Excerpts From The Book

A.F.G.O.

Each divorce, like each marriage, is unique and you can drive yourself nuts trying to figure out what went wrong and when. But however varied the causes of long-term marriages breaking up, I became aware of a strong commonality in the consequences. And oddly enough for someone who fancies herself a rather highbrow reader, back then when the wounds were raw, I discovered that commonality not in the serious tomes on divorce but in the tasty murder mysteries that became escape devices in my new empty-bedtime reading.

My personal favorite, Susan Isaacs, began her book, After All These Years, with, “After nearly a quarter of a century of marriage, Richie Meyers, my husband, told me to call him ‘Rick.’ Then he started slicking back his hair {so} how come I was surprised when Richie told me he was leaving me for . . . Jessica.” Sharyn McCrumb took as the title of her mystery a phrase overheard from a battered woman, If I’d Killed Him When I Met Him I’d Be Out of Jail By Now. It’s the story of a dumped wife who snaps and murders her ex-husband and his bitch (Golden Retriever) of a new wife. The unrepentant murderess suggests that middle-aged men get strange. “I think it’s testosterone poisoning. Do you suppose anyone’s working on a cure? We could organize a telethon . . . ! Poor Baldy is doomed to a life of bimbos and Nordic Track unless you help.” Her rage fueled by the “cosmic double standard . . . the fact that men get more than one chance to live happily ever after.”

In her witty novel, Murdering Mr. Monte, the brilliant Judith Viorst describes a meeting of a group of wives in their fifties and sixties who’d been deserted by their husbands. “Urged by their counselors … to regard their new unattached status not as a loss but a chance to grow,” they call their support group “AFGO”. . . as in my husband walks out and gets a sexy new girlfriend and I get Another F**king Growth Opportunity.” That one rang a loud bell. ‘AFGO’ became my mantra. It’s my license plate. Because I’ve seen it over and over. A former (not firmer) wife struggling to put a positive spin on a crushing progression of terrifying events. His income doubles while hers is halved. She struggles to “carpe diem” while he “carpes” a redhead. And the judge’s idea of equitable distribution is that he gets the Buick and she gets the salad shooter. AFGO!

In the hectic roller-coaster years since my first, and only, book, I didn’t have the heart, literally, to write about anything but I had time to consider and ponder and recognize the changing face of marriage and the whole man/woman thing and relationships and children. Acknowledging that women’s roles are no longer an oscillating swing of mores, but a steep and slippery slope pitched away from housewifery.

I have come to appreciate that my most personal angst reflects the profound shift in women’s lives and is not specific to me but is part of a larger, more significant dynamic, one that drastically changed the entire social order. And that change which appears as a catastrophe can instead force growth, because every ending, however heartbreaking, forces a new beginning.

So a few years ago, I wrote a book called “Occupation Housewife” about my journey from dumped housefrau to joyful and independent woman. A dozen editors turned it down. They tried to be kind, flattering my quirky writing style and most loved my voice (whateverthat means). But no takers because they saw no interest in my subject and absolutely no possibility for any media coverage.

I was devastated. Several years of my life wasted at a time when Icould least afford missing years. So I thought maybe if I just wrote an article about being divorced after a long marriage and sent it to my morning paper, The New York Times, it might resonate with a small pool of readers. I hit a geyser. Within hours of its publication, The Today Show called to book an interview with Katie Couric, who was gracious and encouraging and said goodbye with, “write that book!” The U.K. papers sent a photographer for pictures to run with columns in the Manchester Guardian and London Times. BBC called repeatedly for phone interviews and NPR invited me to do an hour call-in program. Reporters called from Dublin, Paris and Wales. A sympathetic interviewer wrote a major piece for El Mercurio in Chile and another cried for me in Argentina. I was part of a panel hosted by Diane Sawyer on Good Morning America and asked to do a “salon” with the editorial staff at Cosmopolitan, which ran my column in their June ’06 issue. And to top it off, the popular Irish folk singer Eleanor McAvoy transformed it into lyrics for her hit song, Old New Borrowed Blue. It’s quite a trip hearing your most personal feelings rhymed and sung.

It wasn’t all sunshine and roses. I received several negative emails (mostly from men) and often my story was used in books by other women to reaffirm ideas that clashed with mine. And it didn’t stop there. For a small fee, I gave the textbook publisher, Longman Publishing Group, permission to use my two Times’ articles in a book on essay writing called Writing and Reading Across the Curriculum. I was flattered that I would be the only writer represented by two essays. Well, when they sent me the finished book there were notes after my essays on subjects a teacher might want to explore. One was, "to what extent do you feel that the self-confident Hekker got her comeuppance? To what extent do you feel she deserves your sympathy and support? On a blog site in response to the 2006 column, one poster criticized Hekker as self-pitying and bitter. Do you agree with this assessment? Describe your own reaction upon reading the paragraph beginning, ‘So I was predictably stunned and devastated when, on our fortieth wedding anniversary, my husband presented me with a divorce.’" Interesting! I’d like to know how those student responses went. Or maybe I wouldn’t.

But the heartwarming part about the larger journey I’ve been on these last few years came from the letters — hundreds of them — sent by the gutsy women who faced similar situations or hoped to avoid them, and saw their experiences reflected in mine. Some of the letters were pages long, stories that could be movies of the week on Lifetime. And it is with their encouragement that I rewrote that unsold manuscript to reflect historical (and hysterical) stages in the evolution of women, reflected in my friend Elaine’s admonition to, Disregard First Book.

 

THE MADAM WAS ADAM

It’s understandable that the disparity of the sexes might cause some people to think men and women are from separate planets. But I watch the Sci-Fi network and those creatures would need major overhauling before they could take one of our species out to dinner, never mind mate with them. And those E.T.s are intrinsically cerebral and serene in their demeanor, while our sex act demands more primitive instincts and discombobulating friction. Having dismissed galactic differences, I was led to the sensible conclusion that men and women are more likely dimorphic creatures at different stages of evolution. Which brought me back to my first book.

That book was originally titled, “Occupation Housewife . . . Memoir of an Endangered Species,” but someone at the publisher’s back then decided that both “housewife” and “memoir” had negative connotations, so it was renamed, “Ever Since Adam and Eve.” Up tothat point I’d never given much thought to this pair. Because unlike some other biblical events, i.e. Christmas and Easter, the Creation had not inspired a shopping opportunity, and the bit with the apple seemed dicey, even to a first grader in Saint Rose of Lima’s in Brooklyn.

Whatever the conflict over evolutionary algorithm – intelligent design vs. evolution – it’s clear some force created each earthly species, and while I prefer to think of that force as God, another might prefer Mother Nature or the Big Bang. For simplicity’s sake, let’s take my God as the greatest designer ever, said to have created Adam as the first human being ever. Then, when God decided to invent procreation, God created a mate whose body would have to be retrofitted for a sex act. So, obviously God’s premiere creation, made in God’s image and likeness, was the female with a lithe form, which spreads new light on why men got useless nipples.

My gynecologist tells me that every embryo begins as a female and that a Y chromosome comes along later, and then, unfair but true, from the moment of conception, males are less likely to survive than females. In addition to this inequitable birth advantage, women have a more vigorous immune system than men. So we girls are demonstrably healthier and have greater longevity than guys.

I began writing about the female as the original sex with tongue firmly planted in cheek, but the more I researched the subject, the more I became convinced I was on to something. It just makes sense that when coitus became an issue, God created the male with dangling parts between his legs that were definitely elective ornaments. Which might explain why men are constantly reaching down there to make sure the “attachments” are still affixed. Thus was facilitated a reproductive hookup after quite minor adjustments to the female. It makes no sense that the first and ONLY human being would be outfitted with sensitive external male genitalia requiring hydraulics yet. Is it any wonder men are so conflicted what with all that commotion going on in their jockey shorts?

I think God wisely decided to give the delicate female a sex partner who would also serve her and their progeny as a protector (hence a larger and stronger specimen). He could slay dragons, do the heavy lifting and fix the carburetor. And adore the female Adam, spending subsequent centuries praising her form in poetry and portraits. What female ever composed sonnets about the male form, or songs about the smell of his hair? No, the male was clearly created to complement the female in every meaning of that word.

Once you get that part right, the apple thing begins to make sense. Would any woman jeopardize a swell home like the Garden of Eden for a bite of forbidden fruit? I personally knew a woman who starved herself to stay a size six to avoid possible ejection from a split ranch in Levittown. Women value their nests. And women are not prone to react to dares, they’re too pragmatic. But say, “I dare you” to a man, and there’s no holding him back. It was definitely the guy who bit the apple. That clinched the whole Adam and Eve gender thing for me.

Women must be the premiere sex because they are demonstrably higher evolved. They have less body hair and what they have mostly comes out the top of their heads. Unlike the well-known three stages of a man’s hair . . . unparted, parted and departed. And as their domes grow less hirsute, they can’t keep up with the bristles sprouting from their noses and ears and eyebrows. Men are more unrealistically vain than women, or they wouldn’t delude themselves, that combing hair over their bald spot fools anyone but themselves. I served on a committee with a middle-aged man who returned from his college reunion disappointed, because “most of my classmates got so fat and bald they didn’t recognize me.”

The evidence mounts that women are more developed than men. In every species, the female lives longer. Women are able to multi-task and are more detail-oriented. How else can you explain that a man is able to zero in on an asteroid one million light years off , but can’t locate the catsup in the refrigerator? He can differentiate between three hundred species of earthworm, but can’t recognize his own cousins at the family picnic. He cannot, for the life of him, remember what upset his wife at dinner last night but can recall every stroke he took in a golf game two years ago.

It’s because he has more primitive priorities and competition counts for more than feelings. It’s the evolution thing. Men are not yet completed. They remain fiercely engaged in areas women are too advanced to take seriously, then celebrate triumphs by pouring Gatorade over each other. They will switch wives and careers because of unrealized expectations but remain fiercely loyal to the Chicago White Sox. If men were not still saddled with the vestiges of primitive phylogeny, would they flock to Pamplona to be chased down narrow streets by five hundred tons of angry pot roast?

Stuck in the macho track, men are more likely to be imprisoned than women. More likely to fly into rages, and a hundred percent more likely to be serial killers. Why? Because men’s brains are hard wired for primitive emotions most women have outgrown. And part of their genetic code also leads them to be more obsessed with sex. Please see Chapter 8.

It has always seemed that in the game of life, men were the amateurs and women the professionals. Women are more complex with shorter distances from one emotion to another. While men have been proven to be better detectors of anger and threats, women are more adept at detecting socially relevant expressions communicating happiness, sadness, surprise and disgust.

I was not surprised to learn that there are proven differences between the cognitive skills of men and women. It always amazed me, that when we went out with another couple and the husbands chatted in the front seat and the wives in the back, Jack and I came home with very divergent ideas about our friends. He would say something like, “well, Fred sure has the world by the tail. His business is great and his kids are terrific. I envy that guy.” Whereas I reported, “poor Helen. Fred’s company is being sold and he’ll probably be redundant, their oldest boy is headed for rehab and they’re pretty sure young Missy is pregnant.” I always contended that I had more meaningful conversations with strangers on supermarket checkout lines than most men have with their closest friends.

One analogy that comes to mind is that, men’s lives are express trains,and women’s are locals. Having started out as hunters and gatherers, men could have narrowly defi ned goals and career objectives, and go after them with minimal distractions. Whereas, women’s goals were smaller and more immediate . . . cook breakfast, dress the kids, pound the laundry on the rocks etc. But women almost always also served as the engine of this train of life, giving it direction and purpose. Keeping it on track. It’s historically true that men discovered new territories but women civilized them.

Men and women are equal, but women are simply more evolved. Just think about violence. That is a male trait, as evidenced by the number of women in jails as compared to men – and there are credible theories that most incarcerated women are there because they were aiding or abetting their criminal men folk. Or had murdered them. I even heard a rational explanation of something called a “Sir Tax” by an economist who claimed that men should pay higher income taxes than women, because they place the greater burden on the costly criminal justice system. Pointing out that women pay lower car insurance rates than men because they cause fewer accidents, and with this paradigm, it only follows that they pay less income taxes.

The poor less-evolved devils not only have this aggressive streak to control, but they face hurdles in other less profound areas. For instance, men are greater gossips and better storytellers than women and would enjoy the soap opera and family saga type stories on television. But they can’t. Because men watching TV are incapable of keeping track of more than two people at a time unless they have numbers on their backs. I have an idea for a soap opera aimed at men where not only would the actors wear numbers, but little trailers would appear every time a new character came on the scene; “Larry who used to be married to Betty before he had the sex change operation that turned her into Nancy who is now engaged to Fred.” The show would be marketed as, “Closed-captioned for the gender impaired.”