[Last of a two-part post.]
The Book can’t talk back.
It only interacts with the mind.
So the mind (Silly Billy that it is) imagines: This is a relationship!
Of course it’s no such thing.
As the Book interacts with the mind’s expectations, there are none of those messy exchanges that go with actually relating to another human being.
The Book is clean and open and … just as it is.
Oh, how I love that.
It’s so … Romantic.
Lynn was a bridesmaid. I was a groomsman.
On Bud and Ellen’s wedding day, I rode with her to the Catholic church, bringing along her sister’s small suitcase. As we walked up to the church doors together, I carried the suitcase.
“A few people were waiting outside,” the journal reports, “and when Paul saw Lynn and I coming up together carrying a suitcase, he looked at us, smiling. …I said, with Lynn standing beside me, ‘After the ceremony, Lynn and I are flying to Jamaica.’ ‘What?’ he laughed, ‘Are you two getting married?’ Lynn and I replied at exactly the same time: ‘No,’ I said as she said, ‘Yes.’
“…I looked at her as she giggled, ‘All right with you?’”
For someone lacking experience in the Relationship Dept., I’ve lost years speculating on how it works. I mean, really works.
The best I can come up with is…
Love is service.
I learned this from watching my late mother. She was a nurse and instinctively knew how to care for others. She didn’t question any act of service—you just did what had to be done. If someone needed help, you helped them.
But if you’re giving and not getting what you need, that’s not going to work either. Relationships require a sort of “inner solenoid,” a regulator that both parties check to make sure each is supported and loved.
That, I think, is where a lot of people screw up.
If your relationship isn’t 50/50, you really need to end that shit—stat. No one should be a doormat for another person just because they understand love is service. Each person must realize that. But how can they?
It goes back to that solenoid again, the regulator. Guess you could also call it communication.
In the relationship, you ask: “How are you? Do you need anything? How can I help you?” Then you listen.
This is really, really hard, because sometimes the noise in our own heads gets in the way. Even so, the day-in, day-out regulating can feel burdensome. But I think if you can learn to treat others as you would yourself, you begin to see how it works.
“I was watching Lynn admiringly,” the journal says about the ceremony, further admitting that “I came to the conclusion that of all [her family members], she was the one who was the custodian of the family—the regulator, the mover—later, at the reception, Lynn’s stepmother Betty confirmed this for me without my bringing it up.”
After the ceremony, the wedding party converged on a downtown Louisville reception hall called Stairways. Lynn’s father John was a noted Louisville mystery writer, so I had him sign a copy of his first novel for me.
“Lynn walked me out to her car to return [John’s book] to my backpack. Leaning in to put it back, I pulled out the two blue diaries from 1984-85 I’d brought. I showed Lynn as I thumbed through the pages. ‘Know what these are?’ I asked her. ‘Journals?’ she grinned. ‘Yeah, Bud and I—our years at Iowa.’”
(i am my book.)
But you … You Are My Book.
Right here, from my hands, into your hands. From your hands to my hands.
Things changed when “T.R.” showed up at the reception. T.R. was Lynn’s wedding date.
Like, I should’ve seen that coming.
Still, at the reception Lynn and I slow-danced to The Moody Blues’ “New Horizons,” then her eldest sister Julie pulled me back on the dance floor for The Beatles’ “I Want to Hold Your Hand.”
When the champagne stopped flowing, we all headed to a dive called Freddie’s.
“T.R. was sitting at the bar with [a] friend of Lynn’s. We all [watched] Star Trek: The New Generation and drank Seagram’s 7 & 7s … T.R. smoked a cigar.” Apparently T.R. taught English at Bellarmine College.
“I could tell there was a little tension in the air—he was Lynn’s date, but not feeling much like it. I wasn’t sympathizing with him because I was starting to feel really close to Lynn myself. Lynn came up to me—wanted to leave—[but] I’d just ordered another drink, so we stayed for one more.”
“In her car again,” the journal reveals, “I asked about ‘T.J., C.J., R.J…what’s-his-name’ and Lynn seemed amused at my purposeful misstating of his name. She didn’t like his smoking a cigar—and didn’t seem too fond of him in general—so I laid off the subject further.”
And that’s when she drove me over to her apartment.
Look, what could be more intoxicating than meeting someone at a wedding?
Or engaging in the furtive workplace tryst…
Or an old friendship that suddenly comes “with benefits…”
Or the endless other awkward ways we humans have found to express our libidos? It’s as old as the hills.
According to that Book—the one that’s both a 1990s National 43-571 and The Everlasting Book of Love and Romance (written by Some Idiot Who Just Doesn’t Get It)—not much happened while we hung out at Lynn’s “wonderfully cluttered apartment.”
She got out of her bridesmaid dress and into jeans and a t-shirt. “I remember holding her and saying some smart-ass remark and hearing her soft giggle by my chest. Ah! She sat on the floor and said, ‘Mike, I’m so confused…I don’t know what you want…’ I think I said I wanted to be her friend—was that OK?—but she knew I was lying…”
We stopped by Bud’s parents’ home, so I could change clothes. We then met up with everyone at another bar called Uncle Pleasant’s…
…Where—like a bad dream, as we floated through the door—T.R. was waiting for us.
I lasted maybe 20 minutes, tops.
I felt more isolated and jealous the longer that Lynn sat at the bar with T.R.
When I asked her if I could get my backpack out of her Toyota, she said “sure,” and we went outside to unlock the car.
“I’m walking back to the Morris’,” I said as she handed me the backpack. “Just point me in the right direction.”
I started walking up the street. “Mike…” I think she said.
I didn’t look back.
Stopping at a Pizza Hut, I called a cab. When the driver arrived, he “told me it’d be eight bucks. I told him I’d give him ten if he’d just get going. He turned the meter off. …He asked me if I was from out of town. I told him I’d had an argument with a girlfriend.”
“‘Ah, well,’ he said as we arrived at Bud’s folks’ place, ‘It’ll all work out.’”
It’s now over 25 years later.
Lynn and I corresponded for a couple months after the wedding, sending mix tapes and postcards from the road. She’s now happily married with a family of her own.
But I’ve veered away from the main question that began this post: Who’s the culprit here: me, or that goddamn Everlasting Book of Love and Romance?
Maybe I might’ve learned earlier that the biggest roadblock to building a great relationship is clinging to the mere fiction of romance. I might have then become a better listener, a better partner—a better servant in love.
So even if it’s a little late to the party, here’s my attempt at an updated edition: The Super-Flexible 3-Step Guide to Possibly Creating a Real Relationship:
- Learn as much as possible about my new friend: ask questions, probe, dig deep. Don’t skimp on this. A lot of trouble comes from assumptions that are left untested, words left unsaid.
- Listen. Challenging for me, as someone who has “comfortably” lived in his own mind for a long, long time. I need to keep stretching this weak muscle.
- Lastly, find my partner’s funny bone and hit it hard. Laughter is the key. It’s also the thing that may get the relationship through hard shit. And there will be hard shit.
Of course this is all my own personal chaos theory, but hey, it’s a start.
I’m happy to finally leave the musty old book of love back on the shelf, where it belongs, collecting dust.