Kathy and Bill By Elaine Bonow
It seemed a bit like incest at first, but getting back with your first husband after twenty-five years is just about the same thing.
Bill and I got married after high school graduation like you were suppose to do if you were lucky enough to snag a husband by the time you were eighteen. I was seventeen when we started dating. I wasn’t the popular girl with anyone’s group. In fact, as a new transplant to this steamy hot metropolis, I was way out of my league.
Where I came from a girl, a proper girl, wore dresses and skirts, below the knee in pastel colors, pale blue or pink or sometimes yellow, sensible shoes and socks. I wore glasses too, with pale blue plastic frames, which added to the nebbish glamour of my 1967 look.
Society and fashion had changed for some of the world. Here, where what was left of the family was now living, was an alien environment populated with people who to me appeared unusual by the way they dressed in brightly colored sleeveless shirts, sandals and actual shorts, no Bermuda shorts in sight.
He was the one to approach me in the hallway in front of my locker.
“Hi, is your name Kathy Murphy? You are in my English class and Mr. Irving told me you could help me with diagramming sentences for our SAT’s on Saturday.”
“Yeah, I am Kathy, you’re Bill right?”
He was a plain boy, difficult to describe really, average height, average build, close-cut natural hair, medium brown eyes. I did notice his eyelashes, which were thick and curled up. He was soft-spoken and very polite.
We fell into a pattern of studying after school at my house. My father worked all the time. It was just the two of us. I kept house and cooked all our meals just like my dead mother would have liked. Dad worked two jobs and just came home to eat, sleep and shower. He left me money to buy food and change to go down the street to the laundry mat.
When Bill started coming over to study I would first cook dinner for the three of us, leaving dad’s share covered in tin foil on top of the stove. After I cleaned up, hiding traces of Bill’s presence, we would go into my bedroom to study and then talk deep into the night about our innermost selves, with Johnny Carson chattering away in the background and later fall asleep to The Late Show.
Dad came home after I went to school and left before I got home so he never realized that Bill had started staying the night. It was a natural progression. I was so lonely before Bill and now, well now, we were both getting good grades and as my dinners were becoming more sophisticated and elaborate so did our intimacy.
It was a teenage wet dream in Technicolor. We had a carte blanche for sex, no parental interruptions, no parental instruction. At first I thought his mother didn’t care where he was every night of his senior year. I didn’t know until much later that she was in prison for smuggling weed out of Mexico. He was supposed to be looked after by his older sister but she had problems of her own.
By the end of the school year the results of all that studying was apparent. Both of us achieved perfect SAT scores, perfect grades in all our classes and a perfect baby on the way. We got married at a courthouse downtown, my pregnancy obvious to everyone by now.
Bill was drafted right after graduation. I got a few letters from him but suddenly they stopped. I figured he was dead. I didn’t check. I went on to college and with scholarships got my Master’s in teaching while raising my little Lamont.
The years passed and I maintained, bought a house and then bought a bigger house. My dad died, the boy grew and before I knew it twenty-five years of my life had passed like a flash. Not the most exciting story until that one warm Saturday night.
I was out to dinner with a few of my girlfriends. We liked one place in particular that served a dinner buffet style and then at nine DJ Javier would begin playing old school soul tunes. It was getting late and as we were thinking of leaving the DJ put on Roberta Flack’s hit “The First Time I Ever Saw Your Face.”
Suddenly a well-manicured hand tapped me on the shoulder. I thought it was someone who wanted to dance. I looked up into a face that seemed oddly familiar.
“Oh my. Could it be? Is it you? But it can’t be you.” The face had changed, softened by time and well made up. His small statue was even smaller now but he was so sophisticated in a finely cut black silk suit. He was not a man or a woman. The eyes gave him away. “Bill, it is you.” I finally squeaked out.
“Billee, call me Billee with two e’s.” He extended his hand inviting me to dance.
“Billee, I don’t understand. I haven’t heard from you, not one word, since 1968. Since you went to Nam.”
“I know Kathy. It is a long story and I think I have reached a point in my life where I can finally come to terms with my past.”
“But how? Why? You’ve never even met your son, Lamont”
“Ah, so that’s what you named him. I hope I get to meet him.”
“But how am I going to explain all of this to him, that his father is a woman.”
He, I mean she, told me an incredible tale in the next weeks over dinner at my house. After the initial shock had worn off we were just the same great friends as in those halcyon days of our youth.
He told me about his terrible experiences in the war and relived the terrible wound to his manhood that plummeted him into suicidal depression and homelessness. He told me all about the miracle that saved him and re-made him in Paris.
I can’t believe what has happened. Now we are back together again and actually re-married. But I do feel a bit incestuous making love to someone who once was my husband but now is my wife.