Last night I watched a movie called “Normal Life.” It was about a police officer (Luke Perry) who meets a very troubled young woman (Ashley Judd), falls hopelessly in love with her, and plunges with her into a bleak hell of crime and death.
This movie came out in 1996, and I saw it for the first time a year or so later on cable. When I saw it again last night, I shook my head in disbelief that the straight-laced Luke Perry character could lose his heart so quickly and completely to such an obviously disturbed woman and later resort to such extreme measures to keep her in his life. But when I saw the movie nine or so years ago, my reaction was very different. The movie resonated with me profoundly back then because I knew all-too-well what it felt like to love someone with such obsessive and desperate focus that one would do almost anything to have and keep her in his life. I didn’t rob or even contemplate robbing banks for the woman I loved at that time. But if she had wanted me to and I had felt capable of pulling it off, I have little doubt that I would have done it if I thought it meant keeping her with me. Nor do I doubt that I would have acted much the way the Luke Perry character did at the very end of the film were I to face similar circumstances.
I would like to think that it’s a measure of how much I’ve matured over the intervening years that I no longer empathize with this character or think the movie is particularly good. But have I REALLY matured all that much emotionally, or is it more a matter of having suffered a figurative hardening of my heart to the slings and arrows of unrequited love that I experienced with the woman in question. After her, I think I permanently lost the ability to love anyone with that kind of overwhelming passion and depth and to empathize with anyone else who could. That’s probably a good thing overall, but it’s not completely good. I think I lost a vital piece of myself when I lost that young woman’s affections. I’ve spent the last nine or so years feeling too little emotional connection to other people and to the emotional aspects of my past. I’ve sheltered myself from the pain and sadness that can come from getting too close to others and to a less than fulfilling past, and, in so doing, have sacrificed some of my humanity to the insipid God of comfort.
But the film reminded me of a somewhat similar story of a guy I used to know in high school who ended up being a cop who lost his job over his illicit involvement with a woman, eventually took to robbing banks, and killed himself when he finally faced capture. So I went online to refresh my memory of the precise details of his case and stumbled across a couple of websites for fellow class of 1971 graduates of my high school. There I found brief messages from people I hadn’t seen or heard anything from in almost 35 years, and I felt the sadness as well of pleasure of connecting a little with that long ago time and place in my life.
I was an impossibly shy geek in high school with no close friends. I didn’t attend school dances or other functions, I was terrified of women, and I earned decent grades but never really challenged or applied myself in school. After I quit the varsity basketball team as a sophomore because my learning disability rendered me incapable of learning the plays or even executing simple practice drills and because I had a recently diagnosed heart arrhythmia that would have made effective play on that level difficult under the best of circumstances, my passions were playing playground basketball on weekdays after school and then retreating into my bedroom at night to lose myself in books and television, and bowling on the weekends. To say I was outside the mainstream at my high school would be an understatement, and I hung out with my out-of-the-mainstream casual male friends and was so isolated from the overall scheme of things that I didn’t even know enough about what I was missing to really miss it all that much.
But when I saw a brief message from one of the guys I knew in elementary and junior high school and spent quite a lot of time with in high school, I felt the happy warmth of nostalgia and sent him a message telling him how much I admired and liked him all those years ago and that I hoped things were going well for him.
I also posted a public message to another forum for my graduating class in which I addressed a poster’s question of whether she would do anything differently if she had a chance to go back to high school knowing what she does now. She said she would do almost everything the same the second time around. I said I would do almost everything differently. And so I would, or would like to think I would. But that’s perhaps a subject for another journal entry someday.