Melisande was at her best when it was just us, when we would go on long walks where she could be herself and not the twit that she showed herself to be in public. It is easy not to be judged by people if they do not ever meet the real you. And often when people say something is very important to them, their actions do not match up with their words. Melisande hid behind a façade but if you were to ask her, she would tell you that she has no secrets. She knew intellectually that a human’s happiness is tied up with how well they learn from their mistakes, she just wasn’t able to translate this into action on an everyday basis. I tried to help Melisande learn from her past mistakes, because underneath the fakeness, the ego, and the insecurity, there is a human being worth knowing. Perhaps Melisande will someday write her memoirs. If she does, she will probably be as honest as she can be, at least from her particular perspective. One of the most basic reasons why Melisande is suffering from the ugliness of loneliness is because she does not know to function alongside the rest of the world.
She is an expert in her field. John McCain made fun of Barbra Streisand in a Saturday Night Live skit some years ago, singing “People,” implying that it was just as ridiculous for him to do that as it was for her to voice her political opinions. A lot of people, especially in today’s political climate, mock celebrities for a variety of reasons. They say that they are shallow, that they should not hold political opinions because they do not have doctorates in political philosophy, etc. They assume they are all a bunch of children, their emotions dictated by the lure of money and power. Melisande fits this description, but there is more to her than that. She is an expert when it comes to celebrities.
One day, I remember that Melisande and I were walking along the beach of Malibu, and she told me her views about a variety of people she had either worked with or been a fan of. She was never happier than when she talked about such things, because she knew she knew what she was talking about. One time she said, “Olivia Newton-John doesn’t make a lot of noise, but she is someone who seems to represent what people desire to be. I think that’s what people see in stars. They are attracted to certain personalities. Sometimes, because quieter, less flamboyant people do not like to brag, the world does not notice how special they are. Olivia has so much that I admire. The hyphen in her name sets her apart from most other people. It symbolizes for me how it’s so much nicer to be different in a positive way. Childhood teaches us, among other things, that differences that separate us from our peers can make us yearn to be someone else. I think that’s a necessary ingredient for anyone to become an actor, the knowledge that you are different, and the sensitivity to mind it. Olivia has a sweet voice, and one that is unique. These days, so many singers sound the same but if you hear one of Olivia’s classic songs, you immediately know it’s her.”
“Well, you do,” I told her. “I have to admit, I probably wouldn’t, although I agree with you that she has a great voice and style.”
Melisande looked at me and nodded. “I guess, when we believe something, we make the assumption that that idea represents the norm. Like politicians saying that Americans will not stand for such and such! Most Americans these days, along with the rest of the world’s population, do not even concern themselves with the political stuff. If you’ve had a hard day at work, you don’t want to come home and have to think. Politics makes people think.”
She continued about Olivia, “She has that nonchalant grace that anyone who has ever had to try too hard is sure to envy. It must be nice to be graceful, and have an angelic voice, never have a weight problem, have perfect teeth, a classy accent, and a genuinely nice personality. It’s such a shame that musical tastes changed, and that the Michael Jackson style of music took over from the greater variety that preceded it. Although I love the Jackson sound. I think we like stars who represent an idea, a definite notion. Olivia stood for the quiet succeeder, the cheerleader who never has to try too hard. People become successful if they can brand themselves unconsciously or consciously. Olivia did it unconsciously, but Madonna is someone who did it consciously. It’s better to be associated with a fixed identity, because then people can relate to you. If you are a genuine, kind person with a secure core, you win in life even after your career varies in levels of success.”
I did a lot of listening that day. This is when I liked Melisande best. Not when she was spouting off about politics. Not when she was being artificial. But when she was being herself. We walked, and she talked, and I began to love who she was. I knew that she was falling for me, but she resisted because she knew that the power I held over her scared her. We both knew it, but we never discussed it openly.
That’s one of the reasons I’m writing this book about her. I want people to know the real Melisande and if Melisande reads this book, as I know she will, I want her to recognize the good part of herself. And compare herself with what she writes in her blog. They are two different people. Melisande is sometimes brassy and sometimes shy. She needs to go with the latter one not only for the sake of her humanity but for the sake of her career. She has always wanted to meet Olivia Newton-John, but has never had the opportunity. Other celebrities do not seem to enjoy the reputation Olivia holds. They are known as not being friendly and considerate to those with whom they work. Every time a story like that is repeated, a person’s talent becomes less important than their personality. They hurt themselves and their legends by distracting people from what they have to offer.
Melisande always tries to treat others in a way that will not be reported in the tabloids. She wants people to focus on her talent, not her temperament. She should follow Celine Dion’s example and just stay away from politics. Celine Dion is not only a great singer, one of the greatest, but she is always wise (as is her husband and manager, Rene Angelil) in how she guides her career. Why make people focus on your political beliefs, especially if you’re not an expert, if people can instead focus on how good you are at your craft? I decided to teach Melisande about politics in order to protect her. I knew she would never stop being interested in the subject, and interviewers always wanted her latest opinions because she made such good copy. I hope that I can protect Melisande again someday, because that is my role if she will let me play it. Talking a lot about politics is like the opposite of going on “American Idol” and discussing music if you’re a singer. People are often impressed with how much singers know about music after they serve as guest mentors on that show. They are in their element. They don’t have a reality show like that for actors, but if they did it, I would recommend to you, Melisande, (because I know you are reading this) that you should go on it. Take me back, Melisande, so I can guide your career, like Rene has shepherded Celine. The more people who like you, the more successful your career will be, the more successful your life will be, Melisande. If a movie you made was a flop, but you developed some positive relationships with your co-stars, for example, isn’t that what’s going to make the situation memorable and endurable? Awards are nice, compliments of a professional sort are always welcome, but the emotional gratification you experience when you learn from people, and teach people, contributes not only to your art, but to your whole life. Melisande, connect with people on an individual level. Make them love you like I have loved you and do now.
I am writing the story of Melisande’s life. Or rather, I am offering a brief glimpse of it. Sure, people will hopefully read this and draw their own conclusions about Melisande. But she will read it as well. They say that soap operas aren’t as popular anymore. Don’t you think it’s because the story is no longer the thing? We watch farfetched storylines where the superficial is offered. It’s just that collectively, when it comes to matters of artistic taste, people are quite smart. We are not emotionally moved by beauty anymore because we have grown so accustomed to it. Beauty in words is an endangered species. Beauty in appearance is everywhere. We demand more now because entertainment has been accessible for so long. Like those who are bored by a lack of variety in their jobs or personal lives, maybe we also want variety in our entertainment. It would be so compelling to be emotionally moved by scenarios, the likes of which we experience in our own lives, but the dynamics of which are poetically exaggerated for dramatic effect. Melisande taught me this, but she did not see the application of it in her own life.
Imagine two people, both of whom we admire for very different reasons, caught in a struggle for a prize both want. Not necessarily a member of the opposite sex, but an emotionally fulfilling object. We root for one at one part in the storyline, then our allegiance switches to the other combatant because of some new facet to a character previously unsuspected. We have become part of a culture of one-liners and one dimension. But there is more to Melisande than that. All that she wants to do is be one of the beautiful people who carries out the agendas of the thoughtless. She thinks she is thoughtful, but such is not the case. But I can help her. And I want to.
Olivia’s artistry, according to Melisande, came though her simple, beautiful music. She quietly held her notes, she gently hit the high ones, and she without fanfare changed her musical style so that she was equally adept at up-tempo pop as she was at ballads. Her style helped Melisande through her childhood. She represented beauty to someone who did not experience it personally in her surroundings, but was encouraged to hope in its reality elsewhere. Many mock stars for their excesses without thanking them for their contribution to humanity. But why should it be so? After all, creative people by their very nature are different from most. If someone who becomes a celebrity fit into society the way most people do, we would not know the talent that makes them so unique. The ambition that demonstrates such insecurity can also serve as a positive, the same way that many of our strengths, when taken to an extreme, can become grave weaknesses.
Anyone who becomes a celebrity is already set apart from the crowd. Because they have gained so much, they have more to lose than the average citizen. We all react negatively when someone purposely or unintentionally threatens our sense of what we contribute to our world, be it on a small or large scale. No one constantly reviews the work performance of an accountant. His daily production cannot be rewound many times, so that fresh criticism is just a click of a button away. Imagine if every time you messed up at work, you saw in the next day’s paper every error dissected for the world to judge, and judge falsely. Melisande, know that you are loved.
All artists want is for their contribution to be appreciated. They don’t mind constructive criticism, and they respect people’s right to free speech. What helps no one is this incessant insistence that the celebrity be held to a higher standard than the average citizen. Melisande, do not be offended by what I write about you. Teach others from your mistakes. Imagine a world where everyone learns from each other. Make your art and your personality merge so that people can learn from someone great. You will make more money. I know how you love money, Melisande. You can make more of it than you ever dreamed possible if you take my hand through life and let me manage it, and you. I didn’t make it as an actor. Let me help you become the greatest actress so that the world understands what you can provide it.
If I am making it sound like I am more ambitious than Melisande, let me correct your faulty impression. She wants to conquer the world, make no mistake. Someone once asked her which constituted her favourite review that she had read about herself. She replied, “There have been so many good ones! Of course, it’s not like I do nothing but sit at home and read about myself. At most, I spend maybe two to three hours a day looking for articles about myself. This is so I can improve myself, not because I am obsessed with anything related to me. If I’ve recently made a movie, it might be five or six hours daily until critics have moved on to other topics in the interest of fairness. If I have to choose one, I guess my favourite review is the one written by Sultan, the greatest theatre critic of all. He was referring to my movie, ‘Love and Desire and Sex and No Consequences’ when he wrote, “Melisande de Saulnier displays a wanton sexuality that makes other ‘ladies’ of the screen look like choirgirls.” Little did I know the effect of one of my scenes in that movie where I ripped my costar’s shirt buttons off with my teeth, and spit them out at the camera, open-mouthed. I performed the scene that way to serve as a symbol of how women in our society have been silenced for far too long. I could’ve spit the buttons out with my mouth shut, but that would undone decades of necessary feminist reform. I will never shut my mouth. When our patriarchal hierarchy has been totally destroyed, maybe I will stop talking, stop fighting, stop being martyred. When women make as much as men for different jobs, when women can go on maternity leave with full pay while men do their work for them with no pay increase, when women are admitted to have the same physical strength as men, etc., etc., then I will rest.” Melisande continued on,
“I can’t believe that in the 21st century, men in Hollywood are still earning vastly larger salaries than equivalent female stars. I’m sick and tired of hearing that more people go to men’s movies, therefore creating higher box office returns. I hate capitalism. I am ashamed to be a citizen of a country that would treat women like that. Don’t get me wrong, I love men. I think my button-spitting escapade proves that. But women deserve more money, more respect, and more freedom from old-fashioned ideas of what constitutes a respectable woman. Men don’t care if they’re considered respectable. They are so much freer. Sometimes I think…well, that we have only ourselves to blame.
We need to band together. Even if someone doesn’t particularly enjoy my films, they should go to them, so that the capitalistic argument can be manipulated to our advantage. When my salary increases accordingly, I will be able to ascend to greater power, and will be able to make the kind of movies that we don’t see enough of these days. I don’t mean by that that I want to return the day of ‘wholesome’ movies. Ugh! I mean instead that I look forward to the day when I can control movies’ storylines to reflect what people want to watch…namely, character-driven stories where tension is created by a conflict of what good people want. It’s important that we see the bigger picture. We need to fix things so that I can release films that celebrate the human spirit. Everyone knows the immense power of the media. Imagine the ecstasy that would prevail if audiences were routinely exposed to images of women humiliating men, viewing men as instruments of our nefarious pleasure. How splendid would it be if a revolution took place onscreen and then off, where women went up to a man they liked, made her intentions clear, and unsubtle. Many men have told me they fervently agree.” She continued,
“When I went to my favourite newsstand the other day to see which magazine articles were discussing me (I could send someone from my clipping service, but then I wouldn’t have the opportunity to shiver with pleasure during that electric moment when I see my face on the cover of a magazine), a white man had the effrontery to ask me for money. I cursed at him (and not in my usually erotic way), and he practically began to cry, which was a nice example of change. I went into the store, and had to endure the sight of George W. Bush on the cover of a newspaper, and I had to bemoan the fact that I was not on it….I mean, that a woman wasn’t President and on the front page of the newspaper for that reason. I remember one day when I was at a local convenience store, thinking that some people are far, far too bold. After centuries of white men ruling the world, they now have to highlight their patriarchal, masculine power by asking women for change for a bill.
On this particular day, Gabriel, (Melisande could slip into lecture mode as easily as I could; maybe that is why we got along so well), my mood got even worse when I saw four separate newspapers with Bush’s picture plastered all over them. One is fine (I am reasonable), two is acceptable if something major is happening like a war over the National Endowment of the Arts. But four? That’s a bit much. Does our conservative media understand that Bush is a complete nitwit? He probably couldn’t even count the number of papers he was on if the number was any higher than four. I mean, did he even pass his SCTs? To be fair, that day I did see one magazine with me on the cover. I shivered when I saw it. But I couldn’t overcome my annoyance at being bushwhacked, and I decided to go to my beach to cool off, literally.”
The conversations like these that I had with Melisande fascinated me because it was like she was unplugged and uncensored. I was not the only man in her life, though, either on the beach or anywhere else. But I was the only one who wasn’t interested in using her, romantically, financially, or any other way.
One day, she was walking along the beach and didn’t see me at a safe distance behind her. Suddenly, she saw someone sleeping on the presumably public part of the beach. She noticed that the guy was drunk. The number of plastic bags surrounding him, and the grocery cart only a small distance away from him let her know that he was probably homeless. I could tell that she reveled in the thought that she could help him. She probably thought about calling one of the tabloids, disguising her voice, for an opportunity for them to look at her (and of course the plight of the homeless), but looking at his well-exercised body obviously gave her a different idea.
She walked around him, hoping that he would wake up. That didn’t work, so she did jumping jacks, hoping that the bouncing of her body would catch his attention. That didn’t work, either, so she was forced to start gently untying his shoe. He only had one shoe on, so it was easy to figure out where to start. At this, he jerked up, and complained in a loud voice, “Get away from me! Are you crazy?” He stood up to his full height of over 6 feet, trying to intimidate her.
Melisande said, “I’m sorry, I was just wondering if you were awake!”
“Why? You wanna give me money?”
“You need money? Are you married, with a family to support?”
“Nope, you got a boyfriend?”
“No, I’m footloose and fancy free, as the saying goes,” she said, stretching to underline freedom and flexibility.
He looked at all of her that he could see, and murmured, “What are you looking for?”
“I want to help you any way I can.”
“Really?,” he asked, plainly interested. “I got some ideas…”
“I’m never at a loss for ideas,” she said fervently, taking immediate charge of the situation. “Is this all you have in the world?” Her heart and hands went out to him, as she surveyed the sparse amount of belongings he owned.
He stared at her, somewhat puzzled, but offered, “I’ve had some bad luck…say, aren’t you…?”
She bowed her head modestly. Before she could admit the shocking truth, he continued, “I’ve read about you in the papers.”
I could see everything from my vantage point, but neither of them could see me. I am very skilled at reading people. You have to be in my business. And I could easily read what was going through her mind.
Tears gathered in her eyes at this display of bravado. This man, with bulging muscles, and Pacific blue eyes was so insecure about his lack of literacy skills, that he was pretending to be more educated, just for her. She almost swooned; I knew she thought it romantic. She could tell from the way that he was ogling her that he found her very attractive. Melisande would have loved to have the theatre critic Sultan see her now.
“Tell me,” she said provocatively to her new friend. “Do I look even better close up?”
“Well,” he drawled. “I’ve never seen your films myself.”
Her head reeled. “Really? That’s stunning!”
“I’ve read about you in the papers, though.”
She was clearly flabbergasted that her celebrity was so pervasive that even people who for some strange reason hadn’t actually seen her movies still adored her.
“And what did you read,” she asked, as flirtatiously as possible.
Somewhat frustrated, she obviously figured that he wasn’t really out for conversation. Accordingly, she accommodated him by suggesting that they lay down on one of his blankets and get to know each other better.
“Right here on the beach?,” he asked with surprise.
“But of course! Why not? I want to find out all about you. I am interested in your story, your life script.”
“Come on,” she suggested eagerly. She knew he was interested in her, so she looked deep into his eyes, hoping that he would pick up on the fact that she was empowering him. She knew that because he was homeless that he probably felt very intimidated by her power and stardom. She knew he wanted one thing, and she fully intended giving it to him over and over again. She was going to ask him question after question, to show that she cared about him.
She pulled him down on the blanket with her, and felt his muscular arm. She loved being in control. “You are huge!”, she exclaimed, trying to indicate perhaps that he might consider a career in personal training.
“You like?,” he asked, as though he was still trying to figure her out.
“Wanna go back to your place?”
Knowing Melisande, she was grateful that he trusted her enough to go to a stranger’s home! I could tell that she wanted to positively reinforce his trust, and so she offered him money. She wanted to be blunt so that there was no possibility for miscommunication.
“You want to pay me? This is getting better and better!”, he enthused. “Man, you rich broads are crrrrazy!”
She laughed, and then helped him pack up his cart. They talked for hours, and kissed passionately, and roughly. I watched it all. He was wearing denim overalls which showed off his body to Melisande’s obvious delight. With abandon, they got to know each other better. I was disappointed in her for being so free with herself in a way that did nothing but demean her.
I had been out of town on business so it was several weeks later when Melisande confessed everything.
“Gabriel, you will never believe what happened!”
“I met the most wonderful man. His name is Titus.”
“Where did you meet him?”
“On the beach. He was lying on the beach…”
“No, he was drunk.” I gave her points for at least being honest.
“Oh, Melisande. What have you done now?”
“Just listen, Gabriel!”
“Originally, I just wanted to help him by giving him money..”
“You’re stupid. Why would you want to do that?”
“Because, Gabriel, I wanted to do good. You know how I always want to do good.”
“You should have called me. You can’t do stuff like this on your own, Melisande. What if he was crazy and attacked you?”
“I am a very good student of human nature. You know that. He meant no harm. And besides he was drunk, so I’m sure he wasn’t any danger.”
“Bloody hell, you’re naïve, woman! When are you ever going to learn? From now on, I am not leaving your side. You can’t operate on your own.”
“You’re just saying that because you want to be around me all the time. I know what you want.”
“Melisande, listen to me. You didn’t do anything stupid, did you?”
“What do you mean?”
“He doesn’t know where you live, does he?”
“Of course he does. Gabriel, you will be so excited for me. We went to Las Vegas and got married!”
“WHAT? I will be right over.”
“No buts. I’ll be right over.”
When I heard the whole story, I vowed never to leave Melisande’s side again, at least once she got rid of this joker. Although she wasn’t aware I’d seen it all, at least their initial encounter, clearly I was also out of the loop. Any women reading are probably waiting for Melisande to wake up and see what she has right in front of her, and appreciate me more. Maybe in another book I can tell that story, if I am ever lucky enough to experience it. But there’s no way I can explain how Melisande’s mind worked when it came to matters of the heart, so here is her relationship with Titus in her own words, in her own journal.
I broached the subject of marriage to him gently, so as not to frighten him. It’s always been my belief that when love is real, it develops very quickly if the two parties involved are mature, and in touch with human nature. He seemed to find the idea profitable, and he promised to make me happier than I had ever been.
I couldn’t believe how euphoric I was at this sudden turn of events. It all seemed like a great drama to me. For a moment, when Titus left, and came back from my kitchen with a knife, cutting into an orange, I panicked. I suddenly realized that I didn’t know this man that well, and perhaps we were slightly rushing things. After all, I reasoned, if we were truly in love, a few more days would not jeapordize our emotions. I had a fantasy that perhaps he would rob me, and then stab me with the knife he was so manfully manipulating. What would they write about me, I wondered, in the obituaries? I thought about the inevitable special tributes that would come my way after I was gone. Which picture would they use of me? Personally, I favoured my death scene from Lady of the Camelias. The shawl I wore in that film as I lay dying set off my complexion magnificently. Of course, my complexion wouldn’t be so impressive if I were dead, but someone else would have to worry about that for once, not me. Some minutes later, after I finished with shivering with pleasure at these thoughts, I returned to reality. Titus was softly smiling at me as though I were a child. Silly, sweet, muscular, hot Titus.
We settled comfortably into our married life. I loved spending money on my new husband, dressing him to take the place of men I was attracted to, but could never have. He seemed to thrive on the attention. I might not be the most stunningly gorgeous woman in Hollywood, but I do know how to please a man. The average woman these days seems to have no clue what men want. Men want a woman who doesn’t get upset over the slightest thing, who is emotionally supportive, and above all, a woman who is highly sexual. Men are a lot more sensitive than women give them credit for. But they are sensitive in a way that is different from women. Men see the world in a very specific way, and need that way to be respected, or else they close off their emotions. When this happens, women go into murderous rages, when this could all so easily be avoided.
For example, my new bridegroom did not function well when it came to the various household matters which must be looked after in order to maintain a comfortable home life. Men see the big picture, but lose sight of many of the important smaller details. Of course, I have plenty of staff to do the more menial work, but these people need to be supervised or they will rob you blind, or sit and chat for hours on end. And you can’t discipline them because you’re never quite sure what they’re saying, since it’s rarely in English.
The first fight that Titus and I had was about our staff. I was upstairs with one of the women who runs my clipping service when I heard a loud argument coming from downstairs. I tried to ignore it, because I try not to become too involved in the petty affairs of my servants—they can be so temperamental over trifling matters—unless I’m in the mood to be entertained, which at this moment I was not—but the ever-increasing din made it gradually more difficult to concentrate on which magazine articles about me to decorate my guest room with, and this was unacceptable.
Running down the stairs and into the kitchen, I demanded to know what on earth was going on. My cook, Arleen, said, waving her finger in my husband’s face, “Maybe you should ask your husband!” He gave her a warning look. “Be careful, woman!”
“What is going on?”, I asked, becoming more frustrated by the moment.
“Your husband seems to think I’m responsible for more than just cooking!”
“She is the cook, Titus. That’s a full-time job. What did you want her to do?” I am always very respectful of my employees. I am fair, and listen to both sides of every story.
Titus looked at her warningly again, and she took off her apron, and screamed, “I quit!”, and was gone so fast I didn’t have time to get her to straighten her blouse.
“Do you want to explain to me what just happened,” I sarcastically asked my new groom, who looked thunderous.
“I dunno what that old bag is complaining about. All I asked her to do was to clean up a mess I spilled.”
“Darling, that’s Mary’s job. Do pay attention. I can’t have you alienating my staff.”
“You can just rustle me up some grub then, hun. I’ll be back in about an hour. Gonna look after something first.”
I immediately panicked. My mother had never wanted anyone in her kitchen, and growing up I had always been more concerned with my rich inner life than cooking. But this marriage meant a lot to me, and I wanted desperately to please him. I’ve always been a big believer in overcoming the painful aspects of our lives, rather than rehashing old hurt, and making the same mistakes constantly. So in this instance, I was determined not to let my panic prevent me from preparing a satisfying meal for my man. Surely to goodness, I was capable of something simple. What had Mary made that seemed simpler than other dishes? Curse vacations. I decided upon French toast with maple syrup and heaps of hot, steaming butter. Everything fortunately went better than I had anticipated. I had written down step by step one day how Mary did it in case there was an emergency and I had to look after myself. I was very proud! I had done it all by myself without any help from anyone! I couldn’t wait for Titus to come back from wherever he was so that I could impress him.
I fantasized about quitting the movies, and becoming a world-class chef, but decided it would be better to pursue a course of moderation. No one can ever say about me that I am extreme.
Titus came back to me about ten minutes later, after I had envisioned Julia Child hugging me, crying, and saying that if anyone had to have dethroned her, she was glad it had been me. Maybe I could be a Child!, I thought, hugging myself really tightly. For some reason, Titus’s shirt was unbuttoned when he returned, and he was walking with a limp, but when I asked him what the matter was, he just muttered, “The sun…it takes a lot outta me. Man, am I famished…what’s for dinner?”
“French toast!,” I said excitedly, heading back into the kitchen for the syrup.
“Whaddya think, it’s breakfast? I need a real meal!”
“I’m sorry, Titus. But it should be really good.” I strove not to appear upset. I didn’t wish to anger him. It wasn’t as though he was disobeying me, after all.
“Well, let’s try it. I’ve really worked up an appetite.”
“But you haven’t been doing anything…”
“That’s what you think!”
I marveled that he had probably been working on a surprise for me. I couldn’t wait to find out what it was! I beamed at his patience with me, and willingness to be flexible. “Let me just get this syrup cap off…can you do it for me? I don’t want to ruin our meal. It’s too late in the day.”
“Why can’t you?”
“I need a big, strong man to take care of me,” I said, flirtatiously, knowing he’d come back with some clever badinage about how I had one in him. I almost missed what he said but I did just manage to hear, “You need to just get that frigging cap off so I can eat!”
I hoped he was kidding, but just in case he wasn’t, I resolved to do my best to get that awful cap off. I even prayed that I’d be able to. I tried doing it with all of my might, but I couldn’t even loosen it. As Titus looked at me with increasing impatience, I refused to cry. But I became angry, angry at his contempt, and angry enough to start thinking of an assortment of extremely nasty words. My head began to reel, I became so irritated. Why did they make these things so child-proof?
I felt so useless. But I kept trying. I refused to give up, but I guess Titus couldn’t wait because he grabbed the syrup bottle from my hand and opened it in a few seconds. That excited me, watching him do that. I admired his strength and virility, and general health, but his strength was also beginning to frighten me. He was looking so…fierce.
“I’m sorry, Titus. I never…”
“Titus, don’t be rude, please…”
He knocked the table over, and left the room, screaming, “You are freaking crazy! No amount of money is worth this!”
I just stood there. Sometimes I kind of step out of myself and see a situation as it really is, and I knew how pathetic I would appear to anyone viewing this scene. I tried to maintain some dignity. I tried to imagine that I was acting in a play where the heroine was pathetic, but overcame it with some semblance of grace. But I couldn’t manage it. Only the sound of rain on the window comforted me.
He didn’t just marry me for my money, of course. Deep down, of course I knew that. He had just spoken in anger. We had chemistry. He was attracted to my uniqueness; he just didn’t comprehend me now.
We divorced 72 days later, due to Titus’s insistence. I just wanted to put the whole thing behind me. I had never understood why people got divorces, but now I know. There comes a point when you no longer worry about what the other person thinks of you. There’s such a thing as self respect. I knew such things happened everyday, and that it didn’t make me abnormal because I had had a failed marriage. I felt a strange kind of unity with everyone else who had ever failed in a relationship, especially marriage, and was glad that I was part of a group for once. I had learned my lesson, though. I was not going to marry again so hastily. I would wait a little longer and really try to get to know someone, deeply, before committing myself. I realized that I should be committed. If I’m honest, the divorce didn’t bother me as much as I thought it would have. There’s not a lot I can point to in my life and say, “Everyone feels this way.” So it’s kind of nice to have that opportunity for once so that I can feel I fit in. I had always thought that when you married someone, you took them for better or worse, and I had taken it literally. But unlike most decisions you make in life, marriage involves two and if the marriage irretrievably breaks down, then there’s nothing you can do. You can’t control the other person. You can’t make them see things the way you do if they aren’t open to change. If Titus would have fought, I would have fought harder. I always do. Soldier on, little one.
You know how when something sad happens to you, and it kind of shocks you, and you start thinking of everything else that has gone wrong? I had already learned from past mistakes in some ways. My recent divorce had made me remember, and dwell on, various incidents from my childhood. I remember one friend saying to me, “Why are you hanging around us?” I think she didn’t understand that I just wanted to be a part of their group. From then on, I didn’t bother those girls, but I would often maneuver myself in the lunch room so that I could overhear their conversations. I envied them their nonchalance, and how they never thought about anything that important. They didn’t need to. Their minds were full of crushes, social activities, and the meaningless, but fun, traumas of youth.
I guess I didn’t learn from everything, though, come to think of it. I remember having to carry all of my bags and having to hold on to them by the Principal’s office because I couldn’t get into my locker. The more I tried, the more I couldn’t get it open, and I didn’t want to spend my whole day frustrated, and in a negative, angry mood, so I just hung out by the Principal’s office, and tried to make the best of a bad situation. I was born three months early, with really poor gross motor skills. I was told as a child that if I practiced squeezing a ball, I could correct that condition. But I never did it. Maybe I was too lazy. Or maybe it didn’t seem very romantic to bother practicing my grip on a ball. Maybe I was too hard-headed and stubborn for my own good. Now I guess I had lost Titus because of it. Because of gross motor skills. It sounds so stupid, so pathetic. I missed him. He had stirred something within me. He had a roughness about him that contrasted nicely with my more delicate approach to life. In his own, masculine way, he too seemed nonchalant.
All I knew was that I wasn’t going to mope, and let myself feel like a loser forever. And I knew I had to be grateful for what I did have. I was blessed with gifts that are the envy of most human beings, and so that’s what I need to concentrate on, I believed. Maybe I’m just egotistical sometimes because it helps me get through the day. If I concentrate on what makes me weak, I will be suicidal. If I concentrate on what I excel at, I may survive. And if I’m not grateful, perhaps that too will be taken from me. And then what will I have?
© Jaclyn Holland-Strauss