Back from my first overseas adventure in the Soviet Union, in the fall of 1978 I was out of graduate school and in need of a job. At the time I thought I would just find something, anything, that would allow me to get by for two or three years and figure things out. Little did I know I was about to enter upon a career that lasted more than 25 years.
There it was, a full page ad in the Washington Post in August or September of 1978:
Wanted: Physicists, astronomers, and mathematicians with BS or higher degrees who know a little about programming to work on contracts with Goddard Space Flight Center.
I'm sure the real words of that ad were punchier, but that was the gist of it. I interviewed in October and started work the Monday after Thanksgiving, moving to Maryland and finding a room in a shared group house. On $14,000/year starting salary, I couldn't afford an apartment of my own.
CSC loved slogans. "CSC: Part of it, proud of it," was the most common one in corporate advertisements and on posters, but the one I liked most was:
CSC: The only limitations are the ones you bring with you.
How funny I thought that slogan was then, how much like the Soviet propaganda I had seen everywhere that summer. As the years went by, however, I came to see it not just as funny, but also as an ironically truthful description of my own life.
I've already described the fun I had through the years at CSC doing flight dynamics and attitude determination for missions starting with Magsat and ending with Hubble Space Telescope. I'm still friends with several of the people I met on my first day on the job in 1978, and some of them may be reading this today. Although we decry the heartlessness of corporate America, I felt that at least in work, I had a family, a wonderful group of people to work with and to laugh with.
|Part of our "Tacky" Crew on the PASS Project for Hubble Space Telescope|
In my personal life, I was willing myself to be normal. Here I am, at the start of a new job, living on my own with my own income, and with a clear path ahead if only. . . .
Lifespring, one of the EST-like self-improvement programs of the early 1980s, became the rage at CSC in 1980. One of the senior CSC analysts, in fact the very one who had interviewed me in 1978, took me out to lunch, trying to talk me into signing up for "The Basic." I resisted, but then he got me. "I know what your life is like," he said. "You go home to your hobbies, but I don't think you have ever gone on a date. You are all alone." I still said no, but then to spite him called Lifespring myself and registered the next day.
Over the next year I did the whole program. "The Basic" was followed by "IPE intermediate" and then "TC advanced." I now look back and think of Lifespring as psychology without a license conducted by charismatic facilitators whose real loyalty is to the company's bottom line, but Lifespring influenced me in dramatic ways that set my path for better or worse -- and I really do mean for both the very best and the very worst -- for years to come.
In the "TC advanced" program, we had small groups in which we were to help each other on our most important personal issues. Of course, I said not a word about the issue, but I willingly jumped at my group's suggestion that what I needed most was to date as many women as I could over the months of the program. No one could believe that I was still a virgin, in fact had never masturbated, and had never been on a real date. I became the group's mascot, as both the men and women urged me on, encouraging me at every step. I loved the attention, and I more than anyone else wanted this to work. "Surely my problem is that I have never even tried to live a normal life, isn't it? Surely if I start to meet women as men meet women, I will find what it is that I have never felt or understood?" Or, as Jennifer Finney Boylan wrote so simply two decades later, surely "Love will cure me?"
I filled and overfulfilled the plan. Well, OK, I was no Casanova, but over three or four months I had gone on at least a dozen full-fledged dates. My small group was all over me with cheers and hugs the day I announced I had lost my virginity.
So what was wrong with this picture? The night when I gave up my virginity, I felt it was all backwards. The roles were wrong. I did everything to give pleasure that I had read or been told about, but when the time came for my own pleasure, I found I couldn't care less. I wanted to be caressed and held in the way I had been doing the holding and caressing. As my partner started to look and wonder what was wrong, I closed my eyes and imagined a complete role reversal. Only then was I able to continue. That's the way it was that night, and that's the way it has been ever since. Of course, I said not a word. Surely, with time this will change?
I remember being taken one evening to Shepherd Park, a raw strip club on Georgia Avenue near the DC line. I had never been to such a club before. As the friend who brought me sat back with his beer to enjoy the show, I looked around and saw that the other guys in the dark club seemed to be having a wonderful time watching, tipping, and yelling encouragement to the dancers. I felt nothing, just a sense of wonder that anyone would come to such a show and commiseration with the bored expressions on the faces of the dancers. But I had earned another stripe on my road to normalcy.
Finally, one evening I was in the Lifespring office, making calls to people who had been to a guest event, trying to convince them to sign up for the full program. It was a slimy job that I did not enjoy, but eventually I made one call that was different. The young woman who answered had a slight accent, so after the Lifespring pitch, I asked where she was from. I found out she was a history graduate student doing research for a Ph.D. I forgot about Lifespring and started to talk about my own travels in the Soviet Union. We met face to face several weeks later at another Lifespring event, and eventually I invited her for dinner and to see the full six-hour Soviet film version of "War and Peace." I joined her at a political rally protesting U.S. involvement in Nicaragua or wherever it was that we were intervening at the time. "Wow," I thought, "Maybe this is what it's about, friendship based on mutual interests and caring?"
We were married in the summer of 1982. It was the best and worst decision of my life, and I suspect my spouse would say the same. We have a wonderful grown son, now age 22 and quite the independent, cultured, graceful, successful young man that every parent dreams of. We loved, we cried, we took care of aging relatives in their final days, and we made our home in Silver Spring the envy of our neighbors through never ending fix-it projects and renovations.
I entered the marriage without saying a word about my internal struggle, so convinced I was that through marriage and love and building a family, I would cure myself. "It" would simply go away, never to trouble me again. I could not have been more wrong. . . .
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This is all I will say concerning my marriage that lasted from 1982 through 2007, although our divorce was final only in 2010 and was followed by post-divorce litigation that lasted into this year. I will, of course, write about what happened to me and the consequences through these years, but I respect my ex-spouse's privacy and feelings. I will never mention her name, where she came from, where she is today, or anything else that could even hint at her identity. I can only hope that someday there will be peace between us, that we can be in the same room for our son's marriage or for the birth of a grandchild.