There I was, minding my own business at the end of Book V of the Aeneid, when I came across the word concussus. It means “stunned” as in a concussion. Virgil was using it to describe a sailor who had just discovered that his friend had fallen overboard during the night. I wanted to make sure I had it right, so I looked it up. That’s when I found, by chance, complexus. I do that a lot: wander around dictionaries, libraries, malls, cities. You can learn a lot that way. Just have good shoes and bus fare.
What I read about complexus left me, well, concussus. It was as if I had fallen overboard. Com•plex•us is a fourth declension noun meaning: (1) close combat, (2) mental grasping, and (3) love’s embrace. That one word could relate to all three–body, mind, and soul–was what my students call “A-mazing.” Combat and love in the same word made perfect sense to me. It explained just about every relationship I have ever been in. It’s the reason “marital” and “martial” are so close. Love, to put it bluntly, is war. And war, as General Sherman observed on his march to the sea, is “hell.”
There is a scene, forever etched in my mind, of me and my fiancée practicing our wedding dance a few days before our wedding. Our first dance as husband and wife would be to The Platters’ Twilight Time (her choice), which is actually not about vampires (not directly). Since we were so close to the big day, our dance instructor told us to do a dress rehearsal, which meant black tuxedo for me, white gown and heels for her. The dog looked on.
Dancing is the best way to identify relationship problems. If you are married, it is better than counseling. You hold each other a breath away and engage in hand-to-hand combat on the dance floor. You might as well be issued a gladius, the Roman short sword. I have met few women willing to let the man lead, but dancing is all about ritual. There’s no getting around the need for a leader and a follower. Each has a role to play and, if not done correctly, the entire dance suffers. In other words, you look like an idiot. If you are not married but trying to figure out if the person who has ripped your life apart is “The One,” take dance lessons. In three weeks you will either be engaged or in court.
During our dress rehearsal we argued. Then we sparred. What dance instructors call “the frame,” kung fu instructors call “hand fighting.” That’s exactly what we did. Finally, exasperated, I fled to the upstairs bathroom and locked myself in. I undid my bow tie and sat on the toilet, head in hands, as my beloved banged on the door with her high heel.
There exists a strange connection between love and bathrooms, at least pour moi. This was my second marriage. You’d think I had learned enough by then not to have resorted to locking myself in bathrooms, but no. My first marriage also involved a bathroom. The difference is that back then my fiancée locked herself in while I stood outside pleading. But that was a while ago and times have changed. If the fight for equality has resulted in men locking themselves in as readily as women, I don’t count that as a net gain for Western civilization.
What would be a gain?
Oh, I don’t know. Maybe acting like adults. Treating each other with kindness. And humor. You need both in something as complexus as love. But maybe that’s too much to ask. If you do ask, though, don’t forget to duck.
Otherwise you might get a concussus.