While the Baron Walked the Line, She Remained His Valentine
This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.
Public Valentine greetings are a depth of questionable taste I have never before plumbed. But as this is the first Valentine’s Day in eight years I have not spent either in or apprehending my unjust residence in an American prison for offenses I would not have dreamed in a thousand years of committing, I am throwing caution to the gentle breezes of Palm Beach, as they rustle the majestic royal palms. It will be 20 years this fall that I “set out my stall” as Barbara and I have agreed to call my marriage proposal, (since she did not, because of my complicated syntax and word-choice, recognize at first that that was what it was). And it will be 19 years this summer that we have been married. There have been no serious strains between us in all that time, and I feel the same or even greater romantic magnetism now as in that whirlwind courtship of such pleasant memory.
As Barbara is an opera enthusiast, I used to tell her that ours was a great love story, Eloise and Abelard, Romeo and Juliet, Tristan and Isolde, with a happier ending, on the “lived happily ever after” model. It has and has not been that, but the best is still to come. I have been persecuted and Barbara was under no obligation to share fully in the life-enhancing and undoubtedly character-building experience of sharing that fate with me completely. But she has, and no one can know, and it is beyond my power adequately to express here, what her constancy has meant to me.
For more than four years before I was sent to prison, she toiled with me against the heavy odds generated by the legal and media onslaught. She endured an avalanche of abuse directed at her (although she wasn’t accused of anything) as extravagant, flakey, apt to bolt, domineering, and what Kafka called “nameless crimes.” For the next 29 months, she led a lonely life in Florida, in a climate that aggravated her medical problems. And once or twice every week, she got up at 3 a.m. to drive over four hours to see me, endure the inanities and indignities whose infliction is the raison d’être of the personnel of the Bureau of Prisons, to sit with me in a crowded and noisy room under the envious and probably deviant gaze of officials dedicated to harassing visitors and assuring the absence of tactile indications of any intimacy. And then she drove four hours back to rattle around with her canine comrades in our under-occupied house.
On these visits, which it need hardly be emphasized were the highlight of every week for me, she went to great trouble to dress up, a real novelty in those surroundings (without transgressing any of the authorities’ absurd and capricious dress codes that were sadistically invoked as a pretext to send visitors away), and to be cheerful and informative, and never to betray a hint of fatigue or discomfort. Every visit was a supreme triumph of the human spirit and her benign and indomitable will over infirmity and the relentless forces of discouragement.
So great was the strength of her personality and determination not to yield to harsh circumstances that even some of the most sociopathic correctional officers became rather amiable and asked me between visits when she would be back. She comforted other visitors, and helped some in different ways, and worked prodigies for my legal battle, including interviewing and recommending counsel for our successful appeal to the Supreme Court of the United States, which is the reason that I write this from my home and not from a prison.
When I was a guest of the great and complacent American people, I would prevail upon a couple of my artistic fellow residents to produce Valentine’s and other cards, often with humorous depictions of Barbara’s splendid dogs, and other appropriate animals, including Valentine bears and Easter bunnies. Residents were entitled to 300 minutes of telephone use per month (apart from special and confidential legal conferences, of which I had a great many), which, as Barbara and I did not telephone on visiting days, left us about 12 minutes per night, as I handled almost everything else by email. She had a mobile telephone that was always with her, of which only I had the number, and it is my mobile phone now, a valiant little machine, a bit dated in its simplicity. By such threads do time-tested, well-suited relationships survive the hammer blows of the justice system, dedicated as it is, despite endless humbug to the contrary, to destroy the lives of all in its maw.
Just before my four-month trial began in Chicago in 2007 (which disposed of 90% of the allegations against me), I published a biography of Richard Nixon I had written, in part, as a diversion from the legal tensions. The dedication is: “To Barbara, through good and bad times, she has been magnificent. No man could ask more and few could have received so much. She is beyond praise and criticism.”
That was nothing but the truth then, though not the whole truth, and it was before the worst came. What happened next, the trial, the interregnum, the Babylonian Captivity, called forth transports of heroism and devotion. To do justice to them would strain the descriptive capacity of superlatives.
It is better now and the prospects are brightening. We are almost at the “ever after” part at last. I never doubted that those awful days would pass, but they would not have passed so soon, nor been even as endurable as they were, without my perfect Valentine, who will always have all my love.
From the National Post.