‘I would like to ask you for a big favor. If you can. If its alright with you, I would like to loan them to you.’  He must have noticed a confused look on my face.

‘See, the thing is; Sarah is decorating our new apartment and she absolutely hates them!’ I am speechless. I had of course known Sarah  and liked her the way you like your boss’ pleasant spouse. But other than when thrown together during the required company social gatherings, our talks never went past perfunctory pleasantries. Neither was I personally that close to Lee. Our relationship was congenial and warm but mainly based on mutual professional respect. Other than his foray in India, we also shared a common thread of both of us having worked at Time Inc., where he was editor-in-chief of Life en Espanol. He worked out of the editorial offices in New York and I think also in Paris and Tokyo. I worked in Time’s production offices in Chicago. Our paths had never crossed during our Time & Life days. Of his personal life, I knew only bits and pieces. That he was married before and had three kids and had been divorced – must not have been that pleasant. From his accidental comments, his relationship with his kids too seemed more obligatory than warm. That he have had a serious bout with alcoholism, which too I was only somewhat aware of at the tail end. But the ones who knew him better, would tell me that it was real bad until after he married Sarah. All of them were in agreement that it was Sarah who had helped straighten him out. And that she loved him and had been good for him. That she was the reason Lee has been and was dry for some time now.

They had just moved from their matchbox of a highrise on the North Lake Shore Drive to a vintage lowrise on the short strip at the curve of the lake on Oak Street, from whose windows you could practically touch the water. An elegant place. Sarah’s own domain. And as much as Sarah had done for him, even having mostly given up drinking herself and whatever else it must have taken for her to steer Lee in the right direction – and as much as Lee seemed to love her, giving up those three paintings was the least he could do for the woman who meant so much to him.

All that scrolled through the screen of my head as I heard him continue: ‘I would be grateful if you would agree to take them. This way I would know that they are in good hands and I am sure  that you and Caroline (sic) would appreciate and enjoy them. And whenever I feel homesick for them, I can always stop by and look at them.’

That was in 1985. I still have those paintings occupying very prominent spots in my apartment. Lee never looked back, never reclaimed them or visited to admire them. The sacrifice he made turned out to be worth his while, because Sarah and Lee remained happily married up until indeed death did them part. And now he is no longer among us. But when in 1997, I wrote about the incident in my book, Of Simultaneous Orgasms and Other Popular Myths: A Realistic Look at Relationships, as an example in the chapter titled, Little Things Make Big Differences, and sent him a copy of the book – he wrote back. Thank you for the dedication as well as the mention in the book (including the nicely disguised one about the Indian Paintings.)

© Haresh Shah 2013

Illustration: Jordan Rutherford

Next Friday, February 29, 2013

BY THE TIME I GET TO AMSTERDAM…

Not every relationship problem is resolved by giving away paintings. There are times when the only solution is to go your own separate ways. Here is the story of a dramatic escape of someone not waiting until the death did them part.

 

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