In the course of a series of emails this week I sent a friend a link to this old entry (I still call them “entries”), and he sent back some very nice compliments. Is it true, he asked, is all of it true. The mountain, the kiss, the fireworks in the background on the Fourth Of July? Yep, I wrote back, all of it, all of it’s true. Weird, right?
I hadn’t read it for a long time either, hadn’t thought about the events therein depicted. I read it like someone else wrote it, like it was something I was reading on someone else’s blog. It’s so long ago, and so much has happened since then, and I don’t even know any of the people I was writing about anymore. That’s what happens in these big romantic stories: you lose touch or you cut off contact, you get your heart broken again, and then again, and then again. Who would have thought, back then, that five years later I’d have a hard time remembering what he looked like, that man I described in that entry as setting me free, setting me free. Who would have thought that it would someday stop being the most awful story I tell, or that I would even ever stop having to look down and fight back tears when I told it. “When I broke up with an old boyfriend,” I say over dinner, or “Ah yes, that was the first in a long line of questionable choices made regarding Englishmen, ha HA!” I don’t even remember the actual events anymore, any of the feelings or thoughts connected with any of it–just the brushstrokes, the pictures, the lines from the script.
I was sitting on my bed in one of the houses I lived in Seattle, on the same duvet cover I’m sitting on now right now on a Sunday night in Wellington, working on something else, when suddenly, I’m not even kidding, I started to hear some of the sentences from that entry. Not really with my ears, exactly, but there they were, right there. What I would have done if I’d been at work or on the bus or at dance class and unable to write, I don’t know, but as it was I stopped whatever it was I doing and opened a new document and just tried to get it all down as quickly as possible. I was hardly able to type fast enough. When I was finished, when I came to the end of the story, I looked up and two hours had passed and I’d had no idea. I was in so deep, I had to shake myself awake and remind myself of where I was, the cursor blinking at the end of a six-page document. I did a tiny bit of editing and refining, I guess, but pretty much what I wrote down was what I…”heard” doesn’t seem to be the right word, exactly, but there it is.
I have never had anything like that happen to me again—with writing, I mean. (I have had breakups and cried a lot since then, more times, many times, but I’ve gotten shyer over the years about recording it, much to the detriment of the quality of my writing I think). I’ve never heard anything again, I’ve never had to claw my way back to the surface of the here and now the way you do sometimes after a particularly vivid and disturbing dream. Now when I think of that whole thing: Menaggio, the funicular, the car ride back from the airport, I can’t feel anything except a sense of gratitude that I got to have that writing experience. The real events seem lost and low and secondary to that odd thrill I got when I saw how much I’d written that afternoon in my bedroom a year later, after everything had changed.
You never think that, do you, as you come down from the mountain, scared and silly and brave. How was I supposed to know that the stories would last longer than the loves?