A Promise to Love is a Promise to Work

2014-08-16-14-29-29Ain’t love great?

It swells and swoons and sweeps you off your feet. When it comes it lifts you up over your problems, it sweeps away your issues and leaves your worries in the pile of life that now sits like a heap of laundry on the floor where you were standing, knee deep until this miracle made all of it fade so far into memory that it was like a dream.

Love is like that. It’s amazing. It is energizing and effortless at once.

Love isn’t static, however. It doesn’t stand still amidst storms. It doesn’t resist change and fly above all challenges. It bends and flexes. It is forced to learn and adapt. It’s formed in fire and the heat is increased until it learns to morph. Until it changes it’s molecular make up so it can be poured into the mold of your choosing. This fire can show your flaws in a way that will leave you carrying that first early version of love like an old and dirty T-Shirt you once thought you’d never take off, never have to mend or clean, back to the pile of discarded worries and concerns and issues you had thought you left behind. Other times it reveals strength and pliability that show you that it will never fail you so long as you never fail it.

You can fail at love by merely not trying. By not making an effort. It seems like an aspersion to say you didn’t try but it isn’t. Perhaps you didn’t understand. I didn’t. Not always. I thought it was a transformative thing. I thought once love found me I’d be swept up and out of my problems. That drinking myself to sleep would be a thing of the past. That bouts of self doubt and self-loathing would be replaced with a natural buzz that made me unconquerable and endlessly optimistic. I thought that because it did that. Well, it did most of that most of the time. And for a good long time. Why wouldn’t it stay like that?

2015-06-22 12.02.30You see my wife is fairly hard not to love. I remember early on the ‘falling fast’ aspect of our relationship. I made promises in those early days that I had no idea were so important. I did it because I had to. Love was making me. It was making me tell her I loved her. It was making me commit to things I’d soon waiver on, but ultimately follow through on. It made me a better person through no real effort on my part. Because that love was passive. I merely received it. I heard it loud, acted on it’s suggestions and never questioned its wisdom.

Until I did. Until love became hard. Until love started to get drowned out by the baggage I brought. Baggage is a loaded term but some of it was actually just the essentials. The stuff I needed to carry with me to retain the essential me. I need to be occasionally high and often low. It makes my world have color. I need to feel like I stick out, like I’m different. I carried my sense of uniqueness through years of outwardly trying to fit in because no matter how hard I wanted to leave behind being unique it turns out it was really important to me and all the testing of that I could withstand would never scrub me of it. I needed to feel bedraggled and bewildered at life from time to time in order to know what was right and what was wrong. And I had to carry some of this luggage and my wife needed to help with the load. As I need to help with hers.

These were the promises we made to each other. Promises we had no idea were so important until they were tested. By time at first. Then by kids. Then by life and all it’s joys and pains. Promises we had no idea were so prescient and wise considering the impulses that led us to make them. Promises that challenged us, melted us and made us anew, stronger and more able for all they exposed. Promises we needed to fulfill to make and keep the promises we are now making to our kids that have tentacles and reach in directions we never would have predicted when we made them so confidently. Promises that would have crushed the people we were before we promised our love to each other. Before we had to live up to our promises not only to one another but to ourselves. Promises to love actively, to work at showing our love, to build a home where it could flourish and be tested and where it could fail and be recovered.

Thank goodness I allowed myself to be swept away so I could make the promises that would make me what I needed to become. So I could soar above it all without losing sight of why I am aloft and how I can sustain what has become the life I know I was meant to live. Before I could promise and know that it was unbreakable.


This post was written in response to this prompt

Kelly, Casey, Prince and Me

‘I think I’m starting to have feelings for Casey.’

It’s a pretty devastating thing to hear. Not to mention somewhat emasculating. She’s with me, after all. I mean, I didn’t pursue her. The fact that we were dating was a result of her stating we were dating and me nodding in aggreement.

‘What does that mean?’

Yeah, I wasn’t ready…

It was a sincere question. Straightforward as well. I had a sense that something bad was happening but I honestly didn’t understand the phrasing. That said, I knew enough to feel queasy and a little nervous asking. I’d hear and speak both parts of this conversation and variations on it for years to come, but this time, this was the first. She was trying to be nice and I was trying to be cool. I was on my Schwinn Predator, which was a pretty badass set of wheels for an almost 11 year old so I was able to retain a certain amount of pride, even while being dumped without knowing it.

We only dated for the summer. It was 1984 and as a 10 year old I was pretty much free to do anything I could with a bike and a full day of sunlight to mess around in. Kelly was almost 14 I’d guess, at least 13. She was going to be in eighth grade in the fall and I was entering fifth. Needless to say this was a coup that my friends my own age, well my one friend, marvelled at. I was confused by it. I seemed to get some sort of credit for engineering something and I accepted the accolades, but I knew I was a fraud. I certainly enjoyed the make out sessions we’d have in garages and alleyways. The garage was the shed that sat behind my house where we shared floor space with bikes and yard tools and needed a flashlight to see and the alley was the alley behind the Main Street shops that ran between King St and the police station behind the Studio theater. It was as urban an environment as my little town had to offer and I loved being there. It was dangerous and cool.

We were the kids that ran back there that summer. We had claim to the place because Kelly’s mom owned Hairport, though I’m not sure it had that name yet, which had a back door out to the alley. We’d ocassionally go upstairs to the apartment they lived in and watch TV. But mostly we’d all be outside, trying to inhale cigarettes and trying to get into more and more trouble without getting caught.

My older brother was dating her older sister and by the end of the summer there was even flirtations between my younger sister and her younger brother. I think they even joined one of the epic games of truth or dare that were excuses to kiss, with tongue, for longer and longer stretches, always timed by whoever was around. That’s what dating was and it was awesome and terrifying and sad and joyous. Not a bad harbinger, actually.

There I sat, one foot on the pedal, the other on the ground in as cool a pose as a ten year old can take, with no idea why she took me down to this end of the alley to talk. I thought it was cool that she was discovering feelings. I could see why Casey might feel something for her. She was pretty and a good kisser as far as I could tell, though I had nothing to compare her too. I guessed she was telling me that I should keep an eye on Casey, not that I’d know what to look for or what to do if I saw something.

When she started walking back to the group of kids huddled around the steps at the back of the shop she probably thought I wasn’t going to follow. I say that now, at the time I thought I was doing what I was supposed to. When I pulled up and took my place in the loose ring of town kids who were cool she still hadn’t seen me and was leaning on Casey’s handlebars. It felt like a betrayal, but maybe I was being a little kid about it.

‘Hey Joey. How’s it going?’ Casey asked.

Kelly snapped her head around and looked confused. It took her a minute and I am so thankful to her for not speaking out loud what she must have been thinking, but eventually she must have put it together that I didn’t get what happened. That was okay. She may have said something or may not have, but whatever she did she was nice about it. She must have realized that I was 10. I sure as hell realized that Casey was 15. At least. He sat on his bike like a man. Both feet on the ground, knees bent and arms free. To fold. Cool and imposing.

Before long everything was back to normal and it was just a group of kids hanging out, drinking pop and eating candy. Surely someone had some loose cigarettes and someone knew where there were some beers hidden on the towpath, but looking back it was all so innocent. Boys would drift around popping wheelies and trying tricks. The girls were listening for their favorite songs and singing along as long as they could resist laughing and falling into each other. My wheelies were tight so I was good. But it was coming together. I was seeing what had happened. What was happening.

‘Oh my god. Have you heard this yet?’ Kelly said, not to anyone in particular.

‘No.’ I said.

‘It’s Prince. There’s a whole movie that goes with the album.’

‘The 1999 guy?’ I asked.

‘Yes. This is amazing.’ She said as the song was rewound and played again from the start.. Dearly Beloved…

‘I don’t really like it. To electronic.’ I said. I was trying to be cool. Boys in my town, we listened to WCMF. Classic rock. This was that poppy PXY stuff. It seemed unmanly to like it and I was just learning the script and was eager to throw around my wisdom, however newly discovered.

‘I don’t know man. There’s some tracks on here that will make you sit down and think Some that can make you emotional. I don’t think you’re giving it a full shot.’ Said Casey.

It was over. If Kelly never fully put it together that I was just 10, I sure did. Right then. At least I had the smarts not to argue the point. I stuck around for a bit longer, surely. I didn’t want the world to see me slink away. But time and the topic at hand moved on, some kids had gotten enough together to get a couple of the huge slice’s at Papa Joe’s and I decided to head back to my house to shoot some hoops.

Starry Starry Night

babymoon pic

I had an argument with my wife this morning. And last night. Well, to say it was an argument implies it was more than it was. An argument comes earlier in a relationship and it involves lots of shouting, the stating of hurtful and judgmental opinions and the generalized threat that one or both members of the pairing are on some level considering whether or not the partnership is one that is even worth saving. That’s an argument.

What we have now is much more targeted and it never, well rarely, threatens the existence of an ‘Us’.  Our attacks now are straight to the point. We know our target and we strike in a way we know will cause the most damage while taking the least time and effort. It’s the efficiency one finds in a marriage, this ability to have a full fledged fight based on two sentences, one each and then targeted silence and muted sneers. It’s not altogether bad, it’s just the standard. It passes fast and allows us the opportunity to breath and get our heads and to apologize after we acknowledge our part in causing any tension. It’s also a reminder that this thing we have requires more than a little effort and growth on both of our parts.

I should mention that today was totally my fault. I have somehow allowed my new computer to become infected and in the course of trying to fix it myself have seemingly crippled it. My emotions are usually measured and tempered, not too high not too low. That said, they are irrational when it comes to these things. Or rather this specific thing. I don’t know how to live without my internet which updates my podcasts efficiently, entertains my sports obsessiveness and allows me to manage my various fantasy teams. My patience in it’s absence has all the maturity of a, well, 13 week old. That said, he was all smiles this morning and he didn’t have internet either, so maybe I regress even further.

The snideness of our tension today was my fault.

I bring this up because something else dawned on me. It’s April 15th!! Isn’t that WONDERFUL! Not because it’s tax day, at least traditionally, or because it’s a day to remember the tragic end of Abraham Lincoln, the Greatest American. These things certainly make the 15th a day to be noted. Neither of these reasons however are why I think of this day so positively.

Four years ago the 15th was a cold, grey and rainy day in NYC. I lived in Astoria, Queens at the time and with my roommate ceding the TV room to me I spent the day curled up on the couch watching old movies. I specifically remember Chinatown. A unique cinematic experience if there ever was one. It was the kind of day when being on the couch and getting absorbed into the muted and faded technicolor of a seventies indie film was the best form of getting cozy. The weather was dreadful and I could have stayed there all day. But I couldn’t. I had a date that night.  It was at 8. It was at Doc Watson’s a bar on the upper east side, in the neighborhood where the girl I hadn’t met yet lived.

When she emailed to see if we were still on (It was really quite bad out weather wise and frankly she’d been on enough of these dates to not be bothered if she missed one) I decided that heading out and meeting her was in fact the best thing to keep me from melting to the couch and succumbing to my inclination to snuggle in for the night at 2pm. She, being polite decided, okay, she’d see me there at 8. She wanted to know if I wanted to talk on the phone. I knew the reasons. Women are right to be scared of men. We’re capable of scary aggression, and she couldn’t have known then that I wasn’t that type of guy. But I still had to say no. Really, there’s nothing more awkward than that conversation, one where she’s trying to pretend that she’s not interrogating you and you trying to sound genuine while aware the whole time that she is trying to determine what type of man you are and whether or not she should have the top of the pepper spray flipped. So instead I gave her my cell number and told her to gimme a text if she was so inclined. I told her that I’d be happy to have a phone convo, but if it was all the same could we skip it. I hate the phone. She was cool with that.

She asked how she’ll recognize me and I said that I’d wear something slutty. It was a risk, but I gotta be me and I thought it was funny. Thankfully, so did she.

We met and before she even had a beer we got away from the overcrowded Irish pub and we were both smiling, ear to ear for the whole night. Even when the bar we wound up at locked it’s doors and kept serving us til the wee hours, as the bartender got plowed and kept giving us and another couple down the bar from us drink after drink. We kept smiling when a little buzzed and over confident I asked her if I could kiss her, like really kiss her. We smiled through that, and the kiss still worked. We smiled all the way though telling each other how we got to this place, our mid thirties and transplanted upstaters living and working in NYC. We smiled as we told each other our different but equally amusing stories of all the bad blind dates we’d had lately. We smiled when we realized that not only was she facing me as I sat at the bar, her free hand rested naturally and lovingly on my leg. We laughed our way through the walk to her corner, a far enough escort on a first date and we stopped long enough to be wildly inappropriate in our public display of affection on the corner of 72nd and York.

The storm we ventured out in that night was epic. It even continued into the next day and the subways could not run due to flooding. That’s a rarity for the NYC transit system, believe it or not. But while we sat there falling in love, both having come in from the storm, the clouds broke and the skies cleared and we were able to walk away together, under a starry sky, hand in hand, smiling and laughing.

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