Romance in the Real World
J: What are you reading about?
L: Ida and Isidor Straus. They were an amazing couple! Instead of getting into the lifeboat, she decided to die with her husband on the Titanic. Of course, if Julia were grown, I'd do the same for you.
J: What do you mean?
L: What do you mean, what do I mean?
J: You're not getting in the lifeboat?
L: No, I love you too much to let you drown all by yourself.
J: But I won't be by myself—I think they were playing poker and getting drunk.
L: So you're saying that you'd rather play poker with John Jacob Astor than cuddle with me?
J: That's not what I'd be doing, because if you're not getting your ass into that lifeboat, then I am. We are not leaving an empty seat.
L: Oh, you're getting into that boat over my dead body.
J: Where the hell is the Tylenol?
L: Try the bathroom...you know, the place with the ocean blue toilet water.
J: You mean like the ocean you want both of us to sink to the bottom of?
Things kind of spiraled downward from there, and I still break into a cold sweat every time Celine Dion starts wailing about how her heart will go on.
So Johannes and I won't be taking a cruise together anytime soon. And no, those weren't his arms around me as I perched on a dune watching the sun come up over the Sea of Galilee; he wasn't the man who sent me a basket of French damson plums or the one who wanted all babies to have my nose. The slow dances are few and far between these days, and walks in the rain usually involve him running up ahead with the stroller.
But he did teach me how to fly a kite last summer, and we have been known to share steamed dumplings in a little East Village dive he discovered a few years back, and sometimes early in the morning I overhear him playing "tea party" with our daughter, and sometimes late at night I overhear him playing Blackbird with his guitar. He has genuine integrity, he has serious style, and he's pulled me through more than one bout of the stomach flu. Anybody can sprinkle rose petals across a big brass bed, but only a real man will hold your hair while you're throwing up.
Now, there are those who will say that references to intense nausea don't belong in a column about romance, but I'm thinking maybe it's time we broaden our definition of what constitutes romance. Ask yourself this: When the man you love realizes that half the screws are missing from the Ikea bookcase he's attempting to assemble for you, does he:
(a) Complain bitterly about herring and Volvos—vowing to forsake all things Swedish for the rest of his natural days?
(b) Leave the shelving in a heap on the living room floor and question your need to read in the first place?
(c) Complete construction using a combination of rubber bands and Krazy Glue while suggesting you fill the thing with pamphlets rather than actual books?
If you answered (c), then, my friend, life is good—because it means somebody out there loves you enough to try to get your bookcase together. That creative effort is the kind of everyday gesture on which great romances are built. I wouldn't be surprised to hear that while at the drugstore picking up the amulet of poison, Romeo also picked up a copy of People for Juliet. I like to imagine Abelard taping Grey's Anatomy for Heloise. I bet a day didn't go by that Mel Brooks wasn't funny for Anne Bancroft.
Don't get me wrong, I'll always want the chubby little cupids and coconut bonbons, but lately I find myself drawn to something richer, deeper, sweeter. Provided nobody decides to do a remake of Titanic, with Johannes each day is Valentine's Day.
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