My decision to return home and marry Paula was not well received by my family. Generally they were pleased that I was doing well in San Francisco and pleased that they didn’t have to deal with ‘that’ girl. Elinor and Barbara were in full attack mode by now but I made it clear that this was my life and my decision. I was going to make this good.
I arrived at our old apartment in February and got a job at an environmental engineering company in Boston. Paula and I then hastily made plans for the wedding with the minimal amount of coordination with my parents as we could manage. We were married in my old Congregational Church on the Ides of March 1977 and then went off to live our lives together. It was great being together again. I think at first Paula was waiting for the other shoe to drop and I would leave, but she soon found out how much I had changed.
It was the late 1970s, an era of outrageous inflation, and I was getting a 10-15% raise every 6 months. I was almost 27 now and I was running about 5 years behind my career curve. My classmates who had a ‘normal’ life already had a college degree and 5 years experience by this time. I was still starting at the bottom and I needed to catch up. This is when I had entered the world of computers and I was being promoted rapidly as opportunities came along. Paula was now a senior person at the bank in Harvard Square and so our finances were looking up. It wasn’t long before we started looking for a house of our own.
There were a couple of things about Paula about which everyone would agree. The first was that she was a botanical wizard. She wasn’t trained or anything but the things she could do with houseplants, even the hard to grow ones, were amazing. The second was that she really knew and loved antiques. I’ve been in every back roads antique shop from the Cape to Portland to Montpelier to Pittsfield and back again. So it was natural that she would want an antique house to go with the furniture. Using those criteria it didn’t take long to find a historic house in Bedford circa 1780 that was condemned in need of a lot of work. And even better we got the extra special “today only” interest rate of 10.5% on our 30-year mortgage. You think I’m joking but in the next 30 days before we closed on the house the rate climbed to 12.5%.
Well, I had done a little carpentry but nothing like this. Me, and “This Old House” became best buddies. Every spare dollar and every spare hour was put into this money pit house until it really started to come together. It had taken about 4 years of labor on this thing but we were thinking it was pretty cool living in a house that had some history to it. At least that’s what I thought we were thinking.
Then on a bright and sunny late summer day in 1981, Paula said she wanted a divorce. Say what! There was silence for a while and then I went for a walk. I was almost 31 now and I had been through some interesting, sometimes brutal periods in the last 20 years. Each time I had been able to pick myself up and ‘fix it’. But this time I wasn’t just confused or messed up I was broken. I think the medical term for it is aptly described by Jim Croce in that I was like a jigsaw puzzle with a couple of pieces gone. I couldn’t function and I didn’t speak to anyone for days. Eventually I had to admit to my boss that I couldn’t function properly, and despite his protests, I resigned the first career job I had ever had. Maybe getting married on the Ides of March wasn’t such a good idea after all. The dominos were beginning to fall.
Over the next few months the house that I had restored with care was sold at a tidy profit, the proceeds were split evenly and the divorce was made final. But there were two things that would linger to prevent normal life from going on as it was. First I was still broken. Earlier in my life it would be fair to say that I was an emotional mess because there were so many different things happening to a little boy who didn’t understand what was going on. I had spent many years fixing everything and now this. I honestly didn’t think I could fix this. The second thing that was going on was the great recession of the early 1980’s. In the wake of the Iranian revolution in 1979, the hostage crisis, and the subsequent oil crisis, the price of gas at the pump had gone to the historic high of $1.10 a gallon and the country went into a prolonged recession. And here I was already unemployed for 6 months and no jobs in sight.
Over the next 12 months I would spiral down, down further, and finally could be found in a rooming house in a section of Lawrence that badly needed urban renewal. I had spent every effort and resource to find a job but there was no hope. During this time I would learn some things from a very unexpected source. Paula’s father had contacted me and we had a little chat. First he apologized for what his daughter had done. Whoa, really! He told me that everything she had done since we were married was by design as payback for all the times I had left her. He said he had always liked me and thought I was not just a good man, but a good man for her. And that was the last time I saw him. It wasn’t much, but slowly I began looking at myself a little differently.
At this point I had nothing to do but think. I decided there was plenty of blame to go around. My parents, especially Elinor had done everything in their power to destroy this relationship from the very beginning. Then I had fallen into the trap of indecision and couldn’t commit myself to a loving relationship that might have lasted a very long time. Paula had, for whatever reason, fallen into the trap of retribution. She was going to fix me good for everything I had done. On the surface it looked like everyone got what they wanted, but the reality is that no one won, everyone lost. And I was broken, broke, and just hoping to see tomorrow.
© J T Weaver