Loveyoubye: Holding Fast, Letting Go, And Then There's The Dog

Loveyoubye: Holding Fast, Letting Go, And Then There's The Dog

by Rossandra White


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When Rossandra White walks into her Laguna Beach home one day to find that her husband of twenty-five years has disappeared—leaving behind only a cryptic, hastily written note on the kitchen counter as an explanation—she knows he'll come back. It’s not the first time this has happened, and she trusts that their marriage, though tumultuous, will endure. But she soon learns that this time is different—and as new information comes to light, she realizes that the cracks in their relationship may have deepened past the point of repair.
In the midst of this turmoil, White’s physically and mentally disabled younger brother needs her help. She returns to South Africa, land of her birth, to answer his call—and when she comes back to California, she finds that her dog Sweetpea, who for years has served as a vital emotional link between herself and her husband, has begun to succumb to a fatal illness. Ultimately, it is this core-rattling confluence of crises that forces White to face her own demons and make a decision: stay in a marriage that’s crumbling before her eyes, or leave her husband and forge a new life for herself.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781938314506
Publisher: She Writes Press
Publication date: 04/08/2014
Pages: 280
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Rossandra White, secure in marriage to the American man of her dreams and working for the Postal Service in administration, took up writing to quiet the voices from the past back home in Africa. The result: Monkey’s Wedding and Mine Dances, two young adult novels about family, race, and the dark magic of a society poised on the brink of change. And then her world fell apart when her marriage unraveled, along with a crisis back home in Africa and the worsening ill health of her beloved dog. Loveyoubye, her memoir, resulted as a way to heal the past and to face the future. She lives in Laguna Beach, California with her two Staffordshire Bull Terriers with whom she fights for space in her bed. When she’s not writing, she enjoys yoga, Jazzercize, and hiking the hills behind her home in Laguna canyon.

Read an Excerpt

I thought of the mess the powerful Santa Anas would leave behind. How fitting. Along with raking up bamboo leaves, bougainvillea blossoms, and wild figs from the vine on the twenty-foot-high wall we shared with the body shop next door, I’d be in intense conversation with my inner psychologist about Larry’s latest escape. Those devil Santa Ana winds could whip the smallest ember into a town-leveling fire in no time; they’d done it thirteen years earlier, when the fire barely missed our house. But they could also pump up great waves. Larry had timed his escape just right this time: the waves would be perfect in Mexico. If that’s even where he was.
Sweetpea trotted into the room and stretched out on her stomach on the floor next to me, back legs splayed like a frog. Jake followed her, ever-present floppy Frisbee dangling hopefully from his mouth. I started upstairs to get a top and came face to face with a mask of Larry’s face, set in a three-foot-high tea-stained jar wedged into a corner of the staircase. I’d hand-built the piece when we first married, inspired by his artistic talent and encouragement to try ceramics myself.  
I sank down onto the staircase and touched the nose. Such perfect features for a mask: narrow oval face, straight Indian nose—he was one-quarter Arapahoe, three-quarters Irish/Scot—salt-and-pepper Sam Elliott moustache. Even at thirty-five when I married him, three weeks after we came together in a wild frenzy of sex and feverish togetherness, he was still as good-looking as his Anaheim High School photos revealed. I’d been amazed that this gorgeous, creative man was still available. With his prematurely greying hair, which he kept long, he would turn into a dead ringer for Gandalf, J. R. R. Tolkien’s leader of “The Fellowship of the Ring.” But he didn’t like people calling him that. It took me a long time to realize he hated to be the center of attention. This was someone who seemed to cultivate the limelight.
Late afternoon light shifting through the window glanced off the mask’s empty eyes. Eyes so different from those first days when they challenged me to share the joke with him, slate-blue eyes that pulled me in, eyes that I would learn never gave away his thoughts.
“What?” I would smile. He’d shake his head, and then I had to drag it out of him. He’d felt “moony” over me. That’s the closest he ever came to silly love talk.
I remember the day I cast his face in plaster of Paris for the mask. He lay on his back on the then-cement front deck, Vaseline smeared all over his face, his beard and moustache matted with the goo. I’d finally persuaded him to go along with my experiment, but he almost lost it when I kept slathering on Vaseline. He couldn’t even stand sunscreen on his face. So there he lay, two straws sticking out of his nose, while I kneeled beside him with a bucket of plaster, slapping it on, hoping this was the way it was done. All I knew was that I had to hurry and finish before the stuff set. Just as I was about to plop down the last handful of plaster, he grunted.
I bent over and yelled, “What’s wrong?”
Sticking his index finger in his ear as if I’d broken his ear drum, he made a rolling motion with his other hand for me to hurry.
“Yeah, yeah, I’m almost done,” I said just as his hand came down on top of mine. Plaster flew everywhere, some of it landing on the end of the straw sticking out of one nostril. He made a snuffling sound and, Frankenstein-like, struggled to get to his feet.
“Wait, wait!” Jumping up, I glanced around desperately for something to clear the straw. A bamboo twig? Too thick. He flopped back down and growled.
I crouched over him. “Snort it out!”
I burst out laughing and couldn’t stop. Doubling over, I staggered around, crying with laughter. He reached blindly for me, his growl now a muffled roar.
“Sorry,” I managed to gasp, and I kneeled beside him. I touched the plaster. It had set. “Listen, I’m going to get this stuff off right now, it won’t be long, okay?” I bit my lip to stop the giggle that bubbled up and started tugging on the edge over his forehead. He roared in pain.
“I told you we needed more Vaseline!” I shouted.
Twenty minutes and a million microscopic tugs later I held a hair-speckled mold of Larry’s face in my hands. He sat up and glared at me.
Now I couldn’t help the grin that stole across my face. His encouragement had led me to the world of the arts, a world I’d yearned for back in Nkana and didn’t know it. The arts back there consisted mostly of tap and ballet classes given either by neophyte ballet teachers or an aging ballerina relegated to the bush. From the age of five I threw myself into both; I did well in ballet, and was being groomed for a spot at Sadler’s Wells School of Ballet in England.
But as I grew older I became more and more resentful of all the time I had to spend practicing while my girlfriends were free to roam Nkana on their bikes, looking for boys. I started bunking class and became a juvenile delinquent. This included sneaking out of my bedroom window and hitchhiking along bush roads in the middle of the night with my girlfriends. Sadler’s Wells fell by the wayside, and my mother started threatening me with reform school.
Despite my forays into teen wasteland, I still felt the need to do something creative. Only I didn’t call it that. All I knew was that there was something inside me that wanted to come out, that had me reaching for a pencil and paper. I couldn’t draw worth a damn, but I kept trying, copying Degas’s ballerinas, magazine models, Bugs Bunny comics, Pablo Picasso’s bull, still life compositions.
When I was fifteen, my dad arranged classes with Mrs. Bingham, the eighty-year-old mother of one of my dad’s co-workers on Nkana mine. She’d been one of Queen Elizabeth II’s official artists, rendering Her Majesty’s intricate proclamations with their tiny gold leaf depictions of fox hunts, deer, and country scenes along the borders. For a year I walked the ten blocks up to Fourth Avenue on Saturday mornings to spend half the day fashioning the alphabet in Old English script and copying pen and ink birds from the English countryside. I loved the precise, ornate structure of the letters, and I loved getting lost in the detail of the fine black lines of the birds’ tiny claws, wings, beaks, and eyes, and of the branches on which they perched. I was thrilled by the scratch of the pen against the page. It transported me. And then I got married. And that was that, except for a couple of chalk sketches of my newborn son.
So when this artistic surfer showed up, I was ready. It was his unassuming confidence that impressed me. The way he took up making pots. Just like that. He’d made the decision after learning that a potter friend was selling his equipment to focus on painting instead. He bought most of the guy’s gear and before long he was making teapots, coffee mugs, plates, and planters, at one point earning a living from his pottery in Santa Barbara.
He was so different from my first husband, John, the cocky blond and blue-eyed boy who’d swept into little Nkana from Boksburg, South Africa, when I was sixteen. [{Insert Photo: Me at 16. }] The eighteen-year-old was a catch, or a “talent,” as we used to say. My first love. After three years of hanging around together—including a month-long breakup over John’s temper when he accidentally killed my hamster, which had bitten him; his six-month military service in the Federation Army in what is now Zimbabwe; and second thoughts on my part—we finally married. Oh, the wailing from my mother for hitching up with an Afrikaaner, one of those Dutch Calvinist descendants who, with their fundamentalist belief that Africans were lesser beings, were the architects of South Africa’s apartheid policy. Still, I think she wanted me out of the house as much I wanted to be out of it. My dad was tight-lipped about the whole thing, but he didn’t try to stop me.
Once the novelty of being a wife wore off, I felt trapped. I wanted the single life I never had. I wanted to go to Europe and England with Joan, my girlfriend, like we’d planned when we were fifteen. It didn’t help that she went on her own. And why hadn’t I stuck with becoming a ballerina, or with my drawing? But by then I was pregnant with my first son, Darin, and things went from bad to worse. We were both way too young. I ignored signs of John’s inflexibility and what a friend of mine later called his “short man’s complex.” At some point I remember telling people I was lucky to have married a man who knew and followed the rules.
Our move to the States three years later—something that had been on my back burner ever since I was ten, and the most ambitious of all my plans—delayed the demise of our marriage by ten years. We landed in Mount Holly, North Carolina, a small town outside of Charlotte; I had enrolled John in a heavy equipment operator program in neighboring Chapel Hill. That first snowfall at the end of the course sent us scurrying for warmer weather—to Southern California, where we knew a couple from Nkana who had emigrated a year earlier. John never did use what he’d learned in the course; instead, he ended up becoming a partner in a company that built machines used in automation. I finally decided to end our marriage after he returned from a three week hiatus to “find himself”—while he was gone, I’d realized how much happier I’d been without his bad moods and explosive temper.
My divorce from John wasn’t yet final when I met Larry. I had moved out of our Huntington Beach home and had been living on my own for almost a year. I’d hoped we could sell the house so I could support myself, fifteen-year-old Darin, and thirteen-year-old Layne, but John wouldn’t hear of it. Because I was the one who had requested the divorce, he truly believed I wasn’t entitled to anything. He froze our savings accounts, and the boys stayed with him while our lawyers tried to convince him that I was entitled to half of everything. Finally, after a year, he bought me out. But until then I had to make it on my paltry salary working for John Gildea and Associates, where I drafted schematics for building sites.
Taking my clothes and a favorite frying pan, I moved in with a co-worker in Santa Ana, down the street from work. It was a whole new world for me: I’d never been on my own; I could eat artichokes at midnight if I wanted to. But I felt guilty and selfish for not sticking it out with John for my sons’ sakes. Mostly, though, I missed them and worried how they would fare without me. Every morning for a year I made the twelve-mile round-trip to Huntington Beach to get them off to school.
And then I got a job as a Letter Carrier with the United States Postal Service. It meant health benefits and a lot more money. I could no longer get the boys off to school, but we saw each other on the weekends. John and I had joint custody of the boys, and the decision was made for them to stay with him until they finished high school.
A month later, I moved into a subterranean room that had been jury-rigged beneath a three-bedroom house in North Laguna, which in turn was being rented by a young couple who sold marijuana. For $250 a month, I got a hot plate, a tiny shower and toilet, and a ground-level window overlooking a handkerchief-sized slab of cement. My newly purchased queen-size waterbed filled almost the entire room. There was just enough room up front for a white fake animal skin rug and a small table and chair.
I was having an adventure. I felt like a teenager. Plus, I was an employee of the United States Government. The post office was a thrill for me—uniform, eagle insignia, and all.
Larry started teasing me my second day on the job.
“How many trays of letters have you got to go now?” he called from across the aisle in the twenty-five person carrier bay. There were three bays in the warehouse-sized building. His taunts were met with hoots of laughter as I struggled to find the right address amongst three hundred slots of unfamiliar numbers for each of the thousand letters I had to sort in a certain amount of time without freaking out under the pressure. I had lost seven pounds off an already underweight frame in my first three weeks, I constantly felt at the point of hysteria, and I got lost most days while delivering the mail—but I loved the challenge. It was a whole new world for me: a man’s domain where the women who carried mail were expected to be one of the guys. I could do this.
But I hadn’t counted on having to deal with this man. His teasing made the job that much harder. Snapping back at him just brought more teasing, along with a collective, exuberant, “Whoa!” from those around us. Mostly I avoided him whenever possible. Yet he had this animal magnetism that drew me in, as well as a preternatural composure, an insouciance topped by a lightning-fast wit that was drop-dead funny. Then there was the sandwich he paid for at the same time he was paying for his at the lunch counter in Ralph’s grocery store, where we both happened to be one afternoon on our respective routes. No teasing, no smart aleck remarks, just a generous gesture and we both went our way. But the teasing continued.
Then, one Tuesday night, a couple of guys from work invited me to Taco Tuesday at Malarkey’s, an Irish Pub in Newport Beach. Larry arrived a few minutes after I did, and I found myself sitting next to him at the bar, all six feet of him posing sincere, thoughtful questions about my life. Shy, almost. Vulnerable. And that rich, deep voice. All of it was as confusing as his teasing had been, and completely seductive. I felt betrayed by the thrill that coursed through me. We spent half the night talking on the beach behind Malarkey’s, followed by a quick, feverish coupling in the back of his van. We made a dinner date for Saturday night and exchanged phone numbers.
For the next three days we avoided each other at work. I was embarrassed about being so “easy,” but I was also thrilled. I couldn’t deny my overwhelming attraction to him. I knew it would be a huge mistake to date someone from work—besides, he wasn’t divorced yet. What was I thinking? On the other hand, he avoided me because he said he’d felt “weird” about our encounter. I would soon learn that “weird” was a word he often substituted for feelings he couldn’t express. But the truly weird thing about it all was that the “gang” at work—mostly the old-timers, guys who could’ve taken their daily banter, born from the mind-numbing boredom of postal work, to Las Vegas—twigged onto the fact that something was going on with their leader. Suddenly he was quiet. And this one guy, Dave, hopped right on it. He used Larry’s favorite line: “Get some last night?”
“Does she use a cane? Have a seeing-eye dog?”
I put off breaking the date until Saturday morning. First I called my cousin—she and her husband had recently emigrated from South Africa—to tell them I was coming to visit for the weekend. Then I called the number Larry had given me—his eldest sister’s house, where he was staying with his fourteen-year-old daughter while he looked for a place to live now that he’d left his wife. His daughter answered and seemed to know who I was. I told her to please tell her father that I’d forgotten about a previous engagement and that I wouldn’t be able to meet him that night. And then I gave her my cousin’s number. Politeness? Hoping he’d call? Probably a little of both.
He drove seventy miles that night to see me, showing up in typical garb: flip-flops, blue jeans, and a long-sleeved flannel shirt, the cuffs and neck revealing tantalizing patches of perfectly curled dark hair, his moustache barely concealing the crooked bottom tooth I wanted to run my tongue over. His salt-and-pepper hair was cut short.
My cousin and her husband, all polite South African graciousness—along with scarcely concealed encouragement—fed us and suggested we head for the Jacuzzi in their apartment complex, along with a couple bottles of Dos Equis beer. Later, wearing panties and one of my cousin’s oversized T-shirts, which came to my knees, I didn’t avert my eyes when Larry stripped and slid into the Jacuzzi beside me. We were alone. I’d felt him that fateful night, but I wanted to see all of him. It was too dark, however. I had to settle for the occasional brush against his body as we soaked and talked. After his persistence in the van, he seemed quietly restrained—shy, even, despite all the kissing we did. That would be the last time kissing didn’t mean sex for him. He left at two o’clock the following morning; my lips were raw. I fell asleep in a glow of anticipation. I was in love.
I don’t remember how the decision was made to get married. Did he ask me? Probably not. We probably joked about it and then just went ahead and did it. At some point I said something like “Let’s just go for whatever this is.”
What I do remember is waking at midnight with moonlight streaming through the bamboo blinds in my little hippie pad ten days after he moved in with me. The newborn-size teddy bear he’d bought me at this upscale store in South Coast Plaza lolled on the chair by the window, while the antique kimono he’d bought at the same time hung in my curtain-covered closet. The man had taste and style and was very generous. He had molded his body behind mine, right arm wrapped around me, his hand snug beneath my cheek; our legs were intertwined, his big toe and the next forming a “V” over the back of my ankle—“hooked in,” he called it. We couldn’t get any closer. I’d never felt this kind of intimacy, this kind of connection. He was perfect, so comfortable to be with, so comfortable with himself. Everything was just so absolutely right with the world.
“I love you,” I whispered.
“I love you too.”
Three weeks later we were married on Avenida Revolución in Tijuana, Mexico above an arcade selling everything from turquoise jewelry to piñatas by an attorney clad in perfectly draped brown pants and white shirt sleeves rolled up just so above his wrists. He told us in a preacher lilt and broken English that we were embarking upon a sacred journey. And then, with arms outstretched like the godfather himself, he told my beloved to kiss his lovely bride. With an embarrassed laugh, Larry gave me a quick kiss and handed the man his $39. We left the two-story building with our official-looking certificate in hand. It was an illegal ceremony; neither of our divorces was final yet. A year later, in June, we made it legal at the Mission in San Juan Capistrano with my best girlfriend as a witness. But we always celebrated the Mexican marriage: March 11th.[{Insert Official Wedding Day. Adobe Acrobat Document here}]
Now, remembering our wedding, I was reminded that years had passed since Larry had bothered to celebrate either one of our anniversaries. I sighed. Still stretched out on the floor next to me, Sweetpea’s head came up and she gave me one of her worried looks. I stroked her and she lay back down. My mind strayed back to Larry.
The perfect American man: easygoing, modest, big old accent (born in California, but sounded like a Southerner). From the age of ten I’d dreamed of marrying an American. It started when American Dominican nuns came to Nkana to teach at St. John’s Convent Primary School. I was enrolled right away. The best education around, according to my parents—they were American, after all—even if they charged extra because I wasn’t Catholic. Those American scenes they had plastered all over our classroom bulletin boards—happy-faced children tobogganing down snow-covered hillsides, cars towing caravans along wide, tarred roads with honest-to-God roadside public toilets—made me ache for that life, where there seemed to be so much variety, so many possibilities. Even though the nuns were strict, there was a certain unconventionality about them, like the time Sister Vincent-Marie rolled up her habit sleeves and played softball in the dirt with us, stopping for a moment to include five African kids who were watching—unheard of. There was also the variety of the nun’s art projects, which stimulated something inside me that couldn’t be ignored.
And then there were the nuns’ accents, rich as melted chocolate compared to our flat, desiccated pronunciations, which I continued to find enthralling despite the way they made me feel about my colonial self—that we were worse than the natives in the villages; they were to be pitied, whereas we were a bunch of ignorant white interlopers. They had a point. Ironically, their derision fed my yearning for a brand-new life in America.
In the beginning, I loved family events with my American husband’s family. They mostly revolved around his antics. He always found ways to stir up things, silly stuff that left everyone weak with laughter. Like the time his twenty-eight-year-old sister bumped, then managed to catch, one of her mother’s expensive Lladro figurines before it hit the floor. In typical fashion, Larry called to his mother in the kitchen that someone had something to tell her. His sister windmilled her arms in desperation to shut him up. When his mother appeared he repeated his statement, his eyes on the offending sister. She managed to gasp that he was just messing around. His mother—“General,” one childhood friend called her—eyed her youngest daughter suspiciously, considered Larry for a moment with that indulgent look reserved only for him, and told her husband to control his son. The poor, sweet, brow-beaten man just smiled. He couldn’t control anything, let alone his son. No one wanted to. This kid in a middle-aged man’s body was way too much fun.
I enjoyed these fun fests as much as the rest of the family, maybe even more because it felt good to be with the star of the show. But after a while I began to feel that without Larry I had no place in the family. They seemed to like me all right. But they just didn’t seem that interested. I don’t remember anyone ever asking me one question about my interests, unless it had something to do with Larry, or even my life in Africa like most people did. Their easygoingness and friendliness promised a special kind of intimacy, but they never delivered. After all the years of celebrating their birthdays, they didn’t even know how old I was. I put it down to our many differences—in movies, food, music, most things. Plus, I didn’t share their history. But it was more than that. Larry later told me that even for him, dealing with his family was like punching into mist: there was nothing solid there, no real contact. “Kind of what it must be like dealing with me,” he added with a wry grin.

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