For the longest time, she was the butt of some of my jokes (although right now I can’t recall if I had ever mentioned her in these pages before). I’d refer to her as my “ex-witch” and make snide witch-related comments about her, such as claiming her car was really a broom.
Not anymore. My ex-wife passed away this June. She was 41 and left behind a teenage daughter she had with a man she married a few years after our divorce.
We first met in elementary school. My family had moved down to Miami from Indiana when I was seven. It was the summer of 1972. I made a couple of friends with boys in my new neighborhood who were about my age.
One of them introduced me to her in the school cafeteria. I think the first thing I did was ask her if she wanted her milk.
It turned out she lived in the house behind my mother’s. She had a big, black Labrador Retriever mix who looked intimidating but was fairly friendly.
We got along to a degree, but at that age, she liked girls better and I liked boys better. I liked playing football and baseball, going fishing, and riding around on my bicycle. She liked playing with dolls and hosting parties. She’d typically be the only girl at our birthday parties–my brother’s and mine–unless a girl cousin had been invited.
She seemed to host a party at her house, with the encouragement of her mother, about every other week. I’d be invited to some of them, where she’d try to hook me up with one of her friends or cousins. Yuck, I’d say, I’d rather go play football.
Her mother would try to get us together. “Ewww, he’s fat,” was her response and I’d respond in kind: “She’s too skinny.”
Ironically, one of my first heartbreaks happened at her house. I had never even known about football at all when we moved to Miami, but then I was introduced to the Miami Dolphins and have been a die-hard fan ever since. We came to Miami the year of the Miami Dolphin’s fabled “Perfect Season,” where they won every game including the Super Bowl.
I was at her house for one of her parties but I found it boring. It was New Year’s Eve 1974/75 and the Dolphins were playing the Oakland Raiders in the playoffs. So I sat in another room and watched the game with my future father-in-law.
The game came down to one final play. As the Dolphins were on the verge of sacking Kenny Stabler, Oakland’s quarterback, he threw a pass up for grabs into the end zone. It was snatched out of the air by Oakland receiver Clarence Davis to win the game, even though he was surrounded by Dolphins defenders.
The Dolphins never won another Super Bowl since.
As each of us grew older and moved on first to junior high school then high school, we ran with different crowds and would rarely see each other. By then, her parents and mine had divorced. Our respective parents’ divorces affected each of us but in different ways: I internalized it; she began abusing substances, including alcohol.
In both of our cases, our mothers had custody of us. Our mothers became friends and as close as we lived to each other, it was through my mother that I learned of how my future ex-wife was doing and what she was up to. I thought her problems were sad, but I didn’t dwell on them too much. After all, we seldom saw each other.
After high school, I joined the Army. She drifted in and out of college, in and out of jobs, in and out of relationships with men, living with her mother the whole time. She had thought about going to New York to pursue an acting career–her best friend had already done so–but it was around this time where she met her first husband, who kept her in Miami.
It was after she had been married a short while that I came home on leave from the Army. I had completed a two-year tour in Germany and was to go to Fort Campbell next. I hadn’t really stayed in touch with her, but I decided to look her up during my 30-day furlough.
I went to her mom’s house to ask how she was doing. I was surprised when she opened the door. I came in and we talked a little. She had a wistful, dreamy look in her eyes and I knew something was troubling her. But because we hadn’t been that close, I didn’t ask. When I left, though, she told me, “Maybe when you come back we can go out or something,” and almost as an after-thought, she quickly added, “As friends, of course.” I replied, “Of course.”
After I got out of the Army, I came back to Miami. My plans were to go to college full-time–I had been accepted at FIU–until I got my bachelor’s degree. After my first couple of days settling in, I went to see my future ex-wife.
We had a long talk. She told me about the problems in her marriage, her abusive husband, how she was getting a divorce. We went out–strictly platonically. It was clear she really liked me. I had mixed feelings, at first.
We went out a few more times and my feelings for her grew. But I made it clear I didn’t want to go any further until her divorce was final. Around this time, a typical date for us would be either the two of us going to a bar or me coming over with a six-pack of Coronas and a lime. I didn’t notice when she’d finish more beers than I did, or when the six-pack became a twelve-pack. It just happened.
After her divorce, we got serious–fast. I moved in with her at her mom’s house–her mother grudgingly approved–and continued going to college. She worked odd jobs part-time and kept the house.