January 28, 2010

Breakfront

Here’s a recent conversation with D.: I recalled the line from the Richard Gere and Dianne Lane movie Nights in Rodanthe that I must admit is a truly awful flick with actors I adore. Spoiler here, so skip the next paragraph if you haven’t seen it. Oh, come on, read it anyway.

Maybe my problem is simply that Nights in Rodanthe is not a Rom-Com. As I’ve said, in the true Rom-Com two cynics meet, neither believes love works, one or both have been hurt or been screwed by believing that the open heart is a good thing. So one, or in this case both, have closed off that option: closed heart, closed heart. In the Rom-Com, you do not kill off the hero. That’s what happened in Nights in Rodanthe—to my horror, not my tears. Go figure, I felt betrayed by the film.

I have not wanted to kill off D., metaphorically, or G-d help me, literally. Thus, the open door, and open heart, despite all the breakage.

I quote to D. from the movie, “Any guy who would leave a woman like you—” I do love it when Gere says that to Lane.

D. interrupts, “Should have his head examined. No, wait—I did!” D. finally did go to a shrink and I think he’s now fully shrunk—is that a word? I, on the other hand, . . . Well, let’s just say, My process continues with my shrink.

D. adds, “I won’t cop to being an idiot as in, ‘Any guy who would leave a woman like you is an idiot.’ I will cop to have my head examined—as in ‘Any guy who . . ., needs to have his head examined.’ ”

I have been seeing a therapist through the whole writing of this memoir. In fact, there have been two. Kinda like two marriages—and I’ve had two of those as well. The first shrink Cynthia moved her practice to Wyoming. I cannot click my heels and be with her, but she did feel like home. With Cynthia I had what might have been the first truly intimate relationship in my life. For the first time, I came to understand something about being seen and that being seen constitutes intimacy.

Do you remember in Bridget Jones’s Diary when Mark Darcy tells Bridget something like this, “I like you just as you are”? That’s the Rom-Com version of what I have come to discover. Intimacy lies somewhere in that line of dialogue that amazes all of Bridget’s friends.

My second therapist, who has walked on this road with me, is Martha. Cynthia has worked with her and made certain that I saw her before Cynthia moved away—to be sure about the fit. Martha is less formidable or perhaps I am further on the road. Cynthia was a bit scary. Therapy is no easy process though it gets lampooned and satirized and rightfully so, with Woody Allen doing the best work on solipsism in life and in film.

But the real stuff has, I think anyway, little to do with navel gazing.

Martha has shown me the way to the yellow brick road and I have seen that there is no Wizard behind the curtain. Like the Scarecrow with no brain, the Tinman with no heart, the Cowardly Lion with no courage, I have been at a loss. But like them, I have learned that the Wizard lies within and that I am no wizard.

I can’t find my way alone. I have needed and sought help. I have been afraid.

Before I went to Paris, once I’d found the apartment, rented it, bought the plane ticket, and even had Euros, I went into an unexplained panic. My friend Marly said to me, “Mary, you’ve done everything. You even have your Euros. Now’s the time for anticipation.” It was a week before the trip. “Something new and different is about to happen to you.” I said, “Right, I’ll get lost or be robbed. But there’s the thing, my getting lost is not a new and different thing.” For almost a year while commuting back and forth to Missouri, I walked out my front door here at my D.C. condo and regularly got lost. Sense of direction in the literal and figurative sense is not my strong suit. So I said to Marly, “The new thing is that now I’m down to being robbed.”

What was that about? Certainly not logical thinking.

So I did what I always do when I can’t figure something out, I slept. I had this dream about sex and storage. Oh so you don’t think these two are related? I beg to differ:

In the dream, I wake wanting to make love but don’t say anything. D. does too and comes towards me, penis erect. I want his penis inside but he doesn’t want to enter because he says he wants to experiment. He wants my vibrator.

I am dreaming of the vibrator that I have had since D. left me, that never would have been possible for me to have while we were together. Because of our problems with sex—you know his rejection of me?—I assumed, incorrectly I now know, that he would have been offended by it.

So in the dream, when I reach into the side table at my bedside where I keep it when I’m awake, I have instead the side table from the bedroom set that belonged to my first husband and me, the one table from that set that I took when we divorced. Yeah, yeah, I know: Two strikes and you’re . . .

The vibrator is not in the side table. It is empty.

I live in a small condo with very little storage. Recently California Closets helped me create more storage but I still had to throw away many prized items I no longer had room for, mostly books—and that, the loss of a book I have read is a difficulty I’ve not been able to overcome—I could live in a library. I was able to save parts of clown costumes I’d made when my children were small and D. took home the clown costume I had made for him, but I couldn’t find my pink gingham clown costume. When my children were small I made all the costumes in different colors of gingham. D.’s was green. Sarah’s was red. Ben’s was blue. Sarah and Ben are, if I’ve not made this clear before, the children from my first failed marriage.

In the dream, my clown costume was in the long bureau from that bedroom set, long gone, sold at the sale of our house in Adams Morgan: the four-story Victorian brownstone. In the dream I found this bureau with its ridged top slider for jewelry and underneath, crayons and small blocks, small toys for children. (I have a brand new grandchild, Lila.)

Then I find my mother’s breakfront that ended up in the basement of the house before Kalorama, the house in Chevy Chase, the colonial that I loved where we bought my first mahogany dining room set that we took with us to the dining room in the old Victorian that dwarfed an upright piano—that’s how big the room was: a room where all my children and grandchildren could come to eat the food I once cooked in my chef’s kitchen. D. sold that mahogany table after I went to Missouri to teach, after he’d decided to leave me, after we’d sold the house.

I have seen mahogany trees in St. Lucia, an island of beaches and rainforests and a dark people with open hearts.

In the dream, the mahogany breakfront’s first drawer had a silver drawer like the one in my sideboard where I stored my mother’s sterling that my father gave me after she died. That sideboard D. also sold after I’d flown away to Missouri to teach fiction writing as a visiting writer. My first book had just come out. No book party. No sixtieth birthday party. Yes, my publisher sent the first copies out on my birthday, March 3. But there was no celebration. There was instead as my father said after D. and I took him, after my mother and sister had both died, to his first James Bond movie, “A lot of breakage.”

Last evening while I was washing my face

—D. slept over—I said, “You know what you gave me?”

“What?”

“You gave me a window into my soul and then you took it away. I know inside that I should be able to find my own window into my own soul. Isn’t that what all the therapy has been about?”

He listened.

I continued:
“Aren’t two people afraid stronger than one afraid and doesn’t the human connection of love—and I mean committed, sexual love—manifest G-d?”

Did I really say that? Yeah, I did. And I believe it, but it hasn’t been an easy thing to say aloud.

And D. spoke, “Maybe I just borrowed the window for a while.”

Here is something you do not know. D. has been reading this memoir the whole time I have been writing it.

I have often been afraid to post—as this book has been initially written as a blog. Great anxiety has accompanied the posts. Overcoming that fear has been part of being seen.

D. told me he’d been reading it when we were in Paris. I told him how afraid I have been.

He has a wit that charmed me from the get-go. He said, “Think about Confucius: Out of all the pain and craziness in the world, he got an enormous amount of material.”

I said, and here we see that I am not funny, “Confucius say: Confusion create pain in soul.”

But confusion does guide. This I have learned.

The bottom dropped out of my world much the way the bottom dropped out of the stock market with what is now known as The Great Recession that President Obama inherited. I mention Obama because he and Michelle appear to me to be the real thing: A true romance.

When that bottom hit and we all got hit, I wrote this to D., not realizing at the time that my subject was our marriage:

We must lead with our hearts and not our minds. I know this seems antithetical to what we are hearing in the news about how we should respond with reason to the crash, but let us not be held bondage to the intellect, which on some level says, all is lost. Let us lead with ours hearts—not emotion, not feeling—but our hearts that know that we shall weather this together and that we will hang in when all seems lost and hopeless and the bottom has dropped out. Because we believe that, to be trite but true, love is the answer even in the face of a market that appears to offer little hope. We do live in a forgiving cosmos even when all seems lost.

And D. wrote back to me, As usual, you speak goodness that must be the true guide to all of us who live in the practical world.

Whether or not you agree with me about The Great Recession, you may understand what I mean when I say that D. sees me.

John L. Hitchcock, physicist and Jungian analyst in his book At Home in the Universe says:

“This book is a declaration of love. It is not a declaration of my love, but of the fact that love is the heart of the universe. . . . [I]t is we who submit to the bonds of love. And since love sets its object free—since love is the very basis of our freedom—in submitting to its bonds, we also set free whomever or whatever is the object of our love. In a profound sense . . . submitting to the bonds of love can help release even God. We can love reality as it is, though it seems to throw obstacles in our way and wound us.”

I long ago let D. go. By reading this memoir while I wrote it, D. let me go. And I have been freed and seen.

Our marriage that was broken has had a solidity I could never have imagined. It is like a mahogany breakfront that holds all the broken china of our lives together.

Derek Walcott who won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1992, the year before my sister died, the year before we took my father to that James Bond film, was born and raised in St. Lucia, the isle of indestructible mahogany. In his Nobel acceptance speech, he said, Break a vase and the love that reassembles the fragments is stronger than that love which took its symmetry for granted when it was whole.