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Dana Adam Shapiro

You Can Be Right (or You Can Be Married)

Dana Adam Shapiro You Can Be Right (or You Can Be Married) Looking For Love In The Age Of Divorce
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Excerpt from book:


INTRODUCTION



My grandma keeps company with spirits. A Dewar’s on the rocks every day at four o’clock on the button, and the spectral kind that rattle around her head. This isn’t some crackpot theory; it’s a matter of fact. They’re here, now, passing through the walls of her old house on Cape Cod, where I’ve come to work on this book. For a long time, I thought it was a book about divorce: a bedside companion for the boo-hoo crowd, Chicken Soup for Shattered Souls. But while I may have set out to interview people about their most brutal breakups, I’m realizing now, almost four years in, that like most marital spats, it’s never about what it’s about.

It wasn’t always like this—Grandma’s spirits, I mean—only since my grandpa died, sixteen years ago, a few months shy of their fiftieth wedding anniversary. We talk about it often, this great love of hers, and as we do she sips her scotch, his drink, on her side of their bed. Still, always, on her side of their bed.

“To my Howard!” she says, toasting the ghost with his tumbler.

That’s what she calls him now, my Howard, sometimes right to his face. It’s a much younger face than I remember, black and white and framed on their bedroom wall. Back when he was here, in color, she always called him “Daddy.”

To hear her tell it, she never had eyes for another. It was b’shert, she says—the Yiddish word for “destiny.” They were neighborhood kids from the same side of the tracks of Haverhill, Massachusetts, a factory town that was known back then as Queen Slipper City because local workers manufactured almost 10 percent of the shoes worn in the United States. But the Cinderella subtext wasn’t lost on my grandma Rose, whose name no doubt influenced the tint of her gaze.

The first of eight children born to Russian immigrants in 1915, her head has been bumping up against the clouds ever since she could crawl. Where others saw dust, she found glitter, and she came of age air-trumpeting to Cole Porter, daydreaming of a trip to the moon on gossamer wings. And sure enough, as if her destiny had been written in calligraphy, she awoke one day in her teens to find that the love of her life was living just down the road.

My Howard.

“I got a car when I was sixteen years old, it was a convertible,” she tells me. “And for my first ride, I went out looking for him. I wanted to show off a little. He was always very standoffish when it came to me but I used to run after him a little bit, I really did. So I put on my hat, and I looked very nice, and I drove by this place where all the boys used to hang around. And sure enough, there he was. I knew he’d be there. And I asked him: ‘Would you like to go for a ride with me?’ And he said, ‘No. I’m busy.’ Just like that: I’m busy.

“Well, I went home and I was hysterical. And my mother said, ‘Stop your crying—what’s the matter with you? If he didn’t want to go with you, so what? You think he’s such a bargain?’ And I said, ‘Well, Mother, he’s a bargain to me.’”

When my grandpa died, I went snooping through his dresser, looking for clues to his character, hoping to find that long-lost tchotchke that would reveal the secret longings of a man’s soul. His rusty dog tag from the war that earned him a Purple Heart now hangs from a chain on my office wall. His trusty flask sits on my desk, filled with a ceremonial shot of Dewar’s. And next to that, from underneath a cache of Russian letters, I dug up a glossy fossil dated 1994: a mint-condition Valentine’s Day card that he must have picked up at the pharmacy late that February morning. In flowery metallic script it says:

Hearts speak when words cannot.

Inside, written in an old man’s poststroke, shaky hand:

Even though we have a lot of differences, and our communication is probably as bad as it can be,

“A wonderful and important piece of thinking and reporting.”

--Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Committed: A Love Story and Eat, Pray, Love


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