Tuesday, January 05, 2010


When the decade started, I was married.

No, no, this isn't another rhapsodic, overwritten dirge to that thing that might have been. If you're a regular here, you've heard that song before, and are likely sick of it. Besides, I no longer spend every morning waking up to mourn its failure, mostly because I'm spending too much time despairing the failure of a more recent relationship. Funny how that works, isn't it? And...two paragraphs in, and I'm already badly off track. (And also wondering if a rhapsodic dirge is even theoretically possible.)

Let me begin again:

At the dawn of the decade, at the start of a new century, I was married. And that marriage wasn't perfect, but it was the state I was in, and I was as satisfied with it as I was likely to be. My wife and I lived in a picturesque college town, had decent if unspectacular jobs and had settled into a comforting routine.

Or so I thought. Turns out she wasn't comfortable at all, and within a year and a half, I found myself far from the Midwestern state I'd always known, living on the east coast . Whatever took us there was the thing that had unsettled my wife, something unknowable, at least to me. The marriage was slowly failing, but I was powerless to stop it. Powerless, or simply hapless.

And while living in suburban D.C., that city, like New York, was attacked from outside, which allows me, Dear Reader, to deploy the most jaw-droppingly self-absorbed metaphor imaginable as I compare the failure of my marriage to 9/11.

Yeah, I know, but think about it: The events of September 11th, 2001 supposedly Changed Everything, and we were told repeatedly that Things Would Never Be The Same. But life went on, and the tragedy was largely dealt with by kind of ignoring it, and focusing on the distraction of the moment, and we all went back to being exactly like we were, doing the same stupid things. The only difference is, maybe our capacity for joy has lessened, and we're all a little more numb.

You see where I'm going, right? For much of my life I couldn't even imagine myself married, but once it happened, it was the be all and end all of my existence. So divorce...no, that wasn't possible. It Changed Everything, and after that, Things Would Never Be The Same. I found myself--to continue, somewhat half-heartedly, the metaphor--at Ground Zero, sleeping in an apartment in my mom's garage, hating every minute of it, vowing that once I got out of there, my life would be radically different.

And in the sense that I found myself living in a different city than I ever had before, it was different. But the rituals were the same, and I did the same things, and the same old barriers were erected to keep myself from fully enjoying life. I tarried and I dallied and I had some fun along the way, and when something finally came along that felt like actual love, it was a shock, and I didn't know how to respond. I barely responded at all, in any meaningful way. So it ended. And maybe it wouldn't have ultimately mattered how I responded, but maybe it would have, and...There's no way to know. Only the winners get to rewrite the past, after all.

The only difference is the reaction. The capacity for shock, for pain so deep it feels as though it will never go away, diminishes eventually. Then there's only numbness, a feeling that life is being viewed, not experienced, and even then through a heavily-Xanaxed haze. It's been a terrible decade for the wider world, but it's been absolutely devastating for me: My oldest brother died, my mom died--Mom! My closest friend in the world, the person who understood me more than anyone else ever could!--and so many cultural heroes lost: Warren Zevon, Hubert Selby, Kurt Vonnegut, Robert Altman, Johnny Freakin Cash. Yet I mustered more numbness than tears. I didn't want to hurt anymore, so I chose to feel nothing at all.

And yet, I'm crying as I write this, because the sound of Mom's voice is in my ears, and I look at the picture of my beloved cat Monika next to my monitor, and although it seems silly to miss a cat as much as my mother, I miss them both, dammit, and I realize I'm not quite as numb as I think. And the decade ended with me buying a house, something I've never done before, and something I probably never would have done without the urging of the very person who tore out my heart, so something of lasting value came out of that relationship. (Plus, I get to dog-sit for her!)

Perhaps I've been spending all this time without quite realizing what has actually been happening. This is the life most people lead, with day-to-day responsibilities and no time for starry-eyed dreaming or prolonged bouts of sorrow. This is not a daze. This is not numbness. This is maturity.