Saturday, April 25, 2009

Bells from the Past: Old Boyfriends Chime In

By my age, everyone has something of a past. And parts of that past always stand out more than others.

For me, one remarkable moment was my last year of graduate school at Columbia, where my aspirations to become a famous poet were humming along. Let's say it's the late 70s, a kind of TAXI DRIVER ambiance pervades the city, bar after bar on the Upper West Side blinks its name and wares in aqua or pink neon lights, and one block from Dodge Hall was considered the ghetto, or Harlem as we now know it. I was studying with Nobel laureates, editing the school literary magazine, and thinking about my first book. For years I had lived with a very kind and sweet guy, then a law student - let's call him Jeremy. And all of a sudden my heart got taken hostage by another, very quickly one day at one of those bars, I looked at this man and knew my life was about to change forever. Let's call him Miles, like "miles to go before I sleep." He was, after all, a writer in my program and a good one at that. I fell in love, left Jeremy, stayed with Miles until we burned out, and eventually ended up with neither of them.

When my finances began their downward spiral this winter, it was these two men I thought of. Jeremy first, of course, because I thought he would easily be able to help me with a loan and would also be compassionate about my situation and likes to help people. Miles, well, because I still think about Miles a lot. Not every day, but at least once a week because it was with him that I had the best sex of my life. He was not as nice as Jeremy, he did not understand things as astutely as Jeremy, but he got right down into the muckiness and mess of our mutual chemical dependence on each other's physical selves. The dark side, the shadow, as Jung might call it, got full throttle with Miles. And I felt like I was slipping into a truly dark place that he would understand. With Jeremy, the sun was always shining and, if not, a replacement for it had to be found immediately. No shadows allowed.

So I emailed Jeremy and asked him to call me on my cell, I had a favor to ask. He did call me,more quickly than I anticipated, and we traded small talk and biographical details for about 15 minutes when I finally just said "if I do not ask you this right now, I never will." I told him I needed a $5,000 loan for six month.s The silence on the other end of the line was so thick I thought he had hung up. "Wow," he said when he collected himself, "wow." I felt the first tickle of impatience in my stomach. Then I am hearing about the children still in college, how people are not paying their bills (Jeremy is a defense attorney), and how he would have to ask his wife. Now the wife and I have a checquered history which is whole other story; but I knew the moment he said those words I was dead in the water, and waves of sadness rushed over me. "OK, sure," is what came out. And at that point, he pulled into his office parking lot and had to hang up the phone.

Miles, on the other hand, despite a less tactful and calculated approach to life, chose this moment to prove he really could be empathetic. "You will always have family as long as I am alive," he wrote, "and if I had the money, I'd give you thrice what you need." Of course, he has no money. Miles is a part-time professor and full time dad to a lately conceived 11 year old who has him busy deciphering the body language of parents at little league games, which mystifies him. The real world was never Miles' best suit; he had been able to write brilliantly subdued fiction and now his life did not allow him that, or so he perceived. We wrote back and forth via email, and the result is we truly are friends again and probably always were. He married the woman he originally dumped for me, and so he is kind of consistent. The one thing I saw about Miles that I had not seen when we could not keep our hands off each other was how tightly he was now holding onto his family. I used to think he was the opposite of Jeremy - one wild, one tame - but in this, they were equal and the same.

The only difference in this moment was that Jeremy -- having studied Jungian psychology in Switzerland, ever the referee and problem-solver among his friends and family -- couldn't really deal with my fortunes being on the skids. He didn't call me back for a week, and then instead wrote me an email saying he could not afford to loan me money for all the reasons he had stated previously but to keep in touch with him. I was and am not sure if he felt horror, anger, fear or any of the above. Let me just say one thing about Jeremy's wife - she is, was, and always has been very wealthy. The fact that she 'dated' him for two years in the car that took them back and forth between Manhattan and their Long Island law school (my car, in fact) doesn't even enter her head, and certainly not his, nor all the things Jeremy never disclosed at the time, wanting to play it safe until he watched me get enveloped by Miles, at which point all bets were off.

So where I thought I would be thanking Jeremy and forgiving Miles for some ridiculous response, it is the opposite. I thank Miles for the time he is taking to talk to me, to remind me of who I am, to tell me (not in so many words) that I will be OK. Jeremy, well, I lived with the guy for five years and I never for one moment felt taken for granted or simply ignored and now I do. For all the times I stepped on his soft spots, I am sorry; and I forgive him his inability to either tell me what he really thinks of all this or find a way to help me when I know if he wanted to, he could. Without Jeremy, I would never have grown up and accomplished all that I have done; he gave me language and tools to work through problems. Without Miles, I would never have grown into myself as a woman. And although I am poverty-stricken, I have riches aplenty from moving through interesting life cycles, two of which, these guys, have made it all the more worthwhile, all the light and shadow, for better and for worse.

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