Comedy or Tragedy? I Choose the Happy Ending

SirWalterAndQueenLandscapeWhen Sir Walter yanks the cape out from under you and you’re flopping in the mud in your best frock, will you laugh or cry? The difference between comedy and tragedy depends, not on the course of events, but on the end of the story.

I expected my life to have a certain shape as I approached 60.

Mrs Piggle Wiggle

My childhood dream was to live like the widowed Mrs. Piggle Wiggle in an odd little house filled with fascinating and transformative artifacts … a house regularly invaded by curious neighborhood children in need of some help.

Then I got married and reshaped my dream. We bought a cute little suburban townhouse, collected some antique hymnals and other artifacts, and accelerated payments so we’d be secure at retirement.

Over time I discovered that my husband’s home was his castle. I could have a prayer partner over once a week, but otherwise the house was not to be opened to any person. Instead of human guests, we had online friends. Mine were on Facebook and I recounted their news to him during television commercials. His, it turned out, were of the female persuasion. Or at least of female personas. As was he when he visited with them.


As Tootsie, Dustin Hoffman played an out-of-work actor who created a new persona to win roles.

I overheard his Southern belle self in conversation late one night when I awoke. She was online in the next room, chatting about recipes and the ethics of stem cell research. Her tones were honeyed, her accent as perfect as you might expect from an almost-native North Carolinian. Dustin Hoffman should have been such a good Tootsie. My husband’s voice would be exemplary among this century’s various leading ladies of the gender transition.

In person, he probably would be equally outstanding. As a result of some kind of family loyalty, he never trimmed the wild, overgrown bushes that grew above his eyes. His late father’s eyebrows had been equally extravagant. When I imagine my husband in drag, I see a face rather like Ugly Betty, minus the colorful braces.

ugly betty

America Ferreira as “Ugly Betty”

So now instead of living in that little house full of our lovingly accumulated stuff, I live in my parents’ gigantic barn of a New Englander, full of more than a century’s worth of “might need it someday.” There aren’t any curious neighborhood kiddos here: our part of town has become a trendy location for up and coming professionals. Their attitude toward the memory-filled artifacts carefully handed from one generation to the next is described in almost identical words by two of my peers: “No one gives a shit about your crap.”

The question is … Will I play it as comedy or tragedy?

Rug pulled. I made a lifetime commitment to a man who hadn’t made a lifetime commitment to being a man.

Pride takes a fall. Or maybe it was greed. Or maybe it was fear.

I could have told the church. He would have lost his church job. And in our “no fault” and “equitable division” divorce era, my status as primary breadwinner through most of the marriage could mean I’d end up owing him alimony, as well as the house and a quarter of my IRA.

That was too much. I left him with the house and the money from my retirement. He also got the business we were running from the house. I suppose that was his “alimony.” The business’s annual revenue when we separated was more than our church paid him. He had the region’s best LGBQT family lawyer, and my funds for legal support were running low. I cut my losses.

The audience laughs. Actually, I’m not sure what the audience has been doing. The theater seems to have gone silent. Is the story ended?

She dusts herself off. I’d love for this to have been more graceful. But pratfalls aren’t something I’ve practiced. Not that I haven’t had plenty. I just manage to do them all badly. I always seem to end up with aches and bruises. Case in point: I had to sit on a coccyx pillow for most of the first year after I found out about my husband’s alter ego. Since there had been no physical injury, I have to guess my body was trying to tell me that this situation was a real pain in the you-know-where.

Everyone hugs. Forgiveness! Well, since I live 900 miles away, and since he stopped having any kind of real conversation with me long before we stopped living together, I don’t know if I’m going to see this occur literally in the real world.

On the other hand, I think perhaps the comic finale just popped up on Facebook. A new colleague who regularly goes out of his way to encourage me just posted a photo of himself rocking silver stilettos at a drag party.

silver stilettos

Comedy or tragedy? Today, when we say “comedy”, we might think about television farces with heavy doses of sexual innuendo and other broad humor – perhaps The Office or The Big Bang Theory. Romantic comedies throw obstacle after obstacle between the two who are fated to fall in love: How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days or, for the more classically inclined, A Midsummer Night’s Dream.


British painter Edwin Henry Landseer was particularly known for his animals. No wonder he gave us such a wonderful image for A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

But the word “comedy” didn’t always include connotations of farce and chaos. Its Greek roots are words that mean revel, delight or happiness (komos) and singer (aoidos). So at its roots, a “comedy” is simply an epic (traditionally presented as poetry, which can be sung) that has a happy ending.

Divine ComedyThat’s why Dante’s epic poem is the Divine Comedy. Dante’s epic poem is the first in Western literature whose protagonist is the author – an ordinary person instead of a legendary hero. Its happy-ending story is the story of his own long journey to recognize and repent of his sin, be sanctified, and finally see God.

So comedy or tragedy?

I pick divine comedy. How about you?


About Carlene Hill Byron

The former editor of New England Church Life and The New England Christian, Carlene Hill Byron is enjoying being home in Maine after 20 years in North Carolina. She is a member of the Redbud Writers Guild. Find her at, and on Facebook at MyHouseHasHistory.
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