Archive for May, 2011

Some Ex

May 31, 2011

“The past isn’t dead.  It’s not even past.”  William Faulkner

“You talk too much about your ex-husband,” he informed me.

We’d been discussing diets, about how I hated them, about how he adhered to his, the low carb Atkins religion that single men like to rely on.

“Can you believe?” he’d interjected. “When I was in college I dated a woman who worked as a baker.  She’d get up at 4 a.m. and leave fresh-baked croissants by the bed.”

I chimed in on how when I was married I had baked constantly.  My husband could consume a cake within 3 days and still stay thin.

“He would read the caloric food values listed at the back of my Fannie Farmer cookbook while he ate lunch.  He figured he needed a cup of frosting a day to gain weight.”

I thought the story was in the same vein as his, but apparently I’d strayed over the acceptable number of references to my ex.

It’s not the first time a man has noted how often I talk about my exes.  Although I have married once, there are a handful of men to whom I have given as much love as I could muster at the time.  A few years ago when I was getting to know another man, he told me, with a sparkle of glee in his blue eyes, that he was going to design a t-shirt for me.  On a piece of paper he started marking hatch marks.  “It will be with all ‘x’s, in the shape of an X.  So when people ask you, you can say, ‘It’s some ex.’”

I remain bewildered on the topics I’m supposed to be discussing.  If you’re getting to know someone, are you only supposed to voice your opinions on PBS funding cuts or the general state of the media?  The trouble with such conversations is that my mind wanders off and then like a petulant 4 year old starts whining, “Why are we talking about this?”  I try to ignore its demands at the same time I’m trying to limit expressing my low opinion of NPR’s reporting.

It’s just too much work to pretend that other people haven’t played an important role in making up who I am.  Don’t get me wrong:  I like denying reality as much as the next person.  I couldn’t even provide a list of all the reality I’m denying I’ve been denying it for so long.  But the past for me has always held a fascination.  Even when I was a teenager and possessed no past, I would ruminate over events that had happened a year previously.  It made for a lugubrious adolescence but isn’t that what adolescence is for?

Just like Faulkner, I thought that if I could get a handle on what had happened, if I could understand how I’d made those fine messes, then I’d win some control over what would happen.  I believed this for a surprisingly long time.  Even when I started to realize how unreliable memory was — even my long-ranging, precision-seeking missile of a memory — I still held firm to this tenet.  Of all the things that seemed to make me “me,” this seemed the most central.

Perhaps this is a quality I’ll never quite shake.  We are, after all, the only species that can ponder our own deaths, and this inevitable ending makes all that comes before seem vitally important.  Some people locate their life’s meaning in their careers, some in their families, some in what they’ve accumulated.  I long ago devoted myself to knowledge, and to me little is knowable outside of one’s self.  We can never truly know the people who move through our lives.  They are like alien beings, encounters with whom can confirm what we’ve already learned or define the limits of what we might never understand, a wisdom that can run the gamut from “I like people who also like Woody Allen movies” to “I have no idea why she acted that way.”

So while I hope I’ve given up feeling pressed to make sense of everything that’s come before, I’ll keep talking about my exes if only because I’m a writer.  Writers know that one of the best ways to delineate characters is to talk about what a character loves.  I am a character who has loved and hopes to continue to love for the rest of her life.  I love chocolate, cats, twilight, jazz, the scent of honeysuckle, and all those people who have trooped through my life with muddy shoes leaving footprints on my heart.  What else is there to talk about?