joking around

Love in the time of narcissism

December 6, 2021

   I was in my 70th year when I asked Carol Madigan to meet me in person, after only a few weeks of exchanging wise cracks via Facebook PM. At this point I was smitten by someone simultaneously wielding a sweet disposition and a Yonkers cutting wit. I was in over my head once again, but this time, some 50 years after first throwing my hat in the ring of love, I was willing to risk something I hadn’t been willing to risk before: myself.

   When Carolyn passed, my grief was buoyed by a profound joy for the few years we did have together, a joy I hadn’t expected to find, especially at that late stage of my life. That I couldn’t relate it to anything I’d done in my life to deserve it meant, to me anyway, that I’d simply been inordinately and unjustifiable lucky. That I’d get even luckier again at an even later stage of my life could not be considered remotely possible.

   Yet Carol has seemed to actually embrace almost all my self-perceived faults. She says they make me quirky (as opposed to others who believe they make me clinically odd).

   Yet Carol has seemed to actually embrace almost all my self-perceived faults. She says they make me quirky (as opposed to others who believe they make me clinically odd). She’s challenged my overarching sense of inadequacy, and is threatening to upend the impressive body of grave self-doubts, which have fueled my life to date. Thus far, I feel I’m up to the challenge, though occasional chinks in my self-negating armor have started popping up with increased frequency.

   You’d think there might be more charitable remedies for treating the self-tortured soul than to drag some poor, unsuspecting sunny-side-of-life individual who’d suffered a life-tragedy of her own into my life. And it wouldn’t have happened had we not both possessed the same predilection for laughter.

   The descent from boyish charm to petulant child can be a slippery slope, but Carol has been able to call on a solid lifetime of competent parenthood to maintain the necessary equilibrium between the two. As the writer Tom Robbins said, “You’re never too old to have a happy childhood, and Carol has certainly done her best to provide that for me.

   In her interview with David Letterman on his Netflix series My Next Guest, Tina Fey stated that all comedians are broken people. A writer of humor lies somewhere on that spectrum of comedian-as-broken-people, and Carol has had to straighten out my psyche several times, much to her surprise. ( My brief descent into the Dark Side of gun ownership for the purpose of demonstrating to the MAGA hats that a liberal might just shoot back, had Carol seriously considering an Adult Time Out. To help her, I’m trying to adopt a “not my circus, not my monkeys” approach to Trumpanzees.)

   Looking back on all of it through a Sliding Doors prism, I have come as tantalizingly close to great success and achievement as I have abject failure and tragedy. In many cases a kind of Deus Ex Machina descended from the heavens and changed the courses of both that imminent success as well as that failure. In some it was my own machinations that managed to snatch both defeat and victory from the jaws of same.

   It all amounts to the cliché that life is a struggle, and you win some and lose some. Carol is my constant reminder that I won the main one. I can’t let myself screw this up. Onward!

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