alice

2 Feb

I once read a line in a letter written by an elderly man describing his recently-deceased wife.  “Every day spent with her was a pleasure.”  When I saw that observation, I teared up.  Who would I have to be to have someone say something that lovely about me?  What would I have to do every day to be delightful to someone else?  Is it even possible?  And what amazing perspective on the widower’s part to say that?  It probably wasn’t entirely accurate. Surely they had their bad days like all married couples.  Had he never slept on the couch?  Had she never walked out the door and spent the afternoon running errands to avoid saying something she might regret?  (Presumably pre-cell phone, when you couldn’t keep the argument alive all the way to le Superwalmart and back.  The cell phone marks the end of that little marriage-saver, the cooling-off period.)  But somehow, the pleasure of her company and how much he missed it was what he found worth mentioning.

About Alice describes a marriage like that one.  I have been taking notes as I read it this third time because Calvin “Bud” Trillin describes her in a way that lets us know his wife, but also articulates the quality of his life with her.  He is great in his ability to sufficiently appreciate Alice.  He writes of a young woman who wrote to him about looking at her boyfriend and thinking “But will he love me like Calvin loves Alice?”  I fear that I suffer from the same doubt.   What would it be like to be so consistently adored over such a great number of years?  Would it get on my nerves?  Or could I just bask in being appreciated?  Certainly I have no reason to know.

She was so very pretty, but that wasn’t the first thing that struck me about her; it might have come as much as two or three seconds later.  My first impression was that she looked more alive than anyone I’d ever seen.  She seemed to glow.

But I never stopped trying to match that evening — not just trying to entertain her, but trying to impress her.

Alice wasn’t just beautiful.  She was also very, very wise.  After her cancer diagnosis and treatment, she wrote to a friend:

It’s the realization of our worst nightmares.  No one would ever choose to have cancer…But you don’t get to choose, and it is possible at least, to understand what Ernest Becker meant when he said something like “to live fully is to live with an awareness of the rumble of terror that underlies everything” or to begin to understand the line in King Lear — “Ripeness is all.”  You might have chosen to become ripe less dramatically or dangerously, but you can still savor ripeness.

I think I know exactly what she means.  I recently told some friends that I like divorced people the best.  They simply have some depth and sense of fragility that all you successfully-married friends don’t necessarily have.  But that’s as it relates to marriage and we have a shared experience.  All of you who have any loss in common probably prefer each other to the rest of us.  Still, I don’t know why second marriages have a higher failure rate than first marriages.  I would think that you would take each other for granted less and tell yourself not to sweat the small stuff?  Or do the multiply-married remember how happy they were in the interim and yearn for their independence again?  I have no idea.  I am asking you.

Can you see why girls like me and the young woman in New York worry about finding someone who will love us like Calvin loves Alice?  in what I thought was an impossible way?  I have now seen two people reference the quality I want.  Should it be so hard, really, to find someone who simply adores you?  Or should I just settle for respectful admiration with a dash of “thinks I’m cute”?

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