April 23rd, 2003

abstract butterfly

I have dreamed

"I have dreamed that your arms are lovely
I have dreamed what a joy you'd be"---Oscar Hammerstein II

I love the way that almost everyone I befriend is such a story-telling, day-dreaming, lost in cloudland dreamer. I sit here in a remote city, alone at a rental computer, thinking of a girl upon whom I had an intense crush in high school, although we barely exchanged three words. I remember a more intense feeling of a crush on a woman who worked at a bookstore in the mall down the street from my first post-law-school apartment that arose on even thinner reeds. It was a pretty manageable crush, because I never would tell someone that I had a crush upon that I in fact felt the infatuation. The feelings, intensely if irrationally felt, merely became part of my personal autobiographical novel--okay, this is how I felt in sociology/psychology class, this is how I felt when this woman helped me find a book. Never mind that I've been married just shy of thirteen years to someone to whom I expect to be married until I lose the chess game with Death. Never mind that neither fantasy fire was fueled by even the remotest hint of mutual spark. I can cast my mind back upon those memories, and voila!, I am soaking in an emotional bathos.

Maybe this is the secret garden to which the inward directed person turns--a garden of sumptuous delights, always dreamed about, never sampled. Perhaps the rich sensation of pleasure that the very memory of something that never was is its own reward. I certainly never would have jeopardized those emotions at the time by acting upon them. As I recall, one infatuation object dated the star high school football fullback. I believe that every young man in my high school class had a crush upon her, but she ultimately ended up with none of them, and moved, I believe, to Boston. By contrast, the woman who worked at Dallas' short-lived Rizzoli bookstore merely amounted to the barest reed of someone upon whom to pin a daydream, and yet the memory of an intense crush is vivid within me still.

But I hear so many similar, wistful stories. They range from the most genteel love unexpressed to the most casual intimate chance not taken. Some folks say that banal phrase "you never regret what you do, you only regret what you don't do", but I find that this is absolutely false. I frequently cherish my daydreams about improbable crushes completely unfulfilled, and wonder why I made some choices in my single days that I did make. There is probably some sort of "yoga of action", but it certainly does not guarantee that "all action" is "right action". But I think of a close friend's "she begged me, but I couldn't because she was so stoned" story, or another friend's "I would have married her if she'd said yes, but I'm glad she didn't" story, or the "thank god i didn't go out with him" tale, and realize that sometimes inaction is as much something to treasure as action. I think of marriages contracted and dissolved, and friends of mine who say "I'm glad we have our child, but that's the only blessing from what happened" type of statements.

But I'm struck by two things--so many folks, including myself, including even folks from among the "sober" and "rational", live so much in the telling and re-telling of events and non-events. Sometimes on these domestic matters I'm convinced that many of the outcomes are less important than whether the plot can be told in Jane Austen fashion. I'm also struck by how often what did not happen is just as important to the narrative as what did happen. A pulp novelist in the 60s (Sheldon, if I remember correctly) wrote a novel about a novel which details the thoughts running through someone's head during seven moments of intimacy. But so many times the inward novel is the novel of platonic chances taken, intimate moments properly foregone, chaste longing, intimate chances taken but then abandoned, and the sheer communion of experiencing not only things that work and things that don't work, but things that never happen at all--except in dreams. The seven minutes, if indeed seven they prove to be, are just intercalary passages, I submit. The real story is also in what did not happen, and the spaces in between what did happen.

But I don't know enough about all that. I only know that I love to hear the stories, told in quiet voices by people I respect and love. I don't demand that the stories excite or amuse--I just want the experience of sharing, and the sense that none of us are alone in the dark.