Letter to a Young Husband

for Joshua Rosenzweig

Whenever I happened to hear that someone was getting married, I thought, wow, I guess they’ve got it all figured out. But now that I’m getting married, I realize that, no, they probably didn’t/don’t have it all figured out. During my nearly year-long engagement, I haven’t seen myself as more together, more wise, more anything. I don’t feel more established or legitimate because I’m getting married—and I don’t feel less confused about ‘what it all means’. Perhaps after the marriage is finalized I’ll fancy myself more enlightened, particularly about the business of weddings, but that’s not to say I’ll have it—or anything—all figured out.

I imagine after many years I’ll be able to claim some kind of knowledge about what it means to be married and committed and devoted—but at this point, what I know most, what I know best, is heartbreak. What I know most intimately is pining, longing, cheating, forgiving, remembering, obsessing, resenting, crying, despising, adoring and stalking. Particularly stalking. I have so many stalking stories, it’s possibly record-setting. Driving by their house in the morning, afternoon, night, middle of the night. Walking by their office, workplace, restaurant, etc. Calling and hanging up. Calling and leaving cryptic messages. Calling and calling right back. I mean, I was shameless. Totally, brutally, horrifically shameless.

Once, I was sitting in my parents’ basement. It was a Saturday night and I’d left my apartment in the city and driven to their house in the suburbs to have dinner and spend the night. It was about one thirty in the morning and I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t sleep most nights, so there was nothing unusual about this. I decided that this night, however, I would not watch whatever was playing on Turner Classic Movies or Nick at Night. I would instead, drive back to Minneapolis and drive by the house of my ex-boyfriend. I would just drive in, and drive by his house, and turn around and drive home. Voila.

This ex was a guy who I’d dated for about five months. His age was the same as mine, 21. His car was a light blue Nissan. And his name? His name was Buck. The relationship was simultaneously monumental and irrelevant. Monumental because I lost my virginity to him. And irrelevant because I didn’t really have a connection with him or an understanding of his humor (it has to be in there somewhere, I insisted, if I just keep digging…) Essentially, we weren’t the greatest match. I knew it at the time, and I’m pretty sure he did, too. No, I’m sure he did. I think he thought I was a bit of a wreck. Smart enough and cute enough to date, casually, for the summer, you know. But ultimately too much of a mess. Too given to alcoholic displays with my coworkers from the wine and cheese shop. Too prone to pontificating on the nothingness of being. Really just too absurd and bizarre and generally wacko.

He himself was a very, very serious young man. Buck worked at a coffee shop and treated this post as though he was doing the very work of God. He studied Latin and ancient Greek at the University. He read feverishly and claimed to despise poetry and Horace. He was a practicing vegetarian, who dyed his hair black and wore a mainly communist uniform (black t-shirt, black frayed jean shorts). He had lovely lips and eyes and a smoldering brow. And he played in a band with the word Midnight in their name. He was often distant and pensive. He was frequently nonplussed by my humor. And, it seemed to me, he was very concerned with how others thought of him—how they saw him.

I knew the relationship wasn’t going to be a lifetime union, but when I realized Buck was losing interest I was nonetheless shocked, and naturally offended. Glenn Close said once that rejection is one of, if not THE worst emotion to experience. When I heard that, I understood immediately what she meant. It just feels bad, like you’ve stepped into raw sewage and can’t get it off fast enough. You know that even when you get it off, you’ll have to deal with after effects. You’ll have to ride it out for a while. Of course, you gain this knowledge through prior experience. I’d been rejected at least twice by this point, so I knew what was happening; I knew what lay ahead; and I knew it wasn’t going to be pretty. I also knew it was going to be finite—the bad feeling didn’t last forever. So when I asked him on the phone if he wanted to break up and he said, um, yeah. I cried a little bit, and asked if he was sure and if he was really going to leave me, but I also thought: fine.

In fairness, I should state that I’d been cheating on him. With Sam. An older guy. Technically, my boss. I was really in love with that person (my boss). And although I was old enough to know that boys could lose interest, I wasn’t old enough to know that bosses often had “strong feelings” for the young women that worked for them. Even if I’d known, I’m not sure I would’ve pushed him off. I liked him. I really liked him. Sam was funny and charming and handsome and full of wit. He was also damaged and scared and wounded by life. And it felt like he saw in me that thing that I subconsciously knew about myself. It felt like he was recognizing it, causing me to see it, for the first time. And the truth is, it felt wonderful.

Despite being head over heels for Sam, I was still human. I still had an ego and my ego had been stomped on by Buck. So as the weeks went by—and after Sam moved to Madison with his fiancé—I grew more and more infatuated with Buck. I mean, yes, Buck was slightly pretentious and overly image conscious and full of himself. Yes. But HE had been the one to reject ME. I mean, that spoke volumes. And with each day, I became more convinced of Buck’s grandeur. Wasn’t it true, in fact, that he was a genius? Wasn’t it true that he had the soul of a poet and couldn’t be blamed for his inability to see humor in anything below the level of a Shakespearean barb? Was it not true that he was quite possibly the most handsome man who’d walked the earth? His slightly caveman shoulders were evidence that he was from the very stock of mythic people he studied: autochthonous. I mean, what the fuck?! Buck was a god!

As the Patty Duke show’s theme song began to play, I jumped up from my parents’ basement floor, threw on a coat from their front closet and jumped in the car. The car I was driving at this time was a white Oldsmobile that made a rattling sound. The sound was unmistakable and whenever I was picking up a friend for a night on the town, they knew I was coming a block and a half away, and would be waiting outside by the time I rolled up. Also, the driver’s side door seemed precariously ready to fall off at any moment, but until that happened, I had a car. And I was going to drive it.

I cleared off the car and tossed the scraper in the backseat. It was snowing hard that night. As I pulled out of the driveway, the snow came down in thick, fluffy drops that slid down the windshield. I had the wipers going at full tilt and the defrost working overtime. The radio station played hits from the 50’s and I sang along. As I got nearer to my exit, the snow began to slow and I realized I didn’t remember exactly how to get to his house. He’d moved just before we’d broken up and I’d only been to the new place once. Well, twice, if you count the time I drove over there after a long night at the bar for me and long night of whiskey on the couch for him. He’d called and I’d come. I sat through a diatribe on how money doesn’t exist, followed by an hour long recital where he played the hits of Chopin. Then I showed him how to do a handstand. Then we slept together. The next day I pretended I had to be somewhere and he seemed grateful. So, essentially, it was line by line from the book of predictability. Either way, that incident had only increased my delusional obsession.

After a few random turns through Northeast Minneapolis I realized I was indeed on the correct street. His street. The streetlamps flickered in the night. The snow had stopped and the earth was covered in a white stillness that seemed to audibly hum. It was a nice harmony with the car’s jangling noise. I should get that looked at one of these days, I decided. And just then, at two a.m. on Saturday night, I saw him. Buck. Standing at the end of his driveway, watching as I drove by. He stood. Right there. The only one on the street. Watching the only car on the street. The white Oldsmobile with the rattling muffler just drive on by. His house. At two in the morning.

My first reaction had been to hit the gas and pull the car into some kind of eternal spin. But with each subsequent stretch of road I felt the level of shock and despair dissipate. In its place, increment by increment, I felt the old familiar feeling of self-loathing take hold. And this, this I could deal with. Again, thankfully, experience had taught me I could survive self-loathing. By the time I pulled into the driveway at my parents’ house, the snow had frozen enough so I could gain speed and plow through into a comfortable resting spot. I’d dig it out in the morning. Fuck it, I said, as I trudged through the snow, into the house. I decided it was good that he saw me. Now he won’t call me anymore and I won't have to wrestle with “will I/won’t I?" and I won’t have to wonder why he didn't like me enough to want me to stay. Now he knows I’m psychotic and he’ll leave me the hell alone.

I walked in the door, took off my boots and my father’s winter coat. It was nearly four in the morning and the sun wasn’t up, but I knew it was coming. I could count on that. I knew an old movie would be playing. Something that would take me out of this world and into my own favorite myths. The ones where a boozed up, idiosyncratic woman looked like Katherine Hepburn. The ones where she danced and stumbled and jabbered around until a nice, interesting, good man came along and swept her off her feet--or better, met her toe to toe. The ones where you knew it wasn’t going to be perfect forever after, but it was going to be honest, full of mutual respect and admiration, and love. Which is a nice way for a story to end, I think.

Abbi Dion
August 24, 2011


Lauren said...

1. This theme song plays itself in my head whenever I jog-not-run.

2. Do you think that the humiliation of heartbreak ever really goes away? I mean the heartbreak of embarrassment, of rejection, not high-brow Merchant Ivory heartbreak.

3. I'm happy for you--your happiness is making me happy right now.

abbimireilledion said...

This comment is EVERYTHING. The Patty Duke song plays in my head during meetings, sleep, depression, euphoria... it's tapped into some kind of eternal cycle... or something. ANYWAY! Are you moving to San Fran? (Facebook = stalking-light.) If so, I'm extremely envious. Finally, no, no, it never goes away. But it dulls. For the most part. Then again, sometimes it rears up unexpectedly. As fresh as in the original moment.

Lauren said...

I am always embarrassed, to various degrees. A lot of it is romantic embarrassment. I have unbidden flashes of memory that make me want to die--that thing I did at that bar in Old City, that thing I said to that guy when I was drunk, &c &c. I would love to be truly stupid with a bad memory.

I am moving--on Tuesday. Partly because I've done so many stupid things here that I need a whole new coast to ruin.