Don't be misled. This piece is not about myself, but about a shadowy person who once shared my husband's room (and many other things besides, as you shall see) at the university. But let me make a proper beginning, like any self- respecting essayist.
In every marriage there are situations which lead to that dangerous pastime of exchanging amusing little confidences. For example, some Sunday afternoon when the dog has just been bathed and my hair has just been washed. Or some warm evening when there are a good two hours before it's time to dress for a party.
Learning to talk intimately to each other is one of the more absorbing aspects of marriage, of course, but one never knows when a confidence will become a confession or degenerate into a quarrel. Because married people must confide in each other and still live together afterwards, only the extremely unwise will let all their hair down without taking certain precautions.
My husband is a very careful and cautious man. he is also extremely modest. No matter how skilfully I have primed him with quaint little anecdotes about my schooldays, in the hope that he will respond with counterpart stories about his younger days, he remains non- committal. He is harder to catch than a smuggler.
He sits there and nods and smiles, laughing and commenting every so often, playing the role of devoted listener. When I have run out of breath and ingenuity, I will say casually, "tell me about yourself before we met>" Invariably, he looks down at his toes, gallantly indicating that life before I came was a drab affair and nothing to talk about really.
However, I am not to be put off so easily. Especially since having been a journalist for many years, I have learned how to couch the most brazen questions with brisk detachment. The most intriguing part of my husband's life (as far as I am concerned) are the several years he spent studying in America long before we met. It is to this obscure period that I always adress my inquiries.
I am as tactful as my eagerness will allow me, I begin by asking him innocently, about, say the seminar method in his college. The grading system, the length of the terms, the professors, the names if the courses also come under my scrutiny. Inevitably, I come to after- hours.
"What did you do after classes?"
"What a bore", I say. ""What did you do for fun?"
My husband is a cagey customer.
He has several stock answers ready.
Oh, museums, concert and glee clubs and a few, very few parties.
That's more like it. But it takes several more questions before my husband introduces his roommate.
You see, if I must believe him, my husband never took out any girls, or had any flirtations or emotional complications or my fun at all. But his roommate did. And if I like, he can tell me all about this interesting fellow instead.
All right, I accede, since a roommate is better than nothing.
and that is how I know so much about the subject of his piece, the man who used to room with the man who became my husband. This roommate seems to have been a charming young man, in addition to being incredibly like my husband. They were exactly the same age, they were taking the same courses, they had the same tastes (e.g. knitted ties and baked beans), they even looked alike, being darkhaired and large.
The roommate is called Bill, or Carlos or Fritz (Oh, he had a number of nicknames, is the airy explanation) and is sometimes Cuban, often Mexican. And that is what makes him remarkably a Filipino- you know, same culture and background.
Well, at any rate, he was, judging from my husband's stories, a devil with women. Dozens of girls in the nearby women's colleges were at one time or another in ,over with his melting black eyes, his dark hair, his Spanish accent (very similar to that of a Filipino who, like my husband, speaks Spanish). They wept over him and hung on his neck in spite of the fact that he was a quite heartless cad.
He also had a rich aunt, as my husband does, who sent him a generous allowance which allowed him to run up large liquor and haberdashery bills. He was always going off on fascinating week-ends and house- parties in glamorous New England towns, punting and shooting and playing around with girls while my poor husband of course stayed home with his homework.
The roommate kept getting into scrapes; passing out in the snow after a particularly rowdy party, during which my husband, dateless and drink-less, of course, had kept counselling him to take it easy; staying up all night cramming and almost not making the finals due to so much merrymaking with the girls (something my husband disapproved of); getting invited to foreign embassies to try the Hungarian cooking of some diplomat's daughter or getting his eye blacked by an Italian waiter for singing the fascist song.
Bill- Carlos- Fritz also had encounters with the local police, for rowdy and drunken behaviour, for putting political placards on the square, for playing practical jokes on his professors and friends. he was always having to change landladies, usually for littering the hallway with beer bottles. It is a wonder that my husband got along so well with this wild fellow (for my husband as I know him at least, is rather stuffy and staid). Indeed, I am amazed that he was so close to a man so unlike him in temperament or habits, to the extent of knowing his thoughts and even moving him from landlady to landlady.
Once, after a particularly delicious story about "my roommate", I whimsically remarked, "what a great guy he must have been! So So unconventional and so much fun. Perhaps I should have married him, instead of an old stick-in-the-mud like you!"
And out of the corner of my eye I saw my husband's face take an anguished, perplexed look as if he were trying to make up his mind about something. After a tense moment he sighed and took up his newspaper again saying, "Perhaps you should have at that. But all young wild men have a knack of growing into solid and dull citizens like me."
The trickiest part about this roommate is that he never writes to my husband now and neither does my husband write him. After such an intimate association over a period of so many years, they don't even exchange Christmas cards. Other friends and classmates write, but never Bill or Carlos or Fritz.
For some time now I have suspected that the roommate is only a device of my husband's to allow him the luxury of confiding in me without the danger of committing himself to anything that might be used against him. Marriage is, after all, a court in which one often incriminates oneself.
There is indeed a kind of understanding between us as to the real identity of this roommate, but as long as it remains unspoken and unadmitted it is a harmless understanding.
The only thing that galls me about this alter-ego is that I did not think of one for me first.