Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Miserable Love Blog

Have you ever seen the musical, Les Miserables?

I saw it for the first time when I was 14, living in Phoenix. It was one of those shining moments in my life that even while it occurred; I know it would change my life in some small way. Art does that to us; it subtly clicks parts of our mind and soul into place and we emerge all the better. If art doesn’t do this to you, you are….well, you are dead on the inside.

The musical, like the amazing book, is just so moving that it is hard to put into words how it makes me feel. But this is by the by, and not the subject of today’s blog.

If you aren’t familiar with the story, do yourself a giant favor and read/watch/listen to almost any version of the masterpiece. There is too much information for me to give you an overview, so I’ll just give you a teeny tiny bit of the story.

Two girls, Cosette and Eponine, grew up in the same home. Cosette’s mother sent money to Eponine’s parents in order to care for her daughter. What her mother didn’t know was that the family took Cosette’s money out of greed, and treated the girl very poorly. Cosette had little, had to work for the family, and watched as Eponine was the spoiled pet. Cosette was finally saved by her (now deceased) mother’s friend and then lived with love, comfort, and even luxury.

Many years later, the girls met as young adults. Eponine’s family has fallen on the hardest of times (but they are despicable people so we don’t feel too bad about it) and she has shabby clothes, no home, and nothing to eat. Cosette is lovely and soft, and catches the eye of young Marius.

Marius is Eponine’s friend. It is obvious to the audience that she loves him. In true to life fashion, he is somewhat clueless. He sends Eponine to take love notes to Cosette, as he has decided he cannot live without her.

Well. This is all the info we need to keep going with my thoughts.

As an extremely intelligent and sensitive 14 year old girl, I was struck by this love triangle. It has remained one of my favorite circumstances in the whole wide world of artistic expression. As a less intelligent and no doubt much less sensitive 28 year old woman, I am still so very struck by these three lovers, and especially the one who was not loved in return.

Eponine sings a most chilling and soulful song; On My Own. In the muck and mire of her poor Parisian existence, she shares the following:

On my own
Pretending he's beside me
All alone
I walk with him 'til morning
Without him, I feel his arms around me
And when I lose my way, I close my eyes and he has found me

In the rain
The pavement shines like silver
All the lights are misty in the river
In the darkness, the trees are full of starlight
And all I see is him and me forever and forever

And I know it’s only in my mind
That I'm talking to myself and not to him
And although I know that he is blind
Still I say that there’s a way for us

I love him
But when the night is over
He is gone
The river's just a river
Without him, the world around me changes
The trees are bare and everywhere the streets are full of strangers

I love him
But everyday I’m learning
All my life I’ve only been pretending
Without me, his world will go on turning
A world that's full of happiness that I have never known

I love him
I love him
I love him
But only on my own

So amazing. I wish I had or could write something so very moving and real. Again, beside the point of what I’m trying to get at.

I love, love, love Eponine. She is so very sad, in the full and total meaning of that word. We have every reason to feel sorry for her, but for her poor treatment of Cosette as a child. She is ragged, she is dirty, and most of all, she is unloved by the only thing in the world that brings her joy.

And even though Cosette has had no mother and a confusing existence…even though her love for Marius looks as though it won’t come through…even though she is more of a focal point in the story, I stay all the while looking at and feeling for Eponine.

The question here, is…well, why? Why do I hurt so badly for this wretch of a girl?

I think the answer lies in her demise. Sorry to break it to you, or remind you, but Eponine is killed while going to the barricade to be with Marius. She takes a bullet, and when Marius discovers that she is dying, he takes her onto his lap and holds her. They sing, and she soothes him by saying that she is finally happy now because she is ‘a breath away from where you are’. Waaaaaaaah. Seriously, terribly, horrifically sad.

I think that I cannot get over Eponine’s life, quite simply, because she dies. Her story ends within the covers of a book, and I am not left with the solace of assuming anything about her future. Her story is over, done, and there is nothing for it but to be sorry for her. Cosette, we assume, lives on with her love. Perhaps they have kids. Maybe they have a lovely little cottage on a lake, and they might have a dog named Buster. Marius one day might leave his dirty socks on the bed, and Cosette will swear that she wishes he had died in the Parisian sewer where he bled. Or they might live happily ever after. We don’t know.

It makes me think of another tragic love story. Aside from its top-rate author and his crazy amazing ways with words, I don’t really care for the story of Romeo and Juliet. It is upheld as some kind of ultimate love experience when really it is two emotionally simple teenagers that cannot hold off on a solitary decision for more than ten blasted minutes. I’m not really sorry for Romeo or Juliet in the way I am for Eponine. I feel that the story of our friends R & J is just a way for Shakespeare to tell us that the love we feel is highly suspect. Perhaps the wise old bard is still passing on his wisdom that emotions and circumstances and very different lenses. We can’t always view them correctly, and we need to be aware if we are in need of corrective eyewear.

But still…I would be a big fat liar if I said that I totally eschew the romantic notion of Romeo and Juliet. But the feeling, the human camaraderie, the connection isn’t in the way they meet. Nobody really cares about how they fall in love. It is all too fast for us to feel emotionally invested in what they are doing. Nope, we only feel bad for them (and thus connected) because they cannot be together, and ultimately they die.

Why is this?

If any of my friends died because she couldn’t be with her lover, or spent her ENTIRE LIFE pining after the same, I would realize that she had a serious problem. We don’t want our real life experiences to include a long-lost love who has to be true to his aristocratic roots and leave our poor bedraggled self in the poverty-ridden slum from whence we came. I have been in love before, and I’m not insinuating that I’m not currently. But I have been in that fully intoxicating, forget yourself and what time you have to be at work, stay up all night just to see the flecks of green in his eyes kind of love that makes your stomach queasy in a sweet way. HOWEVER. Even during such a time, I would have never, ever, ever put a dagger in my breast or poison to my lips because our future together was denied.

And yet, I do want to read about these kinds of situations. Unrequited love, and tragic love, are rather endearing ideas.

Normally, when presented with such a question, my therapy-soaked brain would decide that we read and see what we really want from our own life. So I have to seriously consider that I really want an unrequited or tragic love.

As for tragedy, I don’t think I’m lying when I say a big fat ‘thanks, but no thanks’. Tragedy is -- brace yourself for brilliance—tragic. And I don’t want to go there.

Do I want unrequited love? Is there some sort of sick secret in my psyche? Is that a shared female hangup? Or is a universal kind of thing? Are we all reminded of the love that never was?

Even in love that goes tragic (in the very unromantic sense) do we have very deep, hidden feelings about what it could have been? Perhaps we resound with Eponine because we remember our own Marius. Maybe, even after we become a Cosette, we still hurt. We remember that he could make the ‘pavement shine like silver’.

Love insists that we constantly put things down and walk away. I’m typing in an old maroon recliner, listening to my kids make sleepy sounds while they drool on my favorite blue sheets. I’m still here because I love them. I love them more than my desire to see the world, to touch the Great Wall of China, to hear the violins on the streets of Vienna. Sometimes, and many times, it feels like a death. I feel like I’m losing myself for the life of my kids. And it isn’t a noble feeling. One day it might be, but lately it just feels tragic.

It seems as though love is fluid. Even when it ends, it doesn’t end. That sounds at once deep and incredibly stupid. In such circumstances, I’m always reminded of the garage bands of early 90’s fame that had lyrics so obtuse and opaque that you wondered if the singer or the listener was the smart one. But maybe, just maybe, this is the answer I’ve been looking for.

Love doesn’t end. Love is tragic because even in the face of death, it doesn’t let us go. We may be released from our promises of fidelity, but our heart never releases from where it has been attached. The tragedy is that it isn’t final. If it ended, we wouldn’t hurt so much.

I’m angry at those I used to love because I cannot get that love back. It is gone from me, and even though it was genuine at the time, it is a traitor to me now. I think that unrequited love is an alluring concept because we all have bathed in it at one time. Maybe not in a romantic sense, but surely at least in a friendly or familial sense. There’s no release from a love that won’t shut you out or sign up for service.

Love is eternal, which is both a joy and a pain. I guess, that in many things, it all depends on your perspective and how short-sighted is your point of view.

Eponine was happier in death, and the others in life. At least, we assume so. Until Marius left his dirty socks on the bed.


palmahome said...

Beautifully said....as usual. LOVE, LOVE, LOVE, Les Miserables.

eL. said...

Sooo many things I want to say right now...

pennyshire said...

I love your honesty... well said. I love this one and can relate on so many levels, (sigh)...

Jack said...

"You would live a thousand years, if I could show you how. I won't desert you now... I'm here."

Dan said...

Along with Brothers Karamazov, Les Miserables is thought by many critics to be the only truely great Christian novels. Biblical thought is explored and evaluated throughout both of these books. Haunting, piercing words and images leave a reader changes forever. And, Tiffany is right , Les Miserables communicates its message in every medium Ihave experieced it -- book, film and musical.