Two posts ago I mentioned that my first husband had inadvertently done a great deal to shape my later life. Of course, he left me with many brightly shining, enriching things. (Not jewelry; we were grad students.) He took me to my first Monty Python movie. He introduced me to “The Basement Tapes” and to “Layla” and to Elmore James. He converted me into a lover of “Star Trek.” He bought me books by Virginia Woolf.
But if you tenaciously follow the thread of causation—which, admittedly, is to walk a fine line amidst a tangle of other contributing threads—he gave me three bigger things that brought me where I am today.
1. When we were both in college, two years before we even began dating, he introduced me to an acquaintance from his part of Missouri.
2. When we were at graduate school, he told me about an open editorial internship at our university’s scholarly press.
3. He left me.
The acquaintance was the young man who, eight years later, became my second husband. I might have met and talked to him otherwise—all three of us, for a brief time, worked for the campus literary magazine—but I easily might not have. I was quite shy then. Although our marriage was figuratively bumpy and ended badly, our literally bumpy road trips took us to beautiful places together. Maine, New Mexico, Utah, Michigan, South Carolina. The museums of D.C. We stayed together a long time. My second husband had much more music to introduce me to, as well as art, as well as a huge reinforcing dose of Monty Python. (I sing the philosophers’ drinking song upon request and sometimes, to people’s dismay, not upon request.)
The internship, which I jumped at, gave me the background to do freelance book editing. That in turn gave me the qualifications to eventually land a job producing publications for the grants office on campus. Those for the public, like the magazine I reshaped, featured campus research; those for researchers were geared to help them find funding and run their projects.
I worked in the same office for 23 years because I was compensated decently, considering that a master’s in English usually gets you nowhere fast, and because my job constantly evolved and expanded. It spanned the transition from typesetting-and-pasteup to desktop publishing, as well as the transition from “What’s the Internet?” to the ubiquity of web sites. I ended up doing editing, technical writing, feature writing, graphic design, web management—the whole catastrophe, as Zorba the Greek said in a different context. It was often stressful, sometimes scary, seldom boring.
Without the divorce, I would have had no reason to join a divorce coping workshop on campus. There I met a woman, K., who would become one of my best friends. Interestingly, K. was then working at—you got it—the research publications job I would later hold. The grants office happened to be housed one floor above the office where I was toiling as a “word processing operator” and copyediting books in my spare time. Meeting K. in the lobby one day when our acquaintanceship hadn’t yet bloomed into friendship, I learned that she was being promoted and that her job would be up for grabs in a couple of weeks. This heads-up enabled me to be excruciatingly well-prepared when I applied for and then interviewed for the job. Which I got. Worried that I’d been favored because K. knew me, I asked her about that one time. She told me that the committee’s decision was unanimous and that my editorial experience was the crucial factor. Thank goodness. Thank FH.
I remember saying goodbye to K. and her husband, L., when they moved away more than a decade ago. I gave them both long hugs and then marveled to L., “If it hadn’t been for [FH], I’d never have known you. Isn’t that weird?!” The world seemed sad and smiling and mysterious all at the same time. Had I been wearing a hat, I might well have tossed it up, Mary-Tyler-Moore style, right into the wondering breeze.