Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Little Brit

In the beginning, my and Claire’s was very much a romance of the times. I contacted her, neither knowing the other from Adam, via her Website, which I had encountered entirely by chance while inviting women entrepreneurs of a particular sort throughout the English-speaking world to reveal their secrets on a Website I’d invented primarily as a showcase for my design skills. She was both more articulate and more candid than anyone who’d participated before, and we remained in touch. The longer we remained digital penpals, the more I liked her. Even via email and instant message, I could see that she wasn’t only bright and funny — she not only got all my jokes, but in many cases improved them — but remarkably kind as well. We started to love each other even as my decade-long relationship with my fourth major girlfriend began to feel doomed.

I lost the fifth of the progressively better-paying Web design jobs I’d gotten over the course of the year before the Internet bubble burst, and flew to her native London to meet her in person. After I retrieved my luggage, she put her hand on the handle of the cart on which I’d stacked it, as though to help with the pushing — a small, unconscious gesture that confirmed my impression of her kindness.

We did a lot of flying back and forth to each other’s countries, and finally wed in London before around 30 of her friends and relatives and one of my own. We honeymooned in Italy; I have photographic proof. My daughter had ceased to speak to me, and was about to leave for college anyway, and I’d gone 18 months without being invited in for a job interview, so I moved to London, a city I’d once adored, to live with my new bride. I discovered the London I’d adored no longer existed, having been supplanted by one I liked less and less the longer I lived in it, but adored the missus enough to make up for it.

We invented whole companies of characters to play for each other’s amusement – the Wallingtons, an aristocratic couple with a combined IQ of well over 100. The shy little boy and his sadistic caretaker, Yoko Ono sitting in with the Moody Blues. And what adventures we had. We went to Spain, and were shown investment properties by a gruff English expat who couldn’t stop raving about Spanish restaurant prices. “Last night at dinner, we had four courses, with wine, and the bill for 27 of us was nine euros!” We went to the Canary Islands, looking down at the clouds from Tenerife’s Mt. Teide, beholding Lanzarote’s lunar landscape. In Portugal, we enjoyed aperitifs in a bar run by a Dutchman who worshipped Status Quo, whose rhythm guitarist was our personal friend. We saw an old tourist woman literally shitting herself in Cyprus, and nearly fainted from the heat in Budapest. We nearly fainted from the heat in Kuching, Malaysia, too, but nearly froze in Prague and Bruges and Biarritz, and went out for a French meal with new Norwegian friends in Hua Hin, Thailand.

We watched the sunset in the Sahara from atop camels, she in rented native garb. We went to Barcelona, and celebrated her birthday in Dublin, having earlier flown to Boston on Aer Lingus, the fabric on whose headrests reproduces James Joyce manuscripts. We tried in vain to doze beside the moving sidewalk in the airport in Dubai. We cured breast cancer by circumnavigating one of the decks of the Carnival Victory, and hid from the Jamaicans who, apparently expecting that it would make us want to buy their trinkets, brayed, “Bob Marley!” at us when we docked in Ocho Rios. Everywhere we bought fridge magnets for her remarkable collection. Everywhere we sang karaoke. Everywhere we had glorious fun.

By the time she met my mother, my mother was far gone with Alzheimer’s, but Claire was touchingly tender with her. She’s from a race that prides itself on its aloofness, but she initiated a warm embrace with my sister on first meeting. I wish I’d treated my own parents with a thousandth the kindness I’ve seen her show her own. If she’s an absolute nightmare to work with on music, she’s also my favorite female singer. No one on earth fries a more delicious onion.

If you define charm as the ability to make others feel good about themselves, she is the most charming person on earth. She listens without complaint to what I suspect may be the most tedious people in the English-speaking world, never hinting that she finds them less fascinating than they seem to find themselves. She’s a bottomless well of encouragement and comfort to all. The day I was literally paralyzed and the Queen Mum was laid to rest, she bought me a plastic beverage bottle to pee into. She didn't allow her terror (the English drive on the left), to keep her from driving me home the day of my latest surgery.

As gentle as she is — and no one on earth is gentler — she’s got pluck to spare. Early in our relationship, we decided to get even better acquainted in the dressing room of a London boutique. When one of the sales staff pounded indignantly on the door, and then, when we opened it, demanded an explanation, I reverted to 12 years old. Claire, though, looked our would-be prosecutor right in the eye and defied her to say or do anything about the fact that “we were having a private conversation.”

We’ve probably had fewer shouting matches over the past decade than I’d been used to having in a month; we both pride ourselves on being quick to apologize. She’s had a vast array of boyfriends, and even a previous husband. She remains fond of nearly all of them, even those who done her wrong, as they are of her. She’s pretty much without vindictiveness. She’s the kindest person I’ve ever known, and the one who’s made me feel most loved.

How blessed I’ve been to have her in my life.

[Hear my life-changing new album Sorry We're Open here! Facebookers: Read more All In Tents and Porpoises essays and subscribe here.]

1 comment:

  1. What a lovely valentine to your wife. You have indeed been lucky!

    Your comment about Claire remaining fond of all past boyfriends and even an ex-husband brought to mind a friend of mine who stays in touch with all of her ex-husbands and lovers. Having known many of them, I'm always amazed that she spends holidays with the sister of Husband #1, or reports back from lunch with Husband #2 and dinner with #3. She's a spider weaving her web, and the flies (even when it's they who walk) never really get away.

    What quality in their kind characters triggers this embrace of the past? I suppose it has to do with having a sure sense of who you are and maybe even feeling pretty good about yourself. Then, the historian has to kick in with a good memory for faces, names and dates with the archivist who's not afraid to look at pictures from the past or run the mental reel of that bygone love affair.

    Moi, I remain committed to throwing away the letter bundles, tossing the sticky pictures (Why are photographs so hard to throw out?) and moving from the present into the future. What was that guy's name? No time to think about it!