Bruce Bentzman's Suburban Soliloquy


In Greek mythology there is a story of Zeus and Hermes, travelling
incognito, seeking hospitality and finally finding it with a humble, elderly couple, Baucis and her husband Philemon. They hosted Zeus and Hermes with the kindness that was due guests in classical Greece. Appreciative of their kindness, the gods revealed themselves and offered the couple their any wish. The couple discussed it and with shrewd political sense told Zeus they wished to serve in his sacred shrine. But the subject of this essay concerns
the rest of their wish. Philemon and Baucis, being happy in life and in love, understood the consequence of their tender commitment, the grief of the one who has to outlive the other. So this ancient Greek couple asked to die within an hour of each other. When the time came, they were metamorphosed, one into an oak and the other a linden, but entwined and growing from a single trunk.

Another example of these feelings can be found in the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania. In their collection is a pair of human skeletons that are exhibited under glass in exactly the manner in which they had been buried. One is a male who has evidently been killed. Next to him lies a female skeleton, her bones embracing his. The female appears to have been buried alive. The relationship of the two is unknown, but they are popularly called The Lovers.

The capacity for endearment is not new.

This is the tragic side of being in a loving relationship, the foreknowledge that one partner is bound to outlive the other, and it is rarely otherwise. I can understand someone forgoing this grief and avoiding commitment. However, at a time when it seems to be unusual, I find myself in an exceedingly happy, extremely devoted, and profoundly affectionate marriage. Because we know that the time together is precious and limited, our romance has become the enduring priority. The rewards of every other pleasure are secondary - even success as a writer holds less value to me because I have already received the unsurpassable reward.

We met in Boston through a mutual friend. My friend and I drove to her place after midnight and he woke her from a sound sleep. They were dating at the time. The three of us then drove to the end of Cape Cod to watch the sun rise from the ocean, a cold Autumn day in 1982. It was while waiting in the car for the sun, trying to stay warm, that my friend fell asleep in the back. She and I, however, could not sleep, charged with a shared enthusiasm for mutually intriguing topics of conversation.  We spoke of our common passion for life and fear of death. This initially united us in a close friendship. That we continue to enjoy conversation is a mainstay to our relationship, preferring each other's company to all else. There is never enough time together.

That morning on Cape Cod the sun came up. My friend tried to stand next to his sweetheart on the beach, but she danced away from him.  She wanted the day to begin with finding her alone, having private thoughts. This was the first indication I had that theirs was not a successful relationship, soon to come undone.

So here, then, are we, snuggling together in our "cardboard" home, in an anonymous array of suburban houses. Ms Keogh and I were married in March of 1987; I did not take her name when we married. Sometimes I will awake and observe her sleeping alongside me in bed and realize this is still the best part of life. If I think how all this will someday be gone, I cannot then forsake the moment. Like Goethe's Faust, I would ask the moment to stand still. It doesn't matter that I'm stuck in suburbia, for I am also stuck in happiness.

For a little while someone might find this piece of text, an essay written by someone, somewhere, but eventually even the language it is written in will be forgotten. The species that reads this will become extinct. Whether the universe collapses into itself or expands into entropy, in any case all signs of us ever having lived and loved shall be erased. I don't mean to appear disappointed by the indifference of the cosmos to my romance. I mean to emphasize that the relationship is the most important thing in my life; the rewards are immediate. It makes little difference to me if I am a posthumous success as that won't be a reward I can feel. And in the long run, when the universe runs down and no significance is left, I will have had happiness, while the author in pursuit of immortality might not. So it doesn't matter if I don't succeed as a writer. I have made my decision; it is worth this happiness even if it is not for ever. Should Ms Keogh awake and we embrace, it is the best part of existence.

Bruce Bentzman

This is the twenty-third in a series of regular reports from the life and times of Mr Bentzman. If you've any comments or suggestions, the writer would be pleased to hear from you.