Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Albee & Me

Protecting ‘the tale’ of their son keeps Martha and George tied to one another like a mongoose to a cobra, they know they live only to eventually kill each other, but for now they need to work together to survive — co-dependent enemies.

The drinking keeps the well-rehearsed ‘game’ within the confines of the status quo; drinking threatens to tip the balance of constant violence in favour of tragic consequences. That it doesn’t, is only a result of their mutual fear of abandonment.

They are … Kraljevo Girl and I.

whos-afraid-virginia-woolf_01As I was reading Albee’s play, there was so much familiarity to our patterns of love and hate it seemed Albee had written it with us in mind.

Much earlier in my toxic relationship with her, I had spewed out similar scenes into a screenplay with the working title, Idée Fixe.

The fractured relationship of Jules and Camille came forth with a fury and realism that could only have come from what I’d experienced.

Knowing this, and buoyed with the understanding of the themes of abandonment, alienation, identity, and violence in literature, I’m now revisiting that story with a more mature approach, especially now that I’ve been pucker-punched and am now living in the basement of a rooming house in downtown Toronto.

Besides abandonment of each other, what secret had we wrapped ourselves in that once it was revealed to strangers, ripped us apart. My drinking was surely one of them, but it came rather late in the story. Was it the revelation that I was adopted that came out when I naively asked those so-and-sos to take a look at my blog? Was it our dislike of the Smith children? That was surely a shared feeling that once I’d written that drunken email, ripped the lid off of things – forcing her to choose sides. I’d always known that she could say anything about her family, but if I dared to, well, hell hath no fury! The hypocrisy bubbles over, but ‘blood is thicker than water’, and family trumps an adoptee’s POV. Me, that adoptee, never knew how to be part of a family, never felt that tight, at times strangling bond of familial ties, and as the innate fear of abandonment finally became a debilitating anxiety of the first order, I started to lash out like a cornered dog at all those around me.

At the outset of Woolf, Act Three: The Exorcism, Martha is at the bar clinking ice in her glass while, George has disappeared, Nick is elsewhere, Honey is in a fetus position on the tiles of the bathroom peeling the label off the bottle of brandy. Martha is alone and “beginning to feel the anxious grip of abandonment around her neck” (That’s mine)

MARTHA: Deserted! Abandon-ed! Left out in the cold like an old pussycat. … Daddy? Daddy? Martha is abandon-ed. Left to her own vices. (p. 273, The Collected Plays)

She is abandoned and constantly crying, while violently searching for ‘the bastards’ who are hiding from her. (p. 135, Encyclopedia)

A few minutes later, there’s a dialogue between Martha and Nick in which she reveals to a disbelieving young stud/houseboy that all men are flops, and that

MARTHA: There is only one man in my life who has ever … made me happy. Do you know that? One!

NICK: The … lawn mower …? (one of Martha’s earlier trysts)

MARTHA: No; I’d forgotten him … No, I didn’t mean him; I meant George, of course. … Uh … George; my husband.

NICK: You’re kidding.

MARTHA: Am I?

NICK: You must be. Him?

MARTHA: Him.

MARTHA: George is out there somewhere in the dark … George who is good to me, and whom I revile; who understands me, and whom I push off; who can make me laugh, and I choke it back in my throat; who can hold me, at night, so that it’s warm, and whom I will bite so there’s blood; … who can make me happy and I do not want to be happy, and yes I do wish to be happy. George and Martha: sad, sad, sad.

… whom I will not forgive for having come to rest; for having seen me and said: yes, this will do; who has made the hideous, the hurting, the insulting mistake of loving me and must be punished for it. George and Martha: sad, sad, sad.

… who tolerates, which is intolerable; who is kind, which is cruel; who understand, which is beyond comprehension.

Some day … hah! some night … some stupid, liquor-ridden night … I will go too far … and I’ll either break the man’s back … or push him off for good … which is what I deserve. (pp. 276-277, The Collected Plays of Edward Albee, v. 1)

Is there something in there very first theme explored in Encyclopedia of Themes of Literature, V. 1, you’ll find “abandonment”. Yes, alphabetically, that’s expected, but if you read the entry, you soon come to realize that we all have abandonment issues, and it starts once the cord is cut. For those of us who are adopted, it comes sooner than most. There is no prolonged period to ‘get over it!”, and you have little chance to ever be with the one you long to the most. Like a ghost, we hover in-between life and death waiting, hoping to reconnect with that one. We crash séances in the faint hope that she will be seeking us. We eavesdrop on conversations hoping to hear a whiff of the tale we were told, or maybe our birth name. We are voyeurs, observers of the party called life for which we failed to receive an invitation.

In the entry for Albee’s most successful play with a long and successful production history, they cover off themes of alienation, family and violence, but not abandonment which I feel throws gasoline on George and Martha’s toxic relationship.

Noteworthy additional sources

Freedom from Toxic Relationships: Moving on from the family, work and relationship issues that bring you down, Avril Carruthers, 2011 (“cord clearing”)(re-forming positive attachments, like me as a confident, whole once again forming relationships with the guys – FanExpo day was a good start – he saw me in a way that differed from before; Ben will be 200% more difficult)

Impossible to Please: How to Deal with Perfectionist Coworkers, Controlling Spouses, and Other Incredibly Critical People, Neil Lavender, Alan Cavaiola, 2012

Games Primates Play: An Undercover Investigation of the Evolution and Economics of Human Relationships, Dario Maestripieri, 2012

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