Saturday, December 22, 2012

TING AND I, Our Marriage's Early Years

From TING AND I: A Memoir...


Bedford Mews, in Bedford Hills, NY, had about a hundred one-level units, with sidewalks, a playground, a clubhouse, and a nice swimming pool. It was affordable partly because it abutted a quarry on one side and a women’s prison on the other. It was between rocks and a hard place.

We lived there from 1984 to 1986, with Phil attending nursery school and pre-kindergarten in the Mt. Kisco area. In fact, we had him take a second year of pre-K, not because he was slow, but because we wanted him to be a little older than average in his grade in elementary school rather than a little younger. We had academic achievement less in mind than the advantage of being able to handle any bullying that might result from his being “different.” There was little or none of that, it turned out, but being a half-year older than average rather than a half-year younger probably helped him socially throughout grades K-12.

Tina let me be Phil’s dad, without interference. It was obvious that I was his stepfather, not his biological father, but that made little difference, except making me extra careful not to fulfill the stereotype of a harsh stepfather. I can remember the only time I hit Phil. He was three or so, and we were walking on the sidewalk, alongside the street. He stepped onto the street, and I told him not to do that. He did it immediately again to test me, and I smacked him on the thigh and told him he had to obey me. He cried. We made up. That was that.

The next confrontation, nonphysical, would come seven years later. He had been acting up. I told him, and I meant it, that I could put up with a bit more of that, but not much more, as his mother’s health had become a problem already. If he didn’t shape up, he would be sent to Chicago to live with K and Ted. He shaped up.

We did not limit the visits or interactions with Ted and K and did not quiz Phil or Ted about what was said or done. There was much friction between K and Tina. Ted was understandably upset. Much later, at eighteen, at M.I.T., he became a very serious Christian, forgave Tina, and–I hoped–forgave me.

I do not remember much about those first few years with Phil, except that I quickly came to love him. I remember being on a business trip and seeing someone with a boy Phil’s age, and I missed my Phil sorely. He was an easy child to rear and to love, with a good brain, good looks, good attitude. At 29, he still has all of these traits.

MILLWOOD, NY, 1986–93

Bedford Mews was a half-hour’s drive from the IBM lab. Tina wanted me to be closer, to have less of a commute. She also wanted the Chappaqua school system for Phil, if possible. The condominium complex she found for us, Ledgewood Commons, in Millwood, was ten minutes from my work. The adjacent Westorchard Elementary School was one of the three feeder schools whose students would go on to Chappaqua’s esteemed Horace Greeley High School. The condo’s ten-acre site was safely away from the highway, the half-dozen buildings were duplexes that even had basements, along with a pool, a tennis court with a basketball hoop, and an adjacent nature trail. Our back porch looked out onto a lawn, backed by a forest. Phil had the facilities and the peers to play with and did swimmingly.

Tina and I would go on slow walks across the condo grounds and up the steep hill to the entrance, then back down again. She was taking baby steps. It was charming and sad, as she showed a pattern of increasing disability that was likely to lead to the picture I had forced myself to envision before I asked her to marry me: Tina stuck in bed, immobile, with tubes attached. Tragic. Prophetic. The thought of her enduring that had been terrible. To think she would have had to endure it without me had been even worse.

The picture of Tina, Phil, and me that is on my dresser today was taken at Westorchard Elementary. We are clearly happy. There had been some kind of admission testing, to determine which class he should be in, and when it was done, the lady supervising the test said to Tina, “He’s got it. He’s really got it!” Phil has proved her to be correct.

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