Saturday, June 26, 2010

Mesmerizing Insanity

Dwayne invading Dana's blog once again.

One afternoon, a little over three years ago, I received an email from eHarmony informing me of a potential match living in NW Arkansas. I checked the map and discovered that Springdale, AR was over 9 hours from Huntsville, AL. I knew I wasn't likely to make a 9 hour trip just to see a skinny, short-haired, goofy girl that liked to travel and eat at non-establishment, hole-in-the-wall restaurants. I could have closed the match (and she almost did from her side, but you'll have to get her to tell that story) and my life would have remained within the realms of sanity, but something drove me forward ... curiosity, divine providence, synaptical misfiring ... not sure, but I started reading her replies and, unknown to me at the time, the infection began.

If you're not familiar with how eHarmony works, then allow me briefly to explain. You start by filling out a massive questionnaire that digs into every area of your beliefs and psyche, then they "match" you with someone who seems to be a good fit. Obviously this is an inexact science, so there are protected stages of getting to know someone. If an initial match seems interesting, then you respond with a list of likes and dislikes, then questions and answers, and finally an email or two. At any stage you can decide things aren't to your liking and kill communication. Since it all takes place through their system, both sides remain somewhat anonymous.

During the Q&A stage, they offer an extensive list of prescripted questions, which most people use. I should have noticed the first sign of trouble when Dana wrote her own questions instead. This alone intrigued me, but even more so were the questions themselves. In retrospect, looking at those three questions on the screen was akin to Alice peering down the rabbit hole ... falling in was bewildering, exciting, emotional, confusing, maddening, and unbelievably satisfying.

Her first email was a tome of epic proportions. She "borrowed" the title of her blog, "Using 100 Words When 10 Would Suffice", from a novel I wrote, but it accurately describes her at that time (NOTE: Her writing now is much more focused and concise). As I navigated the uncertain waters of her initial letter, seeing flashes of brilliance coupled with vast spans of utter perplexity, the disease wormed deeper into my mind.

I could have ignored her. I could have deleted the match. I could have replied with, "Are you insane?" Instead I waded into the fray and answered her, point for point, matching her voluminous verbiage word for word, trying to make sense of her chaos.

Emails led to chats ... sessions in which we literally typed the exact same reply at the exact same time over and over again. I thought it was amazing at the time. Looking back, I now realize it was actually a side effect of the infection. How, I asked myself, could ALL OF THAT be going on inside her head at the same time?

And then we talked on the phone. I didn't like her voice at first because it reminded me of a friend's wife that had less than desirable mannerisms. That changed over time though, and now her voice makes me involuntarily smile (except when she's angry, and then I want to cut the grass). I initially thought her meandering, spaghettified lines of thought might be the product of a stream-of-consciousness writing technique. Wow, was I wrong! She spoke the same way, circles within circles, seemingly incoherent but somehow teetering on the edge of making sense, weaving a web that drew me in tighter and tighter.

And then we met.

Our first meal together was at Mike's Place in Conway, AR. We choose Conway, AR because, in part, it was three hours from her home, six hours from mine. That way if the worst ensued, we could both drive home. But the infection had other plans, and within 24 hours of meeting my wife-to-be for the first time in person, she laughed, stunned me with her beauty, collapsed into a bawling mess of emotional insecurity, waxed eloquent on topics from music to theology, and kissed me with the fattest tongue I've ever known in my life.

We dated for over a year, and with every lengthy drive from AL to AR, I foolishly thought I had a choice in the matter. You see, I had a knack for making sense of her seeming insanity. I've always been a "big picture" person, seeing patterns, discerning structures within apparent chaos, and as she talked, I saw what was underneath and it was ...


so beautiful!

The scars carved by a life of disappointment and imperfect love had made the path from her heart to her words so complex that what emerged seemed insane ... but it wasn't. And over the course of that year, God slowly, one episode at a time, allowed me to see through the maze. I caught glimpses of the truth from time to time, obscured by angry words or seemingly meaningless tangents, and knew her heart was not only one that resonated with mine, but it was so beautiful, so soft, so tender, so caring, so desirous of truth and purity that I was hopelessly mesmerized.

And then we married ... June 26, 2008.

The journey of understanding my wife has not ended. I come to know her a little better, trust her a little more, value her increasingly, every day. And to anyone else listening, she still babbles incoherently from time to time, but the Mesmerizing Infection allows me to understand her ... most of the time, anyway.

She cries hysterically at movies, screams with delight at the TV, greets me with a hug and kiss when I get home from work, makes me eat fish, steals the covers at night, loves my bald head, and likes to watch football. I may be infected, but if so it's with a disease I intend to die of.

Happy Anniversary, Dana. Life with you is indescribably good ... even on those increasingly rare moments when you make absolutely no sense at all!

Friday, June 18, 2010

My Three Fathers..Part One


My main childhood memory of the man who provided half my genetic code is not his face at all.  It is his electrician's belt.  After searching though about 825 images, I was very disappointed to find Google doesn't seem to have my memory accurately depicted in their database.  The closest it got was still not what was captured in my mind's eye.  I remember it being dark brown leather with a thick leather belt strap and covered in pockets, slick and shiny from use, full of tools of his trade.  He's not wearing it in my's just laying on the floor after being discarded from the day's use.  

Interestingly enough the word that comes to mind is "utilitarian".  I wanted to be sure that word means to Webster what it means in my mind, so I looked it up.  One definition is basically "fitting some purpose/designed for use/worth to some end".  That mostly fits what I had in mind.  But as I dug further into the word, I found the definition of utilitarianism..."a doctrine that the useful is the good... the determining consideration of right conduct should be the usefulness of its consequences; specifically : a theory that the aim of action should be the largest possible balance of pleasure over pain or the greatest happiness of the greatest number."

Ironically, that definition fits what I have come to understand of my biological father better than what I originally had in mind.  The determination of what constitutes "right conduct" should be based on the usefulness of its consequences.  The aim of action should be "the largest possible balance of ...the greatest happiness of the greatest number."

If you had asked me twenty years ago, I would have said the part of that definition that represented him was "the largest possible balance of pleasure over pain"--his pleasure over his pain.  Twenty years ago I didn't have children of my own.

My parents divorced when I was about five.  (If you read the series of posts I wrote for my mom, now you can see why I said life changed a lot for me that year of my life.)  My mom moved out of state; my brother and I moved with her.  When she remarried, she gave us the choice of who we wanted to live with.  I choose to stay with her.  I didn't really know my biological father.  He worked a lot....out of state.  Between the time of the divorce and her remarriage, only a few mental images were added to the one of the tool belt...only a couple of which were actually happy memories of him.

I saw him only once after my choice was made, until 17 years more had passed.  During that time the man my mother married, the man I called "Daddy" for most of my life, adopted me.  In order for him to do biological father had to relinquish his paternal rights. 

At the time I believed this to be a matter of "the largest possible balance of pleasure over pain"--his pleasure over his pain.

I reconnected with him as an adult, well after I had two children of my own.  He explained the decision to allow the word "step" to be removed from the relationship with my "Daddy".  He believed it to be a matter of "the largest possible balance of ...the greatest happiness of the greatest number."  He tearfully recounted to me the night he signed the papers.  In his mind I had moved on just as my mother had.  This man I had called Daddy for most of my life at that point had replaced him.  He was certain that by signing over his legal rights, the pain it caused him would be overshadowed by the happiness it would surely give me, my mother and my Daddy.

For most of my life I believed my biological father had little concern for me, little concern for my happiness.  I believed the decision he made was for reasons I won't mention here, but certainly not with an unselfish heart.  I have come to believe, correctly or not, this sacrifice was made as an act of love for me.

Happy Father's Day...Dad.  I love you.