Boyd Lemon is an enigma. A man who has done a hundred or more interviews and yet, never once has an interviewer really broken down his book Digging Deep: A Writer Uncovers His Marriages and asked questions. I guess I was hungry for this one. Boyd is the kind of guy you can talk frankly to and, after several discussions, I approached him with the idea of an in-depth interview. What came out of that interview was ten pages of heaven. Ten pages of written answers and questions that would have made any interviewer happy. However, for this interview I wanted you to meet the young Boyd. A man married to a girl and taking baby steps towards a world class career as a lawyer. A man who tried to provide, understand, and be there for his wife but couldn’t quite make it. I wanted to call this interview “Peeling the Lemon”– I changed my mind. This is a serious interview that delves into the mind of a man who perhaps hasn’t been delved into as much as he should have been…
Q) Hi, Boyd. Let me start by asking you the difference between your life today and your life in the 70s. What have been the key changes for you?
A) I was in my thirties during the ’70s, married to my second wife. By 1974, I had three small children and was practicing a profession that was not fulfilling for me but provided a substantial income. From 1973 on, there were major problems in my marriage. So, I was not in a good place. Instead of doing something to change my life, I took solace in alcohol and drugs. I still functioned well as a lawyer, but in the little time that I had to think about my life, I numbed myself with alcohol and drugs so that I would not have to think about it. Therefore, I did nothing to change it.
Today, I have lowered my sights as to what I need materially. I rent a small house in an area of the United States that is beautiful environmentally, but has one of the lowest costs of living in the country. I drive a twelve year-old car. I bought my furniture at the Good Will Thrift Shop and my clothes at Walmart. My only luxury is travel, and I put aside as much money as I can to be able to travel. I am doing exactly what I want to do, which is writing, hiking in nature with my dog, traveling, and cooking good, healthy food usually enjoyed with a glass of good wine in the evening.
I do get lonely, but I deal with it and it passes. I don’t have to put up with a woman who wants me to live the way she wants me to live, but I don’t have her companionship either. Like many things in life, it is a trade-off. Finally, I often review my life situation, meditate and try to understand myself, my wants and needs and what fulfils me, because even in old age, we change, and we are confronted with new situations and new feelings. That’s a long answer, but your question was quite broad.
Q) You earned a substantial income, yet in many ways found yourself struggling to pay for your lifestyle. I think a lot of people would be shocked that a top lawyer would have money worries. Looking back, does it shock you that you were struggling even with a huge income?
A) It certainly would shock most people, but since I lived through it and have thought a lot about it, I am not shocked.
I let my second and third wives spend with no control, the first wife on homes, cars, furniture, clothes, etc. and the second on horses and other animals and a large horse ranch. It was their fault that they spent, and it was my fault that I didn’t exert any control. I had no money problems during the four years between my second and third marriages. I saved money and invested in stock and real estate. I have often thought that they married me for my money, but, of course, they would deny it, and I don’t really know. I think that both my wives and I were looking for the things that money brings: status and prestige. The problem is that having status and prestige is not fulfilling–at least, not for me or many people–and it turned out not be be fulfilling to my wives either. I live now on about one-tenth of the income I once had (taking inflation into account) and I don’t miss it one bit.
When you spend more than you make, and, therefore, go into debt and can’t pay your bills timely, it is an extremely stressful way to live. It doesn’t matter whether you make $25,000 a year or a million dollars a year, it stresses you out. I don’t expect anyone to feel sorry for me because when you make a lot of money and are still in debt, it is your own fault, and with people who don’t make much money, it is more understandable, even though they may also be at fault. Nevertheless, in either case, it is an extremely stressful way to live, and I put up with that for nine years of a second marriage and about ten of the thirteen years of my third marriage.
Q) You stated in the book that you didn’t feel attractive to women at all. How do you feel about that now? You just said that you feel they married you for your money– but have you, over the years, changed your opinion about your own looks and self-worth?
A) Wow, that’s a tough question that I have thought about, but haven’t come up with a definitive answer. I know men who just seem to charm and naturally attract women. I don’t, with obviously a few exceptions. I think I don’t for two reasons: one, I am an introvert, and I believe that most women like extroverts; and two, I am not confident that I attract women, and that is a self-fulfilling attitude, because women want a confident man. So, I would say, I haven’t really changed my feelings about myself in that respect, In the past six years, I have dated two women who wanted to marry me, but for various and different reasons, I did not want to marry them. But I am still not the type of guy who can go into a bar, strike up a conversation with an attractive woman and go home with her. I have never been able to do that, and I still can’t. I just live with it. That is one thing that I don’t think I am going to put any effort into changing.
Q) You entered your first marriage riddled with insecurity, though. You needed to feel better than your first wife– you needed to be smarter– yet, she was indifferent to your posturing. Did that make you more insecure?
A) No, I don’t think so. I think my insecurities were slightly less, until she said she wanted a divorce. Since I had never had sex until I married her (which was not that uncommon in the middle class America of the 1950s), her having sex with me gave me more confidence, as did the fact that she seemed to love me. I thought that I had my life partner. It never occurred to me that she would ever want a divorce until the day she told me. Also, I was taught by my father’s example that feelings were not important, so I was very insensitive to feelings, both my own and my wife’s. She would have had to hit me over the head to make me understand that she was unhappy. I am still weak in that area, although I have improved a lot, especially in the past fifteen years. I have been platonic friends with two women who are very sensitive to feelings, and they helped me to be more sensitive.
Q) Do you think with more sensitivity you could have saved your first wife Christie from her eventual mental breakdown?
A) No, she was (and is) bi-polar and didn’t get well until she was diagnosed and treated twenty years after our divorce. However, assuming I could have put up with her manic-depression (which did not start until about two years after our divorce), I believe that had I been more sensitive, she would not have asked for a divorce. In other words, the factor of her mental illness that came later might have doomed the marriage then, but I think my lack of sensitivity and her failure to assert herself were the major causes of the divorce.
Q) You really bent over backwards for her though in a lot of ways. You bought all the things she wanted and tried to give her the life she had grown up with. You must admit you were a great financial provider to her, and you did what you thought was best.
A) Yes, that is true. I gave her what I thought she wanted, but that was not really what she wanted, and I was not sensitive enough to understand that. Nor did she tell me what she wanted.
Q) You state in your book Digging Deep: A Writer Uncovers His Marriages that Christie would say the wrong things to the wrong people– she was socially backward almost. How did you cope with the embarrassment of that? Did you ever mention it to her? Did you just cringe and write people off?
A) I did not criticize her for that. Since I knew her parents and how they treated her, I was aware enough to understand why she was the way she was. Also, my lack of confidence in my attractiveness to women made me feel that was the best I could do, and I would just have to put up with it. So I did. The flip side of her behavior was that she was always honest; you knew she would not lie or cheat. That has always been important to me.
Q) The end of the marriage came through something that was meant to draw you closer together. You both took guitar lessons and she ended up leaving you for the hippy who was teaching her. Looking back, could you see the writing on the wall about the end of your marriage? And do you think if it hadn’t been guitar lessons, something else would have caused her to leave you?
A) I did not see the handwriting on the wall. I was totally shocked. It never occurred to me that she might be attracted by somebody else and leave me. You know, marriage was “until death do us part.” I believed that. Yes, I do believe that if it hadn’t been the guitar teacher, at some point, it would have been somebody else.
Q) In the way she left you, I felt angry on your behalf. The two of them invading the house and taking what they wanted– the poignancy of your return and seeing his discarded beer bottles and the sadness of seeing you lose this marriage… You must have been totally at a loss. Would it be true to say your confidence disappeared?
A) I was totally devastated, humiliated and ashamed. I’m tough, and I have always persevered, but that really hit me, and I was barely able to work for the next two weeks–until I had a date with Stephanie (who became my second wife). My confidence was shot, but it soared right away when I started dating Stephanie.
Q) Shortly before the end of your marriage to Christie, you attended a Led Zeppelin concert. The band is not amongst your favourites and after listening to the music the band decided to do the whole set again. You forced Christie to leave the concert. Looking back, would you have handled that situation differently? Do you believe that was a big dent in your marriage?
A) Yes, according to Christie it was. I think it was an example of my need to control my wife, not a need that I have ever exhibited with anyone other than wives. When I thought about it while writing my memoir, I was shocked that I ever did such a thing. I would never do that now. And I wouldn’t have done it then to anyone other than my wife. Sad, but true.
Q) Do you think you and Christie started to have less and less in common as the marriage went on?
A) Yes, she became more interested in hiking and mountain climbing. I was more cerebral. Oddly enough, now I hike all the time. However, I think we could have worked around that particular problem….
Q) You have always been rather political. Around the time of the Zeppelin concert you were involved in RFK’s presidential run. How did you become part of that?
A) A friend of mine who had always been political (he had been student body president of both his high school and university) was an advance man for the Kennedy campaign, and he invited me to join him. He, too, was a young lawyer at the time.
Q) Can you tell me more about RFK himself? What were your observations of a man who has become a God-like figure to so many?
A) He was the greatest charmer I have ever met. You talk about charisma, wow! I think he had even more charisma than his brother, but at the same time was tougher, some saying that he was ruthless, but I don’t agree. He was extremely passionate about his causes and articulate in expressing his views. He was one of those people who cared about everyone he met and all of humanity. His passion made him seem ruthless at times, especially when he was Attorney General of the United States. What I have always wondered is if he had become President, would we have gotten so involved in Viet Nam? I don’t think so. I don’t think that he would have been duped by the generals to the extent Johnson was, and I don’t believe he would have sent 800,000 American troops in and bombed North Viet Nam. Of course, there is no way to know for sure. As a Presidential candidate he promised to get out in 1968. Instead Nixon kept us in until 1972. I think that would have been the big difference. I also think that he would have continued Johnson’s “War on Poverty” and, especially without all the money we spent on the war, the poor would have been much better off. It’s difficult to speculate. I do strongly believe that he would have been elected. Nixon barely won against a less popular candidate, Hubert Humphrey.
Q) You were actually there when RFK was killed by Sirhan Sirhan. What happened? What did you see? How do you remember that day?
A) The California primary was very important to RFK’s nomination by the Democratic Party, was the last important primary, and I had played a role in that campaign. I was thrilled beyond words when, late the night of the election, the other candidates conceded that he had won California. His victory speech was extremely inspiring, and I was deliriously happy. He finished his speech and walked off stage. We were all still cheering. Just as the cheering was dying down, I heard a scream (female) and several more screams. Finally, somebody yelled, “Bobby’s been shot!” With that, my associates who had been standing next to me dispersed to I don’t know where, and there was pandemonium in the crowd. I pushed my way out to my car to listen to the radio news. The news confirmed that he had been shot while walking through the kitchen of the hotel facility. I felt devastated––only five years after his brother and a month after Martin Luther King. What was this country coming to? I do not remember a thing after that. I drove home and went to bed, but I don’t remember anything else. He held on for two day as I recall. I was having dinner with Christie and another couple in a Chinese restaurant that had a TV on when the program was interrupted, and the announcer said that RFK had died. I describe in my memoir how devastated I was.
I hope you enjoyed this interview. I do believe that this is one of my best and I would like to thank Mr Boyd Lemon for sitting down with me for a few hours. The interview you have just read showed Boyd Lemon and Nick Wale at the peak of their abilities…