Diary Entry. March 24th, 2006.
People are always talking about love at first sight. Of that instant recognition between strangers, of the way your eyes meet across a crowded room and you know in an instant that he or she is right for you. This notion of instantaneous attraction is central to our mythology of desire: "Who ever loved that loved not at first sight?" Christopher Marlowe writes; "Lovers at first sight, in love for ever" Sinatra sings.
But what about the other way round? What about that moment when you look across the table at a loved one and know with a terrible clarity that it's over? What about that premonition? That certainty? The shock of the moment like an X-ray, turning all your dreams of the future transparent, showing you the bones of the emptiness that lies behind. Dickinson writes: "Presentiment is that long shadow on the lawn / indicative that suns go down: / the notice to the startled grass / that darkness is about to pass".
Oh, you'll deny it to yourself, of course. Shrug it off. Pretend you never thought it. For weeks, months, maybe even years, you'll continue to live the lie, like the skin of a bruised plum that keeps its lustre, even as the pulp grows rotten within. There'll be that long, slow process of disengagement, the creeping arguments that become ever more frequent, ever more bitter; the increasing sense of alienation, the desperate attempts to remind yourself what it is about the other person that makes you love them. (Empson writes: "Slowly the poison the whole blood stream fills / 'Tis not the effort nor the failure tires / The waste remains, the waste remains and kills.")
But sooner or later, when the final quarrel is done with, when your friends and family have finally been told and the one line explanations for what went wrong concocted, you will look back on the course of your relationship and know, with complete clarity, the day, the hour, when things started to go wrong. The first time you knew.
How much of this is just self-fulfilling prophecy? How much of this is just that seed of suspicion, which, once planted, corrupts everything else? How much of this is just our ridiculous need to be right, even at the cost of our own happiness. (Hughes writes: "It must have taken supernatural greed / To corner all the meat in the world / Even from your own hunger").
How much of this is just a trick of memory - so that we remember only the prophecies that turn out right, and conveniently forget those that we get wrong?
And what if we are just misreading the whole thing? God knows we're wrong often enough about love at first sight. So that the person we imagined was the paragon of our dreams turns out to be psychotic or dim-witted, selfish or just plain boring. If we can be mistaken there, why not here? Is it better to bear the slings and arrows of a relationship that seems increasingly outrageous, or by opposing end them?
Do you believe in love at last sight?
Do you want to?
I'm no longer sure what it is we were arguing about. I have some vague memory of it being something to do with Hemingway's women. Something banal and obvious like that. She was arguing (if I remember it right) that the reason women in Hemingway's novels are always two-dimensional was because he was a raging misogynist. Women threatened him, made him nervous. That's why he retreated into the security of violence. Hence the bull-fights, the hunting, the obsession with guns and war. Hence the mythologising of isolation. Just a lonely old Bluebeard who couldn't get any. My argument (which she stubbornly refused to see) was that all of that was true, but it was only a symptom of a larger masculine persona that Hemingway was trying to identify with. That Hemingway's novels were misogynistic because they were celebrations of a unique sub-culture of macho-ness which was, in its essence, a reaction to the threat presented by the growing power of the feminine. It wasn't Hemingway who was in retreat, it was the American male, and Hemingway, scenting a story, just went along for the ride. But why did he choose to deify that culture, if he didn't subscribe to it? she argued. Because it was there and someone had to write about it and it needed a language and a style all its own and Hemingway had it. What else did you want him to do? Write about the metrosexuals of the day, the swinging urban crowd? Fitzgerald already had that beat covered.
At any rate, we argued. We quarrelled. We fought. Voices were raised,then died out completely as an endless silence gripped the telephone, coiled itself around the receiver like a snake around its prey. It was strange. Early on, when the silence was just a pause, a break in the conversation, a drawing back, it would have been easy to change the topic, switch to talking about something else. But then the silence got longer and longer and the stakes kept rising proportionally. Soon the silence had lasted so long that almost anything you said would seem like a comedown, like a sacrilege. And of course, the stronger that feeling got, the longer the silence lasted.
We finally made it through the conversation though. Eventually I said something, she responded. We exchanged some platitudes, picking carefully around the the argument we'd just had, like a nurse cutting the cloth away from the edge of the wound - our very hesitation leaving the unspoken words more exposed. We signed off quickly. We were both relieved.
Once I was off the phone, my conscience started to gnaw at me though. What had I been arguing for anyway? It's not like I even like Hemingway. And I totally agree that he couldn't write a decent female character to save his life. Not even all those nurses (heh). So why then was I fighting about it? I considered calling her back. No. She'd been mad. I could tell from her voice. Better to wait till morning. Let it all calm down.
When she called, it took me by surprise. I hadn't expected that. I'd always assumed I would be the one to make amends. But here she was calling. Picking up the phone, I readied myself to be the bigger person, prepared myself to make amends. "I'm sorry", I said, "it's been a long day. I shouldn't have taken it out on you." But even as I said it, I could feel my irritation creeping back. What the hell was I apologising for anyway? It's not like it was all my fault. She was shouting at me too, you know. And she was the one who was wrong. She was the one who kept insisting that Hemingway didn't understand women, event though I'd never even denied that at all. Hell, I'd never denied that he was a woman-hater. Only that he became that way because he ended up relating too closely to the culture he was trying to portray. Like a method actor, only in print. Why couldn't she see that? Why wouldn't she listen?
All this time I'd been on the phone with her - trying to sound contrite, trying to be considerate. Then she said something about how "I was always making these stupid arguments". Stupid? ME? All my good intentions melted away. I was mad again. With great effort I restrained myself from saying something cutting. "Why don't we just talk about this tomorrow", I said. "I'm tired. I need to sleep." We both knew that was a lie.
Since then she hasn't called. And I haven't called her. It's been two weeks.
I'm not really sure why I haven't called. I could have. I know I've wanted to. I guess at first I was afraid that she'd still be mad and we'd end up going through the same loop again. Then, when a few days had passed I got to thinking - well, I said I was sorry, didn't I? I never heard her say that. Why should I cop the blame for all this? I said I was sorry. If she wants to accept my apology, wants to apologise to me in turn, let her call me back. Otherwise to hell with it. I've got my dignity. I don't need this.
That lasted about three days. All of this week though, I've been thinking I'll call her but I've kept putting it off. I don't know why. It's not that I'm angry anymore, or even that I want to make the point that it wasn't all my fault. I'm willing to take the blame for this (or at least I think I am) if it means being able to hear her voice again. I miss her.
I think the reason I haven't called is because I know how easy it would be for her to say the wrong thing if I did call, and for me to say the wrong thing back and for things to just go downhill from there. I know how that works. The delicate mechanism of these make-up conversations, so easily jammed, so easily turned awry. If that happens, if we start arguing again, then it'll really be over. There's no coming back from that. It'll establish a pattern - a groove that we'll keep falling back into, like a skipping CD that can't seem to move beyond the place it's stuck in. As long as I don't call her and we don't have another fight there's still hope. A diminishing hope, true. But hope. That's what I'm trying to cling to now. That's all I have left.
Why doesn't she call I wonder? Is she still mad at me? Or is it just that she doesn't care? Maybe I'm just imagining all this, maybe nothing's happened, we're not in trouble, maybe she's just been busy. No, come on, it's been two weeks. Maybe she's happy about this - maybe she's been wanting to get out of our relationship for a long time and now that she's found an excuse she's just using it to her advantage. Maybe she's seeing someone else. If that's the case there isn't much point in my calling her, is there?
I sit on the floor, re-reading my old diary entries, staring at the phone. Wishing she'd call. Please call, I whisper, when the silence of my room assures me that no one is listening.
Categories: Fiction, Life