part of my book series, Netflix and Heal.
It is a Thursday night, late Spring but still cold. A kind of cold that can remind you of your loneliness. Not because you forgot your hoodie and not because the friend you’re having movie night with forgot the popcorn or the blankets, but more because it’s the kind of cold that won’t let you forget that there isn’t a single person in this entire world that loves you romantically. And that is a chilling thought that makes you shiver. A chilling thought that makes the whole world go quiet.
If you’ve ever been parted from a great love. Either by time or by choice. Either by distance or by divorce. Either by fantasy or by reality. Either by yours or by theirs. You should probably know, then, that Beethoven was all of these things. In a single body. In a single lifetime. With many breaths, but always as a single man in a world gone quiet. And, for me, he is not still famous for scribing some of the most well-known music notes strung together by practice and praise. No, for me, he is known for writing one of the greatest love letters to have ever graced the face of our learned history. He is, above all else, a writer. And a violent romantic. So, if you’ve ever been parted from a great love, for any reason at all, grab a hoodie and some blankets because this movie, his story, his words more than his music, are for you.
It was morning on July 7th, a little over 200 years ago, when Beethoven wrote the words that haunt me to this day. The words that I have known for the whole of my adult life that have proven Immortal to me in their own right. The words that I will always hope to achieve to feel in this life, to express and mean in this life, to hope be reciprocated just once in this life. These words are far more superior than any piano triad, I don’t care how different or brilliant a sound it might make. Nothing sounds like true love. Nothing.
And in this, Nothing sounds like Beethoven begging to be heard in a brand new world of not being able to hear anything. The world, even more than 200 years ago, affords us little solace louder than our own personal afflictions. A man known for making sound now only knew a world gone quiet. Silence is a deafening thunder. Such is love when we can’t hear it well enough to play along. And Beethoven knew too little of one, and too much of the other. And in all of his loveless silence, his deafness still sounded like this:
Even in bed my ideas yearn towards you, my Immortal Beloved, here and there joyfully, then again sadly, awaiting from Fate, whether it will listen to us. I can only live, either altogether with you or not at all.
Your love made me the happiest and unhappiest at the same time.
Be calm — love me — today — yesterday.
What longing in tears for you — You — my Life — my All — farewell. Oh, go on loving me — never doubt the faithfullest heart.
Of your beloved,
My friend’s couch is wildly comfortable and I am, at the moment, forgetting the late Spring chill in the air. I think I might take off my hoodie.
There is a reason we believe people to be genius in only one medium. To know the full extent of their passionate madness has the ability to break us. To create a sensory overload so big that we can’t see past our own moments of awe. Our faces become stuck at half mast just trying to take it all in and breathe at the same time. Eyes wide open, mouths agape, and lungs aching from the repetitive and effortless exertion of breathing in and breathing out… we do not know what to do with our faces. Expressions are innate for giving us away, whether we’re ready or not. Beethoven loved big, but his expression of this love was as silent as the world around him.
I pull the blanket tighter over me, it’s colder now that I’m acutely aware of my hearing. My friend and I glance at each other in a readied response that we are both excited for Gary Oldman night.
She hits play.
Remember, still, that Beethoven was a violent romantic. And that love is a learned language that some don’t ever have the privilege of taking beginner classes for. Remember, more, that romance and love are not the same thing.
I add another blanket to my shiver.
Feelings and reality are not the same thing.
I pull the hood of my sweatshirt over my head now.
Genius and passion are not the same thing.
I am kicking myself for forgetting my beanie.
Music and words are not the same thing.
Whether it’s love letters or conversations over coffee or late night phone calls enticing you to bare everything but your hoodie, there are always the words. They take form in occasions permitted to run longer than any musical score will allow for. They take feelings of passion into action. They take feelings of romance into love. They take you at your worst and lead you into your best. They are the only constant that we all have in common. And, the words, in their purest form and meaning, are everlasting and warm.
Remember, still, words and intentions are not the same thing.
And I am one lifetime, breathless.
Meaning, more, that I can no longer see my breath in the living room of my friend’s house. I don’t know if it’s the blankets, the time, or the popcorn. But it’s warmer knowing that there’s something bigger outside of myself.
We do not belong to ourselves more than we belong to the importance of the moments we remember most. And here I sit, brokenhearted and still romantic, thinking how in the world can anyone ever live up to this? To these words? To his genius? How in the world can anyone ever expect to? And then I’m struck at the power we all feel at the beginning of a new romance. That incredible and urgent surge that overtakes us with notions of immortality and passionate recklessness. I once drove hundreds of miles in a blinding fog just to kiss a lover goodnight. I remember gripping the steering wheel tighter with each passing mile. I remember losing sight of each passing mile. I remember wanting to pull off the freeway to wait out the wrath of not being able to see where I was going, but then, such is a road traveled toward love. And as terrifying as it was, more terrifying still was the thought of the absence of my lips upon theirs that night. In the earliest of times during the creation of a great love, we are caught within a manic rhythm of romance and madness that crescendos only when we give way to our deepest desires.
I am no longer clutching my blankets.
Beethoven was beaten as a child. He was starved for food. For attention. For any kind of affection. He was forced to stay silent until demanded to become loud, permitted volume coming only through his art. His person coming second to his genius. And he grew up to be a violent romantic. Is abuse, then, a lesson learned to carry on? Or is it something that the art tries hard to make up for? I think maybe it’s both. I think maybe for some, love is a lost language that we learn to never hear. Beethoven started losing his hearing when he was 28 years old. After having lived a life of knowing only violent love. After having lived a life of knowing only silent love. What kind of love, then, is one supposed to learn when loss alone has been the only consistent sound?
For a long time, too long really, I’ve wanted to mean everything to someone. And, for a longer time, I’ve meant nothing to everyone. This isn’t a sob story, but a real one. Don’t feel sorry for me, I am not a victim. I have spent countless nights pining over fantasies of the people I share beds and lives with, without ever sharing a reality with.
Beethoven has just taken his first lover, and my friend and I are both aware that she is not the muse behind the letter. She is not Immortal Beloved. She is simply a warm body, a reminder to himself of such a possibility that other temperatures exist. Some learn to practice so they don’t grow out of speaking the common language of mimed romance. The cold has this way of making you forget.
The world has gone quiet again. And I can’t tell if the cold is gone or if I’m just numb to the feeling now.
This is a true story. I’ve spent 60% of my adult life in some type of committed relationship, and 100% of that time was spent expecting something from my partners that was never promised to begin with. And I wonder if I was only ever practice for them. I wonder if I was only ever a warm body used to mime with, priming them for their greatest love language with somebody else. All the while, loving as wholly as I could. But, the truth is, I didn’t listen. And I didn’t learn. Who’s fault, then, is… ever ours?
I am up to three blankets now.
Beethoven was a genius and a violent romantic and a hot fucking mess. Halfway through this movie, I am sure that he was nothing more than a puzzled life pieced together by great moments that had nothing to do with music, or keys, or piano notes with a tendency to make others weep. The only reason we know his name now has nothing to do with his greatest moments, but everything to do with his genius. Something we’ve learned to revere above all else.
And I take pause to think to myself that just maybe the greatest thing that I have ever done has always been a decision to never be scared of love. To never be less inclined to drive through danger just to prove my love worthy of travel. After all, where else is love supposed to go but long distances?
Genius, by itself, is not worthy of reverence. Violent romantics are not worthy of praise. Choosing to live in the secrets of his greatest moments is not something worthy of transcending history. But then I think of all the things that inspired the art. Can genius exist without pain? Without the constant cold? Without the hushed truths that kept him hidden away, tucked within the darkest corners of his own mind, of his own fantasies, that never seem to meet the light of anybody else’s reality? But, the truth is, he couldn’t listen. And he couldn’t learn. Who’s fault, then, is… ever his?
And I have this painting in my living room back at home, above my television, that reads, Life is Beautiful. I am unsure if this is true. I am unsure if life in itself is any kind of Ode to Joy. I am sure, though, that there’s nothing but beauty in the effort. In the hard existence of what it means to be alive. In the bruised knees and the bloodied knuckles of what it means to fight for what you want, to fight for what you believe in. In the long drives that take you from sane to insane in a single pedal with a single push. In the moments that seem to perfectly blend the madness with the magic. Yes, I am sure, though, that there is nothing but beauty in the effort.
And I am left wondering, still, who his Immortal Beloved is. I wonder this, not because it matters to me, not because I care that much about the outcome, but mostly because I’ve never been able to keep a love so secret. I am the type to Yawp from rooftops about a great love. About a great feeling. About a great moment that you know while living it you will never be the same after. I wonder why he kept so many secrets.
And just now, Beethoven is violent to his child’s mother for the first time and I am struck by the weakness of people. It’s so unbecoming that I can’t help but reposition myself on my friend’s couch, I’m almost completely sitting straight up now. My entire face at half mast. My friend and I both look at each other in total shock that the same hands used to create such peaceful magic are also the same hands used to create such hostile trauma. I am wholly beside myself at the lengths that people will go to in trying to ensure that nobody uncovers the truth of their vulnerability. And I am confused as to why. There is no shame in love. There is no shame in feeling all of our passion in a way that is so out-loud, even Beethoven could hear it. And I am sad for him. Not because his lover’s heartbeat was lost upon his senses. I am sad for him because his lover’s heart was never within his language, just as his courage was never within his grasp.
I can suddenly feel the warm promise of Summer in the cool night air cascading through my friend’s living room from an open window. And I am grateful for the reminder of other temperatures being possible.
It’s nearing the end of the movie now and I am convinced that Beethoven knew great love without ever knowing how to feel it. Without ever knowing the power behind an expression of such an emotion in its truest form. He might’ve been cursed to always plead his own 5th. Symphonies, after all, prove that magic can exist. And his words that have haunted me through the whole of my adult years still ring true, perhaps truer than ever. Let us not forget that love is a learned language that some don’t ever have the privilege of taking beginner classes for. Those who are only permitted to speak when spoken to are never granted the courage to speak for themselves. And to love someone else all the way out loud requires valor so big that we will never be the same upon admitting it. And admitting it is a kind of moment so big that we must first learn to feel for ourselves before speaking it into existence. And I’m convinced that Beethoven never learned how to feel for himself. How then can we expect him to speak it into a sound that all but himself can hear?
The greatest thing that I have ever done has always been a decision to never be scared of love. I am completely sitting straight up now, the blankets and my hoodie have found their way into a crumpled pile on the floor beside my friend’s couch.
And so the credits roll… and there are many things I’m left with after seeing this. So many emotions to unpack about the man who is responsible for scribing my favorite words. Whether I can continue to believe in the prolific nature of his genius remains to be seen. But I am ever in awe of his written devotion, left wondering still about his intentions. Left grateful, more, for the acuity of my own senses and my own courage. I will never not be the person to Yawp from rooftops or to drive through a blinding fog to feel the presence of a lover’s lips upon mine. There is no sense of love without a welcomed sense of danger. Life is Beautiful and exciting that way. We should all be so grateful for the moments that blend the madness with the magic and learn to brave all the travel that comes with such a state of devotion. After all, where else is love supposed to go but long distances?
But Wait… There’s More
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