"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Old Chestnuts Rather Than Ripe Berries–Divorced And Searching For Old Girlfriends

Brent Chapin had a messy divorce with enough piss and bile to leave a very bad taste in his mouth.  Getting over his marriage to a woman he probably never should have married in the first place, but because of inertia, children, and a congenital dislike for change all of which led him to stick with it and to her, it was not easy. He was a professor at a middling Mid Atlantic school before the divorce, liked but not admired, productive but only in middling journals, and happy enough to be near the Bay, not far from the ocean, and close enough to Richmond for a quick flight north, and remained so afterwards.  Genes, upbringing, experience, and happenstance assured that his trajectory would never change.

His wife, Emma, never a bad sort was also a product of a patrician New England family, Massachusetts Bay Colony, the Davenport expedition, Nantucket shipowners, Boston financiers.  She was flinty, practical, and a high-toned Wellesley and Harvard academic with a pedigree much more respectable than her husband, but not so much so that professional jealousy would get in the way of marriage.  In fact, she and Brent made it a point never to talk shop – a bit strange since his interest in literature and hers in history certainly overlapped although Beowulf and Aleppo would take some doing to coincide – but whether plumbing or pentameter, it is always best to keep work and intimacy far apart.

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The details of their longish marriage and nasty divorce are not particularly relevant to this story.  Their reasons for separating, given the many awful ones making the rounds in their neighborhood, were rather desultory.   She was the culprit, and he the non unwilling, complaisant partner.  She wanted more out of life than her now increasingly sedentary husband could provide, the children were grown, and she had just inherited a fortune after the death of her father.  Sowing her wild oats  \and feeling as frisky as a young colt, she said, “It’s now or never”.

The reason the divorce was so particularly bloody was not because of discovered adulteries or abuse, but because of money. Brent was rightfully angry at divorce proceedings occurring right after millions in stocks, bonds, and overseas investments were deposited in her personal account.  Not only did she quickly shelter the money, but went out of her way to limit if not prohibit her husband’s access to it.  She felt she had done nothing wrong – after all this was really no more than a post-nup, and there was no reason for her husband to be so outraged.

And of course there was that little matter of Anders Plummer, a colleague at her university with whom she shared her bed on occasion.  They were both married, very adult in their choices and makeup, and never considered the affair anything more than ships passing in the night; but Brent saw it differently, especially because he had always been a man of strict marital propriety and sexual rectitude.  He had been faithful to Emma during their marriage, and was angered, offended, and absolutely livid that he had been snookered, taken in by her easy ways, and kept in the dark about her feelings.

Image result for Images Comic Book Romance Man And Woman. Size: 150 x 150. Source: depositphotos.com

So the divorce proceedings went on for months, both spouses living in separate quarters, their house rented; but finally it was settled; and again, the details are of no particular interest. What happened after the divorce is.

Divorce, no matter what the circumstances, is never an indifferent affair, and it took Brent a while to get over it, to adjust to living alone, and to square the fact that he had been blindsided with what he thought was an accommodating marriage to an acceptable woman.  Time is a great healer and rouser of sexual interest, so it wasn’t long before Brent began looking for company.  He was uncomfortable with sexual overtures at museums, galleries, and conferences and had a distaste for anything more random.  There was an active singles bar scene for older, divorced men and women, but he simply couldn’t bring himself to it. 

So, like most divorced men after a long marriage, Brent went to his old personal diary and address book and began to look for old girlfriends.  There was Marsha from Winnetka and Smith , smart, talented and sweet; a bit conservative at first but wholehearted soon on, worth a gamble.

Sue from Great Neck, strong Long Island accent, modest upbringing, father a pharmacist, mother a bit of a yenta, but passionate? How I wish she had not dropped out of Vassar.  Billie Mae from Alabama, no known higher education, hot ticket, insatiable, cute accent….

And so it went.  The archives were very forthcoming, especially, since, with some strange premonitory insight, he added codes annotations – ***** for the very best, ‘I’ for innovative in a sexual way, ‘HTP’, hard-to-please, a tough nut to crack, worth the effort; and ‘L’, luscious, Brent’s special category (SM) for what he called a sexy morsel.

He knew of course that if this code were deciphered, he would be immediately branded as misogynist, what with all the cute, infantilizing references; but his college experiences were of a different era, women judged no differently than today but more honestly.

So, where should he start?  Alphabetically would be the most logical, although Marcie Abramson was a one-star affair with no ‘I’, ‘HTP’, or ‘L’ by her name; so personal preference should come first; and so it did – Nancy Boothby, a girl who had tempted him when they were eight, wrote him love letters in the fifth grade, and undressed for him in the piney woods behind his house at ten, and was his lover at twenty.  

Where would Nancy be now, he wondered.  Through Google magic, he found a number of Nancy Boothbys, but only two which corresponded to the right age.  He dismissed the one in Nome, Alaska, an Iraq war military tank gunner and inventory control officer for the Artic East garrison; so it must be the Nancy Boothby of Palm Beach, wealthy, retired comfortably, divorced, seaside.

Very possibly, he thought.  The Nancy Boothby he knew, despite her pre-teen sexual adventurism was born into privilege, rank and wealth, a childhood of rectitude and propriety.  But then again the Catherine Deneuve character in Belle de Nuit was just as well brought up, patrician, and born to ease and comfort.  Perhaps in Nancy as well as Belle, propriety was just a convenient cover for a profoundly, uninhibited and adventurous sexual nature.

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He located her address and started to write her a simple, mailed note.

Dear Nancy,

I hope this note finds you well and prospering.  I hope you remember me and our wonderful friendship back in New Brighton.  So many years have passed since our last meeting, that I wouldn’t know where to start telling you about my life, my….

Here Brent stopped.  How confessional should he be?  How re-creative of a past, especially a sexual past which, given her certainly diverse experience, might mean nothing all.  Perhaps he should be more recondite:

Dear Nancy,

Perhaps you remember me.  We were classmates at Vance and Mooreland, and then met again when you were at Sweetbriar.  I remember you fondly, and thought I would drop you a line….

This too was unsatisfactory when all wanted to know was whether or not she was married, and if not might she like to rekindle an old flame.  The problem was that decades are tricky things.  So many unforeseen, unexpected circumstances intervene to change a person, to transform and even deform the most charming of personalities.  Perhaps a chain of misfortune trailed her.  Perhaps she was on Zoloft and desperately unhappy; and that a lonely hearts letter from an old lover was the last thing she wanted to see.

Brent’s wife left him because he was too cautious, too predictable, too within his shell; so perhaps now was the time to become his own, assertive man and write honestly and confidently to Nancy.  Yet after many drafts of the letter, even so far as almost dropping one into a mailbox in Grand Central Station, he did not. 

It had to do with romance, he decided.  Why not leave Nancy Boothby alone, intact, as she was – a soft, blonde, flaxen-haired, blue- eyed sensual girl.  Why replace that icon with the real, lined and withering, dry, and punctilious older woman?  What was the point?  He was writing to the Nancy that was, not the one who is.  The mature Nancy might be an interesting woman, full of life’s experiences; or one of perceptive intellect and insight; or even one of sharpened ironic humor; but that would be like meeting a new woman for the first time, not the old Nancy.  The attempt was pointless.

Dylan Thomas said it best: “Why do men think you can pick love up and re-light it like a candle? Women know when love is over.” 

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Brent eventually found his way, and the woman he is now living with is not surprisingly more like his former wife than any of the women he knew as a young man – women who like Nancy Boothby were lithe, seductive, impossibly irresistible girls, but who would have to lovely centerpieces of memory and nothing more.

In the end, he settled for Elizabeth, herself a recovering divorcee in need of comfort, solace, and companionship.  Sex was annealing, a rite of passage, a necessary and not unpleasant mating ritual, but it was irrelevant to this or any relationship of a certain age. 

Brent thought of Nancy Boothby every day, and was glad he had never sent her the letter he intended.  This way nothing was disturbed. 

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