If you have to force it, leave it. Relationships. Friendships. Yoga poses. Perfect ponytails. Let that shit go. – Akua Naru
When asked to discuss the inspiration behind his fictional character, Emma Bovary, Gustave Flaubert is reported to have said, without hesitation: “Madame Bovary, c’est moi.”
Though there exists no written trace of this sentence anywhere in Flaubert’s writings to authenticate it, literary scholars agree that there is nonetheless truth in the words. Like his heroine, for example, Flaubert experienced profound melancholy and ennui, and he understood what it felt like to have his aspirations stifled by trivial societal norms. What’s more, his empathy for Madame Bovary was so deep that, twice while writing the scene where she commits suicide by swallowing arsenic, he got up from his desk to vomit.
At no point while painting Joseph le jaloux did I walk away from my work to wrap some kind of protective layer around me and cry bitter tears of jealousy. In the moment, I didn’t see myself in Joseph any more than I saw myself in any of the other characters my hands were creating. He was just a kid standing under a tree on the shore of a lake, wrapped in a towel, having jealous thoughts about the lovebirds sitting side by side on the swim raft. No sooner was the painting dried than I tossed it into my pop-up coffee table, never to think about it or Joseph again.
Until now. And looking at it now, in retrospect, it’s clear. Joseph le jaloux, c’est moi.
Contrary to what the painting suggests, though, I am not jealous of a woman sitting where I want to be sitting on a swim raft next to a man who used to be my man. I’m jealous of the man. Of Jerry. Of the rapidity and ease with which he has moved on from his life with me, of the enormous potential he has as a sculpted, well-dressed, distinguished looking man in his forties to start over, of the vast pool of women at his disposal and from which he can choose to do this. I’m also jealous of the book he’s published, the photography class he’s taking, the new writing project he’s excited about, not to mention the expensive winter coat, the latest IPhone, the earbuds, the washer-dryer in his apartment, the big paycheck, and the 401K. Jerry has it all. And I am tremendously jealous.
It’s not jealousy we see in Joseph’s eyes, however. What is it, then? What is in this look of his?
“Il a fait caca dans l’eau,” Antoine says, “c’est la honte.”
Very astute, this hot Lebanese architect of yours.
Jerry wants to be friends. He wants to go for long walks in Prospect Park a couple times a week and talk and talk and talk, the way friends do, about work and politics and personal projects. He makes it look so easy. You’re trying so hard, but it’s not working. There’s too much confusion, not to mention lingering pain, residual anger, and frustrating frustration. Worse still: there’s the jealousy. It’s the shit in the water, the source of your shame.
You’ve read the New Testament. Twice. You know that jealousy is a sin. You don’t want to be jealous of Jerry, but just the sight of him biking up to the entrance of the park and you’re shitting in the water again. You’re so ashamed, but you don’t know how to control it. You don’t know what to do.
You don’t know what to do? Are you kidding me? There’s shit in the water! Stay on the shore! Whatever you do, do not dive back into the water! It’ll just make you feel shitty, pun intended.