Give It Away
Part 1: Struggles-Jerry's Story
She was stormin' through the house that day,
An' I could tell she was leavin'.
An' I thought, "Aw, she'll be back."
- George Strait
We had been fighting a lot; some weeks it seemed like every day. Most of it was small stuff: she wanted a new car and I wanted a new HD plasma TV. She wanted to go to Montego Bay for vacation and I wanted to go to Durango. I wanted kids; she didn't. She wanted to go out partying all the time and I liked to kind of hang around the house—I worked hard and liked to relax on my time off.
Maybe part of it is that I was ten years older than Cindy. I'm forty-two and she's just over thirty and we had been married for ten years. I kept up with her for a while but lately I've just been so damned tired.
It's not like we didn't try to work it out. A couple of months ago we did go for two weeks of lying on the beach at South Padre Island; a compromise choice that neither of us was really happy with. It wasn't the place so much—it turned out we both loved it—it was just that we both knew it wasn't what we wanted to do. I did feel though that this would give us the time alone together to rebuild our love and our marriage.
Unfortunately the vacation turned into a kind of daily bickering war. Each of us would take pot shots at the other—cheap shots really—and while we didn't exactly fight we didn't achieve the reconciliation that I had hoped for.
And now we were back and she was storming all through the house. She seemed restless—I had the feeling she had made some kind of decision but for some reason she didn't want to tell me about it.
I was sitting in the living room in the half dark of twilight holding a beer that was already turning warm from neglect. She walked in and from her actions she apparently hadn't see me sitting there.
She looked at the picture on the wall, my favorite picture of her. It was taken during the Dinner Cruise on San Francisco bay. She was at the front of the boat leaning casually against the rail, the constant breeze on the bay streaming her long, heavy tresses of raven black hair. The background was perfectly formed: the sun was setting over the Golden Gate, the sky was on fire; the clouds saturated with color ranging from a pale, almost transparent pink at the higher levels to a deep red, almost purple closer to the water.
The picture was framed just right with the best that nature and man could provide only serving to accentuate her God-given beauty. Her hand was at her throat, resting on the pearl necklace that had been my wedding present to her. The diamond ring on her finger caught one of the few glances of sunshine remaining causing it to glow with an inner beauty.
The ring was special to me. Although I was a detective with the Johnson County Sheriff's Office, my family had been in the jewelry business in the Kansas City area for three generations. My Uncle Hiram had worked with me to design a ring. It had a one-carat aquamarine—a gem-quality of transparent beryl (similar to an emerald)—flanked by almost colorless diamonds of three-quarter carat and one-half carat. This was set on a platinum ring.
I don't know what this would have cost me—I'd guess around eight grand—but Hiram had never married and I was his only nephew so I got it for an affordable price considering my salary.
Anyway, Cindy was staring at the picture for what must have been a full minute. She was shaking her head, slowly, and I could see her shoulders slump. Then she turned abruptly, decisively away from the picture with her posture firmed. I knew at that instant our marriage was over. She was leaving me.
That picture from our honeymoon,
That night in Frisco Bay: just give it away.
- George Strait
While I was growing up in Limon in eastern Colorado everyone told me I was pretty. When I went to the University of Kansas to study architecture, they started calling me beautiful. I was never comfortable with either of these descriptions. I didn't like to be pigeon holed—to be put in someone else's mental box with them thinking they knew me. When I looked in a mirror, I just saw ... me. I was who I was.
That's not to say I didn't realize I was attractive—it's just that it wasn't important to me. I was well groomed: nice clothes always clean and neat, and I was blessed with this hair that I considered my best feature. I wore it long, hanging down over my shoulders in a flowing fountain of black with highlights of bluish-black. I wasn't tall but I wasn't short either. I didn't think much about my body; it just felt right for my height.
I liked men, and considering the little I'd had of it, I liked sex. I'd had only two brief affairs—both with other students—one in my first year at KU and one two years later, my junior year.
I met Jerry Knox at the dance after the homecoming game: a nice 23-15 win over Colorado. I was the homecoming queen and was escorted to the dance by this arrogant quarterback that thought he was God's gift to women. I danced the first dance with him but, as soon as he started making inappropriate touches, I just stopped, stared at him for a minute and walked away ... right into the arms of Jerry.
He was walking alongside the edge of the dance floor to his table with a drink in his hand. Luckily it was a vodka tonic so the small amount of the drink that splashed over my dress wasn't a disaster. He looked so chagrined that I gave him a big smile, brushed off his apologies and retired to the powder room to salvage what I could of my dress. It turned out not to be too bad but I stayed in there a few minutes to let my dress dry while I was chatting with a friend from my dorm.
When I got out Jerry was standing there looking like a lost puppy. He had two fresh drinks in his hand and I knew he was going to make a pass. Instinctively I got ready for my brush-off routine, which I had down to a science. If he told me I was pretty, I was going to kick him in the shins and spill the drinks all over him.
Instead, his face lit up in a huge grin and he told me, "You have the nicest smile I have ever seen. Will you join me for a minute so I can properly apologize?"
I looked at him closer and liked what I saw. He was a few inches taller than me with a slender build on what looked like a runner's body. I found out later he had won the conference championship in the quarter and half mile track races when he had been at KU ten years earlier. He had short brown hair with a cowlick above his right eye giving him an aura of being a fun-loving rascal. But what melted my heart, and made my breath catch with a hitch were his warm brown eyes.
All in all I got this mixed sense of a guy that was fun to be with but one that had a sense of sadness in his eyes—like looking into the eyes of a Basset hound.
I followed him back to his table—he was with two couples there for the tenth reunion that was going on concurrently with the homecoming—and wound up staying with him for the rest of the evening.
He turned out to be a surprisingly good dancer and before the evening was over I was half in love with him. He was a rookie with the Johnson County Sheriff's office driving a patrol car. He had a lot of funny stories about things that happened. What I liked about him was the sense that he was a nice guy that treated me with an easy courtesy. He didn't fawn over me telling me how pretty I was and sprout some line to try to get into my pants; although right then I'm not sure that I would have had any objection.
While resting between dances, we were talking and the quarterback came around acting like he owned me and I should get up and be honored to dance with him. I looked up and cut him with a sharp glance, "I'm sorry but I'm busy. I danced once with you and that was more than enough."
I know it was unkind, maybe even a bit cruel, but I had less than zero interest in him and more than lots of interest in Jerry. He shot me a dirty look, something that looked like, "Up yours, bitch!" and walked away. My heart did not go pitter-patter.
I had a great time—the most fun I ever remembered having on a date—and this had turned into a date as far as I was concerned. We hit it off well enough that Jerry started driving over about once a month to see me. We kept it light, doing fun things. As the weather turned warmer we would go on picnics, sometimes just a drive around in the country. We seemed very much at ease with each other and I was beginning to feel what I considered to be love.
That might have been it for us ... meeting periodically and eventually drifting away from each other but when I graduated I was offered a position as a trainee with a well-known architectural firm in Overland Park—Jerry lived in Lenexa, about five miles away. We started going out with more regularity and gradually became more intimate.
One thing did bother me some but I didn't brood on it or anything. Jerry told me about it; I didn't feel comfortable with it but I did let it go.
This is what he said:
I was on the night duty shift when my partner and I pulled a car over for driving erratically. I got out and walked over to the driver's window. Wayne, my partner, circled around the back right of the car and put his hand on his gun.
I told the driver, an older man that looked kind of seedy and twitched like he was high on something, "Put your hands on the steering wheel! Now get out slowly ... okay, put your hands on the roof, step back and spread your legs." Just then a big semi whizzed pass uncomfortably close and I turned to look at it.
I heard a rustling then I heard my partner holler, "Freeze, asshole!"
The guy had a knife in his hand but when he heard Wayne's shout he dropped it. If Wayne had been careless and had not followed protocol, the guy might have killed me.
Jerry laughed while he was telling me this but I could tell it bothered him. Many times over the next ten years I wish I had let it bother me more. It might have saved us a lot of heartache ... well, heartbreak, really.
After about four months of dating we finally were intimate. I was hesitant for some reason. I had no reason to be but something was telling me to go slow. When it happened it wasn't planned or anything, it just ... happened.
Jerry was over at my apartment—it was close to Shawnee Mission North High School—for dinner. He had brought a couple bottles of Chianti and I made lasagna and a nice tossed salad. We finished one of the bottles while we were eating and were sitting on the sofa listening to music after dinner—talking, as we were wont to do.
We finished the wine and I took the empty bottle and the empty glasses back to the kitchen. When I got back I started to sit down next to Jerry but I caught my bare foot in the throw rug and wound up sitting on his lap instead of the sofa. We quite nicely settled into a kiss that quickly turned more passionate than we'd been before that night. I was relaxed from the wine and Jerry was clearly in lust.
The next morning I woke with my head on Jerry's shoulder. He slowly woke up which woke me up. He turned and started caressing me and I noticed a deep bruise on the upper part of his right arm. I pushed him away slightly and touched it, gently really. He unexpectedly winced so I guess it was painful for him.
"Jerry, what's this? That's a pretty nasty bruise!"
He mumbled something, pulled me closer and put his hand on my stomach.
"Jerry," I said a bit sharper than I intended, "How did you get this?
He sighed and sat up, leaning back against the headboard. He clearly didn't want to tell me what had happened but I insisted.
It happened a couple of days ago. We were patrolling Shawnee Mission County Park, the area near the picnic area on the south side of Shawnee Mission Lake; Wayne was driving. There had been a lot of problems lately with small time drug sales going on and we were doing more frequent patrols.
We were driving around with our lights off and we saw a dim light coming from a car behind the restroom next to the picnic tables. We slowly approached and saw that there were two cars. We lit up and turned on the siren. A guy was standing by one of the cars and froze, looking bewildered. The other car—its engine must have still been running—took off across the grass.
He went south on Barkley Drive onto the South Park Entrance Road. When he turned right onto West 87th Street Parkway we were about a hundred yards behind. Wayne took the corner too fast and we spun out. Our patrol car started sliding in front of an oncoming car but Wayne wrenched it back to the right and we slid off the road and hit a tree.
It was nothing really. I went in for x-rays but it was only a deep bruise.
But it seemed like something to me. I lay there thinking about all the things that could have happened and realized for the first time that Jerry's job was dangerous. Oh, I knew intellectually that it was but I'd never had the visceral feeling of fear I felt now. What would it be like to marry Jerry, have a couple of kids, and then have him die on me? I felt a clammy, cold chill grip me and went in to take a hot shower.
The next night while Jerry was working I realized I had to come to terms with my fears. I knew I loved Jerry like crazy ... and I always would. I knew from when I first started thinking about marriage that I was a one-man woman. Jerry would never have to worry about me cheating on him.
But could I deal with my fear of Jerry being hurt on the job? Maybe I was being irrational? Finally I decided I didn't have any choice—I had to push my fears away; I had to conquer them. Easier said than done, but I had to try.
I guess I did get over it but looking back years later I realized I should have talked to Jerry more about it. He loved his job so much that I knew he would be unhappy doing anything else. He loved me, I had no doubts about that, but I had to wonder whether he would choose his job or me if he had to pick. Maybe I was afraid of the answer.
We did get married about six months after that. I wanted to go home to Limon for the wedding but Jerry insisted we have it at the church we went to.
"Cindy, all of our friends are here. All the people we both work with."
Again, I should have pressed harder on this. I agreed but I did feel some resentment about it.
The honeymoon though was special. San Francisco must be the most romantic place in the world for a young couple in love and lust. Neither of us had been there before. My dad got us a suite at the Mark Hopkins on Nob Hill. It was such a lovely place and when we weren't in bed we were sightseeing, our camera recording the beautiful places we visited.
I think the highlight for both of us was an evening dinner cruise on the bay. The sun was setting and the glow in my lovely ring took on a new life, energized by the dying ball of flame slowly sinking into the ocean.
After we turned around at the mouth of the bay, we were facing that beautiful bridge; the lower part was in shadow, an inky darkness, and the twin towers stood proudly with their golden-red majesty. The bells on the buoys anchored near the rocky shoals sounded their sad, lonely warning—steadfastly ignorant of the lack of fog, soldiering on, their lonely clamor pricking some part of my heart with a cautious warning.
I shook off the feeling and we went in to dinner. Jerry wanted a bottle of Zinfandel for dinner but I, feeling a bout of contrariness, insisted on a bottle of Chardonnay that we had tasted during a visit to Bouchaine Vineyards. We had shared a bottle during a lunch at their charming picnic area.
As we argued about it Jerry noticed the wine steward smirking at us, so he told him, "Fine. We'll have the Chard."
I wasn't happy I got the wine I wanted—it really wasn't all that important to me. For some reason I felt that I needed to keep my independence. The emotion I had was that tugging sense of loneliness that fills the heart on hearing the mournful cry of a train faintly heard in the quiet middle of the night. Later I did my best to make it up to Jerry. He did have a smile on his face when I gently woke him the next morning.
Our honeymoon turned out to be a good predictor of what our marriage was to be. There were periods of intense passion, of an almost regal happiness, interspersed by an increasing level of bickering ... a stupid stubbornness gradually drawing a line between the two of us.
About a year after we got married we moved into a large new home near where I worked in Overland Park. It was bigger than we needed but Jerry insisted we have room for a couple of kids.
It took me a couple of years to understand that what was between us—what was causing the problems—was Jerry's job. Every once in a while—not often but too regularly—there was something that could have turned out very badly for Jerry. He wasn't ever really harmed ... but it seemed he was always in harm's way.
It started bothering me more and more. I hated the fights we were always having and in some small ways I could feel my for him love fading. I loved Jerry very much; there was never anyone else or even the thought of someone else for me. I'd come to realize I'd made a big mistake in not having it out with him before we got married.
Now Jerry was too entrenched in his job. He loved his work, it was meaningful to him, and he cared about the people he worked with. Sure, I thought about various scenarios. But I knew from living with Jerry that giving up his job wasn't one of them. And I just couldn't live with my fear of him getting killed.
The vacation in Texas was the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back for me. First came the wrangling. I really wanted to go to Jamaica. One of the secretaries at work had gone and had tons of fun. She brought in this photo album that was just gorgeous. She had stayed at the Sandals Whitehouse European Village & Spa and loved it. It was a bit pricy but we had a lot of money saved. What was the money for if not for our happiness and maybe to bring us back closer together?
Jerry had started writing short stories as a way of relieving the stress of his job and was working on a novella about Mesa Verde. He had done a lot of research and made tons of notes but he had never been there. He wanted to take a bunch of pictures and see first-hand what the area was like.
We both thought the other was selfish and we eventually compromised on vacationing on South Padre Island, south of Corpus Christi. I felt we had compromised our marriage.
Oh, it was fun. It was a beautiful place and a great place for long moonlight walks on the beach (one of which ended with some passionate sex at the edge of the gentle, warm waves). We had been drifting apart and we did come a bit closer. Our love life had been getting a bit stale and we sure resurrected that!
Jerry had been almost badgering me to have kids. When we first were married I did too—I guess I always wanted kids—but with what was happening to us, to me really, I just couldn't take that step; make that commitment. I had this scene that would flicker through my mind like a You Tube video of standing in the rain at the side of a grave, holding a little girl and a younger boy, the three of us racked with sobs as they laid Jerry's body down for a final rest.
We were lying on the beach when Jerry brought it up for what was to be the last time. I looked at him for a minute, shook my head slightly—like saying, "Don't go there!"—and I walked out to the water to swim ... for a long time.
But there was this melancholy sadness overlaying it all for me. I kept thinking about a book I had read by Amelia Barr, "All the Days of My Life". A line from it has always found a place in my memories; a tidbit I could bring out on a bad day—and I was having too many of those. In the book was this line that became such a part of me:
"All changes are more or less tinged with melancholy, for what we are leaving behind is part of ourselves."
And that was really it in a nutshell. While the vacation turned out nicer than either of us expected, nothing really changed. Without fully realizing it, I had started disengaging from Jerry, from our marriage, even from our love. I would always love him but with a love wounded by melancholy. He would always be a part of me ... I would always be a part of him. But those parts would not be together anymore.
Usually if you talk to someone that had lived through something like this, they can never pinpoint the time it actually ended ... the one instant in time where thoughts, feeling, attitudes and all those things that together constitute a loving couple—those things that coalesce into a new direction, a new life that would forever make things different.
I didn't see Jerry around anywhere—I was hesitantly going from room to room: touching this memento, smiling at that keepsake, looking around the beautiful house we had made into a home together; becoming one for all time with the memories scattered around each room like faded, withered petals falling at last when the roses changed from beauty to sadness.
I wound up in the living room, facing that wall with only the one picture on it. Jerry had that picture enlarged and put in the perfect frame to exactly capture the essence of me in full bold color. The hand at my throat was perfectly placed to catch that one last ray of sunshine on that ring that had meant so much to me.
I stood there for the longest time—the photo evoking this fun recollection, that awful fight, this good time, the now too often occurring bad times—and something broke in me. I couldn't do this anymore. My body slumped; I felt defeated. Almost overwhelmed with a sudden, almost unconscious decision, I stood proudly and walked slowly away from that image of another girl, a long ago love of Jerry's. Walking slowly I twisted that ring off my finger and put it in my pocket.
As I reached the doorway into the hall, I heard a noise behind me—almost a groan. I froze, and then slowly turned round. Jerry was slowly rising from the sofa. I hadn't seen him in the murky darkness of the room.
"Cindy," he started with a hurt in his voice that broke my heart to hear. He half-waved his hand at the photo and continued, "Cindy, what happened to that girl? What happened to our love? Look at that photo. Doesn't all that this represents mean anything to you?"
I knew I had to end it—there was no easy way.
"Jerry," I started in a flat toneless voice, not loud but with a firmness that couldn't be denied, "That picture on the wall? That picture of our honeymoon, of that night on Frisco Bay, just give it away! Jerry, just ... I don't care anymore, I won't let myself care. Just get rid of it; just give the damn thing away."
"But, Cindy? I love you. Honey, we can work it out. C'mon. I know you love me."
My head felt like it was exploding! Maybe I was a little crazy; maybe I'd always been crazy. I felt something break inside and I knew I had to get away. I ran for the front door, hesitating, hearing Jerry call out to me.
As he stood there in shock I pulled the ring out of my pocket, and with a gesture of finality I threw the ring at him.
"Jerry, that ring ... that ... dammit, Jerry, just throw it away too!" and I ran out of his life with tears streaming down my face.
When that front door swung wide open,
She flung her diamond ring:
Said: "Give it away."
- George Strait
A part of me died as I leaned over to pick up that—to me at least—precious ring as the house echoed with the sounds and vibrations of the slamming door. I knew that for the rest of my life, whenever I heard a door slam, I would feel the pain and sadness with that memory of our door closing on our marriage, slamming shut on my love.
The next day, Sunday, I sat around drinking but I wasn't really into it. I knew that was a self-destructive approach and would only make things worse. Still, I gave it a good shot—or lots of shots as it turned out, but Monday night when I went to work I was as sober as I could be. I hadn't heard anything from Cindy—I didn't know where she went or what she was going to do. I could have called in sick but I couldn't stand the thought of being in that empty house alone. I knew this would only last a few days before she came back home.
When I got back to the house, I saw she had taken most of her clothes and her stuff from the bathroom. I didn't see anything else missing, no photos, none of the memories lying around the house, nothing.
A couple of weeks later she wrote me a letter explaining the fear she had lived with for so long.
... Jerry, I always loved you, I still do and in some ways I probably always will. I know I hurt you and it tears me up. But, Jerry, I can't live with you. I can't face that fear of a phone call in the middle of the night ... that fear of you somehow dying and leaving me alone.
I'm sorry I never talked to you about this. This is a burden I'll carry to my grave. I was wrong—but it happened. My fear ate at our marriage like a cancer. Some nights, lying in that big four-poster king-size bed, I would stare at the nothingness of the darkness—awake until sleep would steal over me like a thief in the night.
My dreams were restless; many nights I didn't get enough sleep. That led to my taking it out on you and you hitting back at me.
Jerry, try not to hate me ... but try not to love me either.
I wrestled with my demons for a couple of weeks and finally wrote her back.
I thought about all that you said and I halfway convinced myself that I could chang; that I could do something other than police work. But with a heavy heart I finally accepted that you understood the truth of things. I am what I am. I always wanted to be a policeman, to be in law enforcement. I can accept that's who I am and that I could never willingly give it up. I can also accept that you can't live with it.
I wish you had talked with me at some time over the years but I don't expect it would have changed anything. If we had separated earlier—or never gotten married—there might have been less pain ... but there would have been fewer cherished memories. I'd rather live with the worst of our time and love with you but I accept that you can't. I hate what's happened but I don't hate you.
I guess you want a divorce. I won't fight it. Get a lawyer and let me know what you want. I'll do anything I can and give you whatever you want.
With love and a sad goodbye,
THE END OF A MARRIAGE—JERRY
So I'm still right here where she left me,
Along with all the other things,
She don't care about anymore.
- George Strait
A couple of weeks later I got a letter proposing the terms of the divorce settlement. I read the letter ... and read it again. I had wanted to make sure I understood everything she was asking of me—I really did want to do the right thing. But the thing was, well, there weren't any terms! She was just asking for dissolution of the marriage—and nothing else. I was sure I must be misunderstanding something.
The next morning I called her lawyer to make sure I understood correctly. I did.
Thinking about it quickly I told him to go ahead and prepare the documents and I would sign them. I just wanted a private meeting with her in his office.
A week later I walked into the lawyer's office. Per Cindy's request I had to sign the papers before I met with her. That seemed harsh to me but I wanted to talk to her, to find out why she didn't want anything of ours.
Alone in the room with her she seemed restless—and had more than a hint of sorrowful memories shining wetly in her eyes.
"Cindy, I just want to understand..." I choked a bit and took a long drink from the glass of water on the table.
"Cindy, don't you want any of the stuff?"
She shook her head, marginally, staring at the table.
"But, I don't understand! The furniture? None of it? Not the dining room or living room furniture you wanted so badly? Not that big four-poster king-size bed I know you loved so much, that bed we shared so much of our love on? None of our pictures, our mementos of our years together?
"Cindy, you must want something?"
She looked up at me, the tear tracks sliding slowly down her cheeks telling me something ... what?
"Jerry, oh, Jerry. There is nothing in that house worth fighting for. I'm tired of fighting—we're tired of fighting. Just keep it, Jerry. Keep the bed, the rest of the furniture, the whole house, damn it. Jerry just ... keep it all.
"And, Jerry, if you don't want it—just give it away.
So I'm alone now, alone in this house we had shared and loved. I'm right here where she left me. I'm in this no longer a home with all the things she doesn't care about anymore: that picture from San Francisco Bay; the big bed where we had shared our love so many times; all the shared accumulation of things denoting our time of love together.
I tried to move on—I dated several women, went to bed with one of them, but it didn't work. There would be something, a word, a gesture, a touch and Cindy would be with me again—her memory not leaving space in my heart for another.
I heard nothing of her dating—as far as I know there was never another man in her life. It was just ... fate that had pulled us apart.
Now I'm alone in this large house with a forever kind of love and no one to share it with.
That love, like everything else, she had told me to, " ... just give it away."
Well, I found I couldn't do what she wanted. I've got a nice house with a lot of furniture ... and this big king sized bed. I've got the lovely ring that Hiram made for me—and I have a broken heart, a lonely heart, a heart full of love ... and I can't even give it away.