My First Ex-Husband

by Nena Jobina

The Proposal

No one greeted me at the airport when I returned to Florida after spending the Christmas holiday with my parents in North Carolina. After I paid some fellow to haul me the thirty miles back to Cocoa Beach, there was no one home at the apartment that Bud and I shared. Although he was the dentist and I was the dental hygienist, it was I who paid the rent on that apartment from the second part-time job I had with a different dentist.

When he finally showed up very late in the evening, the first, and I mean the very first, words out his mouth were, “Dr. Holloway and another dentist came by here while you were gone to say that if I didn’t stop shacking up with my ‘assistant’ that they would see to it that I never made a dime in Cocoa Beach.”

He continued. “Yeah, Holloway said, ‘we all have our little piece on the side, just have her live out of town.’ ”

No hello how was your trip? No welcome home. No hug, no kiss. No explanation or apology for not showing up at the airport, just out with this blatantly blunt bit of news.

I said, “I moved to Florida knowing one person and I am not going to go start over in a new town where I know no one and hope you will visit me on the weekends. We’ve been going together for seven years. We could get married.”

“No way,” he said. “I’d just screw around.”

I followed the long pause with, “We’ve been going together all this time, and you haven’t.”

He huffed in my face. “That’s all you know.”

Later a nosy neighbor shared that Bud had been entertaining some lady in my apartment for the two weeks I’d been away.

So, a week later, I moved back to North Carolina and got a job in Greensboro near a close cousin born the same day, same year, as me. Eight months later, Bud called me to say he’d bought a house. I did the polite oohs and ahs, congrats and all that, and he said, “Well, you want a house, don’t you?”

“What’s that got to do with anything?” I said.

“Well, we’ll get married but you have to quit smoking,” he responded.

That was it. My Marriage Proposal. We’ll get married, but you have to quit smoking.

Since the reason given for not getting married eight months earlier was that he wasn’t finished sowing his wild semen, I concluded he was finished with that chapter of his life. Wrong. That was a misunderstanding that I would live with for all the days of our marriage. He consoled me by telling me not to take it personally. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The Wedding

After that initial breakthrough, the marriage plans were not discussed for another couple of months. Somehow we just couldn’t talk about it. He hemmed, he hawed, he backtracked, he sidetracked, but he kept calling. Finally I suggested we meet halfway and discuss the matter.

That weekend was like a bad blind date, despite the fact we’d known each other for more than a third of my life. Still nothing definitive was discussed. As I was getting into my car to head back to North Carolina, he said, “Well, I’ll come up Thanksgiving and we’ll do it then.”

Several months later, I was working on Monday the day he arrived. I left my door open for him, and in my absence, for reasons unknown, he rifled through my dresser drawers and found some flowery letters from an interim paramour. When I arrived home after work, again with no preamble and in a fury, he confronted me with the neatly penned letters that he shook in his fist. Aah, an out, because he said he was leaving and he didn’t know if he’d be back. As he slammed out the door I said, “Well, the appointment with the Justice of the Peace is 8 o’clock on Wednesday, just in case.”

I worked the next two days and on Wednesday at 7:30 pm he showed up at my apartment absolutely snockered on Scotch. He was obnoxious during the pitiful ceremony, bad mouthing the bewildered JP as he fumbled through his spiel, in front of his parents and mine. On this festive occasion, there was nary a smile to be found in the whole bunch. “What have I done?” I thought.

He was so drunk that I saw no point in paying for some hotel in town, so I drove us back to my apartment where he left a trail of shoes and clothes from the door to my bedroom where he passed out.

No surprise that I couldn’t sleep that night. I left the apartment at 2:00 am, walked my dog to a friend’s house a mile or so away, and banged on his door. Groggy, he opened the door, and I wailed, “I got married tonight!”

“What are you doing here, then?” he asked.

I poured out the whole miserable story, and with as much sympathy as he could muster with his day’s work only a few hours away, he patted me uncomfortably on the head as he led me to the door.

The Honeymoon

The next day my hung-over husband was livid to wake up in my bed in my apartment, the scene of former escapades, he assumed, with the other man. We were to go to my hometown the next day – Thanksgiving – where my mother would prepare a sumptuous meal so my family would have the opportunity to meet my new husband. As my relatives filed in expectantly with all good intentions, my husband never rose from his slouched and huddled position on the couch to shake any hand offered and excused his bad manners by mumbling he had a hangover.

We stopped in Savannah on the way back to Florida. While we were at the Holiday Inn, he complained that now that we were married, sex would probably go to hell since I was too tense to conjure up multiple orgasms on my honeymoon. I do remember one bright spot – a fabulous dinner in a basement restaurant with cedar shavings on the floor. Perfect filet mignon.

The next stop was the races at the Daytona Speedway. Frankly, those next few days were a bit of a blur, probably because I have strained to forget it, but I do remember he became angry for a reason I can’t remember and hit me in the face. On our honeymoon.

Getting married was his price to pay because he could think of no other way to have a free dental hygienist, someone to help tend his four kids and pay off a mountain of debt. But me, what’s my excuse? Well, it’s a long and complicated tale.

No one, and I mean no one, ever understood what I saw in that man. Even those who may have been tempted to think a dentist might be a good catch had good cause to rescind their optimistic best wishes. He possessed no social graces whatever unless he was on the prowl for a new conquest, and he exuded a callousness that I have never encountered before or since. A man with a hole in his heart, and I never found out why.

The Wayward

When I was 16, we were both working in the dental office of a small Southern town in the Piedmont of North Carolina. He was working as a lab technician trying to support a family of six as he finished his junior year of dental school at Carolina. I was a dental assistant making thirty cents an hour and saving for college. When we began our affair, he was 29, married with four small children, all girls. We left notes, messages, and long epistles full of philosophy hidden behind the polishing lathe.

I guess I thought he was handsome with his jet black hair, and if it’s actually possible to have black eyes as well, then he did. He was a dark person. Dark hair, dark eyes, dark oily skin, a dark heavy beard, and he traveled by my house in a black MGTD with the top down. The man in black. I loved his lovely lips, and he was a good kisser.

I suppose I was flattered that someone so bright and talented found me interesting enough to fool around with. Yeah, dumb, dumb, dumb. Today, of course, I know that given the opportunity, most any man will succumb to the offer of a little extra sex. Often, the younger the better. Although I was a willing participant, today he might be arrested as I was, after all, sixteen. I don’t know why I was hell bent on being a bad girl. My parents didn’t deserve that. I was brought up better. It’s a rationalization, but at the time, I told myself that if it weren’t me, it would be someone else.

Self serving, I engaged several friends to assist me in this illicit affair. Nice girls who were ultimately virgins when they married, but surprisingly they carted me to secret drop-off points and later even loaned me money for the illegal abortion I would need a few years later between my first and second year of dental hygiene school.

One redeeming quality that did not disappoint my parents was that I was motivated to apply, and blessed enough to be admitted, to the Dental Hygiene program at Carolina, one of a fortunate fifteen out of more than 400 applicants. School was the only thing that I didn’t rebel against, but even then I had an ulterior motive. The plan was to join my lover in Florida and work for him after I graduated.

After only six months in college, some anonymous soul brought to the attention of the Assistant Dean of Women that I wasn’t adjusting well to college life. One of twenty thousand students, I couldn’t believe I had garnered so much attention. This exceptional administrator suggested that I see a very dear friend of hers who was a psychiatrist. I had only been seeing the psychiatrist for two weeks when I had my first orgasm after four years of hanky panky. He freed me to enjoy my evil deeds by saying if I wouldn’t give up the man, then drop the guilt. Maybe it was just coincidence, but permission from an unbiased bystander turned the tide. He seemed to revel in vicarious pleasure at my exuberant news.

Bud graduated a year earlier than I and went to Florida to set up his practice. Actually, he left during the week the doctors brought me back from the dead as I hovered between two worlds after the coat hanger abortion landed me in the hospital. There was a tense scene in the hospital when he stole an orderly’s scrubs, put on a mask, and sneaked into intensive care. My mom was also in my room sitting curled up in a chair behind her mask, shrunken with grief and humiliation. Brazen little bitch that I was, I screamed at her to leave, but she refused. Bud bid me adieu, and that’s the last I saw of him until I graduated a year later.

We exchanged copious letters during my last year of school. The connection never dimmed, though I did make an effort to date others during his absence. I continued my devilish ways by tormenting my married psychiatrist. I thought if the powers-that-be thought I needed a shrink, well, I’d show them. Yeah. We met in the parking lot of the nurses’ dorm after dark and smooched but never consummated. He gave me a break on his fee. I paid a dollar a week for his services throughout my college years.

Miraculously, I managed to graduate and pass both the North Carolina and Florida state boards. Against my parents’ will, I joined the man-of-their-nightmares in Florida at the age of 20. I married at 23, and divorced at 31. If there was one thing I could go back and change in my life, it would be to spare my parents all the hurt I put them through, but that’s coming from the vantage of 50 years’ hindsight. They deserved much, much better than they got from their only daughter. In the end, I got my just desserts for those early indiscretions. Oh, yes.

Nena Jobina worked as a dental hygienist for 38 years and still enjoys her massage therapy practice after more than 30 years. She lives with her dogs at the head of a steep hollow in Burnsville, in a house she designed herself, built around antique stained glass windows and doors. For her sixtieth birthday, she took herself on a solo motorcycle tour for a month in New Zealand and still rides as she approaches 70.

About My First Ex-Husband — This story is the beginning of a longer vignette intended to reveal and explore a complicated relationship that spanned almost 50 years. I was concerned that this might be a depressing story, but I hope that it carries a redemptive truth. Few of us escape regret for the follies of our youth.