Saturday, August 3, 2019

Early Personal Trials

My dual life continued and intensified living in suburban Maryland and at the Geophysical Lab in a ritzy area of Washington, DC. Jack and I rented a small bungalow in Silver Spring that allowed us to have our two dogs, Bummer and Sputnik. Bummer, a descendant of Rin Tin Tin, was Jack’s dog before we were married. He was the most remarkable German Shepherd who was an amazing guard dog and companion. Bummer carried himself with a dignified air, often out-classing his owner. Sputnik was a Port A street dog, half Rhodesian ridgeback and half coyote. She was given her name because she orbited around senior dog Bummer like a Russian satellite around the earth. Those first few years were personally difficult, even traumatic.
            Jack was deeply unhappy in the DC area and unable to make connections or get a job that he would keep. He made sure that I remained dependent on him by maintaining our cars just at the point where they could get you from one place to another, but always with fear that they’d break down or fall apart.  When I started, he picked me up at the Lab at the end of the day, but it didn’t take long for him to arrive after spending the afternoon in a bar reeking of alcohol. I decided to take public transportation instead, riding buses and the Metro morning and evening about 1.5 hours each way. Over the next couple of years, it became clear that Jack was a full-blown alcoholic and I was a nervous wreck dealing with it.  Several times he’d have slight fender benders and miraculously not be given a DUI, until spring of 1982 when he was arrested for drunk driving and I had to appear at the county jail bailing him out.
            The alcohol was a problem for sure. Meanwhile, I was trying to become a serious Carnegie Institution Staff Scientist on an upward trajectory. Sometimes, I went into my lab, closed the door, started washing glassware, and cried my eyes out. I lost weight, was uncomfortable having friends over, or worried that Jack would appear at the Lab and do something dramatic. That spring, shortly after the DUI arrest, I held an AGU-sponsored short course on Organic Geochemistry at the Lab. Thirty colleagues and students from all over the country came to attend and participate. It was my second major conference/workshop that I’d organized, something that was critical for the development of my career.  At the end of the course, Jack appeared at the Lab, completely shit-faced drunk and threatened to break into the building and destroy my stable isotope laboratory. Filled with shame and embarrassment, I had no choice but to go to Tom Hoering and Director Hat Yoder, who solemnly promised to keep my lab and me safe. Our African American janitor staff was alerted and skilled enough to fend Jack off if, in fact, he tried to make his threat a reality. I camped out at the apartment of a friend, petrified to go home and face an increasingly hostile and violent husband. Within three days, Jack checked himself into a residential rehab program and I returned home.
            It was a searing time. My family was supportive but didn’t quite know what to do. Colleagues at the Lab watched over me like hawks. The rehab didn’t last long, and Jack returned vowing he’d give up drinking. Anyone with any experience with alcoholics knows that promises like this are rarely kept. After a few months on one of my Yellowstone field trips, I returned to DC by myself with Sputnik, leaving Jack far away in Montana. I changed the locks on the door, changed my bank account and found a lawyer. Fast-forward 18 months later, the separation was complete; I was paying monthly alimony payments, and beginning to recover from a reign of terror that lasted five years. I was finally on my own and that dual life started to coalesce.

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