I should have been proud to have such a famous man in my life. Socially, we were an ideal duo. As to pleasures of the boudoir, I would discreetly admit that there were innumerable wild nights that met the standards of Dionysus. But I could not give up my work to be an addendum to his. And he was always gone to give a paid lecture, to attend the trustees' annual dinner at the Met in New York, or to drop by ritzy benefits, several a night, for which he would jump out of a dark-windowed Town Car, lend his conversation-stopping presence for twenty minutes, then move along to the next party. When we were together, we enjoyed playful verbal banter. But we were not tender. We expressed no gushing sentiments one might later regret. And so, the seasons passed, the blooms faded, and nature took its course of inevitable decay. Without argument or discussion, we started to neglect each other. Somehow we remained friends, which meant we could still attend the same parties and greet each other with a pretend kiss on the cheeks. Thus, we circumvented becoming fast talk-talk. We were, at best, gossip on a slow day. Speaking of which, a friend told me Stefan now suffered from major and paralyzing depression, which I was sad to hear. What's more, she said his signed reproductions, the ones finished off with brushstrokes of clear acrylic swish-swashed here and there by his own hand, were selling on eBay starting at $24.99, no reserve, and that included the frame. As I said, it was quite sad.
I had other men as steady companions, and with each of them I experienced a certain degree of fondness but no heartsickness worth mentioning. Well, plenty of disappointment, of course, and one silly episode of cutting up a negligee bought for a night of passion, an impetuous disregard for money, since the gown was worth far more than the man. But I ask myself now: Was there ever a true great love? Anyone who became the object of my obsession and not simply my affections? I honestly don't think so. In part, this was my fault. It was my nature, I suppose. I could not let myself become that unmindful. Isn't that what love islosing your mind? You don't care what people think. You don't see your beloved's faults, the slight stinginess, the bit of carelessness, the occasional streak of meanness. You don't mind that he is beneath you socially, educationally, financially, and morallythat's the worst, I think, deficient morals.
I always minded. I was always cautious of what could go wrong, what was already "not ideal." I paid attention to the divorce rates. I ask you this: What's the chance of finding a lasting marriage? Twenty percent? Ten? Did I know any woman who escaped having her heart crushed like a recyclable can? Not a one. From what I have observed, when the anesthesia of love wears off, there is always the pain of consequences. You don't have to be stupid to marry the wrong man.
Look at my dearest friend and the trustee of my estate, Vera Hendricks. She is one very smart lady, has a doctorate in sociology from Stanford, is the director of one of the largest nonprofit foundations for African-American causes, and she is often included in the Hundred Most Influential Black Women of America. In any case, as smart as Vera is, in her younger years she made the mistake of marrying a jazz drummer, Maxwell, whose job, it seemed to him, was to stay out and smoke and drink and tell jokes, then come home in the early hours of the morning. And he was not black, mind you, but Jewish. Black and Jewish, that was no small aberration among couples in those days. His mother reverted to Orthodoxy, declared him dead, and sat shiva for weeks. When they moved from Boston to Tuscaloosa, Vera and Maxwell had to fight the world to stay together. Vera confided that people's hatred toward them was their raison d'être as a couple. Later, when they lived in the liberal environs of Berkeley, where mixed marriages were the norm, the fights were just between the two of them and were mostly about money and drinking, among the most common causes of marital discord. Vera was a reminder to me that even intelligent women make stupid mistakes in their choice of men.
From Saving Fish From Drowning by Amy Tan. Copyright Amy Tan 2005. All rights reserved. Reproduced by permission of Putnam Publishing. No part of this book maybe reproduced without written permission from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
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