Husbands and Wives
My marriage ended badly; I ain't gonna lie, but I often find myself adding things to the litany of reasons why things went so very wrong. I still loved her, and I like to think that in most respects, she still loved me.
I recently purchased a book entitled The Bright Book of Life: Novels to Read and Reread by Harold Bloom the eminent Sterling Professor of Humanities at Yale University and noted Literary critic who passed away in 2019 at the age of eighty-nine. It cost me thirty-five dollars, and let me tell you that every speck of my deceased father Bill White ( who also plays the Ghost of the Dust Bowl Past in my family's version of the Dickens's Christmas classic) contained in my DNA was screaming, "Are you out of your fucking mind?"
I calmly answered in reply, "Dad, it's 516 pages long? Do you know how much effort goes into writing anything that long? Besides, it contains Bloom's take on forty-eight of the world's great novels. That's like getting an entire university course in Literature for only thirty-five bucks plus taxes." That silenced the screams; my dad, who was forced by economic necessity to quit school after the eighth grade, was always respectful of education, or book learning as he called it.
I was reading Bloom's review on Jane Austen's Emma when I ran across his amazing insight on the fictional after lives of Austen's famous feminine protagonists. What he mentioned was his doubts about whether they were truly happy after marrying the man of their so-called dreams. He points out the fact that they always seemed to settle for the best man at hand and not the one who would cause their bosoms to heave, whatever the hell that means. (Just joking. I think I know. In fact I think I've done it a few times.)
I was kind of a bad boy at one time, or at least pretended to be one. I tried to live according to the masculine ethos that was called for in those days. I smoked Marlboros before I entered junior high, and, because I didn't have a horse, I rode a bike with high handle bars with the cigarette pack rolled up in my t-shirt sleeve, and with a pair of dark green aviator sunglasses and a sneer.
I continued to project this facade right up until about a year after my wife had plucked me from the herds of other self-projecting young mustangs stampeding down the streets of Corcoran, which we all know was the center of the whole damn universe back then, as least as far as its inhabitants were concerned. I also said fuck a lot, I still do. It meant I was rebellious once. I don't know what it means now as I try not to think too hard about it.
She chose me because of the way I looked in those damned sunglasses. She actually said, "I really like the way those glasses look on you." So, I wore them to the breakfast table, mowing the yard, in the shower and even tried to come up with some justification to wear them to bed at night. (Remember this was long before the night she told me that I wouldn't half bad if I took off a few pounds, back when the bloom was still on the rose, so to speak.)
She really chose me because I had some potential, I was kind of funny, somewhat intelligent, not completely hideous to look at, and, hidden somewhere deep inside, I had a streak of kindness. She brought out the kindness part out of me as I had hidden it so long I forgot about it. She blew the dust off of it and shined it up and placed in on the coffee table where others could see it. I was never as much a narcissistic dick as I was back during the sixties and early seventies when the media and American culture seemed to demand that I be one.
Basically, she settled for the security and the lesser evil as did Elizabeth Bennett and those other Austen women. I did too. I mean she wasn't Olivia Hussey, the actress who played Juliette in Franco Zeffirelli's Romeo and Juliette, but she was pretty, sweet, funny, and pretty hot looking in her white bikini. Mainly, she picked me and in those days, that was the ultimate of aphrodisiacs to the male ego. It was also the thing that hurt the most when it was over, when I had to come to terms with the fact that she no longer picked me.
What Harold Bloom noted that made me wince a little was the knowledge that in life we too often settle for what we think is the best deal that our situation allows. It's kind of like depending on our credit history to decide what car or house we want to buy. And a lot of time, things actually turns out for the best and becomes the thing that the universe itself would offer us if we paid all of our bills, gave a lot of money toward charity, relentlessly gave of ourself and went to work smiling the whole while.
We don't often know this though at the time; we always want to believe that the grass is greener somewhere. What I also didn't know was that because of this "settling" thing I was also under an obligation to recreate the world anew for her every morning, to fill her heart with wonder and amazement, to never let her for moment doubt the beauty and power of her own imagination, and mainly to prove to her that at all times she was the very epicenter of our universe, not only of my individual world, but of the part of the universe that we created together.
Damn, I wish I had read Bloom way back when before I had settled into the ruts of domesticity (hell, the book might even have been a lot cheaper then). Better yet, I wish my dad had read it in the seventh grade, and his father before him.