(a cautionary tale)
by Angus Brownfield
Angus Brownfield on Shakespir
Copyright © 2016 by Angus Brownfield
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Time isn’t linear, it goes round and round, at least in this man’s life, it isn’t a top it’s more like those daredevils on motorcycles who used to ride round and round the curved surface of a cylinder, a stunt called The Wall of Death. You have to maintain a certain speed to stay on the wall. Too slow and you fall; too fast and you got over the top.
At the age you first fall in love (I’m talking about guys, I don’t know from girls, didn’t when I first fell in love, not even the girl I fell so hugely in love with) you would have been happy to ride the Wall of Death as a diversion from the indescribable pain of rejection.
Maturing, you may think time isn’t going around when you are climbing the ladder of success but upon reflection you realize you’ve traded the Wall of Death for a corkscrew, much like those infernal parking garages where you go up and up, round and round looking for an empty slot near an elevator.
Another difference as you mature: you’re more chary about falling in love. Falling in lust is okay, martinis at Paoli’s Corner, a dash to the old but respectable hotel on Van Ness, mad love-making once twice thrice and in between quaffs from a bottle of Montrachet (champagne would send a message of squareness) in a silver ice bucket and the giddy but smart talk in between, see you next year at the convention, wherever it is held.
Life goes on, you can think of a migratory corkscrew if you like, or a spirochete (Leptospira spp.?), something organic, but still like a corkscrew. In Buddhism, in Aikido, serious concerns for circles, after all, the sun presents a circle, the moon full, the path of planets around the sun (sort of). The circle of necessaries. I hit on one of those devises children love to employ to make designs, the Spirograph, only in your life you may think of the Spirograph Deluxe, you’re fancier than just plain old plain old, but keep in mind the line it traces is still moving relentlessly towards the center, the last necessary, Death.
Which leads to your staring one morning, you’re fifty, on your third marriage and fifth career, and you’ve pulled the plug after your morning ablutions and watch the water draining, along with the spent shaving cream, you observe the Spirograph design in 3D, said to be always rotating clockwise, but are you really sure, have you checked it out or just occasionally, in a brown study, watched the tub or sink and said, ‘Aha, clockwise.’
Somewhere along the way your brain has matured enough (discounted by too many luncheon martinis now and again) to grasp the concept of consequences. You decide to go to the Concord Jazz Festival because your two favorite guitarists, Joe and Herb, are playing together, along with Ray Brown and Jake Hanna, making beautiful music, music you wish you could make and might have had you taken a different path, you chose the linear one (you thought). Well, because you went to Concord you didn’t go to Orinda where a friend was holding a party, a soiree, you didn’t know he’d invited a woman he thought was a perfect fit for you, creative, intelligent, articulate, pretty far above the average and lo, she connected with another guest, a friend as well, and every time you see them together, lovey-dovey, you gnash your teeth.
So much for life, but it’s better than the alternative.
Except . . .
It’s been years since you fell in love, there have been fewer and fewer trysts, you’ve fallen into a groove any honest man would call a rut, life’s now more like an old 78 rpm recording, your needle is in the groove and heading for that patch near the label called the dead wax, emitting a hiss, rhythmic but dull and you see Her. She might be . . . could she be? . . . dare I hope?
You do. Apprehensive, looking about to make sure there lurk no Hidden Consequences, the worst kind, you can’t think of them all, and that hidden one is like the left hook you didn’t see coming that flattened you out behind the bleachers duking it out with your high school nemesis. But no. It’s too good to be true (another red flag) you poke and you prod, looking for the snare at your feet the deadfall above your head. And, finding no traps (because you didn’t want to, hmm?) then you melt.
You melt, as in that wonderful Gershwin show song. You can’t help it. There’s a synonymy of a kind you haven’t felt before. You look back over your life, the women in it, the flings, the serious flings, the more than flings, the real things, the really real things, and always, in each of them, there was a contrary tug, tiny or large, a voice inside wondering if you shouldn’t go counterclockwise instead, an imperfection in the union, a fly in the ointment. This time you can’t find one. Oh, maybe she’s a little shy, but is that bad? It couldn’t be, it’s part of her, a fact of her nature. You do something years of business have taught you not to do before calling in the analysts, assessing all the facts, you let go, you go for broke.
You entirely forget to think about consequences.
Well, not all consequences. You’ve thought out the positive ones: you’re going to be happy. You’re going to tune up the muscles, trim down the belly, laugh more, sing in the morning while you lace up your boots. Life has zest such as it hasn’t ever—well maybe not since the first time, the one who rejected you and made you wish to end it all, riding the Wall of Death.
The best part is, she not only feels the same way, she manages to convey the fact that she does by word and deed, anticipating your needs, kissing you with fervor, writing you love letters such as you’ve never received before.
How could there possibly be Negative Consequences?
Of course there are negative consequences. Both of you are of an age at which folks showing up in the obituaries daily have popped off. You and she both have accumulated persons to whom you have obligations, and those may someday conflict with staying in close proximity. You may, you know, you know, not have the, you know, vigor you once had, not satisfy her, arouse her libido but not cash out when you should.
But no, it’s too perfect, honestly never felt this way before, the synonymy, the reciprocity, the transcendence. Until . . .
One day she Emails you an ultimatum. Never mind what it’s about, you can’t exactly tell, but what’s true is, she has changed the relationship without so much as the usual: ‘by your leave.’
Suddenly the perfect union, mature love as depicted in Liszt’s third Liebestraum, transcendent, is as plebian as Rosy O’Grady’s last roll in the hay.
Darn right there are negative consequences. You are shattered, plunged into a terrifying depression. Was all that lovey-dovey stuff a dream? Are you just now waking to reality?
From a thou to an it faster than a McLaren F1 can reach sixty miles an hour.
You reply to the Email, asking her why, she ignores the question and tells you how nothing’s really changed, which patently isn’t true, what’s changed is that one of you can tell the other how it’s going to be. No discussion, and not face-to-face, electronically, like your bank announcing a change in their terms of service, same great product, added security, but we’re going to start charging you for something formerly free.
You write back to her, “I’m too bummed to look you in the eye right now. I’ll get back to you when I’m over the shock.”
And the response to that is, “I warned you never to leave me. This is the end.”
What!? Leave? The end? Are you serious? I write (still Emails, I should have insisted on a face-to-face but I really am depressed, it’s actually worse than the first time little miss True Love gave me the kiss-off) “Can’t we sit down and talk about this?”
She writes, “I never want to hear from you again.”
Is there a more elegant way to say “Cutting off your nose to spite your face?” Of course there is, there is the thoroughly dry and pretentious, “You seem to be injuring yourself in the process of pillorying me.”
“What have I done besides love you?” I ask, ignoring her never.
“I drink too much around you. I have gone on the wagon and I’m afraid if I see you I’ll go back to drinking. We simply weren’t made for each other.”
Back in my Catholic youth I would be, by that statement, an occasion of sin. It was a concept that didn’t take with me back then, but I wasn’t anybody’s occasion of sin, occasions of sin for me were the girly magazines, the booze, the bad boys I liked to hang around with at times.
I thought of several explanations for this sudden reversal of affections:
—She’s crazy: either from the gitgo and I didn’t recognize it, or all of a sudden;
—I am crazy, deludingly failing to catch a hidden but serious reservation on her part;
—Someone unknown to me but who has power over her has told her this was an unhealthy relationship and she believed it;
—I have really done something bad and she was too discreet to name the bad thing.
Damn damn damn fuck fuck fuck.
I might look for a bright side but the only one that would apply, that it was over almost as soon as it started, would work if I had even half a lifetime ahead, which I don’t.
But neither does she.
(Only, maybe I awakened something in her that she thought was long dead and, being a rare bird, a woman of an age when most have waists larger than their hips or busts, and shrunken butts and dewlaps, who is genuinely beautiful and now rekindled with the flame of libido, a rare bird indeed, and there may be more men out there she would like to try out as partners.)
In any event, I shall never forget as long as I live that I have been an occasion of sin, like a bottle of gin, a bawdy house or a gambling joint. A curious distinction.
Any incipient sinners out there looking for an occasion? Apply in person. No Emails.
A man of advanced years falls in love for the last time, only to be rejected by his lover for reasons he struggles to understand. In a monologue reminiscent of a Kafka character’s, the protagonist reflects on the history of his life as seen as a series of encounters with women, from “flings” to heart-breaking emotional catastrophes, and realizes he has learned very little from his experiences.