What can I say? In those days, we married them. You remember, “for better or worse”?
My First Husband
When I was in high school, I was a distressing two inches taller than pretty could be and an awful four inches taller than beautiful ever was in those days. Not only that, my breasts were small and I wore glasses.
Wearing plastic-framed coke-bottle thick lenses would have labeled me as a “Four Eyes” or a “Mrs. Peepers,” but might not have been sufficient to make me the pariah I was in school. Coupled with my beanpole height and round-bean breasts, however ….
Not being able to do much to decrease my stature or increase my bosom, I decided one day that I would try to improve my chances for popularity by doing away with my eyesight. I mean, being popular was, well,… popular. So that day I hid my glasses away. I didn’t participate in class, didn’t do much on the playground, didn’t do this and didn’t do that—I really couldn’t see without my glasses. It was a boring day, at least until math class when I fell over Belinda’s book satchel while trying to navigate the classroom and almost broke my nose on the edge of her desk. Hilarious, that was, judging from the reaction of my classmates.
Belinda, meanwhile, was “five-foot-two and eyes of blue.” Not only that, Belinda had breasts the size of party balloons. Big breasts. Beautiful Belinda.
Donn Pease was the only boy in my high school who didn’t make fun of me after the incident. While in today’s world that might seem an insufficient reason to select him as a boyfriend, at the time it seemed like really good rationale to align with him. After all, a third of the senior girls were already engaged and roaming about, rings at the ready, and another large group of girls had already married and left school. A girl who didn’t even go out with a boy was a loser. So I dated Donn during the latter part of my senior year, after which he went off to college in California.
I ran into Donn again– whether by chance or design I can’t remember—when I was a sophomore in college in another town in Maryland. We made love in the way that two unknowledgable young people might. We did it again several times some weeks later, though it is only the first time I remember, and that only because,… yup, you guessed it, I got pregnant. I got pregnant the first time I had sex. The very first time, two days before my period was due to begin. Obviously, when it came to “the rhythm method,” we had missed the beat.
When my pregnancy began to show, we got married “because we had to.” Oh, joy.
Now, please understand that my baby turned out to be the light of my life. But that’s another story. This story is about …
Isn’t it interesting how many synonyms for the word “Donn” also begin with the letter “d”: There’s “dishearten” and “demoralize” and “deflate” and “discourage” and “depress” and “deject.”
One of the worst experiences in my life occurred when I went into labor. By that time, Donn and I … (Are you hearing that word, “Donn” yet? Hit the “d” hard: “disheartening Donn,” “demoralizing Donn” and so forth. Got it now?)
By that time, Donn and I had moved from Maryland back to Lake Charles, Louisiana, where both our parents were living. When I went into labor and my water broke, I waked Donn up and asked him to take me to the hospital. Would you believe he refused? He got out of bed and left the house. He actually left me in labor and disappeared. I had to call my mother and ask for a ride.
Midway through my 12-hour labor, Donn’s father showed up with him firmly in tow. It seems my husband had attempted to hide out at his father’s house, where his father had found him, insisted he go to the hospital and, to make sure he got there, had driven him.
Compared with that, well, can anything compare with that? Sure.
Some months later, there was this apartment that Donn and I inhabited that had a Jane Mansfield pinup he had pasted to the wall in the bedroom. That pinup was to inspire my husband to consider having sex with me. Obviously, he had to do something to get turned on, he explained. After all, I was so unattractive that nobody would ever want to make love to me. So for months, until I left Donn when the baby was 8 months old, I had to try to turn my husband on while he focused on the biggest pair of breasts in show business.
Compared with that, well, can anything compare with that? Sure.
Many years later, I ran into Donn again. During lunch with him and a new wife, I heard him attempt to apologize for treating me badly. He seemed to be referring to some bad treatment the likes of which I could no longer even remember but that may have included the pinup and hospital stuff. But all that no longer mattered to me. “What matters now,” I told him, “is that you contribute to your grandchildren’s education and well being, and this primarily means coming up with the money you never paid in child support and the presents and other additional financial support you never provided for your son.” I told Donn he could contribute in any way that seemed appropriate: add to my grandchildren’s education fund, start a fund of his own, whatever.
To this day, Donn with the hard “d” has contributed almost nothing. He lies about that, if you want to bother asking him. Maybe he even believes his lies.
So to all those hard “d’s” one has to add a final: “Deadbeat Donn.”
As to my grandchildren’s education fund: I lived frugally through the years and by doing so saved enough money for four years of college for each of my three grandchildren. I wish I had been more successful at getting Donn to contribute to the effort, less angry at him when we talked, perhaps, and certainly more persuasive than I was. It would have made the difference between public and private schooling. But you know what? I don’t need to beat myself up about it. Now, I look back and say, “I did it myself. And I did OK.”
My Second Husband
This one’s a hoot. When my son, David, was about two, he started calling my boyfriend “Daddy.” Prompted more by that than by anything else, I married the man.
Before the marriage, we made a plan for the next year. For one year after we married, I would continue to work and he would stay home during the day and take care of the baby. This arrangement would allow him to hire a babysitter when he had an audition or got an acting job. If he became successful as an actor, I would quit my job and stay home with the baby. If not, one year after the marriage he would get a real job.
Exactly one week after the marriage, the man stated that I was emasculating him by making him stay home with the baby. He wanted out, and he wanted me to give him money so he could get out. I gave him $200—at that time more than enough to get an apartment—and sent him on his way. I never saw or heard from again, and I did OK without him.
Oh, what was his name? Who cares?
My Third Husband
This one was as serious as a heart attack, as the saying goes, so we won’t joke around much as I tell it.
He was holding my rambunctious 2-year-old in his arms, trying to get into the car, and the next thing I knew the baby had knocked his glasses off his face and the glasses had fallen to the pavement and smashed.
Uh oh, what will he do? Get mad? Yell at the baby? Dump him back in my arms and leave? Surprise! None of these. He’s looking at the baby’s hands. He’s examining his hands to make sure my baby didn’t get hurt. He’s making sure my baby didn’t get hurt even before he retrieves his glasses.
I fell in love with Luis Valentino right then and there. I remained with him from age 22 as his girlfriend and from 26 as his wife, until he died eight years later.
Shortly after our marriage, he became ill. I took care of him and worked to support the family. It was hard. I didn’t care. I loved him. When he was close to death, I prayed to God that he would recover, if not completely then just enough to be awake from time to time and talk with me. I swear if he had recovered just to that extent I would be happy yet.
That’s the story I tell acquaintances, but it’s not quite true. Let’s try to be more truthful.
I fell in love with Carlos Valentino right then and there (note the name change; this is not a mistake). I remained with Carlos from age 22 as his girlfriend and from 26 as his wife, until he died eight years later.
For the first six of those years, my husband was away from home most of the time “making the world a better place to live in.” He was a photographer whose pictures were published in a variety of alternative press publications, and he was also involved more actively with several revolutionary socialist organizations. Exactly what he was doing I did not know, since what one does not know one cannot reveal during possible brutal questioning. This was the 60s, remember, when the police were infiltrating into revolutionary groups, fomenting violence, and then punishing the perpetrators of that violence. “The pigs” dragged people from their beds and beat them up or assassinated them, in several instances in front of their children. It was scary. Every time Carlos left, I had to face the possibility that he might not come back. Sometimes for weeks I would be left alone with children and house and job and worry.
It was hard. I didn’t care; I loved him. And besides, he was making the world a better place to live in.
In the seventh year, it got harder. Carlos was attacked and beaten badly. I received a call from a hospital miles away from our home saying my husband had been admitted, had been operated on and was in critical condition. I left home immediately, at 4:00 a.m. hitching rides to the hospital. When I arrived, I found him unconscious with the entire right side of his head so swollen as to be unrecognizable. I sat with him for several hours, then hitchhiked back. After work the next day, I saw to the children and then stuck out my thumb again.
For the next several weeks, I don’t remember sleeping except sitting in a chair at the hospital. During those weeks, Carlos progressed from dreadful silence to confused stammers to a fairly clear recounting of the incident. It was, indeed, the cops, he said, but I couldn’t be bothered to be irate at the injustice. There was room in my head only for the knowledge that my husband was alive and was recovering.
Within a year, his recovery was complete and Carlos was once again spending much of his time away from home working for a better world. Meanwhile, I was also contributing to a better world by doing a good job with our children, by keeping our house in good order and by bringing home a paycheck. It was hard. I didn’t care. I loved my husband and was proud of him.
Then at the end of that eighth year of our marriage, my husband had a heart attack. Paramedics were called to the house, and they worked over his body for a long time while I sat and held his hand and prayed. It was no use. He was dead.
No, he could not be dead! I prayed to God that he was not dead because he could not be dead. I prayed that he would recover as he had before. I begged: If he could not recover completely this time, then just let him be awake from time to time and talk with me. I swear if my prayer had been answered, if he had come back to life and recovered just to that extent I would be happy yet.
That’s the story I tell friends. It is a true story, as far as it goes. It just doesn’t go far enough.
Here’s the story I tell now for the first time, the whole story, the truth.
After the coroner left with my husband’s body and the paramedics packed up and headed out to their next emergency, I sat with my children. They had witnessed their father lying on the floor being stabbed and pummeled and electrocuted, and they were terrified and in tears. I could do so little for them, could only hold them.
After they had fallen asleep, I mopped up all that was left of my husband, a small pool of urine on the kitchen floor, and I picked up the plastic containers and tubes and needles the paramedics had discarded. Then, I just sat on the couch.
A day later, I realized I was still sitting on the couch. I had children to take care of, and I was apparently incapable of doing that. I got my husband’s address book and made several calls to people whom I had been told were old friends of his or were helping him to start a photography business. I told them he had died and I asked for help.
Don’t worry, they said on the phone. We’ll be right there.
And they were, or she was, anyway. The first person to arrive was a middle aged woman—much younger than I am now as I write this, but an older woman to me at the time, with dyed brown hair. This woman sat on the couch with me, held my hand, and told me that she had loved my husband for a long time. She was married, she said—“Yes,” I said, “I know.”—and she knew it was wrong to be having an affair with my husband—“What?” I asked as though I hadn’t heard—but she just wanted me to know.
There must have been an audible crash somewhere as the walls of my marriage collapsed and crumbled into dust. Fine plaster dust seemed to fill my mouth when I opened it, and all I could do was croak.
The woman seemed not to notice. “Ah yes,” she said, shedding a tear or two. “We were so in love. I just want you to know that, you being his sister and all.”
His sister? Incomprehensible, inconceivable….
Over the next several … hours? days? … three other sniveling women showed up at my door demanding to be told where the body was. They all claimed to be my husband’s one true love, and they all were convinced I was his sister.
in the year after my husband’s death, I did my best to find out who he had been. The only thing I had that might have told me something more than I already knew about his beginnings was an address he had given me for emergencies: 1214 Call Montana, Cienfuegos, Cuba. That address is still in my head after more than 40 years. But streets in Cienfuegos had all been renamed and renumbered by Castro officials, so I discovered, and nobody I contacted were willing to help me locate or communicate with his family.
Was he working to make the world a better place? I was able to contact the revolutionary group he had told me he had worked with. They informed me he had been a member at one time and had taken some nice photographs for them. However, he had been expelled for drinking and drugging. That explained how he had time for five different women in his life. He wasn’t doing much else other than getting lit, loaded and laid.
Oh, by the way, all of his women except me knew him as Pablo Rodriquez.
From one of the women, I found out more about the beating my husband had taken. She was there. They were in a bar drinking lotsa beer and playing pool. It seemed worth a fight to determine whether the eight ball had moved, and the man with the bigger pool cue and the heavier boots won. No revolutionary activity going on there.
The coup de grace came the day I went to the social security office to get death benefits. By that time, I had gone through my husband’s papers and had found social security cards for Luis Valentino, Carlos Valentino, and Carlos Santa Maria (none for Pablo Rodriquez). I presented the Carlos Valentino card first but was told that Carlos had not worked enough hours for me to receive any benefits. Then I tried the Luis Valentino card, but they could find no employment records at all for anyone with that name. So I pulled the Carlos Santa Maria card out of my pocket, at which point a supervisor was called. He told me it was illegal to have three identities for social security purposes, and he threatened me with jail should I continue to attempt to get death benefits.
For several years after my husband died, life seemed barely worth living. It was hard to care about anything except him, and it was harder knowing I didn’t even know his name. I got on with my life, even so, and as the years went by I realized I cared less and less about Luis Carlos Santa Maria y Valentino (Pablo Rodriquez). One sunny day maybe 10 years later, I realized I no longer cared about that snake-in-the-grass at all.
I still do care about making the world a better place to live in. I wish I had been more successful at that, less gullible maybe, maybe more discerning. But I did try. I tried as hard as I could. And that’s all one can ever do.
My Fourth (and final) Husband
My fourth marriage occurred almost 20 years after my third husband died. It was just as much a mistake as were the first three.
Every day after work I drove to the beach and jogged on the bike path. I kept passing this good-looking man who kept looking me over. He was about my age and was tall, slim and wide shouldered. One day as we passed each other, he made a U-turn and came alongside of me. We jogged together, silent, matching strides. When we slowed to a walk, I spoke with my mystery man for the first time, exchanging names and agreeing to meet him in the same place at the same time the next day.
Beginning the next day, Terry Fuller and I jogged together every week day. We wore each other out heading toward an agreed-upon goal—the jetty where the water swirled past starfish, the path that ended with a 20-degree incline that really made us work to get up it, the rocks where the seagulls hung out—then we limped back laughing. Weeks went by, and my mystery man became my friend.
I was surprised by him. He was so good looking—which I’ve never been much attracted to because a good looking guy doesn’t have to try—yet he was as pleasant and polite as an ugly man—who does have to try.
One day several months after I met him, I invited him to go along with me on Saturday to pick up a stereo I had ordered. He carried it to the car and then into my apartment, and then he stayed for a cup of tea and to help me put it together. From that time on, we were a couple. Eight months later, we moved in together and a year after that, we married.
It was an idyllic time. I loved rushing home from work and finding him already home from his job and running the vacuum cleaner or watering the flowers and waiting for me. I loved taking walks with him after dinner, holding hands. I loved hearing “How was your day?” I told everybody I knew that being married to Terry Fuller was like fine dining. “I just feel, well,… ‘Fuller’,” I said and grinned.
There was less love after the marriage, however. Several months after the ceremony, Terry quit his job in order to start a business. I happily contributed some of the startup money and agreed to support him during business development, which he expected would take four months. Those months came and went, Terry was broke, and there was no business. Not only was there no business, but I could get no information out of him about the business.
I would get home from work about 8 in the evening—I had been put on a 60-hours-per-week schedule to complete an overdue project—and would find Terry on the patio, house a mess and flowers dying. He would be unwilling to do more than mumble when I asked for information. Sometimes he would be asleep when I got home, thus forestalling any conversation about anything. Formerly neat, clean and considerate, during those months he became progressively more untidy, grubby and rude. He even cussed at me. In front of friends.
At some point, you just know I was going to find the empty liquor bottles—and I did.
Altogether, I gave him two years to quit drinking. I waited for two long years. For the first year, I actually thought he might stop. Several times, I thought he had—until I found more empty bottles. But hope dies hard, so I kept hoping. All I had was hope. Finally, though, all I had was heartache. At that point, I instituted divorce proceedings.
The divorce took another year. He wanted half of everything I had owned before he had spent most of it. He didn’t even remember that it was gone, and he accused me of hiding it. Because he no longer had any money himself, and because this was California, the burden of proof was on me to show that I had not hidden it. Not an easy task. Matter of fact, I think there’s a saying about the difficulty of proving that something does not exist.
Anyway, there were lots of arguments and even some screaming on my part. In the end, however, I had to give him my condo, bought and paid for by me, and a cash settlement. The cash was in lieu of monthly financial maintenance, which my lawyer said he could probably get for the rest of his life. As the lawyer put it, “All he’ll have to do is go into court every five years and say ‘Guess what, I’m still an alcoholic and I still don’t have a job.’”
So, I was financially devastated, but Terry Fuller was out of my life. I was no longer Katharine Fuller; I had been emptied out. But I was free.
I wish I had been more cautious than I was. I should have gotten a prenuptial agreement that would have protected my home and my grandchildren’s education fund. I was naïve,… gullible,… stupid (take your pick of adjectives). But all that beating myself up? No. I worked too hard after that to be so negative. After I paid Terry off, I put in 60-hour work weeks for 10 years—and I recovered. I did OK.
[photo by Alexandr Trubetskoy on Flickr]