About a week after Fartbuster and I separated, he came by the house one night so we could talk. It had been a rough day for me. I had spent the afternoon at a funeral for the husband of a coworker. He had died too young after a grueling dose of stomach cancer. During the service, I stared at my wedding ring (I hadn’t told anyone that we were living apart yet) and wondered what would become of my life, who would cry for me. That evening, I was overwrought and wrung out and completely used up–so what BETTER time to hash things out with my wayward husband?
So there we met, leaning against the counters in our kitchen. My kitchen. The kitchen. Whatever. And Fartbuster was telling me all about the book he was reading–Hermann Hesse’s “The Glass Bead Game.” In great detail. Greeeeeeaaaat detail. Exhaustive detail. I’m leaning against the counter and listening to him go on and on about this esoteric novel that he probably read because no one else wanted to and it’s as if I finally SEE him for who he really is–someone who thinks he’ll be OK as long as he’s smart. Someone who thinks he’s really special because he’s smart. Someone who desperately needs a pat on the head as he hears, “Gosh, you’re smart!” That had been my job for ten years.
The Glass Bead Game is about the life of a young man who has been raised to be a member of the intellectual elite who goes on a quest to understand other forms of living. So it got Fartbuster thinking about Who He Wanted to Be. (And as a sidenote: remember that Who He WAS at this juncture was a barely employed man with a pregnant girlfriend that his patient and confused wife didn’t know about.)
Finally, he finishes going on about the book. He looks over at me and asks, “What’s your biggest fear in life?’
I considered it for a few moments and reflected back on how I had spent my emotional afternoon. “I think my biggest fear is not being loved. If I woke up in the morning and couldn’t think of anyone who gave a shit about me–that would be my worst nightmare.”
He nodded without saying anything.
“What’s yours?” I asked from my side of our kitchen.
He scrunched up his mouth, rubbed his beard and proclaimed, “Being ordinary. Y’know–wife, kids, house in the suburbs and a job.”
I stared at the pattern in the linoleum to give him time to elaborate. He added, “I want to do something bigger than that, something important.”
Our suburban kitchen ticked with the quiet that hung between us. In our time together, even though I read books just as fancy as the ones he read, I had always been the more practical of the two of us. I like a good Nobel Prize winner myself, but I also believe in paying the light bill. And that part of me had about had enough of making a life with Peter Pan.
“You call that ‘ordinary,’ but I went to a funeral today for one of the most ordinary men you’d ever care to meet. Husband, father, grandfather. Truck driver. House in the country. Watched Nascar. Went to church on Sunday. He was also 15 years sober and helped a lot of other people fight that battle. He was loved deeply and irreplaceable to his wife and daughter. He was funny. He was kind. A hundred people stood out there in the sunshine this afternoon and mourned the fact that he had passed. Just an ordinary guy.”
Fartbuster shrugged and I didn’t push it.
Well, if you’ve been reading here for a while, you know how the story turned out. I don’t talk much about how and where Fartbuster is today, but let me assure you…
- House in the suburbs
Thank my lucky stars that I got out of that marriage with my self intact, if somewhat tattered. I became a person I loved, then I found someone to love. Then I did it all again and again and again. My life keeps getting bigger since that time.
I found this quote about ordinariness and love. Reading it makes me feel a bit smug, because not too many years after Fartbuster placed me in the “ordinary” column, I went to Paris on my own and I found Oscar Wilde’s tombstone. I put on my brightest red lipstick and I kissed the memorial, leaving my mark. It was one of those moments when I looked back across what my life had become, back to that night in our kitchen. Ordinary? Hardly. Loved? Certainly.
In the words of Mr. Wilde: “Some cause happiness wherever they go; others whenever they go.”