What do you think—psychic or psychotic?
It’s 2am again on the east coast of the USA. Time for the pristine brain with the defective software program to splatter words onto the screen.
Is there such thing as psychic ability? If so, my talent for it can be easily explained via the following analogy: Compared to the virtuoso pianist, I’m the child who could only learn to play chopsticks. Although I have to say–I’ve had more than a few moments of psychic-type experiences rating a full 10 on the creep-out meter. The beginnings of my 2nd marriage are a good example.
I’ll not get into the dynamics of my first marriage. We all make those what-was-I-thinking mistakes. Well…maybe not the kind that scream, “This woman shouldn’t be let out of the house without supervision.” Enough about that.
Back to discussing husband #2. Recently divorced and living with my parents after leaving the drunken loser, the last thing I wanted to do was dive into another relationship. I found work as a receptionist in a research laboratory making $90 a week, a 22 year old in short skirts with skinny legs, ample breasts, and curvy body creating the perfect window dressing for a company whose clientele was primarily male.
As irony would have it, my boss was a woman whose mood changed trajectory faster than a rabbit chased by a fox. Walking through the door in the morning became the corporate version of Russian Roulette. Would I be fired, given a raise, lectured for a mistake, applauded for good work? Would I get an ulcer first or find another job…any job?
As fate would have it, a new chemist was hired. Larry, 36 years old and recently divorced, threw words at people as if they were blunt instruments during a time when the answer to sexual harassment on the job was, “If you don’t like it, wear a longer dress.”
“Bend over so I can see what’s under it,” Larry would say, pointing at my skirt.
Blushing with embarrassment, I quickly sat in my chair waiting for him to leave the office I shared with a 50-something veteran of the workforce, Louise. I would curse his name, she would giggle at me. I would continue to bitch. She would shake her head and say, “He only does that because he likes you.”
My answer? “What is he…12?”
She would take a drag of her cigarette, place it into the ash tray, wait for me to finish coughing and reply, “You could wear a pant suit, you know.”
Yeah, right. Tell that to the boss.
It was like being the punching bag for a tag team; the boss with unpredictable mood swings railing at me on one side, a man fixated on seeing under my skirt popping into the office at the most unpredictable times on the other. I was working in Miami, a place where most of the jobs required you to be bilingual. The language gene didn’t make it into to my generation, so the possibility of getting a job that didn’t require a shorter skirt, a condom, and a motel room was less than remote.
When I’m that down about a situation, I long for that temporary comatose state called sleep. Was I thinking about Larry as I drifted off to bed? Had I been asking the universe how I was going to get out of the worst job I would ever endure in my entire life? Or was I praying again for a second chance to get a college degree? I have no idea why it happened, just that I awoke from what I thought was the worst nightmare of my life. Larry was laying next to me in bed wearing one of those light blue polo shirts with the alligator on it popular around that time. Is there such a thing as being in a nightmare where you’re happy, comfortable…content? I was awake from a cold sweat. Should I call in sick? Not unless I wanted yet another a lecture from my mother on work place responsibility.
I pedaled my US-made bicycle 1 mile to work, dodging the pedestrians that insisted on hogging the sidewalk. My bike locked in the warehouse, I rushed to my place at the reception window, turned on the IBM Selectric typewriter and sighed.
“What’s wrong,” Louise asked.
“I didn’t sleep well,” I replied. “I had the worst nightmare of my life.”
“I doubt it,” Louise said. “The boss wants to see you.”
I walked down the hall, making the right turn toward the stairs that would take me to her 2nd floor office. Oh, crap! Larry was coming toward me! I stood in the middle of the narrow pathway frozen in place, my jaw dropped. He was wearing the same blue polo shirt he wore in my dream.
Now what? Was he going to ask me to lay on the ground, or take off my clothes, or…
“Would you like to go out with me Saturday night?” He asked.
There was no place to duck and cover, no door to run through. The expressive brown eyes staring into my light blues were pleading, not pompous.
“Sure,” I said, walking past a man who was frozen in place, his jaw dropped.
It took one date to find that the blustery loud mouth had a gentle side. Was it our 2nd or 3rd date he asked me to marry him? I can’t remember. I do remember my boss pulling me into her office when she heard the news, yelling at me for considering marriage to a man so much older, a man with 3 teenagers, a man whose religious beliefs weren’t hers…marriage to a man—she said—I would leave in a year. All it did was convince me that the last thing I wanted to do was spend 1 more month in that office.
Fate wasn’t through with me yet. We couldn’t have a long engagement. He would be starting work for a large company in St. Paul, Minnesota. It was a time before “Three’s Company” became a series. As a young divorcee, I was already pushing the envelope of acceptability. The term “serial monogamy” was popular as an explanation for multiple marriage and divorce. I suppose it could be said that cohabitation was viewed as nothing short of serial prostitution. Companies moved wives with their husbands, not girlfriends with their…whatever’s. I would be taken away from my family to a place so foreign it might as well be another country. Hmmm…away from the thumb-screw control, away from the nagging. Living in a freezer was looking better and better.
Larry had been a young soldier barely in his 20’s when he married his first wife. A mere 15 years and 200 additional pounds later, she wanted a divorce, most of his money, the house, and custody of the kids. He wanted to know how he was going to live. She said, “Go live with your mother.” I might not have been the perfect mixture of Miss America and Mother Theresa, but I’d wager an enraged monkey with a biting problem would have been equally as acceptable to his family. Over the years, the times we spent together sitting by the fire place just holding hands, the absence of strife, the laughter didn’t go unnoticed by his family. Our relationship was summed up in one word by his mother’s only living relative: Love. Just as I had seen it in the dream, we were, happy, comfortable—content.
If there’s a devil in this story its name is Diabetes. I was young and naïve about such things as chronic disease when we married. Seven years after the “I do’s,” he was a chemical engineering manager for a large company at the pinnacle of his career. We had 2 small children, ages 5 and 7, a house on ½ acre. and our marriage was stronger than ever. I had believed him when he said one shot of insulin each day was all he needed to take care of the Diabetes. I believed him up until the day he became blind from diabetic retinopathy.
He was forced to retire from his job. Vocational Rehabilitation paid for him to return to college for a different degree. I attended with him, serving as reader, notetaker, driver and guide. Two years after beginning that phase of our lives, he died from kidney failure. Devastated, I took a semester off and later completed my degree without him.
Throughout our 10 year marriage and my 5 years completing a 4 year college degree, office politics had changed considerably. Smoking had been banned from the workplace and sensitivity training against sexual harassment had become the norm. I listened to stories from women with no other job options who had experienced far greater sexual harassment than I, choosing between sex with their boss or losing their job. I listened to men who didn’t have a clue why a divorced or widowed woman with children would allow that to happen.
Questions like, “Why didn’t you just leave if it was so bad?” or statements like, “Get a husband,” or worse yet, “You must have wanted it,” circulated like flies at a barbeque. Would it make any difference to ask if they were going to volunteer for the job of raising someone else’s children? What could I say to these men that would get through to them?
“There was a man who kept telling me to bend over so he could see what was under my skirt,” I said.
“What did you do?” A concerned woman asked.
Smiling, I said with an ominous tone, “I married him. Then he died.”
No psychic ability was needed to see that the only ones who weren’t laughing–the men in the room–those 6 little words were definitely a 10 on the creep-out meter.
Are things all that different today? If you consider the number of men/men, women/women harassment complaints–yes. If nothing else, they won’t blow smoke in your face when they tell you to put out or get out. The smoke alarm would go off.