Jul 12, 2009

I know what you saying: "but all these stories sound the same. It must be the same couple over and over. Why do you find such people interesting? Who cares?"

But it's not the same couple over and over. It's that the circumstance is so pervasive. If you ask me to tell a happy marriage story, I can't do it. Which is not to say there aren't any happy stories, it's just I haven't heard any. I don't know those people. What I hear is this: a woman talking about her marriage who says, "I am grieving, I am in a state of grief." Or the woman, at wit's end, who says to her husband, "as soon as she goes away to college (referring to their daughter) I am leaving you."

Or the woman at the next table in a Noe Street restaurant, a very sincere and dignified woman describing the moment last week when her husband, in the middle of the night, after a tumultuous dinner with a one time neighbor, in the middle of the night grabbed her hand, stuffed her fingers in his mouth and bit them. Not hard enough to cause great damage, but hard enough to hurt onr finger badly, bad enough to be struck dead at the shock and the bizarness of it, badenough to be shaking her head for days afterward and not a little fearful of her husband. "I don't know what we've come to," she told her friend.

Still another woman, blonde, in her 60s but looking 40, confided to a friend, "I am not playing by the rules anymore. Enough is enough. I just won't. I've paid my dues."

And so it's as though this city had turned into a 19th Century French novel, as though all your friends, and their friends, had come down with mal-de-siecle. If only Chateaubriand were here. If only Flaubert could see this.

Go to dinner at anyone's home and at some point the conversation always turns to mal. Old and new mal at the same time — and on the surface rooted in lost jobs or the effect of lost jobs, lost properties, lost inheritances, lost social status, lost ambition, higher tuitions. The prospect of never being able to retire. For women, of a certain age, say between 45 and 60, the mal is about fading marriages and the urgency of finding a lover, of either sex, or keeping a lover in need of repair himself, or else finding someone to help them with their much older husband. What seemed to her so far off and possible is now suddenly here and impossible. It was supposed to be life in a DH Lawrence novel, life by a crackling hearth. That was the picture when the man was 55 and the woman was 40. But now he is 70 and she is 55. And he is not Robert Redford at 70, he is either obsessively introspective or ill, or dangerously unaware, or else a Republican, which is the same thing. Meanwhile, she is just coming into still another bloom, rich with sensuality and bravado.

But that's the surface. There is something else. Ennui is not the word for it. Rage is more the word and all its corollaries: resentment, denial, lethargy, mindlessness, lack of confidence, childish yearnings, outrageous sentimentality — along with strange illnesses, fantastic nightmares, sexual listlessness and yet spiritual hope, but with no real desire for enlightenment. As though you'd woken up in a burning house and were too drunk or drugged, or just too worn out to crawl out the door.

1 comment:

Anjuli said...

This is sad.

Do you think an underlying cause for some of this is unrealistic expectations- too many fairy tales are being told (and I'm not talking about the Hans Christian Anderson variety) - when women 'wake up' to the fact that life is NOT a fairy tale- well I guess it is a rude awakening.

No there are no knights in shining armour- No there is no prince to kiss you and wake you up- (or maybe I'm the lucky lady who found the only knight/prince left :))

I'm actually surprised at why women keep trying to find their sense of worth in sex or the lack thereof.