(note to partner: this is about page 90 or so in an ongoing project I am going to turn into a memoir about meeting Bruce, etc. back when) (just jump in)
The mind is its own place and in itself can make a hell of heaven, a heaven of hell.
I’m probably misquoting Milton, but the line comes to my “mind” since my memories of a particular time in my life do not exactly coincide with my writings of that time. The mind forgets and forgives, I’d like to tell Milton. The mind sorts through.
There is no contradiction in the fact that I was happy with, in love with, Bruce. The excitement of his presence lasted day after day for the fourteen months in New Jersey before he and I began planning to move to California.
In my memory I tore myself way from my creative job at the high school, bound for adventure—although, really, there was also the memory of anxiety of any kind of future in San Francisco. I was carried away by my own script at the time: “Yes, we’re moving,” I’d say, solemnly, “across the country.” I’d wait for the sighs of jealousy, the accolades of congratulations for planning such an adventure. The reputation of risk-taker that I was creating for myself (goaded by Bruce, for sure) was one that I basked in.
The irony was that he and I had almost switched places. I had suffered such indecision about his moving from Oregon to live with me in New Jersey since he’d have to rely on me and my salary—already stretched thin by having two children in college –until he found a job that paid anything. A year later he had not only found “a job” but in March was promoted to City Manager of a small and charming town in New Jersey where he had his own office, a fine salary, and a company car—a brand new Chevy sedan.
My teaching job—involving the management of a Performing and now “Fine Arts” Department (the principal had folded in the art teachers with the music teachers)—as well as classes, caused me endless tension and reprimands. I overspent the budgets; I wasn’t attentive enough to the parents. By the time our spring musical was performed – that year, 1986, it was “Anything Goes” where I had taught 16 dancers to tap dance and choreographed and directed the whole thing—by that time Bruce and I had decided we would be leaving.
My tenure was solid. Now I had a Master’s Degree and could command the full salary of a chair. He had that lovely job. John had graduated from Harvard and accepted a job in Honolulu. Susan was finishing her senior year at William Paterson.
Why didn’t I have a “heaven on earth” then? Why were he and I off seeking a new heaven?
I traveled underwater, seemingly, the day I applied for a leave of absence. The school district could allow me a year off with a guarantee return of some position. ”Some.” Not the one of status I held. Eighteen years I’d been there. It was like severing a limb. Well, I guess that’s an unpleasant exaggeration, but I do remember wading through some sort of atmosphere mechanically, visiting the superintendent, filling in blanks on paper, waiting for the school board’s okay.
And Bruce and I? We did everything – plays, museums, gardens in the Philadelphia and Bucks County areas, weekends in New York, in Washington (his new job footing the bill, sending him to conferences), and, occasionally in Boston where his mother and brother and my friend all lived. We made love every day, sometimes more. We were happy.
And the families folded in: Preston would visit us a month from Oregon; John had moved back home temporarily after his semester finished; Susan often came home on weekends.
That was the key word: home. The “heaven on earth” suggested it would be shattered when we—I—gave up that “home,” my kids’ home, my home, all for more heaven on earth.