As a young kid, U2’s The Joshua Tree was the first real album I listened to. I loved it immediately.
The track “With or Without You” has always bothered me a bit. The sentiment is classic, “I can’t live, with or without you, I can’t live.” The paradox always struck me as rather stupid. Come on, Bono, make up your mind and stop whining. On the other hand, he is onto something: as much as the beloved might make one happy, there is a fly in the ointment, because she can’t make you that happy. The song suggests that the key to our happiness resides somewhere else.
Of course this goes hand in hand with the track “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.” It’s gospel angst at its finest. Bono belts out his belief in the “kingdom come” and that “He broke the bounds” and “Carried the cross of my shame,” but ends declaring “But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.”
As Augustine puts it, “Our hearts are restless, until they can find rest in you.” The rest doesn’t finally come to us until we slip the mortal coil. Continue reading
When things went belly up with the wife, I initially kept it private and avoided mentioning it to my colleagues. Then one day, 0n the way to my carpool pickup, I ran into a fellow teacher and the game was up (Dude, why are you in Harlem at this time in the morning?). Coincidently, another teacher I traveled with was also in the midst of a breakup. We still laugh about that bright spring day when we both burst into tears over the demise of our respective relationships as we drove down the West Side of Manhattan.
While it was good having carpool buddies to whom I could fume, what galled me most was their disposition to the whole thing. She was awful to you, but, you know, stuff happens. Sometimes it just doesn’t work out.
So much for the concept of marital loyalty. So much for the concept of betrayal. So much for having a spine and working it out.
But I’m talking like a jaybird. Continue reading
Since the end of my marriage, Walker Percy has become one of my guys. The Moviegoer is a bleak read, but The Thanatos Syndrome is on a whole other level in my opinion. Dark, funny, mysterious, and hopeful: it is brilliant.
He has a keen eye for modern sexuality and relationships. This:
I discovered that it is not sex that terrifies people. It is that they are stuck with themselves. It is not knowing who they are or what to do with themselves. They are frightened out of their wits that they are not doing what, according to experts, books, films, TV, they are supposed to be doing. They, the experts, know, don’t they?
The Thanatos Syndrome 88.
The pattern was quickly set: life would be good for two months, and then she would blow up and throw a laundry list of complaints at me. There would be so many complaints over such an extended period of time that it was an automatic ticket to the doghouse where I’d languish for a couple of days. We’d patch things up (I’m sorry. Yeah, you better be.) and things would settle. I’d then think things were good and that we had finally got past the cycle and then it would blow up again and it was back to the doghouse.
It was when she started suggesting that we should go splitsies that the metaphor changed. Doghouses, you come back from those. Now it was like treading water in the ocean and you could actually drown. Every fight became a dunking from which I’d struggle to get back to the surface gasping for breath. Continue reading
She said it was over. I emailed her the next day to start making the arrangements (money, paperwork, the usual). Three days later she wavered: “I don’t want this.” Oh, honey, I thought to myself, you don’t get to zig and zag for a year and a half, finally call it to an end, and then zag on me again. “Ooooook,” I said. She said she realized that she had blamed me for everything and had been blind to her own issues. That sounded promising, but after all I had been through, I was dubious.
She said she would go to some counseling. I said we should go incommunicado for two months to give her time to work through things. She agreed. But wait, she couldn’t afford rent and needed a roommate. This meant she needed to return Penny to the foster organization we got her from.
If there is one thing I’m seriously pissed about, it’s Penny.
I was talking with a friend a couple months back about breakups. She told me her last boyfriend cheated on her, and even though she was pissed and over it, she never would love anyone as much as she loved him. I found the sentiment strange and said as much. “No,” she said, “You don’t understand, I loved him.”
I’ve never been much of a romantic. My mother says I was born old and I think that applies here: I know that gushy romance wears poorly over time and eventually you have to learn to settle down into deeper love of older age. Still, I wonder how much that sentiment has to do with the fact that the early stage of my marriage didn’t have many butterflies and rainbows. Either way, I think that explains in part why I couldn’t get my head around my friend’s sentiment.
It was the fifth month of a “constructive separation”—that’s how she put it when she kicked me out. Truth be told, it was constructive. The first couple months I spent with Indian Momma, and after that melted down, I moved to Harlem. As I headed uptown, I was hopeful for the marriage and not without reason even looking back on it now.
I got tickets for Cabaret through my school. Alan Cumming and Emma Stone starred. She loves Cumming, Stone, and Broadway. This was a perfect coup. The night before I had texted her that things were going really well. She agreed. I suggested I move back in even if that meant I just crashed on the couch. She said we’d talk about it. There was something ominous about that and I knew it at the time.
The show was fantastic, but she was cool towards me and shifted uncomfortably in the seat—like someone who knows they should be thrilled but cannot work up any genuine emotion let alone fake it. Something was on her mind, and as soon as the show was done I asked her about my couch proposition and she said we’d talk about it later (after I got back from Chicago) and I told her, “No, we’re talking about it now.”
A new pastor just got hired. “How’s that going?” I asked Tonto. He shrugged, “It’ll be fine, but it’s hard for a guy to lead when he’s gone through so little suffering.” I was taken aback. “How do you know he’s gone through so little suffering?” I asked. Tonto: “I know the guy personally. He grew up in a stable, loving home, got good grades all the way through college. He’s happily married with a couple of kids, and now leads a church after a couple years on the job.” “Oh,” I say, “that does sound nice.”
Before I discovered Tom Waits, Titus Andronicus, and the Rolling Stones, I use to be a big Jars of Clay fan. They were a solid 90s Christian band and they’re still kicking out the albums although I haven’t kept up with them. In 2003 they released Who We Are Instead. As a thirteen year old kid, I listened to it often that year and still occasionally go back for another spin. The track “Faith Enough” especially haunted me at the time. The song embodied one of the elements I liked about the band: their ability to take a beating, feel the hurt, but not turn into pansies about it; or worse, slap the Jesus bandaid on the suffering and call it a day. I mean, sure, Jesus, but that’s a vague comfort when you’re in the shit. Continue reading
January. Cold. Upper West Side. On the stoop of my penal colony, I smoke my cigarette and swig beer from a plastic bag-clad can of beer.
I got my mother on the phone (she doesn’t know yet of my exile) and we are chatting—about what I don’t recall. This is a normal night for me. Normal, that is, until two cops come sauntering down the street towards me. There’s a slight change in their direction and now they’re headed my way.
“Mom,” I say, “I’m going to have to call you back. Two cops are coming my way.” Click. I suppose that’s not the most reassuring way to tell your mother good-bye.
“Hello, sir,” goes the big burly officer with a crew cut. “Hello,” I respond pleasantly. “Is that your beer can, sir?” he asks. I pause, amused, and glance down at the plastic bag. I’m in a good mood (just enough to drink) and a bad liar. So I cop to it with an oh-shucks-you-got-me expression: “Yeah, that’s mine.” The woman with him asks me for my ID and I comply: “Sir, we just need to see if you have any outstanding warrants.” “Ok,” I say with a chuckle, knowing nothing will come up. Continue reading
January of last year I found myself living on the Upper West Side with a 40 year old Indian mother and her two year old kid. It was an odd arrangement born of tragedy and the light at the end of the tunnel was only a pinprick.
I was there because my wife had kicked me out. She was there because hurricane Sandy had destroyed her home and she had just divorced her husband. Like a pair of shipwreck survivors we clung to this driftwood of an apartment in the projects.
My room was only sort of my own as she needed the space for her son during the day. The apartment was full of the detritus of her previous home. The bathroom in particular was problematic as she used it for storage, which meant that I occasionally couldn’t take a shower because it was periodically full of stuff. One particularly memorable episode required me to crawl over boxes and then balance precariously to take a pee at the toilet.