By Dirk McQuickly
“As he bent toward her … she moved her head to make him move his to the required angle and her hair touched his neck. In his first dreams of her this re-enacted contact, so light, so brief, invariably proved to be beyond the dreamer’s endurance and like a lifted sword signalled fire and violent release.” — Vladimir Nabokov, Ada or Ardor: A Family Chronicle
Part I: The kiss of death
I’ve been thinking lately about the near-universal human experience of the romantic misstep.
That instant where you acted on instinct when you should have thought it over. That instant where you dithered when you should have acted on instinct.
Maybe Dr. John said it best.
“I been in the right place, but it must have been the wrong time. I’d have said the right thing, but I must have used the wrong line.”
And so you find yourself on a darkling plain at 3 a.m. with the other bone-washed insomniacs 40 years later, eternally turning over that image of the time she was clearly yearning for a kiss and you hesitated a second too long and the person from Porlock arrived and the moment was gone.
Do I dare eat a peach?
It’s the desire for a mulligan on that apparent life-altering blunder (perhaps you have a collection of them), coupled with the ease of reaching out and touching someone in a social-media age, that has prompted so many people who should know better to contact the objects of never-quite-extinguished passions.
In our minds, George Babbitt’s fairy child awaits us all “in the darkness beyond mysterious groves.”
But in real life, of course, that fairy child is now a 67-year-old grandmother with hemorrhoids and only the faintest notion of who you are. Were.
In my recurring highlight reel, we are carrying laundry baskets through a campus grove. The sun bursts through to play on her hair, her eyes burn into mine — yes I said yes I will yes — and when I grope for my inner Errol Flynn, up comes Deputy Sheriff Barney Fife.
Not much gets past me.
Forty years of groping in the wilderness later, I’m still not sure why, unable to sleep, I keep returning to this banal light and large circle of shade.
Is it simply a matter of everybody playing the fool, sometime? No exception to the rule?
“The idealization of lost love,” Harold Bloom writes in his much-reviled and much-loved book The Western Canon, “is an almost universal human praxis; what is remembered across the years is a lost possibility for the self, rather than of the other.”
I guess that’s what Sinclair Lewis was getting at in Babbitt.
“For years the fairy child had come to him. Where others saw but George Babbitt, she discerned gallant youth.”
Dunno about you, but on nuits blanches, I’m back grooving in mysterious groves. Gallantly. I been in the right trip, but I must have used the wrong car.
Part II: Love the one you’re with
So that was six months ago. And it turns out I wasn’t in the right trip after all. Person, woman, man, camera, TV evidence to the contrary, I wasn’t cognitively there.
My head was in a bad place and I’m wondering what it’s good for.
I’ve been married more than three decades to a spectacular woman I love love love love love, and have been blessed with fabulous children and grandchildren, great friends, good health and enough wealth to enjoy a carefree retirement.
I remain as curious about and engaged in the world as ever and am never bored.
So why indeed the entrenched pathetic yearning, when my guard is down, for something so will-o’-the wispishly adolescent and fatuous?
Because I am a man. And man — oh enfer, might as well drag Sartre into this — “is a useless passion.”
Purely in pursuit of delivering compelling confessional journalism, I did, of course, become one of those people who should have known better than to contact a former crush.
Who remembered me warmly but warily. (Less warily than her husband, if I’m being journalistically thorough.)
Who appears to have absolutely no memory of our pedestrian rendez-vous manqué with destiny.
Who now sends me grumpy cat videos.
Turns out there is no surer way to let sleeping dogs lie than by sending grumpy cat videos. Also turns out there are quite a lot of them. To paraphrase Baroness Black of Crossharbour DSS (beau mondically speaking, darling), my faithless f*** fantasy has received its final mental b******.
What tortures me now at 3 a.m. is the thought that I spent 40 years drowning in the eyes not of a mystical fairy child but of Garfield, only with a more pronounced underbite and more piteous feline dwarfism.
Such a night. Such a night. Sweet confusion under the moonlight.