by Sharon Rich
© 1994, 2001, 2014 by Sharon Rich
ISBN: 978-0-9903230-0-6 (softcover)
ISBN: 978-0-9923230-1-3 (ebook)
(The following is an excerpt from Chapter One. All rights reserved, including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form.)
October 17-22, 1943
As the sun was setting, Jeanette and Nelson went to their favorite spot overlooking Lake Tahoe. There they performed a sentimental wedding ceremony. Jeanette sang “Indian Love Call,” a song they’d made famous, then they knelt together and promised to love, honor and cherish each other forever. Their vows were performed without witnesses and without a clergyman. They were renewing the pledge of love they’d exchanged eight summers before in 1935 at this very place while filming their second movie together, Rose-Marie.
But now it had to be done in secret because legally and in the public eye, each was happily married to someone else. A series of incredible events had prevented their wedding from ever taking place and had hurtled them into lifestyles from which they now could not extricate themselves. By necessity they lived double lives — a rollercoaster ride with moments of great passion countered by even longer stretches of agonizing separation. Sometimes the burden was too difficult to bear; they’d battled back from numerous breakdowns and suicide attempts during their years together.
That was why now in the final weeks of 1943, they needed to get away from the world and reaffirm their love and their faith in a God they trusted to somehow, someday, make things right for them.
Jeanette took a ring off her finger and handed it to Nelson. It was a stunner — an emerald surrounded by diamonds that had cost him $40,000 in 1935. Sometimes she wore it in public on her wedding finger — more often on a chain around her neck. “Your dear life is bound to me forever,” Nelson said as he slipped the ring back onto her finger and kissed her.
They returned to their “honeymoon” cabin, Nelson tenderly calling Jeanette “my wife.” After dinner, they discussed several topics including the state of their careers, then retired to their separate rooms. Recently, they had been keeping things on a “spiritual” level because intimacy brought with it such a devastating letdown when they were forced to part. “The physical has always been the least important for us,” Jeanette claimed. But their willpower would not hold out much longer.
Nelson kept a diary in which his impassioned writings reveal a man quite different than his public ever knew. He told Jeanette that the diary was her “insurance” — something she could always treasure in case anything ever happened to him. The following entry, dated December 3, 1943, is entitled “My Little Diary and its secrets” and chronicles their trip to Tahoe. The writing style is typical of Nelson’s personality, alternately Victorian and sexually graphic. He addressed the entry “To My Wife”:
My beautiful darling,
Three whole days and nights we had been together, satisfied with our kisses, happy just being in love but with our goodnight kisses, little sweetheart, did you know how desperately I was longing to keep you with me? Your bedroom became a symbol, and I knew that one night soon I must step across the threshold and reclaim my wife – just once more, despite my vows, I must hold her as I did on that wedding night. But there was no hurry. I loved your delicacy, your sensitivity about it all – giving it no importance, content just to be with me. And then one evening I came in the projection room and found you looking at an album of stills – our work, and suddenly, you were facing me, speaking my name so gently and sweetly, I almost wept. And it was at that moment that I knew I would never have the strength to leave you alone this night.
I asked you to go for a walk, remember? How beautiful our world has grown. Under the shortening sun we looked at the majestic trees, and the mountains and valleys grew more ageless, just as we knew our love would grow. On your delicate cheek was a color of palest pink. We walked back through the night an entered our darkened home. The night had grown cold and you shivered while I lit the fire. Soon you left to put on your night clothes and be comfortable for the evening and when you returned I had something hot for you and we ate beside the fire. My own darling, do you remember then how I pulled you down on my knees and pressed the sides of your face in my palms as I kissed the beautiful throbbing lips of my “wife”? Your body relaxed and my mind raced back to our wedding night. My dear one I knew our physical love would be just as enduring as the spiritual. Your returned kiss – I feel it yet, my dear wife. I dreamed it would be like this. But this night you were intoxicating beyond my fondest dreams – so wonderful – how I wanted to forever keep your lips to mine in a delicious lingering dalliance, that released all the fire that was in me. And then you said “Dear, your kisses are making me dizzy with emotion. A sweet torment, I admit, but please no more just now.” But dearest, that is just what I wanted you to say. And did you know I understand all your secrets so well? And I loved the hard way you were trying to keep repressed your rising emotions. We had been together three whole days and nights without allowing this to happen – it was all the sweeter for the waiting. I crossed with you to your bedroom door – do you remember? And suddenly I knew that I had to make you give me an invitation. Not by one word had you given me any sign that you wanted me in that bedroom with you – no, your delicate lady like manner never would so that’s why I wanted to make you. I stooped to kiss you and found you powerless to utter a word – you were at the breaking point. And then I said goodnight, hoping, oh how I was hoping you wouldn’t disappoint me. I felt your numb little fingers cling to mine and you whispered my name – said these words –
“I can’t endure your teasing me any longer. I want the finality – the ecstasy.” And with joy in my heart I lifted my darling in my arms and carried her to my own bedroom and gathered you in heaven’s own earthly bliss. And dearest, did you know you were a very intoxicated little girl? Cradled in my arms you forgot the world and the Silent Night Watchers heard you whisper as my hand slipped about you. “Darling, being your wife is sapping all my strength, and I am losing consciousness.” I smiled then and breathlessly found the curve of your white little breast – and now I will tell you a secret. When first my hand came in contact with that intimate glorious part of you, I almost died of ecstasy, and I knew you did too. My darling, I had not one thought of your sweet little body – it was so lovely – like a melody from some distant shore – and into my soul came the first peace I had known in many years. And if my lips so quickly found yours that magic evening, it was to quiet the storm in my own heart. I remember telling you that you belonged to me – that I would never let you go. By then my darling was almost past all feeling but what a joy to know that fiercely beating little heart was trying so hard to keep me from seeing your real emotions – afraid to let yourself go – so, though it was all as much of a divine mystery to you as it was to me, I think the joy hurt you more.
This other morning I reminded you of this my little shy sweet maiden, now a wife, but always a maiden. Since first you came to me in Tahoe, your hair a sheen of russet sunset – fields of ripe yellow grain – and now a pretty dishevelment in my arms, what meaning life has held for me. Our stars, our moon, our trees, how dear they have become, and how much more real are YOU than anything in nature. Last night your fear of yourself was just as great, and I hope that self fear will pass. You can’t be anything but you in my arms, and I am going to always force you beyond the limits you have set for yourself, for that’s the vanity in me, my darling.
Remember as I looked at you this morning, feeling the warmth of your body beside me, I playfully kissed the tip of your nose, and you said (the very idea) “I’m hungry!” I laughed. How like you my little pet, to bring me back to normal with that prosaic remark. But the drowsy contentment on your face belied your words.
Sweet lovely hours, married hours of bliss. I insisted on getting breakfast and when I called you, you were just finishing your bath, so when I told you to hurry, you came in your morning robe of pale blue dotted Swiss. So beautiful you were, and you asked me to excuse you for not dressing since breakfast would get cold. I watched your tiny fingers holding the coffee cup, the curve of your wrist as you poured my coffee. Oh my darling, what a mistress for a man’s home. I closed my eyes and imagined you presiding at my table when we entertain our friends. How proud I shall be. In all the world there never will have been a man so proud.
At the end of the self-styled honeymoon, Nelson and Jeanette went their separate ways. With renewed urgency they tackled the matter at hand: how could they finally free themselves from the disaster they’d made of their lives?