Thursday, December 6, 2012

Hamlet and Healing

The time is out of joint:  O cursed spite,
That I was ever born to set it right.

Every year at about this time I like to watch the Kenneth Branagh film version of Hamlet.  I don't remember quite when this tradition started, but for at least five years now I do find myself watching the story of the handsome but troubled prince who, knowing what he needs to do, hesitates.  Through those hesitations, questionings, and self-recriminations, eight people including Hamlet himself end up dead on stage.  Make that nine if we count Hamlet's father.

My ex-spouse and I shared a love of the theater, and more than all others we loved the Washington Shakespeare Theatre.  It all started in the 1990s when we went to one of the free performances the theater company would put on each summer in Rock Creek Park's Carter Barron Amphitheatre.  The first free performance we saw was Measure for Measure in 1996, and we were back the next year for Henry V.  In the winter of 1999-2000, I bought tickets for the two of us and our son to see the Shakespeare Theatre's production of Corolianus.  We sat in the orchestra section, and I remember how our son, then age 11, jumped with the first on-stage explosion.  I don't know if he understood the play at that age, but he was hooked by the theater experience.  The next year I bought a subscription for the three of us, and one of the highlights of our troubled lives was to drop everything for our Saturday matinee performances.  We had a box seat that we began to think of as our own property.  We would enter our box, arrange our coats and bags in whatever way we wished, and wait to be enthralled.  I watched as our son came to love Shakespeare by seeing the plays where they were intended to be seen, on the stage, not as words on a page in a high school English class.  

All of that is in the past, but I know my ex-spouse and son continue to share that love for the Washington Shakespeare Theatre.  I think they may still have subscription tickets to this day.

I have written very little about my ex-spouse in this journal out of respect for her privacy and also in the knowledge that her thoughts towards me may not be kind.  I can not really blame her for that.  Like it or not, I was the one who deceived by marrying her in 1982 without a word about my troubled inner thoughts and feelings.  I can explain to no end why it would have taken a much stronger person than me to say those words aloud in 1982, but that does not change the fact.  When she learned the truth in 1990, she was devastated.  In long, drawn-out scenes of explanation and recrimination both in 1990 and again in 2000-02, I ended by promising to bottle up whatever was inside me and, as best I could, make it go away.  

When I finally put divorce on the table in 2007, I don't think my spouse believed it at first.  After 25 years of giving in, it seemed unlikely that I would be able to see myself through to the other side of a divorce.  When it finally dawned on my spouse that I might finally have gathered the strength to do just than, I believe her disbelief was replaced by anger.  How else can one explain divorce and post-divorce litigation that cost me a year's salary in fees to my attorney alone?  Given that our son was already in the university, this should have been an easy negotiation, but instead we ended up with expensive attorneys who were the only financial winners in the process.  I no longer have any home other than a tumble-down cabin in Maine, and the most of my life savings are gone.  I have no clear idea how I will live when mandatory retirement comes knocking on my door in 2019.  Although my ex-spouse fared better in the financial and property settlements, I cannot imagine that her situation is an enviable one.

There is something very Shakespearean about our marriage and divorce.  I look back and clearly see the Hamlet syndrome at work in me.  I knew in 1982 that marriage had not "cured" me, but it took me until 1990 to say anything outside the depths of my own soul.  Even then I was easily talked back into a closet, and much of the talk that put me there was my own.  

"The time is out of joint:  O cursed spite, that I was ever born to set it right."  How apt those words are for many of us who come face to face with the question of gender transition.  We know the truth about ourselves, but we know that others will think us mad if we act.  In our dark moments, we are inclined to agree with them.

It took more than five decades for me to get there, but I am now happily on the other side of the transition question.  Any anger that I felt from 2007 through 2011 as litigation dragged on seemingly without end has evaporated in the light of a much happier day.  I look at the calendar and see that it will soon by December 11, my ex-spouse's birthday.  I wonder if for her, also, the anger might not be giving way.  Could it not be that one day we will meet for a family event, perhaps our son's wedding, and give each other a faint smile of healing?  In the end, this Hamlet did act no matter what the pain.  The two main characters are both still alive and on-stage, free to live their lives now that the curtain has come down on a long and troubled marriage.  The time is no longer out of joint.  Imperfectly but to the best of my ability, I have set it right.

* * * * * * * * * *

There is very little that is Shakespearean about this song by Gordon Lightfoot, but anyone who knew us in the early days of our marriage will recognize it.  It is a birthday card to my ex-spouse with the hope for healing as we both move on while sharing a past that included a beautiful son, the Shakespeare Theatre, and much else that was good amidst the pain.

No comments:

Post a Comment