In 1966, Harold Ramis met artist Anne Plotkin. He was twenty-two and had just avoided service in Vietnam "by checking every box on the Army's medical history form, claiming to suffer from conditions ranging from night sweats to bedwetting to homosexuality" (Friend, 2004). Anne was a free-spirited kind of 60s girl. She would "fly to Bulgaria on a whim to find a Bulgarian psychic to teach them French, or slap [Harold] just to gauge his reaction." Tad Friend recounts in The New Yorker, 19 April 2004, how Anne recalls "the time a soap bubble from the sink glistened on their wall for three miraculous days. She told me, 'I consider that one of the high points of our marriage."
Thoughts are too brief but also far too long
They linger long enough to pain and bleed
In my head echoes a melancholy song
The agonizing future is still but a seed
15 May 1984, Harold wrote "NEW LIFE" on a red index card and taped it to the inside of a kitchen cabinet in the house they shared. Ramis tells Friend, "That resolution was inspired by a combination of marital discontent and being hung over in some way... The image I was cultivating was Last Man Standing, but I realized I felt sick most of the time, that anhedonia had set in..." Friend explains further, "Ramis left Anne, forswore drugs and, later, cigarettes, and, in 1989, married Erica Mann, his former assistant. Erica and her mother had both spent time at Buddhist retreats, and Ramis began to move in that direction."
Broken hearts still beat
Shattered dreams linger nearby
And life still goes on
In 1992, when Groundhog Day was in production, Bill Murray's marriage to Mickey Kelly, with whom he had eloped in 1981, was coming to an end. He was having an affair with Jennifer Butler, costume designer for Groundhog Day (and costumer for Scrooged, Ghostbusters II and What About Bob?. Sometimes, Murray "was just really irrationally mean and unavailable; he was constantly late on set," Ramis tells Friend.
These lives are damaged
Why do we throw them out and start anew
Rather than repair the damage?
Bill and Mickey would divorce in 1996. Bill and Jennifer would divorce in 2008. She would accuse him of abuse, abandonment, drug addiction and adultery.
I imagine neural pathways that include you are screaming at the realization they will soon need to atrophy. A part of me will die. Proximity and expectation and the neural pathways built in the past decade plus and it will all be gone or deformed. It is no wonder that I must grieve.
We like to think love is forever and marriage is "till death do us part." It doesn't always work out that way. Those indented bits above are just a sampling of the melodramatic things I would write in the notebook I used to carry with me, back when separation was painful and divorce was something like... scary. There are pages of scribbled bits of pain and anger and grief. Though I've come to terms with the end of my own marriage since, it still hurts to read some of this stuff. I think that neural pathway line is actually a good measure of why a divorce or break-up can hurt so much...
Rita just slapped Phil on date night and I wonder how many days did he spend in pursuit of her. More than we see, for sure. She's a fixture in his world, and here she is rejecting him. Then, she rejects him again and again and again. Is it any wonder that his darkest days (that we see) come right after?
The more time we spend with another person, or at a particular job, or in a particular home--the more it becomes such a fixture in our life. Neural pathways are altered and formed anew and a part of who we are in the present includes that person, that job, that home. Sometimes it seems like identity is entirely internal, that what we present to the world around us is just an outward expression of what is inside. But so much of who we are--internally--is formed by what is around us, the opposite of the previous sentence. And...
I'm rambling when I think I know exactly what I want to say here. I want to say that our personalities are a combination of genetics, upbringing and choice. I want to say that when we choose to be with a particular someone, we become a different version of our self. I want to say that when that version can no longer be, it hurts, in a way, as much as it might hurt to lose a limb. For a time, the world might not make much sense at all, and we may feel like there is a hole inside, and there is no way to fill it any longer. But, over time, that hole becomes the new normal; a new version of self emerges, and life goes on. It's trite, it's clichéd, it's true. I want to say that no matter how much pain you might be in, because of a break up, because of losing a job, because of losing a home, losing a limb, losing a general hope for the future, it can get... easier to deal with, if you give it enough time, and you focus on what works, on what's good.
When divorce became a real possibility for my wife and I, I was working on notes for a new novel. This note regarding that story perhaps says more about what I was going through than a lot of the lame bits of poetry and scribbled rants:
I think I figured out yesterday the theme for Last Song of Whisper Blackbraid. It's about letting go, moving on, when you know you have to but can barely even bear the idea let alone the reality of it. Those parents losing their children, Jason longing for the wife he hasn't seen in years even as he had finally almost moved on to Rien, two old people long for comfort before they pass. And at the center, Quarrel, feeling that he has but a short time left with his wife, knowing he'll be gone soon, and trying to do his job in the meantime even when all he wants to to do is lay in bed with Nikkel, making the last days take as long as they can. So, it's probably Quarrel who will die in this story, never having to leave Gardea again and be without his wife, while Jason survives to see Nakusa one more time, only to leave Rien behind. The narrative may leave Nikkel and Rien behind in the end but the air of sadness, of loss, will already be there... perhaps Quarrel at least will try in some way to prepare Nikkel for life without him--maybe that's why he gets engrossed in his work, in solving the mystery of Whisper Blackbraid, because the only alternative to staying with Nikkel every moment of his last days with her is to distance himself, leave her alone to get used to his absence... and does she figure this out? She must know about the (curse); he had to have told her about it in all their years together. So, she'll realize, just as he can feel it in his bones, that he will be gone soon. Maybe there can even be a scene of her comforting Rien in some way, a hopeful moment for these two old women soon to be alone... I don't think this is a short story at all, but maybe with all this melancholy, it shouldn't linger so long as a novel either or it might be too depressing.
Writing a story about loss was not in the cards for me at the time, though. I wrote a chapter and put it aside for a later date. I think I needed something more positive. Eventually, that need gave birth to the Groundhog Day Project. If I do get around to writing Last Song of Whisper Blackbraid, it will still be about loss, but maybe it will not be as painful to write now that I have had more time to... accept is the wrong word, or not exactly the right word. But, I have accepted the end of what for a time seemed would last for the rest of my life.
I do not imagine that writing NEW LIFE on that index card was easy or painless. But, I like the simplicity of it. I am still finding my new life, recognizing all of its parts. It (and I) is an ongoing process. My time loop still turns and resumes, and I emerge constantly out of earlier versions of my self.
And, it goes pretty well so far, I think.
Today's reason to repeat a day forever: to invent myself anew each day like the Joker in Morrison's Arkham Asylum... but without the occasional homicidal urges.