This is Chapter 15 of my memoir: “The Imperfect Logic of the Heart.” The book is available on Amazon. I am reprinting it here chapter by chapter. Just a few more to go.
Tamma and I had not been living together for several months when the Delray apartment lease expired. The management of the apartment complex had been trying to reach me. There was now a large dent in our attached garage and they wanted to confirm that I was the culprit and inquire about my insurance. Tamma of course professed ignorance although there did appear to be a new dent in her BMW. Since the management was unaware of her existence, these discussions became even more awkward. As far as they were concerned the BMW was my car, my responsibility. Fortunately insurance would cover the damage.
The move out date was not a surprise to Tamma. We had discussed it at length as well as her future plans for living separately in her own place. She wanted to live on the beach in a furnished place. She had her heart set on a converted motel in Pompano Beach. I thought the place was a dump but it seemed to excite her. It shared its part of the beach with another hotel a few steps away that had a restaurant and a bar. She loved the idea of not having to drive anywhere to eat or have a drink. She would have all she needed. The sand and waves were extra.
I can’t say that Tamma was preparing for her end because she seemed to continue her life with no noticeable change in routine. She still saw Bob and continued to drink too much. She packed up the things she wanted to keep and I helped her move to Pompano. Since she had been on her best behavior during the move I suggested we have dinner in Delray at her favorite restaurant, a wonderful Italian place on the beach. The food was great, I could get a properly prepared Caesar salad and they had a classical guitar artist who created a wonderful relaxed mood.
When we tried to walk in the door, I was stopped and told I was not welcome. They were refusing us service. I was furious. They wouldn’t say why they just said you’re not welcome here.
“We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone.”
I’m a lawyer and understand the concept of “that depends.” All facts are relevant. I grabbed the cop who was always on the street because of the Saturday crowds and asked him to help me find out why they were not letting me in a restaurant I regularly frequented.
The answer was that they had thrown Tamma and Bob out of the restaurant a few weeks before for drunken behavior. Bob had been particularly combative. When the doorman saw Tamma he assumed I was Bob even though I look nothing like Bob and in fact he had never seen Bob. He just knew not to let that woman in, Tamma. What particularly annoyed me was that I was a regular patron and even knew the owner and his dad who lived in an apartment above the restaurant.
A few days later I went back for lunch, and sat at the bar with the owner and described the incident. He was very apologetic but told me the horror stories of trying to operate a fine restaurant in a beach area. The place was successful but he confessed he wished he was back in New York. He offered to buy me dinner but I said that wasn’t necessary. The episode just reaffirmed that I had to distance myself from Tamma if she was not going to get help and I hoped to survive.
Tamma’s body was changing from the alcohol damage. Her eyes had the yellow tint of jaundice and her waist was expanding as she retained fluid. Her mind was being altered. In lucid moments she would leave me notes like the ones above that ripped my heart apart. I felt completely helpless for the first time in my life. There were other notes and remarks that are too difficult to repeat or post.
Once at the beach in her modified hotel room she seemed happy and fell into a routine. What she learned shortly after the move was that the motel was being torn down to make way for something bigger and better. Tamma was “month to month” and would have to move again in four more months. I was paying Tamma’s rent myself even after she had agreed to a marriage dissolution and I had given her a very generous settlement. I personally paid because Tamma would forget. Or more likely she used the money I gave her each month for drugs. The landlord was running a scam since the building was no longer licensed as a hotel and technically couldn’t have guests. The good news was that he would never complain about Tamma or allow the police to visit.
Before Tamma moved she was once again rushed to the hospital. I was keeping her on my insurance so when she was admitted I got a call. At the time I was at least a half hour away but I raced to the hospital as quickly as possible. By now I ignored hospital rules and walked right into the room where she was being treated. They were attempting to put an IV in her arm. Apparently she was filling the toilet bowl with blood before she arrived. It was not a hemorrhoid.
There seemed to be a bit of a frenzy in the hospital room. The resident and nurse were attempting to insert an IV in Tamma without much success. When I busted into the room Tamma had a smile for me and then told the intern in her command voice. “Put the IV in a vein near my groin.” The resident was surprised but actually agreed and the nurse did as instructed. We were in a different hospital than before and the doctor was unknown to us. He was very gentle with Tamma and suggested she get on a liver transplant list. This was not the first time it was suggested and rejected by Tamma. After I left, a few hours later I was again contacted by the hospital because Tamma was asking to be discharged against medical advice. This was crazy and could also jeopardize the insurance reimbursement, but I was helpless to object and now legally divorced. She had a catheter inserted which she threatened to remove herself. After Tamma signed some papers they removed it and she was gone against medical advice. Apparently she took a cab home.
Sometime after this last event, I traveled to Cleveland for a family crisis that involved the court system and my youngest son. This trip was not a vacation, although it was wonderful to reconnect with some of my lifelong friends and of course say hello to Betsy. She asked me if I was going to my high school reunion. I had been unaware that it was being held Saturday night at a country club I belonged to years ago. It was a two night affair. The first night was at a hotel.
Unless you are starting to read this page before any of the others you know that high school was not my best experience. I had only gone to one other high school reunion and was always shocked at how many people were present who didn’t look familiar. Since Betsy was in the class one year behind mine and was the star cheerleader, she knew many people in my class and wanted to go. Although she skipped Saturday night she joined me Friday.
One of my friends remarked a few years ago that he was always disappointed with reunions because the people he hoped to see didn’t show up. Inevitably someone he wasn’t interested in seeing would not only show up but grab him and never let go the entire evening. That had not been my experience, although I always did manage to find someone who couldn’t wait to tell me all about their exciting life and achievements without thinking to ask a single question about mine.
Friday night I was having a good time and noticed a particularly attractive woman who I didn’t remember from high school. I asked a friend who she was and the name Barbara connected, but she looked nothing like the girl I remembered who had an hourglass figure and was one of the few girls in our class who was a National Merit Scholar. I never spoke to her Friday night.
At the reunion on Saturday I saw her again and now after a few glasses of wine approached her, told her how beautiful I thought she was, and discovered she was in town to visit her mom. Barbara lived in California. I guess we were mutually attracted since we left together that night with promises to reunite.
In the next few months Barbara and I shuttled between West Palm Beach and Mountain View getting to know each other better. It had been so long since I had been physically intimate with a woman that I was discovering pleasures long since abandoned. The frequency of our calls and emails were becoming overwhelming and the three hour time difference made these personal exchanges a challenge.
Although we were no longer together Tamma was not happy with my travels. To avoid confrontation I told her I was in Belize but my phone rang constantly and with each call and lie, I became more depressed. I was lying to Tamma but also was not comfortable when I felt compelled to return her calls when I was with Barbara. Eventually Tamma somehow discovered the truth of my actual location and started calling Barbara and leaving disturbing messages. I told Barbara not to listen, but of course she digested every word and no doubt wondered how much of the rants was true.
And then the rants stopped. Tamma moved again after the forced closing of her beach hotel to a condo in Pompano Beach that seemed to suit her, mainly because Bob was now spending more time with her. I was happy for her although I knew this would probably mean even more physically destructive behavior. And in fact once again I received a call from Tamma’s new landlord asking for help.
The condo was on the second floor of a building that looked like a motel except the rooms were much larger. All the rooms had a screened in back porch. Tamma’s unit had two bicycles on the porch that apparently belonged to other condo owners. It appears Bob had “borrowed” them without bothering to return them and since they were clearly visible to anyone who looked at the porch from ground level, the owners wanted them back. Immediately. The landlord had not been able to reach Tamma and so contacted me since apparently Tamma had listed my name on her rental agreement. I agreed to meet the landlord although I told her Tamma and I were no longer married.
When I met the landlord at the condo I discovered a very nice Hispanic woman who was very distraught. I told her not to worry I would take the bikes out and return them to their owners.
“No that’s not it. Come with me.”
She directed me to the bathroom which looked like a murder scene. There was dried blood all over the floor. I had seen this before and called Tamma to find out if she was okay. I reached her on her cell phone.
“I’m alright and being discharged today. They kept me two nights but I’ll be back this afternoon.”
I didn’t bother to discuss the bikes and told her to call me later.
Before I hung up, I asked her about Bob.
“Is he living with you now?”
“Don’t be silly. Bob is in jail. One too many DUI’s.”
I did my best to assure the landlord that the mess would be cleaned up. I blamed the bikes on a friend who was staying with her for a few days but was now gone to another state and she should not worry again. If there was a new problem contact me.
The following weekend, I walked the beach in Fort Lauderdale and had a long conversation with Barbara. This had become our routine while we struggled with trying to maintain a long distance relationship. After my walk I went to my favorite breakfast spot in Fort Lauderdale called The Floridian. They were a 24/7 restaurant that entertained some of the most colorful Fort Lauderdale residents. While I soaked up the remains of my eggs benedict, I remembered that they offered a great Thanksgiving prepared dinner that you could get to go. I thought about how I was going to manage to feed my mother and make sure Tamma didn’t have to eat alone. The Floridian would be my solution.
Unfortunately the issue solved itself. Around 11am November 20, 2007, Bob called me in a panic. He said to come to Tamma’s condo immediately, the police were there. Tamma is dead. His story was he had been released from jail, banged on the condo door, and when there was no response, broke the bathroom window and crawled through. He found Tamma on the side of the bed, blood on the floor and not responsive. He called 911 and the first responders confirmed that she was deceased. When they saw the broken window and Bob admitted he did not live there the police arrived. Bob called me to save himself from police interrogation about a possible murder.
During the 20 minute ride to the condo, Tamma’s death did not register. My mind was blank. I arrived at the condo without awareness of the transit. It only took a few minutes to explain to the police my relationship to Tamma, her history and to confirm that although Bob was a drunk he was not a killer. They let Bob go. When I asked to see Tamma, they refused since I was no longer legally married to her and I was gently told to leave.
I stood in the parking lot with my eyes directed to the condo’s door. I stood there over two hours, while I called the landlord and arranged for her to meet me and waited for the coroner to arrive. I watched while they rolled a cart out with a covered body of a 47 year old, bi-polar, possibly schizophrenic young woman who had been my wife and companion for over 20 years. The tears were a river building, and cresting towards a powerful dam, restraining their advance. A dam fortified from denial, acceptance and helplessness. Experiencing the death of someone you love was not new to me. Watching over a period of years someone you love killing herself in slow motion was unique. Could I have saved her?
When I finally cleared out the condo, I saw that Bob had rifled through her stuff, looking to grab whatever he could of value. Her wallet and purse were missing. I did find some of her costume jewelry hidden in her shoes. I threw all of her clothes into boxes, packed them as best I could to Fed Ex them to her sister, and then made arrangements for her cremation and ashes to be returned to a funeral home in Pompano Beach. When I took the boxes to FedEx, I was one of the first early morning customers. The woman behind the counter asked me to place the first box on the scale. As I struggled with the box, it began to fall apart. And I fell apart with the box. I struggled to hold back the tears. As I write this I am struggling once again to restrain them. The woman behind the counter without further comment started to prepare new boxes and began to repack all the contents. Over six boxes altogether. When I was able to control myself I explained to her the circumstances. She looked about Tamma’s size and so I asked her if she wanted any of the many pair of jeans. She actually accepted some.
So moved by her kindness, a few weeks later I wrote FedEx about my experience in the hope that they would better appreciate one of their employees. They actually forwarded to me a copy of the letter they sent her applauding her kindness.
A few weeks later the ashes arrived. And not yet being able to verbalize my despair, I wrote about it.
It was a paper box that could have held a new router or portable clock radio. There was a wall of these boxes all the same size, as if one size fits all: a sumo wrestler or ballerina. On the cover of his box was an envelope addressed to the Memorial Company (Levitt-Weinstein) and the Certificate of Cremation for Tamma, done up like a prize. Inside the envelope another card Permit No. 422 signed by the Crematory.
He didn’t want to open the box and didn’t want to deal with the contents until he had thought it through, but then it was Tamma and he could imagine her saying: “What the hell is your problem?…Do this now! I’m not staying on the floor in your shitty filthy car. Put me in the ocean.”
So he thought about where. Was there a boardwalk so the ashes wouldn’t blow back on the beach? Did it matter? Were there rules about this stuff? Should he wait until it was dark? Say a special prayer?
He ended up on the beach in Delray by a restaurant called Luna Rosa because she loved to go there and they had spent most of their Florida time in Delray. It was raining now and so he just grabbed the box and dashed to the water and sat down on the sand and opened the box. He pulled out the clear, heavy plastic bag and dropped it in the sand between his legs.
The stuff inside (Tamma stuff) looked just like the sand but not as fine. It didn’t look like ashes.
And then there was this plastic brad holding the bag together that clearly required a tool to safely remove. He could imagine a frustrated mourner just heaving the bag directly in the water or tearing the bag and having the ashes blow everywhere. So he worked the tab up the bag using his fingers like a needle nose pliers and somehow got it off.
He put his hand in the bag and let the ashes fall through his fingers. Inside the bag was a metal coin stamped ABCO Crematory 30336. With the bag open he walked into the ocean up to about his waist. He forgot that his wallet was still in his jeans. He let the ashes fall into a kind of milky cover, like creamer in your coffee.
He was alone with her.
She was not drunk.
No rabbi, no body in a box, no family.
Only one mourner.
There were other mourners in Cleveland, but I did not attend. Where were these people when I needed them? I did not feel they deserved to share my grief, and I was sure I would receive no comfort from them. My most immediate relief actually came from a Coldplay lyric: “Those who are dead are not dead, they’re just living in my head.” I was in the process of trying to rebuild Tamma to her former self, the girl I loved and the girl I married. My visits to my mother and attempt to build my relationship with Barbara slowed the process. I had not come to peace with my guilt and constant “what if” refrain. Could I have found more help for her, been more forceful? Why was she so resistant to help? I tried to find some relief again with words. So I wrote:
The waves and the beach were at war,
The wind watching in anticipation,
For she was there uninvited
Running naked and fearless on the sand:
A rude uninvited party guest.
He watched and then screamed:
“What do you think you’re doing?”
The wind echoed: “Get out of here!”
Laughing, she dived headlong
Into the massive wave
that swallowed her
Like an angered great white
As it spit her to the surface
To be readied for the final
Massive salty bite.
The Onlooker locked her eyes
And her wink.
Did she not care because her mental condition and the noise in her brain made her life unlivable? I wished I could have asked God but that bit of succor was not available to me. I am not an atheist and probably not an agnostic. I am forever hopeful there is a compassionate loving force in the universe and maybe even a collective consciousness. But no one I’ve loved who has died has ever come back to visit, even in a dream. I’m waiting for Tamma to appear.
I visited for the first time in my life a psychologist who I called “my wise old man” because there was no bullshit about him. I was feeling guilty about meeting Barbara before Tamma had died. He had no great words of wisdom but began to remind me that I was human. Probably a difficult thing to grasp for someone who has been in codependent relationships most of his life.
During one of my more extended visits to Barbara I visited a psychologist in California, who said that it would take a long time to deal with my codependency, but maybe he had an answer to my post dramatic stress disorder. I had never thought of it that way before. He insisted that what I had endured with Tamma was comparable to battle fatigue. He suggested a new form of “light therapy.” He called it EMDR or eye movement desensitization and reprocessing. This technique did not rely on “talk” but instead rapid eye movement guided by flashing lights while you relived your worst moments. I truly hope this works for some of our wounded soldiers. It had no effect on me. My light therapy leader seemed happy to see me go since he was not getting a full reimbursement from my insurance company. He did suggest I get some future help for codependency.
Over the next few years after Tamma’s death, I continued to wind down my work with the REIT. The quarterly meetings and sourcing work occupied me just enough to keep me sane. I took long motorcycle trips and wandered the beaches. I visited Belize often for Frank Speight until it became clear all was not right in his universe.
Frequent visits to Barbara were becoming difficult for me and troubling to Barbara. We were creating a new form of codependency. We were together but not really. A life is not a vacation, it is a complex series of day to day interactions. What we were play acting was not real life. After my mom died, I moved into her condo in Westin, Florida and tried to figure out what was next.