrifice, it came at my sole expense.
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Over the years when I think of the younger, usually one of the following memories comes to mind.
- I couldn’t be there when she was born. I was on alert.
- I remember the time when we once lost track of her when were were living in Dayton. An active toddler, she crawled through the kitchen to the top of the stairs leading to the basement and tumbled down the wooden steps to the cement floor below. Had she fallen off the side of the stairs on the way down there’s no telling how badly she would have been hurt.
- I remember seeing her dressed in a light blue princess gown with a gold crown dancing around the front yard in Minot, hiding behind trees and casting spells on the cars that drove by.
- I remember the cucumber hunt in the garden on the north side of the house next to the garage. I’d tie a string to a cucumber and then ask her to help me catch one for dinner.
- I remember coming home from an alert tour one day and deliberately placing my navigator watch on the butcher block table in the kitchen knowing that she couldn’t resist playing with it. There’s more to that story but not here right now.
- I remember her jumping up and down on our bed only to hit her head on the window sill. As a result, I think she still may have a small horizontal dent in her skull the middle of her forehead.
- I remember taking her by the hand and escorting her to the bench outside the Flickinger’s front door and spanking her bare bottom twice. She had been asked not to touch something of the Flickinger’s on a living room table and ignored subsequent warnings to cease and desist. According to Connie, when she let out a yelp Dr. Flickinger apparently said: “I’m guessing she’s probably grateful for getting that information.” That was the only time I spanked her.
- I remember how excited she was when I announced we were going to Disneyland soon after we arrived in California.
- I remember her as six or seven-year-old wall flower trying out for a part in Ali Baba which was being presented by the Children’s Theater at Ramona High School. She got a bit part as one of Ali Bab’s rag headed thieves. During the final curtain call on the last performance, a couple of tall blonde teenagers tried to upstage her. She took her rightful place right in front of them. The contrast between the initial frown and the triumphant smile on her smudged face was priceless.
- I remember a year later her tryout for Snow White. When she sang “Someday My Prince Will Come” she had everyone in the audience in tears, including me. She got the part.
- After each performance I also remember seeing all the little girls who had come to the show huddling around her on stage to give her (Snow White) the roses they’d bought in the lobby and to get her autograph.
- I remember her expressing her disappointment when she didn’t get the part of Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz as well as the emotional turn around when I explained to her that fame is a fleeting thing. I remember asking her to keep in mind that she had gotten the part of Snow White and that had undoubtedly disappointed a lot of her friends in the process. Having been the star of the show it was her time to support the girl who had gotten the part just like that girl had supported her. “That being said, never, ever forget that you were Snow White,” I said. She smiled, nodded her head and nothing more was said.
- I remember her struggling with the violin and one day upon my recommendation she closed her music book and walked into the backyard to focus on the sounds she was producing. She played better after she learned to focus on the music, not the metronome or printed page.
- Soon thereafter she asked me to show her how to play the piano. I gave her one lesson and she took it from there.
- I remember the time she expressed sympathy for one of her girl friends who failed to get the highest grade in a particular class. She couldn’t believe how overbearing her parents were.
- I remember her asking me what foreign language to study. I recommended Spanish. Whether she took my advice or had already made her mind up before she asked the question I’ll never know but the language has served her well in her professional life.
- I remember missing her final high school performance as a featured vocalist at Riverside Community College and her high school graduation. Looking back both events required damned if you do, damned if you don’t decisions. In the end since the girls had vowed never to speak to me again, I had little difficulty making a decision on both occasions.
- I remember trying to teach her how to ride a bicycle in the sloping side yard of the house in Dayton. Beyond that I can’t recall seeing her even trying to ride a bike ever again.
- I remember encouraging her to take on a musical instrument when we lived in Minot. She choose the oboe and took private lessons. I think her instructor’s name was Dr. Sundet, a music professor at Minot State.
- I remember her walking with slumped shoulders because she felt awkward about being tall. I also remember her Aunt Norma, Connie’s oldest sister, coming to town and upon seeing her posture and hearing about her discomfort took her to a local store to buy her high heeled shoes. I vaguely remember seeing her proudly wearing high heels on the few occasions I saw her on campus at USC.
- I remember her performing as a solo accompanist with the Ramona High School Madrigal Choir in a a competition that was held in the Calvary Presbyterian Church across from Riverside Community College. At the end of the performance, she packed her instrument and walked down the right side aisle to join us for a ride back to school. The competition judge halted her critique and followed her to the rear of the church. She introduced herself as the Director of the School of Music at UCLA and offered her a full ride scholarship if she’d transfer there. She was astounded to find out that she was only a junior in high school.
- I remember a discussion at the dinner table one evening not long thereafter when she expressed her interest in getting her teeth straightened. I rejected the idea out of hand because I had been told that the work would effectively destroy her embouchure, a fancy word used to describe the shape of her teeth and lips which enabled her to master her oboe. We took the conversation out of the dining room and into the master bedroom. She broke down in tears and I gave in. I don’t remember her putting any effort into her oboe after she dawned her braces.
- I remember bringing home a desktop computer for her, an Epson CPM model that used an antiquated WordStar word processing program that came on 5 1/2 inch disks. I also recall having an argument with Connie about it. Seems she thought that it would somehow detract from her studies.
- I remember her coming home in tears when she found out that she had not earned valedictorian or salutatorian honors at high school graduation. It wasn’t that she had been cheated out of either award, it was that the school’s guidance counselor had told her that she wasn’t entitled to be told of the selection because “the kids who were selected were cut from a different cloth.” (It’s interesting to note that the only grade she received that was less than an “A” throughout high school was in typing of all things.)
- I remember going to the high school office to confront the guidance counselor but he wasn’t there so I took the matter up with the principal. When he refused to get the counselor to issue an apology, I went to the administration where a meeting was held in the district office the following day to discuss the matter. At the end of the meeting I received a call from the Assistant Superintendent for Secondary Instruction who had chaired the meeting. She told me that while she was sorry for the incident there was nothing that could be done. In response I informed her that if the counselor did not issue a written apology to her the following day that I would be taking the issue to the Board of Education. The counselor hand delivered it with a feeble verbal one to boot the following day.
- I remember her being devastated when she learned that she had not been accepted at Stanford. She decided to apply to USC after she visited Chapman College.
- I remember when the Rodney King verdict came down Watts turned into a boiling inferno. USC is located located on the north side of Watts so when the riots broke out I remember calling her to make sure she was alright. I learned that the campus was surrounded by Watts residents who had taken it upon themselves to make sure that no one was being allowed on the campus who didn’t belong there. In addition, those same guardians were doing everything in their power to convince on students to stay on campus. The fact that USC and the surrounding community had such a committed relationship was very reassuring.