better times, but …

Almost immediately after moving into our own place in late November 1978 and away from crazy J, life improved exponentially for K and me. But first, there were two sad and painful weeks during which J showed up for work sporadically, and the full extent of his coke-induced incapacity became plain to my boss and co-workers — and they fired him.

K and I were now living in a two-bedroom apartment with a full dining room in Brookline Village and we had quiet neighbors. The building was across a small park from the local Roman Catholic church, it was rent-controlled and was only $150 a month — well within our means, after paying $300 for our half of the Comm Ave. coke den.

But the rent was cheap because the place needed work — serious work. There were gaps in the window frames where you could see directly outside (yes, really!). But the landlord lived in the building and had a personal interest in getting the place shipshape, so she could be warm, too.

Very quickly, K and I fell into a very placid life — we both worked, came home and marvelled at the tremendous change in our fortunes. We visited my parents in Chicago at Christmas, and they seemed amused and charmed, in equal measure, by K.

Winter melted into spring and we had to deal with the fact that the end of K’s tourist visa was looming. Little did we know that, at that time, the federal government wasn’t exactly breaking a sweat trying to catch people with expired visitor visas. We talked and talked and finally decided to get married in a civil ceremony — a plan that horrified my parents, who immediately offered to pay for everything, so we could be married at their home in Wisconsin. My father found that in Wisconsin, we could get married with few legal hurdles to clear. (There’s a full chapter possible about our marriage arrangements alone that’ll have to wait for my autobiography.)

Sooooo — on very short notice and through the remarkable generosity of my father, we spent a week in Wisconsin in May 1979 and got married. Because the notice was terribly short and due to U.S. visa restrictions, no members of K’s family were present — a fact that, much to my surprise, became a bone of contention four years later.

As a wedding present, K’s parents bought us tickets to London for an 11-day visit in September 1979 — they could see their daughter for the first time in a year and a half, and meet their new son-in-law — and I could see London (a thought thrilling beyond words for me). Suffice it to say the trip was marvelous, with day trips to Boulogne, France and Cambridge — and the weather was absolutely beautiful all but one of the days we were there (another sub-chapter slumbers here, too).

Almost immediately upon our return to Boston from London, we began to get serious about our future (at least I did). K agreed she liked Chicago and would like to be in closer proximity to my family. We also agreed we ultimately wanted to live in the U.K., but decided it would be pointless for me to move to England without sufficient education to get a good job. We began to plan moving to Chicago in September 1980, where I would return to school. I had taken a mental inventory and decided I might be best suited to being a librarian (!), so I'd get an undergrad degree in American Studies, and then an MLS.

I applied to, and was accepted by Roosevelt University, which I chose because it had an American Studies program, the only university in the Chicago area other than the University of Chicago to offer a degree in American Studies. And I knew I had a snowball's chance in hell of getting into the U of C, much less being able to afford it. Roosevelt officials agreed to let me start in January 1981.

We scrimped and saved — K got a full time legal (!) job working as a receptionist at a Boston HMO, with the help and blessing of the couple who had hired her as an illegal nanny — and we were able to set aside $100 a week toward the cost of moving.

When it came time in early 1980 to file my taxes for 1979, K and I discovered that by claiming K as a dependent for the entire year, I would get back $500, enough to pay for a single ticket to London. So we earmarked that and a similar amount from our savings for tickets, which were bought in Boston, but departed out of O’hare three days after our planned arrival in Chicago.

Soooo, just prior to Labor Day 1980, we loaded up a U-Haul truck with a standard transmission (which I had never driven before, and haven’t driven since) and drove to Chicago with K talking me through each and every single gear change through the entire trip, towing our car behind the truck.

Immediately upon our arrival in the Chicago area, we packed our stuff into a storage locker, visited for a couple of days, washed some clothes and took off for 13 days in London.

Why my parents, who we planned to stay with until we were on our feet in Chicago, didn’t question our travel plans, I’ll never know.

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Other stray Boston memories from June 1979 through September 1980:

L, a friend of K’s, spent 10 days with us in July 1979. A quiet, reserved member of the British middle-middle class, L had an ill-concealed streak of snobbishness that I only then learned that K shared (a small red flag was thence raised in my head, but being in love, I ignored it). L was, at the time, making a half-hearted stab at reading “Les Miserables,” which she admitted she was trying to read only because someone told her it would be “good” for her. L was bored by “Les Miserables,”, of course, because it dealt with hard times experienced by the poor and downtrodden in France, not the plush life of the English gentry to which she aspired.

C, another of K’s friends, came over from London and spent a week with us in July 1980, prior to making a cross-country trip to San Francisco (the same trip K had wanted to make the summer we met). C was L’s polar opposite — a raw, funny Irishwoman with a fishwife's vocabulary and without a speck of pretense, who kept me in stitches her entire visit.

K made some friends through her work — and we went to movies, dinner and out clubbing with some of these friends. We were closest to an unmarried couple named Johnny Kelly and Vicky Moran (could you get more Irish?). Johnny and I shared a deep love of the Boston music scene, unshared by our significant others, so we went out stag frequently. Vicky and Karen seemed not to mind a bit.

FM radio in Boston at the time was the best I’ve ever heard. WBCN played a wonderful mix of local acts, up-and-coming acts, New Wave and Punk bands — a dizzying array I hadn’t heard before and haven’t heard since. Unbelievable!