In my last post, I discussed Madeline’s “weighty” insecurities, and their detrimental effect upon her relationship with Ken. Intertwined with other fears and hang-ups about the opposite sex, these insecurities will ultimately lead to a formidable bout with panic and anxiety disorder (from which she eventually emerges victorious) as part of her own personal growth and spiritual development. In this sense, her insecurities are also a catalyst for positive, profound change in her life, much like Ken himself (although at a conscious level, he’s quite unaware of it).
One of Maddy’s biggest obstacles to success is her inability to fully and clearly articulate her deepest fears and feelings, especially to Ken. To get this point across dramatically in the book I employed italics to denote the thoughts swirling through her head, juxtaposed with her conflicting statements.
There’s a dramatic example of this in Chapter 6, in a scene that also reveals the inner conflict between traditional values and contemporary culture:
“Maddy?” he asked softly, as he traced her arm from shoulder to wrist.
“Mmm-hmm?” She was exquisitely lost in the moment.
“Don’t you ever get curious?”
She turned her body so that she was now looking at him directly.
“Curious about what?”
“You know,” he gave her a telling glance, followed by a raised eyebrow. Then he felt sudden regret for even having asked the question.
But relief washed over him when he saw a smile slowly form on her face. “Well…” she began, her voice trailing off. As desirable as he made her feel and as tempted as she was, there remained an underlying fear, an almost irrational insecurity when it came to this very intimate act between a man and a woman.
For Maddy, it went far beyond the “your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit” teachings of the Catholic Church, repeated so often throughout her schooling she could almost hear them in her sleep. She’d long ago accepted the validity of these words; indeed, she took them to heart and wanted nothing more than to give herself to her husband—whoever he might turn out to be—for the very first time on their wedding night. It was simply that, as she grew older, she realized how few people, good people, had practically applied the same beliefs. Even Jake in all of his self-righteousness had admitted to sleeping with his college girlfriend, though he claimed that his ensuing guilt over it had been partially to blame for their break-up.
Beyond all of that, Maddy struggled with some deep-rooted insecurity about not being quite good enough, not having a body acceptable enough (she was after all, very small-breasted as Jake had so cruelly reminded her that evening), and not adequately aware enough of how exactly to please a man. And hadn’t she read stories in the hottest women’s fashion magazines about men leaving their wives over sexual dissatisfaction? Hadn’t she seen the endless articles about how to be better in bed?
She wanted so much to confide in him her conflicted emotions, to explain what was held so very deeply within her being. But as with that night in his waterbed, there was a frustrating disconnection between her innermost thoughts and their eloquent expression. All she could manage was some lame answer about how sex belonged within the confines of a marriage. Undeterred, he just smiled at her as he traced the curve of her face.
“I know, sweetheart and I respect that so much,” he assured her in his deep, sexy voice. “I just wondered that’s all. I know I’d like to know what it’s like be with you. Guess I’ll just have to marry you to find out.”
This entire scene is taken from real life, occurring one evening when “Ken” and I were alone on the couch watching television. And just like Maddy, I couldn’t seem to trust him enough to confide all of the complex feelings I was experiencing. Ken’s comment regarding marriage is a direct quote from his flesh-and-blood counterpart, and for the purposes of fiction, also a statement in support of traditional values. Yes, Ken is a 25 year-old young man with raging hormones and burning desires; but he’s also a serious guy who very much wants to marry and settle down with the right woman. The fact that he’s willing to wait for her is a testament to his strong character. (Too bad Ken’s real life counterpart took a different course of action, one that changed him — or at least my memory of him as a genuine, down-to-earth guy unaffected by the superficial aspects of life — into someone I no longer recognize)
In Chapter 5, readers get a glimpse as to just how deeply Maddy’s previous relationship with Jake Winston has wounded her when — in an intimate moment in Ken’s bedroom, she suddenly has a flashback that propels her to react in harsh opposition to the desires of her heart and body. And although she wants to explain fully the genesis of her discomfort, she cannot bring herself to articulate the words:
Maddy covered her face with her hands, more embarrassed by her overreaction than outraged by Ken’s completely understandable attempt, considering they were all alone in his bedroom. She remained quiet while she tried to gather her composure, wanting so much to find the words to comfort him, to clarify for him the root cause of her discomfort. But it was as if the synchronicity between her thoughts and the physical mechanisms necessary to express them had completely failed her. All she could do was sit there in silence.
But when Ken finally pulled her into a hug, she didn’t resist. Instead, she buried her head in his chest and muffled an emotional apology.
“Nothing to apologize for, sweetheart,” he comforted her. “It’s ok. Everything’s ok.” His voice was a barely audible whisper as they held each other in the translucent beam of moonshine streaming from the window above them.
Ironically, although Ken treats Madeline with the utmost respect and dignity, in a very real sense he’s the one who takes the punishment for Jake’s wrongdoings, simply by being the very next guy to express an interest in her after the breakup. This is also exacerbated by Maddy’s inability to communicate effectively, leaving him frustrated and unsure of her true emotions.
In the pivotal Chapter 19, newly engaged Ken shows up unexpectedly at Madeline’s door to formally announce his status (a reality she’s already aware of intuitively) and to ascertain her feelings about the situation. Perhaps more than any other part of the book, this section is the most dramatic example of the use of italics to denote the dichotomy between what the heart is experiencing and what the head is articulating via the spoken word.
I remember this all too well from real life and can confirm the conversation between Ken and Madeline to be nearly verbatim to the one that transpired between “Ken” and Daria. And like Madeline, part of my motivation for putting on the performance of a lifetime was also a lofty belief in morality, a desire to do the right thing (in my mind) by stepping aside:
“Now how do you feel?” he asked nervously.
How the hell do you think I feel Kenny? You were the one calling and crying on the phone for nearly two years about how much you loved me and missed me; the one who practically begged me to move here in the first place; and the one who kept your live-in girlfriend a secret until there was no turning back! How the hell do you think I feel after uprooting my entire life, hurting my family and having to face the consequences of a misinformed decision alone? How could you deceive me like that? Is this some sort of payback for hurting you?
“Hey, I think it’s great!” she replied brightly. “Congratulations! I’ve been dating a lot myself since I got here. Believe me; I have my own things going on!”
“Well you sure seem as if you’ve changed,” he noted with a twinge of sadness and more than a little confusion. This was not even close to the reaction he was expecting. Maybe Madeline hadn’t loved him after all.
Interesting update: During one of our emotionally charged telephone communications just prior to the release of the book, I told “Ken” that I should have received an Oscar for this performance. There was a moment of stunned silence in which he appeared truly taken aback. Reminiscing on this incident, I am amazed I even had the strength to put on such a compelling show. This was an incredibly painful time for me, one that is thankfully in the past.
For those who haven’t read my analysis of Erin, in that post I allude to Chapter 19 as a foreshadowing of her self-centered shallowness and materialism, and the eventual demise of their marriage as a direct result. Fictional Ken gives it his best shot, but in the end realizes the futility of remaining with a woman whose intellect and emotions run about as deep as a puddle in the South Florida sun — another example of where fiction differs from fact.
Coming Soon: More on Madeline, Philly sports teams and Ken.