Unlike our previous pattern of moving every twelve months, we stayed in our house on Oregon until the end of 1975. Despite having lived together for over three years, we were straddled somewhere between being kids and adults. After our fall trip to the Ozarks, we still separated for Thanksgiving by going home to our parents’ family events. These were much more pleasurable for me than Michael, whose parents were frequently a cause of his deep dives into the internal rabbit holes he’d created to survive their neglect when he was a kid. The dissonance between my constant probing interest in his every thought and their surfacey interactions was jarring for him. Consequently, we didn’t stay apart for more than a day or two. Even though he wished I wasn’t always poking around in his psyche, being with me was preferable to the sad state of his relationship with them.
Back in those days, we frequently visited Chicago, which was close enough to where we lived, that spontaneous jaunts to our favorite pizza place, the original Uno’s, were a nice change from daily life. We’d get buzzed and drive to O’Hare to watch planes take off, dreaming of trips we’d take some day. We were also big fans of the city’s zoos and museums. I always felt weird being in the city and not seeing my family. That was the beginning of moving into true adulthood. I’d feel torn. I remember positing situations like what I’d do if my mom and Michael were both drowning. Who would I save? Michael told me to save my mother – he said he’d save himself. Shifting loyalties were interesting for me as loyalty is pretty central to my core values.
Twin cities. This little boxy house on Mattis was in the “other” town which is divided from where we’d always lived by a single street. Previously we lived in the “liberated territory” city, close to the university, and which despite being separated by only a few yards of pavement, was more politically liberal than its twin where we’d recently settled. When we lived in this place, it had a carport and looked exactly like every other house on the block. Maybe it was our transitional living space as we moved through our early raucous years to those which ultimately grew less turbulent. I was pretty done with 1975 when we moved. Michael and I had navigated some rough times as we got more familiar with ourselves individually and as a couple. We were still both insecure. Michael had realized that I was the first real love of his life although he’d had significantly more experience with women than I’d had with men. I, on the other hand, had limited numbers of men in my life but had previously fallen in love with a person whose toxic effects on me were going to take awhile to recover from, a fact which made Michael nervous. As we stumbled forward, our inner struggles were punctuated by glorious times and real life struggles.
In 1972, our first year together, Fleetwood Mac released their album “Bare Trees,” which we’d spent long romantic hours listening to in that amazing discovery time of new love. Also high on our music passion list was CTA which became the group Chicago. We’d been lucky enough to see both those bands perform locally in the previous year or so, plus a Little Feat concert as well. We got tickets through the Record Service but prices were also cheaper back then. Lots of local music venues supported a thriving band scene. Music was a big part of our life together.
The new year, 1976, started off with me in a new job, initially working as an assistant manager at a family firm that owned multiple housing units around campus. In a short time, I was promoted, managing about 350 apartments. The business was owned by a patriarch and his three sons. They weren’t my type of people in most ways, but the money was decent and I’d decided that working with troubled young people wasn’t going to be a healthy option for me and my relationship. So I settled in and decided to try to be a positive influence on the greedy landlords who employed me. Meanwhile, Michael began exploring opening up his own record store with a somewhat sleazy sales representative from an album distributing company. They decided to locate their business in DeKalb, Illinois, home to Northern University. He continued working at Record Service, while putting in long hours doing everything from building racks to developing a catalogue for the new store. He was aiming to have things up and running by the beginning of the next year. I was leery about this move as the guy who’d recruited him inspired as much confidence as your basic used car salesman. Oh well. On we went. We were both working hard. But in January, 1976, at the age of 53, my dad had a heart attack. His father had died of heart disease at 39. That was a stunning wake-up call for me. My mom, who continued to be in and out of hospitals as she’d always been, was pretty much a disaster at this point. I spent a lot of time running up and back to Chicago, trying to help out and thinking that at age 24, my childhood was basically done.
I was in what had become my customary mode of deeply analyzing every thought, every feeling, even the most fleeting glimmer of what I was supposed to be doing in the very near future and beyond. I wanted to be a writer but I lacked discipline and focus. My journals are filled with complaints about aimlessness and dissatisfaction with what felt like repetitive habits and unfulfilling relationships. Suddenly I was aware that life had an endpoint and I didn’t like the direction mine felt it was going. During the times that Michael was gone trying to get his business going, I felt like my only comfortable safe place was empty. I slept on the couch, and only sporadically. I realized that despite a lot of wrinkles to iron out between us, I had found my life partner. The good totally outweighed the bad. Spring showed up. I decided I wanted to get married. To step off the old path and onto a new one. I took all, or so I thought, almost all my old love letters and burned them in our Weber barbecue grill. I didn’t want Michael to harbor any worry that I might go back to my old love. When he returned home, I pitched the wedding idea to him, the guy who thought all institutions were inherently bad and was afraid I might break his heart. Unabashedly manipulative, I pointed out to him that my father could die at any time and that his knowing I was in a solid place might be good for his health. I also mentioned that if we kept the wedding small, we might get enough money to buy Michael a coveted Chevy Blazer to replace his beaten up old pick-up truck. Keeping track of how many vehicles we had in our first years together would be a story of its own. He already owned a 1967 GTO convertible, a robust hotrod. No wonder we were always broke.
Ever the convincing type, I got Michael to agree. We chose May 1st as our wedding date, liking the symbolic choice of International Workers Day as a showing of our political solidarity with working people versus corporations.
I think our unusually practical approach to our wedding was probably more annoying than a health boon for my dad. He wanted us to be married by a rabbi in the classic Jewish tradition. But Michael and I were at best cultural Jews and didn’t subscribe to the traditions which would be part of our ceremony. I had major problems with the sexism in the traditional ceremony and we both saw no reason to have the state of Israel mentioned at all. After interviewing a few dozen rabbis, we gave up. Someone found a Jewish judge who would have to suffice. Poor dad. On April 10th, my snobby, irritating mother-in-law-to-be threw me a wedding shower in a fancy suburban restaurant where I felt utterly out of place. An imposter. I remember hunting for dresses to wear to the event which simply weren’t part of my wardrobe. About three weeks later, we were off to a rehearsal dinner at Michael’s parents country club.
That was a miserable night. Michael’s older sister who was single and seething with jealousy, was cutting and rude to Michael whenever he opened his mouth. The food was terrible. I was upset because I’d overheard his parents discussing the fact that I’d gained a few pounds since they’d last seen me. We were supposed to stay apart that night but changed our minds and opted to get a hotel room to remember that we were still us and to block out his family.
On Saturday, May 1st, we managed to make it through the wedding. We’d just passed four years of living together. The solidity of our friendship helped us through the surreal moments of that day as we dealt with rude relatives, the strangeness of formalizing our life together, and other emotionally miserable moments. For more details see the blog I wrote years ago about the wedding.
We went back home and were thrown a fabulous and much more homey celebration by our friends which went down in our local lore as one of the great parties of all time. I can’t remember everything we imbibed that night but we had a magical time that resonated as a more substantive step-off point to what seriously felt like a deeper, more serious shift in our relationship. I was glad. And we got enough money in wedding gifts to buy Michael’s Blazer.
We had a good summer. We met for lunch at our local park district pool and swam in a lovely facility, ensconced in nature. Our wedding had added an air of legitimacy to our life together and for the first time in over 4 years, my family came to visit us. Michael’s parents had moved from their house to a condominium as they were preparing to relocate permanently to Florida. They gave us their old redwood lawn furniture. I remember feeling so mature as I carried a tray of drinks outside to my family. Just as I got close to them, a bird flying overhead defecated on my breast. An appropriate reminder that life doesn’t get all good because of one change.
The backyard of that house had a cherry tree. We had lots of visitors who loved picking the cherries but the truth is, I was the one who did most of the picking and pitting to make cherry pies. In those days, Michael was playing lots of softball on weekends and in the evenings. I used to go to watch him play all the time, but I found that I wasn’t much interested in the girlfriends or few wives of the other players. I preferred staying home to read and do my own stuff rather than just being a spectator. That year when his team had their end of the season party, he got two awards. He was nicknamed “Stick” because he always managed to get a hit and be on base. He also got the “Man About Town Reward” as he passed on the beer parties to come home and be with me. How lovely. To get through the hot summer days, we put a big kiddie pool between the carport and garage. We were enjoying each other. For the most part, all was going well.
One night, Michael was off playing in what seemed to be an interminable double header. I was home puttering around the kitchen. I was glad he enjoyed playing but it seemed that when he was gone a crisis which could’ve used both of us always came up.
I’d let the dogs out in the backyard for awhile. When I called them back in, it was dark and I heard a curious sloshing sound. When they entered the kitchen, Harpo, Michael’s Irish setter, had an enormous bloated abdomen – the sloshing sound was coming from his belly. In those days of no cellphones, I had no way to reach Michael. I called the emergency vet who told me to bring him in as quickly as possible. Terrified, I got him in the car and careened across town at 70 miles an hour. When I arrived, the doctor immediately pronounced a diagnosis of gastric torsion, a common occurrence in deep-chested animals whose stomachs get twisted causing bloat and potential death. He had me sign a waiver and said he would attempt to invert the belly and staple it into a position where it would be impossible to fill up again. I felt so scared and terrible that this had happened on my watch. In the end, he survived. My little border collie was an easier pet.
Fall came. My dog Ribeye got pregnant and had nine puppies. Suddenly we had to deal with their care and find homes for them. No automatic neutering back in those days. We were glad to stay put in our little crackerbox house instead of moving again. We were leading a pretty traditional life, hoping to get ourselves together enough to put a downpayment on a house as our next move. We planned a trip to Florida for two weeks in December to visit Michael’s parents who’d moved to the Gulf Coast. Emotionally this was never ideal but they flew us down there, provided lodging and we appreciated the break. Michael kept trying to have his family despite all the hard times that had gone down in the past. We’d ring in 1977 there, before coming back to winter. To be continued…