Thursday, January 06, 2005

"We may be finished with the past, but is the past finished with us?"

A few months ago I received an "out of the blue" e-mail message from an old girlfriend. Although she referred to our relationship as an "adolesant love affair" [sic] it actually had lasted more than six years, taking us into our 20s, and culminated with our living together for two years. We broke up in 1995 and I went through the requisite bloodspitting shame/ache/evicersation such endings bring.

In my as yet unpublished novel "The Devil Woudn't Kill a Bad Thing," I wrote about the event:
... The myth that has been so utterly dismantled, so completely transmuted in his mind, is the one involving the human heart: Cupid’s target, love’s sanctuary.

The myth dictates that the human heart contains all that is best in a person — all the love, empathy, charity, self-sacrifice. Good wishes. Best intentions. It is a vessel filled with flower petals and perfume. However, in the same way he knew the earth was not flat, the sun rises in the east, and 192 angels could dance on the head of a pin, he knew that romantic myth was untrue.

The heart is a vessel, certainly, thick-walled and ornate — to hide the horrors writhing within. The truth is, the heart contains all that is worst in a person; all that is vile, malicious, and corrupt; all the bile and venom and vengeance.

He once saw a variation on the torture device The Iron Maiden in the Ripley’s Believe It Or Not museum in Orlando, Florida. The fact that it contained no spikes did not make it any less lethal. According to the plaque next to the exhibit, once a lawbreaker was secured inside a fire was stoked beneath the case. As the iron heated to an unbearable temperature, the person wailed and thrashed within. The walls of the case were so thick that the person’s tortured cries were muted, echoing inside. This ringing echo was said to be beautiful, melodious — like singing.

That’s what the human heart is: a vessel containing all the screaming and thrashing of our worst tendencies. Its thick walls muting the turmoil into music. This was what made the heart so precious, why it should be handled with utmost care and tenderness. For as thick as the walls may be, the heart can be broken. And because of what lurks within, the breaking of the heart is so tragic — all that corruption and filth spills out within the afflicted person. Therefore, giving the heart to another is all the more risky, all the more meaningful because our hearts are filled with of all the things we want to keep hidden. There in lies the ethereal ecstasy of falling in love — being rid of our hearts, and receiving that of someone else, which is ornate and lovely, ringing softly with all that writhes and screeches within it.

So, this old girlfriend wrote to me nine years after I last saw or spoke to her. She referred to herself in the message as "Hanna," the name of a character in my short story "Grudgingly." She referred to her younger sister, subject of my collection of poetry Forever & a Day, by the fictional name I gave her, Deirdre.

Well, I felt a congratulatory message was in order... I knew your dream would eventually become a reality and I wish you much continued success in the days, months and years to come.

I thought you would like to know that Deirdre is all grown up now...recently married and at present the proud mother of two beautiful girls. She's come a long way. Intersting to read your recent excerpt from Forever and a Day. Actually, extremely found a muse to inspire and drive such emotions, I had never known.

Hanna is also doing very out her childhood dream of travelling the world many times over. Married to a wonderful man who also shares her passion for exploring and visiting new lands, they share a home far removed from the likes of her birth city. Although the pangs of Windsor strangely call her back from time to time.

As time passes with each day, month, year, a realization is brought to light that all of life's events shape us for the future. Fond memories of an adolesant love affair will always bring a smile to my face. The mind works in mysterious ways...the distant smell of baking chocolate chip cookies, empty coca-cola cans, a musty, damp basement, a blue mustang, basketball, archie bunker and much, much more... a lifetime of memories tucked neatly in the depths of our being.

All in all it's just water under the Ambassador Bridge... a beauty to behold that still stirs emotion.

[real name]

I'm as given to sentimental feeling as the next person; maybe even more so being a writer. But that note evoked no fireworks of memory, no sudden pang "for the old days." I'm a true contrarian: in this age of the Cult of Youth, I grow happier as I grow older. Reading that e-mail message was like trying on an old, once-favorite jacket and finding the jacket no longer fits. Rather than keeping it, promising to change myself so that I will once more fit into it, I'm happy enough giving it away.

And content to watch Hanna drift away, for good this time.

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