ERNIE AND ERNESTINA: The Writer, His Wife, and their Afterlife

Book One, Part Two, Chapter 67: Eyes Open, Eyes Shut

I remember a summer night when Ernie and I did dance to the music in the park. I wore a longish full denim skirt that had belonged to my mother. When I hopped to the music, the skirt swirled around me.

Ernie hopped, too, a wild grin on his face. We weren’t holding hands. It wasn’t a slow dance. We just hopped.

Then the band went into a slow song, and I put my hands on Ernie’s shoulders. I don’t know where he put his hands — around me, I guess. He didn’t look at me. He looked up, down, all around, but not at me.

“Why don’t you look at me when we’re dancing, Ernie?”

“I took dancing lessons when I was young. I was taught not to look into my partner’s eyes.”

“It’s okay to look into mine, Ernie.”

I realize now he didn’t look directly into another’s eyes because he didn’t want the other to look into his, to see the pain that might show up there. He was hiding that.

And I didn’t look into his eyes. If they blazed with anger or winced with hurt or filled with sadness or softened with love, I did not see it. It wasn’t until the last years of his life that I even took in their exact color. I found a sweater for him that came close to matching that deep, complex blue. He wore the sweater a lot. It’s hanging in the closet still. When I want to see the color of his eyes, I look at that sweater.

We didn’t look into each other’s eyes, and we didn’t look into each other’s heart. We didn’t speak from the heart. He didn’t tell me he felt unloved by me. Not directly. He bought me a teapot and tole tray, snakeskin shoes and matching purse, a debutante diamond, a condo. He wrote a novel for me. We had Joshua together. He took me places. He introduced me to a world of writers and artists. What more could he do for me? Why didn’t I know him and love him the way he wanted to be known and loved?

One hot night late in our life together, we found ourselves arguing over how to re-install storm windows and screens we’d taken out for the painters. Ernie looked at me and said: “Why are we even together? What’s the point?”

We came together for the writing, and the writing could not sustain us.

My writer husband’s favorite nickname for me was Ernestina, so in this 3-book memoir, he is Ernie. This is his story, our story, and my story. I invite you in.