Thursday, February 18, 2010


My younger sister Rachel used to write me emails in ALL-CAPS when I was in college. Email was relatively new technology at the time -- I had yet to sign up for my first hotmail account (mcninja64@hotmail) -- and so proper electronic correspondence decorum was not yet widely established.

I had a pretty rotten spell in college, feeling isolated and missing my glory days in high school where I’d been prefect, star soccer player and egomaniacal dictator of an extra-ineffectual student government. I knew Rachel looked up to me, cause I was her big brother. She went to the same prep school that I went to on the same scholarship I’d received. She and I used to play soccer together in the backyard of our house for hours and hours in the summertime after we’d watch reruns of Wings on USA. I tried to be a good role model, I did. But for some stupid reason, when it came to those emails, I was a real jerk.

One night -- when I was feeling sad about some misery of my own making – I got an upbeat email from her, in all-caps that spoke excitedly about something or other in her life and told me to be happy or cheer up or something, and I replied and went on a tirade about how the all-caps were annoying and how she didn’t understand that life wasn’t always fun and happy and that sometimes you had to just be mad about things. It was angsty and cynical and I’m sure I felt like I was teaching her an important lesson about the real world. But I was being a bad big brother. She must have been fourteen or fifteen at the time. Her emails came less frequently after that. Fewer exclamation marks. Unenthusiastic subject lines. Proper capitalization.

Why do we hurt the ones we love?

Hamlet abuses Ophelia, tells her to get to a nunnery to avoid bearing children who may be boys, for boys will be sinners and dishonest like he is. He says horrible, nasty things to her, then he kills her father and unlike Othello, it is not the unnatural nearness of the moon to the Earth that makes Ophelia mad. It’s the natural douchebaggery of man.

But then, after she dies and Hamlet sees Laertes and his modes of grief, he leaps to, not to be outdone.

I loved Ophelia – forty thousand brothers

Could not with all their quantity of love

Make up my sum. (5:1)

How could he dare say such a thing! Laertes was a pretty good brother. He was looking out for Ophelia’s virtue in cautioning her to stay away from Hamlet and his many tenders of affection. He loved Ophelia.

We’ve been in Hamlet’s position too. When you’re in love with a girl, and all your emotions are tied to hers, you think that it’s more profound than any love her family could provide. But of course that’s wrong.

I made a depressing mistake once and read the online journal of my ex half a year after we’d seen each other last. Searching through the archives, I found the chronicle of the night she left. How she drove from my arms to her dad’s embrace, and he held her and comforted her and made her feel safe. That used to be my job. But I didn’t do it right, I wanted more things for myself. She would always have his arms. And her mother’s. And she would have the ears of all her friends who despised me for taking her away from them.

My love was inferior.

If Hamlet could have found Ophelia’s blog and read the strange, floral ramblings she executed after he murdered her father, he might have learned the same lesson. Not that it would have mattered. At this moment in the play Hamlet has already declared his thoughts to be bloody. He’s killed Polonius and orchestrated the deaths of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. His virtual insanity smacks of actual insanity as his corrupt moral compass wavers. Too close to the magnetic destination of his vengeance.

When revenge is the motive, there will be innocent casualties. When we can’t cope with our own dissatisfaction, love’s umbrella breaks down. And someone always gets hurt.

Why do we hurt the ones we love?

They just happen to be the closest thing.

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