I'd grown up desperately trying to be a 'cool' adolescent, in the jargon of the time. But even then I realised how poorly I succeeded at that. I'd also known from as long as I can remember that I wanted to get away from the small New England town where I grew up. I wanted to go somewhere people talked about ideas and books, somewhere one didn't always have to worry 'what the neighbours will think' (even though I was endlessly concerned with what my peers would think about me).
So when I met this young actor from New York City who was working in a nearby summer theatre, he probably seemed heaven sent to get me everything I thought I wanted in life. If I say 'probably' it's because at the time I never viewed the relationship in that way. I was a starry-eyed young woman desperately in love with an exciting, slightly older young man who seemed to have wandered into my orbit from another planet. I had no thought for the future and no idea what might be necessary to make a relationship work between two people from such different backgrounds or how difficult that would be.
What did he want from the relationship? It's not my place to even guess at that. I only know that I put my whole life in his hands, certain I'd be safe and loved. I'm quite sure he believed as much as I did in the sanctity of the bond we entered into just one year after we met. We both believed we would spend our lives together.
Our marriage lasted only 12 years. To this day I don't really know what went wrong. I'm as sure as one can be that he was faithful to me, as I certainly was to him. There were things about my husband that I couldn't understand, but I could have tried harder to deal with those things. And I can only surmise, but I doubt he ever accepted the person I turned out to be. It was as if he had married a chrysalis that turned out a moth rather than a butterfly. I always felt he had an idealised version of the wife he wanted and was determined to mould me accordingly. Eventually that came to feel like chauvinism. And in the 1970s, not long after we immigrated to Australia, I went through a garden-variety women's lib rebirth. So having a husband who seemed jealous of my female friendships and thought he knew what was best for me was not something I could tolerate. I began to feel that I was expected to walk along a narrowly defined pathway he had laid out for me. I don't say this is a full representation of our story, because I have little understanding of how things looked from his perspective. But that's how the relationship began to feel to me.
Seven years after we married, our daughter was born and I realised with a shock that I was capable of a ferocious love I had never yet experienced. But I had little time to get used to that because soon afterwards our world seemed to fall apart. We moved back 'home' to the USA, and immediately realised we'd made a terrible mistake. It wasn't home any more. And so began a few terrible years of shifting around.
I'm pretty sure alcohol also contributed to the breakdown of our marriage. We were neither of us alcoholic, but as with so many young couples we knew then, we drank too much socially, and often when things were most difficult. Then things would become more difficult because of how we had acted and what we had said under the influence of alcohol. We were certainly over the limit the night before I walked away from the marriage for the last time, though the actual scene that sent me packing the next morning was more farcical than tragic. It was something we'd have laughed about with our children in later years, if we'd survived it. It wasn't until two years later that I gave up alcohol completely for the remainder of my daughter's childhood and adolescence, finally having realised that for me at least, drinking and responsible decision-making were not amiable bedfellows.
We tried marriage counselling, too. This was a few years before our final split, and not long after we'd returned to live in the USA. There I had narrowly survived a suicide attempt (perhaps not caused but certainly fuelled by alcohol). My husband saved my life on that occasion, something for which I will be forever grateful. But there were too many issues already bearing down on us. Our financial and personal circumstances, as well as his career, were all in turmoil. It was all we could do to survive from day to day. So after a month or two, we decided to walk away from what we both regarded as a poor quality of counselling anyway. Instead, supported by my family, we made plans to return to Australia with our daughter. We'd been very happy here, and we had wonderful friends who went to great lengths to re-integrate us into full and committed lives. I still think that was a good move, even if it turned out not to be enough to save our family.
Toward the end of our marriage my husband also tried an early form of some kind of drug therapy, ostensibly to help control his frequent eruptions of rage and frustration. At first I didn't know he was taking anything. But eventually I noticed that whenever an argument or any kind of difficult situation seemed to be developing, he would disappear into another room and come back 'spaced out'. I'm sorry to say it, but eventually (remember this was 35 years ago) this seemed to both of us like a terrible cop-out. It certainly didn't solve anything. So in the passionate way he had of dealing with things, one day he just threw the pills into the open fire. I like to imagine a colourful explosion, but that's probably my memory playing a trick.
We knew next to nothing about drug therapy then. The truth was, I needed drugs more than him. I had suffered from intermittent but crippling bouts of depression for most of my adult life. In the early years of my marriage, I remember spending whole days in bed in a kind of grey fog. What did he do when this happened? I don't honestly remember. We worked slightly different shifts then, so maybe he wasn't fully aware of this. But depression wasn't something either of us knew much about at that time. I think he would have thought I should 'pull my socks up' and get on with things.
When I finally ended up seeing a psychiatrist as yet another attempt at making things work, I hadn't been 15 minutes in the room before the man started writing out a prescription. I remember him consoling me with the news that he found it essential to drug his own wife around Easter every year, so I shouldn't feel too bad. Ah, such enlightened times! This was about the time I read The Feminine Mystique, so I certainly wasn't going to start taking mind-altering drugs prescribed by someone who couldn't even be bothered talking to me. I never filled that prescription or went back for a second session. Now, of course, I'd know that a psychologist is better placed than a psychiatrist to give useful counselling in circumstances such as mine. And I'm grateful now, too, for the anti-depressants that have restored balance to my life. But all those years ago, the drug route seemed more like a dead-end than a way forward. And the drugs available then were much stronger than today's well-targeted varieties. So I think it was understandable I was wary of going down that route.