On the surface of the planet, all is calm. Soft music is playing “Love is Here To Stay,” the old 1930s standard by George and Ira Gershwin. The happy couple dances together, smiling in their formal wear, celebrating their 50th anniversary. The crowd of well-wishers applauds as they gently embrace and then walk, hand-in-hand, back to the banquet table.
Just beneath the surface, there is molten lava ready to erupt at a moment’s notice. He had taken his blood pressure medication but if pressed to honesty he’d confess, this woman at his side represented a lifetime of disappointments. There were little annoyances: she moved his cummerbund from the dresser to the closet, sending him scrambling, searching at the last minute before the limousine arrived to pick them up for their party. There were lingering frustrations: she was always difficult to please and nearly impossible to satisfy, despite his efforts over their courtship and through their marriage. And he learned the repeated lesson that his wants were not going to be met, but if he was nice and worked just a little bit harder, he might get what he most desperately needed. But nothing more, never venturing into what he wanted.
At first, the couple hid their discontent from their children and family friends. But now, these smaller irritations were unconcealed. Anyone who ventured close would occasionally hear him either yelling, if he went unmedicated, or grumbling under his breath, if he had taken his Thorobenzaprilozene. And she wasn’t any happier. She’d make snide remarks criticizing him in various situations, or suggesting switching his meds. The joke varied, between switching with anti-psychotics, and switching to rat poison. After he heard it the fifth time, the joke was old. At first they were charmed by one another, and very naive about what they needed and hoped from each other. But as time went on, charm gave way to frustration, then mild discontent, then complete disrespect and hatred.
Still they smiled for the cameras, the celebration, and for their children. What would be the point of destroying the illusion? Since the children had moved out, they slept in different sides of the house, and only met in the morning for coffee and to discuss anything they had to do together. Then they would part company and he would mow the grass and tinker around the house, and she would do whatever it was she did.
“Twenty years of marriage, that’s a long time to stay together!” Friends commented and commended the happy couple then. But it had been 3 years since she really kissed him. He loved her lips, when they were courting, when they were first married. They were soft, perfect, and welcoming. Now, there was no more than a hard peck any more. When the kids had come along, he noticed her affection dropped significantly, and despite his efforts to encourage her and light the sparks of passion, the furnace seemed as cold as a lump of coal. And the hard peck in the morning, though still a sign of some care, actually hurt his lips. Even in the earlier years of marriage, there wasn’t any real reciprocation when he tried to please her.
The kids were the only proof he had that she actually let him get close once or twice, beyond that there was a once-only, weekly encounter that she barely tolerated. He desperately wanted, needed more.
He packed his own lunch and drove to work. And now it had been 23 years, he observed. He would pick up a card and some chocolates and roses on the way home, not that it would be appreciated.
“Why did you spend so much money?” was how the loud litany went when he bothered to try.
“Because I love you,” he responded, earnestly hopeful.
“Thank you,” with a flat affect. Her response rang cold and empty. When had this relationship died?
He felt trapped, and imagined that maybe she felt the same way. He contemplated lots of responses. Have an affair? That was rejected. If he was married and a woman was willing, who else was she willing with, and what might he bring home with him? And what about other potential consequences? A disenchanted husband or boyfriend on the other side of the relationship, he didn’t want to cause anyone else any grief. So although they were always there, always lovely and always waiting in the wings, he declined any offers, never gave any flirtatious invitations, and hid behind his hollow-feeling wedding band. God, they were all so beautiful though, and he always wondered if anyone would offer anything real if he did have an affair or just got a divorce and went hunting again. What about suicide? Not practical. I’ll wait, death will come in its’ own time. Murder? Not practical, I’d end up in jail “married” to a guy named Butch.
They had discussed what he wanted, so there really wasn’t any reason for the dismissal other than she didn’t want to make him happy. So why should he bother to try to make her happy? One day, he just gave up. There would be presents at birthday and Christmas, obligatory cards and occasional roses for seasonal holidays, but nothing more than duty required.
After a long season of courtship, today was the day. The minister said words he barely heard, and he repeated the necessary lines. He thought they’d be so happy. She looked in his eyes with unspoken, wicked promises. “Blahblahblahblah,” the minister intoned. Was this a wedding or a funeral, or did this pastor always speak with the same monotony?
Finally, near the end, she said, “I do.”
“Blahblahblahblah. You may kiss the bride,” the minister instructed, but it was she who kissed him. Open, perfect, soft lips, both welcoming and invading him, and celebrating. He was pleasantly surprised with her enthusiasm.
The reception followed the ceremony. For their first dance together, he wanted the DJ to play a playful song, “I’m a Believer,” by the Monkees. She rejected it saying she wanted their reception to have a classic feel to it. Instead, she asked, “could we have them play ‘Love is Here To Stay?'”