Zoom Illumination

Was she a coward because I was also on the Zoom call, fully visible?  Is that why she never turned her camera on, as everyone else did during the Board meeting? Or was remaining visually anonymous her already always fear of exposure, of commitment?  Of hiding in the name of privacy? That someone might see and see through her moral hypocrisy? Is that why she could only affirm in Chat others’ braver and public—publically visible—comments on divisive topics? Such a small but illuminating example of the way she wound up being.

Why do I care is the better question to ask. Yet I ask these questions anyway. Yes I know it’s obsessive. For god’s sake put the past in the past and forget about her.

She imagines she’s such a revolutionary, wearing her ruby-studded hammer and sickle pin in solidarity with people she never associates with. Meanwhile she married me. Such contradiction isn’t an excuse for hurtful behavior. It must confuse her as much as everyone else.  (But no, she told me she had clarity of vision in her decision to dissolve our marriage, unilaterally, without compromise, without attempting to create a new possibility.)

Meanwhile it will be soon a year since I moved out of her house, out of her life, our life together.  A year. It feels like yesterday, standing in her living room, saying goodbye for the last time, nearly the last words we said directly to one another. The only other time, a few months later, she lied to me when it would have been so simple, so gracious, to have told the truth. A yes rather than no.

Her refusal to acknowledge what I knew to be so summed up a lifetime of avoidance, a lifetime of leaving.

The only other time I saw her she refused to acknowledge my presence. Is this the person she holds herself out to be?

I will never make the mistake again of trying to fit into someone else’s life. Maybe it was a mistake trying to fit into her life. She said it was, that she didn’t want me to fit into her life. though not to have would have been a life so separate as to question its validity as a marriage.  I gained much by fitting in, and was happy to do so. My losing was a loss for both of us that she could never admit.

Never trying again may mean never having another relationship. Never is a long and lonely time. I’m content with that. That doesn’t mean a loss of companionship, or even sex, Where this will come from I don’t know.  I refuse to give up my new freedom to be, to act—or to ask someone else to align with me. The ingredients to such alignment quickly spoil. To her credit she taught me this lesson.

What do I want now? Easier to say what I don’t want.



What is showing up in my life regarding integrity, being a person of integrity, and being whole and complete, is that I have compartmentalized my integrity, in different ways at different times, in order to look good, avoid conflict, or otherwise not come clean about being out of integrity. This has affected workability in key—in some ways the most important—aspects of my life.

If I look at integrity as an accurately completed jigsaw puzzle picture of my life, there are pieces missing, rendering the picture incomplete, not whole. Some areas are beautifully finished, the picture is stunning; other areas look like Swiss Cheese.

For example, there’s integrity in my work, with my sons, with friends, with my commitment to AA, with the general world around me. Then there’s integrity with my former wife, and with myself.

In the UCLA Being a Leader course, and in much of the follow-up work, as well as in my own intensive, often obsessive, writing, I have dwelled much on the 2019 end of my second marriage. This was not a mutual decision; my wife chose to dissolve our marriage after four and a half years. While it’s been convenient for me to take my wife’s lack of integrity measure, that’s neither my purpose here nor helpful.  My own lack of integrity is what’s at issue.  Had my integrity been whole and complete throughout our time together, would it have made a difference?  I can’t rewrite the past. There were painful consequences.

There were many veils of invisibility, I can see now, at play during those years together: fear of acknowledging, and accepting, that our marriage wasn’t working; fear of not expressing my own unhappiness in a constructive manner that could have led to an honest conversation rather than unspoken resentments; not taking responsibility for not honoring my word about certain financial commitments (no cost/benefit analysis of the consequences); for remaining silent as an alternative to voicing my word, and honoring it.

Had my integrity been whole and complete perhaps my wife might not have fallen out of love, might not have come to not trust me, might not have been clear in her vision of needing to be on her own, not with me. At base, my side of the street would have been clean. I will never know.

Loss Upon Loss

We move from loss to loss. This morning I opened Facebook only to learn of my friend Elizabeth G’s death. I couldn’t believe what I was reading, posts from mutual friends, mourning the loss of yet another South Ender.

Elizabeth taught me how to row the club’s old wooden boats, braving the Bay with a novice who needed all the instruction and patience she so kindly offered. Later, Elizabeth was the professional photographer at my wedding, lovingly assembling an album—an album commemorating a happy day that only later dissolved to dust—that I no longer can see. That it should have remained with the marriage dissolver is an irony not worth pondering.

Elizabeth was to have also been the photographer for Adam and Rachel’s wedding celebration scheduled for this past Saturday May 9th. She was excited to carry on the tradition for me and so pleased that we had asked her. Unfortunately, that event was postponed due to the virus lockdown. Would she have been there on Saturday? The news I had this morning was when she was found in her apartment on Monday she had been gone for more than a day.

I look at a photo of Elizabeth, [X], and me, and all I see despite the obvious joy is grief. A person gone. A marriage gone. A time of happiness gone. Those that remain endure the loss. Death is unknowable, yet inevitable. To wield the cruel knife of divorce is a murder of possibility.



These are events in life, in my life, that have happened. They are simply what’s so. By themselves, as events that happened, they have no meaning. I attribute meaning, spinning narratives of loss, and grief, and wrongness. My story. My rackets. I know this.

Every day for the past three weeks I think of my friend Ray, also lying dead to be found in his apartment. His death has left a gaping space in my experience of San Francisco, my connection to a chapter meant to be forever. Ray remains with me in the everyday reminder of the music he loved, having been left his vast collection of cds. Listening to what Ray listened to, distinguishing his taste, what he loved, what he left out of his collection, is a journey of remembrance and connection. I have no such link to my married past, nothing joint to share having been given nothing.

The enforced isolation of the virus pandemic spells too much time dwelling on death, loss, and life’s disruption. I’ve made it to the other side, reasonably unscathed, set down near family and a few old friends. The time will come when visiting becomes possible again. My life of the past twelve years, but for a few lifelong friends, whom I miss intensely, is slowly receding. Today’s news of Elizabeth’s sudden and shocking death is another nail driven ever so quietly into the coffin of that once upon a time life.

Please no more death and dying for a while. The omnipresent horrific national news is bad enough.

Friends, be well, stay with me for a while longer.

Version 4

Sunday Evening at Home

Saturday evening at home, listening to Keith Jarrett playing Handel’s Suites for Keyboard, part of Ray’s CD legacy. UPS delivered four large boxes of CD’s yesterday, hundreds of CD’s, packed and shipped by Ray’s executor Tom, who’s performing a labor of love cleaning out Ray’s so well appointed Pacific Heights apartment, the apartment where Ray lived thirty-six years, with its views of the Bay and Golden Gate off the tiny balcony. The music is Ray’s presence, not a substitute but a comforting feeling of Ray being here in the piano notes. To be the custodian of this musical legacy is an honor I didn’t expect.

I’m home from having had dinner with Sam and family. Sam made for the first time homemade lasagna. The twins were dubious, never having had lasagna before. We told them it was a spaghetti sandwich. Still dubious. Eventually they finished their dinners though not with pleasure, only as a way station on the route to a promised dessert. Sam, Saga, and I on the other hand had seconds.

The otherwise quiet of the apartment, with the Handel piano playing, is peaceful. It’s [x]’s sixty-fifth birthday today. Of course I’m thinking of her, how could I not be. I don’t miss her, though I miss the idea of being married, in the abstract. I can let my imagination conger up the ideal partner, a fiction. Reality is never ideal. Was it ever real? I had ideal for a time. It was brief and it was worth it, worth the heart pain that came later. To have had it remains better than never having experienced that first flush of passion, that first kiss. Maybe there is only ever the one time, the first time, and everything after is a photocopy of the original.

Maybe what [x] offered could never have filled the void left empty and sad inside me. It was different, not less than, simply different. And that made all the difference. I tried to fill it with her, and the very trying was an undoing, an unwanted togetherness that I couldn’t comprehend. The water was too cold.

The man I share with my few guy friends is not the same man who was once with three women. Nor was that man the same man with each of the three women in his life. Different woman/different man. Moments of perfection—perhaps that’s all we get if we’re lucky.

With my male friends perfection, peak experience, isn’t required. With my closest friends—there are only a few—there’s a mental oneness that communicates without words. When I moved to Boston Ray told me he wouldn’t any longer know who to talk to about the things we spoke about, the same line communication without explanation. We simply knew. Charleston. No, not the city in South Carolina. Vanessa Bell’s house. Billy Budd. Benjamin Britten’s opera, not the novella.

The piano music permeates the house, and my memories.

Nothing she ever did evokes similar.

Time Passing

In a few days she’ll turn sixty-five. Before I used to joke she was a junior senior. Now she’s graduated. She can get a senior MUNI pass.

When she turned sixty I created a special birthday party for her, prepared elaborate food from scratch, invited all her friends, made it a birthday to remember. I wonder if she does. It was a lovely occasion, undertaken with love.

I wonder who will give her a sixty-fifth celebration, a moot question given the coronavirus and social distancing. What a convenient excuse.

She used to say she was a serially monogamous athlete, committed to one sport at a time: tai quan dao, technical climbing, cycling, swimming, running, rowing. Always looking for the next fix, not the pleasure of the activity. When I once asked whether she ever rowed out on the Bay for fun, she replied, “Why would I do that?”

These commitments last only for a while, then on to the next. Her approach to men is the same: serially monogamous. The relationships could never last; the end is ordained from the beginning. For a brief time the flame burns brightly, then she extinguishes it with ice water. It’s her history– as many pointed out after she ended our marriage. For her, commitments are not forever, whether sport or marriage(s).

On my own now, away from the toxicity of her false superiority, her I know more about the brain than you do judgments, her censure and quiet disapproval, I can relax my guard, be the man I am without trying to please someone for whom the mere act was displeasing. Let no man love a woman incapable of accepting it. Doomed failure, learned the hard way.

I hear from others how dramatically this lockdown is affecting them, how they hate it, feeling constrained, constricted, limited, panicked. I don’t feel this way. The entire circumstance of the virus is horrendous: people dying, ill, out of work, out of money. Then there is moronic Trump, as though the virus wasn’t bad enough. But sheltering in place, staying at home, is a kind of comfort. I like where I am, what I’m doing.

And I realize I would not be feeling this way if I were still with her, in her house.

I hope she, too, is happy on her own. I hope she has a happy sixty-fifth birthday.

I’m sorry she had to lie to me. I’m sorry she could not accept what I had given her, that her need to lie rather than to accept was all she could muster. That silence and distance became her defense. That fear undermined compassion. That she resorted to lawyers rather than conversation. That her name cannot be written. That she remains the woman she wound up being, stuck in those serially monogamous fixes. That like drugs pulsing through her veins, fix only momentarily before the next fix comes due.

After all that’s happened I do wish her a happy birthday. Aging is not comfortable for her, bringing with the passing of years new realities of her mortality. She used to tell me how should couldn’t imagine not being here, no longer being among the living, experiencing the world and its marvels. Can anyone imagine that? I think that’s the futile point of religion, to seed our imaginations with a possibility of something after. I was surprised when she wrote about a friend who died recently that she would be swimming with another now gone South End swimmer: where? In a heaven she doesn’t believe in? Has faith appeared at this late stage?

Reading a fictionalized diary of a real woman (The Lost Diary of M), I came across this passage, a rumination about a divorced husband:

Do I miss him? I don’t miss him. But I miss what he meant. Maybe that is what we miss when we miss people—we don’t miss their bodies so much as their meanings, the promise of a future now lying dead in the past. It is the meanings that linger and cause pain deep in my heart, deep at night.

I don’t miss the reality of her, her off-limits body, her everyday censuring self. I miss the meaning of what was lost, abandoned in self-interest. Undoubtedly new meanings will evolve out of old loss, and the future of possibility will be brighter, even in these dark times. Let it be so.

Sense of smell

A hint of roasting chicken leaked into my apartment this afternoon and my immediate thought was Oh good, I still have my sense of smell, I must not have the coronavirus, loss of taste and smell being an early sign of infection. I’ve left my apartment only once since last Saturday, mouth and nose covered, gloves on. The classes I teach are now via Zoom. I speak with my sons daily, friends often. Though alone, I don’t feel disconnected. It’s a comfort being on my own, doing what I want. A few days ago one daughter-in-law wrote to say I must feel relieved not to have to share self-isolation with my former (unnamed) wife. Indeed that would be alone within aloneness. One plus one only ever equaled one plus one. Never two.

My rhythm is day to day. Though I have classes scheduled for both the summer and fall terms—fall projected to be back in-person—these seem data points not life movements. I’m grateful for them, and enjoy my students and colleagues. Yet I have visions of great leaps forward, new awareness, new ventures, new possibilities that didn’t exist before. I need to move into these.

I want to paint again, give expression to this new life, dive deeply into who I am, free to be and act and reveal through images the dreaming of my thoughts. Pick up the brushes; start; anything; everything.

Arranging my new place has been delicious. Sam says it looks like every other place where I’ve lived on my own. Two ordinary rooms turned into a sanctuary. I’m pleased with the result. The caution is complacency, falling into what W.E. calls tranquilized obviousness. Too warm. Too comfortable.


Though happily lacking any underlying conditions I’m in the danger age zone for dying from Covid-19. Is avoiding contagion, long term, even possible despite taking the ordinary precautions? Is every surface contaminated? Every package, every shelf in a store, every person on the street? I’m not obsessing over it, but the idea is there, every present—it’s become the always already there worry of our time.

Every morning, with a cup of freshly brewed coffee (preferring Six Depot’s Blue Velvet) I’ve been reading essays, W. G. Sebald, Guy Davenport, Bruce Chatwin…


I never did this in the north-west corner of Central Richmond. No censure would have been forthcoming, other than the ever-present atmosphere of not-measuring-up. I realize now that what I felt was the way she wound up being, being herself, outside of herself, not overtly or purposely but innately, as much a part of her as her delicate skin and fine-boned body, the body she could not give, but felt invaded not shared.

Walking along Constitution Beach at 4:00pm, the sky filling with dark clouds, the air mildly chilly, the only other person I saw was a woman exercising her dog, a Vizsla I think. He bounded near the water line, and once ran up to me and I wondered whether to pat him on his eager head or was he a carrier, a carrier of sickness and possible death. Wearing gloves, I gave his head a tap.


The early evening now is bright and Bennington Street is empty of cars and walkers. An empty Blue Line T train passes behind the opposite side of the street houses. I know no one in my neighborhood. Other than the upstairs neighbors she knows others on the street only as neighborhood acquaintances. She always said I too casually referred to people as friends.

Back then, in the days of that marriage (more than a year has passed since she told me she wanted to end it), I told myself that I was happy when happiness was fleeting—momentary times when the burden of being who she was fell away and the lovely person she could be was unfurled, slowly like the fronds of a fern opening in the morning dew. And like the morning dew, it was gone by midday.


She says these are figments of my imagination. If others hadn’t experienced the same behavior, the repeated leavings, the repeated don’t-get-too-close-to me protective armor, if others hadn’t also observed the way she never said a kind word to me, held my hand, I might have wondered myself. Validation is cold comfort.

Night in Orient Heights, quieter than usual. Boston now has a 9:00pm curfew, although I don’t know how that’s enforced and have no intention to test it. No cars on Bennington Street, a few lights in the windows across the street. Even the street is mostly dark. Alone in my apartment I’m OK. I don’t miss her, though I miss the idea of her, the idea of easy companionship. What’s happening now is no longer part of the narrative. Chapter closed; the past in the past.

There are enough lies circulating in the world, this new world of untruth, that to live one is a crime of against humanity. One moral failure need not beget another. Let hers rest in eternity.

I hear another Blue Line T heading westward toward central Boston, likely empty, waiting for safer days. We are all waiting for safer days.


Black Curtains

So now she’s spreading tales, half-truths, about how she had to protect her identity, involving lawyers, threats of restraining orders, stemming from her deep fear of men and menace and harm going all the way back to island state girlhood to present days of criminals having committed unspeakable acts of sexual violence and worse. (That was never what it was about.) Those to whom she tells her tales of victimhood muddle the stories, repeating new and more elaborate versions, like children playing telephone whispers. And round and round it goes, all the way to this other coast. It’s not becoming of the person she holds herself out to be. But then that was always the problem with the person she wound up being. What you see was not what you got.


She and her pathetic need to justify, too be right, are of trivial concern. She is nothing if not small, today and always. The entire world is consumed by a viral blight far more lethal than a man who wanted togetherness. Covid 19 the latest coronavirus is indiscriminately taking its toll, spreading sickness, death, and almost worst of all universal fear. Fear of what we cannot see, so therefore everyone and everything becomes a possible vector of infection. It’s as though the air is filled with virus, that every breath becomes a prelude to dying.

Is infection inevitable? Will the virus fade, wear itself out in some way yet unknown? How many businesses will fail? How many people will die? Will there be an end, or is the planet changed forever? Doomed? Are these the prophesized Last Days?

It’s time to reread Samuel Pepys plague diary, when the Black Death killed a fifth of London’s population. He survived.

Shall people be hanging black curtains in the windows?

Practicing social distancing, the nice euphemism for staying away from other people—those possible Typhoid Mary’s among us—is not so onerous for now. I spend my time organizing my new apartment, finding the last storage opportunities for too many random items, ordering food and staples online, along with a desk, loveseat, storage bins and shelves…all minimally designed to fit into my small space. Hanging pictures, placing carpets, sorting books into my own personal Dewey Decimal System. Somehow James Frazer and Charles Doughty belong together on the same shelf.


Would I rather be sheltering in place with someone with me, to share the solitude? With her? In some other ideal world, yes. With her as I first knew her, yes, before she could no longer not withhold who she wound up being. Before she told a friend she didn’t do relationships well. She should never have begun.

To be sheltering in place with my little dog, the dog she kept, would be a comfort. Though my dislocation and eastward move didn’t permit keeping, or sharing, our dog, that she has him for company during this time is one of the unfairnesses of her dissolution of our marriage. Collateral damage. I miss him, still.

Version 2

No wonder news of her drinking isn’t surprising.

Everyday my boys and I check in on one another. We have a WhatsApp group that makes it easy, and the occasional video call on Zoom. We are a connected family. Sam is a short walk from my apartment; we visit many times a week. This morning Sam took me to the early seniors-only opening hour at the Seaport Whole Foods.

Though the chemotherapy eradicated Adam’s cancer it’s left his immune system compromised just now when he can least afford to be vulnerable. So he stays mostly home, enjoying his time as best he can before he begins his first choice internal medicine residency at Highland Hospital. He’s a happy young man. We are happy for him. The May 9th wedding celebration is now in doubt, given coronavirus travel restrictions. There will be even more to celebrate, let us hope, at a later date.

What comes next is unknown, uncertain for everyone. I’m glad I’m away from her orbit, now turned so uninhabitable.

As an associate in her law firm wrote to me, “As part of my job I read your blog, and was moved. I wish you well on this painful journey.”

There is no more pain. The journey continues.


What Didn’t Happen

Flying to San Francisco. Flying at night, on a clear winter night, is magical, the lights far beneath the plane like lights on a far away Christmas tree. There’s life going on down there, people going about their evenings, preparing for bed as the plane makes its way across the country. An ordinary evening in Cleveland, or St. Louis, or wherever we are 36,000 feet up above those houses with their people going about their ordinary lives. Some might be doing the dishes, putting the kids to bed. Some might be arguing; some making love. Maybe there’s some wife down there telling her husband she no longer loves him, has fallen out of love, time for him to pack his possessions and move out. Maybe he can rent a room somewhere she might suggest. Not her problem when she’s the one always already leaving,

In our relationships, when we focus on our problems or how wrong things are, we lose our power to be and act effectively. Problems lie in the lack of inventing a future for our relationships “as a possibility.” When there’s no possibility created, pretty much what’s left is being upset.

The payoff in that is that we get to be right and see others as wrong. In being upset, in withholding our happiness and well-being, we both limit the other person as well as our own ability to be. If we switch that, if we invent ourselves (instead of just reacting), the way the world occurs shifts—we could be in a relationship with Godzilla, or anyone. If we don’t switch that, we don’t get a chance to celebrate all that’s available to ourselves and others.

When something’s missing as a possibility, there’s not a sense of insufficiency or inadequacy—we leave behind the conversation about how things are “not” going to be. What’s missing becomes a possibility “for” something. Making this switch requires disrupting our old conversations and most likely completing things from the past—there’s no wish for things to be different, better, or more. We come to know a space within ourselves where that can happen—it’s a state change, to being the author, as it were.

The conditions and circumstances for our relationships begin to reorder and realign themselves. In creating possibility, we get to know what’s possible in being human.

 Angie Mattingly
Landmark Forum leader

She was always already leaving. For her, leaving was the possibility dragged into the future. Leaving kept her safe, gave her an out, pre-ordained. It was only a matter of time.

She said her life was changed as much as mine. Not so. As she was always already leaving, nothing changed for her. She was leaving when we met, leaving throughout, leaving at the end. She’s still leaving, and word on the street has it trying to provoke a leaving in someone else’s relationship. Love has no currency in leaving. When your life is dominated by leaving, there’s no way but out. Leaving.

That I’m happier away from her leaving is not a validation of her leaving the marriage. It’s the inevitable, if long time coming, consequence, the new freedom to be, to act. Woe to the next man who fails to perceive her trail of leaving, mistaking it only for independence. Self-proclaimed independence is her cover, her mask for always already leaving.

I’m in my own apartment after two months living with my son and his family, a joyful, restorative time after last year’s dislocation. I’m immensely grateful.

Now I’m faced with sorting through too much stuff, too much of everything, to fit into my comfortable but not large one bedroom apartment. The space is entirely adequate: it’s my stuff that isn’t. Anyone who knows me knows this is true. Even with four sizable closets, rare in an apartment this size, there’s much left out that doesn’t fit. Time to divest, not one’s or two’s of this or that, but wholesale eliminations, half of everything should go. (Not the books!) Short-term angst for long term ease of living.

She would be laughing had she a sense of humor about me.

What I strive for:

Forgiveness enlarges the future

By David Cunningham


Forgiveness is one of the most powerful actions a human being can take–it doesn’t change the past, it enlarges the future.* Forgiveness is a choice that frees us from the burden of resentment and regret–it doesn’t alter the past, make things right, condone what we did or may have been done to us. It shifts the present and allows us to move forward. Creating a new future is declarative and takes a commitment to being complete with the person or people involved.

Forgiveness is not really about the person who we say has done wrong; it’s about the one who is forgiving. It’s about finding the courage to step out of “the way it should have been.” To complete a past hurt, resentment, anger, fear or failure, it’s worth noticing both how we’re holding what happened now, in the present, as well as recognizing that whatever happened more than likely will have gained over time a certain mass and complexity in our minds. In taking that into account, we’re more able to address the context, hear others, and look at what might be next.

For example, if we’re harboring resentment, it involves taking responsibility for the diminishment of the other person and requires generative language, such as “I’m giving up the grudge I’ve been harboring for years.” 

Upsets and grudges that we carry from the past narrow our options, impact our relationships and limit our experience of living fully.

The lights are still on down there in the country. We’re over the great plains of Nebraska, Fewer lights, more distantly separated, Lonely lights, Lonely night.

Tomorrow is Adam’s end-of-chemo party. Six months. I hear in my mind our phone call of early September when Adam called to tell me he had been diagnosed with lymphoma. He has borne the cancer and the treatment with grace and fortitude, curtailing nothing, caring for the ill himself as a fourth year medical school student. He will be a fine doctor, a rare physician of compassion and knowledge.

He received an all-clear from his oncologist yesterday; come back for a check-up in three months. The relief is immense.

My boys are blessings she could not fathom. She called them straight arrows. Power is expressed in language.

Let go and set myself free.

Let returning to San Francisco not be a set-back.

Let circumstance not have us meet.

Let go and set myself free.

To be or not to be

When I said to my wife that I liked being married, her response was of course I liked being married, men live longer married than when alone, unlike women who live longer when not married. As though I had checked the actuarial tables before asking if she would marry me, conducting a cost/benefit analysis on married versus unmarried lifespans. A cost/benefit analysis on the deleterious effects of divorce would have been of more benefit. Ahhh hindsight!

But why like being married?

There’s much evidence against it, from divorce rates, to the popular media’s incessant portrayal of unhappy couples (when was the last time you saw a film or television series about a happy marriage?), to an article in today’s (02/16/2020) New York Times titled “They’re More Than Happy Not Being Married,” about women opting out of marriage and finding they prefer being single. Now I see the cover article in the March Atlantic is “The Nuclear Family Was a Mistake,” by David Brooks. Yet to read.

No-fault divorce, pre-nuptial agreements, #metoo, open marriage, the women’s movement, gay liberation, gender blending—all symptoms of the demise of traditional marriage as a committed, meaningful, desirable institution. Why get involved in a losing proposition, especially if raising a family isn’t a consideration? There are other options.

Yet, marriage is a commitment to something larger than oneself. It’s a commitment to a way of being, to sharing one’s life with another human being. Otherwise it’s a piece of paper, a legality lacking in the creation of a new, combined future. To dissolve a marriage without trying to get beyond the way one wound up being, beyond the petty obliviousness of daily living, is a moral failing. It’s a lack of creativity, of creating a new future that didn’t exist before. To succumb to feelings (“I fell out of love with you.”) is what a child does before it learns the lessons of selfish self-interest.

My wife didn’t regard our marriage commitment as anything more than a quaint notion, a semi-formality of the occasion that was neither binding nor life-long. No richer or poorer, in sickness or in health, ‘til death do us part; definitely not poorer. Her words were something along the lines of a marriage commitment isn’t forever; nor was love. (I dare not quote her, much less name her, lest another lawyer’s sanction arrives in my inbox.)


Still, I liked our mostly easy companionship. Though sometimes disagreeing, we rarely argued, never fought. Her rage against men remained below the surface, appearing only when affronted by an egregious remark that couldn’t be ignored. Not from me. Her fear of men on the other hand nearly took me down one evening on the sidewalk steps away from our doorway when I approached her from behind having stopped momentarily to retie my shoe. Lesson learned, that time without a broken arm or worse but decidedly chastened.

Where do I go from here? My older son David in New York repeatedly tells me, “Dad, no more girlfriends or wives, they don’t turn out too well for you.” Not that I’ve had many: one girlfriend, two wives. The girlfriend in between. The ratio seems all wrong. Clearly more sampling could have been attempted.

I’m about to move to my own, new place in Boston. Since September last year I’ve been living in temporary accommodations. I’ve called it homeless but housed, in truth very fortunately and happily housed, first in Oakland in the house of my friend Robin and now in Boston with my son Sam and family. These both have been comfortable arrangements. I’ve enjoyed living in the bosom of family life, here with Sam and his wife Saga and twin just-turned-four year old boys Miki and Ethan. I will miss it, and also will be happy to be on my own, reunited with my books and possessions, free to be and free to act. I worry, too, about loneliness. My mind tends in dwell in dark places when I’m on my own—something to resist, with plans to paint and read and cook and, at least for a while, continue to rationalize my too much stuff, sending some off to Goodwill, other things posted on Craigslist and eBay. Keep what sparks joy, as Kondo-san says.

Relationship(s)? I’m open, not looking. I bought a twin bed that converts to a full, just in case.

We’ll see what happens.


9th of February


A novel


“We need to talk,” she said, only minutes after returning from the memorial service for Bobby Roper, the often described father of Bay swimming and iconic if not universally loved long time fixture of the South End Rowing Club. The service had been at the club, the place where she had arranged to meet him at the doorway, those six year ago, after corresponding for several months on an online dating site. Her friends had stood behind the door that day to defend her should the man be not what he had advertised.

“We need to talk,” she said. He knew that nothing good ever follows those four simple yet fearful words. It was February 9th, a day memorialized by Bobby as the Dreaded 9th of February, the day he asserted the dark water was the coldest in the Bay, and on which a long and difficult swim was always organized. Only the bravest swimmers, indifferent to the temperature and conditions, joined the challenge. This day was another challenge, another dreaded 9th of February. He wondered if that irony occurred to her.

Today, too, is February 9th.

“We need to talk, she said, leading him to sit in the dining room on that dreaded 9th of February. “I have fallen out of love with you, and want you to leave.” Her words fell like stones, not thrown or hurled but dropped, heavy and unanticipated as a boulder might loosen and fall from a cliffside on an unexpecting hiker. The house was hers and in cold clinical terms he was being evicted. (I feel the weight in my chest even today one year later, a lifetime later.) The heaviness of abandonment, of rejection, not knowing what to say or what to do on that 9th of February afternoon, weighted him to his chair, took his breath away. Not breathing was one of the ways he had always suppressed emotion at times like this. She had often exhorted him to “breathe!” when speechless he would clam up in anxiety or distress.  He asked her where could he go and her reply was perhaps he could rent a room somewhere in the city, it wasn’t her concern. Take some time, she said, but plan to leave within a month or two. The cold directness of her intention pressed his heart deep into the back of his chest, beyond where breath was formed.

He left the house and walked first to China Beach. The only acceptance he could envision in those first hours was planning an end. The cold water flowing out of the Gate beckoned in a different way that afternoon. Being a strong swimmer he knew it wouldn’t be easy, something had to be added to the endeavor to ensure no change of heart or wasted intention. That had happened once before in his life, when ending was foiled by inconsequential accident, foolish and stupid rather than tragic and final.


He walked for hours that afternoon on February 9th. It was one of the great pleasures of where they lived that the coastal trail was immediately there, two blocks away from the front door of her house. He walked along the trail curving out and around Land’s End and looked at the water, looked at the westward horizon—he could see the Farallons– wondering how far would he have to swim before cold and fatigue took its toll, before the urge to turn around was past the point of no return. He had always loved swimming and one of the joys she had reintroduced in his life was swimming in the cold open water of San Francisco Bay. That this joy would find another purpose occurred to him as appropriate, as a desire he had long imagined.


He walked down to the rocky beach where a few years before he had scattered his mother’s ashes, throwing them beyond the rocks as two dolphins suddenly surfaced as though to greet and escort her to another world, a world awaiting him that afternoon. His mother had disliked water, and despite years of lessons in truth couldn’t swim more than a few yards. It wasn’t her wish to be scattered it the sea. He had done it for himself, to be able to look out beyond Mile Rock and know that she was there, waiting.

He knew that day was not to be the day: fear perhaps. Hope perhaps.  But then he didn’t know what he knew except that his life had shifted in a direction he didn’t want, couldn’t imagine, that the woman he had loved, had called his wife, had never been the wife he wanted or imagined but that the calm acceptance of that realization had sustained a fantasy of love and companionship that she had shattered, on that dreaded 9th of February, 2019.

Day moves to evening in San Francisco with a subtle but definite drop in temperature that is felt well before the sky fades to gray. He was cold that afternoon having been out long past a normal Saturday afternoon walk. She texted to ask whether he was coming home. He wondered why she cared. He didn’t answer and thought how sadly and finally inappropriate that word home was. It was her house, from which she only hours before had told him he needed to leave. It was not his home, and the realization that it had never been his home, only his residence granted by her, undercut any remaining shred of sentimentality. She gave and she took away; like her body, like her love, provisional and uncommitted.

He walked back to the house in the last light of that afternoon, not knowing what to expect, what to say or do. That was the beginning of the end, the beginning of extinguished plans, extinguished hopes for the possibility of marriage, extinguished love.


Today is one year and a lifetime later.

To be continued.


No voice divine the storm allay’d,
No light propitious shone;
When, snatch’d from all effectual aid,
We perish’d, each alone:
But I beneath a rougher sea,
And whelm’d in deeper gulfs than he.