Marital Moments (no, not that kind!)

It was 1990. We had just celebrated Daniel’s first birthday, and Leah was fast approaching three years old. I was working full time for the Legislative Commission on Expenditure Review (LCER). Gary was finishing the first year of his Endocrine Fellowship. The kids were in daycare at Kidskeller. Those are the facts.

Gary and I were managing, barely. Financially the ends were just meeting, some months they weren’t. Emotionally we were hanging on by the skin of our teeth. Here was a typical day in the Spring of 1990:

We got up at 6:30 a.m., if we weren’t already awoken by one or both of the kids. If we were lucky we had gotten 6 hours of sleep, on a good night. We got ourselves and the kids ready for the day, packed up the bags for daycare, ate breakfast and got in the car (we could only afford one). We drove to Kidskeller, an easy ten-minute ride from the house. Each of us took one child and got them settled, then met back at the car. Gary drove me downtown (another ten minutes) and dropped me off in front of the Daily Grind where I would get coffee. He went on to work, parking the car at the VA Medical Center. I walked the rest of the four blocks to my office. At least two or three times a week I took a bus during my lunch break to look in on Leah and Dan at Kidskeller. Even if it was only 10 minutes each, it made me feel better to see them. Then I took the bus back and continued my workday. At 5:00 p.m. I went back through the revolving door of my office building, leaving every thought about work behind and caught the bus again. This time I went to get the car at the VA parking lot. I’d go pick up the kids and bring them home. I made us dinner and we ate. Usually around 7:00 pm I’d get a call from Gary that he was ready to leave work. I loaded Leah and Dan in the car and drove to either the VA or Albany Med to pick him up. We got home and began the bedtime routine. Then we did it all over again the next day.

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Gary in his office at the VA (sometime around 1990-91)

Given the demands of our lives, there wasn’t much margin for things going wrong. If the car broke down or someone got sick, we had to scramble.

This isn’t to suggest that there wasn’t joy. Watching Leah and Daniel emerge, their unique personalities flower, was a source of pleasure and pride. But, there wasn’t much time devoted to Gary and my relationship. There wasn’t much left at the end of the day, so perhaps the events surrounding this particular experience are understandable in that context (I can write that with 25 years of perspective between then and now).

On rare occasions my work required overnight travel. Fortunately, I would know long enough in advance so that Gary was able to coordinate his schedule, and/or we called upon family members to help fill in. This particular time I had a trip planned to Mineola (Long Island). Dan was still recovering from his second bout of Coxsackie virus, a particularly unpleasant illness that involved blisters on his lips and in his mouth. Gary was able to adjust his work responsibilities so that he was home that day. The plan called for me to arrive back in Albany by 5:00 p.m. so he could then go to the hospital.

My colleague, Debra, and I left the night before so that we could get to the office in Mineola bright and early, leaving us a full morning to conduct interviews and review files as the project required. We were scheduled to make a stop early in the afternoon at a Westchester office to conduct another interview and then go back to Albany.

We arrived at the Mineola office as scheduled at 8:00 a.m. We parked in the garage under the building, as we had been directed. We took the elevator up and began our work day. So far, so good. We were there about 90 minutes when an alarm sounded. An announcement came over the loudspeaker advising us that this wasn’t a drill, we needed to evacuate the building immediately. We left without our coats.

As we got to the street, we were directed away from the building. We were told there was a bomb threat. We heard a multitude of sirens and saw police cars blocking the entrances and exits to the building and its garage. We saw German Shepherds being brought into the building. We were told this was going to take a while. I looked at my watch, it was nearing 11:00 a.m. I felt panic rising. I thought I better call Gary (this was before cell phones – they may have existed, but I certainly didn’t have one).

Debra and I went in search of a pay phone. We crossed the street and found a department store which had a bank of phones. I scrounged change from my purse and placed the call. I told Gary about the bomb threat.

“I wanted to let you know what was going on. We’ve been evacuated from the building and I don’t know how long it is going to take,” I explained.

“You need to leave and come back home,” Gary replied.

“I can’t. The car is parked under the building.”

“I don’t care. Get in the car and leave.”

“I don’t have my keys either – they’re in my coat pocket which I had to leave in the building.”

“Go back to building…”

“What are you saying, Gary? You want me to go through the police barrier? Are you fucking serious?!”

Debra was standing next to me, listening to this conversation, making no move to leave and give me some privacy. I think she was enjoying the show.  I was angry and embarrassed. I put my hand over the receiver and asked her to go check to see if the building was still sealed off. Reluctantly she left.

Gary continued, “Well, if you aren’t going to get back in time, you better arrange a baby-sitter!”

“I’m on Long Island, for Christ’s sake! I don’t have phone numbers or enough change! You need to do it!”

“I’m not finding a sitter! I can’t not go in to the hospital, Linda, you know that! I need to round on my patients! You need to figure this out!”

“I might still get back in time. I’ll call when I know.” And I hung up.

As I took a few deep breaths, I rifled through my bag and found the number for the person Debra and I were supposed to interview in the afternoon. I called, apologized and told him I would have to reschedule. One less thing to worry about.

I left the department store and went to find Debra. I was none too happy with her either, but I had no choice. We needed to finish our assignment.

It was just after noon when we got the all clear to return to the building. We went back into the office and finished up our paperwork as quickly as possible. We got our things together and got on the road before 1:00 p.m. Assuming we didn’t hit crazy traffic, never a good assumption, I would get back in time.

The entire ride back, I stewed. I couldn’t believe Gary wanted me to go back in the building. I felt humiliated. This was not something I could ever tell my dad – he probably wouldn’t believe it. I couldn’t believe it. This from the guy who had come over to my apartment with a baseball bat when he couldn’t reach me on the phone? That same guy wanted me to ignore a bomb threat serious enough to evacuate a building and call in search dogs?

We made it back to Albany with no further delays. I dropped Debra off at her apartment and drove home. I took a deep breath as I came up the stairs to our house. I opened the door and found Dan in his highchair while Gary offered him applesauce. Leah was also sitting at the table, starting to eat her dinner. I greeted the kids. Gary and I didn’t say much to each other, just exchanged essential information like when Dan had last had Tylenol. I took over giving Dan and Leah dinner. Gary left for the hospital.

Over the next days and weeks, we returned to our routines, going through the motions. I couldn’t just sweep it under the rug, though. Eventually, one day, after we dropped the kids off at daycare, we were in the car as Gary drove me to work, I brought it up. “I don’t understand how you could ask that of me,” I began. I expected an apology. I didn’t get one. Instead Gary described how demanding his work was, how stressed he was, how hard it was to meet the standards of his mentor, Dr. Goodman. I got out of the car feeling even worse.

I made a mistake in bringing it up when we had less than ten minutes to discuss it, since we both had to be at work. I arrived at my office upset, frustrated, angry and sad. Not a great recipe for productivity either.

I can’t tie a bow around this story. We didn’t come to a sweet resolution. We just kept going. Circumstances got better as time passed. Leah and Daniel got older and more self-sufficient. I went to a four day work schedule. Gary finished training and went into private practice. His hours were still long and the work demanding, but the financial strain slowly but surely relaxed. We found bits of time here and there to devote to each other. Damage had been done to our relationship. It took a long time to rebuild, and there were other low points (though not as dramatic), but we survived….together.

 

4 thoughts on “Marital Moments (no, not that kind!)

  1. You describe your anger and resentment well and you both survived. I can’t even remember what made me so angry that I left the house and walked on the Belt Parkway to Kings Plaza and back. Everything normal in our house, all you 3 children were there and I don’t remember any one saying anything about my not being there for over an hour. It happens when we care so deeply about the other person.The “trick”is to survive because you might not believe it, I know you won’t but I don’t remember arguing that much in our life together. He was always my best friend and the wisest man I ever knew and I miss him every day.

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    1. That’s quite a walk you took! I don’t know if it was good or bad that no one said anything about your absence – maybe both. I’m certainly glad you came back! Also, I think you and Dad were great role models for a marriage. Yes you argued, you were both human, but you clearly loved and respected each other.

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  2. There is one positive that I can find out of my actions in this horrible case and even this feeble ‘positive’ required a lot of searching. And that positive is this: For any and all guys who pull some stupid lame-brained stunt-and I know who you are-you have the perfect fall back. All you need to say is “At least I didn’t make you walk into a bomb threat.” You’re welcome.
    Stating the obvious, this was not a proud moment. And while I could try to explain-for example, this was before 9/11 and the Oklahoma City bombing and the thought that there might be an actual bomb outside of Beirut seemed very far-fetched-there really is no defending what I said. It was terrible and I am just grateful that it did not end up with either an actual bomb or a divorce.
    Frankly, the only thing I can think of doing to diffuse the situation is to add some humor to it which brings up the question of what is the perfect joke for when you just sent your wife and the mother of your children back into a building under bomb threat. Even Chris Rock would find that challenging.
    I thought I might try to claim that I couldn’t hear her and ‘bomb threat’ sounded like ‘bong fest’ and it seemed so selfish to stay on Long Island for a bong fest while I was busy saving lives. But that one probably wouldn’t fly either.
    So I will just end by saying I only did this once and intend not to ever do it again. And, by the way, I heard that if you meet someone and they tell you to walk into a bomb threat, best thing you can do-marry them.
    Sorry Linny.

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    1. Gary, I so appreciate your willingness to read my blog and support these efforts. I am well aware that not every spouse would be supportive – especially when the stories aren’t always flattering. But, I think my truth bears telling. And I always welcome your thoughts/perspective. We got through that (and more) and have arrived at a better place. You have a wonderful sense of humor, too. Thank you for all of it.

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