In 1991 a friend drove down to Tampa from D.C. to visit me. The whole way down she listened to a CD from a new band called “They Might Be Giants”. She played it for me (many times) and it was good, but I’d have to say it was an acquired taste. Esoteric music. I later married that woman and we had 4 children together. We were partners for thirteen beautiful years… and one really horrible year.
They Might Be Giants put out several more albums in the coming years — each one stranger than the last — but all my kids could sing along with every song. The band probably had upwards of a thousand fans across the country. Not a hell of a lot to stake a music career on. Their big moment of fame came when the kids TV show “Malcolm in the middle” chose one of their songs as it’s theme song: “You’re not the boss of me now! You’re not the boss of me now! You’re not the boss of me now! …Life is unfair…“
About 7 years after we were divorced I was sitting around with Boston John — also known as Malcolm (no relation to the guy in the middle) — when my phone rang. It was my ex-wife. She explained that They Might Be Giants was coming to town, and in her excitement she’d bought 2 tickets online. When the ether wore off she realized she didn’t know of a single person — with the possible exception of me — who would even want to go with her. She asked me if I wanted to go.
“Uh, yeah… I kinda do…“
“OK. Come by the house on Friday.“
I hung up the phone and said to Malcolm: “This is gonna be stressful…“
“Actually, it’s going to be the most relaxing night of your life.” he told me. He was never the quickest study, so I refreshed him on the situation.
“This is my ex-wife we’re talking about… The one who called me ‘a bastard son of Satan’ in divorce court!“
“Yeah, I know. That’s why it’s going to be the most relaxing night of your life. There’s nothing you can do to disappoint this woman. That girl in accounting you’ve been talking to? If you take her out to dinner and you make one joke about a political candidate she worked for in college, the fuckin’ date’s over, dude. But with your ex-wife you can walk halfway across the restaurant and slap the cell phone out of some lady’s hand for talking too loud, and your ex-wife will just look at the table next to you and explain: ‘…Sometimes he can be a real Asshole!’ Whatever you do, she’s seen you do worse. She’s the only woman in the world you can’t surprise… Good *or* bad.“
It made a strange kind of sense I couldn’t argue with, but I wasn’t going to agree with it either; it went against everything I knew to be true about relationships.
When the night of the concert came, I had no idea what to expect. We went out to dinner first, and fell into a familiar pattern of me making little jokes and her chuckling and shaking her head in amused disbelief. Then a lady halfway across the restaurant started talking too loud on her cell phone, and I got the image of me storming across the restaurant, and I just started laughing.
“What’s so funny?“
“Well…” I tried to explain “… my buddy has this theory…” and I told her what he’d said.
First her eyes got wide and darted a glance at the lady on the phone, the one who was about to taste my terrible wrath. But when she looked back at me, she saw that I was still smiling. She paused for a minute and said: “He’s right, you know. I’ve seen the worst of you, and I’m still here, because I’ve seen the best of you, too“. I could see her whole body relax.
And the rest of the night went amazingly well. The most relaxing night of my life, maybe.
What I learned that night is that I don’t have to be angry with someone now just because they made me angry 50 times in the past. I don’t have to hurt today, just because I was hurt once. My ex-wife is truly a good friend today — one of my strongest supporters — but this is not about her. Or even about her and me. She and I. Us. Whatever.
This is about “Healing and change can happen if you let it”, and how society has a bunch of silly-assed rules about how you have to feel about ex-wives and husbands, mother-in-laws, patriotism, lawyers, and democrats. I took these ideas and held them close, thinking that if I believed these “truths” I would finally be happy. At 39 years of age I was so damn happy that I dreamed of taking a right on a bridge every day of my life.
Alcoholics Anonymous did not give me a “belief system”. That’s not what it does, and is what differentiates it from a cult. What it gave me — though the practice of the steps — is an “examination system”, so I can develop my own belief system. I have been able to cast out old ideas that no longer fit with what I have been able to discern as “The Truth”. It’s an ongoing journey, and I’m quite sure I won’t finish it before I leave this realm, but I know I’m getting closer because I’m getting happier.