Writing the Wrong
I was married for a long time. Fifteen years to be exact. I married an American boy, from Polish, English, French and Native American stock. He was twenty six, with hazel eyes and brown hair and an arguably wonderful smile. When I look at him now, so many years later, his face a bit thinner, a smattering of grey around the temples and a few very fine lines around those hazel eyes, all I really see is that twenty-six-year-old boy, a bit awkward, very bright, and so willing to take a chance on me.
We have parted ways–never mind why. You married folks can only imagine. What was it that Gabriel Garcia Marquez said (loose quote) in Love in the Time of Cholera (one of the best, but frustrating love stories of all time): a marriage has to be re-built every morning over breakfast.
I am not sure when it happened, but at some point, he and I stopped rebuilding; we started dismantling. When two people fail to be conscientious about a marriage, it slips right through their fingers.
We are still very good friends–much more so than when we were married. His joy is still mine to a certain extent, and alas, so his is pain. He is entering that stage of life where your childhood vulnerability and fears come rushing back and your own mortality is thrown into mean relief: the loss of a parent. His father died this morning–my ex-father-in-law. He died after a painful, protracted battle with Parkinson’s disease. He fought until the very end, the morphine drip helping him to breathe, and then his exhausted body just gave in.
I remember the first time I met him. He was very affectionate with me and not at all suspcious of this small, brown girl with the rather blustery personality. Unlike my mother-in law, who was naturally (I have a son now, so TOTALLY get it) a bit protective. My father-in law said to me, “Michael is very opinionated–like his mother–and I think we didn’t teach him how to be in social situations. Don’t mind that.”
I always appreciated his saying that to me.
He was raised in a mill town in Connecticut that was once a hub of industry and is now very run down. George Washington stopped at the local tavern there on his way to some important event, possibly the American revolution.
His family came over from Poland in the late 1800’s–his grandfather’s name is on a plaque on Ellis Island. I love that my son’s last name is immortalised forever in a place that ushered in those who actually built this country. Yes, Governor Jan Brewer of Arizona, that would be IMMIGRANTS. He was raised a Catholic but never really prescribed to it. Married at twenty, he worked and studied at the same time, raising five boys in a house he built for his young bride with his own two hands.
An engineer by profession, in the eighties he had an opportunity to live and work in Saudi Arabia and was ready to take it. For whatever reason he did not, but confided to me that he regretted that decision. He told me a bit wistfully that he wished he had travelled more. When my ex was getting ready to enter college his father and mother almost bought a beautiful house that would have been far more comfortable than the one they were living in. They realised, however, that it was more important to send their children to school and decided to continue living where they were even though the neighborhood was in a steady decline and the quarters far too cramped. He had his demons, and more regrets than the ones he confided to me. He took care of his family and was not afraid of hard work or sacrifice, or, more importantly, commitment–ideals he has passed on to his son and hopefully will be passed on to his grandson. He came from people who did not spend too much time bemoaning their fates and just, well, got on with it. A particularly old school American trait, and one I admire deeply. His was the tail end of the greatest generation this country has ever and possibly will ever know. He was conservative, yes, voted Republican more often than not. But, unlike some of those he elected into office, I never felt he judged me by my religion or the colour of my skin. I never felt any bigotry or narrow mindedness from him. Once, very early in my marriage, his son and I got into a fight. Yelling and tantrums ensued and I started crying and he came and put his arm around me and said, “Please don’t cry. It really bothers me when you cry.” Since he was not demonstrative or expressive I realise now how out of character that was for him. He was a pragmatist and there was nothing insincere about him, just like his son and grandson.
When I think about him and then my ex, I realise that my interactions with that family partially formed who I am today and what it is I value in others. I really value a no nonsense, roll up your shirt sleeves and no time for belly aching attitude and they exemplify that. I actually never felt like an interloper when I was with them, or even like an odd ball. In fact, I have felt that much more in Dhaka at times, surrounded by other Bangalis who come from similar backgrounds to mine. Ahh, the irony! One would think that a seventy something Polish American man and I would have nothing in common (besides our un-objective love of my kid) but that would be untrue. My father-in-law and I both love big band music, especially from the 40’s. He himself, played tenor sax in a big band all through his youth and until the disease he succumbed to made it impossible for him to continue. He was so suprised and delighted when I told him how much I loved that era in music.
Anjay, my kid, now plays the sax his grandfather loaned to him. Today his grandmother told me, his grandfather wanted him to have to it. There is so much beauty in legacy and tradition and that is something I hope my kid eventually understands. Perhaps this wil inspire him to practice more.
My son inherited his grandfather’s bone straight hair and according to my ex, his Polish nose. My son’s paternal heritage is why he has an absolutely Polish name, Anjay Kornacki (Polish spelling is actually Andrej, we Americanised it. The last name is pronounced Korna SKI). I hope, too, that he inherited his strength and convictions and work ethic. So long, dad. I will make sure Anjay never forgets you. And thank you, for the nose, the name and the history.