CHAPTER 8: The Most Dangerous Emotion

Let me tell you: it hasn't been easy being a white American male having my particular sensibilities. I find the majority of my beer-drinking, chest-pounding, animal-shooting, sports-obsessed "brethren" to be despicable scum, and it's only getting worse in the current political climate. My race and gender stereotypes are ankle chains on me; the vast majority of the time, when getting to know women, I must prove I'm not a "typical guy" before I'm perceived for what I truly am, which at the end of the day many women prefer. It's one of the reasons I'm actually more comfortable around women than I am around men—I can rarely find any common ground other than my gender with guys, but I know how to cook and sew... and be caring and tender. It gets stranger: I remarked to one woman friend that I hate sports, love bubble baths, and cry at sad movies. "Good grief," she exclaimed, "you're more girly than I am." And the instant I start truly being myself in the company of typical guys, I can see the creeped-out "Oh Christ, he's really gay" look in their eyes. So I grit my teeth and exclaim, "Look at the tits on her!"

This is the stigma I've carried most of my life, merely because I'm atypical. Ask any of the women with whom I've been intimate, and they'll assure you I don't have a gay bone in my body. But I'm not homophobic, either; I have a number of gay friends, for what that's worth. And while I'm not proud of being divorced twice, having been married twice certainly speaks to my ability to form healthy heterosexual relationships.

And therein lies an enormous problem I have with just being human. I'm uncomfortably aware of being "hardwired" to seek out women and have sex. When I see attractive females, I fight to keep from staring, even though sexuality isn't inherently evil; it's nature. It's why we've survived as a species—but, on the dark side of that same coin, it's why we've "over-survived." We've successfully conquered so many diseases and other human frailties that we've essentially "opened the bottle and allowed the genie to escape." We've short-circuited nearly all of the natural checks and balances that ordinarily keep a species from over-breeding. Worse, there's no sign it's slowing down. (At least I had the good sense to do something about it when I was young.)

I once told a woman I was dating that I wished there was a pill I could take that would shut down all sexual desire for some period of time. (Yes, I know a number of anti-depressants do just that, but I've taken some, and we didn't get along.) Surprisingly, she was utterly aghast; it was a reaction I'd sooner expect from a man. Thus I doubt I could ever find anyone who would understand why I find the whole sex drive thing to be a terrible distraction, often costly, and wouldn't it be nice to turn it off once in a while to get some important shit done? Most people—particularly men—would never agree, let alone relate.

Which is not to say I consider love, desire, even lust, to be evil. When I was 24, I broke my leg in a freak accident. After the surgery, I had physical therapy. To my surprise and delight, the therapist was one hell of a looker. During my second session, out of the clear blue Linda announced that she had tickets for a concert (a classical artist I knew and enjoyed), and asked if I'd care to join her. I spent what seemed like eternity wading through a lightning storm of internal questions, the first being, "Me? Are you fucking kidding me? I'm a scrawny geek, nerd, dolt, fill-in-the-blank." I finally stammered, "Why, yes, I'd love to."

On the way home from the concert, Linda suggested that we take a long detour through the countryside. Then she suggested we go down this old dirt road in the woods. When the road dead-ended, I found myself in utter shock: there we were in the middle of nowhere, and Christ, you can't be serious, she wants to what? Yep. She reached over, undid my trousers, and climbed on top of me.

When I told Linda of my vasectomy, we wound up spending the next few months having incredibly hot, intense sex as often as possible. It was as though someone had picked through my brain and synthesized the "ideal sex partner" for me. And to this day I'm still perplexed as to what she saw in me, or why it worked so well. But, far be it from me to question what was undoubtedly the most profound sexual awakening I'd ever had. Alas, she moved away, and that was the end of that. Incidentally, I related this tale to a group of salesmen—about as disgustingly "manly" a bunch as you can get—as a "bonding" exercise (ugh), and I was told that I was full of shit.

Whenever I think that my life may have been lacking in the sex department, I just recall those awesome months with Linda when I could not have asked for more or for better. This is not to say I didn't have great sexual experiences with other partners; it's just that this was the only time I'd encountered intense, pure, unbounded lust for lust's sake, and I'm thankful it happened to little old me. We weren't messing with each other's brains, and in fact she was in the driver's seat more often than not; we were simply acting out natural impulses, and it was utterly glorious.

So, no, lust is certainly not among the "most dangerous emotions"—far from it, not when it's pursued by both parties equally, with the same goal of safe mutual satisfaction. Nor, I will contend, is hate. Or anger. Or rage. Yes, they can be quite destructive. And yes, thanks to my father's volatile temper and half-millimeter-long fuse, I can become enraged, much as I detest it. On those few occasions when I'm overcome, I always direct it at a safe target, such as a block of wood or a pillow. Never another person, least of all a woman.

I will assert that violence against women, sexual or otherwise, is without doubt the most sickening act of which a human is capable. Well, that and animal cruelty—they're equally abhorrent to the extreme, in my book. While I've never caught even a whiff of such feelings myself, entirely too many women I've known were victims of sexual molestation or rape, often by family members, with one case beginning as early as five years of age. (That part of me capable of rage would want all of the perpetrators dead. Period. No discussion.)

Of the myriad emotions I experience, odd as it may seem, for me regret is the most dangerous. Because it's the most self-destructive—even more so than depression (with which I'm intimate), self-loathing (another familiar one), or lack of self-esteem (check).

Regret is a boundless black hole that tears one's brain asunder, especially for someone who has a surfeit of regrets. Since my earliest memories, I've gone through countless situations where the choices I've made have had dire consequences, worst case, or lost opportunities, best case. Unfortunately, it's altogether too easy to focus on any of a million scenarios where I'll question my choices, and an infinite number of alternative outcomes to ponder.

If Linda hadn't moved away, would we have married? Would we still be steaming up the windows? Had I paid more attention to my first wife, would Debbie and I still be happily married? To be sure, my life hasn't been all shit, and I've wonderful memories from when we were together. One of us would shout, "Hobby time!" and then see who could take their clothes off faster. If we hadn't gotten divorced, would her mother still be alive? Some of her relatives believe our breakup precipitated the cancer relapse. If I'd not broken up with Susan, would it have saved her life? She committed suicide a few years ago, and I was devastated by the news. Had I broken up with Carol early on, I certainly would have avoided a crushing amount of heartache, not to mention acute financial strife. But then, who would have helped her through cancer treatment? If I'd built my house according to one of my earliest drafts, it would have cost significantly less; would I have been able to finish it without selling the commercial property? Or, if I'd agreed to sell it to the lower bidder, would they have closed earlier and prevented a three-year-long nightmare wherein I nearly became a homeless person?

I'll never know. Time's arrow cannot be redirected once it's let loose. Yet constant second-guessing and fantasizing is akin to a highly addictive drug: once I start down that dark path, forever will it consume me, to paraphrase Yoda. "Woulda coulda shoulda" is the popular vernacular for this, and I confess I must fight every urge to indulge in it. I'm not always successful. Sometimes I'll be lost in some regret for days. Outwardly it looks like classic depression, and I imagine they're related, but inwardly I'm obsessively re-evaluating things over which I have no control.

As I've said, my life hasn't all been shit. I've got a great many wonderful memories. But now that they're all a distant reflection in the rearview mirror, they're a double-edged sword: after I've fallen into that warm afterglow recalling some good times, I'm slapped with the reality that they're long gone. Which is worse, suffering the torment of remembering the crap in my life, or thinking about nice things knowing they're forever out of reach? More than a few times I've wished for a good knock on the head to induce amnesia.

That's when I draw upon one of my more cherished memories. Lisa was a decade older than me when we met. She was also the wife of my boss at the time. But they were in the midst of separating, and I must have seemed like a gentle place for her to land, so we became quite close. The worst part of it all was that her soon-to-be-ex was prone to violent abuse. I showed up at her house one afternoon to be greeted by a bruised and battered face—a case where I believe my rage was entirely justified, although given the opportunity to direct it at the perpetrator, I could not speculate as to the outcome. At any rate, one day she gave me a book, The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran. I'm not spiritual in any way, but one does not need to be in order to appreciate the incredible wisdom contained in his tiny tome. The most valuable takeaway for me was this (and please forgive my artless paraphrasing): only those who have suffered great loss and sorrow are truly capable of appreciating tremendous joy and love.

I confess, on those rare occasions when I've been overwhelmed by joy, I've never known anything so spectacular, uplifting, healing and precious. I doubt anyone who has led a strife-free life could claim as much.

Chapter 7 < TOC > Chapter 9

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