Monday, November 30, 2009

Ghosts of Relationships Past

Last week I traveled home, along with everybody else in this country, to spend Thanksgiving Weekend with my family. I was a little on the skinny side when I arrived, due to a post-breakup decrease in appetite, but found that, when I weighed myself every morning on the bathroom scale, I weighed a pound more each day than I had the previous day. By the end of the weekend, I was more or less back to my normal weight. Green Bean traveled with me and was happy to get lots of attention and to have free reign of the house, and was also appreciative that he's been forgiven for preferring La Moustache to me in the past. There were a couple of semi-close calls, but I managed to keep him safe from my parents' obese cat, Kiki, thanks largely to Kiki's unmaneuverability and slow reflexes.

While I was home, I had a brief visit with my oldest friend, Ms. B, who moved back home from New York a year and a half ago, built a house, had a baby, and transformed herself with astonishing rapidity into an adult. When we had a moment to ourselves, she told me something surprising: “If I were you, I would call up L'Artista. It's probably not the right thing to do, but I would if I were in your shoes.”

Up to that point, I had not allowed this thought to cross my mind. L'Artista was my first serious boyfriend. I met him when I was 18 and had just arrived in Florence, Italy for a semester of painting lessons, where he was my 28-year-old painting teacher. He was charming, handsome, hopelessly in love with me (as I was with him), the most amazing cook I've ever met, and a disaster when it came to committed relationships. Still, he was scrupulously honest about this last aspect of his personality, which puts him several notches above La Moustache in my book. He took me for rides on his Vespa, painted numerous paintings of me, and cooked fabulous meals for me and my friends. We embarked on a meandering, romantic relationship while I went to college, then moved to New York and began my life. It should have ended there, when I grew up a bit and began to want a real partner, but L'Artista got carried away by his own romanticism and began musing about moving to New York and starting a life together. I chose not to heed his earlier warnings, and we talked about this possibility for over a year, without making any discernible headway. My patience finally began to wear thin, and the situation culminated one day on a bus in England; during a discussion about our future together, L'Artista got up, ran to the bathroom, and was sick to his stomach. This was too much for me, and I ended it. As soon as I did so, he told me he was ready to move to New York and get serious about me. HA.

Since then, L'Artista has maintained his romanticism, and continues to call me “amore” in sporadic e-mails that I rarely reply to, and muses about what it would be like if we were to see each other again. The thought is terrifying and, I have to admit, enticing. I e-mailed him in September to wish him a happy 40th (!) birthday, and told him about some of the difficulties of my life lately (though no mention was made of La Moustache, since I had a feeling he would get ideas if he knew I am single). He e-mailed me back several times, and finally wrote a note saying that my silence was beginning to worry him; he asked me to let him know if everything was okay. Angry and embittered against all men, I wrote back a cryptic e-mail saying that I was fine, I just didn't need selfish people in my life at that moment, or maybe ever. I composed the e-mail rapidly, without thinking, and wrote it in French because it seemed like too much trouble to find the words in Italian (even though I often chat online with old friends in Italy with no language problems). I quickly hit “send” before I had a chance to reconsider.

The response was fast; a hurt L'Artista shot off four e-mails asking what he had done wrong, and if it is a crime for him to tell me that I am important to him. I suspect that he's forgotten all about his role in encouraging me to hope for more from our relationship. I didn't reply to any of these missives.

There is a fine balance when it comes to memories of past relationships. Too good a memory makes it impossible to move on, and too poor a memory leads one to keep making the same mistakes over and over again, like in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. If given the chance, I feel sure that L'Artista would do it all over again with me, right down to vomiting in the bus restroom; absent that opportunity, I imagine he is making similar mistakes with other people (I flatter myself that I am still his first choice). Four years after the last time I saw L'Artista, I like to think that I am a wiser, better person because of that relationship. And despite his 40 years, I have a feeling I'm a lot wiser than L'Artista. For that, I am thankful.

Drawing of me at age 19 by L'Artista

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