I came home for the summer between my junior and senior years of college. But it wasn’t really my home – not the place where I grew up. It was my parents’ new cramped apartment in California where they moved while I was in school at the University of Wisconsin studying journalism. I hated being there but felt trapped because my father was just recovering from a heart attack and looked to me to drive him to his new place of business every day. I also was weighing whether I would return to Wisconsin for my senior year or enter the University of California at Los Angeles where I had just been accepted. If I returned to Wisconsin I would end up with a degree in journalism and probably stay in the Chicago area – my hometown – and pursue my dream to become another Brenda, star reporter. At UCLA I would have to make do with a degree in English and a life in a new city I hardly knew.
And then along came Carl – the grandson of my parents’ upstairs neighbor, Minnie. Minnie insisted I meet Carl and when I did I was swept off my feet. He looked exactly like a young Marlon Brando and was also in the movie business – he and his father were film editors, his grandfather was the head of the old MGM’s costume department, and I, a naïve, gullible and movie struck young woman of twenty-one, was very impressed with all things Hollywood. On my first dinner date with Carl we sat in booth next to Cary Grant and I could hear Cary’s so-Cary voice all through dinner.
Just three weeks after we started dating Carl asked me to marry him, and not hesitating for an instant, I said yes. I gave up the University of Wisconsin, I got my degree in English, I didn’t become a star reporter but ended up writing and editing in California’s burgeoning aerospace business, and I stayed in California for most of the rest of my life.
But as you might assume the marriage ended in less than four years – the decision I made that changed the rest of my life was doomed to be the wrong choice from the start.
Here’s a poem I recently wrote about my decision to leave that marriage.
White Picket Fence
You really had a lot of nerve
to call after all these years.
That you even think you were at choice
to end our marriage appalls me.
Don’t you remember
how I could hardly wait to leave?
All I needed was my new red VW to arrive
from Germany – my Lady Bug –
and then I packed out from
the little one-story two-bedroom house
we rented in West Los Angeles
in one weekend flat.
Don’t you remember
how I carefully left all the stuff belonging to your family –
the baby grand piano
even though no one played it but me,
the crystal art deco vase,
the garden furniture,
and of course all your precious kitchen utensils.
You were the cook in our household.
You probably thought I didn’t mind
all the nights you went out drinking
with your old high school buddies
and how much you ignored me
when you were drunk.
You also ignored me
as I lay in the hospital for
three days after our baby aborted.
You had no clue that
I needed you to hop on my bed
and at least give me a hug.
But, you never visited once.
All you said to me
as we drove there was,
“Shove a pillow between your legs,”
so the blood pouring out of me
wouldn’t ruin your car’s upholstery.
Could you blame me
for having my first affair
with that six foot four Greek DJ
we met that next New Year’s Eve?
His mellow voice when I called the station
to request a tune spoke only to me.
I just couldn’t resist combing my fingers
through his dark black hair
and smoothing his pale cheeks with my thumbs.
I had to climb up on a chair
to reach his face when we kissed.
No matter that he turned out to be
a bigger shit than you,
at least he knew about romance.
he gave me the courage to leave you.
So when you called the other day
after some forty-plus years
from the Indian reservation in Bishop CA
where you live with your fifth wife,
did you really think I cared
that you’ve been alcohol free for fifteen years,
thanks to Betty Ford ,
and that you were newly diagnosed
with bipolar disorder?
How could you think I’d be moved
when you said you still long
for a little house with a white picket fence
where the two of us, still married,
could have lived out our days?
No, Buster, that would never have happened.
It wasn’t your choice. I’m the one who left you.
I’d be glad to offer you a lemonade
if you want to visit – only because
I’m curious to see what
your once handsome Marlon Brando-looks
turned into after fifty years.
But then you’d have to go quickly on your way.
Causes Madeline Sharples Supports
Didi Hirsch Community Mental Health Center, Culver City, CA
Vistamar School, El Segundo, CA
Crossroads School, Santa Monica, CA (Endowment in...