During one of those circuitous, serendipitous Google searches I sometimes find myself undertaking, I learned that my old boyfriend Nick had died two years ago at the age of 66. He is now the second one of my “serious” boyfriends to die. (I had about 4 long-term serious boyfriends before George, and a whole bunch of, shall we say, LESS serious ones). This has made me sad, even though I hadn’t seen him in 40 years, and only heard from him once, when he tracked me down via the internet and, to my panic, called me one morning in Australia.
Why panic? Because my relationship with Nick is the one that I’m now a bit embarrassed about–the rockiest, most prurient, and immature of them all. Nick was the youngest son of a well-off Catholic family–his two brothers were a judge and a publisher–but he never lived up to their expectations. I met him on a blind date arranged by my friend Kitty, who was working at a fancy restaurant where Nick was the chef (or sous chef). I was at that moment licking my wounds from the end of my European affair, just after college ended. It was from the beginning a wildly sexual relationship, and I moved in with him almost immediately–to the horror of the sweet old lady where I was living at the time. Now I can only imagine that the whole thing seemed exciting and liberating to me.
The other embarrassing aspect, other than the fact that we were (aside from the sex) ridiculously mismatched, was that I ended up being totally economically dependent on him–something I now advise young women NEVER to do. I was just about to start library school when I moved in with him, so I had no income and relied entirely on his support. Then there was the drinking–LOTS of drinking. Nick’s the one who taught me how to drink in bars, while I, in my 22-year-old mind, thought that I could change him, save him from an alcoholic life like my father’s. We know how that works out, don’t we? But we had a lot of fun for a while–mostly all we did was go to the movies, take little trips (the photo is Nick at Grand Lake), watch TV, have sex, drink, and eat . (I have also just realized that it was with Nick that I started to smoke cigarettes, too). And yes, we did eat! Nick had trained at the Culinary Institute, and could have had a great career as a chef if he hadn’t been so emotionally rebellious. (I swear he’s the student that Anthony Bourdain talks about in Kitchen Confidential who was so terrified of the pastry teacher that he quit rather than face him–you could look it up.) When he was drafted, he got a cushy gig to be a general’s cook–and gave it up because he didn’t like the restrictions, so they sent him to the field in Viet Nam, where he was a mess sergeant. He was the first of the many Nam vets I’ve known, and he was just as damaged as the rest of them.
After some months of living together, and after starting library school, it became increasingly apparent to me that we were occupying different worlds in our heads. That’s when he started becoming controlling: objecting to the friends I brought home, getting defensive about everything. He was also starting to get crummier and crummier jobs, ending up as a manager of a department store food counter. By this time I had met an interesting group of intellectual people–including George, who was a married man in my cataloging class. A group of us had coffee every morning before class. At some point in the middle of the winter semester, after a particularly exasperating drunken night with Nick, I suddenly felt I had to go over to campus and talk to someone. Who should be there but George–who was rarely on campus in the evenings. When I asked him why he was there, he put up his hand to show that he was no longer wearing a wedding ring. His wife had run off with a computer programmer from Boston, and George was now living in his brother’s van. We went and had coffee, and our fate was sealed, although it took another 3 years to figure that out.
I can’t now remember quite how it happened that I finally knew I had to leave Nick. I had no place to go, and no money, but I told my friends that I needed to get out–they agreed to come and get me when I needed them. Then I told Nick. He’s the only man who ever hit me–and just that one time, dragging me across the lawn, too. Everything became crystal clear then–I was out of there. My friends called the cops, they came and calmed him down. My friends took me to a place Nick wouldn’t know about. I came back the next day when Nick was at work, and gathered all my belongings in about 45 minutes. I stayed at my friend’s sister’s house for a while, until the woman I worked for at a museum took me in as her au pair. Nick didn’t know about her, so I thought I was safe.
But he began waiting outside work, he kept calling my friend, begging her for my phone number. He finally did track me down. He had gone for counseling, and wanted to apologize. But mostly he wanted somehow to get me back. I did go away with him for one final trip, just to appease him (I spoke with his counselor before I did that). But by then, I had found another job in another city, and I already knew I was in love with George, even though he was still a little wobbly after his divorce. So I went away, bid Nick (and George) farewell, knowing I would never willingly see Nick again. I made it clear that we were over, and that it was time for him to move on. He called a few more times, having bugged my mother about my current situation, finding out that I was indeed with George–and told me this as if he were accusing me of some kind of betrayal! But I think he finally realized we were no more.
Many, many years later, then, I’m in Australia getting Max ready for school. The phone rings; it’s Nick. All I could say was “where are you?”, utterly relieved that he was in Florida and I was in Canberra. He was long married, had children, and was running some kind of sports memorabilia site online. He wished me well, and was happy to hear I had a kid. He later sent me an email in which he said he still thought about me every day. I told him that was nonsense–what he thought about was some romanticized notion of a me that he imagined existed 30 years before–that all we really did was drink and fuck. And that’s the last I heard of him.
Still, it’s very odd to learn that he’s gone. I learned a lot about myself and about what I really wanted by my time with Nick. I hope he had some peace and happiness in his life, and that he quite drinking before he died. And I hope his children loved him.