Profit & Loss

Disclaimer: this is a far longer and more personal entry than my normal. I apologise should boredom and my personal reflections permanently lower your I.Q. Though I invite you to play games of intellectual challenge with me afterward.

ps. Though it ends on an unhappy note, it really isn’t the case. Just in case you worry. 

I came to Cornwall, England for the wedding of one of my oldest friends, Nicolette. I had been all psyched up to watch this excellent event but instead I found myself sitting in the church, just minutes before the ceremony was to begin, baffled to find myself on the edge of some sort of anxiety attack. Being surrounded by people I didn’t know, about to watch Nicolette, someone I love but am no longer as close to as I once was, get married, was having an undeniably deep and unexpected effect on me.

Nicolette is very smart. Very, very smart. Undoubtedly one of the 2 or 3 smartest people I’ve ever known. That she has stayed friends with me over the years has always made me feel validated intellectually (not an overly healthy thing but true nonetheless). But as I looked around the church at all her other friends, gathered from an excellent life, spread over many countries and cultures, I was struck, almost physically, by their obvious success. The clothes, the poise, the easily exuded confidence and free flowing charm; all these people were better than me. How on earth was I going to survive the reception where I’d have to reveal my pedestrian self in actual conversation? Will I be able to cloak myself in false success and pseudo happiness for long enough to escape the predation of social inequality and the piteous bullets it would execute me with?

I really wanted to go home. All the way home. I wanted to go home like I was 5 and had just peed my pants, urged away from the other children by the knowledge that they hadn’t noticed the wet stain on my trousers yet, and panicked by the coming shame of their judgment.

I hadn’t felt like this in years, suffered under the wave of such self-absorbed insecurity since I was a teenager.

Too many people.

I stood up and moved from the crowded central pews out to the peripheral seats where I could slip more comfortably into the self-defensive, familiar and calming position of outsiderness. I breathed deeply trying to reach stillness and calm, trying to banish these panicked and unbecoming thoughts from my head.

Then the music began. Bach. Played by a quartet (3 violins and a cello) there in the church. I love Bach’s violin and cello concertos – Nick herself introduced me to them – the precision and beauty entrances and lifts me whenever I hear it. I closed my eyes and let the music flow over me and build a space of quietness around me. As my heart rate lowered and the music changed to ‘concerto grosso op 6 no 8 in g minor’ by Corelli, Nicolette, wrapped in a cloud gray dress and looking beautiful, entered the church and began her walk to the altar.

Years ago Nicolette and I had agreed to a ‘Back Up Plan’. A plan that was based on a sad suspicion on both our parts, that being that we may be those rare and lonely creatures who never found ‘the one’, who would enter the later stages of our lives alone, as some people just seem to do. There was a conceit to it, I think, the thought of ourselves as distinctive yet difficult, of high caliber but cantankerous. The details of the plan were that between 35 and 40, were we unmarried, we would wed for personal comfort and to put our respective parents minds at ease. This silly-sad yet enjoyable covenant, based on the idea that life starts ticking at 35 and explodes at 40, also conveniently masked a crush (there’s a lack of a middle word describing that feeling) I’d had on Nicolette since I’d met her when I was 17, until somewhere in my mid to late 20s. It wasn’t of those all consuming crushes that dictate action and consequence, it was more a daydream of a crush, prompting the occasional pondering of potentials of brave or foolhardy decisions. Regardless, the gaps separating us, intellectual and then geographic, dictated a platonic relationship, one I’ve benefited from and enjoyed immensely over the years.

All this easily fades into the past, where it has always belonged, as Nicolette draws shoulder to shoulder with her husband to be, Shaun. With these memories goes any of my remaining inner turbulence and my focus falls completely on the event in front of me.

Watching people get married, as repetitive an event as it currently is for me, is actually becoming more and more distinctive per ceremony. I used to think of it as a dead institution, if only due to the perfidious statistics thrown around by various sections of society. I currently ascribe more to the Doug Stanhope school of thought on marriage, based on the approach of if it didn’t exist, would you invent it now angle. Summarised thusly: “Aw Honey, I love you so much! A love so pure and strong it consumes me! Baby, we just gotta get the Government in on this action! I’m so hot for you, quick, call a priest and a lawyer”. Regardless of such hilarity, I really enjoyed watching Nicolette get married. There was a gravity to it that pleased me, an intake of collective breath as people watched and admired the choice, followed by a sigh of the unconsidered joy such a decision can bring. That and the following reception, where I had some really excellent discussions with some of Nick’s friends, especially an English archaeologist and German osteo-archaeologist couple who were interesting and vastly entertaining (replaying in small the football competitiveness that draws on the greater Anglo-German grand get-togethers of last century).

It was, over all, an excellent wedding and engaging reception, all taking place at a stunning venue in the Cornish countryside. With all that splendor of place and person around me the contrast of fear and anxiety I felt keeps drawing me back, demanding consideration and explanation. I’m not used to such things creeping up on me suddenly, I usually feel a slow build inside me, prompting introspection of at least a shallow sort, thus defusing those sorts of grand mal. It’s really only in the light of time that I realize that it had been sneaking up on me. I think back to the ‘Back Up Plan’ I shared with Nick and the sense of loss her marriage represents to me. The ceremony brings back that memory, the ‘Back Up Plan’, based on a strange conviction, almost a conceit, one now strangely amplified, distilled by the intervening years, maybe. It’s a lonely thought brought on by that almost unrealized sense of loss, a thought based in an old fear that has become, horrifically, more relevant to me years later as my partner in future solitude abandons me here. In fucking Cornwall.


2 responses to “Profit & Loss

  1. This is a lot here.

    What you describe has two parts. I guess I would call them the self-consciousness part and the sense of loss/where is my life going part.

    It’s hard to avoid either. I’ve had the self-consciousness so many times. Is this the first time you’ve ever had that? You’re lucky!

    In a way, it seems, by having the sense of loss you are confronting something that you might be otherwise avoiding–that desire to have a lifelong bond with someone.

    And there’s also the kind of only partly formed desire to have a bond with Nicolette that is lost. I think that is something that happens to people at weddings–when you realize that those people can’t be had. But more, if it is a friendship that had that undercurrent.

    I’ve been married seven years to someone I was with 10 years (off and on) before that and with respect to the bond between two people, marriage isn’t dead and it isn’t institutional. I had tremendous skepticism about the whole thing until I did it. I think there is a kind of taboo about wanting that hope of a lifelong tie and this is a problem because some people repress their desire for it and then maybe they miss some chances. So there’s this funny dilemma–what is worse: Wanting it and then facing the disappointment of not getting it? Also, people fear looking like a chump in this situation. Not wanting it and not pursuing but maybe wanting it later but not having it because one didn’t pursue. There are other options, I guess. The one that scares a lot of people is: Being with the wrong person. That can be bad.

    A good marriage is an indescribably beautiful thing. I only say this because it’s something no one ever told me when I was pondering out all these options and it might have been useful information. Of course, I’m not optimistic about anything so I probably never would have conceived I would have a good marriage.

    • It’s an interesting thing to think about, moments such as these. I’ve been drifting back to it a lot over the last couple of weeks. The self-consciousness wasn’t exactly a first – it’s more that because I’m heavily self-analytical, on an on-going basis, I don’t get surprised that often. At least not that much and in that manner. While I may not be able to identify what exactly is rising up in me, I can usually see that something is. To be caught so completely off guard is rare, at least by a feeling so big.
      I think you’ve pretty much nailed it with the desire for a life long bond thing. As droll as I often attempt to be about marriage (seeking the simple cynicism of my youth maybe), I admire and envy it in those close to me. So Nicolette’s loss was probably a case that desire-for-bond by proxy.
      People probably did give you advice/information about indescribably (no oxy-moron intended) beautiful a marriage can be, it’s just one of those things that are… well, indescribable. And such murmurings are rarely useful to a non-optimist who is trying to weigh up a choice in a pro & con fashion.

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