One of my pleasures is something that only works around here but with someone who doesn’t know me, so mostly youngsters and people from somewhere else. I’m introduced, they hear my name and look at me quietly for a moment. “Scriver? Um, are you related to THAT Scriver, the one who made the big statues and so on?” Sometimes they ask if I’m his daughter.
Here’s my moment: “Oh, yes, I’m his third wife out of four.” They stop, computing, auto-googling. I remark, “Of course, that’s only counting the legal ones.” They blink. “I don’t think many weren’t female.” Blink, blink, blink.
They they try to figure out my age, his age, what that might mean. I add, “If he had lived to 2014, he would have been a hundred years old.” I don’t look quite as old I am, 76, so they have a mental image of a doddering fellow with a big white beard married to a slightly younger me, who couldn’t possibly be sexy since I’m sort of stout now, so they think of me as younger but just as stout and they don't think of the red hair. They are conditioned to think that ALL marriages are about sex and they can't quite imagine it. Age disparities are supposed to be about money. Money IS sex. So where's my money?
So I say, “His daughter was a year older than me.” Their eyebrows go up as they imagine the dynamics. “His daughter died of cancer when she was only thirty. She left four children.” Now they search for the words they’re supposed to say: “I’m so sorry.” But somewhere in there they are thinking, “This debauched man probably was being punished by the fates. One of those tragic artist fellers, you know.”
So I say, “When she was dying, he made her portrait, and afterwards he made a Pieta dedicated to her.” Religion? He did something RELIGIOUS? “The models were the brother and sister of his second wife. There was an age gap between them big enough for her to have been his mother’s age.”
They’re thinking, “Are we now talking incest?” But all they did was pose. On the other hand, that sister was beautiful, glamorous, reflexively seductive. "Bob was madly in love with her from the moment he met her, but she was a good Catholic girl and married to an Alpha athlete . . . Still, she managed to somehow end up in her sister’s bed with Bob and also in mine with Bob, but nothing happened." Teasing. Always teasing. THAT’s how to stay sexy. I never got it.
I was sexy because I was only 21 and because I was looking for an Alpha artist male -- and probably a father substitute, though some analysts have said he was just like my mother. He was looking for someone who believed in him and I did. His reputation around here was that he was not just sexy but one of the most skillful lovers in Montana. He was.
So -- 47 to 21. His oxytocin mixed with vasopressin, which -- if you’ve been following the molecule discussions about voles -- meant tenderness, parental instruction and protection, but also belligerence and ownership -- all focused on me as the probable culprit. Though many women would be eager to take a little twirl, and my predecessor had been a Brigitte Bardot clone barely of legal age, few women would be willing to live in Browning, that dusty little rez town, and even fewer would be willing to work alongside him as hard as he did. Dangerous, filthy, sometimes boring work.
I overheard an old rancher remark to another of his kind, “I always thought Scriver worked his women too hard.” Around here women are thought of in livestock terms. Then I began to feel taken for granted and then abandoned and sex just was not enough and there was not enough sex anyway. The old ranchers advised him to get me a baby substitute -- a woman my age needed a baby. So that was the beginning of the foxes, bobcats, and badgers we raised, who slept with us.
It turned out that Bob was the one who wanted a baby substitute. I did not, which is why I was involved with a man who'd had a vasectomy. What I wanted was something the ranchers never thought of: an intellectual life. As Bob got more successful, more energy went into production and sales, less into the creativity we started out discussing and exploring. Now it was “Are you making any money, Robert?” from his dad and from his mother . . . well, the music achievements had been great for the Mom-boasting she lived for, and now the sculpture was almost as good. If she could just get me under control.
If one were raised to believe in love as a kind of religious devotion, total commitment, it’s hard to give up the idea that one can bear anything, pay any price, tolerate deprivation and being ignored. Intentions may be solid but one’s body will turn against one, and I ended up with a sort of flu that no one recognized as depression. It’s a sort of endogenous heroin, taking one off into numbness and the gray. “Fifty Shades of Gray” are supposed to be sexy? We’re talking depression. And rage turned inward. The Blackfeet Sand Hills. Dissociation.
I went for counseling. It was worthless. But it became clear that to keep us from killing each other when the rage turned outward, I would have to leave. I stalled. I flirted. We both tried to go back. In the end another woman moved in. Alcoholic, not-too-smart, a shady past, a little art talent, jealous enough to be easily controlled, local.
Taking refuge with my mother was financially necessary. Bob’s position was that in our ten years together, he had taught me so much that I ought to be paying him for what I had learned. I agreed. (By this time my listeners are incredulous and leaving, which is just as well.) The rest of the story is impossible to share. It was U of Chicago Divinity School that opened the trapdoor to Aladdin’s Cave. Thinking. Few know about such a thing.
I wasn’t a scholar, I wasn’t even friends with scholars. I wasn’t a minister and I didn’t stay in the denomination. It was a thing that my brain had craved, the way I had craved books as a kid, a thing that is sometimes inconvenient. Now and then I run into a few others like me, but when I’m introduced, they don’t ask, “Are you related to . . .?” We just begin what the French call ‘L’entretien Infini,” the endless conversation, and I am deeply in love. Everything is rainbow, rainbow, rainbow. No gray at all.