Sunday, July 18, 2010

Love Is a Battlefield

I don't write about my personal life very much anymore. Because of this, there are times that I feel like the heart has gone out of the material I publish here -- that there's nothing left to my occasionally literate thoughts but a reflection of the more mechanized aspects of my personality. I don't believe in the things I used to -- I don't feel the way I once did -- so I can't write with the same kind of passion that I did for so long. I'm not coming from that hard-earned, rarified place of relative peace and contentment these days, which means that almost anything I say that isn't strictly perfunctory will have to work its way upward from a pit that's better off not being seen or heard from.

The following piece was written back in March of 2007. It was always one of Jayne's favorites, for obvious reasons. Being forced to look back on it now is difficult in ways I can't properly describe. I miss feeling this way. I miss who I used to be and how I much I cared for my wife. I miss being in love.

"Bulletproof Hearts" (Originally Published, 3.25.07)

I don't function very well without my wife. Though I have no doubt that many would view this as an opportunity to lecture me on the gathering storm of inevitable co-dependency, I actually believe it to be somewhat quaint and -- in my case -- a damn nice about-face from a past that's overflowing with positively atrocious behavior. Unfortunately, this simple truth means that when Jayne and I are apart for extended periods, I find myself oddly disoriented -- unsure of what the hell to do or how to do it.

Case in point: She's gone right now -- away at a conference for two days -- and I've probably opened and closed the refigerator door ten times without actually removing anything. I just stand there vacantly staring into it as if expecting the margarine to stand up and begin explaining string-theory to me. So far at least, it's failed to do so and thus the mysteries of the universe remain just that: mysteries.

I admit to having the monotony broken a short time ago by one of the more maddening quirks of the apartment in which my wife and I pay an unforgivable amount of money to live. Our intercom system -- the one which lets us know that any manner of small, non-English-speaking persons has arrived with our food delivery and would now very much like to be buzzed in -- creates a sound that rivals a jackhammer in volume and ability to irritate. This would be little more than a minor inconvenience if not for the fact that the button tends to get stuck, which means that if we can't explain the situation to the person six floors below -- and this is where the whole non-English-speaking thing becomes a pitfall -- one of us will be forced to go downstairs and unstick the button while simultaneously stifling the urge to beat the utterly confused bastard at the door into a coma.

It's even more annoying when someone walks by and hits the button just for the hell of it.

Having not ordered food -- I'm still determined to allow my refrigerator the time it apparently needs to show some initiative and suggest something worthwhile -- I assumed that one of these phantoms was the culprit when the jackhammer unexpectedly went off in my apartment a half-hour or so ago. As is typical, I swore loudly then put on my shoes and took the elevator down to the street level. When I threw the front door open in a rage, standing there, a few feet from it, was a small Asian man with a messenger bag slung over his shoulder.

"Did you hit 6C?" I barked.

He returned a look that I recognized; it was the same one my dog used to make when he had recently come to the conclusion that my couch didn't meet the required level of canine fecal matter necessary to be considered truly tasteful.

"No -- no," he returned, looking anywhere but directly at me.

I huffed, fixed the button and went back upstairs.

A few minutes later, I was making yet another trek to the refrigerator when I noticed a white leaflet on the floor directly in front of my apartment door. It was then of course that the full breadth of Fu Manchu's nefarious plot became clear: He had basically just punched a bunch of buttons until somebody finally let him in, then he littered our building with restaurant fliers.

Normally this would've been thorougly infuriating. And it was -- until I picked up the flier and took a look at it.

It was relatively unassuming -- the latest in an infinitude of Chinese restaurant menus my wife and I find under our door. This one, however, featured in bold lettering what has to be the best blurb in the history of promotion -- an endorsement so impressive that it no doubt has the Zagat and Michelin people contemplating a change of career.

It read simply:

"The best Chinese food I never try it before!"
-- Said by many customer

And with that, all was forgiven.

After a quick internal debate over whether or not my mastery of the English language was strong enough to become one of the restaurant's "many customer," I threw the menu away and went back to the refrigerator. Still no string-theory.

I'm loathe to admit it, but years ago I likely would've looked upon this sort of reprieve from a current relationship as an opportunity to, at most, fool around with someone other than my partner or, at the very least, masturbate in every room of the house. The former is out of the question these days because I'm very much in love with my wife, the latter simply because, A) my sex drive isn't quite what it used to be since undergoing brain surgery last year, and B) I live in New York City, which means that there's only one room in my residence to speak of; any attempt to vary my masturbatory patterns would be sorely lacking in creativity. Instead, I willingly turn my attention to a combination of writing and mental preparation for tonight's season finale of Battlestar Galactica.

Oh yeah, and watching Blood Diamond again.

I say again because my wife and I curled up on the couch last night and watched it together -- each of us enjoying the movie quite a bit, which is what led me to make the rare commitment to a second viewing. In addition to being a disturbing and wholly necessary tutorial on both the reality of the diamond trade and the brutality of the constant political upheaval in Africa -- upheaval which goes largely ignored by many here in the states -- it boasts excellent performances from its lead actors. Leonardo DiCaprio and Djimon Hounsou are each phenomenal and unquestioningly deserved their respective Oscar nominations; Jennifer Connolly manages to capture the enigmatic quality -- equal parts seductive and repellent -- that drives someone to willingly and consistently travel to the worst places on the planet and risk his or her life in pursuit of the news.

I'm very familiar with this quality -- I've had plenty of personal experience with it -- and yet it remains "enigmatic" simply because I have yet to fully understand it, and I'm not alone in this nescience. I know this, however: It's very easy to fall in love with; it is almost impossible to live with.

A couple of weeks back, I left the insular quiet of the Upper East Side and hopped a cab down to, quite literally, my neighborhood's polar opposite -- the Lower East Side. I had been invited to a small party by one of my co-workers and relished the chance to spend a little time engaging in a ritual which long ago became foreign to me: drinking and complaining about the business. Before I even left my apartment, the party already had the distinction of being the first social event I'd be attending in years without Jayne on my arm. (She wasn't feeling great and had decided to sit this one out.) When I arrived, I quickly realized that the gathering was unusual for an entirely different reason: In attendance were reporters and producers from several networks' Baghdad crews, all of whom were not only familiar with my ex-wife, but had shared the kind of indescribable, singular intimacy with her that can only come from dodging mortar rounds together for extended periods of time.

They knew everything there was to know about her -- which meant that they almost surely knew everything there was to know about me.

A quick history lesson: My ex-wife and I were the worst couple imaginable.

Each of us was insanely passionate, notoriously short-fused and brutally caustic. Like many couples whose individual partners share combustive characteristics, we created a volatile mixture which simmered for quite some time before finally exploding altogether. It's only in hindsight, however, that our most indomitable shared trait becomes clear: Neither of us was willing to accept that we were exactly the same. Neither wanted to admit to having the same negative personality traits as the other; it was easier to just blame each other and be done with it. I needed an escape, so I did drugs; she had looked for an escape from the beginning, so she subconsciously pushed me away. I was selfish and irresponsible -- constantly looking for something more, while trying to keep the status quo; she insisted on keeping the status quo solely out of obligation, while constantly craving something more. We both loved strongly, but neither of us would truly commit. We were each flawed in ways neither was willing to discuss or possibly even admit to. Our relationship never should've lasted more than a month at the most; we were foolish for trying to turn it into a lifetime.

The most common word I've heard used to describe my ex-wife is "rigid." She's indeed tough-as-nails -- exuding a masculine sexuality and drive that makes her enticing in a way that seems almost preternatural. It's likely always made her an object of infatuation to those who perceive the idea of taming her to be the ultimate challenge. I have no doubt that it's the progenitor of this kind of rough-and-tumble bravado which drove her to take a job as a network field producer. What that progenitor is, I have my suspicions.

Back to the party. It was about an hour after my arrival that it became clear to the Baghdad people just who I was.

The reaction was, well --

"YOU'RE CHEZ?" one woman practically screamed, with equal parts shock and bemusement -- immediately calling the others over so that they too could get a look at the circus freak.

I just smiled and nodded in resignation.

Yes, yes -- it's me -- THAT GUY. The asshole -- in the flesh. Thanks for coming; please take care of your bartender and waitresses.

I was almost sorry I didn't have a pedestal handy.

Understand, it's one thing to have an unseemly past -- one in which you regret nearly everything you did and didn't do; it's something else entirely to meet people for the first time who already know every repugnant detail -- every rotten secret -- from that past. Disconcerting doesn't even begin to cover it.

For the next half-hour or so, I did my best to keep the conversation upbeat -- despite the knowledge that I had already been judged and convicted and now stood before my ex-wife's co-workers as exposed and vulnerable as the day I'd been born. I spoke highly of my former love. I spoke truthfully about my own mistakes -- my search for a measure of redemption -- and my recent successes and newfound happiness. I spoke honestly about my love for Jayne and the strength of our relationship. I smiled a lot and did my best to take the whole uncomfortable situation in stride.

I learned that my ex-wife is now dating a photographer who works with her. In fact, one noticeably strange moment came when someone actually suggested calling my ex, right there and then, and putting me on the phone. Another woman quickly dismissed the idea, intimating that it would upset the current boyfriend. Admittedly, the possibility that I might be perceived as a threat was something that I turned over in my mind for a few minutes, curious as to whether my memory existed as some sort of specter in my ex's life -- confused at this thought, given her abrupt and unequivocal exit from our relationship.

After awhile, the garrulity turned toward another topic and I was left to drink my beer in relative peace. Thankfully, my inquisition at the hands of the Babes of Baghdad was quickly followed by a quiet conversation with the host of the party -- my co-worker. She's a cool, sweet, funny, smart and attractive twenty-five-year-old with whom I've forged an odd little bond recently. This was initially due to the fact that she'd been unlucky enough to fall hard for an overseas field producer herself, and was facing the same obstacles and difficulties I had once faced in dealing with that particular personality type.

I offered an opinion or two -- refusing to lecture -- confident in the belief that she's doing just fine figuring it out on her own.

Discussing it with her, however, had a surprising affect on me; it helped me to at least better understand what years ago was so torturously incomprehensible. I listened to what was happening to my friend and I recognized the behavior immediately. The man she cared about sought solace in her arms, but was never fully there; his passion was alluring and consuming -- but also fleeting; despite the trappings of adulthood -- particularly the dangerous, important job -- he was, in reality, little more than a selfish child.

It all finally added up.

"Baghdad" isn't merely a place -- not for people like the man who has my friend's heart; not for people like the woman who once had mine -- it's an idea. It's where you run to when bullets and bombs don't terrify you but commitment to another human being and the very thought of an ordinary life does. It's where everything is transient, nothing lasts, and caprice is not only accepted but rewarded; rationalized as an unavoidable by-product of the job; in actuality, the very reason the job held such appeal in the first place.

The progenitor, the root of this very specific brand of adrenaline high nomadism that I mentioned earlier: fear.

Fear of never being able to lead a quiet life; fear of becoming restless and unwittingly hurting someone who loves you; fear of failure.

The job becomes the perfect excuse for never having to take on that most daunting yet rewarding of life's responsibilities: the care of a human heart.

About two-thirds of the way through Blood Diamond, Leonardo DiCaprio's character asks Jennifer Connolly's why she does what she does -- why she puts herself in the line of fire time and time again. He asks if she's a thrill-seeker; she responds, "Three out of four ex-boyfriends say that I'm not happy unless my life is in a constant state of crisis."

At least one ex-husband understands, and he's happy not to be a part of it anymore.

He's grateful, though, for the learning experience -- and even more grateful for what's come into his life since.

(Update: Obviously, the ex-wife to which I was referring in this piece is the woman readers of Dead Star Twilight now know as Kara. She went on to marry the photographer she was dating at the time this was written. They have a beautiful new baby boy together. My friend, the one who threw the party, is also pregnant and engaged. Me? Well, we know what happened to me.)


Anonymous said...

I miss being in love too. The sad thing is, I'm still married.

I've been reading for a long time, and your relationship with Jayne served as what I aspired to find in my own life. When it fell apart, it killed me to read about it. It showed me that nothing is "bullet-proof" and the longer my marriage continues, the more convinced I become that I'm heading for the same fate.

Chin up, Chez. Better days are yet to come. (At least, that's what I tell myself.)


Jeff B said...

I, too, miss being in love. While I’m still young, I have experienced heartbreak a few times. It never gets any easier, and it’s always different, but after the pain begins to fade, it’s always worth it.

I’ve always enjoyed your writing Chez, and it’s great to see a more personal piece make an appearance today.

As for how the lives of your ex-wife Kara and your party-hosting friend have turned out, remember, you too were amazingly happy & complete once, and you will be again.

So take heart! You still have your daughter, even if your times together are few, and so far, you seem to be doing a brilliant job as her father.

Alanna said...

As trite as it may be, these wounds will heal...but you'll need a vat of Mederma for the scars, absolutely.

Some of us are addicts. Some of it narcissism (as if we DESERVE this love becuase "look at what I bring to the table") or perhaps a desheveled subset of needs and desires. Some of us are just want to "be in love" without truly understanding how much work "love" takes. Whatever it is, its ok to look back and wax poetic - "I dreamed a dream of time gone by, I dreamed a dream of life worth living". It's all a part of the "process", right? At least that's what I tell myself.

And when you do meet someone who knocks you off-kilter, who blows you away (and I know you will) I will not say "I told you so" but I will smile.

Sarah Parada said...

"a pit that's better off not being seen or heard from."

I disagree.

Anonymous said...

I'm not saying my relationship is "bullet-proof" since nothing ever is. However, I'm in love, and I feel that he is in love with me. We've been through hell and back, then hell and back again, but after 20+ years - it's never been better! I can't imagine life without him - yet I know it's going to happen to one of us one day.

Chez said...

I think what I didn't make clear -- maybe purposefully -- is that it's not just that I miss being in love. I miss the person who was able to fall in love at all. This isn't meant to sound melodramatic, because the truth is that I'm very matter-of-fact about it these days, but I don't think I'm capable of being in love anymore. I don't ever want to put myself in the position of being completely at the whim of another person again. I'm now the proud owner of a personal defense system that rivals a Patriot missile battery. It's not simply that I back off when I feel something coming that might get me into trouble -- I don't really feel much of anything at all. It's completely involuntary.

My favorite line these days, because I've heard this from at least four people who've met me only within the past year, is: "Jesus, what did she do to you?"

Tabi said...

You probably aren't capable of falling in love right now, nor should you be. It would be foolish for you to jump into another relationship right now, or any time soon, given what you are going through. You had everything you ever wanted ripped away. It takes time to recover from that.

That being said, though you may not feel like it's true, it's a temporary state. You will get through it, you will heal, and probably even fall in love again.

Anonymous said...

I'm the one married 20+ years, and I too will never do this again if something happens here.

The energy it takes to make this relationship work is huge, and this is a great relationship! If we can't make this work - nothing will ever work. And if he dies on me, there is no way I would ever train another one again.

My heart goes out to you Chez... I hope you trust in love again.

Chez said...

Believe me, I'm in no rush. I honestly don't see myself healing anytime in even the next few to several years, if at all. It's disorienting, though, comparing what I am now to what I once was -- physically, emotionally, psychically, etc.

Stephen said...

"I'm now the proud owner of a personal defense system that rivals a Patriot missile battery."

I know this well...I find myself wanting to get pinched to see if there is still pain. The only sign I have that there is love to be given is in my daughter's embrace and in the way she runs to me when I come home from work. My heart skips a beat and deep down I know there is at least some vapor left in the tank.

brettskean said...


I am a fairly recent reader, but I have to say that in the time since I have discovered your website, I find myself checking it daily and nodding in agreement.

I won't add to the other comments about healing and moving on as I am going through my own personal relationship hell, but it's nice to hear something personal from you instead of the usual idiot parade (although I can never get enough of their buffoonery).

Keep up the good work and I will keep reading.

Nora Novak said...

1. Put down DiCapprio & Hounsou.
2. Put on the stand-up of Chappelle, Rock, vintage Murphy.
Best alone. Do it.

kanye said...

...but I don't think I'm capable of being in love anymore. I don't ever want to put myself in the position of being completely at the whim of another person again.

You're wrong. There's simply no way that you can dote over that little girl of yours the way that you do and be incapable of love in any of it's permutations.

And don't tell me that it's not the same thing; it is. This is one subject where there are no shades, no wiggle room at all. A person's either able to love or they aren't. You are, so you can.

Trust: Now that's a different story.

But love? Of course you can love again. Whether you choose (or are able) to act upon those feelings is another matter altogether but; falling in love, being in's one of those things in life that's out of our control.

I don't know exactly what you're going through right now, Chez, but I do know exactly what you're going through. A lot of us do.

I guess I'm of the same mind as Sarah.

Tabi said...

Well said, kanye.

It's much harder to trust than it is to love.