Saturday, July 20, 2019

A story

"My dad used to take us camping," she said to the curious group at the booth in the bar. We began to quiet down to listen to her. "We would hike up this mountain all morning in summer. It took hours, and we would be so hot, and so tired and hungry by the time we got where he was taking us. You had to go up rocks, and through these trees. But then, breaking out into the sun ... there was this lake. Perfectly clear. The most amazing blue. It was beautiful..."

The story, as my friend K once told it, was actually several minutes long.

It's the closing line I can never forget.

"And that ... is the color of Diane's ex-husband's eyes."

All I ever managed, in praise of his startling, Nordic baby-blues was to say they were "like Windex." Even that I stole off of Carla Tortelli.

My mom once amusedly scoffed that he must wear contacts. I countered with Paul Newman. Even just a few years ago, I showed a somewhat recent pic of him to my Aunt, and the exclamation she made indicating how good he looked was a familiar, memory-claiming, "Those eyes!"

Beloved Ex's eyes are still that shade of extremely bright, clear blue. But it got weird, too. Not so long after that pic I showed my aunt, he was in an accident and injured, and suffered what he and I generally just refer to as Bowie eye. No eerie, glamorous alien rock god, BEx *has* been a hellacious front man in his day; even just last year, seeing him perform for (my) first time in 24 years was a revelation. He's a great performer.

Last year was also the first time I ever saw him with the eye dealio. Dear as our friendship is, neither he nor I ever pretends we're not exes, so we talk and email and text, but we haven't visited in many moons. He wanted to come for dad's memorial, and had car trouble, and so the last time we were in the same room before last year had been in 2002. (He did get to see dad before he died; maybe that is right, and better.)

The Bowie eye thing is cool, of course - but BEx isn't much of that opinion. What many of us might feel as a distraction to people we meet, he feels as an embarrassment - and, too, he certainly has to squint more than he used to. The shades stayed on a lot. And, not actually doing the rockstar thing after all, one does understand how he doesn't embrace the visual oddity. Like most things people dislike in themselves, or worry about anyway, this isn't as exceptional to see as it is to own.

Lately, I keep running by movies we saw together, when I flip channels. They take me back, not so much to Ohio, or even particularly the late 80s/early 90s, but just to him.

If it seems hard to understand why someone I like so much, and love so much, is in any case still an "ex", rest assured it's been brought up to me before. Given how he talks about those people in his life who haven't met me apparently respond to him talking about *his* ex, I assume that I am not alone. And, as old age with nobody but a cat and a dog in my life looms, the fact is I query myself whether I could live in Ohio again after retirement. Once mom goes (assuming I actually outlive her; it's just possible), I will be essentially alone in the world wherever I am. Of course, I don't expect to be able to retire before age 78.

At the end of the day, though - and as much as seeing him last year was GREAT - it also reminded me of a fundamental way we are incompatible.

BEx was not raised in a house of yes. Even going back to college at what he feared was the "old age" of like 28 came in part under the influence of my dad - not his. His default expectation is of frustration and failure.

During the year or so of our functionally being married, we ran up against ... me. I was restless. I wanted to see some "other side" to Ohio - to get out - to not be so poor we had to discuss, "Hey, can we afford toilet paper?"

I also saw myself turning into a pretty awful person. This probably owes to sabotaging us: I wanted out so badly I flailed. When a cherry business offer came from his then-employers - "Buy our music store, we'll make you a deal" (they were lovely people and really cared for him) - I saw two things. One, that I didn't want to stand in the way of that. And two, that it meant a pretty deep root in Ohio.

Restlessness turned to nagging and discontent and nastiness. I went home, got work, we stayed married and hoping, but I also succumbed to that most impossible of urges - I wanted "to grow."

That was 25 years ago, and I am still at it of course, but what revealed itself relatively early is the major problem between me and him. He is wary and wise, facing life with bets hedged and expectations low. This is completely right and fair.

But I became, somewhere along the line, not only a practitioner of gratitude, but actually spiritually invested in counting my blessings.

Last year, watching his progress through an iffy day up to that Really Big Show, I was powerfully reminded: BEx can't take yes for an answer. The weather was perfect, the crowd was GREAT, the band was tight. It all was sensational - and a good time. But even afterward, his focus was on details he wasn't satisfied with. As I said at the time, "He can't take yes for an answer." Never could.

Which means that BEx, as it turns out, is a striver. Maybe "a little depressive" as he and I actually used to have a personal joke about. But very much in service of his ambitions, his needs and hopes and expectations.

I am decidedly *not* a striver.

I need to be happy with what is (and, no, the irony isn't lost on me). In nearly twenty years' homeownership, this is why the hardwoods REMAIN un-refinished. It's probably why I abide in loving Mr. X, at that - someone who ruined all the other boys for me, but who also may literally never reappear, physically, in my life. The fact that I don't quite believe that doesn't mean I don't comprehend it's possible.

Not unlike BEx, Mr. X is not easily prone to taking yes for an answer.

Me, apparently I'll take "no" till the day I die. Pollyanna, just too busy to be distracted by failure, or insistently practicing that gratitude that keeps me focused on what actually does work in my life (think what you may about romantic delusions - what actually does work in my life is remarkably extensive). All of the above.

BEx is hardly monomaniacal on the subject of what doesn't work in *his* life. It's just that my need to thank my lucky stars makes his entire perspective irksome.

I would get in the way of his pragmatism and ambition. He would get in the way of my practice of gratitude - and it is, a practice.

And so, we are exes, and friends, and I actually do still think he is the ginchiest.

As, all those years ago, my friend K also did. Eyes like deep, still mountain lakes. Or Windex.

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