A Tragicomical, Unsophisticated Blog about the Weird, the Absurd, and the Banal

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Tribute to Donald Barthelme

Six months ago, my wife changed his name to Harry. That was the difficult part. If he had just kept "Chris" it wouldn't have been so hard for me to make this transition. Chris is a unisex name. "Why can't you just keep 'Chris'?" I asked him.

"Well," he said, "that would mean that I wasn't taking this transition seriously. That I would still be Chris and not a new person."

Christina was out, too. All "Chris" variations were beyond consideration. He had to leave all that was Chris behind.

"Does that include me?" I asked.

"No, honey," he said. "I could never leave you."

Two weeks later, we were talking about the election and Harry, a lifelong Democrat from a blue-collar we-work-for-a-living-and-pay-our-union-dues-thank-you said he was voting for Romney/Ryan.

"You've turned Republican?" I said.

"We need a change," Harry said. "The country is going to shit."

"But Romney represents all that is unholy and hateful," I said.

"He's not that bad. And he's different," Harry said.

"But he said not killing Muslim's was unpatriotic," I said.

"Now you're being hyperbolic," Harry said. "But that's good. We can have real political debates, now. Never change."

Harry started going to political conventions. Then, a few weeks later, he quit his job at the city and said he was going to go to law school.

"We can afford it," he said.

"You hate lawyers," I said.

"No," Harry said. "Chris did."

I'd never gone to college and that suddenly for the first time in my life made me feel inferior. I asked if he wanted to do this together. And he laughed and hugged me.

"Why would you want to do that? You love your job. You're happy. Never change," he said. "I love you just the way you are."

I took careful notes and carried them around with me everywhere. Pronoun charts, class schedules, Republican Party platform points, and, shortly after that, Lutheran articles of faith.

Harry converted. One Sunday, I woke up and he wasn't there and I assumed that he was just at the library early studying. But then it happened again the next week, too. And again. Harry was a diligent student, but when I confronted him and learned the truth I was surprised. All his life he'd been an atheist.

"I need more in my life," he told me.

"Isn't what we have enough?" I asked.

"What we have is enough," he said. "But what I have isn't enough."

Then there were the Bible study groups. They were polite and ignored me, and that, I think, is what bothered me. I wasn't one of them, hunched over the Book, cookie in hand, asking how Jesus came into their everyday life, and how this verse was so relevant because they saw withered figs at Hy-Vee today.

One night, I asked Harry if he wanted me to convert. "Don't be ridiculous," he said. "You don't believe in God."

"But doesn't that bother you?" I asked.

"Not at all," he said. "I pray for you, anyway."

That was comforting for a little while. Like everything, the study groups went the way of the pronouns, conservative rhetoric, and law text books and became everyday. So did the folk band practices, organic vegan food, transcendental meditation, Yoga, baseball card collections, wood carving, snake, bonsai trees, seances, Yo-yo competitions, and tarot consultations. But about a month ago, that was the day. I came home from work in a good mood, but on the walk back I got this feeling.

I poured myself a glass of water and sat down on the porch and was there until dark when Harry got home. Not really thinking, just sitting.

Harry sat down next to me on the wooden bench on our porch and said, "What a day. Torts is a bitch. What's wrong, baby?  You look stressed."

"I feel," I said, "like I need a change."

Harry didn't say anything for a long time. After a while, I tried to explain. "I just feel like there's something I need to do that I haven't done. I mean, I'm thirty-five and people tell me that I'm going to have a midlife crisis soon. Maybe I can head it off. What will happen when I realize that half my life is over? What will I do then? I mean, I drive a Toyota and I drink Jameson. Every day I go to work and wake up at 6:30. I read a few hours a night every day, and play the piano in a jazz band."

"And you're unhappy?" Harry asked.

"No." I said. "But I feel like I have to change something."

"What do you want to change?"

"Nothing," I said.

Two weeks ago, Harry asked me for a divorce. And I told him no. It was just too much to remember and to do, I told him. We fought. Oh, we fought over that one. But in the end, I convinced Harry it just wasn't worth it.

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