Rather than listing all the things I’m thankful for this Thanksgiving, I need to do something else. I need to thank my friend Leah for restoring my faith.
Leah and I met a few years ago and, I’ll admit, I initially wrote her off. That’s not very nice, I freely admit, but sometimes I am not so nice. I liked her OK, but I figured we didn’t have that much in common. Also, I was more than a little intimidated. She seemed to have everything together: she’d married her college sweetheart, they had an adorable bungalow in Kenwood, and she was thin and gorgeous. What’s not to hate, really?
Of course, I ultimately got to know Leah (this would be a pretty crappy column if I didn’t, now, wouldn’t it?) and I realized she had her demons, just like the rest of us. I also realized that we had more in common than I realized. We can both be relentless, we both have a fatalist attitude about certain things (although we prefer to think of it as “realism”, thank you very much), and we are two of the funniest people we know in real life (Honest – we crack ourselves up.)
But I’m not thanking her for any of that. No, I owe her my gratitude because she kind of saved me from myself. You see, I came out of my marriage with a pretty dark view of relationships. I’m not blaming my ex; I blame my youth and unwillingness to see reality. But it doesn’t matter; whoever gets the blame, by the time I signed my divorce papers I believed that yes, any relationship was work and no, I was patently unwilling to go through that miserable, black drudgery. I had no need for protracted fights, labored discussions, and worrying that if I failed to put someone else first, I was a horrible human being. I wanted to go to the beach and write and not worry about whether someone would care that I didn’t load the dishwasher.
In reality, I was pretty tiresome to be around if the conversation turned to marriage or long term commitment. I’m amazed, actually, that I had any “couple” friends at all; my rhetoric on the subject exhausted even me at times. Even when I started dating someone seriously, I still went on and on about antiquity of marriage, a business contract used to inflict religious mores on the world, a romantic notion applied to something legally binding. I was, as you might expect, a barrel of fun at weddings.
Leah, for her part, never disagreed. Instead, she agreed: marriage, she would say, took work. It wasn’t some romantic thing that just magically happened. She and her husband didn’t float off into the sunset and subsist on champagne and caviar every night. She doesn’t always smile and offer him kind words. Trust me on this: after almost two decades together, it ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. They have their share of storms.
But you know what? They love each other like mad. She can’t tell you her anniversary date, neither she nor her husband wear wedding rings, and believe me, and I’ve seen a look on her face that suggests perhaps her betrothed may want to stay the hell out of her way for a few moments, but there’s no question, they are in love.
And, see, that’s what she showed me: yes, it’s work to stay in love. Yup, it’s not effortless to be with the same person and be happy about it for roughly 20 years. No, they cannot take one another for granted.
The thing is, they don’t mind. They would walk through fire for each other, and because they love each other so much, it doesn’t seem a hardship. I know their marriage takes a constant stream of give and take. They do not live some romance novel dream. At the risk of sounding flowery and ridiculous, their love transcends that. That’s not a romantic notion; that’s simply an explanation of why they don’t seem to mind. And I think, four or so years into a much-feared relationship of my own, I maybe start to get it.
When it’s right, I guess, the work doesn’t feel like work. Which I never would have gotten if Leah hadn’t maintained such a relentless, gritty stance about love taking work. I watched her, amazed that even though she clearly wasn’t a deluded young girl chasing after some Harlequin-induced mirage of love, she loved her husband beyond measure. And, by all accounts, she seems damn happy about it, work or no work.
I don’t know that she realizes what she’s done for me. It’s not really the sort of thing we talk about, and, of course, a few other of my closest friends have also shown me that every union doesn’t end in tragedy and pain. And, of course, there’s El Cap. I’m lucky beyond measure, there, too. But Leah, man, she’s inspiring. And Thanksgiving is about being thankful, so that’s what I’m doing.
So, you know, thank you, Leah. You’re awesome.
Contact Cathy Salustri at CathySalustri@theGabber.com.