What We Talk About When We Talk About Love
by Raymond Carver
Over the first bottle of gin, Mel and Terri tell the story of Terri's ex, a man named Ed, who "loved [Terri] so much he tried to kill her" (4).
As they drink, we learn that Ed beat Terri, tried to kill himself with rat poison, stalked and threatened Terri and Mel, and eventually did kill himself by shooting himself in the mouth. He did all these things in the name of love for Terri.
Now, whether or not you agree, Terri, for one, is straight up convinced that what Ed felt for her is the very definition of love, no matter what Mel says to the contrary.
We hem, we haw, and we never quite know what to think. But we should keep in mind the fact that Terri did leave Ed when he beat her. She chose not to stay in a violent abusive relationship. She got out. She also isn't saying that what Ed did was a healthy way of showing love. No siree.
So what is she saying then? What does Terri talk about when she talks about love? Well, it seems to us here at Shmoop that Terri might think that we simply have to include the darker side of love in our definition of the word. Just because it was violent and, for all intents and purposes, wrong, doesn't mean it wasn't love. Love can be ugly, scary, and painful.
Terri and Ed and Mel
No matter what Terri says, though, Shmoop thinks it's important to separate Ed's love (if you can call it that) for Terri from Terri's love for Ed.
Terri says she loved Ed in spite of all he did. Terri shows her love for Ed in ways that don't hurt Ed or herself (as far as we know). She can only be around him when he's out of commission, unconscious and dying in a hospital bed. Is that love? Pity? It's possible that she could only feel love (or pity) for Ed once he was dead, and no longer a threat to her.
But whatever you call it, it's clear that there's a depth of feeling between Terri and Ed. And it's clear that that depth of feeling really irks our Mel, which in turn, affects their marital relationship. You can't deny the girl's devoted—she's compassionate, and is willing to forgive Ed when the chips are down. And she seems to try her hardest to support Mel, even though it's clear he's been hitting the bottle a bit too much for her taste.
Terri and Love
When Nick and Laura gush about how in love they are, Terri says, "Oh […] wait a while," which is, shall we say, less than encouraging. Is she bitter? Jealous? She hasn't exactly been lucky in love, so when she tells them, "I'm only kidding," it's a bit tough to believe her.
And when Mel tells Nick and Laura that if, for whatever reason, he and Terri had to live without each other, they could, Terri responds in a way you might not expect. Let's get real: if your husband, after describing the can't-live-without-each-other love of that old couple, suddenly said he could live without you, you'd be a little miffed, right?
But Terri just says, "Mel, for God's sake […] Are you getting drunk? Honey? Are you drunk?" That's a fair question, sure, but it's light in tone, almost bantering. She doesn't call him out, doesn't stew in silence. She blames it on the alcohol.
There are a fair amount of unspoken things going on between Mel and Terri. It's possible that, for Terri, love is not so much about what we talk about, but what we don't.