I’ve been thinking a lot about C, a man I knew in college. At the end of Call Me By Your Name—the novel, not the film—thirty-something Elio visits forty-something Oliver, and I’ve been thinking about what it would be like to run into C again, how he would see me, how I would see him. He’s not on social media at all, but I have seen one recent photo of him and he looks like a man on the verge of 50 tends to look, though he’s still recognizable as the handsome young athlete I last saw roughly more than a quarter of a century ago. I think I could still spot him in a crowd. I imagine I’m fairly recognizable too—fatter, less outwardly drenched in neediness, but still the same round face, the same cheesy smile, the same childlike voice.
It feels odd to write about C though I haven’t told you much of anything at all. It feels somehow indiscreet as if I’m roping him into my tell-all without permission. No, that’s not exactly right. It feels indiscreet because I don’t know how to accurately describe who he was to me, and by writing about him, it feels like I’m implying we were something to each other, that I left marks on him, the way he’s left marks on me. And I just don’t know if that’s true with any certainty. I just don’t know if he’d recognize me in a crowd, or if he did recognize me if he could put his finger on who I was or if he’d even want to.
I’m babbling. Cause I don’t want to write what I’m really thinking about: Did I love him? Did I even know what it meant to love someone then? (Do I know now?) I know that he made me feel my emotions quite powerfully—jealousy, anger—emotions that I was used to tamping down inside me. He disturbed the numbness I cloaked myself in like a security blanket, like a wall. But I don’t know for sure that I ever disturbed anything in him.
I hungered him. I craved him like a drug. I liked the drama of dissecting with my friends every look he ever gave me, every conversation we had. I liked martyring myself in the feelings of unworthiness he triggered in me. (I should say here that those feelings of unworthiness and martyrdom were self-generated; C was never anything but kind to me,)
What the film Call Me By Your Name gets exactly right is the way in which the late teens and the early 20s are a time of gestures. Though we have accrued hundreds of words by the time we hit that age, we rarely use our words when it comes to crushes and infatuations and even love, depending instead on how we interpret or often misinterpret each other’s gestures. And we don’t have the capacity it seems to distinguish between the intended gesture and the accidental gesture, each of which sends its own (supposedly) soul-baring message.
Like me walking down a hill toward campus with C and his friends one day. He tried to put his arm around me and I pulled away for a moment, just to change my purse to my other shoulder so I could comfortably walk him, and then of course he pulled away from my pulling away and… And I wanted to say, “Oh, I was just switching shoulders…” but that series of gestures had spoken so loudly—with the wrong message, of course—that the conversation about us wanting to be close to each other was effectively over.
Or when I saw C several months after we graduated and he reached out to give me a hug, and I froze in his arms and he felt it as a rejection. If I’d known how to use words (and if I’d been courageous), I might have told him that my tension was not a reaction to him exactly, but that I was shocked by how powerfully good it felt to see him again and to have him hold me and I’d simply short-circuited a bit.
I realize these stories do nothing to answer the question of if I loved him. I know he was capable of short-circuiting me, I know I had to numb myself against him, I know I was decades away from being able to be openly vulnerable in the face of someone who made me feel so damned much. But surely, given that this post is populated with “I’s” and “me’s” mean I couldn’t have really loved him. Thinking through it as I write this, he seems more like an object to be acted upon than a love interest. But can someone who was merely the foil for your one-sided romantic drama mark you the way he has marked me? To borrow from myself, what do I name this things between us that left me with “shocky fingerprints?”
By Eoin Brennan at en.wikipedia. (Transferred from en.wikipedia by Jacklee.) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Breaking news: I sometimes develop obsessions. Okay, okay, that’s not really breaking news, but I am struck anew every once in a while by how quickly I can spiral from interest to obsession. Today I’m obsessed with British actor/singer/songwriter Laurence Fox.
My convalescence has included a strict diet of fare from my Netflix Instant queue, including the Inspector Morse spin-off Inspector Lewis. Fox plays sidekick Sargeant James Hathaway to Lewis, who’s played by Kevin Whately. Though I have a crush on both actors, I think I’m most interested in Fox cause I don’t actually know why I’m interested in him. He’s talented yes, but they both are. I think it may just be that Fox’s looks are more striking than Whately’s. Fox isn’t pretty, but to borrow a phrase from our cousins cross the pond, he’s “dead sexy.” And though his character is not at all a bad boy, he still has a bad boy’s smile, which we know is catnip to my (formerly) openness-phobic heart.
Last night while keeping up with #TheBachelor tweets, I randomly decided to see if Laurence Fox is on Twitter, which he is. Somehow that spiraled into downloading his new EP from iTunes, which was immediately put to work as the soundtrack for the morning’s convalescent hallway walk. This, naturally, led to me signing up for the Laurence Fox Music mailing list (about 15 minutes ago after checking out today’s tweets). Given that my abdomen is all owie just from riding in a car yesterday, a trip to London to see him perform isn’t imminent… but that doesn’t mean it’s not pending.**
Full disclosure: I’m 43 years old, for goodness sake. Am I ever going to grow out of my fan girl phase? Fuller disclosure: I’m not actually upset about still being a fan girl at my age. I think it’s one of my better qualities cause it gives me a reason to laugh at myself, and a reason to laugh at all when all I want to do is weep. You know, like now. When I’m trying hard not to think about the fact that I may have gone through this surgery to save my uterus for no good reason since I’m still at the wrong end of the fertility cliff and I, surprisingly, didn’t meet the love of my life in the recovery room.
I also think our crushes can tell us a lot about ourselves, if we let them. For example, after being a George Clooney fan for years, lately I’ve gone off him. I still think he’s gorgeous, but I no longer daydream about a “meet cute” with him. Turns out that I’m old enough now that I sort of want to shout at him “grow up!” every time he gets together with another woman who I think is way too young for him, or I hear him natter on about not getting married again. I want to say–“oh for God’s sake George, forgive yourself for whatever you did in your first marriage and move on.” Clearly, I don’t actually know a thing about George Clooney except as reported in the media. And that being the case, I can’t possibly know his motivations for living his life the way he does. But I can know—by looking at how I react to what I perceive of his life—what’s important to me now compared to what was important to me a decade ago when I first convinced everyone to start calling me “Mrs. Clooney.” ***
No idea how long my crush on Mr. Fox/Sgt. Hathaway will last, or what it means about where I am at this specific junction in my life. But, to steal a phrase from Oprah, what I know for sure, what I’ve learned after four decades of crushes—on celebs, Boston University soccer players, and a poet-turned-police officer wannabe I once worked with in publishing—is that wisdom sometimes shows up in an unexpected guise, and for me, part of recognizing her, is being brave enough to take my silliness quite seriously.
*No, really, it’s all my mother’s fault!
** I’m kidding….well, sort of….no, really….uhm….
*** As a joke, people, as a joke… sigh….