DIZ AND LIZ E-MANIA
By Leslie Armstrong
October 1999, Greenwich Village
When Diz Davis and I first met, shortly after my husband of sixteen years took off with one of my students, our number-one mode of communication was e-mail, familiar to most of the world but still a novelty to me. We had met at the Minetta Lane Theatre thanks to Diz’s cousin, who invited me to tag along. Diz took quite a shine to me. I knew that Diz (short for Dizzy) was more or less married. I knew he was reputed to be something of a lightweight, and WASPy upper-class New Yorkers had never been my type. But Diz had a winning smile, soft eyes, and a wicked sense of humor. And I was thirsting for attention. When I opened my e-mail the next day, there was an invitation from Diz to meet for dinner the following night at Café Luxembourg, my favorite local restaurant. Although I am not into married men, Diz was the cousin of one of my closest friends, whose mother, Alice Davis of Davis Cup fame, had been a school chum of my mother. What harm could there be in accepting his dinner invitation?
We spent the evening relating the details of our personal lives, spouses (current and ex), and children (we each had three). I learned that Diz was retired from a quasi-career of advertising and otherwise peddling the accoutrements of gambling. He spent his time reading, backing a hip‑hop record production company whose CEO was his sometimes bedmate, and managing his personal portfolio. Thanks to surgery following his battle with lung cancer, he could no longer play tennis but liked playing golf, generally at the Round Hill Club in Greenwich, where he also kept an apartment (and where his wife happened to be that evening). He talked about playing backgammon for serious money, and I talked about my work as an architect and some of my better-known clients, including Martha Stewart, who, at the beginning of her culinary and homemaking career, had stiffed me royally. On hearing of my misfortune, Diz raised his glass to toast the bundle he had just made off some IPO relating to her company. I raised my glass in turn and leaned across our table to give him a congratulatory kiss smack on the mouth, which surprised me even more than it did him. The day after our dinner I wrote:
From: Liz to Diz
Sent: Oct. 22, 1999, 10:43 a.m.
Subject: Re: Thee and Me
I am happy that I met you. You made me feel cherished and admired. I hope I was able to do something similar for you.
The problem is I’m not very good mistress material. I wouldn’t want you to give up your hip-hop divertissement for me; I’d want you to give up the whole show: wife and divertissement. Hardly fair to ask because I hardly know you. Maybe we’re terribly ill-suited. Maybe my attraction to you is simply the stuff of rebounds. But I don’t want to do lunches and cinq-a-septs because they’re difficult to coordinate with my work and my time with my daughter and, most important, because they are undignified.
Still, you make me smile. Love, Liz
Diz was undaunted and two days later we met for coffee. In a touching fit of honesty, he told me that he wanted me to know everything about him, “warts and all,” he said. In addition to surviving two bouts of cancer, he was bi-polar, a manic depressive, but assured me that he was medicated and had had no significant episodes for many years. I knew this wasn’t a plus but figured, no one’s perfect. Diz said his marriage was dysfunctional at best. Until meeting me he was waiting to get old and die. He also said he was impotent, but there were pills to take for that too.
Within ten days of our meeting, Diz announced to his wife that he was leaving her, engaged a lawyer to draw up a settlement agreement, and encouraged me get on with my own divorce. Within three weeks he contracted to buy a co‑op apartment a block from my apartment on the West Side, and we spent many lunch hours shopping for furniture and accessories for his new place. After a month he commissioned my client and good friend Judith, a talented jeweler, to make me an emerald ring. It was a whirlwind courtship. I was beside myself. Had I known more about manic depression, I might have been more wary. However, after the emotional aridity of my long marriage, my thirst for this intensity of affection and devotion was unquenchable.
2000 was an election year, and Diz was a staunch Democrat and a serious sports fan. He had already committed much of his spare time to work for Bill Bradley’s primary campaign. Before meeting me he had volunteered to go to Iowa before the Iowa caucuses. When the time came he picked Davenport because he had been there in his gambling days, because my estranged husband’s family was from Davenport, and Diz thought I might enjoy returning for a visit. I adored my husband’s large and embracing family. It was their draw that held me through the long and difficult years of our marriage. When Dewey left me at the end of that summer, they were stunned, as was I, and wildly supportive, claiming that I would always be part of their family with or without Dewey. Showing up in Davenport so soon after our separation with a new man might be pushing things a bit. Fortunately my mother- and father-in-law were to be out of town, so the process of introducing Diz to Dewey’s siblings was less daunting.
I was beginning to sense that Diz was receding from me. The swiftness of his move to his new apartment, his guilt about hurting his wife and destroying her life began to overtake him. He was increasingly in his “cave,” a metaphor from the pop-psych book Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus by John Gray to which Diz could and did relate. For all my efforts to understand Diz’s need to withdraw into the shelter of his cave, I protested that I hadn’t met his children nor any of his friends and relatives, and I found this humiliating given that I had opened my life to him. He kept telling me that this was only for the short term until Stephanie and he could arrive at a financial settlement.
The week before going to Iowa, while we were in line at the Sugar Bar to see Roberta Flack (the Sugar Bar was Diz’s favorite West Side haunt), Diz told me his brother was coming to town and that he’d be seeing him for dinner at the end of the week. I was thrilled. At last I was to be introduced to someone in his family.
No, not exactly.
The plan was for Diz, his brother, and their two wives to have dinner, as though Stephanie and Diz were still living together and I didn’t exist. I was stunned. Tears welled in my eyes. Diz had told me he didn’t deal well with tears, so I left him in line and walked all the way round the block until I could compose myself. Upon my return I spat out the speech I had rehearsed on my tearful walk:
“Diz, this is an unacceptable sham. I can’t believe you, who prize and pledge honesty at every turn, at least to me, would buy into it. But if this is what you want, then we shouldn’t see each other until you are prepared to introduce me to your friends and family with the same pride and pleasure with which I’ve introduced you to mine.”
“I am sorry to seem so insensitive and to hurt you,” Diz replied. “But not seeing each other would be torment for us both. It won’t work.” He paused, then added, “I won’t go to dinner with my brother.”
Throughout Roberta Flack’s spectacular performance, he held my hand and gazed at me, his sleepy eyes filled with sadness and remorse. Again he asked for my patience until financial closure with Stephanie was achieved.
Three days later, after the dinner with his brother and their wives had transpired, I wrote:
From: Liz to Diz
Sent: January 11, 2000 7:46 p.m.
Whatever guilt you may be experiencing about leaving Stephanie, your life with her of 27 years, and beginning again elsewhere is totally human, inevitable, and understandable. If you felt none you would be inhuman and not the caring and sensitive person I love. You will just have to work through it. And I will do my best to stand by. Love, Liz
From: Diz to Liz
Sent: January 12, 2000 5:24 p.m.
Subject: A reply to your lovely message
Not surprisingly, your e-mail is very perceptive. I have been feeling the effect of totally changing the fabric of my life lately, possibly even more because I like to do things gradually—maybe even procrastinate a bit. Maybe that explains in part my thinking about going through the brother charade. I guess my life has changed so dramatically and suddenly since October that I haven’t grasped the significance of it all. And yes, I’ve been in the cave recently. I do love you still, although I haven’t shown it much lately. See you later, Diz
In order to get to Davenport inexpensively, I arranged a business trip to Los Angeles (where I was renovating a house for my jeweler friend, Judith) in such a way that I would return through Chicago. There I would catch a commuter flight to Moline, Illinois, across the Mississippi from Davenport, to join Diz toward the end of his week working for Bradley. I flew out to LA with Judith, a New Age spirit and a wise and cherished friend. I told her about Stephanie making secrecy about their separation and about our relationship a condition of her willingness to negotiate a divorce settlement. Judith said this was a shrewd move on Stephanie’s part. It was, after all, January, she said. Most manic depressives begin their cyclical downslide in winter. By imposing the “vow of secrecy,” as Diz called it, Stephanie had succeeded in isolating him when he most needed his friends, his children, and familiar frames of reference. I alone could never provide this for him because even though he was immediately and much loved by my friends, my fourteen-year-old daughter resented his presence in our house and in my bed so soon after her father’s departure. In addition, everything relating to me was new for Diz, including his own apartment.
Stephanie knew her turf and was waiting to make her move.
I was up against a pro.
On the flight from Los Angeles to Chicago, I wrote Diz a love letter: first about his body and the pleasure it gave me. Women’s bodies are often celebrated by their men but rarely are men’s celebrated by their women. Next I reaffirmed that I wanted to make a life with him. To make this happen, he would indeed have to work through his guilt about Stephanie and get accustomed to his new and independent life. I closed saying that I would have to slow down a little and work on my daughter in the hopes that she would come around to seeing him as the warm, sweet, and eccentric person that I believed him to be. I planned to give the letter to him when I got to Iowa.
I flew into Moline from Chicago late Thursday night, January 20th. Both Diz and my sweet sister-in-law, Nan, were there to meet me. Earlier in the week Nan and her husband had invited Diz to dinner and took to him immediately for his gentleness, his humor, and his having given me so much happiness in so short a time. Diz greeted me tenderly, saying he was glad to see me. I was relieved. Nan peeled off. She had to teach a class early in the morning and was never good at late nights anyway.
Diz and I repaired to the Radisson Hotel, which overlooks an array of brilliantly lit casinos and riverboats moored to the banks of the mighty Mississippi. My plane had been very late, so we ordered pizza to eat at the bar and talked about the Bradley campaign and what I had done in Los Angeles, and celebrated yet another state in which we would soon make love (CT, NY, MA, and IA, in that order). Yes, those pills worked very well.
Because Diz had a fine hand, he had been assigned the task of making hand-lettered signs for people to display when Bradley came to speak at the Student Center of Augustana University. Friday morning was bitter cold, so I drove Diz the four blocks to the Bradley storefront headquarters, having planned to return to the hotel to work on my LA job until it was time to go to Augustana in the afternoon. However, I was roped into helping Diz make a giant sign for the afternoon rally saying DAVENPORT WILL MAKE IT HAPPEN. Diz got rattled and misunderstood the instructions the first time round, so we had to start again and were short for time. In the name of Bill Bradley, I begged the use of a layout table at a nearby art supply and framing store and went to work on the giant sign, completing its six component panels with Diz’s help just before the rally.
A crotchety lady from New Jersey, also a Bradley volunteer, who thought she should have a more august assignment than running signs around, picked up the panels in a Bradley minivan to take it to the rally. That’s the last anyone saw of the sign.
Bradley’s persona and his speech at Augustana were impressive and exhilarating. We returned to the hotel, feeling refreshed, and changed for dinner at Nan’s, which I’d volunteered to cook for Nan and her brother’s families. My bare-bones carbonara was delicious, and the evening was a warm homecoming for me and an introduction to the intelligentsia of the Quad Cities for Diz.
Diz had to work again the next morning, but in the afternoon I planned a drive upriver to show him the majesty of the Mississippi and the varied landscape along the high bluffs and to stop at Smith’s General Store in Clinton, Iowa, the very best of its breed. However, Diz was exhausted from the full schedule of working days and social evenings. As he slept I realized that he had little of my energy and stamina; he would need more care and tending than I was used to or even capable of giving; and despite his being only five years my senior, given his history of cancer, he might well become an invalid while I would be still young of mind and body.
The rest of our short stay in the Midwest followed the same routine: work, back to the hotel for a quick change, and out for dinner. One evening we went to my cousin-in-laws’ farm in Long Grove, Iowa, twenty minutes out of town. It was a raucous and informal evening: good food, much to drink, and excellent company. Kids of all ages and a menagerie of animals and birds in the air and underfoot. Diz handled this group of strangers with ease, modesty, and charm. But when we returned to our hotel, he barely had the strength to kiss me goodnight. We had to get up early to drive to Chicago for our flight to New York. He needed his sleep. There was no chance to give him my love letter.
Once home I thought what we most needed was a weekend alone at the country house Dewey and I still shared. (Our daughter was delighted to stay with her father in the city.) It had been snowing so I made certain our driveway would be plowed by evening. We arrived at around 8 p.m. The driveway was visibly defined, but several inches had fallen since it had been plowed. I started down the long, curved road to the house, but halfway down I got stuck in a snowdrift that had blown across the driveway from the adjacent field. So we left the car in the snow and carried the bags to the house. We turned up the heat, and Diz, in a spurt of energy, made a fire and shoveled a path from the door to the parking area. As I began to unpack and think about supper, I realized I no longer heard the hum of the furnace. It had stopped.
I’m not much of a handyman, and Diz was less capable in this area than I. (He said his idea of fixing a car was to kick it and swear at it menacingly.) I went to the basement and pulled every switch and lever I could find, to no avail. I checked the gauge on the oil tank.
If I couldn’t figure a way out of this one, the pipes, my delicate lover, and I would freeze overnight.
My first response was to call Dewey and yell at him for not paying the oil bill, which I did, and which he had paid. I called Hull Oil, who reported that they had delivered oil three weeks before, but it had been so cold in January that people were running out everywhere. Hull assured me their emergency service would arrive within the hour. I explained about the car being stuck in the driveway, to which they replied that they couldn’t send in a truck, even in the morning, until the driveway was cleared and plowed.
I called our man and got his machine. I called a neighbor about a mile uphill and had to go into my revised marital status by way of explaining why neither we nor our kids had seen each other for six months before asking if her husband could come down with his Jeep to help push our car out of a snowdrift. No, sorry, her husband was landing at Bradley Airport later that evening and not due back for hours. But she gave me the name of some local people to call. Luckily the first man to whom I relayed our plight, Scott Wilkinson, agreed to come take a look in twenty minutes.
It was a long twenty minutes, so Diz and I started a pathetic effort to dig out the car with gardening shovels. Scott’s headlights and the plow blade on the front of his mega SUV finally appeared. He plowed all around us, then instructed me to take the wheel while he and Diz pushed the car uphill and out of the drift. Scott was built like a rhinoceros with a beer belly. Diz was built like an aging gazelle. Thanks largely to Scott, the car finally spun out of the drift, and I drove it to safety. We thanked Scott and offered him some cash, which he was pleased to accept.
Hull’s oil truck came, the furnace was restarted, and we shared some bourbon with young Mr. Hull. When Diz and I finally sat down to supper by the fire, I was basking in the satisfaction of coming through a winter adventure unscathed and refreshed. But for Diz, in his depressed and weakened state, I feared it was more than he could take.
Three days later, after what I considered a restorative weekend of much reading for Diz, some work for me, a walk in the snow, a drive to do some small errands, a little talk, and much affection, unbeknownst to me, Diz Davis hit bottom. On the following Monday morning, I kissed him good‑bye and went to work. When I returned to his nearby apartment that evening, he was gone.
He had returned to his wife and keeper without a word of warning or good‑bye. In a state of near hysteria, I e-mailed him and phoned his mobile for weeks thereafter.
* * *
Eight months later I received a note in Diz’s elegant hand saying he was sorry to have hurt me but that he had had to do as he had done. He had been housebound and in his cave since his return to Stephanie but wanted me to know that he had been and would remain faithful to me.
September 2004, the US Open, Flushing Meadows:
Between sets a voice came over the loudspeakers and a photo of Diz appeared on all the screens in the stadium.
“The Board of Directors and Staff of the USTA Tennis and Education Foundation mourn the loss of Dwight F. Davis III. His dedication to the institution of the Davis Cup and his enthusiasm for improving the lives of disadvantaged children will be greatly missed.”