On Herself · On Psychology

On Unringing the Bell

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Someone I knew quite well during a difficult season of my died this life died last weekend. He was young, and his death was shocking and violent.

We met very soon after I was single, and at a time when I was completely determined not to get involved with anyone who had anything in common with my former husband.

This man seemed exactly that. He was blue collar to ex’s lily white, muscled and handsome, determinedly non-intellectual. in every way he was socio-economically different, not only from the man I’d married at the age of 21, but also from me.

He was very much a creature of routine, who required his ice cream vanilla, his beer, Corona, his bagel plain with plain cream cheese and his pizza from Domino’s. He didn’t know the names of streets in our neighborhood that he didn’t go to, because he didn’t care to.

At the time, friends asked me whether these characteristics were an issue for me, because my friends are smart and they’ve met me, which is to say, familiar with my passion for both a life of the mind, and adventure. But I said the differences weren’t a problem — at first because I didn’t think we were really doing anything serious, and then as it kept going, because I said, look what being in a relationship with someone more “suited” got me.

In fact, I used to say that being with him was like traveling, because although we grew up less than five miles apart, Bronx to Manhattan, and he was six years older than me, our experiences of life were so different that we might as well have been born in different countries. We were forever explaining our worlds to one another.  I learned a lot about standpipes and sprinklers and their proper p.s.i., he learned about studying art — you mean a naked chick just stands in front of the room for everyone to draw? Get the fuck out of here.

And for being as set in his ways as he surely was, he was also willing to try certain new things. For instance, he thought the concept of iced coffee was totally insane, because coffee should be hot, and consumed only in the morning, light and sweet. It was probably a tactical error on my part to have him try Vietnamese Iced Coffee one afternoon. It was too bitter for his palate, he spat it out and declared it nasty, case closed. On the other hand, alcohol should always be cold and so while he would try red wine, he never failed to put an ice cube in it. He’d never had Indian food before we met and he did like that — but I am pretty certain he never ate it outside my presence, ever.

I’m saying these things not because they were the most important; I realize they sound snobbish. But as we’ve now been apart about as long as we were together, these are the details I can still squint at in my memory.

The Art of the Empty Text
The Art of the Empty Text, 2014. Handbound book, paste paper, transfer letters on packing tape.

 

When you’re trying to get away from something, it helps to know if you’re moving on a flat plane or on a sphere. As it happens, I was on a sphere and in the end, I found myself staring directly at the same issues I’d hoped to avoid by choosing such a different man. Of course, it was an error in logic to decide that my marriage ended because my husband and I were from the same socioeconomic group. Just as it would be to conclude that I ended this relationship because this man and I were not.

In a newspaper story about his death, there is a phrase I’ve read a few times: he could not be saved. The reporter was referring to the paramedics, but it was the conclusion I’d come to about him and us long ago.

I don’t want to get into the details of the way we ended, but suffice it to say that although we remained on cordial terms, I consider the relationship a mistake. His death was a mistake too, although to put them together in a single category is rather absurd.

In very different ways, I’m sorry both happened.

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