Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Hello, My Name is. . .

       Wow.  As my father used to say, it's been a long time between drinks.  There is a reason.  In fact, it is more than one reason.  It just seems a waste of time and ink to recount them.  So I'll just dive in.
       I don't recall whether we discussed this before, but 'my way of being in the world', according to Dr. Carl Jung is as a true introvert.  By this he means that I observe what's going on in the world and respond or react to it.  The reaction is in no way passive or to be seen as negative.  Rather, many introverts are responsible for bringing about very positive change in their environment.
       Recently, a cluster of events involving friends and family caused me to reflect on the early days of our marriage.  My husband and I came from two entirely different backgrounds or worlds as they say.  His dad was a cardiologist and he was heading for the field of medicine following in his father's footsteps.  My Dad, bright but unfortunately not educated, had a very strong work ethic and labored tirelessly for the American Chicle Company in their printing department for 35 years.  I had one sibling, a brother, and my parents' main goal - mother also having been denied an education - was to ensure that their children would  have an education.
       When we married, then, we were a medical student and a nurse with a bachelor's degree from Georgetown University.  Our finances were such that the United States Navy was very helpful in my husband's attaining of his goal.  In return for this assistance he owed the Navy three years of his beginning medical career.  He had hoped to be assigned to the medical/surgical ship, Hope, treating the injured who were fighting the war in Vietnam.  At the completion of his officers' training in Rhode Island, the Hope was pulled back.  We were  pushed forward - in the eyes of the Navy - and  downward -  in our eyes - to Norfolk, Virginia.
       Three weeks after arrival doc Phil was deployed on the destroyer Harold J. Ellison to the Mideast on a "friendly mission".  All of this 'friendship' would take approximately 11 months.  During the deployment, I lived with our then 10 month-old son Philip, in comfortable navy officers' town houses.  You can only imagine our unblemished ebullience upon his return.  Imagine as well our craving to restart our marriage in our own first home.
       We were most fortunate in finding a small, white, Dutch Colonial in a neighborhood that was both close to the only catholic elementary school available as well as to the largest civilian hospital  in which my husband wished to work after discharge from the military.  Within weeks of our moving in, the diocese closed the school and sold the property to a condominium developer.  Contemporaneously, a phenomenon formerly alien to me - busing - was in its inchoate phase.  Therefore, Philip would walk two blocks where he would join youngsters who had been riding for over an hour to begin their preschool education at Taylor Elementary School.  A large stone building planted on tree-lined streets engendered awe in these tiny day travelers.
       I could strongly identify with these youngsters as I had attended elementary school in Brooklyn, New York where, rumor has it, trees do not grow.  Well you can scotch that rumor because they do.  Trees that is.  A more valid rumor extant when I was a kid in grade school was something called "segregation".  The main thrust was that white children and black children did not play or go to school together.  The prevalence of wise guys in Brooklyn told me that we little kids were having our chains jerked.
       Fast-forward us to June 1969 - 1970, plunk us down in Norfolk, Virginia sending our first little guy to preschool and you have the recipe for feeling sorry for these kids who were trundled back and forth like baggage every day to school.  It wasn't so much the traveling.  You get used to that.  I took two subways and a bus just to get high school.  It was more the force feeding of an alien culture to a child and telling him it was good and good for him.
       I also found myself feeling sorry for my parents.  They had worked so hard to give us the gift of being comfortable among the 'smart' people and now that we had an education, we found ourselves still having to prove ourselves and our 'smartness' to our colleagues and peers.  The right  loan and a steady job got us the house.  But what price acceptance?  Or friendship?  Or asparagus for that matter.
       It was tradition in our new neighborhood for one of the community leaders to host a welcoming party for new neighbors.  Preparing for the evening of this festivity, we were nervous all day long.  We memorized names and tested each other by describing their owners.  We practiced walking the half block to the party in our empty living room.  (The standard answer to any queries about this void was always "We're strong believers  minimalism.") And when the curtain actually went up, we could be seen standing in the driveway between two houses - one of which would be the correct address.  Smiling and admiring the sunset,  we argued about the house number.
       After what must have been an agreed-upon length of time for this misery, our host came bounding down the perfectly manicured lawn to lead us to his majestic front door and our potential future.  With revelers spilling into the entrance hall, we were each labeled with stick-on labels reading, "Hello, my name is" and with the gold metallic pens proffered, we each printed our first and last names (which caused amused giggling and winks the likes of which served to break the ice but confuse us completely.)
       Thusly adorned, we entered the exquisitely- appointed living room.  Color-coded napkins and coasters, printed stirrers and miniature banners - "AND NOW, THE LEAVYS!" were sprinkled about.  We were led to the bar, generously supplied, and I dare say we sprinted to its offerings.  Next on to a completely covered groaning board.  Our hostess, Olga, the neighborhood's cherished and accomplished chef, had really outdone herself.  (Or so we were told as we had no knowledge of Olga when she was 'in'- doing.)
       Muted classical music swimming in the background, the evening proceeded smoothly, abounding with greetings - "Welcome, dears", "We've heard so much about you.", until at one point I thought I heard our host call/whisper my name.  Turning in curiosity, I did indeed see our host crooking his finger at me in a fetching manner.  I approached cautiously, trying to arrange my face into something of a "You called?" expression.  After meticulously wiping no crumbs from each side of his smirk, he said simply, "We all know the kind of woman you are." Intrigued, I allowed my eyes to plead for the definition.
       By way of response, I was treated to a monologue the focus of which was my leaving the house in the evening with my young son and returning rather late with my son alone.  These  excursions apparently took place only when my husband was working at the hospital.  He went on, un-invited, to add, "By contrast, my wife, Olga, is standing by our open living room door with our two children at her side when I arrive home each evening.  And she is completely ready to give me anything - and I mean anything - I want at that moment." Popping a cheese ball into my mouth, I turned focused intently.  His eyes followed my gaze.  We both then enjoyed the vision of Olga making her way across the room with at least 10 "Hello, my name is" labels affixed to her derriere.  A male name was neatly printed on each label.
       Brushing the no crumbs off both of my covered shoulders, I proceeded gracefully to the cloak closet.  Having seen but not heard the exchange, I felt my husband in tow.  With an expression exuding pleasant exhaustion, I waived  kisses to the assemblage, allowing my shawl to be draped on my shoulders and preceded my husband across the meticulously manicured but now punctured lawn to the sidewalk.  Ambling back to "Castle Leavy", I wondered aloud whether the moat would be chilly as there seemed to be an unusual frost in the air.
       Irish anger having subsided, we spoke mostly of correcting/healing any wounds.  It had been one week since Mr. Simon's play, "Prisoner of Second Avenue", had opened to raves at the local dinner theater. I was fortunate to be cast in the lead as Edna.  We decided to treat all of our new neighbors to an evening of dinner and the show.  It was important to both of us that while waiting for child number two, I was very involved in community theater, especially in productions that lifted people's spirits.  I have always felt laughter is a wonderful medicine and the genius of Mr. Simon is found  not only in his wit and through his quill but in the message one ultimately leaves the theater feeling. 
       In this case I truly believed that seeing the performance would be therapeutic for all involved.  At the opening a middle aged couples'  apartment has been robbed and Edna, the wife, is calling the police.  She then calls Mel, her husband, who, as only a husband can inquire, says, "Robbed?  Whaddya mean, 'robbed'?" Her response is just as typical.  "Robbed.  Robbed.  They come in. They take things out.  Robbed." The playwright then walks the audience through the response of each of the marriage partners.
       Egalitarian  as Simon is, he allows each character to crash and burn and then to recover.  In my mind, the two stars of the performance are the recovery and the fact that they recover together.  These are both very positive and necessary things in a marriage.  For my husband and I, we had been wronged but after discussion, we not only got over it, we got over it together and we reached out to those who had wronged us.  It was our sincere hope that as a little neighborhood community, the response would be the same.  At curtain call, dressed in pajamas and a terry cloth robe, I looked up and was staring into six sets of steely eyes.
       The following morning I visited Hillary, a young gal with whom I really thought I had bonded.  Sitting in the living room waiting for Hillary to get her coffee mug, my eyes were fixed on her husband's bronzed kicking shoe that his parents had given their son when he graduated from UVA.  (Looking back, seeing that little spectacle would have put most sensible women on their guard with regard to its owner.) Hillary returned, wearing her terry cloth robe, and sat, hugging her coffee mug as if to protect it from my attempt at stealing it.  "Was there something special on your mind because I'm running late," she said.  (That she would be running at all, let alone in a robe, never crossed my mind.  Pretty Hillary, a docent at our local museum, could have used a Jane Fonda tape for Christmas.)
      Fast forward four months.  Ironically, she did start jogging.  She joined a group that met each morning at 6:00 AM then jogged for an hour.  The effect was most dramatic.  She looked fantastic and had an affair with a young man - father of seven - who had also decided to become a strider.  Thus began an avalanche of broken hearts and marriages that became viral in our 'smart' little community. Does this story have a ring to it? (Or a point, you're probably asking yourself. Fair game.) Or does it only have morbidity?
       Yes, we've been robbed.  We can crash and burn but don't even try to fix it - let alone together.  It's all about, "I've got a brand new pair of roller skates; you've got a brand new key.  Let's see if we can get together and try them out and see. I've been lookin' around allot. You've got somethin' for me." (Dory Previn)  Nobody even HAS to know your name. 
Later, Lorane. . . .