Happiness writes white
~Henri de Montherlant
My first sight of the Caribbean Ocean precipitated severe perceptual dissonance. Compared to the large bodies of water upon which I typically gazed (e.g., Lake Michigan as seen from Lake Shore Drive and the Gulf of Mexico viewed from the less than pristine beaches of Port Arthur, Texas), the waters surrounding the coast of Jamaica seemed too vivid, too bright, too gorgeous to be real.1 It is my great good fortune that I can call up, on demand, certain scenes with Julie in colors that brilliant and details that acuate. In my mind, I can see specific phrases she spoke etched in deep-grooved letters chiseled in gleaming metal. I can even picture the typeface – these words are not written in Arial or any such fonts with gentle curves; no, these are set out in a typeface that is all acute and right angles, Engravers or perhaps Felix Titling.
I’m not suggesting that this is an ability unique to me or that it is even unusual. I am, however, fascinated with the contrast between my capacity to quote, for example, the exact phrases Julie spoke to me when we first met or to place events of my life and Julie’s sojourns to Puerto Rico and Wichita Falls on a timeline and the fuzzy static that constitutes my recall of the two years following Julie’s move to Chicago. I am certain that this period was hectic, harried, and happy, but beyond that – fuzz.
Consequently, I’m reduced to baldly listing, in random, non-chronological order, the bits and pieces of information that may be important as context for later events. Think of this as the Cliff Notes chapter.
My divorce was completed with few surprises. I could have put up more legal resistance and ended up with more of our possessions, but I was willing to surrender merchandise and even, my lawyer’s protestations notwithstanding, pay alimony to hasten the process. After the divorce, my ex-wife and I never spoke to each other again. A couple of years later, I did, however, see a photo of her and her baby – tacked on my mother’s bulletin board. Well, it was a cute kid.
Julie & Sears
Within less than two weeks, Julie landed a job at in marketing research at Sears – which we characterized as the obvious next step in Julie’s vocational sequence: from working on her family’s turkey farm to being a clown on a local cable channel to serving as an English Department Faculty member at universities in Puerto Rico and Wichita Falls, Texas to being hired as the Assistant To The Head Of Marketing at a Wichita Falls bank to becoming a member of the professional staff of a statistically based marketing research department.
Yep, Julie had transitioned from gathering the carcasses of turkeys who died because they were so stupid as to gape upward with open mouths at falling rain to being an executive at Sears, the (then) world’s largest retailer, working in the (then) Sears Tower, the (then) world’s tallest building.2
And, yes, she was terrific. Fastest promotions, unprecedented raises, yeah, yeah, yeah, …
To properly evaluate this accomplishment, one must keep in mind that in those days, the corporate culture was such that
(1) Sears headquarters at the Sears Tower in Chicago was officially designated within the company as “Parent”and no one seemed to think that was condescending toward the stores that actually, you know, sold stuff.
(2) The organizational system was so rigid and conventional that one of Julie’s colleagues would comment, without irony or evoking incredulity from others, that “If I had known that working hard and doing a good job would get you promoted faster, I would have done that too.”
Psychiatry Has Been Very, Very Good To Me
I finished my residency and began living the cliché that was the Michael Reese psychiatric career path: I opened an office at 180 N. Michigan Avenue, which was also the address of the Chicago Institute Of Psychoanalysis, and saw inpatients at Reese and a private hospital to sustain my practice until I had enough outpatients to drop the hospital visits and spend my professional time exclusively chatting with bright, clever, insightful, well-heeled, neurotic-as-hell-but-in-an-interesting-sort-of-way patients within the friendly confines of my office.
Problems arose. For one thing, the 50-minute hour seemed to me to last a week. I also liked treating hospital patients (please don’t tell my Residency Director).
I found I had a knack for handling patients other therapists typically chose to refer to someone else – anyone else – rather than treat these folks themselves. I was, for example, treating self-cutters before self-cutters were a recurrent feature story in the Tempo section of the Trib. In fact, I was, as my mother would be happy to inform you, the token doctor-expert on the Donahue show3 about self-mutilation.
And, it turned out that gladly accepting patients others gladly (desperately) referred, working 6 ½ days a week, forgoing vacations for the first few years, and hiring other therapists and business people who could do their jobs cheaper and better than I could was a clinically and fiscally successful way to run a practice.
Of course, life is never that simple.
Some patients didn’t get better, some employees were disloyal, and Sears sometimes rejected Julie’s ideas (to their regret, by the way). And there was the matter of …
The (Snow) White Chicago Years
The first year, one local TV weatherman was tracking the accumulated snowfall to a life-size cardboard silhouette of 7′ 2″Artis Gilmore, who was then playing out the last years of his career with the Bulls. By early January, the snow was towering over Artis’s Afro. Given that Artis was almost 1 ½ times as tall as Julie, … well, you can see the problem.
Nonetheless, our personal won-loss record, unlike that of the Bulls, for these two seasons was spectacular. While we never developed either the credentials or ego to think of ourselves as Tom Wolfe’s Masters Of The Universe, we were sometimes able to maintain the Look, I’m a stylish young professional living large in Chicago pose for minutes at a time before giggling ensued.
What can I say? We were both from the sticks, we were doing well for ourselves, and we were together. We both worked long hours, hit restaurants for most dinners, attended hospital parties and balls, and, thanks to Julie, made batches of friends.
Julie was always flying to New York or Philly or wherever for Sears. I was seducing referral sources at fancy-schmancy restaurants. We joined the East Bank Club. We jogged along the bike paths beside the Lake. We developed a complex system for keeping track of who had already read what parts of the Sunday papers in bed.
We even bought furniture for the apartment (we weren’t a great advertisement for either careful or extravagant shopping – in the middle of a snowstorm, I drove around the block while Julie ran into a shop that ran an ad in The Reader that advised, “We Sell Sofas,” and bought a sofa).
Shortly after our high-rise, bland, modern, functional apartment was furnished, we moved across the street to a much hipper breed of dwelling, a condo in a landmark building (i.e., a building that prohibited those incredibly anachronistic, incredibly efficient storm windows) that substituted character for convenience and charm for working appliances. We were so cool.
The core of our joyfulness, however, was the time we spent together – talking, reading, hopping in the sack, and, especially, planning for the future.
And, as Walter Cronkite was saying in those days, that’s the way it is.
Or, at least, that’s the way it was until Julie decided we wanted to get married.
Credit Due Department: 180N Michigan photo By Alanscottwalker – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikipedia. Sears Tower photo By Cody Hough – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikipedia.. Artis Gilmore photo By Unknown – The Sporting News Collection, Public Domain, via Wikipedia.
Julie Showalter was the fiercely intelligent, sexy, and loving woman with whom I had a outrageously wonderful marriage that ended with her death in late 1999 from cancer diagnosed the week of our wedding nearly 20 years earlier. She was also a brilliant scholar, the mother of our two sons, and a prize-winning author. Many posts on this blog are about her and still others consist of her writings. Julie’s Story is the account of our unlikely romance, Information can be found at Julie Showalter FAQ.
- Next Installment: 14. Vows
- Previous Installment: 12. The Gift Of The Magna Cum Laude
- First Installment Of Julie’s Story: 1. This Is How A Love Story Began
Note: Originally posted May 31, 2006 at 1HeckOfAGuy.com, a predecessor of AllanShowalter.com
- Update: There is, of course, a scientific reason for the bright blue color of the Caribbean. For that explanation, see this USA Today video article. [↩]
- Update: The fate of Sears more recently does obscure the difference between that employer and the turkey farm. [↩]
- For the youngsters out there, Donahue played John The Baptist to Oprah’s divinity [↩]