I found out that there is something more interesting than dining with Maddie and Bernard: drinking with them. I tried to take notes on cocktail napkins, but napkins have gone missing.
Bernard had donned a cravat for our outing. Maddie had a beautiful scarf. I felt distinctly under-dressed. “If you go drinking you need to dress well,” Bernard told me. “People are more likely to tolerate ill manners from someone well dressed. If you collapse on the sidewalk, at least someone asks if they can help you get home. At my age, if I were wearing a t-shirt and sweats people would just assume I was an indigent and step over me.”
About three mixed drinks into his evening, Bernard’s jaw set. “You fall in love in hours and then spend years negotiating what it was you fell into.”
”What is that supposed to mean?” I asked.
“What is Stendhal’s line? ‘Heloise speaks to you of love and some ass speaks to you of his love, don’t you sense that these two things have nothing but the word in common?’ It’s not enough to fall in love. You have to fall in love with someone who shares a vocabulary.”
Maddie was already a little buzzed. “Oh Bernie,” she shook her head.
“And do you know what else,” Bernard continued. “You know why it is that so many people come to resent the person who loves them?”
“What is it that you think you know this time, Bernie?” Maddie asked. I don’t know if it was the alcohol or the topic, but I’d never seen Maddie look so assured.
“It’s because relationships – love in particular – are projections. We project something on to someone else. If they feel like indulging us, they play that role. If not, they rebuff us. Love is an act of playing a role that matches their inevitably misguided notion of us. We can only put up with it so long. And then we give up the act and they say, ‘You aren’t yourself today.’ How can you not resent a person who loves you like that?”
“You can’t make generalizations based on two failed marriages, Bernie," Maddie said.
“Well, I know this,” Bernard drew himself up. “There are too many people on this planet.”
“You’re making a comment about the consequences of love,” I asked.
“No. Why it is important. Do you know how big a number 6 billion is? If you named two people every second, you would not name everyone. You would only name the people who were dying. You’d have to say four names every second to simply keep up with the babies freshly born. And you'd never name the people already here.”
“This has to do with love how?”
“You can’t live your life on that stage. No one can take that kind of meaninglessness, those odds of being inconsequential. If one other person loves you, life is scaled down to the human level. Love puts life at a level we can comprehend.”
"And yet love itself is incomprehensible," I could not help but add.
For this Bernard shot me a look of irritation. "Don't be a twit," he said.
Maddie began to giggle. It was either an infectious giggle or influential rum, because I began to giggle as well. “Do you know why men are so fascinated by sports?” she asked.
Disappointed to learn that I was laughing at myself, I abruptly stopped giggling and said, “No.”
“A guy can plop down into a chair in front of the TV and in 15 seconds know the score, know who is winning and who is doing well. He can sit in a relationship for 15 years and never once have a clue about any of that. He’s not even sure he’s shooting into the right basket.”
Sometime later, Maddie had become loquacious. If only I hadn't lost those other napkins I might have woke up this morning a better man.
“Well, we are suckers for a man in love,” she said.
“We?” I asked.
“Women. You know one of the things that is so appealing about a man in love? They know what they know so strongly but at the same time they are racked with doubt. That doesn’t happen to men in any other venue – not in sports, or politics, or choice of garden tools. Love is odd,” she stared at the table cloth before lifting her eyes. “It makes a man doubt what he believes most strongly. I think that might be the one time when a man really makes sense to me, when he has that look of determined uncertainty in his eyes that comes just before making a declaration of love. Love is the certainty that fills you with doubt.”
Bernard's eyes looked moist. “You aren’t making any sense,” he told her.
Maddie looked sympathetically at him. “Oh Bernie,” she said, reaching out to stroke her brother’s thin hair, a move that made something catch in my throat. “And you still think that love does? Make sense? No wonder you get so angry, hon. You now have explanations and ex-wives. You don't see how those two go together?"
“That is just so unreasonable,” he mumbled, his jaw trembling.
“Unreasonable is what we want, Bernie. When a woman tells a man to be reasonable, it is just her way of saying that she wants him to love her differently or better. We don’t want reasonable. We want someone who goes straight to the heart.”
[Happy Valentine's Day to Sandi - who has rather unreasonably loved me for 25 Valentine Days. Thank you for putting the often sensual into my sometimes sensible.]