Monday, 21 February 2011
The Ruthlessness and Wonder of Love by Nancy Snipper
THE RUTHLESSNESS AND WONDER OF LOVE
The first time Margo met Alex, his appearance was disheveled. He had piercing
blue eyes, scraggly blond hair, and was wearing an old knitted sweater that draped over
his excruciatingly thin body.
“Here is a fellow who has just been released from some half-way house,
and sniffs turpentine,” she thought. “I hope his painting skills are better than his taste in
Margo instantly judged people. Often she was right; more often wrong.
He was painting the house she had just purchased. He rarely spoke, and when he
did, she had to make an extra effort to listen. His voice was horrifically monotone. He
never looked Margo in the eye, and he had a strange habit of squinting while loudly
inhaling when he spoke, which was hardly ever.
Sometimes, he would point very strongly to a wall, muttering something in his soft
voice. Margo decided he had some hearing deficit - hence his strange intoning. Still, the
house was painted in record time. Margo was impressed.
Three years went by. One day, Jim, Margo’s live-in boyfriend who was more
like a brother than a lover to her, spotted Alex carrying flowers in a waif-like manner
to the next door neighbour’s house. She peered outside her window and giggled at this
The male occupant of that house happened to be the brother of Joyce, a colleague of
Margo’s with whom she taught English as a Second Language. The fact that Alex had
done a lot of work for Joyce’s brother right next door amused Margo, for Margo was
intrigued by coincidences.
Joyce had recommended him to her with a warning: “He’s a good painter, but he
speaks like a poet and is very shy.”
Now 42, Margo would come to rue the day that Joyce brought Alex into her small
home, and eventually her life. He was 11 years her junior – a fact that ultimately didn`t
work in her favour. It would take seven years for her to recognize this. Margo
never applied common sense to matters of the heart.
One morning, Margo noticed a fresh crop of crocuses growing in the back garden.
“It must have been Alex, who planted them. He must have jumped over my fence to do
the deed,” she mused to Jim.
She was impressed by the fact that Alex sought no thank-you in return for this
generous gesture. From that day on, she nicknamed him Angel Alex.
“What an intriguing fellow,” she thought.
One day, Alex rang her door. Jim responded, announcing Alex had dahlia
bulbs for the garden. She didn’t see him, but the box carrying these bulbs was placed in
the furnace room by Jim.
A phone call was due. Jim had no idea how to plant these strange looking bulbs
that resembled rotten potatoes. Perhaps their owner could inform her. Alex came
over and showed her how to plant them. He also brought seeds that day, and without
ever looking at her, explained in a hypnotic fashion how to plant them. She found
him difficult to follow. His knowledge about gardening was impressive; his humility
Margo was a busy woman. She was a writer, teacher and drama animator for her own
theatre club. Her varied projects necessitated the need to remain focused, level-headed
and practical, but once Alex began talking slowly without emotion, throwing a shield
over his underlying sensitivity, she became entranced by his total love affair with
those beautiful earthly wonders; and when he described the scent of a lily to her, she felt
his rapture. “What an unusual person,” she thought.
One day, Alex came over for another garden visit. He stayed late. He was sitting
in the adjoining living room. With uncharacteristic spontaneity, Margo brought up from
the basement stacks of paper files containing her life’s work of poetry. She proceeded to
share her love of music with him, playing practically every classical CD she owned. She
particularly stressed the Yo Yo Ma recording of Bach. He sat at the table, elbows on it,
cupping his entire face into his hands. She took this as absorption. In fact, it was
boredom, as she would find out much later.
On another occasion, Alex stayed to watch a television program about successful
women. Suddenly, he launched into an invective about stupid business women with
their papers and briefcases. Being a Classics graduate and possessing a calm
character on most occasions, she found his anger and seething hatred frightening. She
had never heard such obvious loathing. It wasn’t so much what he opined; it was the
manner in which he did it.
Once Alex stayed at night far too long for pizza. Jim wasn’t there. She told him she
really had to go to bed. He left stating he was feeling sick, a refrain she was to hear very
often in the future.
Lights. It all happened over the silly things. Poor Jim couldn’t install them. Margo,
tiring of Jim’s ineptitude, bullied him into calling his father to find how to do it. His
father was good at such things, but he wasn’t a talker, particularly on the phone.
Poor Jim. In trying to install the little buggers, frustration thrust into full gear. He
yelled at her saying he had no idea what he was doing. Once again, she made him feel
When you aren’t in love with the man you’re living with, no matter how much he
adores you, his little mishaps become his vulnerable sores, that in her case, she refused
to treat, other than with disdain.
The relationship was bearing down on her. Jim was a severely depressed man whose
unhappiness held no fascination for her. He lost patience, something she had
lost with him five years prior to this particular incident.
“Everything I do is wrong,” he yelled at her in a pathetic manner.
She remained impassive. He left himself open for secretive ridicule. She loved him, but
it was a love that was not of the flesh, and hence, not the kind of love that she was
yearning for. That day she kicked him out for good. His tears had no effect on her. She
was cold and definite in her decision, though she had no idea where she was heading. In
that moment, she erased ten years of waiting for this man who desperately loved her to
make a man of himself in bed and at work. The day he left, his life changed, and so did
Margo rationalized her cruelty, recalling when he crashed her car going to work at
night because of a burglar alarm going off – his arrogant boss had called him telling him
to “check it out”. Margo had to take a taxi to help him sort out the whole dam thing.
Jim had been drinking. It was past in the morning.
For an entire year, he had lied to her about going back to M’Gill University at night -
she used to drop him off , but he never set foot in the building - as he later confessed.
These two events alone were enough for her to send him into oblivion.
When you have hopes for a man, and every important facet of a serious relationship
never arrives, no matter how much he loves you, no matter how brilliant he is – which
Jim was, it’s time to put him out.
She was heartless and unforgiving. She sent Jim packing, his plastic bags in hand,
the door closing on a chapter in her life with a dear man whose compassion and
uniqueness she was unable to appreciate until it was too late. Her lack of sexual feelings
for Jim, and his disinterest in sex, only became obvious to her when she took up with
Angel Alex very soon after Jim’s departure.
Alex came over and smoothly installed the lights. She was impressed. No drama, no
mess. He stayed very late. She began to bombard him with questions about his family. He
was extremely shy and smiled demurely as she gazed into his eyes that spoke of solitude
and innocence – the perfect combination for childless Margo.
Alex had two brothers and a sister. His mother had died from a heart attack
the day after her release from the hospital. Margo felt sorry for him. She also felt
appreciation for his quiet manner of expression. She realized he was intelligent and
articulate, not at all pedantic, as Jim was. In fact, he was totally different than any man
who had entered her world. He was detached, without emotion, and spoke in a hushed
robotic manner. Still, Margo felt his sensitivity was undeniable.
Cupid’s arrow came in the form of a single question.
“Who do you think was telling the truth, Anita Hill, or Clarence Thomas?” Margo was
testing Alex as he was getting ready to leave for his home where he lived with his oldest
brother, sister and father. She was referring to the old sexual harassment charge Anita
Hill had brought against Clarence Thomas who was up for appointment as a Supreme
Court Judge. The world had buzzed loud about the hearing. Margo was surprised to
discover Alex knew about the case. In a succinct manner, he turned the question back to
“What did she have to gain by lying?”
He was right. It was an insightful reply, one that instantly showed Alex’s
inscrutability, born in a context of protective selfishness. Margo would come to wish she
had noticed this facet of his character more than his answer to her question. Gain
through lying was something Margo had never applied to her own life; Alex, on the
other hand, made it his modus operandi. Mindful and cautious at work, Margo was too
exhausted off-hours to apply such wisdom and focus to casual strangers. She called it her
‘sabbatical of the mind’, a condition that kicked into full force in the company of
He began to do small renovations around the house, leaving very late. She once tried
hugging him, as he wafted past her in the narrow entrance.
“No touching,” he said emphatically.
If only she had heeded him. Once, when coming up the basement stairs, she gently
took his hand and ran it across her cheek. That simple gesture carried a depth of
tenderness Margo had never felt before. Alex did not reject it, but smiled.
Margo spied Alex working on the upper balcony next door at Joyce’s
brother’s house. She was wearing a short skirt from
she had picked up in the well- Athens
heeled neighborhood of Kolonaki in
, while on assignment as a guest Athens, Greece
journalist for the Greek National Tourist Office. Alex smiled down at Margo. She
entered her house.
“Shit! I can’t believe I’m falling for that creep.”
Buckets of tears. She was lying in her bedroom upstairs, yelping and sobbing for
him, like a dog in heat. He was in the basement. He refused to come near her. Finally he
did. He approached her bed, reluctantly. She told him she wanted to comb his hair, and
he let her. She then placed his head between her small, firm breasts. Was this the boy she
had so longed for and never had?
Margo doesn’t remember the first time they had sex - strange - considering how much
she had wanted it with him. The two-week, post-Jim episode of seduction was thrilling
for Margo. The wonder of it consumed her. Would he come to her if she lay on the floor?
He did, often. That was the excitement. They would roll around together, their
bodies sealed, clothes on and grooved into the magnificent indentations and protrusions
of their forms. Margo felt it was their souls as much as their bodies that were hastening to
their climactic union. It would take many more years before Margo realized Alex did
not feel the same way.
Alex stayed over most nights and spent weekends with Margo. But he often sought
refuge in the family’s
home, for Alex was a loner. Lachine was about 15 minutes Lachine
by car from Margo’s home. Alex felt safe in
with his father and brother there. He Lachine
always headed home after Margo criticized him over this thing or that. Often, he left
abruptly, slamming the door. Weeks would go by without hearing from him. So she
would call him. When her charm made no dent in his armour, she resorted to shameful
“Come back, Alex. I miss you, and I’m sorry about what I said. Please honey, don’t
punish me any longer.”
Margo had a lovely voice. It made up for what she lacked in appearance. She would let
him know how wonderful he was, and that fights were normal in relationships. Her
maternal manner and sincerity softened his resolve. The promise of a fine dinner sealed
the deal. They would reunite in the sweetest ways, and Margo’s exhilaration cried out in
love for him.
Summers became winters. Margo began to believe Alex was more in love with his
and the old ladies that invited him for lunch whenever he mowed their Lachine
lawns and shoveled their driveways. She had never met all the widows in Alex’s life,
but she viewed them all as his surrogate mothers; his had died the year she met
him. Nevertheless, she desperately clung to her beloved - despite his increasing
indifference towards her.
Darkness descended on Margo. More fights, then silence Alex left her life the same
way he entered it – quietly. On a cloudy, rain-soaked day, he walked out. He never
returned. It was just after he had installed a new set of lights.