TELEPHONE CALL

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The man to whom I was married for twenty-six years telephoned the other day. This is not a common occurrence; I hear from him only rarely. He told me his older brother, aged 93, had just died. He wanted me to hear first, he said, because I had known the brother longer than anyone still alive.

The brother’s wife, 87 or 88 herself, had called to tell him. The brother and his wife were childless, but she was Dutch and had a daughter by a previous marriage living in Holland; they had moved there two or three years ago to be near this daughter in their extreme old age.

My former husband said he knew it might be coming. His brother had been failing since early June and his sister-in-law had been keeping him posted. It was an infection of the kidneys that didn’t respond to antibiotics and couldn’t be scanned because of a prior hip replacement. The brother died at home, “full of tubes,” after several days of extreme stress. Per their prior agreement in America, his wife finally authorized termination of life support.

The brothers had shared a bedroom all the time they were growing up. Even as adults, the younger looked up to and admired the older one. But after the older brother married forty-six years ago, there was some alienation I won’t go into that didn’t resolve until relatively late in life. Only more recently, as they became the remaining two of their generation of a large family left alive, did they seem to have overlooked their differences, and began to stay in touch regularly.

The voice on the telephone was audibly shaky. “It’s so final,” I heard. I had come to dislike the older brother; he had treated us shabbily and then completely turned his back on us when we were going through hard times. But I was sorry all the same, and said so. Certainly sorry for my former husband’s loss, and also sorry to hear of anyone’s death.

Later, however, what struck me most about this relatively short telephone conversation was something else. Apparently when she called with the final news, the sister-in-law was so overcome she could hardly speak. “I hadn’t realized they were so close,” said the man I lived with so long about two very old people who had been together forty-six years. He said it three times before we hung up.

I’m not sure whether he may have not been somewhat envious of their feelings for one another. I am sure his inability to realize people married nearly half a century would feel so close to one another explains yet again, more than anything else that happened to us while we were a couple — why we no longer are.

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23 thoughts on “TELEPHONE CALL

  1. It is strange how sometimes a brief conversation can be so illuminating. I am glad you had this phone call from your long-ago ex and that his comment so clearly verified to you why your marriage didn’t work. Closure as we age is a good thing – no matter how oddly it comes to us.

    Liked by 5 people

    • Thanks for the comment, Christine. It wasn’t exactly a light bulb moment, though. I may not have expressed myself clearly in the post. As I said to Isabelle, I understood what was absent from that marriage well before leaving, and certainly reached closure about its end many years ago. The recent phone call was simply an unexpected confirmation, from another angle, of what I already knew.

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  2. Yes, illuminating, but having been married for twenty six years must have had something going for it! I wonder what your ex husband would have said about your assertion about his apparent inability to comprehend the basics of a relationship. Would he deny that?
    I must make a disclaimer here. I have only been in the one and only marriage but do know about losing close family, very close family.

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  3. Don’t poke, Gerard. If I respond to your speculations, they’ll blow up in your face. Which is partly why this is the marriage I don’t write about. However, a very short answer would be that the children were what it had going for it, and I had to stay till they were grown and gone.

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    • Sorry,
      I just thought that he (ex-husband) phoned you up to share the loss of his brother with you. He did phone you up! Perhaps share his grief, his feelings? You said this was a rare occurrence. You told us that the ex did not understand that half a century of living together must have ‘something’ going for it. One of perhaps many other reasons of why your marriage did not last was his incomprehension or understanding of such a basic value or truth.

      But…, but.. you lived together for 27 years! A quarter of a century. Yet, when I pointed out in a summation or ‘speculation’ by me, (a complete stranger), that it might also have had something going for it, you replied that ‘poking’ might result a ‘blowing up in my face.’

      Yes, I do accept that children growing up is for many a solid reason to stay together. In any case I do enjoy your writing.

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      • Gerard, use your head. We are not having a private chat over a cup of coffee. The entire English-speaking world can see what appears here. The blog shows up in Google searches; it’s on my Twitter feed. My former husband, both our children, all four of our grandchildren (old enough to read) can see it. How can I possibly respond to your inquisitive comment by exposing on TGOB all the emotionally explosive — but personal — details of that marriage which destroyed it? Yes, he called to “share” his loss, probably because there’s now no one else left besides me and our children to tell; he certainly wasn’t “sharing” anything in the prior twenty-six years since the divorce was final.

        By the way, although the legal life of the marriage was also twenty-six years, I left it the day after driving our eighteen-year-old younger son away to college. (His father couldn’t be bothered to come; he preferred to stay home and watch television.) That was twenty-two years under the same roof, not twenty-seven. No one leaves a marriage easily, not even a painful one. If I hadn’t left then, I felt I might have preferred to die.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Then why bring the subject up in the first place? You can’t expect total non questioning acceptance and admiring adulations without also sometimes getting responses that question the veracity of the assertions that you are making.
        I love your writing.

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      • Read again, Gerard. The post was about a phone call in my present life, not a marriage in my past. I was not in a divorce court and made no “assertions” the veracity of which required questioning, other than about my own feelings. Nor do I expect admiring adulation. I have a very small active readership — perhaps seven who comment regularly, four or five more who silently “like” — and not exactly a mind-blowing following, either. I probably write because it’s what I’ve always done, and I feel incomplete if too long goes by without writing. It may be a case of I don’t know what I think till I see what I write. Anyway, thank you for reading.

        Liked by 1 person

    • I now believe my former husband thought of getting married as a kind of business partnership plus sex — the “business” being the begetting and raising of children — and that the partners, whether happy or not, later stay in it out of domestic habit all the way to the grave. The only times I saw him really stirred by great emotion (other than desire) was at his mother’s grave and when he couldn’t find a job and felt he was a business failure. I’m pretty sure the death of his brother has been another such time, but I wasn’t at the other end of the telephone and couldn’t see his face or whether he had cried.

      Liked by 3 people

      • I’ve seen that very late emotional development in many of the men in my extended family. They age, soften, and wonder why it is so hard for family to warm up to the new “them”. Too little, too late. They needed to show that emotion, even cry, at a much earlier time. You were very wise, Nina, to not fall into that pre-defined trap. 💕

        Liked by 2 people

      • Who doesn’t pity the ageing men? That is if they are still around. You sometimes see them shuffling around super markets. The wives fully alert but husband in tow now, looking bewildered, often lost in the dairy division. The wife, very resolute, packing the trolley which he is allowed to push along.

        I seemed to have made a mistake to feel for the ex husband sharing his loss of an elder brother to his former wife and mother of his children. ‘The brothers shared a bedroom for a long time’. He had a failed marriage to look back on, could not find a job during his marriage and seemed to have been a pretty lousy father and husband. I thought of giving him a bit of a hearing if not some sympathy as well. No male so far has responded in Nina’s tale.

        A few days ago in the Aldi supermarket I was studying a smoked sausage (rookworst). My wife was looking for me and it was noticed by another female shopper, “Oh, forget about him”, she shouted, followed by the astonishing , “I chucked out three of them”. We both thought it hilarious.

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    • Thank you for your comment. Let me remind you the loss was his, not mine. And, as I explained in a reply to a prior comment, I had reached closure about this marriage long, long before. The call simply confirmed for me once again that I had done the right thing by leaving.

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  4. I found this post most interesting Nina, not to mention some of the comments too! It was good that your former husband was able to share his loss. We are fragile beings on this planet of ours, and it is always good when positive interaction happens. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    • Fragile is the right word, Barbara. As for interaction….. Well, it was mostly him doing the talking. All I did was listen and make some soothing sounds. But maybe under such circumstances, that’s enough.

      Liked by 1 person

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