As for the answer to your question, here is how I get through the days: I spend every moment I am alone asking myself what sort of future I want. Instead of thinking of what has happened, I think of what will make me happy one day, hopefully soon.
For instance, we are still trying to have a baby. Every month that passes feels like a new opportunity, at least at the beginning. The pursuit has not been easy, especially now. It is almost as if I have to become some other version of myself in order to muster the enthusiasm for both of us lately. But I do it because I still believe in the future I’m hoping for: a family with the man I chose.
I’m trying to think of better times, later in life—not so much the past or the present, but a brighter future.
Maybe that will help you, too.
All my best,
February 26, 1977
Your advice was quite helpful. At dinner last night, as Janet put the green beans and brisket on the table, I was looking at her truly mystified. How is it that she is capable of being two people at once? It pains me to think of what else she is capable of. I must have been staring at her because she snapped her fingers in front of my eyes and said, “David! Pass the salt, please.”
I looked at my sons, who were now staring at me like I had three heads. And so I decided to redirect my thoughts, as you said to do.
I thought of five years from now when my oldest son, Michael, will be graduating high school. I imagined Janet and me in the audience with our three younger sons, Sam, Andy, and Brian. I thought of the five of us clapping as Michael crossed the stage. And I thought of looking at Janet with full trust and happiness.
I wonder if that future is even possible anymore. But I have to hope that it is because the other future, where I am seated a few rows down from my family, and another man has taken my place . . . I can’t bear it.
So I am going to continue to think about the good future for now until I know what I am going to do.
Thank you for being there for me. I know you only as handwriting on a page, and yet you might be my closest friend.
Tell me more about yourself, your life. I’d love to listen as you have for me.
March 4, 1977
Do you ever feel like your life got away from you somehow?
Lately, it feels like my whole life has a similar feeling to when you check the clock on a Saturday and realize it’s already half past four.
I just don’t understand how I got here.
I was nineteen when Ken and I met. I had just started my sophomore year at Boston University. I was studying to be a teacher. To be honest, I’m not sure why I was studying to be a teacher. I think it’s just what everyone was doing.
I met Ken at a party of a grad student friend of mine. He was about to finish his final year of medical school. He asked me out by offering to take me to an exhibit at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, and I said yes. I don’t remember what the show was, but I do remember that I had already seen it a few weeks before and pretended otherwise. It’s interesting, the things we remember.
Anyway, I fell fast for Ken. He was so confident. I felt like I wasn’t quite sure who I was back then, and he was so sure of himself. We got married in Boston when I was twenty-one. As I think I told you, my parents weren’t altogether excited about the match. They thought I should stay single a bit longer, try to make my way in the world alone. My mother has always told me that I have more opportunities, as a woman of my generation, than she ever had. She made it seem like I had an obligation to use them how she would have.
But, honestly, I just wanted to marry a nice man who made a good living and have children. I guess I’m no women’s libber.
I left school when Ken matched at a residency program in Chicago. We lived there for a few years and then moved here to Los Angeles for a fellowship he took at UCLA.
Now that we’re settled, I think of going back to school every now and again. But Ken has been clear about wanting me to stay home and spend my energies on getting pregnant. He says if it’s not happening when I’m home and relaxed, it’s definitely not going to happen if I’m up and out of the house all day.
I don’t know if that’s true or not, but it has been hard to argue it with a doctor.
And so I spend my days maintaining the house, throwing dinner parties for Ken’s colleagues and their wives, and, lately, helping his mother settle into her new town house ten minutes away. She says she’s moved here to “help” with “things.” I suspect she’s here expecting a grandchild any minute. She’s starting to make comments about me being “too slim.”
This just isn’t how it was all supposed to go.
All my best,
March 9, 1977
I feel like my life has gotten away from me all the time.
I thought by my midthirties I’d have some financial security. But I am a high school biology teacher who has also taken on coaching girls’ field hockey and basketball as of late to earn more money. I know almost nothing about field hockey or basketball. I’m considering adding driver’s ed since at least I know how to drive.
My students are supposed to call me Mr. Mayer, obviously, but I can hear them referring to me as “Mr. Grayer” behind my back. I’ve gone fully gray at the age of thirty-seven. I always hoped I’d be one of those men who aged well. You know how ladies are always going on about how attractive they find older men? I was never terribly attractive in my youth, but I thought I’d grow into it. But I’m afraid my late thirties have also been accompanied by a growing gut, a bad back, and tension between my shoulder blades that never quiets down.
Not to mention that I no longer feel like I know my own wife.
As I interact with Janet now, I can see ways in which she and I had lost touch with one another long before this. It’s almost as if realizing she was lying about one thing has made me realize how often she and I lie to one another about small things.
She’s lying about having an affair, but she’s also lying about canceling the newspaper delivery like I asked her to. It’s as if she thinks I don’t notice that the copies are piling up under her nightstand.
I do things like that, too, though. I do not tell her about my concerns about money or the fact that she goes too easy on our oldest.
Lying has just become so much easier than telling the truth. I don’t remember when things got so hard. But life has been a matter of keeping our heads above water for years now.
Money is scarce. Janet knows it and I know it, and I hate talking about it and it’s all she ever wants to talk about. It has become so ever present that it shades everything.
When Janet and I met, I had a habit of collecting pennies I found on the street. I’ve always loved pennies. I like the copper sheen to them. But I have stopped collecting pennies in front of Janet because I’m afraid she will think I’m doing it for the money. That is how tight things are around here.
Janet keeps offering to get a job, and I can see the look in her eye when she offers it. Complete and total disappointment. It’s clear she feels reduced to it because I can’t provide. She blames me. She says she hates relying on me to do something that I am not properly doing. She’d rather have some control over it herself. It guts me every time she says it. I’ve tried to explain to her that I am paid decently. I have a good job. The problem is that, well, kids are expensive.
I know that wanting children has been a trial in your marriage. I can’t begin to imagine the pain that must cause. The truth is that having children has been a trial in mine. I stopped desiring my wife quite the same way after she got pregnant with Andy and Brian. The first two were planned, but the twins weren’t. They were a downright shock. I was already exhausted and penny-pinching with the first two. To be clear, I can’t tell you the joy my youngest two bring me. My oldest, Michael, is impressively willful, and Sam can charm almost anybody. But Andy and Brian have this curiosity about the world and this bond together that I never expected. I can’t imagine my life without any of my boys. But since the shock of the twins, being intimate with Janet always makes me nervous. It feels like I am just begging for more to be responsible for.