Listening to myself

Listening to Myself: Has there been a time in your life when you thought you knew what you needed to do, but an inner voice kept telling you to go a different direction? Did you wind up “trusting your gut”? And if so, did your hindsight later validate your decision? If you didn’t listen to your instinct, did you have regrets?  How were you changed by the experience? Sometimes, listening to ourselves means being able to discern which of our several inner voices to listen to. How do you know which to trust?’

My reliable intuition told me immediately not to marry the handsome guy who swept me off my feet during the summer of 1961. We had just met, and we were so, so different. And sure enough I ended up with huge regrets. Thankfully, I was able to put an early end to it, but that marriage decision changed my life forever.

It was the summer between my junior and senior years of college. I was student at the University of Wisconsin, a well-established journalism student, a member of the journalism society, and my social sorority vice president. I was also the Panhellenic Association’s rush counselor’s chairperson. However, I was prepared to transfer to UCLA if need be. My father had had a heart attack that spring, and should his health and financial situation warrant it, I applied, took the SATs, and was accepted as a transfer student.

During my junior year my parents moved first to Phoenix Arizona where my father was swindled in an apartment building venture. He lost all his money from the sale of his business and our house in the Chicago suburbs.  By the end of my junior year they moved again and settled in a tiny apartment in Beverly Hills, California – two bedrooms and one bath for four of us – my mother, father, and younger sister. The night I arrived at the apartment I was told I would be driving my father over the hill to the San Fernando Valley every day so he could go back to work at the fabric shop he and another man had opened before my father got sick. No, there was no job there for me. I had to wait in the car or take big long walks in the ninety plus degree summer valley heat while my father worked.

I hated it. The drive from Beverly Hills to the valley made me very nervous. I had nightmares about it. That was my life. I did have a few dates though – I think my relatives who lived close by, fixed me up – but I so far hadn’t found anyone I was interested in. That didn’t bother me since I was set to return to the University of Wisconsin in the fall where I would be a senior. I very much looked forward to going back. I looked forward to a full and interesting year ahead of me.

However, things changed one evening as my father and I arrived at the apartment carport. I met the little old lady who lived upstairs. She was cute and friendly and immediately told me she had a grandson she wanted me to meet. And within days it was arranged. He would come to my parent’s apartment and the four of us would play bridge. Afterward he took me out for a drink.

That first drink should have been my first clue. He was a drinker. And the drink or drinks I had  with him were more than I had ever experienced before. I had turned twenty-one that previous May so I was only used to drinking beer at the university pubs. I knew nothing about hard alcohol. I found out very soon, Carl knew a lot about it.

He also knew a lot about romance and within days he swept me off my feet, introduced me to his parents and grandparents – all involved in the movie business – and within three weeks, he came to my door with a jeweler’s box in hand that contained a gold heart rimmed in pearls on a chain and asked me to marry him. Without blinking an eye, I accepted and decided to finish my college career at UCLA. I was too young emotionally and very inexperienced with men, so I was easily attracted to this very handsome man who looked like Marlon Brando and who worked in the movie business. Movies and movie stars were my favorite things as a teen.

That I gave him my virginity was another factor in my decision.  When he took it, I considered myself a ruined woman. No one else would want me. I even thought I would be a better catch as a divorcee than as an unmarried woman without her virginity.

We set a wedding date for the following December. In the meantime, I went to school and continued living with my parents and sister – quickly alienating myself from them. They abhorred my decision to get married and not return to the University of Wisconsin, and my mother especially resented the time I spent with him rather than her. I couldn’t wait to get out of there. This upcoming marriage was my way out though even on the night before the wedding, I thought about backing out. I knew instinctively how wrong he was for me – he hadn’t gone to college, he was a big drinker, and he liked to hang out with his boyfriends mostly going to bars and watching sports. He wasn’t a grown up yet either. But I couldn’t let myself dump him.

We were married three and a half bumpy years. During that time, I finished college and got a good job as a technical writer at a local aerospace company. He sporadically worked as a film editor, getting laid off in between jobs. During those down times he worked as a photographer. But our life together didn’t mesh until I became pregnant. Unfortunately, that didn’t last either.

Having a miscarriage was the last straw. I was bleeding profusely and while he drove me to the hospital, he told me to stuff a pillow between my legs so I wouldn’t bleed all over his car. That was all the sympathy I got. He dropped me off for my three-day hospital stay and didn’t visit once. I was very broken up about the loss; he couldn’t care less.

In fact, the easiest thing about that marriage was getting a divorce. I didn’t ask for a penny since we had no property or children, and I had a good enough job that allowed me to take care of myself. That I think was the biggest change as a result of my short first marriage. I became an adult and learned to think and act on my own. I also gave up the idea of returning to the Midwest to become a journalist. I settled in California where I met my current husband whom I’ve been married to for over fifty years.

Every once in a while, my ex would contact me – the last time he told me he wished he  had stayed in that proverbial house with the white picket fence with me. Funny, our split was never his decision. I was the one who left that house. The last I heard he was married to wife number five. I also heard from his cousin who was doing a family tree that included all his five wives that he died in 2012. 


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