My junior year at Tulane University began in August of 1995. I’d moved into a single on the second floor of Monroe Hall, a building on campus notorious for its deathtraps that masqueraded as elevators. I had been doing reasonably well at Tulane. My GPA was a healthy 2.93, though I was on probation for my scholarship since I needed a 3.0 in order to keep it going. Our core group of Magic players was back on campus: Anthony was back, with his twin brother Chris in tow. Group games became a contest to take both of them out at once, because even though they feigned neutrality, they would always look out for one another. Chris had a propensity for playing Black decks, and so every deck he brought to the table would be a mono-Black monstrosity of 150+ cards. Anthony still stuck with White and Red, although he began venturing into Blue at some point.
If Anthony and Chris were a pair, then big Jeff and Khaled were another twosome. Khaled came to Tulane from Saudi Arabia, and loved playing Magic. He also had an amazing power to disappear. We’d miss him for weeks at a time at Magic games, and then he’d suddenly just appear, to Jeff’s delight.”Khaled!””What?””Where have you been?””Around.” Khaled would also turn up in the most ridiculous of places. We’d be going through a car wash, and he’d be there in someone else’s car right behind us. We’d go down to the French Quarter, and Khaled would be at the bar we’d end up at – and once we found him, we’d turn around and he was gone.
There was a time, years later, when Anthony and Chris were living together off campus, but they had only a single phone line. Anthony used to run the phone line from the kitchen to his bedroom for internet access, but it would drape the line across the hallway. The joke went that one night, Anthony was going to be woken up by a loud thump in the hallway, only to find that Khaled had ended up in his house at 2am, and had broken his neck tripping over the phone line.
Several of my former computer buddies from Zemurray had gotten into Magic at this point, including Brandon, Mike and Lou. Lou became the editor of the Tulane Hullabaloo, and had run a front page article about how”A Magic Spell had Gripped Tulane!” If I can ever dig up this article from the Hullabaloo archives, you will see a picture of a young Ben Bleiweiss. Things were going pretty well, and I was having a great time, hitting most of my classes, and doing well with my tests.
Thursday, October 5th, 1995. I got the phone call in the early morning. My mom was crying hysterically on the phone.”Your father left me!””What?””He packed up his things and left this morning! He said he wasn’t coming back!” She sobbed between her words. On my end of the phone, I was stunned. As far as I knew, my parents had a great marriage – they never fought in front of me or my brother, there weren’t any issues that I knew of – but here was my mom, completely destroyed, telling me that my dad was gone.
“Can I speak to Jon?” My mom got my brother on the phone.”Jon, what the hell’s going on?””Dad left,” he cried.”What am I going to do?,” my mom wailed, still completely hysterical. I started to cry too.”When did he leave? Why did he leave?” I couldn’t concentrate. They filled me in on the information – my dad had been going to therapy with my mom and was unhappy with the marriage. I hadn’t been aware of any of this – my mom and dad had kept it from me. The night before, my mom and dad had been making plans for a second honeymoon. The next morning, my dad packed up as much clothes as he could put in his car, and took off for a hotel in New York City, never to return.
“I’ll call you guys back later,” I blurted out, slamming down the phone. I laid face down on the dorm room bed, my tears soaking my pillow. This just wasn’t processing in my mind. Weren’t my mom and dad in love? Why was he leaving now? He had never told anyone he was unhappy, and this came as a shot out of the dark. Was he okay? Was my mom going to be okay? Why the hell did my family just come apart?
I must have fallen asleep after crying so much, because the next thing I remember was the phone ringing. It was my dad.”I just wanted to call you and let you know that I’ve left your mother.” So cool, so collected. Very little emotion in his voice.”Why? Why’d you leave?””Well, people can fall in love and fall out of love, and I’d fallen out of love with your mother.” Textbook clinical answer. Just like my dad. No emotions to show, only rationalizations.”I’ll be staying in New York City until I find an apartment, and here’s my phone number.””Are you going to be all right,” I asked, naively.”I think so,” he replied, twenty-six years of marriage gone just like that.
It was evening. I stumbled out of my dorm room, and ran into the guy who lived a door over from me on the floor.”Are you okay?” he asked. He must have heard me crying, and could see that my eyes were completely puffy.”My dad just left my mom.” Not the kind of information you should dump on a near stranger.”Oh man. That sucks. Can I do anything?””No, I just need to go somewhere and think. I’ll be on the parking garage roof for a while.”
Just to set the record straight, I had often gone to the roof of the parking garage at Tulane to sort out my thoughts. It was the highest point in all of Uptown New Orleans, and had a great view of the city skyline. I’d gone up there on my own many times, and a lot of times I went up with friends just to have a quiet place to chat.
The guy who lived next door to me didn’t know this at all, and thought that I was going to the roof to jump. He immediately got the Resident Advisor, who ran to the parking garage to find me. I was just up top, looking out over the railing, trying to figure out what I was feeling, what had just happened to my life, and what I was going to do with myself.
RA:”Dude, are you okay?”
RA:”Yeah, (guy) told me that your parents just split up.”
Me:”Yeah. It came out of nowhere. I’m just really confused.”
RA:”Well, if you need someone to talk to, we can go somewhere and talk.”
Me:”I’m fine here.”
RA:”You’re not going to do anything rash, are you?”
Me: (Dawning realization):”Oh man, don’t worry about it. I’m not going to kill myself. I come up here all the time to think and I really just need to think right now.”
RA:”Ok, but if you need someone to talk to, come get me.”
I spent the rest of the night on top of that garage, thinking about me, my parents, and my brother, until the sun came up. Then I went to my dorm room and slept for about fourteen hours straight, until it was dark again.
My college life rapidly came to an end after that. My mom had invested her entire life in my dad’s career, and had not really made a life of her own. Without my dad there, she quickly lost the will to live. My brother, who was in high school at the time, had a constant struggle to get her to do things like get out of bed and eat. I was constantly worried that she was going to kill herself, and couldn’t concentrate on school at all. My friendships quickly deteriorated – I became angry and frustrated all the time, from lack of sleep, lack of eating, and complete emotional stress.
A few weeks later I made the decision: I was going to drop out of school, and help take care of my mom in New York. I was completely lost and suddenly found that I didn’t know what I wanted from my life, and the stability of my parent’s marriage had been replaced by a distant father and a suicidal mother. It only took a few days to arrange leaving school, and I packed everything into my car and made the drive up to New York.
Three days after arriving in New York, I woke up late one afternoon to find that nobody was home. I went downstairs. On the third step of the staircase was a note. I knew exactly what that note was. I collapsed and started crying. An hour later, the door opened. It was my mother.”I couldn’t do it. I went down to the pier, and just looked over the water, and I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t leave you and your brother alone in the world.” We hugged. I never read that note.
Over the coming years, I would move from Long Island with my mother, to New York City with my father, to Massachusetts, where I attended half a semester at Hampshire College and then back to New Orleans in the fall of 1997. My mother would frequently call me asking me to”let her go” and let her know that I didn’t need her around anymore so she could kill herself. I learned just how emotionally crippled of a human being my father was. I was confused, angry, nervous, and lost. My mother refused to get on with her life. My father wanted nothing to do with her. The divorce proceedings dragged on.
Six years later, in 2001, I would graduate from Tulane University.
Seven years later, in 2002, my parents would finally finalize their divorce.
The only constants, from October of 1995 until the summer of 2002, were the specter of my parent’s divorce, and the game of Magic. The divorce would take me on a soul searching journey up and down the Eastern seaboard, across the seas, and into my heart and mind. Magic would take me, in the fall of 1995, to Neutral Ground in New York City.
Ben can be reached at [email protected].