Currently, my husband and I are operating at full speed ahead. It is quite a shock to acknowledge that we are now into November and before we know it, it will be December, then New Years – seriously within a hop, skip and a wink he will be wracked by arthritis and my hair will be tinted blue and stiff with aqua net. Or is it the other way around? I can never remember.
I would like to take this opportunity to give credit where credit is due, in so far as the man to whom I have pledged my troth until the end of the world (see: Michelle Bachmann, President) is without a doubt the coolest teacher of all time.
Please see exhibit A: his Halloween costume (which also happened to be his first day teaching Romeo and Juliet).
Exhibit B is a little longer – a snapshot from four years ago – that I hold close.
It is night time and I am writing. Sitting at the computer, freezing, fingering the frayed edges of my boyfriends old boxer shorts (that I am wearing) I am also listening to my cat, Nymeria, talk to the small birds outside in our cherry tree. M is lying on the couch reading Ovid, laughing with his eyes, and he speeds through the Amores with zeal unknown to non-classicists or non-nerds. Despite the chill, there is a slightly sweet smell to the air, and I know this is because spring is slowly breaking out of the frozen walls of ice and fog that winter has trapped her in for far too long. I think about how we herald spring as a rebirth for the world – for its flora and fauna, for the sleepy bears and their growing young, for the blue jays that rattle our window panes and the daffodils that smile at us as we pass them by. But I wonder how much of this rhetoric about spring is representative of our time and place, of living life outside an area marred with conflict, violence and fear. Spring in Poland, during the Russian and German occupations would not signify rebirth, nor a celebration of new life: it would serve as a reminder that despite the change in season, the oppressors and their destructive regimes remained entrenched in everyday life. I think about what kind of strength of character is required to deal with such a strain. And how I would do in a similar situation.
I ask M if he has a hero.
“Why?” He closes his book and pushes his glasses up against his nose. He is wearing a stained t-shirt (it is the one I wear each time I dye my hair) and shorts whose elastic is so old he has to hold them up as he walks towards me.
Because it is late at night, and we are dressed comfortably. We are dressed like bums. We are dressed like those who have nothing, though we have everything.
“Because I am thinking about heroes and I’m wondering if you have one.”
I am half expecting an answer. The last time I started this discussion, I almost left Red Robin in tears. This is because I am a bad debater: I have a hard time believing that my opponent’s efforts aren’t masquerading as a personal attack. The last time we were talking I made it clear that I don’t think that the heroes of classical antiquity are proper heroes: they were too selfish, too obsessed with their own legacy and too drenched in the blood of innocents to have rightfully earned this label. M, however, understands the reasoning behind Achilles and Odysseus’ actions (and those of their kin), and sees no problem with their association of “hero.” He also believes that the democracy of Athens is dead and (jokingly) propagates the return of an oligarchy. Old white men running this old white country: that isn’t so far from our present truth.
As he thinks about the question he thrums his fingers along the cover of his book.
“No, not particularly. I don‘t think I could say I have a hero.” He rolls his shoulders and kisses the top of my head, and I can sense him pausing to smell the shampoo scent of my hair.
“What about Romeo Dallaire?” I ask. I swivel around in my chair and look up into his eyes. He inhales with a sharpness that sets the hairs on my arms on edge.
“I wouldn’t contest the idea that he is a great man who tried to make the best of an impossible situation. I admire his strength and courage, but no, he’s not my hero.”
It seems as though tonight, we will be spared a debate (and therefore, my tears.) M picks me up. As easily as a rag doll. He likes to gauge how strong he is getting, by carrying me about our apartment, and measures his gains by how well he can lift me up with one arm. My hipbone grinds into his shoulder as we pace the length of our living room.
“What about when you were a kid? Did you have any heroes then?”
Nymeria weaves between M’s legs as he makes his way over to the couch. She purrs as she rubs up against him, like she knows she is trying to trip us up and loves every minute of it. The patches of orange and black on her back stand stark against the white of her legs and the slits of moonlight that fall through the blinds. M lets me down on the cushions, before taking a seat.
“I used to pretend I was one of the X-men. I had the power to shape matter, and create force fields. My best friend was Jubilee and we’d hang out at the mall bothering overweight security guards while drinking orange sodas.”
I feel my nose scrunching up as I start to laugh. I too used to imagine such things when I was younger. My sister and I would dress up in our highland dancing skirts and wield my father’s blunt tai chi swords because in our minds we were Sailor Venus and Sailor Jupiter battling intergalactic space monsters who wreaked havoc on our homemade Tokyo and its environs. But although I never missed an episode, I can honestly say I never saw those long-legged cartoon girls as heroes. They were too weak in times of crisis, always on the verge of annihilation before the masked gentleman would show up and save the day. As a newly self-discovered feminist, this always horrified me.
I talk to M about my Slavic film class. I probably talk to him about this class more than any other class I have ever taken. I am not saying this as a sly way of sucking up to my professor, somewhere, out there, but because it is a truth and my new years resolution for the past five years has been to stop lying so much.
I talk to him about how I am trying to become more aware of the words I use when illustrating a point. I am becoming aware of the power of speech. I am becoming aware of the baggage that come with certain terms, or the taste a sentence can leave in your mouth when peppered with contested “truths” or “normalcy’s”.
I tell M about how the Polish Solidarity movement happened the same year as the Moscow Olympic boycott and that I am thinking about the connection between the two events. And about how Lech Walesa has always been presented to me as a hero, and I believed this because of the enormity of his actions because they took place during a time when enormity was discouraged and suspect and therefore punished.
“I am very proud of you,” he says. “I am proud to be marrying you.” I don’t really know what this has to do with Poland or Lech Walesa, but it I feel relief spread over me like fresh jam across crunchy french bread.
“I am trying to find answers,” I whisper to him.
I feel his hand in mind.