I’ve left you with no episodes of “Texas Toast” in quite a few posts. My brain has a tendency to leap from topic to topic like a grasshopper in a summer garden. I believe in the last episode, I had just received a call from Jack’s ex-wife, requesting that I meet her for lunch, as she had something to tell me that I might find of interest. She wasn’t one of those spooky, stalker-type of exes. Catherine lived and behaved herself quite nicely in Chicago, didn’t want alimony or a settlement, and didn’t harass Jack in any way. That her invitation surprised me would be an understatement, but my curiosity got the better of me, so lunch it was.
Jack had only been married once, for eight years. They had lived in a three-story townhouse overlooking Lake Michigan, while both worked in advertising. According to Jack, everything was perfectly happy until the morning a TV commercial was being shot inside their townhouse. His story was that Catherine suddenly descended the staircase, carrying several suitcases. In front of the entire cast and crew, she announced the marriage wasn’t working and that she was filing for divorce. Jack said he felt cut off at the knees from the shock and surprise, the suddenness of this. Being immersed in his commercial for the entire day, he assumed she was upset about something he’d overlooked, and would be back shortly, and they’d kiss and make up. When he was served with divorce papers in his office several days later, he was in complete disbelief. That was Jack’s story and he was sticking to it. Being in a different city, with none of his old friends from Chicago around, I had no way to verify this, but why would one lie? I have a history with men of being unable to smell a rat if it was served up piping hot on a silver platter in front of me, slathered in melted Cheez Whiz and Velveeta. Hum…
After the obligatory small talk, Catherine immediately got to the point. “Have you met Jack’s parents yet?”
“No, my parents and Jack’s, along with his brother and his wife, are all coming for Christmas to spend the week. Why do you ask?”
“It’s my opinion that Jack’s Dad really screwed him up emotionally. I think you’ll see that as soon as you meet him. He’s manic depressive and has a bad habit of taking himself off his medication, which makes for some really interesting moments.”
Jack had told me a bit about his childhood. He was adopted by a couple who had given up on having their own biological child. According to family lore, both his birth parents had been teachers in the same school district in Arizona in the 1940’s. One of them was an American Indian, which accounted for Jack’s dark coloring and high cheekbones. Married teachers were not allowed to work in the same school district, so they kept their relationship under wraps until such time that one or the other could find a job in a different county. World War II was wreaking havoc on the job market, so they resigned themselves to waiting out the war in order to be married. On Valentine’s night, in the middle of a terrible storm, there was a car accident that killed Jack’s father at the scene. His injured but surviving birth mother found out in the aftermath of the wreck that she was pregnant. Grief stricken, she decided to give the baby up for adoption. Enter the Leightons, Jack’s parents.
As is so often the case, baby Jack wasn’t even a year old when Mrs. Leighton discovered she was pregnant. Mon Dieu! After Russell was born, Francis Leighton, Jack’s Dad, decided he only had room in his heart for his “real”son, and none left over for the “American Indian orphan”. Elizabeth, Jack’s mom, had told Catherine about vicious beatings Francis would inflict on her and Jack, followed by tying them up with electrical cords and shoving them into a dark closet for a day or two. This pattern of abuse apparently went on for years until Jack grew much taller and broader than his Dad, and threatened HIM with a beating if he ever laid a hand on him or his Mom again.
Catherine went on to say that she strongly suspected that Jack was an alcoholic, a highly functioning one, but an alcoholic nonetheless. The tables in the restaurant seemed to tilt as I thought over what she had just said. So far, everything about Jack and our marriage was straight out of a central casting fairy tale, except for our persistent burglar. There did always seem to be drinks everywhere we went. Champagne in limos, at the opera and ballet, cocktails on flights. I hadn’t seen anything suspicious in that, but just assumed it was something I hadn’t been exposed to before. I certainly had never seen Jack even the slightest bit tipsy, except with his brother the night of the first break-in.
Then I asked Catherine MY burning question; why did she leave Jack so abruptly, in front of his coworkers? She burst out laughing, “Is that what Jack told you happened? That’s a different version than the reality. We had been fighting over his drinking for months, and I kept scheduling sessions with a marriage counselor, which he skillfully managed to avoid. Finally, after the police picked him up drunk and disorderly a few times, I decided I was far too young to live like that. I tried for weeks to prepare him, but it was like he didn’t hear me, and continued on with business as usual. There can be a strange disconnect in him at times and I think it stems from all those hours spent locked in closets. There’s no way that doesn’t leave a dark imprint on your soul. I choose that particular time, with the house full of people, so he wouldn’t create a huge scene and beg me to stay.”
God knows, I had a lot more than lunch to digest that afternoon. This conversation might have served me better if it had occurred PRIOR to getting married. But we were like that Johnny Cash and June Carter song, “We Got Married in a Fever, Hotter Than a Pepper Sprout“! The only two women Jack had dated that he’d told me about were the actresses Mariette Hartley, and Mary Kay Place,
who starred in the wildly outrageous TV series “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman”. Didn’t look like I’d be getting any insights from them. I decided to keep my own counsel and observe Jack before I made any hasty and reckless moves.
It was that wonderful, magical time in NYC, when it gleams brightest and puts on its greatest show, the Christmas season. I was about to meet the new in-laws for the first time, and we were having a house full of family for one week, when I received an amazing early present. I was signed to an exclusive two-year contract with the cosmetics and fragrance company Yardley of London. Below are two of my favorite shots from that campaign.