East Hampton, 1976
Mora and I had been in East Hampton for two days waiting for the sun to come out when we ran into Charles and Vee. It was July, the Bicentennial Summer, and we were on our first vacation as man and wife. We’d accepted a friend’s invitation to spend a few days at his beach house, but the afternoon we arrived the rains came, and lasted through the following day. We were grumpy stuck inside. We wanted to lie naked in the sun.
The next morning, the sun made its appearance, and it was windy when we walked to the beach. We had the ocean to ourselves, but it was too rough to go in. Empty blue sky, empty white beach, empty green ocean. The freckled, lively children further down the beach who were our only neighbors had to be content with building sandcastles. Mora read a novel and wrote in her journal, frowning and chewing her lip. It was her way of arguing with me without saying anything, and also of arguing with herself instead of with me. I shrugged at her silence and went for a long run on the wet hard sand, where high rolling breakers left thick clumps of seaweed, but I couldn’t outrace my frustration.
By evening, we were speaking only when spoken to and being scrupulously polite with each other. We brooded in marital silence over cold gin at Peaches, a restaurant in Bridgehampton where summer people went that year for a hamburger or a salad before rushing off to the parties that seem to run around the clock, summer weekends on the South Fork. When there was a breeze from the ocean, the leaves of the giant maples on the sidewalk outside scratched softly at the window screens. On each small round table a slender mirrored vase held a single rose. It should have been romantic; couples all around us thought it was.
I reached for her hand and she put it quickly in her lap.
“What the hell is wrong with us?”
She sighed and I knew she was grateful that I’d spoken first. The answer was sitting on her tongue. “It’s marriage. Holy Wedlock.”
“You want to expand on that?”
“I don’t have to. We both know it’s that – why it’s that.”
So we did. Jealousy. Possessiveness. Insecurity. Fights, screaming, threats, feeling trapped. And keeping score – that was the worst. That computerized reference file constantly added to of insult and injury, a never-to-be-erased tape of gritty misery.
“OK. What do we do now? Throw in the towel because the honeymoon isn’t working out?”
“I don’t know, Richard. I just think being unhappy is a waste of time.”
We stared at each other. Neither of us really wanted to be married. Not really. We were romantics, we weren’t interested in snug harbors – when we spoke of love, we meant passion. Rub us together and you got fire.
From the time I first saw Mora I was under a spell. I know some magic was involved, because I was on the defensive after the break-up of a relationship I’d taken more seriously than I should have. The home truths I’d learned about my needs were so lacerating, I vowed eternal celibacy.
For six months I’d been living like a monk in a basement sublet in Brooklyn Heights. It had a single bed I used and a kitchen I didn’t, and little else except for a color television set and a well-equipped darkroom. No pictures on the walls, no plants to be watered, no cats to wrap themselves around my ankles when I came back late from my studio on West 17th Street.
It was a low, unhappy period in my life. I told myself I’d snap out of my funk any day, but the truth was I was drifting, getting by in a low key. I had let being in love become a way of defining myself. Alone, I didn’t know who I was.
Mora came along just when I was beginning to spend so much time in Village bars that the bartenders knew my name, occupation, and marital status. One of them was an actor I had used as a model. He knew a woman who needed some pictures.
“She comes in here all the time. Lives just around the block. She’s real intense.”
“You don’t understand. I take pictures of products, not egos. I don’t do portfolio glossies and I don’t want to meet any women.”
It was noisy in the bar, right before dinner. Maybe he didn’t hear me.
“She’s a lot of fun. Just let me tell her you’ll do it.”
A few days later she showed up at my studio. I was fussing with lights around an ornate, old-fashioned bathtub with claw feet. Later in the day, the agency that had had it delivered to me would come to fill it with towels – I did catalogs, too.
I earn a living with a 35 millimeter camera because when I was a boy I picked up a Brownie for the first time and discovered my third eye. I have a gift for seeing with the camera lens what the naked eye misses, moments when formlessness becomes form. When Mora walked through the door, it was one of those moments.
I stared. She stared back. She was so small I could have fitted her in a large camera bag. The top of her head came to the middle of my chest. Her curly hair was short but not mannishly cut, a chestnut brown that smelled like oranges.
Her white skirt showed off her slender legs, and she had thrown a linen jacket over her thin shoulders. She wore a figa – a small, fist-shaped Brazilian good luck charm – on a gold chain around her throat, but no earrings, no bracelets: only a trace of lip gloss. Her tan was so deep, she looked like she’d just stepped off a plane from someplace south.
I looked away first, after seeing the mischief in her calm green eyes. “Ever modeled before?”
She shook her head. “Only for my boyfriend’s Polaroid, but the pictures always came out blurry – you know how those things go. He found it hard to concentrate.” She suppressed a smirk.
“You don’t say.”
We were grinning at each other. Hers was impish, provocative. “Have you acted before?”
“Never, if you don’t count Gilbert and Sullivan in grade school. But I’ve tried everything else and all my friends are in theater this year, so I thought, why not?”
Her self-confidence was dazzling. It came out in the standard portrait shots I did of her. Her dark features were wonderfully mobile, and she kept that glint in her eye. After the shooting, I cancelled my appointment with the bath towel people and took Mora to dinner.
And so we met. And we made love. She was just as bold in bed as she was before the camera, very passionate and open; her energy was astonishing. A month later, I left Brooklyn and moved into her second floor apartment on Cornelia Street. Things happened fast around Mora.
We lived together for a year, more happily than I’d thought possible. Business went so well in the studio, I hired a part-time assistant; Mora didn’t have to work because her father owned a shopping mall and sent her a monthly allowance. When she decided she had no acting talent, she got into politics for a while, and then she just started spending all her time at home cooking exotic meals; she told her friends she was too happy to concentrate on anything more.