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Monday, November 30, 2015

A Painful Anniversary, and Catherine of Aragon

December 2nd will likely be a lifelong day of sadness for me.  Unlike other anniversaries of loss in my life, this one is still agonizing and my therapist believes I have severe PTSD  around it.  I can believe it because I feel I am actually reliving the event tonight--the end of a time in my life when I believed I was loved, when I believed I would be buttoned up into a family who loved me and whom I loved,whom I still love, people who accepted me with immeasurable kindness, even to this day. I am still Facebook friends with most of them and love seeing pictures of their adventures, and of their children growing up. 

There are so many conflicted feelings tonight, like falling leaves I cannot catch. Though being chronically ill was not my fault, I still feel badly for the times when I got so sick in my years with the person in question.  I feel great sadness over what he had to endure. I initially had the chain of chronic illness set off by walking into his mother's house and inhaling some sort of particle or fiber from the many boxes being sorted, and my asthma--not doing well already--went out of control.  I had an asthma attack so severe that I should have gone to the hospital--but, stubbornly, I refused. It was the end of my health for many years.  Only when I was willing to fight like a tiger by submitting to chemotherapy for lupus did I get well again.

The story I take from all this is how difficult it is to convince someone with little "long-relationship" experience as to the way love both shades and strengthens in time; it becomes a deep and abiding caring, a precious one.  Romance is something you get at the beginning of a relationship so you can bond.  I think the other party wanted romance only and did not understand that in time, romance fades, and real love begins--the love that keeps you sitting in the trenches with the other person.  Life is mostly trenches, to be honest. The delusion of permanent romance is a fruitless search, the pursuit of a phantom.  That endless quest is like helplessly watching someone edge closer and closer to the same cliff they fell off before. I wonder if, given some of the interactions we have had recently, whether he values me now, or might one day. One never knows. Stranger things have happened in my life.  At the foundation level, something is still there.  I think we both know that, beneath all the scars and the tentative pushing to and fro, the distancing and the eventual (however fragile) return.

The pain that emerges in my heart is always there, coexisting with still-great love. Does he even remember this date, the day we lost each other?  I don't know. He's in love with a ghost. Behind every woman's face, every woman he has ever been with, lingers this ghost.  A ghost can never be anything but perfect.  No one can measure up to a ghost.

So, tonight, left with a snarl of emotions, I think of the way Catherine of Aragon was treated so shamefully by Henry VIII (though note that he could have found a way to have her executed and did not). She was a virtuous and brilliant woman, and I think he knew that all his life.  She continued to make his shirts long after he had separated from her; Anne Boleyn caught a servant carrying linen to Catherine's chambers.  When she asked what the linen was for, the servant replied that it was for Catherine of Aragon, so that she could make Henry VIII some shirts. Anne flew into a fury, went to Henry, and proceeded to upbraid him, demanding that Catherine cease making them.  Astounded, an uncomprehending Henry replied, "But I like the way she makes my shirts!"  Somehow that reminds me of what their marriage's foundation really was: there was a closeness, an accustoming that did not die, the closeness of couples who have known each other a long time.

She made his shirts, and he liked them.  What more is there to say about the people we love and hurt, whom we sometimes come back to and cherish because we learn, hopefully before it is too late, who and what they are? The people who do this should consider themselves blessed beyond measure for a second chance.  Too many people never get one.

 I do have one last parable: I like parables, and history, and I like the Tudors, because their lives were so messy and strange, a microcosm of human folly. 

When Catherine of Aragon was dying, she dictated a final letter to the husband she had married as a very young woman.  She spoke of her concern for Henry's soul, a chiding that could only come from someone who knew him very well. She forgave him for the troubles he had caused her, so many that it still boggles the mind--what a selfish ass he was, a tyrant who cared little for anyone but himself.  And yet she forgave with her whole heart, not worrying whether Henry was indeed worthy of her forgiveness.  She asked him to take care of their daughter (whom he eventually did bring back to court).  Her final line is heartbreaking, a simple one that somehow contains in its essence all the complex feelings we retain for the people we  truly love, no matter if they are gone, no matter if they have wounded us beyond comprehension.  Love still is willing to sit in the trenches, after all.

Catherine of Aragon's final words to her husband were these: Lastly, I make this vow, that mine eyes desire you above all things.

Upon reading this letter, shortly after Catherine passed away, Henry VIII held it to his heart and wept.