When and how everything began to fall apart is not easy to pinpoint. For our brief courtship, I had ample documentation, as I would for subsequent romances, but for the downhill slide on Vashon Island I have to rely on memories moldering for more than two decades somewhere in the musty regions of the hippocampus.
I know we had the daughters only every other weekend, and so my time was limited to Friday nights twice a month because I was off to Portland on Saturday and back on Sunday or Monday. I tried to seduce through food because I pride myself on being a pretty good cook, but my efforts were met mostly with teenage stupefaction, which is a form of disdain so potent it should be bottled and used only in the most rancorous political debates. So we compromised on burgers, grilled cheese, and the occasional roast chicken. I did my best to curry favor in the usual craven ways, like buying Kim a dress for a school dance and letting Katie play Enya CDs at top volume in the living room. But we never became friends, either because I wasn’t around enough or I didn’t have the knack for cultivating adolescents. They continued to frolic and screech till late Friday nights and when I asked Jeff to tell them to cut it out, he simply shrugged it off as something he really couldn’t control. They were high spirited and needed to work off a lot of pent-up energy. They were overjoyed to be away from their mother for a weekend and would eventually settle into our routines.
In other words, I should just stuff it.
Living on Vashon, close to the family he had in the Seattle area, there were some unexpected cultural differences, which I handled as graciously as possible. At Thanksgiving dinner, his sister’s husband wore jeans and a tank (aka “wife beater”) undershirt to the dinner table. A brother who lived in Tacoma, a recovering alcoholic, served us Dr. Pepper and Hostess snowballs, meticulously peeling off the rubbery pink frosting as if it were the annoying condom that got in the way of true pleasure. It was probably just as well I didn’t meet his parents, who lived in Idaho.
We never did make it to the local museums, nor did I meet the cultivated friends he mentioned in an email, the ones who went to Rome for a year on a music fellowship.
As Jeff’s work engagements picked up, he spent more and more time on the computer, diving for hours into deep space, especially when the girls were around. I once happened to walk by his screen when he wasn’t at home and glanced at an open email. It seemed to be a long-winded rebuttal to a scientologist, but I felt guilty snooping and did not read the correspondence carefully. Once at the dinner table when I was fretting about finances he announced, dead serious, “I’ve always believed that God will provide.”
There were things about this man I didn’t know.
When the household got settled, I found I had time on my hands because the radio show took very little effort to pull together—find a book author to interview (my job), find more audio makeovers (Wendy’s forte), come up with topics for contests and chitchat. As Jeff began working longer hours, I looked around for ways to make local connections and scored some reviews of Seattle gallery shows for ARTnews. I also applied for a volunteer docent’s position at the Seattle Art Museum, figuring that would be an interesting way to spend a couple of days a month. When that august institution turned me down, I whined to Jeff: “Two Ivy League degrees in art history and several years of writing for art magazines, and they can’t use me??” He said those jobs were most likely handed out as favors to donors and the director’s tennis buddies.
Nonetheless, for several blissful months we reveled in each other’s company. We played Scrabble in front of the fire and planned a small vegetable garden for the spring. Over the Christmas holidays, we flew to New York and stayed in a friend’s vacant apartment, attending Christmas Eve services at the church where I was married 20 years earlier (I am not especially sentimental). When Viagra came on the market in March of 1998, we spent a celebratory weekend in Vancouver. I can’t tell you anything about Vancouver, but I do have lovely memories of a Victorian-themed hotel and excellent room service.
But by spring Jeff’s working life had ratcheted into overdrive and he was traveling more and more with a team of experts. His job, as I understood it, was somewhat akin to Roto-Rooter for companies with ailing computer systems. His group spent a week or more in different locations, sorting out the problems and putting it all to rights. I missed him, and it was unbearably lonely on Vashon, He offered to take me along, but I didn’t much warm to the idea of hanging out with a bunch of geeks at the Hampton Inn or Embassy Suites. I could perhaps have spent more time in Portland, but I had Sherman and Sam to consider, and Wendy had recently latched on to a new beau.
Then, with no warning, in early May, Wendy “fired” me. She sent an email, saying “There comes a time when a partnership is no longer working….” Or words to that effect. I shot back: “Wendy, you can’t fire me from a fifty-dollar-a-week radio program! This is ridiculous. Let’s talk it over.” But she was quite adamant that she wanted to continue on a solo course and there was no need to discuss things further.
I had not for the life of me seen any signs of serious friction. I was always careful never to mention The Twins on the air or discuss her past relationships (there had been three marriages altogether). There was some occasional tension, as when I corrected her on the usage of “between you and I” because I thought the editor of a national magazine ought to know that it was “between you and me.” But the little skirmishes, to my way of thinking, gave the show a certain spark. Moreover, it seemed we were picking up a following in the Portland area.
Jeff had little advice on how to handle the situation, but my ex—by then a trusted friend—counseled me to show up at the studio and duke it out.
I have no memory of where I spent the night before that last show, but I took my seat opposite her, clamped on my headphones, and got ready to rock and roll. And was met with stony silence. For two solid hours, not a word from Wendy. I carried the entire show by myself, watching her exit a few minutes before our closing theme.
That, it seemed, was the end of that, from the woman who had been my friend for 17 years, the bosom buddy who had aided and abetted my move to the Pacific Northwest.
“Read her the riot act,” advised the ex. “Get her to talk to you.”
But it seemed there was no way I could make that happen. “I am doing ‘Anything Goes’ by myself,” she emailed me. “If you continue to show up at the studio, I will not join you.” Appeals to the station manager went nowhere. “If you gals are having a problem, you’ll have to work it out between you or let the thing go.” It was certainly no loss to his line-up if a couple of middle-aged divas staged a hissy fit and walked out.
Jeff proved of no use when I asked him to act as go-between. He turned up his hands in a gesture by now familiar to me, meaning, “I want no part of it.”
And so, for a few weeks, as spring edged its way into a chilly rainy summer in Seattle, I worked on a book proposal and consulted with friends in New York, trying to decide if it was worth remaining jobless and nearly manless on Vashon island, where even the seals swimming by seemed headed toward a happier destination.