we can start by observing my pathological and bitter hatred for the character of betty draper in the amc television series mad men. i was tempted to write "unfounded", but, see, i can't ever see it that way, and that's all part of the pathology. for those not familiar, betty draper, played to a T by actress january jones, is a profoundly self-centered mosaic of all that is reprehensible about post-war housewifery. (this is in no way to be construed to be an excuse for any and all that is reprehensible about post-war husbandry, so please indulge me at least a little). in one of the very first episodes, if not the first episode of the series, betty's young daughter runs into the kitchen with a dry cleaning bag over her head, the plastic of which is sucked tight against her mouth thus cutting off all air and oxygen to her young brain, and betty barely looks up from her cigarette to tell her to go run and play with that somewhere else. it's one of the most brilliant moments of television ever, and something that any child of the 60's will recoil from in both memory and horror. (yes, betty draper is that bad).
actually, betty draper is, in my eyes, far worse than that, but that feeling has everything to do with my being guilty as her husband don in so many, many ways, (let's just say he's not been faithful as i had not been for starters), yet like any viewer of the series will undoubtedly turn out to be, still sympathetic to him for how the ice princess/queen betty wields her life's interpersonal poison with malice and virtual glee. i can't describe it fully--it's visceral--but believe you me i cannot see her on the screen without feeling my back up and every fiber of my being on guard to resist the sourge. watch it and tell me i'm wrong...
and so it is that we fast forward to a certain past-weekend social occasion, part of which i had honor to be, and one particular conversation i had which put this entire past week into stark relief.
first of all, to put the social occasion in context, it was so good, and so beautiful, and so heart-warming to be blessed to attend, words cannot do justice. i had front row seats to gary hoey's show at the auditorium on saturday night, and i could not have cared less. we're talking gary hoey, lita ford, jon butcher and charlier farren, and i could not have cared less. google lita ford and get yourself some idea of the talent, hotness and history here. LITA FORD. and my love for all things butcher is time-tested and true. but i tossed the tickets to the floor and never felt for even a fraction of an instant i was missing anything in my life. saturday night's festivities were that good and so much more. words cannot do justice. i was where i was meant to be, with all of whom i am meant to be, and i am continuing to be the luckiest man in the world for it all.
so there i was, with loved ones and friends, the joy and honor to be with words cannot describe, and then the moment occurred.
for background, it ought to be mentioned that i've had a very trying week, both at work and at home. trying not in a bad way as far as work is concerned, but in that very busy, hectic and pressure-filled way that takes a lot out of a person even while it's invigorating and rewarding. but also trying in that trying way that only divorce can offer a person in a personal way, and i've rarely been as blind-sided or feeling attacked as i was this week, and for very little in a practical way, but all that much more so for it.
in a moment i was with both my daughter and my (ex) wife, feeling both joy and love--yes, both joy and love for my (ex) wife as well--i made the mistake to share something personal of myself where it could be used as a cudgel, and my own personal betty draper, love of my once-life, did not hesitate to use it. i am always vulnerable in those moments--i love my children dearly, and cannot treat them with guile even when it leaves me vulnerable to such--and the strike was straight to the very core of me.
on a more philosophical note, i can say that such moments remind me clearly why i am, and therefore so my children as witnesses to it, better off divorced. the venom hurled so quietly and coldly at me was of a moment in time, as if preserved forever in amber like a prehistoric insect, as if not a moment of time has transpired since i left my house and my home all those years ago. i cannot say, these words attesting to that fact so eloquently, i am beyond it, either. but to have it be so--as if there is no and never any hope of moving past such past things--is to remind myself that staying would have been of no possible hope as well. (i do so regret it all).
but on a very practical note, the bitterness with which epithets were hurled, and defensiveness with which they were received, was and is profound in it's simplicity. and in that moment, it cannot be helped that i'm don to her betty. and on edge for and about everything that will take place in temporal proximity. to wit, fast-forward to saturday night.
i was in felicitous company with half a dozen others when approached by a woman who is married to someone known to us all. many aspects of her personal circumstances are also known to us all, for both better and for worse, and it was in awareness of these that the conversation began. for my part, and in my most earnest efforts to always embrace others with respect and care, as much in defiance of the circumstances of my divorce as to always try to be earl's better person, i inquired about living circumstances which were known to be in flux. (it can be added for poetry that this woman's appearance was and is as beautiful as life can approximate television, and betty draper would not have felt mis-presented). as she took the opportunity to share all she was compelled to share related to my conversational questions, i became acutely aware that six had reduced to five and then three and then two and then one, (rats fleeing the sinking conversational ship?), and it was quickly down to just me and the to-become reminder of the oddly frequent universality of the human condition.
the key element of the key phrase, "i let him", was the detonator to my impossibly short fuse, and my first inclination was to want to punch this lovely woman in her face for myself and for all the others i knew first-hand had been hurt through no direct fault of anything other than her being her own self. (no, i would not and did not, but the inclination was and remains very real nonetheless). you might wonder why "i let him" should rankle so, and i'm not sure i can completely explain it, but believe-you-me it rankles. i spent two decades with a woman who "let me" do so many things, yet never offered the slightest shred of respect that it should have been my place and my right regardless of her "permission". i left my marital home, the only home i had, with everything of mine and of me, and a bystander could not have detected anything amiss or missing in the house from which i was being cast out. i had been "let" to live there, yet never given a true place in the abode, and here was a woman, a veritable carbon-copy of my ex, telling me the self-same story about a friend about whom i care deeply. he is to be "let" to have some space in her house, the house that for every social convention and all that is right and good in this world, ought to be THEIR house. can you just feel how generous she feels to offer that much? it was written all over her beaming, fist-deserving face...
yes, i'm bitter.
there are some for whom their whole world and their center is themselves. i cannot deny that there have been moments bordering upon decades of my life where i have been guilty, guilty, guilty of same. but in my ever-hopeful-to-be-more-humble incarnation writing to you today, there are moments when i can see it so clearly because it hurts me so deeply that some who deserve none of it are greeted with a lifetime surplus of it by those who might otherwise be rightfully expected to love them and save them from the harm of it.
why are we the way we are?
i can trace the lines from my grandparents through my parents to myself, and i remind those who are flawed by their love for me that i am nothing but the most difficult of emotional islands that might exist in the world. i try always to remind myself of this, and to err unflinchingly on openness and love for my children, and though i know i am always to be caught up short where they are concerned, i cannot help myself even in the face of my greatest and most copious vulnerabilities, which seems always to be of and about my (ex) wife.
but if you have ever been tempted to "let" someone you think you care about do or be something or anything that they otherwise deserve or care to be, please know that my imagination's fist is ever cocked with a picture of your face in the crosshairs. if you love, you must want your love to be everything they deserve and dream to be. there can be no compromise on this.
or else i call you betty.