Windfall of Misery

From time to time (such as while preparing the last entry) I find myself looking through old posts, and I run across comments from somebody no longer active in the blogosphere. This time it was some comments from Jean-Paul at myhusband&i, who suddenly shut his blog down a year ago. At one point, JP was one of my most loyal readers and commenters. I was certainly not as loyal to him, but just like everybody else I loved his blog and his witty storytelling and the Spanish Onion and Cruella and most of all the love JP had for Guido, his tall gorgeous hairy Spanish talented chef husband. JP was unafraid to declare his love for his husband out loud, and that devotion infused every entry. Maybe somebody disliked JP or his blog, but you would not know it from his large and devoted readership.

JP’s blog is gone, but he is not forgotten, and from time to time I see him comment on somebody else’s blog. Once I made the mistake of replying to one of his comments, which probably just irritated him and/or scared him away. Nonetheless I miss JP and I miss his blog, and when I see his handle these days I feel a stab of emotion. This often makes my inner four-year-old and upset, which result in internal conversations that go something like this:

“I wanna read JP’s blog!!”

“Sweetie, JP took his blog down from the Internet. But there are lots of other blogs to read. Why don’t you read Willym’s blog? Sometimes he posts those funny sock puppet videos. You like sock puppets, don’t you?”

“NO! I don’t wanna read Willym’s blog!! I wanna read JP’s blog!!”

“You don’t want to read Willym’s blog? Oh, that will make Willym so sad. You don’t want Willym to be sad, do you?”

“… n… nnno…”

“Then let’s read Willym’s blog so he won’t be sad. Oh look! He posted about Linda Ronstadt! Yay!”

“… ok… but…” (lower lip trembles)

“Come on, little guy. Let’s see. Oh look! Gilbert and Sullivan! Parkinson’s disease! Let’s read so Willym won’t be sad!”

With a certain amount of distraction and emotional manipulation, I can usually move past the emotions and back into the numbed resignation that is the best we can hope for in life. But then last week I read the news and my inner four-year-old had a meltdown. I’m talking a full-blown, at the grocery store, other shoppers looking away awkwardly, on the floor, shrieking screaming wailing meltdown, the kind often referred to as “the most effective contraception in the world”:

“No! It’s not fair! NOT FAIR!! NOT FAIR!!!”

“Sweetie, I know you’re upset, but it’s time to get off the floor now.”

(Arms and legs flailing, knocking boxes of pasta off the shelves) “Noo!! NOOOOOO!!! Guido DIED and it’s not fair!!”

“Come on, kiddo. Let’s ge–”

“NO! NO NO NO!! Guido DIED and now he’s NOT HERE!! It’s NOT FAIR!!!!”

What am I supposed to say? My inner four-year-old is correct. It isn’t fair. As much as I want to join my inner four-year-old on the floor we have to get the damned groceries and pretend like everything goes on just as it did before. Life isn’t fair in any way, but how do you tell that to an inner four-year-old? What can you say that makes anything better? No wonder we make up comforting stories about people looking down upon us from happy afterlives, their pain and suffering over, waiting for us to join them (provided we are subservient enough and stay on God’s good side by accepting the blood sacrifice of his only Son). Without those stories what do you have?

There’s an excerpt from Dan Savage’s book The Commitment: Love, Sex, Marriage and My Family that comes to mind at times like this:

When I can’t sleep — something that happens at least three nights a week — I sometimes just sit and watch Terry sleeping. He takes a breath, there’s a pause, he exhales, there’s another pause. What, I wonder, would I do if this man stopped breathing? Can the day-to-day misery of being alone be worth the risk of being absolutely shattered if Terry should die before me? If Terry were to die today, if a knock came at the door tonight, if some stranger arrived to tell me that I would never be able to speak to Terry again, or hold him, or look into his eyes, or smell him, or listen to him breathe — just writing these words makes my stomach hurt.

Being single visits a kind of constant, low-intensity misery on a person — at least on a person who doesn’t want to be single. Coming home to an empty house, not having anyone to confide in, facing illnesses on your own — being alone hurts, but people can get used to it. But being in a long-term relationship doesn’t spare you from all that day-to-day pain. It just banks it. Every day I’m with Terry, every day I’m not alone, a little misery gets put into a savings account, where interest is compounded hourly. The day Terry dies, all the pain I avoided when I was with him will be paid out all at once; I will suffer a windfall of misery. I imagine the pain would feel literally like being torn in two. Maybe that’s what people mean when they talk about “one flesh”?

(pages 119-120)

Is this true? I don’t know. Savage doesn’t know either: knock on wood, his swimwear-modelling husband is still alive and well, and hopefully will remain so for a long time yet. Who knows? If Terry does die before Dan, then maybe things won’t play out this way at all. Regardless, this metaphor of a bank account of misery resonates with me deeply. I have not had an intimate partner die and am probably a psychopath who doesn’t feel empathy anyways, but I have felt weaker forms of that connection towards animals (very) few humans. I have felt that windfall of misery upon learning that an animal I have bonded with has died, especially when that animal died under unpleasant circumstances. A human who has been relatively close to me in life is currently dying of stage four cancer and I can feel that payout coming due. In many ways I consciously avoid getting too emotionally invested in people or animals or projects or organizations these days because I can see what is inevitable, and low-intensity misery seems preferable. Other people look back at past relationships with fondness and gratitude; I tend to see the pain, especially when my own bad conduct has played a part in hurting others. It is better to be a rock, or an island.

Some of you are shaking your heads at me now, because of course I missed the backstory: yes, Guido died of cancer, but he had been diagnosed with cancer years ago, and JP started his blog partially in response to that diagnosis. I did not learn this until preparing for this entry, and I suppose this is supposed to be the redemptive arc I am supposed to use to comfort my inner four-year-old: yes, Guido got sick and died, but it’s because Guido was sick that JP started his blog, and wasn’t his blog delightful to read when it was around? Sure, I guess, except not. It is great that JP’s blog existed as an artifact of his marriage, but in no way does that make it okay for Guido to die. I would have much preferred JP’s blog never having existed if Guido was still here and healthy. From the outside, it seemed that JP and Guido had a great relationship. They were still young and still in love and still having sex with each other, and if they could not live happily ever after what hope is there for the rest of us? It’s not fair. Sooner or later, death is inevitable, but that doesn’t make it fair.

Of course, JP is not the only one who has experienced loss recently. John Michael from Open a Window, and Agnes Goldberg-DeWoofs both lost their partners to COVID, and Mildred Ratched is dealing with a lot of grief after her mother died. It is unfair to play favorites, but Guido’s death still hit me hard.

I don’t know how other people process grief, and I certainly don’t pretend to understand what Jean-Paul is going through these days. I imagine people who are more emotionally mature than me and my inner four-year-old handle grief in more emotionally mature ways. Certainly I did not have to go through the day to day as Guido was in the last stages of his life. (Pardon my French, but fuck cancer.) But it is hard to imagine that JP is not grieving. I doubt JP will read this (and it will be plenty embarrassing if he does), but just in case: thank you for your blog, we miss you and you are welcome back whenever and in whatever capacity you want, I’m sorry Guido died, your relationship with him was an inspiration to many of us, and I hope you (and all the other people who have been dealing with grief) have strong supports you can lean on as you grieve and heal.