“It (love) can’t be taught, bargained or bought…” was my first vocalist solo in the fourth grade. Unfortunately, everyone had a solo in fourth grade and I had a skewed sense of entitlement to a far longer solo. I mean, even my tone-deaf boyfriend-for-a-week at the time had a solo with as many words. In retrospect, I’m sure he would’ve volunteered his line to me as well, but I wasn’t as cunning back then and simply scorned my music teacher for being so blind. I had begun my “you-will-regret-this-someday” attitude, enhanced by my adulation for Bette Midler, who had experienced the same level of dismissal when she was my age. Or at least my worn-out copy of Ladies Home Journal with Midler on the cover allowed me to believe.
Maybe these initial stirrings were where I allowed myself to create a wall around any aspirations towards love and relationships, embracing external goals to rule the world and show ’em all over romantic love and coupling. If you ask me straight out, I will protest any interest in settling down or ever getting married. Yet if you are around me long enough and watch the moon glisten in a dark sky, feel the wind shift, or the right song to come on my story will change. This weekend I headed upstate, investigating the everlasting relationships and marriages that were set as a model for me. My grandfather, blue-collar all the way, awaited me at the bus stop and I flashed back to my early memories of him when my grandmother was still alive. She’s been gone for 18 years now, buried somewhere in his past that brings flinches of pain when stories of her come up. Yet if you look closely, you can find traces of her remains everywhere… the specialty plates that read “Dot 36” (which I tried to decipher the chosen number “36” with him, finding the synchronicity that it is also my birthday) or the faded Pound Puppies (remember those novelties from the ’80’s) that still sit on the dashboard as travel companions.
This was the first time since I was child that I rode shotgun in my grandfather’s truck, instantly arising memories from the years spent jotting up and down the east coast on my grandmother’s lap. Tears stung my eyes, as I realized how much has changed since then as I placed my feet on the dash, which used to warrant my grandfather’s scolding of “Get your feet off the dash!!” Of course he didn’t mind much then, or even now as I left my dirty shoe prints along the console. I recently read an article that said any child who loses a parent or close loved one will spend the rest of their life wondering when each person they get close to will leave them as well.
Yet, while I was next to him I kept questioning what my grandparents could have possibly had in common. I remembered their passionate arguments and make-up moments that followed. I remembered the absolute adoration you could trace to my grandfather’s eyes when they went shopping and he followed her around carrying all our coats and gear, eager to purchase any item that would bring her contentment. Even though he was a hard-working, frugal man he would not hesitate to spend his last dime to make her happy. She was fastidious and neat, often dressed in perfectly pressed white slacks and pastel blouses, with a heavy perfume that would leave stay long after she had left. My grandfather was the opposite; his fingernails marked by black grime from hours toiling in the garage and his t-shirts and flannel shirts always smelling of hard work and gasoline. He lost most of his hearing at an early age, so it was hard to imagine communicating with him all those years without being frustrated (particularly with his finely attuned use of “selective hearing”). When I asked him about his early dating life, he alluded to frivolous courting that was in the name of fun but that my grandmother was it for him after the age of nineteen until years after she passed away. The only conclusion I came to is that he loved her with all his heart, they enjoyed traveling extensively with one another, and they always sought to help others in need.
My grandfather dropped me off with my parents so I could enjoy a sleepover with my favourite six-year-old, who was revved up and ready to go. His affection for me is often overwhelming. but our times together are so refreshing and real. I took him down to the Hudson River the next day, where he spent hours collecting bricks from the riverbed, in his desires to build me a house. I found that scolding or bossing him around is entirely ineffective at times, particularly when he thought it was wise to tread into the water on his quest. The river taught him better than I could that April is not the best time for wading.
Yet, I found myself relating to his determination to accomplish his mission on that day. I have foregone many physical comforts on this journey for the sake of reaching my ultimate goals. Before I dropped him back home, he looked at me and said, “Michelle you’re the only grown-up who ever plays with me all day!” When I asked him why he ran to me and hugged me fiercely. “Because, Michelle, I think you have a really big heart. You have the biggest heart in the world.” That’s precisely why I spend so much time with this kid… to remember my own heart.
I spent the rest of the day with my dad, forcing him out of the house to the bowling alley. I’m a lousy bowler but it makes for good bonding. I tend to hit the most pins when I think of my formers and career objectives. If I think anything about technique or form, I’ll be lucky to keep the ball in my lane.
I couldn’t have been happier than I was with my small purple bowling ball, chucking it down the lane and thinking about the life I’ve woven so far and what I want. As career-driven as I am, this huge part of me is comprised of utter bullshit that denies my desire for an incredible relationship with someone. It’s highly contradictory. A woman doesn’t spend time alone with her piano under candlelight, writing songs to call out to the formers and lovers she wishes to stay, unless it’s something she wants. At the bowling alley, my dad reminded me that I set the bar high. I experience the rejection and struggles every day professionally, constantly putting myself out there in a way that will guarantee failure to meet my own expectations. If I were to focus as much energy on finding the love of my life, given the setbacks I’ve experienced in that department as well… I think the pressure would be too much. But our conversation forced me to be real with myself. Relationships with friends and family are extremely important to me and in spite of my incredibly selfish ambitions and goals, I can be quite a nurturing person. It’s not an aspect of my personality I’ve embraced as much because I’ve needed to self-protect.
Yet at the end of the day, there’s little I wouldn’t give to have an incredible relationship with someone who was supporting me and my goals. For a change, to have someone not in love with this fantasy of me and too scared to commit or really be with me would be refreshing and welcome. To be with someone that is not competitive with my drive and aspirations because they long ago gave up on their own. Someone who enjoys the good and the bad in life, taking it as it comes and remembers to laugh in the richness of the experiences. This weekend was a reminder to not be so opposed to thoughts of love simply because the trail of formers have not been able to stick around or keep their promises. At the same time, I really must stop bullshitting myself about not wanting an incredible relationship. It is possible to have it all. .