“Let me tell you, I know you don’t want to listen to your father, I didn’t listen to mine, and I am telling you you gotta pay attention this time. When life reaches out with a woman like this it’s a sin if you don’t reach back, I’m telling you its a sin if you don’t reach back! It’ll haunt you the rest of your days like a curse. You’re facing a big challenge in your life right now at this very moment, right here. That girl loves you she really really loves you. I don’t know if Nicky ever did, but she sure as shit doesn’t right now. So don’t fuck this up.”
That’s from Silver Linings Playbook. I saw it yesterday. I loved it. Not just for what it was about – but how it hits me at this unique stage in my life. And that’s ultimately what this post will be about, so don’t worry – no spoilers ahead. First though, I need to set the table.
I’m a huge movie fan. I’ve been that way my entire life. When I was a kid, my awesome Uncle Ron and Aunt Sharon slapped the nickname Movie Man on me because NOT only could I give full play-by-play of my favorite movies but also recite entire scenes, chapter and verse. I was the only kid I knew who could rattle off a Director’s filmography like someone quoting Fred Lynn’s career On Base Percentage.
There was just something about the form that sucked me in. And I have total recall over so many of my favorites. Not just what the movie was about – BUT – who I was with and where I saw it and what the weather was spitting outside that grey May afternoon, when I settled my butt down in a seat, alongside my older next door neighbor, Jay, and watched Raiders of the Lost Ark flicker and light on that screen – completely oblivious to what was to come. Those were glorious days when every little element of a film was largely left unearthed until you got your ass in a theater. No Internet meant no Spoiler Alert unless some jerk exited The Empire Strikes Back babbling on-and-on about Luke’s Daddy issues.
So, there you have it. A long, rambling preamble designed to illustrate my life-long love affair with film. As I mentioned above, that’s not REALLY what this post is about. By the end of this thing, I aim to mine some very real emotional depths. Hang on!!!
So, you see enough films and they start to lose their luster. It takes something special to come along and really grab your attention beyond simply entertaining you for a couple of hours. For me, I could probably count 20-30 movies a decade that I have strong affection for, filter that down to about 10 movies every 10 years that I truly love and then really sift through that 10 spot to get down to 1 maybe 2 in the same time period that I absolutely adore with every ounce of my heart.
I loved Pulp Fiction. Seven. Aliens. The Empire Strikes Back. Up in the Air. Fargo. Wall-E. I carry a good-sized list that is certainly much longer than that handful of films. There are so many I love.
But I adore The Shawshank Redemption.
It works on me on some base primal level. When I initially saw it, I had to coerce my buddy Sean to go see it with me. He thought it looked like some hackneyed prison escape story. The first time I caught the trailer – which excised author Stephen King’s name from the promotion in a bid to keep people from thinking it was another horror yarn – and they backed it with Carter Burwell’s haunting score from Miller’s Crossing – I knew this movie was just going to meld to my marrow.
So I went in with great expectations which is usually the quickest way down.
Instead, The Shawshank Redemption surpassed my hype and wrung my every emotion. It’s a great platonic love story among two friends who defy all odds. There is such beauty to it!!! Any time it’s on – no matter what point – if I’ve got nothing to do and nowhere to go, it sucks me right back in. When Andy Dufresne escapes Shawshank and Red offers up the following tribute to his friend, I feel the old ‘allergies’ coming on. Or maybe there’s just something in my eye.
“Sometimes it makes me sad, though… Andy being gone. I have to remind myself that some birds aren’t meant to be caged. Their feathers are just too bright. And when they fly away, the part of you that knows it was a sin to lock them up DOES rejoice. But still, the place you live in is that much more drab and empty that they’re gone. I guess I just miss my friend.”
Yesterday afternoon, I caught a screening of Silver Linings Playbook – which instantly tattooed itself to my heart. It hit me at just the right time.
By now, most of you know the news. I am divorced. That process began over a full year ago. By the time it became public, I had grieved it greatly. One day, I’ll write something that gets a little closer to my heart during that event – which remains my greatest failing to date. Not a tell all, per se – and certainly not something meant to throw anyone under the bus – AT ALL!!! But something that gets at my feelings through it all. I’m getting there. It just needs a little more time.
I’ll say this though – where I am now is exactly where I need to be. I wish my former wife NOTHING BUT THE BEST in this life. I have said this mantra over and over.
You have one life to live. You owe it to yourself to make it the best one.
That doesn’t make the separation and divorce any less tragic. We have children – two beautiful individuals who humble me greatly, inspire me mightily and always make me want to strive to be better than I was the moment before.
There are two events in my life where I have been brought to my knees by the knowledge that I was about to make a decision that directly impacted another’s life.
The first was when our dog Chatham was suffering from cancer and we made the call to have the vet come out and put her to sleep. Knowing that I had to say those words and that the vet would come in – and as I cradled my poor, sweet black lab’s head in my lap – and she looked up at me with all the unconditional love a dog has for their family – and then seeing her drift off to eternal slumber – that just rocked me to my core. The only thing that brought me out was funneling my grief into writing The Monkeybar Mafia. From the bad came great good.
The second time was the entire divorce – especially when it became all so real and the wheels started moving – and this was REALLY happening – while our children went day-by-day assuming that life was exactly the same as what they had been born into; a stable, functioning, nurturing nuclear family unit. Knowing that we held a trump card that would soon be revealed – that would alter their lives forever – well, again – you harken back to that line from Spider-Man – “With great power comes great responsibility.” The night before I knew we were going to tell the kids, it was like anti-Christmas Eve. I couldn’t sleep a wink for fear of dawn coming.
You all know how that worked out. Seriously, the kids have done fine. They have responded so well. They have been so resilient. They take their cues from Andi and I – whose love for them has NEVER wavered, only strengthened. But I’m forever haunted by the fact that because of our failing, we did shift their orbit ever so slightly. We didn’t ruin their lives. Far from it. They’ll have wonderful days and years ahead and they’ll continue to make our lives those that are so well-worth living – but there is no doubt – we changed a course.
And still, it bears repeating. We were not as happy as the way you yearn to be happy in a marriage. And that’s ultimately what led to our rational, mature, amicable split. There’s so much more to it – but at its core essence – that’s what it’s all about.
I’m 40. I thought by this point I was to be set in my ways. This is supposed to be the time when you get a little bit sedentary. Yet, somehow, I have more energy and drive than I had 10 years prior. The last few years have seen me taking on so many new challenges – things I never would have attempted back in my supposed prime. Singing in musicals. Writing and staging plays. Dancing in recitals. Coaching basketball. Completing a triathlon. Writing over 600 articles in 6 short years. Losing a ton of weight. All that came from 35 on.
That makes me feel a little proud.
But there is a palpable loneliness in me… and beyond that – a real yearning. Something that I didn’t really know I was looking for. Not until my marriage came crumbling down, and the dust settled and I got busy rebuilding a life – and finally dared to peek ahead. It’s only then, when I returned home to an empty apartment one chilly Sunday afternoon and felt, for the first time in a long-time, a loneliness stir. Not just stir. It rattled me. That was just after the holidays had ended. A week after New Years.
Take away all my trappings. My big flat screen LED TV. My iPhone. My MacBook. My Blu-Ray player. I couldn’t care less about any of it. There are so many evenings when I am home alone and could just get lost in a movie or crack open a few beers, watch a game and play up the bachelor pad stereotype, or head out and coax a friend or two to join me for a drink as half my week now affords me such freedom and I have no real want or need for it. For any of it. I like doing that stuff just fine BUT I feel like I have this hole that I need to fill. A yearning for someone I don’t have in my life. That special someone we all pine for that makes this whole life worth living. Where’s the fun in doing it alone?
It makes me dream this dream I harbor.
It’s something so simple that I desire. Something so attainable. A nice cozy house on a decent street – the type where you have great neighbors (maybe not perched on top of you but also not 30 acres away either). A true neighborhood. A back deck, overlooking a decent expanse of tree-lined back yard. Sitting outside, under a sea of blazing stars, watching the fireflies flicker and light while a cricket chorus heralds the night sky. Shooting stars whisk before my eyes every few minutes. And I’m sitting there, taking this all in alongside that amazing woman who HAS to be out there that I just truly connect with. Someone who you can spend all night chatting on and on and on about the most random of stuff or hunker down to deal with real world matters of the day or simply spend time in silence – not having to say a word but just knowing in a glance – in a stolen smile – that the grin is a glorious gift delivered for no other reason but that you exist in her world and she in yours.
It’s not a tall order. It seems complete plausible and possible. I mean, there are so many people on this planet. Someone for everyone and then some, supposedly. But so many times – so many of us end up missing our connection.
That’s where I am now. Seeking it. It’s what I want more than anything. I don’t want to drive this too desperately but I’ll be honest. This loneliness. It’s not for me. I don’t wear it well.
I got out of my marriage knowing more things about myself than I ever did – or admitted to – before. I know my strengths and my weaknesses better than ever. I’ve taken a long, hard look in the mirror and sized up just what I’ve done right in the last decade plus of my life – and where I could have been so much better. And I aim to do that. To be the better man.
I know what I want. I know what I deserve. And I know what I have to offer.
What I want is so simple. I just want someone to love me – and someone for me to love. We’re not talking fortune and glory here.
Which brings me back to Silver Linings Playbook.
I love love loved every second of that film. It is what inspired this piece – that rare movie that seems hard-wired just for me. David O’Russell’s highly personal flick (his son is bi-polar) is funny and sad and poignant and touching. It’s the type of movie where you just prefer to believe it wasn’t make-believe. This all really happened and somewhere out there, Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence are Pat and Tiffany and are PERFECT for each other.
This movie became wish-fulfillment fantasy for me. There are some big, bold romantic strokes that the film honestly earns. A friend of mine told me that when he saw it, he wanted to propose to the stranger sitting next to him. I wanted to find someone worthy of me learning how to ballroom dance for. But not just anybody. The perfect somebody. The girl who you just know your life is so much better with her in it – even if it’s just for a moment – just long enough for you to state your case.
A few weeks back, I was watching a Louie C.K. special and he had this routine where he went on about his appearance. He said, “I’ve never been the guy who got ANYTHING because of my looks. Take women. They take one look and they keep on moving but I’m like – just let me talk to you for FIVE MINUTES!!!”
That’s how I feel. If I find the right girl, “Just let me talk to you for five minutes”. Five minutes with the right person can make all the difference in the world. In five minutes, you can learn a lot about a person. In five minutes, you can spy hope or find nothing at all.
I don’t have an easy way to end this post. Like life, it’s a bit meandering. It’s how my brain has been of late. The past year threw me through the ringer. I’m sort of on an emotional see-saw; especially now when I know I’m 40 – not 30 – and hence the cards are stacked a little against me. I feel time bearing down a little bit. I feel a little impatient and a little scared that 40 years into this one life I get to live AND I have yet to encounter that girl that compels me to want to be a better person (to crib that great line from As Good As It Gets). Or, if I have, we didn’t connect at the right time.
As Robert DeNiro tells Bradley Cooper – “When life reaches out with a woman like this it’s a sin if you don’t reach back, I’m telling you its a sin if you don’t reach back! It’ll haunt you the rest of your days like a curse.”
I desperately want life to do the same for me. I’m at the point where I will reach back and hold on tight.
I just want my Silver Lining.