It is Valentine’s week, and I am looking for the perfect happily ever after. It does exist, doesn’t it? Perhaps it is that bit of romanticism in me that make me curious.
I begin by pulling books off my bookshelf until I find the one I am looking for, “Married to Genius.” I toss aside Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Robert Browning, they are just too perfect to even discuss!
“Married to Genius” is written by Jeffrey Meyers and focuses on the love stories of Tolstoy, Hemingway and Fitzgerald (just to name a few.) So how happy were these great writers? Were their women pushing them into stardom? (Is it still true that behind every good man there is a good woman? Excuse me while I go into the kitchen and make coffee on that expression.)
Nonetheless, would these writers have been great without their love affairs and turmoil? What was it Tolstoy said? Oh, yes, “Marry when you are old and good for nothing — or all that is good and noble in you will be lost.” I imagine Sofy (his wife) didn’t appreciate that comment, yet they had 12 children?
Let’s move on to Hemingway who had four wives, by the way. By the time he wrote his last book “The Old Man and the Sea,” he took women out of his text! Four times was enough for him I guess.
Maybe we shouldn’t even bother with Fitzgerald, except his excessive life of destruction gave us “The Great Gatsby.” The one thing we can learn from these great writers is that turmoil, unhappiness and betrayal makes for some really fine writing!
I put the book back on the shelf and reach for my cell phone. I call my Monday night potluck girls over for a session, an important discussion. We meet, chat, eat each other’s cooking and sit at the round table to discuss this topic.
“I want to know,” I ask, “what is happily ever after? Does it exist?” They look at each other and a nervous laugh breaks out.
My table is full of women of all ages, varied careers and varied places in their lives … married, divorced, single. I go on to explain that I am working on a new piece for the Diva Fest in Indianapolis. My one-woman show is focusing on “happily ever after” and besides, it is Valentine’s week.
Are we groomed for happily ever after with the white picket fence (OK, I know I have one) and a June Cleaver apron? I remember playing “wedding” when we were young. I went around the neighborhood with my wagon dragging dress up clothes and marrying anyone who would want to play. I had clothes for the bride and the groom. I think I charged a nickel as well for the ceremony. Some of my friends were married every day. I got really good at reciting vows at the age of 6.
The conversations of these women continue. We laugh. We cry. We remember our own weddings and are hopeful of those yet to come. And yet, we say, if prince charming doesn’t come riding our way on his white horse, is there still a happily ever after? Hmmm.
We sound like a psychology textbook as we all resolve that we need to be happy in ourselves first. We know it to be the truth, but no one ever told us that when we were young, at least not in my family. We, in my generation, were groomed to cook and sew and learn a trade to supplement the family income. We never thought we would be the family income or be single or divorced.
It is late and the women leave. The kitchen is piled high with dishes, but I head off to my studio, light the candle and drink the last of the wine in my glass.
Where does “happily ever after” live? In the coffee our sweethearts serve us, in the love letters or emails we receive, or deep inside the grey matter?
I smile alone toward the midnight hour. I have no answers. Perhaps there are no answers. Maybe we just are who we are, and that happiness comes and goes as does life.
I shut off the lights in this old house, blow out the candles and head up to bed. With my down comforter and my grandmother’s quilt, I read until the early morning hours. I finish my book. It is a love story and they live “happily ever after.”