Ok. Ok. I’ll just be blunt. Direct. No beating around the bush.
Have you ever been so daft in love with someone you couldn’t bear the thought of him/her/them being kissed–much less made love to–by someone before you?
I know someone like that.
Fate, chance, the powers that be put Bill and me together after, combined, we’d lived through ninety-eight years of marriage.
For fifty-two years Bill and Marlene’s friends knew for a fact theirs was a perfect marriage.
For forty-six years Gene’s and my friends thought…what they thought depended on how well they knew us and likely couldn’t be quoted in these pages…
Gene died in 2001. I was sixty-six. Still felt juicy. I rattled around Southern California hoping to find a romantic someone. Took classes, did volunteer work, was out and about with my children and grandchildren and friends but never had a date. Nine years. Just too dull and homely, I suppose (“…if only the poor girl could cook!”).
Anyway, I was honor-bound to care for my remarkable widowed mother approaching 100. She was lively, gifted, generous, two blocks away, I loved her dearly. And I had my dog, Lady–then later, Cakes. I was not unhappy.
Early in July, 2010, of course unbeknownst to me, after six years of battling breast cancer, Bill’s wife, Marlene, went on to her reward.
In late October, my mother, who in July attained her centenary, joined her.
I was free.
So what? I still had no one.
Days after my mother died–through an amazing chain of circumstances–Bill Park and I met over an hour’s conversation on the telephone. He lived in Santa Cruz, I in Ojai. We were casual, polite, interested, although no sparks flew. But Bill did mention he was finishing a book on film noir and as I’d just bought a big-deal Netflix-ready television set, the next day I thought to email him asking what movies I should see (truth to tell, it was partly a practical matter and partly I’d perceived he was a rara avis). Answer came back immediately: Double Indemnity, In A Lonely Place). Saw those movies, wrote asking for more.
Both of us writers, both solitary, we quickly discovered common interests, common experiences, letters flew between us many times each day. We had fallen in love.
In early December, over lunch in Santa Cruz, we met face to face. “Oh, you’re tall!” were my first words to him. We chattered away as though we’d known one another forever–curiously we felt we’d known one another forever. After a couple of hours of his driving me around Santa Cruz, we kissed at Natural Bridges, then Bill dropped me off where I was staying and went home. I’d hoped to go home with him. But he was old-fashioned, proper. I was impulsive, improper. It would work.
We professed our love for one another many times a day.
For my Christmas party in Ojai, Bill came down and was a marvelous host…but I’d developed a drippy cold and couldn’t get near him. Misery!
What to do? I wanted to live in sin until our marriage would set well with his family. A convert to Catholicism, Bill consulted his priest. Father Joe assured him that because Bill was eighty and I seventy-five–and clearly we both had a gift for marriage–the priest urged us to marry without delay. The following February, Father Joe married us in the replica of the Santa Cruz Mission church. Of course my family was delighted. Of course Bill’s family was in shock. I understood. But I had never been so happy. Since I was a little girl, I’d walked on eggshells. With Bill for the very first time in my life I didn’t have to worry about was I good enough was I smart enough was I doing it acceptably…
I moved into Marlene’s house. That was the only reasonable thing to do–unreasonable for Bill to sell it and buy another for us. It was a comfortable house on a quiet street, chosen because it was within walking distance of the Pacific Ocean–in the garden you heard cries of sea creatures. There was a pleasant garden front and back, hooray for that. And it was across the street from a dog park, super for Cakes my bichon poodle…
The single impediment to my complete and utter joy was the imposing presence of the woman whom I’d replaced in Bill’s life. On a corner of Bill’s desk was her photograph. Very pretty (also a brunette), radiant with intelligence. Marlene was an art historian specializing in public art–Bill drove her all over the country researching for a book she’d write. Marlene was an intellectual. I thought I, too, was an intellectual (keeping up with Gene I’d made some pretty high flights) until Bill explained why I was not an intellectual but an artist. Oh. Damn. I stuck Marlene’s photograph into a cubby deep on the desk. Bad Sylvia.
Mostly, I couldn’t bear thinking of Bill with Marlene. Hated that, in fact. And I am not a hater.
I had no choice. This man was the most wonderful person I had ever known in my life…kind, insightful, generous, funny, brilliant–with a memory that rocks me. We never quarreled. Not one blip. Can you blame me for being possessive?
Naturally in the beginning I tried not to let my antipathy show. I’m least of all an actress, a dissembler, but I managed to be Mrs. Nice when it came to Marlene–I couldn’t let Bill know what a shallow unfeeling mean-spirited contemptible person I was. The good woman had suffered and Bill had been a devoted faithful selfless caring loving helpmate. Hey, all the years Gene was so ill hadn’t I been the same for him? Then what was the matter with me? My virtue was being rewarded and I was behaving like a witch.
And so twelve years passed. Bliss. Dear Bill and I have largely avoided mentioning Marlene–“The M word…”–because of course he perceived my struggle.
It began with my wanting Bill to get up off the sofa and put away his ear buds. Since he lost his vision through macular degeneration, Audible Books have filled his days, and it’s been marvelous. But professor of Literature that he is, I felt he should share the wealth of his knowledge, return to writing. He was resistant. But after a few days, to my delight and surprise I persuaded him to do a blog. If you click on williamjohnpark.com you’ll find a picture of my honey and “Old Nestor Speaks!”
It’s all gone beautifully, and then. Then…
One morning last week Bill said, “I’ve been thinking I’d like to post ‘Requena.’” My spirits sagged. That piece was about the visit he and Marlene took to the Amazon to consult a shaman for Marlene’s breast cancer. I mustered as much enthusiasm as I could, brought up the article on his computer, read it to him. Of course many references to “The M word.”
Bill said, “And we should mention her website.”
Now when Bill and Marlene retired to Santa Cruz, Marlene plunged into photography. I was sympathetic to that–I’d taken precisely the same plunge during my nine years alone. Truth to tell, Marlene and I had much in common. She, too, loved to cook–was a gifted and nurturing cook, one of the reasons Bill reached an advanced age. She, too, loved to garden–when I first walked into her back garden, I was amazed. Stunned, actually. Many old roses, unusual perennials, rare herbs, and a number of uncommon fruits I’d also grown.
Oh no! Marlene’s website was gone. Turns out Bill didn’t see the email notice in 2018 warning him to renew, and so the website manager took it down. Frantic alarms! “What happened to Mom’s photographs?”
And her domain was gone. Had to get it back!
Because Bill cannot see, it fell to me to retrieve Mom’s domain and return her gallery of 500 photographs to the World Wide Web.
GoDaddy instantly sold us an alternate site till we got .com back… We found the name of the website design company Marlene chose. ta da ta da ta da…
I was doing better than I would have imagined. Indeed, you may ask, What was I feeling being up close and personal to Marlene Park? Curiously serene.
What was going on here, Sylvia? Intimate with the adversary…the one he loved before he loved me. Oy. I was toughing through it…
Got in touch with the website designer, for a mercy he’d kept Marlene’s file intact. An extraordinary gift. Whooeeee!
I was beginning to be happy. Feelings of antipathy were dropping away like scales from a dragon slain…
Bill was euphoric.
A hundred years ago when I first opened marlenepark.com, I remember my stomach churning, couldn’t bear to look at more than a few photographs. I was hypercritical… Now I looked afresh at her photographs. Lovely feeling for children. Whimsical eye for design. Marvelous aspects of the Amazon. Vivid compositions of nature (“I Never Met A Rock I Didn’t Like”)…
As the author’s in-house editor checking place names, italicizing words, I was drawn into that hopeful visit to a shaman in Peru. Was touched.
Posted “Requena” on williamjohnpark.com.
But forget that.
Pay attention to the remarkable truth that because I was generous and did a good deed with a glad heart, the anguish, the hatred, the envy, the green-eyed monster, all those bad guys went away. Leaving behind a residue of, well, I’m not going to say I love Marlene–Bill for years has said, “You’d have liked Marlene, she would have loved you because she loved crazies…”–but I cotton to her.
I’ve finally admitted she is a kindred spirit.
What I learned is if you’re troubled in your heart about someone, go out of your way to be kind and good regarding–or, if possible, to–that person.
Your trouble will melt away.
Take it from me, an artist, not an intellectual. Artists know best.