The First Husband

     Welcome, Ian said, smiling, relaxed, like a proprietor of an establishment.   

     Kind of smaller than you’re used to, I offered trying to give him an opportunity to say how he missed our place.

     It’s big enough, he said. Then, he beckoned and I followed him around the far side of the house. He showed me the small garden out back, the fertilizer, and the little tomato plants he’d just finished putting in. He’d even dug stakes in near each plant. I enjoy puttering around out here, he said. My stomach sank to my knees. He was making a new home for himself.

     Inside, were four small rooms. In each one there was at least one piece of furniture I’d given him, two of our four kitchen chairs, or a table, a lamp. It all looked as if it belonged here, instead of being wrenched from the larger whole that had been our home.

     Ian offered me something to drink and seemed to take a long time in the kitchen.  I felt as if he was making an effort to make conversation.  So…here we are…well, how’s the juice? Is it cold enough, would you like some ice?  This excessive courtesy annoyed me. It was if we shared no history. I felt like a new girlfriend he was trying to impress. Well, he said, how do you like the place?   I love padding around here.

     Who did he imagine he was talking to? My parents bought the chairs we were sitting on, and that rug. 

     Want to listen to some music? He rose and went over to a brand new stereo with enormous speakers. 

     In his study was a nude photograph of me hanging on the wall.  I love that picture he, he smiled.  Makes me horny every time I look at it. 

     Horny. Wrong word. I tried to feel touched that he kept my picture.  Wasn’t this a sign that he still longed for me?  But I felt disconnected from him and the photo.   I hated the distorted camera angle that made me look like a fertility icon, exaggerating the size of my breasts and thighs. I wouldn’t allow him to display it in our house; but this was his house.  He could hang up whatever photos he liked. He was free from my constraints.  Wasn’t that the real point?  

     You seem so subdued, he said.  I let him make love to me.  It was a mistake.   I couldn’t lose myself in him. When he touched my body it seemed to belong to someone else.  This was finally the end.  In the morning, I went home, empty, heavy with loss. 

      Later that morning Tom telephoned. I had a visitor last night, he said. An unexpected one.   He was waiting for me to guess, but I didn’t have a clue. Letty, he said. Letty came to see me.  She was hysterical. 

      Letty?  I hadn’t told Tom that I was going to see Ian.  Now she had exposed me.  I had hurt this man who had only been kind to me.  

      She told me that Ian had broken a date with her to see you; she was worried, she said, that you and Ian might be getting back together.  She didn’t know what to do.

    What did you say to her?

    I told her to mind her own business.


     Frankly, I’m surprised it lasted this long, my father said, when I telephoned my parents to say that my marriage was in trouble. I cried into the phone …hard to explain…Ian had a girlfriend, wanted an open marriage, we were seeing other people.  

     All I could do was cry, while my parents listened to my sobs. There’d been all those phone calls when I’d pretended everything was fine, and then there were the excuses I’d made for Ian in April when he hadn’t come to the Passover Seder. Not having to pretend was a relief.  But now I was so ashamed.   

      You always have a home, my mother said.

       It’s a trial separation, I said. I felt like a dog with my tail between my legs.  Nothing’s definite. 


       I  won’t pretend that I didn’t get some satisfaction out of the news that Ian had broken up with Letty a couple of months after he and I filed for a legal separation.  After the divorce Ian and I had a heart to heart.   I asked him to be honest and tell me if Letty had been the only other woman. No he said. There’d been Eileen, the girlfriend of Stanley who’d been his best man.  And Annie, the wife of my friend Lee.  Stanley had the hots for you from the very beginning.  He was always coming on to you. Lee too.  I guess I was jealous.  It was like I was making pre-emptive strikes.  

      I never saw Letty again, but like a recurring bad dream, she remained in my orbit.  She married a fellow classmate of mine, Ron Hirsch and they had a son, Sam, who was in my daughter, Lila’s class in 1st grade at the Montessori school. Then Letty and Ron divorced, and she moved into the city with Sam.  I remained on friendly acquaintance terms with Ron who shared an interest in Latin American poetry with my husband Richard. On occasion, Ron would complain to me about Letty, how crazy she was, what a suffocating mother. 

        When Richard died, Ron paid a condolence call, and offered to help configure some of Richard’s writing into a format for a web site.  He asked after Lila, who had just started college.  His son, Sam, he said, was also doing well.

      My daughter has been out of college for a year now. She lives on the Lower East Side with roommates, works at an agency that coordinates services for the Homeless. I see her regularly and she telephones often.

      Guess who’s gotten back in touch with me after all these years?  She said over the phone the other day. Sam Hirsch! 

       The same Sam Hirsch who was in your 1st grade class? His mother is Letty?

       That’s the one.

       And he’s been so nice to me.  We were talking about our childhood’s and everything, and his father told him he thought he’d like Dad’s novel, Tar Beach and he’s  been reading it. And I just happened to mention that I didn’t have my own copy of Dad’s novel, Fredi & Shirl & the Kids, and you know what he did? He bought a copy and had it sent to me as a present!  Isn’t that sweet? 

     I almost choke.  The idea that Lila might become romantically involved with Letty’s son, seemed like a punishment from hell. 

     And for my birthday?  You know what he did?


    He got his college a capella group together and they serenaded me. Then she added,  Sam told me that his mom dated Ian before she married his Dad.  Odd coincidence.

     She didn’t just date Ian.  She saw him while we were still married, I said.  Did he say anything about that?

      No.  You know Mom, that’s ancient history. It all happened before we were born.


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Categories: Non-Fiction

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