The last weeks have been great in painful ways. Some days have been fabulous wrecks, but nothing that didn’t come with the territory. Last week was pure entropy. I thought, hey, school’s out, now I have some time to put some creativity on the table. Then, I blew the rest of the week jacking around with Boy-Boy and drooling in front of the television.
I suppose I needed to turn off a while. The dissertation chapter is well along, which is good. But when my editor at Nebraska asked if I had more pages for her, I had to be straight with her: Needy students, family, and this friend of mine with cancer. In this way, it hasn’t been an easy time.
I’ve been haunted, too, by my own failings As much as I want to visit old haunts and see my friends again when I go to Germany after the first of the year, I will miss those I am not able to see. For instance, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about a woman named Monika I loved 25 years ago when I was 23. She had wonderful eyes green as spring grass. Her face was roughened a little from teenage bouts of acne. But this was in imperfection that made her all the more attractive to me. She was diminutive and quiet, but these characteristics brought her to my notice. Spending a great deal of time together in a circle of friends of which she was a part, it took me months and months to gain the courage to ask her for a date. When I did, I fell and fell and fell.
The reason she comes to mind—and does quite frequently—is that I left her just as our time together began. Another woman came along, an American opera singer, also with shade green eyes. She was stunningly beautiful to me. She was sexually voracious and she showed me things that I never imagined could be real. I’m not sure anymore if it was love, as I once thought it was. Regardless, I was deeply, overwhelmingly infatuated, mesmerized by passion, and unwilling to look any farther than the fire of that passion. Mistaking these pains to be real love, as many 23 year olds will do, I left Monika to pursue a dead-end relationship with a fickle, selfish woman for whom I returned to the states.
I saw Monika years later on a visit to Germany. She was more lovely and attractive than ever. She was smaller than I imagined, and we had been close and intimate when I had known her before. We had a wonderful afternoon sitting in the sun in the Marktplatz in Trier, where we both had lived before, eating ice cream, talking, and laughing as old friends will. I told her I had been in love with her and still was, and that I was sorry I had been so short sighted. Hearing of my regret, she told me she didn’t realize the depth of my feeling for her. She had been hurt but had seen our time together as a relationship that probably wasn’t meant to be, regardless how strongly she felt for me.
Now, 18 years later, I want to see her again, if only to hear her voice or take in those eyes again. I’m very much in love with my wife. The feelings I had for Monika, except for this lonely need I have of making contact again, are well in the past. She is married or was when we last wrote each other now 16 years past. She had a child, who, I imagine, is just as lovely as his or her mom.
But it’s not meant to be. While I am an excellent researcher—training as a historian and investigative journalist—I cannot find her. She was not the type who would make a splash on the Internet, and, despite what many of us computer users think, not everyone is there to be found. This is sad for me. My effort had brought the memory of that day in Trier back to me. Through my eyes and understanding, I could see her and I again as we were. That was good in itself.
It’s also set me to thinking about just how much past and future exist in my head. Life is fluid and cannot be contained in a moment, a time only recognizable by the abstractions of history and what might be. I don’t live each day as if I’m going to die or be miserable in or out of love. Rather, I live, usually, without the consciousness of being dead, alive, or in love.
Fortunately, I know many moments, many days, when life and love are not just conditions but tasty, corporeal things. I take them into my lungs, feel them in my chest, and know them in my heart. It is then that past and future cease to be; and so the moment ceases as well. Flow. Convection in a lake. The ceaseless processes of evaporation and condensation.
Still, I love melancholy the way I love hot peppers. I can’t eat them all the time. But I eat them once a day, twice a day… I use them to stay awake in the afternoon, escape boredom and inanity (particularly when I have sit in an office), and just to feel my eyes roll back in my head while my brain vacates. Melancholy allows me to grasp a past I know is gone, worry about a future that isn’t, and give background and setting—history—to the present. But melancholy also allows me to flee emotions I need to face and to avoid the pain that comes with writing.
Melancholy, like hot chilies, produces a sweet, comforting kind of pain. I realize now that I’ve spent a good deal of my life keeping the safe with my essential hermeneutic closed and locked. I react by laboring physically and all the harder and more determined the more I want to escape facing the dangers that come with opening up and letting my fundamental self—that guy with all those emotions and complications—take over.
But in growing mature, I act in opposition to my fundamental impulse to close off. I would no longer follow the heat of physical passion into the bedroom at the sacrifice of love. I would not leave my wife and responsibilities if I did see Monika again. More and more, I do what’s right. I walk into the dangers of vulnerability despite my intense desire to hide.
Why all this? I don’t know. I haven’t gotten past my insecurities and fears of pain that come with maintaining love—with wife, friends, family. I still go though bouts of deep depression, self-deprecation over neglected relationships, and having treated people with callousness, as well as missing opportunities to take my life into my own hands.
In another way, however, all this shows me, again, that existence is its own gift. We are here for so short a time that wasting it marching in line seems silly.
So, life’s been a little rocky but it’s about growing up again. Someday my emotional self may just match my physical age. But I’m not there yet. And, though it sounds contradictory and nonsensical, I kind of like the ride. More hot peppers.
Ha…I make myself so tired!
I hope you are in good shape and life is treating you well.
Let me hear of you soon.