Bob Marrow looks at the stages of his marriage and how the pieces of it all connect to a larger story.
CHAPTER 1: THE END
Living With Someone Who Hates You
Anne and I were divorced after five years of marriage, when she admitted to having an affair. I later learned it was with her piano teacher. After our divorce, and his, she married him. While giving her lessons on my old piano, he told me that the sounding board was cracked and the instrument needed to be rebuilt. I paid him $3,000 for the job.
I didn’t suspect that there was another man until Anne’s behavior became peculiar; muffled telephone conversations, evasive answers about who was on the phone, hours away from home in the evenings and on weekends. When suspicions of infidelity overwhelmed my trust, I began asking pointed questions. Her denials were hollow and eventually led to an admission that she was in love with another man, but she didn’t tell me who it was. In fact, she said that I didn’t know him. Much later I learned that it was her piano teacher. Then I remembered the night that I came home and saw his cigarette butts crushed in a saucer on our kitchen table beside two used wine glasses. She hadn’t bothered to clean up the revealing mess.
I wonder how many men have experienced living with a wife who has lost respect for them. You don’t know why you disgust her or when esteem became revulsion. You start to question things about yourself; do you chew with your mouth open, do you snore, do you wear ugly shoes, are you too fat, is it because you lost your hair? These are not basic qualities like kindness and generosity; but when your wife is treating you with contempt, then how you eat, what you wear and how you look become critical. She makes you feel repulsive. You become less of a man. You want to change to please her, but you can’t. Maybe it’s too late; or maybe you can’t change.
I remember one humiliating lunch when our marriage was unraveling and I still thought there was something I could do to keep her. We were in a restaurant and I had no appetite so I ordered a salad. The lettuce leaves were larger than bite-sized and I wanted to eat with quiet dignity; not like a man born in the Bronx whose parents were children of Jewish immigrants, but like the men she dated in her Grosse Pointe Country Club past. I cut the salad into small pieces, carefully putting each one in my mouth individually and chewing quietly. It didn’t help.
The separation agreement was written and converted to a divorce in less than a month; even faster than our courtship had become a marriage.
CHAPTER 2: THE BEGINNING
Meeting Someone Who Needs You As Much As You Need Her
The beginning was filled with wonderful days when we admired each other’s wit and good looks. We were anxious to be married. I had just lost my young son, Alex, to cancer and was living alone in a house that had once been our home. I called her a few days after the funeral. We were married three months later. Her reasons for marrying me after so brief a courtship were never clear. She said that she fell in love with me at the funeral—something about my dignity in that tragic moment touched her deeply. The wedding was performed by a judge who had been my law partner in his brownstone office. She said “I do” even before the question was finished, eliciting smiles from the few close friends who were our witnesses.
I met Anne through Gretchen, my former wife and Alex’s mother. Anne and Gretchen became close friends while I was married to Gretchen. Their friendship continued after Gretchen left me for a man she met in Italy while on vacation. I was too busy to go. Francesco was from an old, aristocratic Roman family and this was his first marriage. Gretchen left Alex with me when she married Francesco so that she could start a new life, unencumbered. She walked down the aisle of an old Catholic church wearing a pure white wedding dress, with her husband’s family in the pews. Then Gretchen and Francesco found that they could not have children. They quarreled about who was “at fault” for this failure to produce an heir which created an unbearable strain on their marriage.
I met Anne when she visited Gretchen at my home. Gretchen was in New York while Alex was being operated on and receiving chemotherapy. When I met Anne she was teaching high school history and living in a small apartment behind the garage in the home of another teacher.
Shortly after I married Anne, I received a call from Rome. Gretchen said that I was being used by Anne for money and a nice place to live. Gretchen never spoke to Anne again. This sudden hatred for her former friend seemed strange. Perhaps, I speculated, Gretchen had confided in Anne that she planned to leave Francesco and would try to resume a relationship with me. If so, Anne’s marrying me would have been a betrayal. Gretchen and Francesco eventually divorced and she remained in Italy.
Anne was tall, blonde and exceptionally beautiful. She had a patrician bearing that set her apart from most other people. In addition to her Grosse Pointe upbringing she had a doctorate in history from the University of Michigan and was an informed, witty conversationalist while barely opening her mouth to speak. She had been a fine tennis player and golfer in her country club days, but no longer bothered. Now she took ten mile runs several times each week.
There was a cultural gulf between Anne and me that I thought could be bridged or ignored. Here’s an example of how we differed. One weekend afternoon we were walking in Soho and came across a street peddler selling baby clothing. She stopped to buy a gift for a friend’s child. Finding something she liked, she paid the full asking price without bargaining, which was unheard of in my experience. Then she asked the street cart vendor, “Don’t you charge sales tax?” It took all of my self control not to interfere. She also objected to the table manners or lack thereof that distinguished my family from her set. That may explain my futile attempt to impress Anne by eating daintily at that humiliating lunch.
Anne’s passion was classical music, which I didn’t share. This may have contributed to her infatuation with the piano teacher. It is ironic that I have resumed playing piano more than fifty years after my childhood instructor gave up on me. I am now enthralled with pieces by Beethoven, Bach and Mozart; and I realize that a student’s bond with a piano teacher can be intense, although not always romantic.
Anne had been married twice before; first to a man also from Grosse Pointe who she met at the University of Michigan. They had a son, William, who suffered from a disease leaving him only three feet tall with undeveloped joints. He was unable to walk more than a few feet at a time. Despite this, the little guy was intelligent and cheerful – which I found almost impossible to believe. He was sixteen when we met and he hobbled up to me extending his little hand and said, “Hello, Mr. Marrow. It’s nice to meet you. I’ve heard so many wonderful things about you.” Anne tried to prepare me by describing him as hideous, but that hardly fit this charming little person with a pleasant face and a shock of straight blonde hair. He lived with his father, her first husband, his new wife and their children in Grosse Pointe and visited his mother once a month.
William and I became close friends. He loved gorillas (“George” was his imaginary friend) and our favorite thing to do together was to visit the Bronx Zoo, just the two of us and his wheelchair. He finally died after twenty years of courageous struggle to seem normal, shortly before Anne and I were divorced. When Anne told me that she loved another man, I raised a pathetic argument to keep her with me. “Don’t you feel closer to William when you’re with me than when you’re with him?” She said, “I feel closer to William when I’m not with you.” I hadn’t realized that she could be that cruel.
Anne’s second husband, the one between William’s father and me, was a wealthy Greek ship owner. He had an ancestral home near Athens and houses on the Westchester Country Club grounds and in London as well as an apartment in Gstaad, Switzerland where they skied. He also owned a yacht kept in the Mediterranean which was over one-hundred feet in length and required a large crew. I met him once when we were invited to a Christmas party at his palatial Westchester home where a ten piece orchestra entertained dozens of guests. He and Anne were still friends and I was curious as to why she received almost nothing from her divorce to this wealthy business man. Her explanation was that she had an affair with her husband’s chief executive officer while her husband was on a trip inspecting the repairs to one of his ships. The trusted employee was supposed to be taking care of her. Her Greek ex-husband made certain that Anne received almost nothing in the divorce. She was powerless because his assets were untouchable by American courts, held in the names of companies in Panama and the Cayman Islands.
From a billionaire businessman to a lawyer to a piano teacher; I was a stop along the way in Anne’s journey from opulence to spiritual fulfillment.
CHAPTER 3: THE MIDDLE
Before the love affair with her piano teacher converted our marriage from a source of pride to an embarrassment for me, Anne and I were an ordinary suburban couple. Her friends became mine and mine became hers. We walked our dogs together each morning and evening from our house to a beach on the Long Island Sound owned by our homeowners association. We took vacations in winter to the warm islands in the Caribbean and in summer to Europe. We had friends to dinner and she became a favorite with my law partners. Our intimate life was normal except that her English cocker spaniel slept with us. He was protective and had to be banished from the bedroom when I wanted to touch her without being attacked
The pride I felt in being her husband was magnified by an interesting change in my social status as soon as we were married. Our house, which had been my home for twenty years, is “the least expensive house in a most expensive neighborhood.” That’s how it was marketed when I bought it. I was nothing special to my neighbors until Anne arrived with her beauty, her elegance, her English cocker spaniel and her BMW (the only thing she kept from her prior marriage other than some jewelry). I sailed a 23’ sloop and soon became Commodore of our yacht club. Then I was elected president of the homeowners association. When we were divorced under circumstances that must have been known to many, I fell from that artificial grace.
CHAPTER 4: ANOTHER ENDING
Recently I was in Greenwich at a store where pianos are rebuilt, repaired and sold. I was looking for something to replace my old Hardman Peck baby grand now that I’m playing again. While talking with the owner I mentioned the name of the man who had rebuilt my piano years before, without mentioning the personal details. The store owner knew the man and his wife, Anne. He told me, “They visit the store a lot. Too bad about his Alzheimers. She has it rough. Good people.” I nodded.