By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
With all my amassed adult wisdom, I have to wonder how my parents' example for living hard-wired my interaction with lovers. I wonder not with self-pity but with cold, analytical pragmatism, ever aware of how cliched it's become to blame parents for one's own shortcomings. But what if it's not blame, but understanding? Compounding my parents' essential friction was my father's tendency to swing between extremes of violence and reason without relative cause: Spilling food coloring on a picnic table warranted a beating; getting caught shoplifting called for a heart-to-heart talk. I have no doubt that his fluid application of discipline inspired my rebellion against authority; I suspect it also made me predisposed to exit any relationship I cannot control.
The family stories of the men I've been involved with aren't much better. Steve contends that his mother berated him throughout his childhood, forcing him to retreat into his own fantastical world; Michael was adopted by parents who regretted it - after learning they could produce their own "natural" offspring. One ex-boyfriend lost a sister to suicide, another left his mother when his parents divorced at 12 because his father threatened to shoot himself if the son didn't take Dad's side. Still another came home one day to find his house taped off as a crime scene. His brother had returned from Vietnam and murdered his mother with an ax.
We find each other, somehow, children with histories of turmoil trying to make their way in a world they find suspect, looking for true love like everybody else but ill-equipped to handle it when it comes. We don't stay together long; we sabotage, we cheat, we nag and criticize and pick fights. We let other relationships take precedence over the primary one, and develop a self-preserving mutual contempt, because after a certain day passes, three months, six months, a year, we cannot look each other in the eye without facing the icy truth that one of us has to die first. We don't stay together long, because we can't stand it.
It is an early morning in March, and I wake up in a panic. A month ago I started seeing Steve again after half a year apart, and I am struck with the realization that part of the reason it's going so well this time around is that I am not the only woman in his life and he is not the only lover in mine. We've tried it other ways - we've tried it every way imaginable, in fact - but all fitful attempts to forge a relationship that would look normal in the eyes of friends and family deteriorated into mutual frustration and drudgery. The witty, cheerful man I'd fallen so hard for in the beginning, the one who rode roller coasters on our first date even though they terrified him, who sat cross-legged on the ground with me to swap tales of our terrorized childhoods, who wrote poetry about fear and risk, had become withdrawn and surly and stubborn; I had started to resent his comings as much as his goings, his demands as well as my own. Our spontaneous appreciation of each other's sex, humor and intellect had grown weighted with fear-laden speculations about an uncertain future. We had lost, as the Buddhists put it, our present moments.
This time around, present moments are all we have. What we guardedly refer to as a relationship is ruled by only personal inclination and immediate desire, which is frightening and precarious in one way, stable in another: It dawned on me recently that not only will he probably always be there, but, more significantly, so will I. Because as the years barrel toward 40, I have begun to face another truth, one that chills less, but chills all the same: I am never going to find the model relationship, because half of that relationship is always going to be me. And I have begun to understand, in an undramatic sort of way, that the people who last longest in my life, most of them as short on emotional resources as I am on faith, have stayed in my life because they provide precisely what I need, and not more than I can bear.
"Keep us pure," Steve says. "The price of all this goodness is a certain loss of control." And ideals, I remind him. But in saying that, I have to ask whose ideals they were in the first place.