A memoir of Boyd Lemon's journey to understand his role in the destruction of his three marriages. This book will guide others to deal with issues in their own relationships in these times when couples and individuals are struggling to understand the new order in relationships.
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Digging Deep is a memoir about Boyd Lemon's role in the destruction of his three marriages. This is a journey to understand one man's role in marriages that ended in divorce, confusion, bitterness and blame. The pearl in the oyster has been the journey of the writing, for the writer himself, and the peace that writing has brought him. Lemon lived on the cusp of the moralistic generation that grew up in the 1940s and 50s and the next generation that embraced sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll, as well as equality and independence for women. The transition rocked all pretenses of his working class upbringing.
The writer’s hope is that revealing the path of his own struggle to clarity and peace leads others to their own awakening, as so many modern couples and individuals deal with understanding and defining the new order in relationships, as well as facing their own past.
Best-selling author, poet and
teacher, Jervey Tervalon on
"This memoir is written with brutal
honesty about the process
of coming to understand himself
and the failure of his marriages.
His coming of age as a highly
paid lawyer provides insight into
the ‘Mad Man’-like excesses of the
seventies. A compelling read."
In March 2007, after a lifetime in southern California, I move to Boston to live with Kate, a twenty-four-year-old sing- er–songwriter and college student. I step out of the taxi onto the icy street and fall on my ass. Welcome to Boston. Only my dignity is injured.
I’m not in a mid-life crisis. I’m too old—sixty-six. Anyway, it doesn’t feel like a crisis. Something strong pulls me to Boston, and for the first time in my life I pay attention to such things. I need to get away from the life I have lived. I want to be alone, but I need the comfort of a friend nearby, like a cat I once had, who wanted my presence, but not too close.
Kate fits my needs almost perfectly. She ignores me most of the time. Occasionally, that hurts my feelings, but usually I‘m grateful. I feel her comforting presence, even when we’re apart. Her dirty laundry on the bathroom floor and unwashed dishes in the sink—I would have bitched at my wives—strangely add to my comfort.
Since, among other things, Kate is so much younger than I, there is no complicating romance. I’m writing short fiction, and Kate becomes my writing teacher. She recommends books written by Natalie Goldberg, a well-known writing teacher. I read them and more than a dozen others on writing, and attend two of Natalie Goldberg’s workshops in late 2007.
Writing becomes the focus of my new life. I decide to write about my three marriages. The need roars inside me, though I don’t yet know why. Kate and I discuss potential structures of a memoir, and I write an outline of incidents. I start the first draft.
In April 2008 I visit my daughter, Lisa, in Ventura, California. I sit at her kitchen counter and down the last of a Hendricks Gin martini. On the opposite beige granite counter, Lisa ar- ranges fish sticks in pale blue plastic bowls for her children’s dinner. The shrimp for the adults’ dinner thaws in a colander in the sink next to her. Emily, four, draws at her table in the fam- ily room to my right—“Pooh Bear,” she says. Ryan, eighteen months, looking like a baby from a magazine ad, hair the color of straw, sits in his high chair behind me demanding his dinner. I want another martini, but I should be ready to lend a hand with my grandkids if Lisa needs me, and I’m sure she will.
Lisa brings their dinners to the table, tells Emily that hers is ready, then goes back to the sink to check the shrimp. I get up and sit at the table. I shovel strained peas into Ryan’s mouth. He still likes the mushy stuff. I try to keep it off his face, but as I scrape it off his chin, he lets more dribble down and smiles.
“Thanks for feeding Ryan, Dad,” Lisa says. “As the family’s Director of Domestic Operations, I still can only do one thing at a time.”
“Glad to help,” I say.
A half hour later the children’s dinners rest in their bellies. Lisa quietly calms a screaming Emily, who objects to her broth- er playing with one of the cars to her train. I grab a Thomas book from the floor, pick up Ryan and take him to the couch. He sits quietly while I read to him.
The hum of the garage door opening announces the ar- rival of Lisa’s husband, David. Lisa leaves Emily tranquil and grabs wipes to clean Ryan’s high chair. David comes through the door. He hugs and kisses Lisa, the messy wipes clutched in her right hand.
I make another martini, while Lisa turns to the adults’ din- ner, tearing Romaine lettuce leaves.
“We’re having shrimp with linguini and green salad,” she says.
“Sounds great,” says David. I nod in agreement.
David plays train on the floor with Emily and Ryan. With Dad in charge, their anger toward each other of moments ago disappears. Emily pulls her fingers down through her blond bangs to straighten them, as I’ve seen her mom do to her bangs all her life. Ryan crashes his train into the couch and laughs as the cars topple over.
“Ryan,” says David, “it’s almost your bedtime—three min- utes. Lisa would you set the timer, please?”
“Okay,” says Lisa.
David turns to Emily. “When Ryan goes to bed, would you like me to tell you a story about a bride?”
“Yes,” shouts Emily, bounding up and, like a referee sig- naling a touchdown, throws both arms in the air.
David smiles and looks up at Lisa. “How can I help?” “You can put Ryan to bed,” she says.
“Okay, glad to.”
When the timer dings, David picks up Ryan, who waves ‘bye, his entire face grinning. After dinner David and I clear the table, and he begins washing dishes. “Thanks, David,” says Lisa, giving him a pat on the shoulder.
“You’re very welcome,” he says, smiling. “I’ll bathe Emily,” says Lisa. When David finishes the dishes, he says to me, “After I tell Emily a story I have to do some work up in the office, so I’ll see you in the morning.”
“Okay,” I say.
These moments are precious, but bittersweet, I think. When I had a chance to be a father and husband, to be in a family, I didn’t have it in me. Three tries, all ending in turmoil, resentment and divorce—a three-time loser.
Lisa’s lucky to have a home and family like this. I didn’t get to raise any of my children to adulthood. Lisa has a beautiful home, two great kids and, luckily, a wonderful husband who adores her.
It isn’t luck though, is it? Through martini haze and dinner wine, remembrances rock me like a California earthquake. I worked long hours too, but I stayed at the office. When I came home, I poured a drink and sat in my recliner. I didn’t play with the kids or put them to bed. I didn’t help with the meals or wash the dishes. I usually had another drink. The most I did was read a bedtime story, if I was home in time. Often I went drinking with co-workers. Maybe if I’d put as much into my family as David does, I could have had the family I wanted. I could have helped raise my kids and grown old with a loving partner. My chest freezes. My eyes tear. I lose awareness of where I am.
“Are you all right, Dad?” Lisa had come back in. I’d been staring through her.
“Yeah. I’m okay.”
“Emily’s ready for Goodnight Moon.”
I struggle upstairs and read to her. When I kiss her good night, she looks up at me. God, she looks just like Lisa at that age.
“Thanks, Pa B. I love you,” she says.
“I love you too,” I say, and turn my head so she doesn’t see my tears. When Lisa was her age, I saw her only every other weekend. But what could I do? Her mother left me. Christie was crazy.
Back downstairs, I have another glass of wine and stop thinking about my marriages.
A week later I fly home to Boston. Not long after, on the first spring like day, I lounge on a bench, gazing at the cold blue of the Charles River. Hulls glide silently through the wa- ter, bodies perched inside rowing in perfect sync, like graceful robots. The M.I.T. buildings across the way reflect the pale yellow sun, as if it is trying to penetrate my mind.
My cell phone rings. It’s my third wife, Susan. After we catch up, she tells me she’s disappointed that I moved to Boston. She thinks we should have gotten back together— given it another try. Why, after twelve years apart? I think, but don’t say.
We’ve both changed since our divorce, she says. I don’t say no. I mumble something about enjoying life in Boston and change the subject. After we hang up, as I’m sitting on the bench by the bucolic Charles River, I feel a knot in my belly. Would living with Susan be any better now? Whose fault was our divorce? Both of us, I suppose. I have never tried to under- stand how I participated in the destruction of our thirteen-year marriage. When we separated she said that I had withheld my affection for years, that I had emotionally withdrawn from her. What did she mean? Those thoughts enter my mind but float out into the ether without any deeper thought.
Questions of why all three marriages failed the “‘til death do us part” test have lingered under the pillow of my mind for years, sneaking out every now and then, but I always shoved them back. I never let them out long enough to gain much insight, just a passing acknowledgement that I must have contributed.
Could I have done something to prevent my divorce from Stephanie, my second wife? I sat on this same bench more than a year ago pondering that question. I had been talking to Kate when Stephanie called. Kate left the room. I hadn’t heard from Stephanie in a long time, but she got right to the point.
“I haven’t had a job for three months,” she said, “and I can’t pay my rent or my car payments. I’ll be out on the street. Could you please loan me the money? I’ll pay you back when I get a job. Please. You’re the only one I can turn to.”
I hesitated for a moment, thinking about how she had nev- er paid me back when I loaned her money before. “I’m sorry,” I said. “I’m not willing to do that.” She said she understood and hung up. My muscles were tense, but I was energized, a little pride resting on the guilt that settled in my belly. I did the right thing, I told myself.
When Kate came back, I told her what I had done. “It was really hard for me to say no,” I said, “and I don’t understand why. I don’t owe her anything.”
“Well, Boyd,” she said, “I think Stephanie was the love of your life.”
“Maybe you’re right,” I said.
Later, I walked and found the bench. Was Stephanie really the love of my life? How could that be? She was a hopeless alcoholic and drug addict. There was nothing I could have done.
I can’t penetrate. Each time I think about my marriages I scrape a little dirt from the surface where the truth is buried. Instead of continuing to dig, I stash the shovel.
In Spring and Summer 2008 I am consumed with writing the memoir. By the end of August I finish a rough draft, nearly three hundred pages.
On August 31st, I move across the river to Cambridge. Kate moves to the Cambridge Zen Center to study meditation. The next morning Kate comes over and reads my rough draft on the computer. I have not yet read it all the way through. I sit on the couch reading a novel. In a few hours Kate turns away from the computer screen toward me.
“It doesn’t work,” she says, shaking her head. “My advice to you is to throw it out. Don’t look at it again and start over. I’m sorry, but you can do better.”
I feel devastated. “Can you be more specific?”
“You tried marriage three times and failed. What insights do you have about your role in the failure of those marriages?” She asks.
I hesitate. “I’m not sure.”
She wrinkles her brows and looks straight at me. “Twelve years since your last divorce, and you have no insight into what your role was?”
Humiliation rises up through my throat and heats my face. I don’t know what to say. “I guess not,” I reply.
“That’s astonishing,” she says. “I always thought you were courageous when you told me you were willing to marry again. Apparently, you’re willing to subject yet another woman—and yourself—to the same old suffering.”
I can’t speak. My throat and chest tighten. I swallow. Tears flood my eyes, the way men cry, not like women, who sob freely when they’re in pain.
“If you’re going to write about the destruction of your mar- riages, you’ll have to understand your role,” she says. “That has to be in the memoir.”
After Kate leaves I go over to the computer and read the draft. She’s right. It’s terrible. It’s not me. It’s boring.
I walk toward The Plough and Stars, a bar down the street from my apartment. I have always handled my life’s traumas by cloistering myself for a few days, looking at what’s ahead and moving on, pushing the trauma down to the bottom of a hole somewhere and burying it, never to be uncovered. Isn’t that what self-help gurus tell you to do—move on? The problem is that if all you do is move on, you don’t learn anything.
I could just avoid marriage. Then I won’t have to go through a painful introspection, I think, as by rote I press the button on the pole to light the walk sign at Mass Ave and Hancock Street.
Is there something about the way I related to my wives that could be important? Will I ever find peace if I don’t under- stand how I acted during most of my adult life—twenty-seven years? Kate is right. If I’m writing about my marriages, I have to understand my role in their failure. When I wrote that first draft, I didn’t do what I’d learned from Natalie Goldberg. I can hear her now, “Dig deep. Write what scares you, not what monkey mind says you should write.” I realize now I didn’t dig down to the gold that I know is deep within my mind. I didn’t get to the bottom of it, nowhere near.
I decide to start thinking about my first marriage. That will be the easiest. Still, like a child standing on the edge of a high-dive board, shivering, afraid to jump, I am held back by fear. I sip my third martini before I can begin.
My stomach churns as I think, through the alcohol, back to when Christie, my “crazy first wife,” was committed to a mental institution. Eventually, she was diagnosed as bipolar and cured with medication. I have always believed that she left me because she was insane, that her hospitalization con- firmed that.
I get out my notebook and pen. It occurs to me: she wasn’t committed until three years after our divorce. Did she have any bipolar symptoms when we were married? There’s an interesting question.
I don’t remember her ever acting depressed. She worried a lot about her work, but that was normal for some- body who had never had a full-time job before. She was never manic. On the contrary, she seemed calm. I feel dryness in my throat, from the gin, I assume, and ask the bartender for a glass of water. I knew Christie was odd after our first date, but I don’t believe she was mentally ill, then or during our marriage. I take a long drink of water. I’ve been deluding myself all these years. I need to take a closer look. I’ll start at the beginning.
She was called Christine when we had our first date. Several years after we married, she told me she wanted to be called Christie, but I kept calling her Christine. I wasn’t consciously trying to irritate or demean her, but I didn’t call her the name she wanted to be called, a telling lack of consideration for her. Maybe she should have called me “Bud.”
Our first date was blind, a sorority party early in October of my senior year at the University of Southern California. I had a full tuition scholarship for debate. My friend on the debate team, Sharon, had arranged the date. I’d never been to a sorority party or had a blind date.
On the afternoon of the party, I had second thoughts. What if she was ugly or obnoxious? What if I wasn’t sorority girl dating material? I had always been shy, but since puberty I had been especially shy around girls and felt that I wasn’t attractive to them. I never dated much.
I decided to walk the four blocks to the sorority house. It was cool out, but I sweated through my deodorant. As I walked down 28th Street, I breathed deeply, trying to relax, but it didn’t help. I was so nervous I didn’t notice the row of soror- ity houses. I had clenched my fists so tight that my wrists hurt. I worried about not having anything in common with a sorority girl. I wasn’t ugly—average looking, I guessed—awfully skinny though. As long as I could think of things to say to her, I’d be okay, I thought. I had to date. I was marrying age, and I’d never get married if I didn’t date.
Just as I prepared for a debate, I thought it was best to prepare for a date. I had planned topics to break the ice- -what she thought of Redlands, where Sharon said Christie had gone to college the first two years; the national collegiate debate topic; what she thought of President Kennedy; where she grew up; questions about her family, such as whether she had siblings and what her father did. As I walked, I went over these topics in my mind, until I realized I had passed the so- rority house. I turned around and walked back. Like many of the others, it was one of those old wooden three-story former mansions displaying the sorority’s Greek letters, well kept, with a broad front lawn.
My knees trembled as I stood at the big oak door, hesi- tated a moment, then knocked. A girl let me in and asked whom I was there to see. “Christine,” I said. “I’m Boyd.” She told me her name, which I didn’t hear, and said she would get Christine, then bounded up the stairs. Sharon and a girl I assumed was Christine emerged on the semicircular stairway. Christie stumbled on the bottom stair, but recovered all except her dignity. Her face was still flushed as Sharon introduced us. Christie’s hair was brown, medium short, curled at the ends. It sloped down from the middle of her forehead and covered her ears. She had light olive skin. Her face was oblong. Not bad, I thought, a little skinny, but so was I. Sharon led us to the punch bowl. She chatted a little about plans for future sorority events, while I poured punch for Christie and me. Then, the moment I feared--Sharon left.
In less than a minute, Christie and I exchanged the infor- mation college students who just met invariably asked about, alternating questions and answers like a script. What year are you in? She was a junior. I was a senior. Where are you from? La Cañada. Alhambra. What’s your major? Dental hygiene. Double major—poli sci and speech.
“What’s poli sci?” she asked.
Is she kidding? I wondered. I better assume not. “Political science,” I said.
“Oh, yeah. Sorry I’m so dense,” she said with a weak smile, her shoulders hunched.
After some awkward conversation about the sorority and the university, Christie chattered on about her family. At least it kept me from having to create conversation, I thought. I relaxed a little. Her father was an architect. She had a ten- year-old sister.
“I’ve always wanted a little sister,” I said, “but I’m an only child.”
She said her family lived in La Cañada. I had never been to La Cañada, but I’d heard it was a wealthy community in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains. I imagined the mansion they lived in—three stories, a dozen bedrooms and bathrooms.
I didn’t tell Christie what my father did. He was a blue- collar worker. He wore a blue shirt with his tie. He even wore a blue shirt and tie at home. He was proud of rising from his parents’ poverty to the middle class. One summer when he painted the house, he wore slacks and a blue shirt with his maroon tie neatly tied and tucked into his shirt between buttons to keep it out of the paint.
I told Christie I had been raised in Alhambra. She said she knew where Alhambra was. It was on the wrong side of the tracks for dating an architect’s daughter. The houses in my neighborhood were small, with the neat, clean look of middle-class America. I was proud to have a date with a professional’s daughter. Beneath the pride I felt inferior, but as Christie’s awkwardness and self-consciousness surfaced, I gained confidence.
I’d better say something, I thought. I launched into the top- ics I had planned. After a while, she stifled a yawn. My shaky confidence fell.
Somebody turned up the stereo. People were dancing. A slow song played and I asked Christie to dance. We shuffled stiffly around one corner of the room, careful not to step on each other. Thank God she didn’t dance much better than I did. After a while, relief, even warmth broke through my nervousness. It felt good to hold her. She smelled faintly of hairspray and flowery perfume. I pulled her a little closer, but not so close that our bodies touched. She said she didn’t like dancing to fast songs. Neither did I. I felt like a klutz trying to dance fast.
After a few people left, I told her I had to get up early to work on my arguments for the debate team, which was true. I had to do well in debate to keep my scholarship. She walked me to the door. “Thanks for coming,” she said, as I opened the door.
“Thanks for inviting me,” I said. I thought I’d like to see her again. At least she was a girl, and we were on a date. I’m twenty-one; it’s time I had a girlfriend, I thought. I wondered if she would go out with me again. I asked for her phone number, and she gave it to me.
“Okay,” I said. “I’ll call you.” We stood in the doorway staring at each other long enough to make it awkward, until I finally reached for her, said, “Good night,” and kissed her, a peck on the lips.
I walked home thinking the evening had gone well. I was actually coming home from a date. I felt loose and a bit smug. I was glad Christie was shy and lacked self-confidence. Outgoing, confident girls scared me.