And so, it seems, scarcely five weeks after we’d first met, we were writing and talking about moving in together on Vashon Island. Leafing through our copious month-long correspondence, I realize that this was not quite as lunatic and precipitous as it sounds. After all, Jeff came into my life vetted by a woman I considered at that point a trusted friend. (“I must tell you that Wendy has taken care of me for 20 years, and when I have fucked up, which I did often, there was never a word of censure from her, never an instant of withdrawn affection, never one second of unflagging enthusiasm in her eyes or voice when she next saw me,” he wrote. “Her faith me in me has been boundless, her forgiveness inexhaustible. And she loves you certainly as much, probably far more, than she does me. This is a stable, noble, long-term woman who has the capability to carry her loved ones to the finish line and beyond.”) Little could he know how soon he would munch on those words.
I fell in love with him and trusted him within such a short time because of the quality and the honesty of his writing, whether it was admitting the problems with what he frankly called “limp-dick syndrome” (“The hardware works, my darling, when everything is still and safe, and it will be probably be a little while longer until you are safe to me”) or being upfront about his finances (“I have a lot of wreckage to repair….about 10 grand of immediate credit stuff to clean up and loans to family and friends to pay back. I also have some things to clear up with the IRS”).
Instead of running away, as any sensible woman should have at this point, here we were corresponding, first, about working out some kind of insane commuting schedule between Portland and New York and Seattle, and then five days later about looking at houses and buying furniture. “I know you will bring beauty into our home—your knowledge and taste are exquisite.” (Now how the hell could he have made that judgment, I wonder 24 years later, since all he had to judge me by were shoes and jeans and jackets?) He added: “I thrive on beauty. I actually need it to survive.” And a bit later: “Can we have a huge bed? And soft rugs and all kinds of places to do stuff when you’re wandering around vacuuming in your underwear? Or perhaps when I am wondering around vacuuming in the buff because I hate underwear? Or do I have to get some sort of silk boxer shorts or something?”
And then, after a visit to the grocery store and some other local emporiums, he wrote: “I love shopping with you so much, and that was a harrowing nightmare in my past life! I had to go to museums and bookstores alone, and trips to the mall were agonies of stress. Now we can giggle and comparison shop and have all kinds of liturgical arguments about cheese and bread and doilies and lamps, and I can just tell within weeks that we will have our own private language and we will drive salesclerks nuts, but we will charm them right out of it.”
Even now, and at the time I first met him, I realize how much Jeff reminded me of my older brother, Bill, with whom I seldom communicated by that point but whom I admired unreservedly when we were growing up. He was tall and lanky and had a similarly wry and sometimes biting sense of humor. He was a fluent and often graceful writer, as Bill was, and he could just as easily drop references to John Dryden’s poetry as to Bertrand Russell and Alfred North Whitehead’s Principia Mathematica (my brother, who died in December of 2019, was a mathematics professor whose specialty was abstract harmonic analysis). I’m not suggesting any sort of incestuous attraction here, dear reader. I am simply trying to convey to you that I was completely fucking snowed! And Jeff’s intellectual breadth, however shallow it may have been in reality, felt to me like familiar territory.
I was charmed, too, by the occasional hints dropped about an interest in art (“We have a terrific Da Vinci exhibit coming up at SAM, including the Codex,” he wrote to me in late September, “and this month the Frye has about 60 paintings and watercolors Nijinsky did in his later years—something I’d really like to see.”)
So what if he was impotent, in the hole for thousands of dollars, and living on Spam and hot dogs? I was head over heels, out-of-my-mind, batshit crazy in love!
Also, please understand what a sense of power I was getting from this relationship. This man was horribly broken. I could fix him! I could make him whole again and give him a home! I had some savings and investments, nothing huge, but more than he had; I also had a fair amount of alimony coming in from the ex and the occasional magazine assignment from ARTnews or Architectural Digest. I had furniture and books, cookware and linens, good clothes and tasteful pictures, a sensibly divorced woman’s bountiful midlife dowry.
Yup, I had everything necessary to jump start our domestic bliss. And that, my friends, was a real ego trip.
But as long as we’re talking needs here, of course I had my own. I had moved often as a child (three times in Manhattan alone when I was a teenager, after my parents decamped from the suburbs, and then from the Upper East Side to the Upper West Side). About seven times in 16 years of marriage, possibly more, depending on how you counted during the four years when the ex and I had a commuting relationship between New York and Boston. It was dizzying, and it was too much. I craved stability.
And I craved family. I was not so naïve as to think that I could be part-time mother to a pair of teenaged girls, but I liked the idea that I might offer an influence, gently steering them away from Harlequin romances toward Jane Austen and the Brontës. Taking them to museums and movies, cooking wholesome family meals during the times they were with us.
We would even have a dog (his) and a cat (mine). The lyrics from the Crosby, Stills and Nash song kept thrumming through my brain: “Life used to be so hard/Now everything is easy ‘cause of you.”
Wendy seemed to be fine with everything that was happening—indeed, she was supportive and enthusiastic, though I know from hints dropped earlier in the summer that she had a vision of our being midlife roomies together in Portland, a pair of aging single gals on the town. But she also realized that she was the one who had set this juggernaut in motion, and now there seemed no stopping the gale-force winds driving me toward Vashon Island. The plan was that I would buy or lease a car and drive to Portland on Saturdays, returning after the show on Sunday afternoon or Monday (it was only about six hours round trip on good roads). Much of what we had to organize for the radio broadcasts could be done long distance, and Wendy and The Twins were embarking on their own romantic adventures, thanks to some fledgling matchmaking ventures on the Internet.
At the end of the month, just before the correspondence ends completely (and why so soon is still a mystery, yet to be addressed), I met the girls. His “urchins.” And was utterly charmed, or as much as one can be during a single two-hour dinner at a restaurant on Vashon. I remember how they sat to either side of him on a banquette across from me, almost leaning against him like a pair of seraphs flanking the donor in a medieval altarpiece, two blue-eyed angels with pale blonde hair, the younger one a little chubbier than her 15-year-old sister. They had unusual almond-shaped eyes, and seemed shy and tentative around me. Jeff assured me later that they were as beatific as they looked, “delighted to see their poppa happy for a change.”
Everything about my new life was falling blissfully into place, though we had yet to find a house. And I still needed to break up with Peter.