The Ex-Files, Part II

           So I ran. Ran as far as my obsessions and neuroses could take me. One day I had walked into my living room and literally not recognized my wife--there was an expression on her face that I labeled "strange" because I'd never seen it, or had never let myself see it. That moment initiated a chain of events that ended in the sort of marital chaos that we all know so well, it is so common. Which says to me that what is common is our ignorance of each other, and of ourselves. James Baldwin wrote: "One can only face in others what one can face in oneself." In one line, that is the story of our lost loves and our wars. I couldn't face her because I couldn't face myself. So I ran.

           It could be said with justification that I chickened out, as far as the marriage was concerned. It could also be said that I saved my life the only way that presented itself. I had some luck, you see, and found some new love. It didn't last long, but in a suicidal year it did save my life. Love can do that sometimes, remember? (My wife's love might have saved me too, but I was too far gone to let it.) Someone asked me recently if there was "any real knowing involved" in that now long-lost new love. Well--she made me remember that there might still be something beautiful about me, and so perhaps I didn't need to die, perhaps my damaged beauty should be given another chance. Others were trying to tell me this, but, through no fault of their own, I couldn't believe them. I believed her. Is that real enough?

           And, yes, she was a younger woman. And, yes, that pissed some people off and made me suspect in their eyes. Well--you be thankful for what's saved you and I'll be thankful for what's saved me, and let's leave it at that.

           It could also be said that a settled life was not my true nature, and that in trying to be married, at least as my wife and I lived the concept of marriage, I was violating my nature. My violation of myself may have been an honest mistake, but that doesn't help matters any. A man on the run from himself invites such mistakes, and, as often as not, seduces other people into helping pay for them. Not a pretty business, but at least I've given up that particular daydream--a settled life isn't something I do well, isn't something I want enough to do well. To accept that a settled life is not your lot is to accept that every day you will be thrown entirely upon your own resources. But any life, settled or not, needs a sense of dignity to be lived well--that is most of what growing up means, to attend to one's life with dignity, endure the lacks, relish the pleasures, and not spread the pain around too much.

           As a writer, do I have a responsibility to tell all I learned from my marriage and its failure? Do you think that would do either of us any good?

           For, yes, I learned so much! There must be something I can tell you. I learned so much about myself, and about life, love, God, society, work, gender, sex, honesty, you name it. But the truth is that I'm not particularly thrilled at how I learned what I learned, and I'm really not thrilled at how my education was paid for in pain by two of the people I've loved most in this world, my ex-wife and my stepson. (You might ask, "How could you leave her if you say you didn't know her?" Sorry, but if you're still asking such questions maybe you're no more grown up than I was.) What am I supposed to say? "Go, hurt other people, hurt yourself, learn about life!" You already know that.

           Let's not forget (as many do when speaking of divorce) that I broke a vow--a wedding vow that I had made with all my heart, or at least with the part of my heart that I knew about. It is a kind of death to break a vow, and you live afterwards knowing that you are the kind of person capable of breaking the most solemn promise you ever made. You can't help trusting yourself less after something like that. If you're half-honest, you at least learn to be a lot more careful about what you tell people.

           Especially when you talk about love. I have come to think that the word "love" is a reckless, sweet invention--even when it's not used as a synonym for "need." Now I try to reserve my recklessness for my writing and my vices. At the age of 50, I haven't given up on love, no matter how frayed I sound; but I think of it as a word in a foreign language, the pronunciation and meaning of which I only partly understand--a word with grammatical complications that no one has diagrammed sufficiently, and with hidden invisible letters silent as the "g" in "thought" and useless as the "c" in "pucker."

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