SHARED STORIES: I'm a member of AAA

In this piece, Cynthia Vanasse shares some painful memories about prior relationships in the hope that others might learn from some of her mistakes and know they are not alone.  Cynthia enjoys her children and grandchildren, and life with her new puppy. Shared Stories is a weekly column featuring articles by participants in a writing class at the Norwalk Senior Center.  Bonnie Mansell is the instructor for this free class offered through the Cerritos College Adult Education Program. Curated by Carol Kearns

By Cynthia Vanasse

Normally if someone asks if you are a member of AAA, you might think of the American Automobile Association.  I am a member of this organization too; it has helped me out of many difficult roadside problems.

But I am also a member of another AAA, and I do not mean the car insurance company. The AAA I belong to is very special; you have to meet specific criteria to join.  Hopefully, there are not many others who qualify.

My organization consists of women who have been married or engaged to an adulterer, an alcoholic, and an Alzheimer’s patient.  This assortment of type “A” men has filled my life with new insights to the trials of being human and why I am attracted to those struggling.

My first husband, Scott, was a serial adulterer. We were married for 25 years and had two great kids. Our lives seemed blessed. My husband’s outgoing personality together with a quick engineering mind made him a perfect employee for I.B.M. in the Sixties. He landed a sales position and installed the first bank computer system.  

His career continued with world travel. While he was setting up systems, he was also setting up himself. I was very naïve and the thought of adultery never entered my head. 
What have I learned from this marriage? All people are not honest with empathy for others. I did not understand this. As Scott has many admirable qualities, I now recognize that all humans are a mixture of good and bad. Yes, adultery is a fault, but in other cultures it is a given. Culture molds our morality.

I also had to look at myself and admit that I had a very sheltered academic upbringing, leaving me unsophisticated in the ways of the world. I was very trusting. If I had been more experienced, Scott would not have “gotten away” with this behavior. There were too many signs that I did not recognize. 

After our divorce, I became engaged to Peter, another engineer. He was very successful and retired at an early age, living in a beautiful home in Los Altos Hills. From his living room we could see the Golden Gate Bridge and the Bay Bridge. His property was on one-half acre with deer and horse trails meandering through. He was my second “A”, an alcoholic.

I was at my daughter’s graduation from Colby College, when the phone rang and I was told to return quickly. Peter was in the hospital. I ran into his room, and he was orange. Peter was a functioning alcoholic who needed vodka in his system every four hours. Here was a man who had the ability to hide his problems, and I was not aware enough to understand. 

When Peter asked me to marry him, he wanted to form a living trust with me as the sole beneficiary. My “false morality” told me not to accept this until we were married. Well, he died intestate shortly thereafter; everything he owned went to the state. My moral questioning was not valid, and I lost millions because of it. In the future I would not be guided by false morality.

For the last “A” in my life, I married a man who was on the cusp of Alzheimer’s disease. He was older than me and I was not aware of the disease. I learned the heartbreak of old age often ending with mental and physical incapacity. Thus I gained an understanding of the role of inevitable death in our lives and the courage it takes to accept it.

I became a member of this AAA partially because of my lack of experience in understanding the dark side of our human mind. I now can accept the capacity in each of us to hurt others, often to hide our faults. I understand my role as an unaware bystander.

If you like the person you are now, you are the result of all your past experiences. I am content with the lessons I have learned. Being a member of AAA has been a valuable life experience—perhaps the most valuable!