Forty-two years is impossible to ignore. Twenty-two million, seventy-five thousand, and two hundred minutes. Never mind the seconds. It is difficult to comprehend. But memories make time elastic. All I need to do is close my eyes to peel back the years.
Mitch and I will have been married that many minutes by the time this issue is published. How about that?
So how do I distill forty-two years of married life, from our first hello, when we were both intoxicated by the heady wine of young love; to the comfortable, laid-back familiarity after four decades of intimacy? Let me recount the ways.
Fraternizing among the medical and nursing staff at Cebu Doctors Hospital in Cebu, Philippines was not encouraged, but it was not prohibited either. The dance of courtship that happened there was fascinating. And the life and death situations that played out daily bred a camaraderie from the necessary teamwork.
Several of my classmates from nursing school and I were new recruits in October 1973, just back from taking the nursing board exams in Manila. There was also a fresh group of medical interns who was there to satisfy the required training. Flirtations and dating preoccupied many.
I was unconcerned. I kept out of the social scene because I was in a serious relationship. My then beau and I were making plans to marry. The “Dear Jane” letter that greeted me a few weeks later was unexpected and brutal. It devastated me and caused me to retreat from socializing even further.
Yet all is fair in love and war. After all, the line that separates the two is not permanent. It can be erased and redrawn as loyalties change. Actions and words influence amity as well as enmity. Egos, like glass, are fragile and ride on emotions that rise and fall with the tides of flattery and derision.
Mitch had other plans and wasn’t beneath using subterfuge. After outwitting a fellow intern, he won me on a bet. He pursued me vigorously which was flattering. He sent me daily telegrams. (Oh yes. Remember this was the “olden” days, before cell phones and emails.) His messages were full of concern and romance. They made me abandon my vow to hate all men and bid adieu to love forever.
We started dating. Back then it was called “going steady.” However, soon after the new year he told me he accepted an offer of internship from a hospital in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I felt the familiar twinge of rejection. Wisconsin, in the middle of America, was half a world away.
Our long-distance relationship was stressful, lonely, and expensive. Telephone calls were overpriced and letters took long. I didn’t have plans to go stateside. (The man who jilted me was an American so immigrating to the US was repugnant at the time. It wasn’t my dream.) But Mitch’s cryptic letter which advised me “to seek a way to move to America or else” made me rethink my options.
After a short search, Newark Beth Israel Hospital recruited me. Fate was having a laugh at my expense. The ex was from Newark, NJ. But I was impressed by the offer of $10,000 a year. And I was excited to be near my “steady” again.
Girls dream of fairytale weddings, full of frills, and thrills, sugar and spice and everything nice. Our unconventional wedding was comedic and dirt cheap. (I wrote an article about it I titled “Improper Wedding.”) I felt sorry for myself and told Mitch he owed me a proper one.
In the beginning, our union was rich in love but poor in everything else. I had a difficult pregnancy which prevented me from working. Newark Beth Israel finally gave us an eviction notice from the nurses’ apartments when I was 8 months pregnant.
Mitch continued his training in New York while I stayed at home to care for our baby girl. An intern’s stipend did not afford us luxuries. Heck, it didn’t even afford us furniture. We slept on the floor as did the baby. We had a small round table and two chairs plus a day bed which doubled as a sofa. Our prized possessions were a phonograph and several vinyl records that Mitch acquired when he was a bachelor.
For my wedding, the boutique owner took pity on me and gave me a veil to use which she fished from her discards. Likewise, a neighbor who discovered our sparsely furnished apartment gave us a bed he intended to donate to the Salvation Army. We were impressed by their generosity. Anna didn’t get her crib until after the bills were paid. That took several paychecks and several months later.
Our finances improved when Mitch finished his internship and accepted a position as a fellow at the George Washington University Medical Center in Washington, DC. Tessa joined the Lopez ensemble soon after we bought our first home.
(To be continued.)