by Joyce Marcel
American Reporter Correspondent
January 2, 2003
MY PERFECT DIVORCE
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- Many people get a new family through marriage; I got one through a divorce.
Let me tell you about Jerry Marcel, who is just about the dearest, gentlest and most generous man I know. I met him in 1961, when we were students at Brooklyn College. He was a talented scene designer, I was doing costumes, and both of us were obsessed with theater.
We became close. I taught him to drive. I met his mother, who disliked me, his stepfather, and his young stepsister, Marilyn. When Marilyn was 15, we all met her new boyfriend, Barry mutton-chop-sideburns Hoffman.
Jerry's father, Paul Marcel, had divorced his mother a long time ago and then died young. Jerry only had a few memories of him, a picture of the two of them together, and his name.
After graduation, Jerry was offered a prestigious scholarship to Stanford University's MFA theater program. He wouldn't let me come with him unless I married him, and frankly, I was terrified of starting a career on my own in New York. Marriage was what women did in those days, so we were married in 1965.
We moved to Palo Alto, Calif., a stone's throw away from San Francisco and the Haight. I was the adventurous one and propelled us into free speech, free love, demonstrations against Vietnam, the civil rights movement, drugs, and dancing all night at the Filmore.
After Stanford we spent a year in Europe and Israel, where we met Paul Marcel's sister. She told us that in Poland the family name had been Slud (pronounced "sludt"). Paul had taken "Marcel" from the side panel of a bakery truck as he passed through Belgium on his way to America.
We were on a Greek island, I think, when Jerry got a telegram from Brooklyn College offering him a job. We spent the next three years in New York, working in Off-Off Broadway theater.
By then our marriage had been through a lot, but it couldn't survive a brutal miscarriage in the dark ages when women were told to move on with their lives and ignore the love and joy that was curdling inside of them. And it couldn't survive "The Feminine Mystique."
It was my idea to separate for a year while I "found myself." Jerry, distraught, waited for me in London. But once he was there, it didn't take him long to find Tessa, whom we had met on our travels. Soon she was pregnant, and that was that. I left the States and went on the road; I signed my divorce papers in La Paz, Bolivia.
But I didn't change my name. Marcel was a made-up name, and I figured that it could belong to me as well as to anyone else.
Jerry and Tessa eventually moved to Ohio with their two young daughters, Rima and Gerlan, and he gave up theater for a Masters in Social Work to support his family.
In 1987 I returned to the States, settled in Brattleboro and started writing. It was then that I found a picture of Jerry and me in Morocco in 1969. I saw my younger self looking up at him with such love in my eyes that I burst into tears. Until that moment, I don't think I understood how much I had loved him, or how precious was this thing, our marriage, that we had thrown away.
One thing I have learned in my travels is that if you play with love, it will soon be playing with you. As Dylan says, "It falls on strangers, travels free." It refuses to die when you demand it to, and it resurfaces when you push it underground. Jerry and I started talking again.
Years passed. Tessa died very suddenly and way too young. Jerry's mother died soon afterward. When I flew to Ohio to console him, we started talking and we couldn't stop. We talked day and night. We drove his daughters crazy with our reminiscences. We were reclaiming decades of lost personal history.
By then I was living with my great love, Randy, who didn't mind that my ex-husband was turning into one of my closest friends. Jerry visited us often, and on one trip I introduced him to Barbara, my neighbor and gardening guru. I'm not the mystical type, but I swear that when they shook hands for the first time, a light went on over their heads. Soon they were married, he took a job in Burlington and they moved north.
Last week Barbara called to remind me that Jerry was turning 60. Marilyn and Barry, now a successful lawyer, were coming up from Florida. Gerlan was flying in from fashion school in London and Rima was coming from New York. Would I come, too?
It was a wonderful party. Jerry and I are so comfortable together now that we seem to float effortlessly through time and space. I see Marilyn and Barry whenever I visit my mother in Florida. Jerry's daughters have turned into charming, open and loving young women; I delight in their company. Sometimes I wonder if they are the children Jerry and I would have had if we had stayed together.
And there we were, surrounded by love and laughter, when Jerry said, "Some people get a family by marriage, Joyce; you got this one from a divorce."
And so, my love, did you.
We live in a culture of instant gratification and, at best, serial monogamy. Couples sign prenuptial agreements and divide their possessions before they even approach the altar. Husbands and wives are as disposable as dustcloths. Families break like cheap glassware. Personal histories get lost in the wreckage.
I am grateful that somehow - and I don't know how - Jerry and I have managed to forgive each other for the pain and damage we caused, to cherish the stories of our married past, and to build, along with his loving wife and my loving husband, a present and a future together.
Joyce Marcel is a free-lance journalist who writes about culture, politics, economics and travel.