Good morning everyone and welcome to Friday’s Morning Open Thread.
Morning Open Thread is a daily, copyrighted post from a host of editors and guest writers. We support our community, invite and share ideas, and encourage thoughtful, respectful dialogue in an open forum.
I’ve come to think of this post as one where you come for the music and stay for the conversation—so feel free to drop a note. The diarist gets to sleep in if she so desires and can show up long after the post is published. So you know, it's a feature, not a bug.
Join us, please.
The Last Romantic
Some months ago, we were in Baltimore at a Bed & Breakfast on the peripheral of the main campus of Johns Hopkins. The previous night we had attended the dedication of a piece by Jean-Michel Basquiat to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture and this particular night were attending a private opening of a Basquiat touring show at a local gallery. I had been invited to both by my love (who had pieces in the show) and was a slight bit anxious about the whole ordeal. She was expected to make a few remarks (“not a lecture,” she clarified—several times) and I was meeting, for the first time, some of her friends that came in for the show or also had pieces on tour. I was there to lend support, be pleasant, and just sort of (in my own small-town mind) avoid embarrassing her.
As my son would say, “I got this.” But, as is my station in life, the cracks in my facade didn’t take long to show.
That night—the one after the wonderful dinner at the Smithsonian and late night drinks with some of the nicest people I’ve ever met—I’m determined to make this experience as stress-free for her as I can. I had done my research on things to see and places to visit (a mixture of galleries, local bookstores, and vintage-clothing stores) and the day had gone well. Long walks, grilled tuna and crab cakes, restful periods accented by long drags on shared cigarettes and local IPAs on the back landing of the third-floor flat she had arraigned. This was her first visit to the city and I had the advantage of having lived in the area in the early 2000s and at least a modicum of knowledge of the city and culture.
By then the day was well worn, the sun was shining through the diaphanous under curtains in the front room as she sat, bent forward in a wing-backed chair strapping on those breath-taking red heels with a consternation that almost broke my heart. They matched her dress, her only red dress, and “not her color” according to her; but most definitely her color, I had concluded some 30 years ago (but had never once shared). I had finished with my tie, finally, and reached for my phone. With a confidence a man can show only when with a woman he doesn’t deserve, I told her I was going to get us an Uber—which I had figured was simply a couple minutes downloading the app, filling in the payment method, and doing whatever one does to get an Uber rushing your way. Yeah, well, I’m an idiot in my own special way, despite my best efforts.
I don’t consider myself a romantic—at all—despite my life-long admiration for those that are. I’ve read countless texts about romance: from Greek to Roman, through Elizabethan, Victorian and the classics. I devoured the likes of Samuel Richardson, Austen, and Brontë. To this day I can recite Shakespeare's Sonnet 18 and compare thee to a summer’s day even when you are naturally so much more alluring, not to mention less sweaty and uncomfortable. I still read Romance novels on occasion (those recommended by my sisters, for the most part). But through it all, my heart stays safely and constantly hidden beneath my long-sleeved, buttoned-down shirts. Despite my best efforts, my understanding of women is about equal to my understanding of Sanskrit—I’ve been taught by masters, studied assiduously, worked long into solitary nights: but I still miss some of the most obvious meanings.
The download went fine, but it didn’t take long for the chaos to begin bubbling up through cracks in the veneer. I had to set up an account, enter email, card number and date and secret number, and then get and enter a confirmation code. Then there was the first notice that I had entered something wrong. Start over. Account not registering. Code expired. Request another. Email invalid. Re-enter. Frustration and annoyance and time ticking. I’m hopeless with such things—though I’m not, really—just impatient for some reason and certainly quite embarrassed by the third attempt. By the fourth attempt, I’m actually getting angry at a cell phone app. Each request for information, each time a red notice flashes, each texted code I had to dig out just added to the frustration and slow-boil anger and embarrassment. By that point she gently offers encouragement; but I tightly close up like an old pressure cooker; something’s about to snap; then, just then, take a breath and stop and pretty much give up.
“Can’t we just use your account?,” I asked.
I know she uses Uber and has a phone filled with helpful apps and saved windows—mine has those it came with plus Sky Guide and a useless, impotent Uber app that squares itself to unbalance my previously-organized screen, just taunting me. She’s good with numbers and knows her way around an excel sheet, she’s comfortable with insurance riders and contracts for services, debits and credits, complicated schedules and even car services: none of which play a major role in Pride and Prejudice or Delaney’s Desert Sheikh and skills outside my wheelhouse.
“No,” she said, moving to the edge of the bed and looking up at me with her hands crossed on her lap. “But I can help you get it set up.” To my ears that sounded condescending, passive aggressive, emasculating. Not helpful and certainly not understanding.
“Fuck! Why are you doing that? You like making me feel like shit?”
She didn’t deserve that outburst and certainly wasn’t the cause of my anger. But I wanted nothing in that moment but to lash out at someone for my own failings, for my own shortcomings. Blame was to be assigned: anywhere but in the still-sewn pocket of my new diner jacket. I felt patronized, belittled. It was hard enough to ask for help. To be denied was the very fuel of self-immolation I needed. This wasn’t self-loathing, it was her fault. Was Romeo so misunderstood? Mr. Darcy so slighted? Captain Wentworth so deeply hurt and humiliated? I was being horrid and I knew it but seemed to have no power to turn it off.
She sat quietly for a few moments and just said, “talk to me, love. Don’t do this.”
Yeah, I was silently crying at this point. Reflecting back on my failed relationships, the neglect I felt as a child, my too-late realizations that I wasn’t as kind or as nice as I presented myself to be. Not selfless but truly, deeply selfish. All the terrible things I had done in honor of the flag of self-destruction.
“Talk to me,” she said again, reaching out to touch my arm.
We talked. We talked and she shrugged off the time and obligation I was keeping her from. She walked me through it, patiently and with long silences filled with an understanding that had an ontological feel. I got through it, eventually, with her help. A simple process that didn’t deserve my emotional outburst or the lashing she took. I ordered the car, we went to the curb to wait, I fiddled with the app to figure out how to track the Uber and identify it when it arrived, and on and on to tip and rating and whatever else it takes to survive in the world. All patiently attended and assisted by a woman too beautiful and too smart for me.
George Santayana once observed that “life is not a spectacle or a feast; it is a predicament.” What I’ve come to realize is that a true romantic is someone capable of being that sacrificial bridge that connects one part of yourself with another, cabineted part of yourself. She suffers to expose those connections for you and forces an introspection that is so much harder than “being honest with yourself” or “admitting your insecurities.” She changes your perception and your character—your very perspective on the universe—and makes it acceptable to be a flawed human. The romantic is the person that loves you not in spite of your flaws but because of them.
Be well, be kind, and appreciate the love you have in your life.
Grab your coffee or tea and join us, please.
What's on your mind this morning?