Simon Says, Breaking Up Is Hard to Do
“‘The problem is all inside your head,’ she said to me,
‘The answer is easy if you take it logically,’ …
She said, ‘It grieves me so to see you in such pain,
I wish there was something I could do to make you smile again.’
I said, ‘I appreciate that and would you please explain
About the 50 ways.'”
Throughout history, in both fact and fiction, star-crossed unions have either grudgingly endured or ended, occasionally tumultuously. In the song “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover,” Paul Simon suggests that if the termination path is opted for, separation ought to be a snap of the fingers. Easy-peasy.
“You just slip out the back, Jack,
Make a new plan, Stan,
You don’t need to be coy, Roy,
Just get yourself free.
Hop on the bus, Gus,
You don’t need to discuss much,
Just drop off the key, Lee,
And get yourself free.”
The Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton political unraveling, the Al Capone and “Bugs” Moran turf war culminating in the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, and the Biggie Smalls and Tupac Shakur hip-hop squabble suggest otherwise. Perhaps “Rhymin’ Simon” should have added “Go grab a gun, hun” as an option.
Nonlethal examples of messy partings of the ways can also come to mind. Take, for example, the “Nothing fancy, Nancy” split between former figure skating teammates Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan during the 1994 Winter Olympics.
Of course, the majority of dissolutions don’t result in such calamitous circumstances. However, there is always the risk that the grass might not be greener. The original AC versus DC electrical supply debate is an example. Nikola Tesla was once an up-and-coming employee working under Thomas Edison. Tesla, confident that his alternating current method for delivering electricity was a superior approach, ended his affiliation with Edison and died penniless.
Personally, I once forsook a minor equity stake in a small company when I quit over residual hurt feelings resulting from a critical performance review. One year later, my former employer was acquired via a stock swap. The value of my share, which I had forfeited upon resignation, was more than I had earned in my entire career. It has risen tenfold since.
Some pairings, despite ample evidence of toxicity, continue to attempt a harmonious existence. Take the late New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, who hired — and fired — former manager Billy Martin five times, perhaps with the following overture: “Let’s be silly, Billy.”
I’ve never in my life witnessed a truly amicable breakup in which both parties were completely satisfied. Certainly, I personally have not experienced anything remotely close. In the “endure or seek a cure” equation, there is no ideal outcome or perfect timing.
That context explained much of my anxiety concerning the oil-and-water constituency of a new home healthcare aide and myself. At our best, my sense was that we just weren’t clicking. At our worst, some moments were accompanied by my awareness that a paycheck and my sustenance were the only aspects of our arranged marriage being served. Gradually, a desire for a Simonesque resolution began to take shape.
This was virgin territory for me. I’ve been receiving the services of a home healthcare aide for seven years. All told, four agencies and over 40 caregivers have been my providers. Not once have I voiced any displeasure or ever thought of requesting a change.
Quite the contrary, in fact. Despite frequent rocky starts on account of my rather unique and formidable needs, comfortable partnerships have always been forged. That pattern has characterized the entire spectrum of my experience on the receiving end of caregiving. At times, professionals from every therapy specialty have even gone the extra mile on my behalf.
I have no doubt that it takes a special person to sign up for such a service-oriented vocation. They are to be lauded and celebrated. Truly they are of the right stuff. My reverence for their calling was a major factor in my procrastination of providing negative feedback to the agency office.
Plus, we had already survived the harrowing introductory phase. My reliance on the aides assigned to me is humbling and dehumanizing. But it’s also a necessary part of achieving safe passage from one day to the next. Once a routine has been established, it’s no small chore to begin anew with someone unfamiliar.
So I bit my tongue. I rationalized that we were both alpha personalities who wanted some measure of control. I resigned myself to a position of cheerful acquiescence. I assumed that stance would make for a seamless patch over a pothole only I perceived. Assuredly, my aide had no qualms regarding my care. What’s not to like about me?
The next day my bubble burst. The agency informed me that the aide had requested reassignment. Something along the lines of: “You’re not my pick, Rick.” Now I know how Art Garfunkel must have felt.
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