This is a guest post from Cindy Butor. Cindy is a pseudo-librarian living in Lexington, KY with her rad girlfriend, awesome sister, and ultra-chill cat. She’s a bleeding heart liberal that just wants to make the world a better place – that and read too much, sleep too late, write aggressively, and draw comics. She really wants you to take her seriously but she also really wants to make you laugh. Consequently, she’s pretty awkward. She rages against ideation and devaluation on her blog, The Adventures of a Pissed Off Millennial, and has no idea how to create a consistent brand. You can follow her @babble_drabble on Twitter or @clbutor87 on Instagram where you will see a lot of pictures of her face, cat, and food.
“Howl, howl, howl!” I cry, my future girlfriend lying limp in my arms. I stagger across the common room, drawing startled looks from my fellow dorm dwellers as my friends burst into laughter on the sofa in front of me. We are in Act 5, Scene 3 of King Lear, which I have been summarizing faithfully– if with much profanity – for an ever-growing audience over the past hour. Sam is much heavier than I thought she’d be (that or I’m just weaker), and both my arms and legs are trembling. I take a step, my voice cracking on the fourth “Howl!” as the two of us collapse on the floor, my hand cradling Sam’s head. For a second, my head rests on her chest, a moment we’re both intimately aware of. Then I’m up again, explaining that this is when Lear’s heart breaks – literally. The motherfucker is stone dead.
This is also the moment Sam fell in love with me.
We’d met two years earlier when our mutual friend Sara introduced us. Being young, frightened college freshmen, we’d quickly glommed onto each other. During fall break, Sara and I had shared our food with Sam when someone had eaten all of her frozen meals on the very first night. I’d also cemented our friendship by doing my Zoidberg dance down the hallway for them. Sam and I had grown closer when the boy I’d been trying to confess to grew startled at my hysterical laughter and called Sam to wrangle me. College was like that – one act after another cementing us tighter and tighter together. By junior year, we were living together as roommates. By senior year, we were in love with each other. It would take a while yet for us to do anything about it.
Before me, Sam didn’t know Shakespeare could be fun – or that anyone could like him so much. She’d had friends who’d claimed to like him, and her high school education had thoroughly indoctrinated her into the notion that he was a genius and English’s greatest writer. She knew liking him showed class and intelligence. She even had a favorite play (The Comedy of Errors), but her relationship with him was uneasy. She’d miss the double entendre, and her understanding of the speeches would often be a step behind. The staid, overwrought way many performed it meant that she wasn’t always genuinely excited to watch a production. She much preferred Edgar Allan Poe, whose poetry was the exact type of lyrical, cadenced work she could appreciate.
I loved Shakespeare, and I had for years. The 1996 film Romeo + Juliet had been my first real introduction to Shakespeare, and it has colored my appreciation ever since. Mercutio will forever be Harold Perrineau bare-chested, dreads flung about his face, drunkenly waggling his finger at Romeo. In high school, I was that obnoxious kid fomenting rebellion over calling Romeo & Juliet a romance. Naturally, in our classroom productions, I played Mercutio, inciting a real fight with my Tybalt counterpart when I refused to die easily. Reading Macbeth and Hamlet resulted in an almost spiritual experience that had me dropping couplets for weeks. My “Prose before Hoes” Shakespeare shirt became a staple of my wardrobe. I still have it.
The passion only deepened in college, especially after the semester I spent abroad in a Jacobethan manor in England. There, I took a Shakespeare course that was heavy on performing. During the day, we’d read his plays out loud, and I’d vie with the actual theater majors for who could be the most outlandish. At night, my friends and I would watch production after production of Kenneth Branagh’s various Shakespearean iterations, howling and throwing popcorn and generally acting like we were in a Rocky Horror showing. The year culminated with us acting out various scenes from King Lear, my favorite Shakespearean play, which included me hurling my copy at a kid’s head as I shook, screamed, and flinched from imaginary dogs. Act 3, Scene 6.
So when the talk turned to King Lear that night in junior year (Who knows why. My fault, I assume.), I was ready. What started out as a blow-by-blow summary of Lear trying to get his daughters to suck up to him to get some cool swag turned into a one-woman show that ran down the hall, swept up Sam, and staggered into the common room. Which is where we started.
In retrospect, the whole thing was deeply embarrassing. I swore extravagantly and clung to people’s shirts. I almost dropped my future girlfriend on her head. If you’d asked me ahead of time, “Is this how you’d want someone to fall in love with you?” I’d probably have shouted, “Never, never, never, never, never!”
When Sam tells it, falling in love with me at that moment was the most natural thing in the world. I was being funny and outrageous. I made her laugh out loud. She was startled by how smart I was, not just that I could remember the whole play, but that I could understand it, analyze it, and present it so that she and everyone else could too. Above all, she loved how open I was. She loved that I was willing to fight for something that meant so much to me. She loved that I was willing to make a fool of myself to entertain and help others. She loved that I was trying to draw her into this part of my life that meant so much to me. She loved me.
Since then, we’ve maintained our book-based courtship. I’ve curled against Sam while she’s recited “The Raven,” “The Tell-Tale Heart,” and “Annabel Lee.” She’s done the same as I’ve read chapters from Jane Eyre. I’ve chased her around the apartment bellowing snatches from Henry V’s St. Crispian’s Day speech. We’ve wiggled our eyebrows at each other over Katherina and Petruchio’s barbs. I’ve mailed her copies of David McCullough’s John Adams and Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink bristling with flagged passages. She’s tricked me into participating in more Harry Potter analyses than I care to admit. But I think the moment it all started – closing the distance between each other when we sat, blushing when we made eye contact, mourning each other’s absence – was that night, King Lear, and her smile.