Skip to content, or skip to search.

Skip to content, or skip to search.

Who Is Su


This was his version of the wife in his version of the suburban dream: “somebody I could argue with and lose.” In the early days in Texas, they made pitchers of vodka-and-tonics and drove around drinking them. They “burned it pretty hot.” None of her pregnancies was planned, including one that resulted in an ­abortion in ­college as well as a second he said she terminated by throwing herself down a staircase.

Her head injury, of course, changed everything.

He remembered her being wheeled out of the hospital upon her release, amid the huge concrete pillars and overhangs of the entrance, a “beatific expression” on her face. In the car he talked to her. “There wasn’t any distress,” he recalled; she was “pleasant,” even as he knew “she didn’t know from ‘car,’ she didn’t know from ‘home.’ ” And when they arrived there, “she’s looking around like she’s never seen it in the world,” pausing in the hallway, pointing at photos with shock, saying, ‘Wow, that’s me!’ ” He does not take particular issue with much of anything in her memoir (many of the memories, of course, were his). He told me that in the years immediately following the accident, they’d communicated in a wordless language. “She’d make noises, interrogatives; she’d point at something, infantlike.” How could he not have realized the totality of her loss?

He wanted me to understand that his awareness was as woolly as hers. “Until we read it on the page, we didn’t know that that was going on in her head,” he said. He’d been told she was essentially healed; in the absence of any real diagnosis, he and her family had “developed explanations.” He watched in the hospital as she realized that saying and doing certain things could elicit approval. “We would perceive—everybody that was with Su at the time—we would perceive she’s understanding, she’s literally nodding and smiling.” He likened her to “a 4-year-old, a 6-year-old, and a quiet, shy child at that. And, horrifically, I had no idea that that was what I was dealing with. I’m thinking, Here’s my wife, she’s 80 percent.” His motivation was “to keep my family together.” He felt he had to go back to work. He had hired a nurse, but she soon quit after discovering his stash of pornography. The doctors were of no help: One speculated that Su’s condition could be psychological; they would not talk to Jim directly.

“And three weeks in, nine weeks in, I don’t remember—that’s when we went in full bunker mode,” he said. “We said, ‘Okay, we’re done with the outside world. What we’ve got is the four of us.’ And that’s how that happened.”

Does he have any regrets?

“Sure,” he said. Leaving his children alone with her was “irresponsible.” But he does not blame himself. “I had the best and brightest in the little sphere of the universe in Ft. Worth, Texas. I’d talked to all of them, and they’d come up wanting. And honestly, for the whole of my life, regret is not a thing—if that’s all the data I had today, I’d decide it the same way.”

During our conversation a week later, though, speaking from his parents’ house outside Atlanta, where he’d flown for his father’s 80th birthday, he seemed somehow different. He wanted to clarify: Surrounded for so long by only “kids—and Su was at that age, too, an emotional age”—he’d felt “completely empty and dead inside.” He’d made “an active decision to engage in the affairs.” And, for the first time in decades, he’d “felt alive.”

He spoke romantically, even reverently, about Su. In those early years he’d been partying too hard; without her, he believes, he would have died. He’d operated for a long time with “a hair-trigger”; it had been exhausting caring for her. “That being said, my shoulders are broad; I carry whatever load gets put on them.”

He and Su are now, he told me, contemplating separating. They are also contemplating remarrying. He has come to realize that this Su never truly married him. Earlier in the summer, she’d told him, “Jim, it’s like you’re my dad.” “With those simple words,” Jim told me, “all of a sudden everything clicked. It’s not that simple, but it’s more true than not: I have been her primary caretaker.” He’d thought back to “some intimate moments and all that. I think, Oh my God. I wanted to go throw up a little bit.”

He says that if she had had cerebral palsy or multiple sclerosis, he would never leave her. “The whole ‘sickness and health’—it’s not a nobility thing. It’s just how I’m wired.” Like any marriage, they’d had their ups and downs, but over the decades they’d experienced a kind of “exquisite passion that any marriage could hope and aspire to.” They were going to seek out a psychologist. He told me he remains committed to encouraging “the development of Su’s new identity.” Whatever decision she makes—and the decision is hers—he will be at peace with.


Current Issue
Subscribe to New York

Give a Gift