This entry reminds me of a line from Annie Hall by Woody Allen – “I would never want to belong to any club that would have someone like me for a member.” The quote has also been attributed to Groucho Marx and it crystalizes some Freudian concepts (according to something I read on the internet). While the quote isn’t mine, the idea it expresses resonates.
The moment I got kicked off the Wilcox literary magazine, I wanted to get back in. Once reinstalled, I lost interest. Cathy was right when she questioned my commitment, although she should’ve done it to my face. Wanting what I’ve lost (or can’t have) wreaked havoc with my adolescent love life. Nice guys who genuinely liked me got taken for granted; I obsessed about jerks who couldn’t care less. I identified with sad songs of unrequited love, not joyful tunes about finding my soulmate.
Sad lyrics still move me more than happy ones, but today I make better choices. That said, sometimes I still treat the people closest to me worse than I treat virtual strangers, whose approval I crave. Fortunately, the people I love – who love me back – are forgiving and understanding. They deserve my best and one of these days, they’ll get it.
When Luke and I met in 1969, I was the depressive and he was calm and smiling. At some point during our three years together, he absorbed my darkness and I took his light. I didn’t consciously steal it – it just happened.
We’d broken up for the final time a year before this entry but we remained friends like many couples promise but few actually do. (Spoiler alert – it’s not easy.) He never called me, I always called him, which under ordinary circumstances I would’ve read as cease and desist. I didn’t because I was profoundly worried about him. Slim to start with, he now looked skeletal (due to macrobiotic diet, not drugs). He’d withdrawn from everyone and everything, including painting which he once loved. I was afraid he’d die. He was only 22 years old.
I knew we could never get back together. We were travelling in diverging directions. Soon we’d move on without each other, not even as friends, but that didn’t mean I’d stop caring. I’d always wonder about his life – did he find what he was looking for? Was he happy? In the unlikely event our paths crossed again in this lifetime, I’d be happy to see him and eager to hear his voice. I’d always want to know what would happen next – and then, after that. They say love never dies. In my case, neither does the power of curiosity.
Luke isn’t the only one who arouses my intense (obsessive is such a harsh word) interest– I feel that way about anyone I cared about and I suspect I always will. Maybe that’s why the Bible story about Lot’s wife struck me as tragic. As she and her family fled Sodom, she turned to look back – in my view, because she couldn’t bear not to know what happened to the people she left behind. For that, God turned her into a pillar of salt. I know, the sin was disobedience, not curiosity but the punishment seems a tad Draconian. I’d look back too – so there’d be at least two pillars of salt outside where Sodom and Gomorrah once stood.
This is one of those days with more significance today than when I wrote it; there was so much we didn’t know, couldn’t let ourselves imagine. This breakfast/lunch would be the last time I’d see and speak to my father while he was still mobile and able-bodied. Sam and I were lucky to get there at all. I was sound asleep on a Saturday morning when Sam darted into our room and said she just received a text from Janet – we were invited to breakfast for Daddy’s 89th birthday, starting five minutes ago. We threw on our clothes and raced over – even so, we were last to arrive and CD and Alex missed it entirely.
The word I used to describe it in this diary entry is so bland – pleasant. Foxy’s is a long-standing Glendale coffee shop on Colorado Blvd. It was another sunny day in California. In a large group like ours, it’s hard to indulge in much intimate conversation but – as he always did – my father engaged everybody at the table individually about what was going on in our lives. As usual, he said next to nothing about what was going on in his. He certainly didn’t mention he was in pain.
If anything, he might’ve urged us to spend more time with my mother, who was struggling to adjust to the nursing facility where she landed. (It would be weeks before we could move her to Solheim, the Lutheran nursing home they had selected for that far-off day in the distant future when they might need one.) Right now, all my mother wanted was to return to her life at their condo. None of us knew that life was already over. None of us knew we were already counting down hours and minutes.
If I’d known, what would I have said? The question haunts me because contemplating what I would’ve said if I’d known makes the banality of what I did say painfully obvious. We probably said “I love you” in the casual hello-goodbye way we always said it, not in the heartfelt way I wish I’d said it. Not like I’d say it if I’d known it was the last time. I would’ve told him he was the best father ever and the greatest blessing in my life. I would’ve said, please stay. I need more time to study the kindness in your face, so I can reflect a fragment of what you gave to me and anyone else who was lucky enough to drift into your orbit. I would’ve said, the world is a colder place without you. Nothing will be the same when you’re gone. I hunger for the sound of your voice. I’ll miss you every day for the rest of my life.
Instead I said, happy birthday. Thanks for lunch, what a great idea. Let’s do it again for my birthday and Janet’s, coming up in less than two weeks. We didn’t have two weeks. In retrospect, I see his tumble during the photo shoot as foreshadowing but on that sunny day in February, it seemed like a careless mishap, nothing to worry about. We had years of sunny days to brunch in our future. Next time, the whole family – including my mother, who’d surely soon be ambulatory – would gather. We’d get everything right next time.
This day has always loomed large in memory – in many ways, it epitomizes my adolescence. First, I have to cop to outrageous thoughtlessness due to the self-centered cloud I lived in. This was a momentous day for my father – in fact, I’ll wager it meant more to him than it did to me.
My indifference to its importance in his life shames me today. I was incapable of grasping a world beyond my transient teen-age hurt over a bad time at a dance or my elation at meeting a new boy.
Natalie and I always egged each other in ways that got us into trouble and this was no exception. (The fact it was a Catholic Youth Organization dance – and in 1968 Lutherans and Catholics weren’t all that ecumenical – didn’t help.) Natalie got grounded too. Maybe that added to the drama and thrill of it all. Since we paid the price, the experience had to be of value, right? When Natalie was alive, no matter where we were, we called each other on February 5th to remember and commiserate.
For me, the ramifications of that Sunday adventure lasted for years. I became obsessed with X (after he dropped me). At the time, I blamed my senior year clinical depression on my obsession with that failed romance but it was a scapegoat – the depression was inside me, just waiting for an excuse. And in some ways, the obsession served me well – it kept me aloof from other serious romantic entanglements that might’ve changed my life – maybe for better, maybe for worse. Like most events of my adolescence, it doesn’t matter; I’m happy with the life I live now.
Lloyd (not his real name) told me he had psychiatric problems when we met. Because of this, he claimed he could never have a romantic or sexual relationship with any girl. I didn’t want one with him so that came as a relief. Even though we didn’t live far apart, we started our friendship as pen pals.
His voluminous letters were the first warning sign. Ten hand-written pages a day were typical. A tiny warning light flicked on when he pointed out that the stamps on the envelopes his letters arrived in were never cancelled. In other words, he drove them to my mailbox himself late at night.
He loved photography and wanted me to model for him. He took the photos featured here on one of our two photo sessions. As a vain, shallow adolescent, I lapped this up – but not for long. His criticisms of me were scathing and increasingly frequent. In retrospect, I think one of the reasons I hung around was to win his admiration back. The desire to recapture something I thought lost kept me in a lot of relationships in those days. For that matter, it’s one of the reasons I kept a diary.
That’s why I can’t deny I saw Lloyd’s red flags long before our trip to Ensenada; I just didn’t heed them. There was that trip to San Francisco, when he threatened to swerve into oncoming traffic and kill us both. The fact that he didn’t follow through on that threat doesn’t negate it as a red flag.
I’d be crazed with fear if my daughter was dating a guy who displayed Lloyd’s character traits but for some reason I failed to fear for myself. Like other young, dumb adolescents, I believed I’d live forever. I didn’t end the relationship with Lloyd because I was afraid but because I was exasperated.