TITLE: Wrestling the Ancients
WRESTLING THE ANCIENTS
My first year at college, I probably didn't pay as much attention to the academic side of things as I should have. It's all a bit hazy. What can I say? I was living away from home for the first time, and there were all these other interesting things going on. Oddly enough, my memories of them are much clearer than my lecture notes ever were.
"The decline and fall of the Roman Empire was largely due to..."
§ Girls - I'm sure my father gave me some very sage dating advice, (and my mother threatened me with extermination if I did anything stupid), but I've never been good about doing what I'm told.
§ Alcohol - Who said I had a delicate system? Donna? DONNA? OK, well maybe my roommate had to drag my inebriated body out of the campus bar a few times, but that wasn't because I couldn't hold my liquor. Well, I suppose couldn't drink as much as he could, but I tell you, that man was the size of a tank!
§ Sports - I'm an outdoorsman! I am! Really! Just because I like my outdoors in small, highly regulated doses, it doesn't mean I can't cope in the open air!
§ Student Politics - I'll freely admit to an overabundance of time spent with the Democratic Club. (My hatred of Republicans goes back a very long way.) And we did manage to get someone elected to the Student Council. Even if I spent the next year trying to stop him making a complete fool of himself. He had an unfortunate tendency to say really stupid things. (CJ! Stop snickering!)
I guess what I'm saying here is that I wasn't exactly a model student. I sorted it out later - after all; I did manage to graduate law school. (Sam! I did! Honestly! My degree's in the office if you don't believe me!) And there's that whole Fulbright Scholar thing.
Still, I do remember this one class. In a vain attempt to
keep a bunch of teenage guys interested, Professor Sandra Guttman (fat and fifty with a
scraggly moustache) had worked out a course called
Anyway, she spent an hour talking about Antony and Cleopatra, and another hour rambling away on Paris, Helen and the Siege of Troy. I wasn't convinced. Antony was a big shot in Rome, kind of like Caesar's Chief of Staff. Why would he want to throw all that away for some foreign woman? She was meant to be pretty, but Tony had political power, prestige, and a really big army! He could have found someone else. Not to mention Paris - Helen might have been seriously stunning, but surely the guy could have given the golden apple to another goddess. He could have gained lots of power, or maybe military glory and wisdom. Not a bad trade-off. Much more practical than a wife! And then he wouldn't have annoyed Helen's husband, and there wouldn't have been a war with Sparta, and his father's city would still be in one piece. (And they say I make dumb mistakes!) I couldn't understand why anyone would have been willing to risk it all for the sake of love.
I do now.
After that night. And the months that followed.
I really don't remember much. One minute I was walking away from the meeting at the Newseum, the next I was standing behind a fence, stunned and unable to move, and then - nothing. Just blackness, and a lot of pain.
I woke up in the hospital feeling as if I'd been run over by a freight train. Which may have been preferable. Trains are nice, inanimate objects with no violent opinions. Granted, I probably wouldn't be here if I'd been hit by something that large and heavy, but I also wouldn't have had to deal with the fallout of being shot by a group of racists. And Donna wouldn't have had to put up with the mess.
She's one of the first people I saw after surgery. Actually, she's one of the only people I recall clearly from that rather hellish period. I knew somewhere in the depths of my consciousness that Sam and Toby and Leo and Charlie and Zoey and even the President and Mrs Bartlet were around, but their details were fuzzy. Donna, on the other hand, shone as clear as glass. First in hospital, when I was too weak even to banter with her, and then later, during the weeks of convalescence when I was convinced nothing would ever be the same. The doctors might have stitched me up, but she put me back together again.
After that, I could almost sympathise with Antony. I might even have left for Alexandria myself, if I'd been up to a horse ride that long. And Paris' dedication to Helen didn't seem entirely inexplicable. I wonder if she ever comforted him after his nightmares? Did she listen to his fears? Perhaps hold his hand when the pain was too much and he couldn't sleep?
I don't think the professor ever told us, and I obviously hadn't been awake enough to ask. Frankly, I always thought she was a bit of an idiot.
But then, so am I.
I recovered, and went back to work, and things returned to normal. Memories fade, especially if you won't let yourself remember. And Donna stopped being a goddess, and started just being my assistant. I gradually forgot what I'd discovered, and went back to scoffing at those ancient heroes - they'd been weak. I, Joshua Lyman, could cope on my own. I didn't need anyone to bring me coffee. I mean, no historians bothered looking at Hannibal's wife. The Julio-Claudians kept a decent hold on the Roman Empire despite their rotten love lives. So of course I could manage!
I was wrong.
I'm not sure exactly when things began to fall apart. When it was that the days became interminable and the nights a battleground. When my job at the White House became a yoke instead of a chance at freedom.
I guess I knew something was wrong when I was appallingly rude to Donna. Screaming at the President in the Oval Office was probably a pretty big clue. Putting my hand through a plate glass window rang a few alarm bells. Losing it completely at the sound of music (no, not that one, although having a breakdown at the sight of Julie Andrews might have made more sense) merely tied it all up in a neat little package.
Knowing that my problems had a name helped a little, although to my mind the PTSD is no real excuse for what I've said and done to the ones I care about. Talking to Stanley helped a lot. But just being with Donna made the difference.
Wandering through the streets of Washington on Christmas Eve with her, not talking much, I felt better than I had in months. She didn't say anything; she didn't yell; she just took me to get my hand looked at, and walked me home again. She held me and told me things would be fine. And I believed her.
At that moment, in her arms, Achilles could have challenged me to a duel, Augustus could have attacked without warning, and the Republicans could have left a wooden horse outside the Capitol. It wouldn't have mattered. Antony and Paris had nothing on Josh Lyman. I was prepared to abandon politics without a qualm, and spend the rest of my life loving Donna in awed silence.
I remember one other thing about those long-ago lectures, something I wish I'd forgotten. The reckoning. There's always a price to pay for that sort of passion. Antony fell in battle while Augustus ruled an empire. Paris is a footnote in history, but Achilles is part of the language of legend. Cleopatra killed herself, and Helen was the reason a great civilisation fell. Not exactly your standard fairy tales. And I can't - won't - let Donna be destroyed like that. Not after everything she's done for me.
I know. She's my assistant. She's twelve years younger
than I am. She's the most beautiful woman I've ever known. There are so many reasons why
it can't possibly work. The press would have a field day,
I always wanted to find someone I loved as much as my parents loved each other. But letting her out of my life completely would cut much deeper than merely giving up my chance at that sort of relationship. And I have enough scars already.
So unlike those warriors of old, I'm not giving up everything for Donna. But my professor was mistaken. It's not that I don't love her enough - I've made my choice because my emotions run far too deep.
Unfortunately, the knowledge offers precious little comfort.