The point here is that Marina is beautiful by any aesthetic, with a calm perfection of feature that fulfills all the requirements of classical symmetry.She has long, dark, gracefully curved eyes with a natural outline most of us add with eyeliner, pale gold skin, a delicately retroussé nose, and long, flowing, midnight hair. Astarte, a former assistant of mine informed me that Marina is a high yellow, a term I’d thought obsolete and far from politically correct, but I guess digestible used by someone of African American lineage. Marina is American born, with recent roots in the Windward Islands, the American Carolinas and Harlem. The most interesting thing about her is that she never uses her looks for professional advancement, which she well could. She started out in publicity at a company where I worked, spent a couple of onerous years as executive assistant to one of the least supportive bosses in the hemisphere, and made her way into sales and marketing where she’d set her sights from the beginning. Since I too reported to her boss, we often came into contact, found we had things in common and lunched together every now and then, usually to commiserate over the numbskull starts of our chief.
Marina exudes an air of gentle tranquillity hinting at readiness to conciliate, making it obvious why she often seems the zenith of desirability on personal or domestic levels for even the most exacting or reactionary of men. What most of them don’t see or suspect is the hidden steel core, the drive to construct her life as she sees fit and include in it only those who acknowledge and accommodate her choices. Not that she was always so sure. It’s a strength, tempered over the years, that keeps growing. She’s still in her 30s, so I guess you’d call her a hag-in-training. But she’s got the potential. When I left the company we kept in touch, getting together for an occasional dinner to give ourselves time for a good allotment of drinks and no worries about who in the business might be eavesdropping from the next booth. Marina grew up in Harlem, daughter of the second marriage of a strong-minded, mother, who suffered no fools gladly, even if the fool in question was a husband. Well before the rise of 60s feminism, she had dispensed with one unsatisfactory spouse, raising the children on her own. She gave Marina’s father his congé when it became clear he wasn’t planning on supporting the family and regarded multiple lovers as his unquestioned prerogative. Marina went through the city schools, always doing well, even having to deal with the glaring inadequacies of neighborhood institutions that were essentially fortresses. There was no question in either her or her mother’s mind that she would go to college, and she graduated with honors from Hunter. In those years she contracted an engagement with a dashingly handsome guy from St. Lucia. As the wedding date approached, she noticed his behavior becoming more and more autocratic and exacting, and within a month of the ceremony called it off, weathering a fit of rage and flurry of threats.
She met Bobby just after her senior year in high school, another handsome player a few years older than she was. Once the first engagementended, Bobby moved in at supersonic speed. He was soft-spoken, had his degree, and a promising job in the public sector; he offered the romance, excitement, and devotion that had so abruptly disintegrated with her Caribbean suitor.
They married as soon as Marina graduated and within five years were living in a big apartment in the Bronx. Marina also scored a rent-controlled place in Harlem and installed her mother there. A couple of years later Bobby junior arrived and three years after that Layla. Marina moved out of publicity to executive assistant, and everything seemed halcyon. Still, I noticed she was not as sunny as usual, but put it down to the irritations of working for a pill. Also, her mother, who had helped with the children before and after school died, leaving both a practical and emotional void.
At one of our lunches she began to confide her frustration with her job. Having many years in the business behind me, I helped her with her cv and put her on to any openings I heard of.For our dinners, we usually had drinks at my place, then went to an uptown spot to eat. And that was when threads of dissatisfaction with Bobby began to weave their way into the conversation.
“He’s saying I’m not the same, sweet, gentle little girl I was when he met me,” Marina said sardonically. “And he’s right. Back then, I was 18, and I just thought everything he did and everything he said was wonderful.” “I know that state of mind,” I said. “I was the same way – in the beginning, But husbands think they can pull shit without repercussions, and they’re wrong. It may take a while, but you catch on to them.” “Well, I sure caught on to Bobby,” said Marina. “He doesn’t know what to think. He says he hardly knows me.” “He needs to deal with the you of today. After all, you two have a legal contract, right?” “Oooh, that’s right. We do. He needs to consider that.” And we laughed. But there was more trouble down the road. Bobby’s comings and goings had been getting erratic for a while. He’d get a call from a friend ostensibly experiencing car trouble and have to go help him out. The tire change or battery charge would extend into a six-hour marathon, and when he called in to say he’d be later than expected, sounds of music and tinkling glasses in the background didn’t suggest the open road or a garage. There were frequent hang-ups when Marina answered his cell phone, and some murky charges on the Sprint and Visa bills. “I called back one of the numbers on his cell phone,” she told me, “And some woman answered. Turned out she had no idea he was married. We had quite a talk. She was so apologetic. He had no idea she and I had been in contact, and he actually had the nerve to get mad about my calling on his phone. I’ve had about enough of his bullshit.” “I can imagine. What are you planning?” “Well, for one thing, now I’ve got the job in sales, I can take care of myself, no problem. My boss is wonderful to me. He sends me to conferences and shows, and he’s putting me up for promotion already. And I’ve been trading e-mails with my old high school boyfriend. He moved to South Carolina, and he wants me to visit him. I’m thinking I need to set myself up with a new system. And I told Bobby I wanted an open marriage.” "You’re not holding back, are you? What did he say?” “He just sat there looking at me.” After that I was traveling for a couple of months, and didn’t get together with Marina until a few weeks ago. we had dinner at Mo-Bay on 125th Street, reveling in jerked shrimp, oxtail gravy, stewed chicken, bammie, red velvet cake – all the items that make the food at trendy downtown venues seem made of ectoplasm. If I lived next to this place, I’d weigh 400 pounds. And the rest of Marina’s saga came out. After her mom died, she and Bobby and family moved into the rent-controlled apartment on 135th Street. The location was ideal, a much easier commute for Marina and for getting the kids to school. But Bobbie continued to act up, and Marina had a heavy dialog going with Ray, the old flame. “I finally told Bobby I’d had enough. And I changed the locks on the door.” “You did? How enterprising of you. But didn’t he object to getting thrown out of his apartment.” “It wasn’t his. The lease is in my name. And I told him I didn’t need a man who didn’t treat me right to define me and what I can do. Or anybody. He was totally shocked. And all along Ray and I were in communication. Once Bobbie was out, and the kids were visiting their grandmother, I went down to Charleston to see Ray. And, man, did he deliver the goods! The sex was fantastic!” “I’ll bet.” “Yeah, but then when I got back, Bobbie was after me day and night. He said he didn’t want to lose his family, that he knew he hadn’t been acting right. I told him I had a boyfriend and wasn’t ready to get back together.” “What? What did he say to that?” “He didn’t believe me. He said he was going to change. And in the meantime, after three months of hot e-mails and stuff, Ray started having financial problems, but like somebody who just didn’t have it together. He said he couldn’t pay his car insurance, and he wanted me to go back down there and help him out. And he kept bugging me about Bobbie. So I thought, what do I need this for? “Then I agreed to go to counseling with Bobbie, and things have been getting better and better with us. I let him move back in, but he understands he’s strictly on probation. He knows I can find somebody else if I want to. I told him, ‘I see men looking at me, so don’t think I don’t have my opportunities.’ He’s really been good. He bought me a car, and he’s taking me to Jamaica, to a five-star, the week after next. So for now, things are fine.” Marina looked at me with a sly smile and a kind of dreamy expression. “Of course, there’s sales conference in a couple of months, and I’ve had my eye on one of the guys from the Australian office since the last one. We danced up a storm at the spring meeting. I don’t see any reason not to keep my options open, do you?” “Absolutely not, “ I said.