I know a certain amount about sports, mainly baseball. Last night the Rangers won the pennant, for example, and I know what the pennant is. The thing my husband finds truly poetic is sports. He’s always trying to talk to me about it and explain. “Watch this play,” he keeps saying, and then explaining it. Without his explanations I don’t think I would appreciate the poetry in sports, though the concept is simple: it’s an arena for heroes and heroics. 

It’s also an arena for people who are grown men, and sometimes quite old men, who take a child’s game so seriously it’s as if they’re soldiers bound for battle zones in a war to fight for our ideals. My husband approaches sports with a level of dedication normally reserved for the enactment of international peace agreements, and a lot of men are like this. They experience weird levels of well-being at victory and existential despair at defeat. Maybe sports provide for them an alternate route to emotion without actual human interaction, a route to the realm of poetics and sensibility without having to read a poem or have a sensibility.

Jack is a conundrum. I am the perfect wife for him since I have no needs and am easily suffocated and am not suffocating. Maybe I’m not needy enough. Men like needy women. Damsels in distress. 

The worst things that happen, you don’t see them coming. That’s what makes them the worst. One of the vagaries of age is a loss of the ability to see or detect things that are right in front of you. Usually it’s when you’re cooking and you can’t find the oregano. But this is a metaphor with a bigger meaning—like when you don’t notice that your husband has turned into a Hieronymus Bosch painting.

“There is something worse than knowing the worst. It is not knowing,” wrote Walker Percy. Yes, it is unsettling to discover that the man you love is not the one you thought he was—or the one he never was, but you embroidered him into a vast ideal, and you can’t change your entire personality in one instant and stop embroidering people into vast ideals. But there is one good side to disillusionment. At least you’re in the real world after that, jolted out of your pathetic stupor. Like welcome to the world, the normal world of disillusionment. The loss of my ideal of him seems almost paltry in comparison. 

Like Dante, lost in a dark wood in the middle of the journey of our life, you weren’t paying attention. You were so inattentive that you didn’t notice your husband had turned into a Hieronymus Bosch painting. (Just take a close look at a Hieronymus Bosch painting if you’re wondering what I mean.)

When I learned of his transgression I threw myself into Dante and Shakespeare, seeking to understand the world that I had failed to see. I couldn’t decipher it without a guide, so I took classes. The classes were at Georgetown. I tried not to talk in class because my contributions were inappropriate, but the other oldsters (auditors) talked so then I did too. The kids stuck purely to the text and the question at hand, as did the oldsters. Whereas when I talked it was all about My Personality, not just Shakespeare. That’s why I’m always cringing in retrospect about my ego disorder. 

The villains in Shakespeare had always upset me. Often the villain comes out on the stage first off and confides his evil plan (Iago, Richard III). So the audience has to squirm in teeth-gnashing hatred of the villain for the rest of the play while his innocent victims are destroyed. Or wait a minute—maybe it’s their innocence that is the agent of their destruction. Their inability to read his heart, see him for who he is. 

This inability to face bleak truths is a great source of trouble. I for example conveniently overlooked the fact that I was an ass or that Jack was not a god or that she whom I held dear was capable of stark betrayal. I had never met a Shakespearean villain before personally. The fault of my inviolable innocence—the crack she got in through.

Are there really such women? Desdemona asks.

How oddly innocent she is, said the professor.

That was me exactly.

“How do you deal with your despair at Iago’s perfidy?” I asked in class. “It’s so depressing.”

Answer: Blank silent stares.

One day I volunteered inanely, “I am exactly like Desdemona and Othello wrapped up into one, so Shakespeare is teaching me to change and be less stupid.” In Shakespeare class I continued to encounter my essential nature, one that must be delivered in tortured public proclamations. My flaws. My woes. My uncanny resemblance to Don Quixote (embroidering everything into vast ideals). 

The kids in the class were adorable. If you idealize someone, said one kid, you’ll never do anything for them, because they’re like a fake statue. If you idealize someone they can never be who you think they are. 

I did learn that, at least. At least then I could look at Jack without embroidering him into a vast ideal and actually just find out who he is. And on the rare occasions when I could do that I saw this: he needs to be nurtured. Hideously, someone else had to do it when I didn’t. 

While reevaluating his personality I noticed he’d done things that Tony Soprano did. Tony wanted to buy a house on the shore, as he plainly told Carmela, “to keep the family together.” It would be a draw for the kids and their friends. Which is what Jack said when he bought the beach house. So is that who Jack is? Tony Soprano?

You think it’s all about ethics at first. You’re the guy in the shroud with the long white beard, carrying the sign that says REPENT. You’re a Florentine fanatic in the fifteenth century about to immolate herself for her obsessive opposition to sin. Or maybe it’s the pope who decides she should be immolated in flames. I’m not sure. 

There is one key bit in the Day of Atonement service that is alien to my ideals (and eminently dear to Jack): they want you to atone for your sins, presuming indubitably that you will sin. The weakness is expected. The evil is presumed. That’s weird. You’re not just some uncontrolled amoeba swimming around the universe. Are you?

In God’s eyes all men are sinners. It sounds like a Hank Williams song. This is humanity. These are the sinners. God loves them too. In fact God loves them more. But the straight shooters have to be stronger. 

You think you must fight back. Draw your sword. But what will you fight? You should surrender your innocence, not fight for it. Yet my innocence kept unintelligently advancing like the soldiers at Gallipoli, as if directed by remote uncourageous generals. 

The absurd advance continued as I drove home from class. A hard rain slashed into the swaying trees. The traffic was gridlock and the temperature was ninety-nine degrees, although it was October.