The Ferrett On Marriage

I always knew that I would die alone.

I had friends, of course, and family; but I had been lucky enough that for the past thirty years, nobody I was close to had died… but I knew that couldn’t last. As for friends, I tended to go through them fairly quickly, as they grew sour on my eternally bitter cynicism, emotional manipulation, and months of sporadic isolation.

So I had it all mapped out in my head, a ghastly sight that I couldn’t turn off; all of my friends would leave me, and at some point I would simply lose the ability to gain any more. And all of my relatives, the ones who would love me no matter what, would die off over the years, each death leaving me a little more alone and isolated…. Until eventually I saw myself on a hospital bed, paralyzed in all the wrong place from a heart-twisting stroke and brought in only by the luck of having neighbors who heard me cry out, with nurses coming by occasionally to pity me. Wondering why I never had any visitors.

And in that way, I would slip away. Slowly, over the course of several days, dying in pieces. Alone. Unloved.

It’s horrible, I know.

But you have to understand. I lived with this knowledge every day.

It was the psychological underpinning to my life, the one thing that tied everything I was together for me. Some days I’d feel better about it and flew high above this nihilistic black pit, some days I skimmed the surface and feared I might get sucked in… but no matter what, it was always there. That small, quiet voice – not hystrionic, not overblown, but the voice of a terrible resignation – telling me sadly, “You’re going to end up alone, Steinmetz. Everyone you know will abandon you.”

Picture that every day for thirty years.

It was bleak and depressing, and it colored my outlook on humanity. I despised love songs because, as Frank Zappa once truthfully said, they promise an illusion and stop where the hard part begins. There’s tons of songs about falling in love, the first kiss, the blazing passion – and they all make it sound like love hits instantly and never goes away. There are practically no love songs about slogging it through for the thirtieth year, or about really hating each other during a fight, or trying to still love each other while you both have to get up for the baby. Love songs are about the ephemeral, and teach teenagers to idolize the wrong things, setting them up for years of unhappiness.

Love songs will tell you that love is effort-free, which I despised. I knew. Love involved lots of compromise, sacrifice, and heartache just to keep a little bit. Love songs were hogwash. Likewise, I couldn’t watch romantic movies without cringing at the inaccuracy; even the ones I did like, like The Princess Bride, had fairytale elements to them… and rightfully so. Much like Westley’s outrageous adventures as the Dread Pirate Roberts or Vizzini’s doomed battle of wits, the concept of romantic love was an exagerration… and not anything near the truth.

Is it any wonder I was so blackly, consistently cynical?

But, much like other fairy tales, things started to change.

You see, I met this wonderful woman through a magic network of wires.

Cliché, of course, but what can you do?

Of course, she didn’t live anywhere near me. And she was married at the time… come to think of it, so was I, after a fashion. As such, romance wasn’t even a possibility… which turned out to be a damn good thing, as if I was in love as I knew it, I never would have dared to say half the things I did to her.

Did I write love letters? No.

Did I pour out my heart to her? No.

Did I speak tender words of compassion and love? Not a one.

I blasted her on a daily basis.

Online we argued like weasels and cobras, continually bickering over the slightest things, debating not only Star Wars but ranging far and wide into topics like gun control, abortion, religion, and whether white chocolate is better than dark.

I let her have it with everything I had, as I usually did with my male friends. Nasty, brutish comments about her faulty logic. Mocking parodies of her writing style. Offhanded backsnipes about what she wrote. Every tool in my verbal arsenal got unpacked, lovingly polished, and fired off via email.

And in that sense I was a ferret. My ferret, Scrappy, loves people. He loves them so much he likes to play with people the way he does with his brother weasel, Sleepy; he bites them as hard as he can and tries to drag them around the room. Most people don’t care for this treatment and scream at him, and of course he doesn’t really understand; after all, that’s what he wants done to him. He likes getting bitten and roughhoused. As a matter of fact, he doesn’t really know another way of dealing with people he likes.

Everything I did to Gin was what I loved having done to me. The verbal attacks on my logic, mano a mano with sheer logic alone – and for all of my abuse, I never attacked the person. I merely strafed their trains of thought, annihilated weak links in their thinking. And I fully expected her and everyone else to break down – to leave me like most people did when I broke out the heavy artillery – but what the fuck, right? They’re only online people. It’s not like I was losing anyone for real.

And I discovered something; much like a Western cowboy firing off every gun that he had, this woman would stride forward from the smoking wreckage around her…. And fire back. Twice as strong. With good points, sometimes unassailable logic, and a never-ending font of humor.

I knew women.

Gini wasn’t a woman. Women broke down easily, took things personally, didn’t understand logic.

But she did, and she was.

And there was the miracle; here was a woman who liked to argue, who loved verbal banter and dancing about niggling points just as much as I did… which I really didn’t think was possible. And despite our bickering on minor points, we really did have much the same worldview on things – the both of us flaming moderates, standing in the center and getting fired upon from all side.

As such, Gin was one of my closest friends, although she didn’t realize it. Because I knew I liked her a whole lot. It wouldn’t take that much to fall in love with her… and we both had partners to think of.

I kept it at a very superficial level. It didn’t take much. After all, I knew the boundaries. She thought that I considered her to be a pain in the ass, but it was the opposite; in her I unconsciously saw a faint hope that I knew would never come true. Women like Gini were always taken by other men… and there wasn’t a lot I could do about it.

Die, Steinmetz. Alone. And unloved.

Cut to four years and countless online arguments and discussions later.

Right on schedule, Bari had left me because of – what else? – my relentless cynicism, my laser-focused style of arguing at the expense of her emotions, and my general slacker nature. And I was hurting quite badly, but keeping it all inside.

Gin called up a few times and we talked. It helped. A lot.

And a couple of months later when I exploded at someone online because he was whining about his latest shallow breakup and nobody ever said crap about mine and the pain I was keeping pent up… Gin was the one who called me to tell me I was doing a good job.

We started talking some more. She helped me realize that the new relationships I was in weren’t making me happy, either, and that generally I wasn’t dating women who understood me. But that was the problem – there weren’t any, not really.

Because, just like I knew the sky was blue and love was an illusion, I knew in my bones that people really didn’t get along. Nobody really understood one another…. people had wildly differing needs but stayed together, desperately lashing disparate personalities together because everyone needed someone at the end. That all marriages were nothing but cobbled-together agreements; I’ll put up with all of your annoying crap if you don’t leave me. Just don’t leave me alone.

Please.

And I did not have the patience or tolerance for that kind of bullshit agreement. It was the horror of my life; I just didn’t have the ability to deal with something petty for twenty years to avoid my deathbed horror. I couldn’t. And who could deal with my crotchety ways, my continual irritation and snappishness? I didn’t mean them, it was like Scrappy biting, but… it counted. And they always, always left.

But eventually…. it came time for some payback.

A friend of mine mentioned in passing that Gin was having a very bad time with her marriage right then, and could use some help.

And I called.

And we had several long conversations where I tried to patch up her marriage. Which I really did, using every mistake I made with Bari to point out things she could do, putting new spins on old arguments, defending her husband when she just wanted to dehumanize him. And we spent several weeks talking about it, and I found myself doing what I do do well; I don’t give answers, but I focus the questions. And slowly but surely over the course of several weeks, I got her to answer the question of whether she wanted to stay married.

The answer was no. But we spent a lot of getting to know you time discovering this fact.

She moved out. And once again, the same friend emailed me and let slip that Gin was flirting with a mutual internet friend on the side, and had been for a few months now.

This enraged me, and I spent an hour before I could really say anything. Then, in a sort of bizarre freedom, I wrote the following email:

I probably shouldn’t say this, but since I never knew about this torrid cyberfling (whatever it is):

You ARE aware that the reason I don’t call you as much as I’d like is because I’m about three seconds away from falling in love with you and you’re still married, right?

Just adding some more gas to the fire,

– “Trying to be honorable as he can, but incredibly jealous for no apparent reason” Ferrett

The floodgates opened after that.

And we got married.

And I believed in love.

Now it may sound like a quick resolution to a long setup, but there was a lot along the way… and all of it is boring details. The biggest part changed overnight.

In a very short time, I realized that love is something you can’t believe in until you truly experience it… and it’s not an illusion. That when you find the right woman, suddenly everything you know will be changed.

I now know, as sure as the sky is blue and love is real, that when I die it’ll be with the satisfaction of knowing that I found something I thought never existed… it’s like I walked under a tree and found Tinkerbell, and Peter Pan, and the Crocodile all in one fell swoop. I found the romance that exists in storybooks only, and I found the kind of love that is only slightly magnified in the Princess Bride. I found what I was hoping for and bitter that I hadn’t found it yet, all in one place…

…and her name is Gini. And I am so lucky to have her for my wife.

But you know, there is a moral to this story. On the last night Gin was here in Ann Arbor, we went to a romantic dinner, clinking wineglasses and joking with the waitresses – and then went to a martini bar afterwards. All around us were young happy couples, elegantly sipping vodka and gin, tapping their shoes to the piano music, smoking cigars in the corner.

And for a moment, I became unstuck in time.

It was as if there had always been this crowd of people here, shifting forms occasionally, the people drifting in and out… but somewhere in the 1930s there was basically this same room, with people basically the same age at the time, drinking the same kinds of drinks and laughing at the same jokes. There was a bar like this in the 1950s. And the 1970s. And the 2010s. Somewhere there had been, was, and would always be a place filled with young people, falling in love to the slight buzz of a cocktail and the tinkling of a piano.

Some of them would never meet. Some would only be one-night stands. Some would find what we had found, Gin and I looking into each other’s eyes through a haze of cigar smoke over a pair of drinks, and spend the rest of their lives happily ever after. But eternally in time, there were all of these people. In a room. Together.

And for the first time ever, I thought things might work out.

Thank you, and goodnight.

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