Warning: This post contains spoilers on The Good Wife. And my life.
My relationship with The Good Wife began on a flight from London to Australia. I was on the second leg of an uncomfortable homeward journey; the discomfort was equal parts physical – the gentleman next to me seemed to like my seat more than his own – and emotional. Turns out a three-month sabbatical is not nearly long enough to untangle the heart-chords of a complicated relationship. I was flying on a tailwind right back into the chaos I had left behind, and not even three plastic bottles of shiraz could settle me when they dimmed the cabin lights.
You can’t escape yourself on a plane. You have to sit with whatever your brain decides to make of being so close to the moon and the planets. You have to accept that being suspended in space and time, that being both here and there – at the same time! – will inevitably lead to delirious philosophies about the nature of your life, and the choices you’ve made. When that sad saxophone pipes through your headphones, your entire existence is up for dissection, with every mistake examined up close. Are you finally on your way now, or is this just another leaving?
You cry big, fat tears over questions no one can answer at 30,000 feet.
While a plane full of people push their chairs back, and snore.
And so, The Good Wife. The pilot and second episode offered up, as I scrolled through a cracked, back-of-seat screen, hoping for distraction. The premise looked interesting enough, and – best of all – completely removed from my own situation. As a betrayed spouse whose husband was caught up in a sex scandal, The Good Wife’s titular Alicia Florrick seemed a wonderfully complex, wonderfully unrelatable character (okay, unrelatable is not technically a word – but it should be). The show promised to be a safe enough diversion for my busy little head.
Thanks to The Good Wife, I would have 43 minutes, times two, to escape myself.
That’s all I thought it would be.
Will Gardner changed that. Josh Charles as Will Gardner ruined that. From the moment he appeared on screen, I was hooked. And not in the unrelatable way.
Will Gardner was successful, and fulfilled, and … almost happy.
But something was dimmed.
You only understood this once you saw what he could be, once you saw him with Alicia Florrick, the woman he had loved too long (probably since Georgetown, for those of you keeping score). His was the kind of dark you barely noticed, an unobtrusive shadow, visible only when he shook it off. When you saw him light up in her presence.
Alicia, the great love he nearly had. The great love he met too early. And then again, too late.
Will Gardner was always at the mercy of bad timing.
Will Gardner was like me.
Successful, Fulfilled. Almost happy.
There’s nothing quite like loving someone you can’t have. Nothing quite like accepting that, and forgetting that, and then having it suddenly, inexplicably come back around. A chance, an offer of better timing, and suddenly you’re lit like a city again.
Ah, yes. I could relate.
I watched those first two episodes twice over, and I’ve spent my life in the thrall of Will, and The Good Wife ever since. For five seasons, Will Gardner has been my proxy. A complex, anti-hero, made good by the one pure thing in his life – the torch he carried for his great, unfulfilled love. He was my proxy because it didn’t destroy him, this torch. It didn’t define him. Or when it did, it just made him better. Sharper, more creative. He still let people in. He carried on. He didn’t stop living his life.
A heavy heart is different from one that is broken.
I could relate.
And then he died. Last week on The Good Wife, he died. Will Gardner. My favourite character. My – me. Dead. No more stories. No more loving and losing on my behalf. No more stoic acceptance, or rare, fiery protest at our situation. My vicarious, help-me-through-the-night Will was dead. Gunned down on an ordinary day. Just like that, a life, and a story, over. Death is, as the show’s writers so poignantly told us, irredeemable.
I’ve been thinking about him, and that plane ride … and being almost happy, ever since.
Because Will Gardner died without saying, without knowing. There were voicemails and promised conversations, and so many little moments where he could have changed the story. But he never pushed for the one thing he wanted – not really. Each time he got close to Alicia, and the world pushed back, he walked away. He always did the right thing.
It’s okay. I understand. We’ve always had bad timing. Some other time.
(Love as sacrifice. Elevated beyond obsession to something noble, something resigned).
A heavy heart is different from one that is broken.
Will Gardner died protecting his heart, instead of exposing it. He never said – Fuck it! I’m in. It wouldn’t work? Who cares! Let’s try! He never took the leap, and risked the fall. The knowing, finally, that you are on your way now. Or free to leave, once and for all. It might have broken his heart to find out. It should have broken his heart. That’s how you’re meant to use it. That’s how the light gets in.
The death of my favourite TV character has reminded me that you cannot be tentative with love. You have to crash into it, you have to crack through it. Your heart can take it. That resilient little organ, every time it breaks, it cobbles back together somehow. It recalibrates around the ache, into something stronger. Every time.
You have to break your own heart. I hope you break your heart. Use it, while it is still drumming away, under the skin. Tell that person. Ask that person. Turn out your palms and say I’m here. I’m in. Don’t bequeath them your questions. Risk your heart – break it! – to find the answers. Maybe that person will help you put your heart back together. Maybe you’ll have to do it alone. It doesn’t matter.
It recalibrates around the ache, into something stronger. Every time.
And the only way to really let go – is to know.
Vale, Will Gardner. I have so loved this vicarious life. I will miss seeing what we were going to do next. And when I do break this heart of mine again (oh, and I will!) – I’ll do it for the both of us.
“The world breaks every one and afterward many are strong at the broken places.” – Hemingway