On my walk today in the wild, romantic landscape, I wondered how I would react if I were to see, at the far end of a lonely path, in the middle of the woods, at the edge of a ravine, at the top of a leafstrewn hill, or around a corner as I came around obscuring vegetation, a tall, gaunt figure, face shrouded, garbed in a sweeping black cape. I imagined him appearing suddenly as I lift my gaze. He stands motionless, regarding me. He has been waiting. I fair gave myself the creeps I did, imagining this as I briskly took my exercise. My imagination merged images of the hooded figure of Death from Bergman's The Seventh Seal, the cloaked figure of the Five of Cups tarot card, and most especially, the iconic apparition of the attenuated, crepuscular vampire.
On some level I believe that vampires exist, though not in the form of the gothicized vision I just described. Nor do I necessarily believe that vampires are literally dead and that they repast on actual human blood, preferably that of a nubile maiden, that is, a female at the not-yet-grown-up nymph stage when girls are metamorphosing into women, and possess at once childish attributes and a maturing womanly form.
I heard Jude Law on Charlie Rose today, discussing his current stage role as Hamlet. Is Hamlet crazy, or is it that he sees the truth? In this world it seems that most of us aren't meant to see the truth. People who lie, cover up, obfuscate, conceal themselves, use cunning, are predatory - they especially don't want their truth to be revealed, seen, noticed, or understood.
In the last week or two there's been much talk of Roman Polanski and David Letterman. I find it hard to get exercised over Polanski, in particular, given that his transgression occurred so very long ago at a place & time (Hollywood, during the sexual revolution) where mores were decidedly more freewheeling than today. Was his behavior unseemly and illegal? Yes. But I believe that there is a range of extenuating circumstances in that particular case, and being a forgiving sort (perhaps overly so) I am inclined to bestow upon him my own personal executive pardon. David Letterman? Again, I can't get too excited, although I do think that someone in his position should have done better than to hit on staffers. Couldn't he date pretty much whoever he wanted?
I don't know. My thoughts are muddled. I paraphrase a line by Vladimir Nabokov. What happens to Lolitas when they grow up?, Humbert Humbert, embarking on his narrative, rhetorically queries.
I was 16 when I had my first boyfriend. He was 23, graduated from an Ivy League school, and back home for a time. We hit it off, and I hit it off with his parents too. I had quite an education that year, apart from my A.P. classes in high school. The following fall he went off to a distant part of the country for graduate school, easing me out of his life, and that was that. I was devastated. In time I got over it, attended college, graduated, worked at various jobs, and eventually married.
Over 30 years went by. Last year he contacted me to let me know that his mother had recently died, and we struck up a correspondence. We exchanged letters and emails, and he sent me beautiful photographic images of me, and of me and him together, that he had kept in his possession all these years. He wrote that he had never forgotten about me, that thoughts of me had remained an obsession, and that I had always been an ideal for him. I truthfully said that I had had a hard time getting over him at first, but that once I did I had quite forcibly put him out of my mind and had not thought of him much at all.
Rekindling this relationship, now long-distance and epistolary, woke something in me that had been long, long dead or dormant. It was a joy to see these lovely images of myself as a young woman, and to read his ardent words. I was flattered, and it's not inaccurate to say that I went off the deep end. My passions were stirred.
I'll cut to the punch. He once again lost interest while my emotions were at high ebb, adulterously so now. I bitterly and sardonically thought of myself as the Emma Bovary of Hudson. He never bothered to write or say, hey, it was fun getting back in touch but you know, this just isn't working for me. Instead, he continued to string me along, for months. He came back east with his family for a memorial service for his mother, and I hoped that at the very least - despite whatever awkwardness there might be in briefly breaking away from his family - we might meet. "You might consider floating a version of the truth to your wife-, I suggested, "that you would like to meet an old friend for lunch whom you haven't seen in 30 years, and that you'll catch up with her in a few hours." But he couldn't get it up to see me.
Once again, I was devastated. I feel pretty stupid saying so, being 50 and all. Old Enough To Know Better.
We ceased corresponding on New Years - that was my resolution. But I couldn't stop thinking about him. Not so much him as, what had just happened? Why were things so confusing, dead for a while, stirred up, discarded?
A few weeks ago I penned him a note saying that my feelings might not be a crystal brook exactly, but that they had settled, and that whatever all had happened, ultimately I would regard it as a disappointment if we didn't see each other just once, someday, before either of us departs this mortal coil.
I've typed his name into search engines now and again, and recently discovered online a brief account of an extended trip he took as part of a professional team this summer. The writeup was illustrated with a handful of thumbnail photos, each credited individually. The images were largely uninteresting, and he didn't seem to be in any of them. There were a couple of bland shots of members of the team in the field. One included a couple of people at work in the middle distance, seemingly absorbed in their respective tasks. I looked at the image a few times and thought nothing of it. His name was on the photo credit, I assumed he took the picture, and I didn't recognize him among the tiny figures in the landscape.
One day I took another look at the site, reread the piece, and looked at the photos again. The group shot appeared as bland and uninformative as ever. But by a very strange stroke of kismet (I may have accidentally hit something though I'm not aware of it) the image of its own accord spontaneously enlarged on my screen, revealing now a salient, magnified aspect that I had never noticed before. I examined the image closely in all its new detail, and felt a shock of horror.
He appears at the bottom left corner, partially cutoff as if he's in the photo only by chance. He is on all fours, angled away from the camera in a show of vigorous concentration on his work. Standing a few steps away, in direct line of his male gaze (though he isn't at that moment looking up at her), is a young woman (probably of legal age - so no need to go there), who - whatever else - is in exuberant mid-process of transitioning between girlhood and womanhood. Her impish persona fairly radiates female energy. She raptly examines some object in her hands, her hair is in pigtails, her close-fitting sweater and jeans contain her full physique - at once mature curves and baby fat - and she wears jaunty, tight knee-high boots like a girl's galoshes. How'd he find her?, I wonder. The physical resemblance is unmistakeable, her facial profile, body type, the length and color of her hair; as well too, her air of intelligence, innocence, and wonder. She reminds me of me when I was at that age.
I realize once and for all: He Was Never That Into Me. I was never a person for him in my own right. I was a fixation for him, an eroticized ideal, one he never forgot, one that he replicates over and over, every chance he gets. And sneak that he is, he even manages to cryptically, in public fashion, exhibit his current fetishistic object of desire online, hidden in plain sight, "purloined letter" style, further heightening, I imagine, his febrile delectation.
He responded to my letter. I received the envelope on Saturday. My husband, who understandably despises every molecule having anything to do with him, death-marched up the stairs to hand it to me. I knew from his trudge what he must be carrying.
In it he set forth in his even hand that in actuality he had lost all romantic interest in me within the first few weeks of our correspondence, though it went on for months longer. (I haven't gone back to obsessively check, but I surmise that he lost interest the moment he looked at updated photographic images of me that I had mailed to him. No - I hadn't been cryogenically frozen at age 16.)
"I lied to you only once," he continued in torpid fashion. "This was when I was making an excuse for not being able to meet you in New York... The reason I gave was legitimate - it would have been awkward because I was doing things with my family every day - but what I concealed was the fact that I was no longer comfortable seeing you at that point."
He added with bland temporization, "I would like to see you again at some point, and perhaps more importantly... I wouldn't want not to see you again sometime."
With that tautology dispensed, he duly withdrew his cadaverous hand and removed to the airless crypt from whence he came.
At this point do I ever want to see him again?
And so, dear Reader, ask me if I believe in vampires.
The answer is yes.
P.S. This post - and all others on my blog - is copyrighted, all rights reserved. It's a timeworn theme, but this iteration is my story.
P.S.2. I'm aware of the forthcoming film, An Education, which treats of a similar theme. I look forward to seeing it.