Since the days before we sniffed the air instead of reading the morning newspaper for our day’s headlines and “Your mother doesn’t own shoes” wasn’t an inner-city joke but rather a factual observation, we’ve been a work in progress.
Fellow apemen of whom we disapproved were bludgeoned instead of being the target of snarky tweets. Today? We can blast foes we’ve never met into thick, wine-colored vapor from half-a-planet away. In my lifetime, dear America has become a dystopian nightmare, a Hieronymus Bosch real-time documentary. We mindlessly chomp on popcorn, toothily grinning as caged men and women pound each other bloody. “Youth Turns Monster” is now a daily headline, though often it’s plural. We’re reminded crimes exist worse than murder. Mooncalves are our kings. Child molesters babysit, liars teach, war is our god. For all our divine blessings, humans smear the beautiful with their own, unmentionable byproduct.
Days visit so vulgar, so hopeless, so profoundly sad, I can’t make myself open a news site. Yet, through all the counting of atrocities, a comparatively light story peeks above the fold and saddens me. Why am I so terribly disappointed over the possible divorce of two jet-setting, multimillionaire celebrities? It must hit close to home. I was born a hopeless romantic, doomed to unrequited love. I suspect, deep down, that’s all of us.
Hard for most who scrape knuckles, plugging radiator holes in a 100-degree garage or pedicurists breathing jet fuel fumes, staring at disfigured feet for a living to muster sympathy for Tom Brady or Gisele Bündchen. Both are stupidly gorgeous. Each will probably become billionaires in their own right. I’m still working on that elusive first $35,000. Mrs. Brady’s a famous supermodel/lady executive. Mr. Brady’s the still-boyish seven-time Super Bowl champ. Trivia? I have no friends with an umlaut in their name. Who knows where truth will settle, but, stories have surfaced. Tom and Gisele may be headed for divorce.
Odd. I find myself rooting for these two perfectly sculptured souls who know not the meaning of XXL underwear. I’ve rooted for other couples, none hardly so rich, famous and beautiful. It’s not the couple. It’s cheering for something that deserves cheering and rarely done right — marriage. It’s rooting for family. It’s being confident in your corniness to clap and blow a kazoo for love. It’s also knowing that grimace of appreciating that what’s left after love is emptiness and the wretched, ancient, gloating wisdom: You only truly appreciate something precious, after it’s gone.
Me? I’m sappy. I always liked how these two young people seemed so happy to see the other, how much they effortlessly adored their kids. Was it just a carefully crafted PR front? I suspect not. It struck me how pure, how simple, the concept of Love is. Done right, love strikes me as heaven, God himself, seamlessly melding with Earth and our human hearts. We should be happy to see one another. There should be that honest twinkle in the eye. As one of my dopey-like sister-substances says frequently to child or grown-up: “YAY!! It’s — YOU — !!!” A well-placed exclamation mark should not be considered dirty punctuation.
A good pal shared relationship challenges he was suffering with his wife. I don’t know if the question was original with him, but it was stunning:
“What’s wrong with me that I can’t love you?”
Damning in simplicity. Aimed not outward, like the Universal Language of Relationships, but, inward, boring like a cosmic index finger into our own soul, or, better, into our own fat heads, to blow up the unreachable. It’s asking God Himself a question that makes you squirm. You won’t like the answer. But it’s exactly what you desperately need to hear.
“What’s wrong with me that I can’t love you?”
I made the mistake of asking myself. A volcanic eruption of precise answers began flowing. God may be forever smiling in kindness. I wasn’t. It was embarrassing.
What’s wrong with me, in not one, but many relationships?
More than loving, deep down, I’d rather be self-righteous. Right. Superior. Victorious. Not only did I want to keep my grudges, I wanted to count them, file them alphabetically, by weight, by date, succulently nurse each like a bile lozenge, carefully memorizing each one. Deeper, on an ancient, almost cellular level, I craved being the victim. I wanted to keep adding chapters to My Poor Story so that I could proudly thump my chest and commiserate with friends and therapists so that they could pat my head and coo, “There-there. Poor you…” I wanted to win the argument at the expense of losing the relationship. Then, beyond horror, I realized: I never wanted the relationship. I wasn’t afraid. I was terrified of the kindness and simplicity of closeness.
I always knew, but could never put into words — that terrible price for never asking waited just around the corner. There exists a place, forever empty, where you hurt so much you think you’ll die, then realize, maybe, you won’t. And then another corner, more terrible than the first: I may never get to become myself.
Peeling back yet more layers to this question exists a no-nonsense place of math-like efficiency. God, or if you have trouble with that word — Solution — cannot get to you where you are not. Guaranteed from personal experience? Tragic is the life when one asks oneself the question, then sins by dully lying to God and himself: “Nothing…”
I’m not so much a Tampa Bay Buccaneers fan, so I root for Tom Brady and Gisele With The Umlaut Bündchen. May they each ask the question. I hope they make it. It’s nice for a family to have a single Thanksgiving and Christmas under the same roof, one birthday party for a kid, not juggling two. It’s nice to see not a spouse, but your sweetheart (same person) smile and say, with perfectly deserved exclamation marks, “Yay!! It’s you!!!”
John Boston is a local writer. Visit his bookstore at johnbostonbooks.com.