Everything was going so well until he proposed.
When I found Jim, I was playing Judge Beth Bornstein on the TV series “Murder One.” He was 44 and a former Marine Corps tank officer who sold IBM midrange computers. I had just turned 50 and was blissfully content in my post-divorce home in the Hollywood Hills.
Seven years earlier, with the death of my marriage, I had been racked with loneliness. Then I came to appreciate my own company. I could stay up all night and eat cake for breakfast. I could sing Bonnie Raitt’s “I Can’t Make You Love Me” at the top of my lungs while hunched over a tumbler of bourbon. I could see people if I wanted or be by myself.
Jim was living in his sister’s house in the Valley.
With him to love, but happily living across town in Sherman Oaks, I had it all.
Then one night, a year after we met, Jim said, “What would you say if I asked you to marry me?”
I was expecting the question.
“Yes,” I replied. “I’d say yes.”
“Good,” he said. “I just wanted to know what you’d say if I asked.”
“Are you kidding?” I said. “You can’t pre-ask me to marry you. I revoke my ‘yes.’ ”
He laughed and gave me a look that said: You are so adorable.
I buried my rancor and we went along our merry, uncommitted way for another month. On Valentine’s Day, after the in-home massages he ordered as my gift, Jim leaned across the steak dinner I made and took my hand.
“Will you marry me?” he asked again.
“Are you serious?”
“Sorry about last time,” he said. “I wasn’t thinking.”
It would have been nice if he had made a reservation at a restaurant and bought a bauble chosen with me in mind. we were in our bathrobes and more than a little greasy. There was no ring.
All that seemed nothing compared with the joy of having Jim sitting across from me for the rest of my life. I said yes.
That night I woke from a deep sleep: “Oh, my God, I’ll never be alone again.”
The next morning I told Jim we didn’t have to marry. I just needed to know he wanted to.
“Oh, yes, we do,” he said. “I want everybody to know we love each other. I want it to be public.”
A long engagement
It was February, and we were going to New York in June. We decided he could move in after we returned in July.
To absorb some of my angst, I decided to do some remodeling. I was using a small bedroom for my office, and Jim was happy to take it over for his man cave.
For myself, I would make a new office on the lowest floor of the house, where the previous owner had a studio. It was large: 40 feet long by 15 feet across.
I began to sketch a floor plan. On the north end I drew a picture window. My desk would go in front of it so I’d be able to see my garden and the fruit trees. On the south end, I put the bathroom. There would be room for a tub/shower and a vanity. A kitchen seemed like a good idea. Then I could make a snack while I was working.
I added a breakfast bar, half-fridge and sink. To divide the office from the kitchen and bath, I drew two roomy closets and a couch with an entertainment unit. Knowing Jim’s sister didn’t need all the furniture in the house they were selling, I thought I might buy their son’s bed. That way guests would have a place to stay.
While all this was going on, we went shopping for an engagement ring. I reasoned it was good Jim waited so we could do it together.
I finally found a contractor who would do the job. He went to work with a raggedy crew that never showed up before 11 a.m. Almost every day I said: “You have to have this done by June 7. We leave for New York on the 8th, understand?”
“No problemo,” he’d say.
What have I done?
Jim moved in when we got back in July.
An old girlfriend came over to ooh and aah.
“Honey,” she said, “This isn’t an office. This is a new house. Bath, kitchen, bed, TV, closets. You could live down here.”
“No, no,” I said. “It’s just an office. You know, and a place to put family when they visit ... and to ... and to. ... What have I done?”
“Built yourself an escape hatch from the looks of it,” she said, with the compassion of someone who knew me all too well.
“Did you get what I was doing?” I asked Jim later.
“Pretty much,” he said. “It’s OK.”
A girl needs a man who’s sane when she goes crazy, so I married him.
On Christmas morning, five years after we wed, I found a small present under the tree. I tore off the bow and paper. Jim took it from me and opened it to reveal an emerald in a gold setting. He got down on his knees, took my ring finger in his hand, and said, “Will you marry me?”
The first proposal was for practice. The second was for real. But the third was, in Jim’s words, “Because I thought it would touch your heart.”
It’s possible this might work out.