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Letter to My Ex

Steve Abramowitz

HI CHRIS, IT’S BEEN 45 years since we broke up, we’re now both age 78, and I’m winding down. I wanted to touch base and catch you up, but mostly let you know that I often think back on our 11 years as husband and wife, and how much I value the time we spent together. Sometimes, that period of my life seems far in the past, but other times it’s right on my shoulder, as I suspect it may be for you.

I still recall the day I first saw you in a psychology statistics class. You were wearing a plaid blouse and penny loafers, and your earrings were flopping around. I felt easy and in charge on our first date. You didn’t challenge what I said and agreed with my itinerary for the evening, a pattern that eventually bred mutual resentment. At the time, I often felt dragged down by your melancholy. But I now realize we shared a despair that explains much of our attraction to each other and our instant bond.

I can still remember calling you in Chicago from New York, just before setting out for Colorado to take my shot at graduate school in psychology. When you said you would endeavor to join me in graduate school, I was elated. Only age 22, I was heading out to explore young adulthood and carve out a career whose end points were obscure.

I knew no one in Boulder and fall semester hadn’t yet started. Until I made a few friends and until you were able to join me, your visits from Northwestern were what sustained me and bailed out my loneliness. I wrote my papers on that makeshift desk, with an old door as a top and bricks as legs, listening to Simon and Garfunkel, and imagining what our weekend would be like.

Eventually, the abyss between our backgrounds proved too treacherous to cross and we fell into a desperate alienation. I became exasperated with your dependency and passivity, cultivated first by your family and then by me. But I’ve since come to understand how your simple quietude let me do my own thing, making room for my prolific professional writing and frantic career-building. You were so frugal and so generous, forfeiting fancy clothes and lavish entertainment to support my investing habit.

I was relieved we could talk openly about the “Jewish thing.” We were driving to Aspen, Colorado, in the Corvette with a cassette playing Summer in the City by the Lovin’ Spoonful. I got off at a Mobil station in Silverado, California, an all-but-abandoned mining town, and turned to face you. I warned you about how your life would be affected by marrying a Jew. You needed to know what you were getting into and how you would be stained by the centuries-old stereotypes of opportunism and greed. This was virtually guaranteed when people learned my family had money.

Still, our wedding on Long Island, New York, went on as planned, with two friends and no parents. We had spited them and they returned the favor. First love is a powerful deterrent to fears of disinheritance. Your common decency would ultimately win over my parents, but you sacrificed your whole family.

After you were admitted to the psychology program at Boulder, I was insistent that you finish your dissertation and get your PhD. Remember how my father, a.k.a. Wild Bill, pushed my mother around, even though the apartment buildings they owned were actually hers? I wanted to be better than that. But as it turned out, I was not much of an improvement on my father.

Right before we separated, we bought that English Tudor home you admired. It was obvious to me by then—as it must have been to you—that our marriage didn’t have long to go. And yet, like so many troubled couples, we took a big step—homeownership—hoping it would make things better. As part of the property settlement, I figured we would exchange your cash for my half of the home equity, so that you could own your own home. Who knew the value of houses in East Sacramento would take off before the ink had even dried on the transfer of title?

I’m still humbled that you trusted me to finalize the divorce. With neither kids nor lawyers, I filled in the dots in the Nolo Press paperback on how to do your own divorce. The court proceeding took 15 minutes—about as long as our wedding ceremony. When I got back to the psychiatry building, I walked into your office, and placed the divorce papers and title to the house in the middle of your desk. Hearing how we did the divorce, your shrink was amazed and said she’d sorely underestimated the depth of our relationship.

I saw that, for many years, you and Ron headed up the child development center at a university in the Midwest. I trust helping others proved enriching for you. I also trust your second marriage has proved better than your first. I know, at least, that you haven’t been alone.

Anyway, Chris, I hope your health has held up better than mine and you’re free of anything ominous. I am hosting a cancer and a heart condition, both reputedly under control, and am feeling well for the time being. You may have heard on the academic grapevine that my life has been a rollercoaster. That once blazing research career careened into a crippling depression that lasted almost 20 years. I know I made a mess of things at the end of our relationship, and I accept that you may feel my suffering was just deserts.

The last 15 years of semi-retirement have been good to me. I have a wonderful partner and terrific kid, and the three of us are close. I roam from sessions with my few remaining patients to lunches with some of the old crowd from the med school. And I am still smitten by the stock market and have been doing some writing about personal finance. For better or worse, I’m pretty much the same quirky character, but chastened by life’s lessons, less driven and more at peace.

No pressure to write. I just had some things I wanted to tell you. I know I hurt you—really, really hurt you—and I’m sorry it came crashing down that way. I met up with a tornado and she blew me away.

Take care,

Steve

Steve Abramowitz is a psychologist in Sacramento, California. Earlier in his career, Steve was a university professor, including serving as research director for the psychiatry department at the University of California, Davis. He also ran his own investment advisory firm. Check out Steve’s earlier articles.

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