Wedunlocking the Never-Ending Story

Dearest CF,

That’s an extraordinary passage. It hits home. I want to add, parenthetically, that I agree with your parallels to Alice Munro, and I’m surprised she hasn’t traversed that territory more than she has. She comes close, I think. But the type of wife that comes closest–dulled by habit and nearly (though not quite) unaware of her enclosures–comes across as almost animalistic. I’m thinking of scenes where sex is demanded by old husbands and granted as if it were pot roast.

As you know, I know what you mean. Lessing’s formulation of the phenomenon puzzles me a little. Is she calling it both naivete and sophistication?

Why is it so hard to summon up that surplus of vision when you’re with someone else?

My answer: I spent so much time trying to justify my vision of things, long after he’d lost interest in the conversation, that I came to internalize his viewpoint and find myself perversely arguing against him in my own head. Which was disastrous in its own right, since I never had real access to his thought process. So I ended up clawing at the world view of a ghost of my own making.

Now that he’s gone, I can encounter many of the things he loved without feeling crowded or derivative. It’s startling: I never expected that the relationship itself was making it impossible for me to have fresh encounters. I could never have belly-danced. Or shot a gun. It wouldn’t have been the same. It would have been filtered—coffee-dripped, in fact—through the inexorable french press that our marriage had become.

The worst thing about this in my case, like yours, is that it was my own fault.

Is it, I wonder, a little like collaborating on a story? Difficult, with lots of elbowing for the armrest because we’re used to narrating our lives alone? And yet ultimately redemptive and transcendent if only you can agree on the language and characters, never mind the plot?

I think the naive and lonely self permits alchemical bursts because it’s always “on.” Like you in the grocery store. It can’t relax into the comfort of a shared story. Or if it does, it’s only for short bursts. The thing about marriage is that it’s a never-ending story minus the flying dragon-dog. You’re always in it, even when you’re alone. It’s funny that way.

Is the trick method acting? Pretending to be alone, breaking through the story you have every so often in order to pick up the jagged angles and fragments? Choosing a part when you’re alone in the grocery store and acting it out? Woman who wants to make an Eggplant Casserole and Asks for Recipes. Woman Whose Dog Just Died. Woman In the Army Home on Leave. Goody Two-Shoes. Lesbian. Gourmand Obsessed with A Particular Cut of Meat, Evangelizing the Public.

For what it’s worth, I love the couple on the balcony. Of all the couples in that movie, that’s the one I’d choose. Or maybe the nurse, whose husband we never meet.


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