Donna Clair

Southwest Contemporary Artist

How I Came to New Mexico and learned about Art and Life


All my fears became reality on one sunny August morning.  I stood in the doorway of the bathroom where my husband was shaving and told him what I had just dreamed – our babysitter confronted me and said “I’m pregnant and your husband is the father of my child!” – I asked her how she could do this and she laughed and said “It was fun!”  He turned pale and his hand holding the razor was visibly trembling.  UhOh!  Is this real?  Of course it is, Dumbo!  You have known for months ever since his absence during the blizzard and you chose to ignore what was right in front of you!  You have known even before the girls were born!  The wife always knows! I  hoped  it would go away…..maybe he would come to his senses….possibly he would look at our babies and choose his family over this sexy college student. Hah!

The phone rang that evening just as we were sitting down to supper.  The babysitter’s mother  called to tell me that her daughter was pregnant and my husband was the baby-daddy.  Of course it was no surprise.  I couldn’t talk – in some strange way I felt partly responsible.    This was my Debbie Reynolds moment – when she was pictured with diaper pins on her blouse holding a baby and the news had just broken that her husband had left her to be with Elizabeth Taylor – indeed, a very bad movie!  We were sisters in Spirit!

The next morning he went to his teaching job.  I called my friend Bonnie and told her what was happening.  Apparently she contacted Frank immediately and told him my story.  That afternoon my husband returned home with all his books and all his classroom paraphernalia.  The girls parents had contacted the college and he had been fired!  I was a  hysterical mess.  I called my doctor to tell him what was happening and he made a house call. We talked for a long time and he urged me to leave my marriage.   My son was eighteen months old and the twins six months.  I had nowhere to go.  I stayed.

The girl’s father was well connected to a rather dicey group of wise guys.  The Don owed him a favor- it was time to collect.  There was a contract out on my husband – if anyone saw him in South Chicago or Indiana again, he was as gone for good!   Many years later I learned that the Don owed our lawyer friend Frank a larger favor and the contract was called off on one condition.  He was given two weeks to pack up and leave, never to return.  I was put on a plane to Santa Fe.  Ernie met me in Albuquerque and  the next day I rented the house on Alegre Street.  It was time to pack up our Chicago life.  I was an adult now…keep your chin up, Girl!  There was no use in asking questions – how, why, what, where???   I did ask him why he could do this; he said it was because she was evil!  He never admitted any responsibility! Things were so tense, I wanted to avoid any confrontation.  No sense in making things worse…..I had learned to be afraid of his anger.

A friend called and asked me to describe my husband more fully.  It has been  so many years…  I balked, but then there was a glitch in yesterday’s post and most of it was erased.  So, here is a word painting of the man I married.  He was 6’5″ tall – darkly handsome and obviously well educated.  He loved the appearance of wealth and stature – on a teacher’s salary.  He was happiest when in animated conversations with his men friends about fishing and hunting – guy things. Expensive tweed sport coats with leather patches.  He enjoyed the admiration of his college students.  He liked owning new cars, the best fishing gear and the best guns.  The true southwestern description of him would be “all hat and no cattle”.  In our marriage he was cold and impersonal.  Now I realize his mother urged his marriage to avoid the draft.  He felt superior because he had a diploma from Notre Dame and took every opportunity to remind me that I had not gone to college.  Gaslighting was his favorite sport with me.  He lied often. Emotionally he was shut down – his feelings were on a shelf somewhere in a far away place.  He was more attached to position than to people.   Once the children arrived, it was more “show and tell” than hands on daddyness.  He was abusive verbally and sometimes physically.  He was very much like my father.    

For many months before the truth hit the fan I had a ticket to see the Andrew Wyeth retrospective at the Chicago Art Institute.  A few days before we were to leave I took the Illinois Central train into the Loop.  Remember wearing my favorite white summer dress.  I stopped at Marshall Fields’ hair salon first and got a Vidal Sassoon haircut and had a nice lunch afterward.  Ran over to the museum and got in place early – eventually the line stretched around the building almost to Lake Michigan.  This was exciting – a day without drama!  My first day on my own since I gave birth to the twins – a time to let go of my resentment and anger toward my husband.  Great relief!  The crowd was so large, we were urged to move along and only had brief seconds with each painting but I could feel myself waking up. I started to come alive again!  (Andrew Wyeth blogpost – Spirit of Place) 

My family gathered to say goodbye. They were bewildered .  Every thing
happened so fast they did not have time to adjust to the changes.  Two
weeks was not enough time for them to get used to the idea of not seeing
their grandchildren.  In spite of years of dysfunction, I would miss
them.  In a way I had been their caretaker after my brother left for
college.  I tried to make their lives happier even kinder with no
success.  My grandmother was upset that I was going to a place where I
might not know the language!  Bonnie and Frank stopped over.  Lots of
farewell hugs and much gratitude for their intervention.

Pillows and blankets in the back seat of the car – lots of diapers and baby bottles – three happy little faces.  We set off into the sunrise…..the Great Unknown!