Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Grand Romantic Delusions Chapter 04: The Breakdown

     It's a terrible thing, the public eye. 
     Once you have its attention, your life is no longer your own. It scrutinizes you with its x-ray vision, digging into your past, affecting your future, poring over your very soul—and invariably, it finds you wanting.
     The mainstream media or MSM* is always looking for a narrative to catch the interest of the reader, viewer or (more likely these days) the half-listener. And if your life doesn't live up to those expectations, you're a disappointment to society. So what were we supposed to do? After all that happened to us; after the rescue efforts and the TV coverage, we didn't really have a choice. I think we both knew it wasn't the best decision, but at the end of the day, we knew we had to get married.
     I don't know ... does anyone ever feel like things are all right? I used to imagine that other people did. Now I'm not so sure. Maybe I'm not so different from other people. After all, in our own minds, well ... as the old expression goes, we're all the protagonists in our own life stories ... or something like that. (My memory's not what it used to be, and I'm too lazy to look it up.)
     I guess that makes my story a tragic comedy, because the protagonist is a hapless fool.  In order to really explain what happened, I guess I should introduce myself first:

     My name's Celia Wright, and I was a loser.

     Now, if when you first hear the word "loser" you immediately think of someone who's failed out of school, lives with her mother, and never helped anyone or did anything worthwhile, you're on the wrong track. I guess I'm what you'd call a "successful loser" in that I graduated college with honors, excelled in my field, made decent money, got married to a nice and attractive guy, had a really great kid—all the things that are supposed to mean success in our society. But it wasn't enough. Or rather, it wasn't right.

     Lewis and I met in College. I was in graduate school—earning my Ph.D. in Education, while he was still working on his undergraduate degree with an eye towards an MBA at Haas.
     The details of our meeting aren't important, nor are they remarkable. We met at a party, both of us a little tipsy on cheap White Zinfandel (everybody was drinking that crap at the time), and just got to talking the way people do when they find themselves together in social situations. He walked me home and promised to call me the next day, which he did. Next thing I knew, we were a couple.
     We'd been dating a few months, when we decided to move in together. I'm not sure whose decision that really was. It just seemed like the thing to do at the time, since he was spending most nights at my place anyway. And then, a year or so after that, I think we were both starting to get a little tired of each other. It wasn't anyone's fault or anything, but you know how relationships just sometimes get stale? It was like that.  If things had continued on, we would probably have gone our separate ways before too much longer. 
     But that was before the Big Earthquake.
     Lewis and I were in the mall when it hit. As anyone who's spent any time in California knows, no matter how many times you experience it, it's still a gut-wrenching feeling when the ground starts to shake. We immediately ran for the exit, but got separated in the rushing crowd.
     Most buildings in California are built to withstand some pretty major quakes, so it came as a surprise when one section of the mall actually collapsed. Apparently there was a small problem that somehow slipped past the building inspectors. I managed to get outside, but couldn't find Lewis anywhere.
     If you lived anywhere near the Bay Area in 1994, you might even remember me. My fifteen minutes lasted just under two days, and were spent agonizing over Lewis and talking to community papers and local TV news:
     Do you think he could be alive and trapped in there? 
     Have you given up hope? 
     The community is praying for you! 
     If you could talk to him now, what would you say? 
     For two days they searched the rubble—and I must have been interviewed twenty times in that same span. The big story was all about the "young couple who were torn apart too soon." People held vigils. Vigils! They sent me flowers and gifts. Donations came in. The whole thing grew out of anyone's control.
     Then, when the emergency workers found Lewis it was quite the spectacle. Once they got him on a stretcher and pulled him out—before he'd even had more than a sip of water—some reporter was in his face with a microphone and a camera, and television lights. She told him how the whole community had been waiting with me, and how everyone was so happy for us, and then asked him what his plans were for the future and how glad he was to see me.
     So the big dummy just up and asked me to marry him right then and there. He could barely speak, but there he was on live TV proposing. So what was I supposed to say? No?
     We were married in February the next year. And in the end, it turned out to be almost as big a disaster as the construction on that mall.

     Now, Lewis wasn't a bad person, per se. Nor was he inattentive—if anything, he was too clingy. At first, the renewed attention was kind of nice. I'd had a few bad relationships before him—you know the kind: the guy's all about you when nothing else is going on, but as soon as some of his buddies want to come over to play video games, or go out and do "guy" things, he acts like your very existence is somehow more inconvenience than he can handle. Yet, as soon as you want to have some time with your friends, he's asking, Why would you want to go out without me? Don't you love me? Are you seeing someone else?
     My first hint of trouble with Lewis, though, came during the planning for our wedding. Most guys just want to know where to get their tux and when and where to show up and say, "I do." They leave the bulk of the planning up to the bride—and/or her mother—or so I've been told. Not Lewis, though; he insisted on being involved in every aspect. The biggest problem was that even though he wanted to help make decisions, he could never make up his mind! He very nearly drove my poor mother into an asylum. Ultimately, I got my own way in just about everything. I think he mostly just wanted to feel like he was part of it.
     The first couple of years were actually rather nice. We had each finished our respective studies and started careers. We had a daughter, Isabella, the November of our second year married. The third year was a bit difficult—we were first-time parents, after all—but we struggled through it. Things were a bit easier the next two years; Lewis was always a caring, loving man. He made a good father, too, and he really doted on Izzy.
     My career took off. I was on a team which published a very important and acclaimed academic study on early childhood learning disorders. We moved north when I was hired at the University of Washington as a research professor.  Lewis got a job in Marketing at a local publisher—nothing terribly exciting, but he brought home about as much money as I did. We bought a nice, older house in Lynnwood and worked to fix the place up. We lived quite well, in terms of physical comforts.
     It was after we'd been married about five or six years that things started to change. I don't know if it was a case of Is this all there is? setting in, or if it was simply a realization that we didn't really quite fit together, or what—but we started doing more and more things apart. We spent more time at our jobs or hanging out with our respective work friends. I know Lewis didn't really enjoy his job. He also started drinking noticeably more. 
     Lewis had always displayed a tendency to over-think everything he did, but it started getting worse. It got so he spent a half hour every morning just lying in bed and agonizing over whether he even wanted to get up and go to the office. He always did go, of course, but by the time he'd make up his mind, he was always running late.
     Then, one Saturday morning when Lewis was sleeping in, I went to check on Izzy. She would have been about five or six years old at this point. I listened to her play-acting with some of her toys. Her teddy bear, Mr. Snoofles, was having an argument with Stinky the Skunk over what they wanted to do that day. The dialogue that Izzy came up with really shook me up. Stinky was berating Mr. Snoofles for changing his opinions to match whatever the skunk wanted. I knew right then that our relationship in general, and Lewis's neuroses in particular, were having a negative effect on Izzy's development.
     I talked to Lewis about it, but the whole thing just seemed to make him worse. It was like he suddenly worried that every minor decision he made was going to hurt his daughter, too. He couldn't handle it. Within a couple of months he would suffer a mental break-down … but, more on that in a moment.
     Lewis started disappearing for days at a time. He just needed, Time away to get my head straight, or so he said. I never thought he was cheating on me, or anything like that. Hell, that would have been easier to handle! He said he liked the freedom of the open road. I think he mostly just liked the idea of making simple decisions like which way to turn at an intersection. It wasn't until later that I found out he was heading far into the Eastern countryside—into places with long stretches of road where intersections were rare.
     Then one day I received a phone call from the police. Lewis had stopped the car right in the middle of the intersection of 45th and Eleventh—one of the busier intersections in town—and wouldn't budge. Every time an officer approached the vehicle, he started screaming nonsense about how "What's done can't be undone," and how did they expect him to decide where to go, when any direction could cause a breakdown in his life stream, or some such nonsense. He'd also blow on the horn and shout threats on occasion. He had something in his hand, and they weren't sure if it was a gun or some other sort of weapon. (Lewis was driving my X3 that day, so it had my plates and my U-Dub parking permit, so they contacted me quickly.)
     By the time I arrived, the police were routing traffic around the area, but it was a mess. Lewis was sitting in the car—the ignition was off and the windows were down, and he was crying. As I approached him, I saw that he had a calculator in his hand, as well as a small notepad and a thick black Sharpie.
     And, of course, there were the news cameras, and they wanted their story.
     "Lewis," I said. "Honey? Is everything all right?"
     "Probably not," came the response, in between sobs. "It's hard to know, though." He fumbled at a couple of the buttons on the calculator with a finger. I remember noticing then, for the first time, that his fingers were kind of short and stubby for a grown man.
     He continued; "It's assigning meanings to the values that's so hard."
     "OK, well, maybe I could help you with that. Would you like that?" He looked up at me, confused.
     "You could do that?" He didn't seem to notice anything of the chaos around him.
     "Of course, honey," I replied. "You know, we could just go to the coffee shop over there, and—"
     "No!" He interrupted me. "Don't want to go to any shops … too many possibilities … options … menus."
     "All right, then. How about we just go home? I'll order a pizza and we'll sit down together and … and assign meanings?"
     "Yeah, that would be nice."
     "Great — that's all settled, then. Why don't you just scoot over, there, and let me drive?" 
     Not that the Seattle PD had any intention of letting us just drive away, obviously. Not after what he'd pulled.
     The minute I had him distracted and he'd held his hands up into view long enough for them to see it wasn't a weapon in his hand, an officer had eased up to the passenger side of the car. As soon as Lewis unlocked the car and began to scoot over she pulled the door open and hit him with the taser. Two more officers ran up to assist her, and a third came up behind me and pulled me away. Clearly Lewis wan't a threat to anyone, but they were all very frustrated, and weren't about to take any chances.
     Once we were all on our feet again, the news crews rushed the scene, yelling out questions. I just repeated "No comment" until I found myself in the back of a squad car. I could hear Lewis trying to answer their questions, though, and even asking some of his own. He was pushed into another car and we were driven downtown.
     After hours of questioning, they finally let me call Gina—Izzy's sitter—and explain to her what had been going on. Of course, she'd already seen the whole thing on the evening news.
     Once it was all over, and we were released, I got Lewis in to see a really good therapist, but he resisted. Even when he did go—and he was under a Court Mandate, he didn't seem to want to work with the doctor. After a year he finally managed to do the bare minimum required to get himself released. And then, he started taking his long trips again.
      I just couldn't take it any more. After ten years of marriage, I finally filed for divorce.

     Sometimes, I feel guilty about the whole thing. I ask myself whether I could have done something differently, or why I hadn't really noticed the warning signs. I wonder to myself whether our lives would have been different if I'd paid more attention. What if I hadn't taken the job at U-Dub? Would he have found work that better suited him? What if we hadn't gone to the mall that day? What if I hadn't gone to that party, and we'd just never met? Would he have married someone else? Would he still have had his breakdown?
     It's then that I realize I'm starting to think like Lewis: over-analyzing the past and worrying about every decision I've ever made. That way lies madness, and I have been witness to it.
     Since then, I've re-married. William is a really wonderful, level-headed man. I'm much better off and, I think, so is Isabella. She is almost old enough to drive herself, now. She hasn't shown any signs of her father's neurosis, but I'm keeping a close eye on her just the same.
     As for Lewis … Well, the last I heard he met some woman on one of his long drives through the desert. They moved out east somewhere—Indiana or Ohio, I think. I tried to keep track of him for a while, but eventually, I just gave up. For a man who has a problem making decisions, he sure has moved around a lot.

*The acronym MSM is also frequently used to refer to Mechanically-Separated Meat. This product bears an uncanny allegorical resemblance to the product produced by the other MSM.

No comments:

Post a Comment