Till Death Do Us Part
By Jo Ann Beard

Someone once said that all happy marriages end in tragedy. Someone else once said that love is blind. The banal version of love being blind, of course, is that you can fall in love with a short man you think is tall or a miserly man you believe to be generous. But the true, majestic, incandescent blindness of love is its willful refusal to fully acknowledge that even the most perfect union ends in sorrow.

I walked in my house once carrying bags of groceries and saw my partner sprawled on the living room carpet, between the sofa and the fireplace. For just an instant, everything went into high relief, like a scene in a 3-D movie: the bags heavy in my arms, the throw rug bunched underfoot, the wall of bookshelves, the red sofa. My whole life, bathed in January light. In the brief terrible space between that moment and the next, when he stood up and walked toward me, I got a glimpse of grief as it would look in this new incarnation.

And perhaps, for those who have had that glimpse, it is partly the encroaching darkness that makes the light so vivid. Artists in the 17th century understood this very well, depicting it in paintings of luscious fruit and game, a blushing peach next to a hare so carefully wrought that a single drop of blood can be glimpsed along one slender whisker, and in chiaroscuro studies of faces that seem to emerge from layers of golden varnish, the curve of a cheek revealed gradually, the glint of light on a helmet or the avid, secret gleam in a woman's eye.

Someone else said the first cut is the deepest. Another living room, 20 years before, when my mother was alive but fading, I came home to a different house, with shadowed corners and tall windows, in the town where I grew up. I returned from her hospital room each night to collapse on the sofa, sometimes falling asleep still in my coat and gloves. Losing my mother seemed impossible—she was never so alive as during those months when she fought to stay that way. But she died nevertheless, young for her age, and for mine; buried on a day so cold that even her staunch midwestern family couldn't stay to watch her lowered into the ground. Buried with her was my belief that certain things are too bad to happen.

They can happen.

In Eric Rohmer's witty comedy Claire's Knee, a middle-aged woman holds forth on heroism as she stands before a painting of Don Quixote, his eyes covered by a tattered white handkerchief, his expression beatific. He's on a wooden horse but thinks he's flying.

The heroes of a story are always blindfolded, the woman explains. Otherwise, they wouldn't do what they do.


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