Years ago, a good pal married poorly. Like, AYFKM poorly. A highly successful Beverly Hills attorney and agent, he was a bucket of mischief, loyal, funny, well-off and smarter than spats over $300 basketball shoes. His wife was a bona fide horse pill with sharp edges. Drunk. Thief. Drug addict. Nagger. Self-righteous. Bully. Cheater on just about every vow from her DMV test to her marriage license.
My buddy was having one of those Wit’s End conversations with a mutual friend, a famous movie star whose name shall remain anonymous. After an afternoon of primal dumping listing the mortal sins of his jackass beloved, the agent ran out of breath and slumped, waiting to be slapped upside the head with a litany of spiritual wisdoms, from the New Testament to Dear Abby. The agent was surprised by the brevity of the aging thespian’s response:
“You’re absolutely right,” said the actor. “Now what?”
Even the woman’s few and alleged friends agreed. The wife was eyeliner, an over-filled brassiere and 37 trillion cells all working toward no particular good.
Bless her heart.
You’d have to labor like Hercules pushing the continents back into Pangaea to justify this woman’s wretched behavior. Was she in pain? Yup. Tormented? You betcha. Did she just leave train wreck after burning buildings after overturned baby carriages in her wake? Every. Where. She. Went.
But then, those two, unavoidable, blankety-blank words: “Now what?”
Zen-like, the old actor didn’t offer any helpful suggestions. Like: “Set her feet on fire and bury her alive in the desert.” Or, Wile E. Coyote-like, from a mile-high rocky precipice, drop an anvil upon her head.
Science and Warner Brothers don’t lie: Anvils bounce.
Rat poison. Bear traps. Selling her to a Taliban harem. Solutions all yummily satisfying and justifiable. But, as we say Out West, that just ain’t right.
My friend took that two-word sentence seriously. Now what? He gathered himself. He took long, contemplative walks in metaphorical woods. He chatted with wise friends and experts, then protected himself legally, physically and emotionally and allowed his angel boo-boo honey bride the gift of crawling 50 miles below stank bottom. Still loved this hard woman, too. But, he divorced her and, in doing so, got back his freedom and dignity. This was his well-planned “Now what?”
Chinese Flu is a poor excuse. I just haven’t chatted with my lawyer compadre in a while. It’s not like my phone melted. I should call and check how he’s doing. I hope like some of us he doesn’t suffer from a fatal dose of Bad Mate Karma and has ended up with the identical twin of Mrs. Horribilus, except for even more henna highlights, if that was possible, someone to rip karmic chunks from him by the plyerful.
How stubborn we can be.
I’ve been thinking about our mutual friend, the actor. I met him years ago. We were getting a quick dinner and waiting on a friend. I KNEW the guy was a well-known performer, but I’m an absolute dummy when it comes to Things Show Biz, even though I worked in it for years. Turns out he was a regular on one of the top prime time shows of the 1990s. I used to watch it. We both laughed heartily when, sitting 3 feet away, I recognized him. We became close in later years.
He was such a swashbuckling and wise soul, patient, measured, overflowing with mischief and stories. The lawyer and I were lucky to count him as a friend. Here’s why.
All of us go through trying times. Sometimes it involves gut-wrenching relationship issues. We can be surrounded by well-meaning friends, eager to love us and provide support and, ick, advice. The problem? That overflowing of advice pours from good intentions, but can be 180 degrees opposite of where we need to be. You get slapped with too much There-There/You Poor Thing You salve and soon you’ve got not one, but two psychic rashes.
But I marvel at my friend’s Socratic answer — which ends up being a question — that the movie star offered: “You’re absolutely right. Now what?”
The first three words offer much-needed solace. We’re not idiots. In our hearts, we know when something is terribly wrong, that we’re not crazy, that no one should suffer through endless days of suffocation. We do need to talk with a wiser friend and get things not simply off our chest, but slice the tentacles that grip our heart and soul. It can take a while. We must get to the point of being sick and tired of being sick and tired of our story. That’s the first part.
The second part, the self-incriminating — Now What?
The awful part of that short question is that it begins us on a journey that starts with an index finger that slowly circles to point at our own nose. It’s not the ubiquitous “them.” It’s not the dumb-asterisks spouse or boss. Not the bone-headed relative or mouth-breathing neighbor with the 9-inch forehead.
We do it to ourselves.
We self-sabotage, painstakingly hunt for that perfect someone, that nemesis to poke our deepest wounds and fears until we howl and grind molars.
Usually our own.
I was smiling, recalling that conversation between thespian and lawyer. Dratted life. There’s always that annoying flip side.
What if the preamble to the problem is: “You’re absolutely — wrong?”
We all have friends and relatives who are cradle-to-grave magnets for woe and heartbreak. If someone’s been wrong much of their life, if someone clutches to The Life Slapstick, it becomes sadly comic to watch them try to figure out: “Now what?”
Chew some gum. Raise your eyebrows. Shrug and say, “Whoops…”
John Boston is a local writer.