Friday, June 17, 2011

defense of marriage (and other things that mess with your sanity)

Speaking of NPH, last night I saw the big screen version of the New York Philharmonic version of Company. NPH is Bobby, a guy living the swingin’ single life in the 1970s and contemplating the pros and cons of marriage as played out in the relationships of his many coupled friends. I thought I’d seen it before because I’d listened to the soundtrack a zillion times and had memories of seeing songs from it performed live.* But suddenly there was all this dialogue that was completely unfamiliar to me. It turns out that what I’d actually seen were various Sondheim revues. And Company is a great little musical that is both a snapshot of a time when divorce, pot and sexual freedom were just entering the mainstream and a totally timeless meditation on what it means to be a human who interacts with other humans.

It was a weird day. I left my purse at home and had to borrow cash at work to cover the movie, which I saw by myself because AK is in Chicago and Stephanie had acting class. So there I was wandering the city in a sort of solo, rudderless, unprepared way reminiscent of my early 20s, seeing a movie that took me back to my early 20s. I remembered how much I related, as a single girl, to Bobby’s feelings in “Marry Me a Little”—that deep and utter fear of intimacy** coupled with certainty that coupled bliss would be the answer to all my problems:

Marry me a little,
love me just enough.
Cry, but not too often,
play, but not too rough.
Keep a tender distance
so we'll both be free.
That's the way it ought to be.

Sondheim (and in this case playwright George Furth too) is a master of the anti-happily ever after. The first time I saw Into the Woods, I thought it was over after the first act because the princes had gotten their damsels and Little Red had slain the wolf. But after intermission, the damsels grew restless and a giant started stomping around squashing people. As the couples in Company sing of marriage:

Everything's different.
Nothing's changed.
Only maybe slightly rearranged….

You always are
what you always were,
which has nothing to do with,
all to do with her

Next Thursday, AK and I will have been married a year. I can safely say that I am what I always was, and, too, that I’ve been utterly transformed in the five years we’ve been together. Being in love doesn’t save you from yourself, but it does save you from not being in love.

I’ve known that for a little while. But I’m realizing that this Sondheim-ian reality check can apply to other relationships like, say, parent-and-child.

I look at moms, especially new moms, the way I looked at couples when I was single.*** I believe they have all this secret knowledge. I believe they are happier, always. I believe they are the parental equivalent of a little bit married: Their lives are full of love and playfulness but without any of the ugly stuff.

This whole miscarriage-and-subsequent-doldrums/mild psychosis business has taught me that there is no parental equivalent of a little bit married, though. The bummer is that I’ve acquired just one piece of that secret knowledge, which is that kids—even if they never quite manage to be born—will fucking rip your heart out. But for some reason, which is a blend of spirituality and masochism, it’s what we all pray for, and what Bobby wishes for in “Being Alive”:

Somebody, need me too much.
Somebody, know me too well.
Somebody, pull me up short
and put me through hell
and give me support
for being alive.
Make me alive.

Thanks, AK, for making me alive, and for sticking with me when my sketchy ovaries and anxious soul put the “worse” in “for better or worse.” Here’s to some better in year two.

*I am slowly turning into my dad, who is sort of a goldfish when it comes to culture, in that every time he circles back to a movie or a book he’s seen before, he’s like, “Look! A castle!...Look! A castle!”

**Probably not unrelated to the fact that, at the time, I was trying to date guys and didn’t really want to be intimate with anyone quite so hairy.

***This seems as good a place as any to mention that the main single girl in Company was played wonderfully by Christina Hendricks. I haven’t seen much Mad Men, so my knowledge of her was limited to fashion magazine articles about her curves. And it’s true that, in a scene where she’s wearing a slip, I marveled at how the wardrobe department managed to make it look like she wasn’t wearing a bra, because I think she’d be able to go braless about as well as I would. And I wished for my very own wardrobe department. But it is also true that she’s an amazing comedic actress who brought all the right is-he-into-me subtlety to “Barcelona” and made the character of April the flight attendant more quirky than ditzy.


Holly Hight said...

Happy 1 year anniversary. I love your line about kids ripping your heart out...thinking of you and AK as you celebrate one year. Yay for marriage and anniversaries.

Cheryl said...

Thanks, Holly!

Claire said...

Wow, that seems fast. Happy nearly anniversary to your both!

I know Christina Hendricks from a couple episodes of Firefly.

As a single person who was once engaged about a thousand years ago, I don't look at couples as though they have secret knowledge, but I do look at them and sometimes feel humbled by the support they have. (Assuming theirs is a loving, supportive relationship.)

The secret knowledge perception is probably more broad spectrum from my POV including those with business acumen or a stable of close friends.

I can't imagine all of your experience these past months, but I can relate to sketchy ovaries, particularly in recent weeks. Here's to a lot better in year two!

CC said...

Baby, I feel like you wrote this just for me! Thanks for all the love seeping through its pores. I'm looking forward to a great 2nd year.

Jesi said...

is it bad, that when you wrote about secret knowledge i thought of this:

after all it is written by a playwright. (but blech, really mamet, blech)

anyways, i'm so happy for you and deeply sad. i'm going to share with you what i read from a book recently: "and anything you would want to know, or anything you would want to happen, all the answers are right there where you are right now." -from Skippy Dies

Cheryl said...

C: Yeah, there are all kinds of people I think of as having secret knowledge, including biz-savvy folks. But knowledge is always a double-edged sword, right?

CC: Hoping I didn't do one of those "let me tell the world how much I love my gf via Facebook post" moves, but sometimes the love just seeps out.

J: I'm intrigued by this Skippy. He sounds like a smart fella.

Peter Varvel said...

Loved the parallels you pointed out between the two Sondheim shows, as well as with the parental equivalent in being a little bit married.
Wishing you and AK sincere congratulations on the First of Many Happy Anniversaries!

Cheryl said...

Thanks, my fellow Sondheim fan!