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The Happy Ending Hiding In our Lives

Sitting on my mother-in-law’s couch watching the Emma Watson version of “Beauty and the Beast,” my throat tightens as the theme song comes on. Tears loom.

It’s something about the deep romance of the moment. We think the Beast is dead, and Belle tells him she loves him, and the world turns warm again and all things come back to life. The snow stops, the sun rises over the land, and all the candlesticks and clocks and cupboards are people again. The beast opens his eyes and is lifted up into a golden swirl, he loses his fur and his horns, and he becomes himself again only so much better.

Something tired, aching, lonely and worn down in me watched that scene.

I tried to remember the last time I put on perfume and really cared about how I looked — in that nervous I-hope-I-hope way. Seventeen years anyway. I miss it. I miss life as a person who might someday be a great catch.

Come to think of it, though, I am a great caught.

To be honest, I have a blessed life. My wife’s love for me forms the fabric of everything that holds my world together. Our relationship is robust and full of grace. We give each other room to grow (and we have grown, both of us). We have good times, we travel, we challenge each other, we make each other laugh, and now (finally!) we share a puppy — not her first choice, but that’s why she’s so great.

Watching the movie, I realized with some sadness that I’m never going to be that former version, that new love version of myself again. Ever. I’m all the way on the other side of that divide, and it’s like when you’re driving out of the car rental place and the sign says, “DON’T BACK UP!” because all the blades are slanted to cut your tires if you do.

These days, our life is all about managing the life of a ferocious little old lady who has always been the kingpin of the block she lives on. The neighborhood has changed a lot in the past decade and so has she. At 94, dementia has taken all her short term memory and most of her mobility.

Nearly every evening we have to think of different ways to field her wish to get in the car and go see her father at the house in Brooklyn. Forty-five times a day, she’ll ask where we’re going to eat (doesn’t matter if we just came back from eating). It used to be the same ten or twelve conversations. Now it’s down to the same two or three. And there are of course the unavoidable indignities that we must move through, best we can, for everyone’s sake.

As a young girl, I idealized my future and then held that ideal in front of my face. I tried to get to it in linear ways. When I saw that I’d deviated, I thought I’d failed. But that’s not true. It’s just that my feet didn’t consult my ‘ideal future’ before moving.

They got their information from my bones instead. That’s a much deeper mandate.

So that’s why I’m here on my mother-in-law’s couch, and not where my ideal future said I’d be. I’m watching a Disney movie where love conquers everything and the sun warms the whole town. It brings back a yearning for when things were simpler and romantic love was bigger in my life.

You probably can’t get to my age without remembering some moment when you felt that giddy, I-hope-I-hope at the tender beginning of a love affair. And then feeling like it’s gone forever. But here’s the real happy ending: the fact that we can remember feeling that way at all.

We did feel that way once, and it was delicious and whole. And maybe seventeen years later, that wonderful human being still lies next to us under the covers in the morning. That person might as well be the one standing under our window in the rain with a boombox over their head playing The Song. They’re the one running through the airport, jumping over luggage, pushing people out of the way, trying to get to the gate in time to propose. They’re the one who weeps over our dead, furry beast body, and kisses us back to life.

That kind of thing happens only once in the movies, and only at the end.

But in real life, it happens all the time, over and over, in a million tiny ways.

She picked out a restaurant that had way more vegan options because she knows that matters to me. He cleaned the kitchen even though it was her mess. I left a love note in her car where she might not find it for months. He picked up a book for his husband, knowing it was his favorite author.

Every day, the sun rises over our world and the clocks and cupboards are people again, dancing in the castle.

We just need the right lens to see it with.


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