Thirtysome years is a lifetime—Jesus Christ, Mozart…since 1986, the Wall came down, Europe united, Tutsis were slaughtered, the Towers came down, Mesopotamia exploded, heads were beheaded and infidels massacred, refugees shipwrecked between obliterated pasts and blind futures, Europe disunited, tea parties raged, babies were caged, more walls went up...and the daily business of cutting girls and killing soldiers continued, while countless thousands were sacrificed by the True Believers, blown up on market day, on holiday, on any day.
1986 was several lifetimes ago, for all of us.
Seeing you again after all these years was like biting into something so bittersweet the extremes could not cancel each other out. I was left with both flavors, unmixable as water and oil. One thing was clear, however. The thing about the perfect relationship that I fucked up? It wasn't, and I didn't.
Since then unexpected grief has overwhelmed me, ejecting me into a space where I could not write for many months, a place with few windows, where the joys and stresses of daily life arched convex instead of concave. Call it late-onset MS, atypical neural responses, too many bureaucratic mishaps, high blood pressure, I don't care—whatever keeps your life logical.
I'm way out of practice, forgot what it felt like to be simultaneously pedestaled and degraded, whiplashed from Madonna to Madame Curie to Babylon Slut to Village Idiot at such a dizzying rate. Awfully similar to growing up with evangelical boyz and men in the house, a silent compliant mother standing by—drip drip drip, wearing down defenses like the Colorado River coursing through eons of Grand Canyon grit. No wonder I thought you were family.
Here's the thing. If I was as crazy back then as you say, you may not also "forgive me" for the inconvenient behavior of a brilliant poet. This isn't about Van Gogh's ear. This isn't about Sylvia Plath's oven as a fun literary device for a better husband than Ted Hughes. This isn't about me going off to find a room of my own. This is about me figuring out how to stay alive, somehow balancing the alcohol and the panic with the availability of sharp blades.
I know, drama, drama, still one crazy-ass bitch. All done with mirrors, fine Camus-sands ground to perfection in the Crystal Palace, the emblem of human folly for the Underground Man, beautiful stuff, bring it on baby.
Truth is, I'd be dead if I'd stayed with you. If I really was that crazy and that sick, I was far more alone than I thought, wandering around a giant Moscow Botkina where the patients fend for themselves. I was not safe.
You wielded my sanity like a weapon and I of course crumbled, apologized in tears. If I did those things and don't even remember, blackout drunk or blindly dissociated, I've got nothing to go on, no counter argument, no closing.
But you can't have it both ways. Either my illness required medical alert or I was responsible for the behavior and could apprehend options. "It's just your interpretation" doesn't add up.
We say this to people we don't give a shit about, complete strangers, incompetent jerks. We know their heads are so far up their asses, doesn't matter how they see things. Karma will catch up to them. People say this kind of thing at your MLA conferences, trying to apply Einstein’s relativity or Heisenberg’s uncertainty to some deconstructionist post-modern prattle. It's like taking the fifth in a courtroom. Up yours, dickheads. "It's just your interpretation."
But people we care about, people we respect? It does matter. Dissimilar perceptions between friends means working toward congruence, finding an explanation that makes sense, one that assimilates our ideas, right?
Ah...there's my answer. You don't care. I guess I knew that, just hadn't finished processing.
The cheap psychoanalysis is that this is my training, to keep the pathology ball in my court so everybody else enjoys logical sequence. My traits, my deficiencies, my misinterpretations—all the nutty stuff happens on my side. The underdog side. And I'm really good at this. I've got multiple educated degrees in the manly rational disciplines, such outstanding swimming and Taekwondo athleticism...I do know my audience. Problems arise when I forget just how exceptional I am and act out that full-on human agency. When I overlook the magnanimity of the invitation to the big boy table.
The more well-rounded shrink would say that had my energies been vacuumed into the bottomless well of wifework, that exhausting daily man-agement, I would never have done a goddamn thing, finished the PhD, taught anything, written anything. Custodial women are busy. (Shut up and go find a convent if you can't behave.)
As Chesler wrote in Women and Madness, we're called neurotic when we act like women; when we act like men, we're considered completely insane: "Such madness is essentially an intense experience of female biological, sexual and cultural castration, and a doomed search for potency." I read that it in 1980.
The anatomy of a good divorce would have you fixing this, working it out, taking pretend-blame, showing me exactly where and how I misconstrue, miscalculate, misinterpret...but if I could do any of this stuff, believe me, we'd still be together. Or I'd be happily settled with a subsequent someone, cackling away my daily notions over breakfast, complacently ignored over coffee. We could dismiss it all with love is blind, big deal, people move on, not everyone throws themselves under a train, RIP Anna Karenina, stop exaggerating.
No matter. I am, after all, finally processing the divorce. Better late than never! Parting at the Padrão dos Descobrimentos that Saturday in August, you back to Lisbon and me back home, felt…good.
I got it right this time.
8 MARCH 2020
Happy International Women's Day.