Thursday, May 03, 2007

A Voice From the Past

Hello little computer diary. Something strange happened a bit ago. I was in bed, ready to read until I fell asleep and my husband played the messages on the answering machine. One of them was from my ex-husband's little sister. I've been divorced from my first husband since 1993 - 14 years - as long as I was married to him. Numbers. 14 years married, 14 years divorced, 4 years dating.....his little sister was a year old when I met him. He was 19. I was 18. She was a surprise in spite of birth control. His mother was 39 at her birth. All the years I knew them, she was growing up. I always loved his mother - loved and kept a little apart from. She loved me, but her first loyalty was to her son, and I wasn't the best wife to him in her opinion. And she resented my privileged upbringing and couldn't identify with my non-Hispanicness and my non-cityness. I was a hick from the country, but I intimidated them. There were racial and class barriers between us, but I was naive and vulnerable and young. And I expected nothing less than love. Hearing that voice on the machine made me cry - it was so unexpected. I heard her voice, realized who it was - and memories came pouring in......I got a silly grin and told my husband who had asked, "who the heck is that?" "She's one of your graduates (she graduated from the school he works at)" I responded, all proud of her......and it all flooded in. And I found myself crying - and surprised at my memories, emotions and tears.

They were fascinating to me. My ex-mother-in-law's parents lived in the city when I first met her son. They had an apartment on one floor in a three floor building and their other daughters had apartments on other floors and next door. Being with his family was like being in a foreign country......and I was hooked.

The whole Hispanic thing was so different to me. How the women were like noisy flowers always dancing around the men - and how the men seemed so unworthy of all the attention. My ex's father was a total enigma. He never spoke or made eye contact. He was like a super Marine in attitude all the time. Even his speech was rough and staccato, like a machine gun. His English was so accented I couldn't understand him anyway. Later, after I was married, I had to travel from New York to Florida alone with this man, him driving one vehicle and me the other - and we bonded a bit - at least as much as could be with someone who rarely speaks. He approved of me because I was light skinned and a "step up" for his son. Forget about whether his son and I were suited to each other. My ex's father was very good looking - better looking than his sons by far.....but who could ever get close to a statue that doesn't speak or look at anyone - and I wondered how the heck my mother-in-law could be with him in any way. They ended up divorcing way before her son and I did. Olana had ideas about marriage, especially from her 1950's American teenhood, and, even though she was a dutiful Hispanic wife, she just couldn't be happy with such a cold, rough man.

I used to go to my parent's-in-law's every weekend. I'd drop by and hang out all day. My then-husband worked a million hours a week as a store manager and I spent a LOT of time alone and lonely. As soon as I got there, she always made coffee. We always shared coffee. My little sister-in-law, of course, was there. When she was small, she suffered from asthma. As she grew up, she outgrew that problem.

My ex had two sisters and one brother. He was the oldest, then his first sister and then his brother - and last of all, the baby - the one who left a message on my answering machine the other day, that I heard just a little while ago.

All these years have gone by - and I was so unexpectedly inundated with memories...fond memories....of people who have long ago walked out of my life. And it made me cry. I miss them in a way. I loved them - and still do somehow. And her voice - the little girl I watched grow up, who felt a little like my own child, and who helped out when I had my own child - that voice just undid me. She said things like, "I'm sorry to bother you....I don't want to bother you or Jannie (my daughter)....but my mother just wants to know if she is ok". And I wanted them to pull up outside, I wanted to go back in time and smell coffee brewing, throw open the door. I wanted to see the older daughter and Olana and Lanie, the baby daughter.

How can they have been my family - and then a whole life just ceased, and they no longer existed? I don't know.....but I'm closing my eyes.....and I'm pulling into that decrepit neighborhood and that driveway in front of the house that my ex's lived in.....the vacation bungalow from the 1920's that was not a sufficient house for anyone, but they made do. The big trees out front, no air conditioning, windows open, but neat as a pin inside. All gone now. I don't even know if that little house is still standing - in a way, I hope it's not - it wasn't very nice then, and it sure couldn't have gotten better.

I'm just so caught in these memories. When we first moved to Florida, we lived around the corner from each other. I used to be able to walk to their house. I missed my own parents and family - and they became my family. I was closer to them than to my husband, their son.

I'll surely call them tomorrow, but we'll be shrouded in today and separated by awkwardness and time - and that will break my heart.


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