Epitaph: Excuse my dust.
“That would be a good thing for them to cut on my tombstone: Wherever she went, including here, it was against her better judgment.” -Dorothy Parker
As accustomed as I am to writing letters to dead poets, as the Queen of Wit, you are in a different league. So, before I disgrace myself, I’m sharpening my wit and praying the lead doesn’t break. I’m sure you were never stuck for words like this “bear of little brain”. Or, perhaps I should rephrase that. You weren’t a fan of AA Milne or: The House at Pooh Corner.
Since we don’t have a time machine, we’re manually rewinding the clock back to 1988, which I guess, for you, actually means putting the clock forward. Oh dear! This is already sounding complicated and way too technical for me. So, I hope one or both of us doesn’t get lost and end up going the wrong way. I’ve heard people joke about losing bits of themselves in a time machine and I’d like to arrive in one piece.
Our journey began at a friend’s 21st when I glanced across the room and spotted “the surfer” over the top of the canopy. Being rather petite yourself, you’d understand my experience in reverse. I am as tall as you are short, but he was even taller and as shallow as it sounds, it was true love. Obviously, I’d swallowed too much Keats and had my rosy-coloured glasses super-glued in place. However, we talked and talked and goodness knows what we talked about but we felt simpatico, soul mates. I can’t remember what happened after that but I wrote my number in red lipstick on a napkin as I didn’t have a pen.
Then, the Great Wait began and that’s when I turned to you for support reading: A Telephone Call:
“PLEASE, God, let him telephone me now. Dear God, let him call me now. I won’t ask anything else of You, truly I won’t. It isn’t very much to ask. It would be so little to You, God, such a little, little thing. Only let him telephone now. Please, God. Please, please, please.”
Oh how I related to that and how you wrangled and bargained with God for a few pages until a fresh horror emerges:
“Are You punishing me, God, because I’ve been bad? Are You angry with me because I did that? Oh, but, God, there are so many bad people –You could not be hard only to me. And it wasn’t very bad; it couldn’t have been bad. We didn’t hurt anybody, God. Things are only bad when they hurt people. We didn’t hurt one single soul; You know that. You know it wasn’t bad, don’t You, God? So won’t You let him telephone me now?
If he doesn’t telephone me, I’ll know God is angry with me. I’ll count five hundred by fives, and if he hasn’t called me then, I will know God isn’t going to help me, ever again. That will be the sign. Five, ten, fifteen, twenty, twenty-five, thirty, thirty-five, forty, forty-five, fifty, fifty-five. . . It was bad. I knew it was bad. All right, God, send me to hell. You think You’re frightening me with Your hell, don’t You? You think. Your hell is worse than mine….
I mustn’t. I mustn’t, I mustn’t. Oh, God, please don’t let me telephone him. Please keep me from doing that. I know, God, just as well as You do, that if he were worried about me, he’d telephone no matter where he was or how many people there were around him. Please make me know that, God. I don’t ask YOU to make it easy for me–You can’t do that, for all that You could make a world. Only let me know it, God. Don’t let me go on hoping. Don’t let me say comforting things to myself. Please don’t let me hope, dear God. Please don’t.
I won’t telephone him. I’ll never telephone him again as long as I live. He’ll rot in hell, before I’ll call him up. You don’t have to give me strength, God; I have it myself. If he wanted me, he could get me. He knows where I ram. He knows I’m waiting here. He’s so sure of me, so sure. I wonder why they hate you, as soon as they are sure of you. I should think it would be so sweet to be sure.”
Well, Dorothy, I have no idea how this drama plays out anymore. I doubt anybody waits for anyone to call in these days of instant everything. Either you’re in or you’re out and no endless charades.
While I was waiting for the phone to ring or more likely frantically trying to foil the College switchboard and actually make it through, I kept reading. You were my partner in crime:
“One Perfect Rose”
A single flow’r he sent me, since we met.
All tenderly his messenger he chose;
Deep-hearted, pure, with scented dew still wet–
One perfect rose.
I knew the language of the floweret;
“My fragile leaves,” it said, “his heart enclose.”
Love long has taken for his amulet
One perfect rose.
Why is it no one ever sent me yet
One perfect limousine, do you suppose?
Ah no, it’s always just my luck to get
One perfect rose.
Eventually, he called. My relief was short-lived. Swapping one angst for another, I was all but plucking the petals off daisies: “He loves me”, “He loves me not”. Eventually, after what must have been months of intrigue, friends of mine finally bailed him up: “Tell us what you think of Rowena. We want to know.” Being direct had never been my thing but confronting him while we were all staying at my parent’s beach house, which was in every respect like being stuck in a lift, was terrible. I can’t even remember what he said. Put on the spot, he mumbled something and was just as embarrassed as me. Mind you, we both deserved it. Neither of us could talk straight. Somehow, the answer wasn’t what I’d hoped. While technically speaking, you can’t be dumped if you’ve never been an item, but try telling that to my broken heart.
Anyway, how short-sighted of me. I should have known it would never work out:
Men seldom make passes
At girls who wear glasses.
Dorothy Parker First printed in New York World, 16 August 1925.
In the aftermath, I remember walking up Glebe Point Road on my way to university. Through my abject sorrow, I spotted a bunch of white carnations with blood red lines wiggling through their petals. Never one to repress my anguish, the poem in me moved into action:
carved weeping streams
through the heart of
a white carnation.
What an “Ode to Joy”! Of course, you knew all about this too:
Razors pain you;
Rivers are damp;
Acids stain you;
And drugs cause cramp.
Guns aren’t lawful;
Gas smells awful;
You might as well live.
A Very Short Song
Once, when I was young and true,
Someone left me sad-
Broke my brittle heart in two;
And that is very bad.
Love is for unlucky folk,
Love is but a curse.
Once there was a heart I broke;
And that, I think, is worse.
They hail you as their morning star
Because you are the way you are.
If you return the sentiment,
They’ll try to make you different;
And once they have you, safe and sound,
They want to change you all around.
Your moods and ways they put a curse on;
They’d make of you another person.
They cannot let you go your gait;
They influence and educate.
They’d alter all that they admired.
They make me sick, they make me tired.
So, as much as I might think I’d like to be 21 again, after this trip down memory lane, once was enough! Please God, NEVER send me back! I’m quite happy where I am.
At the same time, my kids are now standing on the cusp of all of this. The tsunami is coming but how on earth will they ever learn to surf?Indeed, they might be better off building castles on the beach. Yet:
“ ‘Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.”
-Alfred Lord Tennyson
PS: A woman mightn’t NEED a man like a fish needs a bicycle, but it can be a choice. My choice!
Dorothy Parker: The Penguin Dorothy Parker, 1987.
 Dorothy Parker: The Penguin Dorothy Parker, Penguin Books, 1987 p. 119.