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Black Lamb


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Beats the alternative

April 1st, 2007


Great girl. (I met her in high school, then let a near-lifetime pass before I located her again.) Great woman. Real woman, with myriad strengths and what she’s always called her numerous “foibles.” (Which she’s hard pressed to name except for “bad cuticles.”) She claims a mean streak, though she’s as mild as they come. Maybe it does exist and she stifles it because, admittedly, she doesn’t like conflict or confrontation. More likely, her idea of a mean streak is getting irked about some little something every few months. What do I know?

How well does anyone know anyone? My wife knows I’m a writer at heart (though my production waxes and wanes), knows I’m inclined to substances (though I promised not to introduce them into our life together, and haven’t), knows I don’t think highly of myself (though others see it differently), knows I can be mean (though rarely when I’m sober), knows I can be a softie (and promises not to tell). But what does this amount to? My real inner life is secret. Even when we went to counseling last year and bared plenty, to save the marriage, I held back (to save the marriage) — and I’m not one to hold back, so imagine what she leaves unsaid.

She has little idea what I think of her in some ways. (There’s not much bad — that’s what would surprise her.) I’m even less certain what she truly thinks of me. One day, I’m sure, she sees an unemployed or underemployed ne’er-do-well who has, nevertheless, “pursued my bliss” admirably and produced a so-called body of work that, however piddling next to Faulkner’s or even Elmore Leonard’s — even my neighbor George Pelecanos’s — most mortals would envy. Another day, when she’s less charitable, I’m merely a ne’er-do-well who’s never fulfilled a grownup’s responsibilities. Sometimes she appreciates my advice on her parenting (the therapist told her, “You should listen to him, he’s detached and sees things you can’t see”); other times she feels I’m hammering on her, making her out a failure as a parent (which I’ve undoubtedly done at times, taking out my frustrations, though she’s quite a good parent and her kids are turning out well enough to prove it).

Back and forth, forth and back. This is the Big Picture, and you don’t live in the Big Picture all the time. Mostly you live in the micro world: work, cleaning, laundry, shopping, dinner, Seinfeld reruns. Keeping it together, because the day-to-day of marriage trumps the alternative. I was married before, and divorced; she likewise. Nearly ten years passed, for both of us, before I found her — recalled the cute girl I never knew way back when, Google’d her, flew cross-country to charm her. The rest is history, largely happy. A few days ago we were in the market and the little Asian checkout girl asked how we met and we gave her the short version and she got all gooey — “Awww, how sweet” — and the wife and I looked at each other and were glad for what we’ve got, though it’s been bumpy at times.

Bumpy-at-times beats being alone, spanking off, regretting your divorce, thinking about your friends at home snuggled up watching a Seinfeld rerun with their mates. Infinitely better to be snuggled up yourself, even if you’re wondering, during commercials, how it would be to snuggle up with that astonishing, undoubtedly-hot-as-a-firecracker PTA mom (who, of course, might be snuggled up with her husband, who’s bored with her and thinking of someone else, possibly your wife); even if your wife, squeezing your hand, is squeezing your hand merely out of reflex, or to keep you from suspecting she’s obsessed with some guy at her office (who, because he’s not you, is fascinating, who might stimulate her mind and give her the kind of orgasm she’s never had and love her kids unconditionally and secure her future — even though he’s quite possibly shallow or egomaniacal or impotent or worse). Who knows?

Nobody knows. Bottom line, the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t know. If you deny that and step up with your desires — say, bare your soul to the dazzler at PTA — you’re gutsy but probably stupid.
Bottom-bottom line is that as the years pass, we shudder at the idea of being alone. I hurt for my sister, fifty now, who waited till her mid-thirties to get married, then plighted her troth to a good-time Charlie. They moved to Florida and lived the boozy, good-time tropical life for a few years — pina coladas, pool, a boat in the Gulf — until she suspected he was good-timing behind her back and hired a private dick, who got photos of Charlie with her best friend. She divorced him post-haste and dropped the so-called friend and doesn’t trust men or women to this day. She’s an SWP: Single with Pet, walking her pooch on the beach at sunset with others like herself. Probably crying in her lonely bed at night — or else she’s quashed her feelings, and tells herself life is still worth living.

Maybe. But she’s not a writer, an artist, anything that provides rewards other than money — which isn’t, finally, much of a reward. Most people want companionship. Even if (to invoke Toulouse-Lautrec) “Marriage can be like a dull meal with the dessert at the beginning,” it usually beats a lifetime of five-star meals taken alone. •

Posted by: The Editors
Category: All Marriage Issue, Patton | Link to this Entry


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