April 7, 2008

words and "we"s*, installment 1: The College Ex

Here is a memory that is either sweetly idyllic or obviously foreboding, depending on whether you look at the scene or analyze the words (and, I guess, on how you feel about Pablo Neruda). It was raining, so The College Ex and I were holed up in his Moiliili apartment one weekend afternoon. He was sleepy; I was sitting up in bed reading The Captain's Verses. I could hear the rain on the tin roof covering the neighbor's shed. I read him "Si Tu Me Olvidas" as he drifted off; he said it was beautiful and I should read - and speak - in Spanish more often. This poem, about deep - but conditional - love was how I felt about him. "If suddenly you forget me, do not look for me, for I shall already have forgotten you." I reasoned that people in such love as I was in with him are likely, by Murphy's Law, to be fallen out of love with (PLEASE pardon my construction) - and, given any indication that this was going to happen to me, would have pre-empted any such strike by leaving first. I did not read him the English translation.

I won't go into details about what did finally kill our relationship, but there were plenty of times I thought the contradistinction of our reading habits would do it. For example, of the five Anne Tyler novels I love and have read many times apiece, my favorite is Saint Maybe. To give him credit, he did read the book (since I wouldn't stop talking about how much I'd loved it since I'd discovered Anne Tyler via a high school reading list.) "So?" I asked, when he'd finished. "Well," he said. "Um. I kept waiting for something to happen, and nothing ever did." I could not understand. Lots of things happened in the book. It's a story built around a man's guilt after he causes his brother to commit suicide. Years go by. Entire flocks of children are raised. They have conversations that are hilariously sad. Things are realized. Atonement is desired and made. TCE didn't think years of children, conversations, or an ongoing, desperate desire for forgiveness counted as anything happening, and there we stood - him at the edge of Baltimore, wanting to come in but not seeing the point, and me, no longer willing to loan him any more Anne Tyler books.

He found pleasure in reading, but only when forced to read in the first place. TCE liked Ray Bradbury, he just didn't know it. What I mean is, when I asked him one day what his favorite book was, he said he didn't have one but that he did like this futuristic story he once read about a man whose tattoos come alive. I was intrigued and pressed him for details so I could find the story and read it. I remember having my first serious doubts about our future the moment he said, "I know! I think it was John Steinbeck."

The beginning of the end, that was. It turned out he was talking about "The Illustrated Man," which was funny because he had recently loaned me the one book he'd ever actually gone out and bought, Something Wicked This Way Comes, and had not made the connection. Our relationship ended when he let me go (and so it didn't matter if I was too big for my tiny literary britches after all), and it ended with a realization that only fortunate people have when they break up:

"Aquella que tu amas, no es mujer para ti, por que la quieres?"
"The one you love is not a woman for you, why do you love her?"

-Pablo Neruda, "Y Porque Amor Combate"

*This blog miniseries brought to you by ... a British online paper?

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