Ten years ago, I had an old boyfriend.
Old then as in significantly(?) older than me, and old now as in we aren’t and haven’t been together for something like eight or nine years. Nearly a decade. At this point we’ve been broken up and apart for longer than we were together, and yet here I am, eight or nine years later, talking about him.
I realized this morning that today is his birthday, and that by now he’d surely be 36 or 37 years old. Which, at my ripe age of 29, doesn’t seem like such a big deal. But when you think of me at 17 and him at 25, me at 18 and him at 26, me at 19 and him at 27, well, that’s a different story, isn’t it?
Here’s something I’ve never admitted out loud to anyone: because of that relationship, I fancied myself a Marguerite Duras. It helped that I was young and white. It helped that he was older and Asian. To be honest, I can’t remember which came first, Duras or my relationship. I have a distinct memory of buying the film version of The Lover and, in my own dumb teenage way, thinking, “Holy shit! My relationship is just like this one! Marguerite and I are basically the same person!”
(Side note: my relationship was nothing like the “elle” and “lui” in Duras’s novel. My delusions at 17 years of age just embarrass me and make me cringe hardcore to this very day.)
I know it’s because of the film that I purchased the translated version of The Lover. And it was also because of The Lover and my devotion to Mme. Duras (and, to be even more honest, the Beatles and their song “Michelle”) that I took French courses in college, because I wanted to read her works in her native language. But I can’t really be sure if that relationship also resulted from my love of Marguerite Duras, or if it was just crazy-coincidental timing. Maybe it would’ve happened no matter what I did or read or watched. Anymore, when I think of it, the phrase preyed upon pops into my head. And then I wave it off, thinking I’m being too harsh. After all, this was someone I loved and was willingly with for three years. But it creeps back again, asking me, “Well, but weren’t you preyed upon?”
At any rate, there was my romantic infatuation with my old boyfriend and my romantic infatuation with Marguerite Duras and The Lover. It was obsession, really, on all counts. Duras I am not ashamed of. I still adore her and I always will. (And not-so-secretly, I’ll always want to be her.) But old boyfriend? Well, I can’t really figure out anymore if I’m ashamed of that.
I used to be. I still can hardly write about it. I sort of tried to, my last semester of my Master’s degree. He wanted me to, years back, during one of the many times we broke up over something dramatic and ridiculous.
“I want you to write about me some day,” he said. I’m not even sure if he knew I wanted to be a writer then. I don’t think I’d ever said. But at any rate, he told me to write about him. “About us,” he’d said. And for years, because I was hurt and ashamed and angry, I never did. But now maybe I can, and maybe I will. I’ve gotten this far, haven’t I? Though I’m sure whatever tragi-romance he had worked up in his head all those years back is nothing like what I’d really write about him today.
The thing is, though, where do I find the courage to write the difficult thing? To write what I keep dodging and dancing around, the thing that I can see wriggling out between the lines, but nobody else can because I’m vague as hell and they can’t read my mind?
For the love of god, I’ve read Margaux Fragoso’s harrowing memoir Tiger, Tiger. I’ve read Kathryn Harrison’s The Kiss. I’ve read Mary Karr’s The Liars’ Club and Jill Christman’s Darkroom. (BE WARNED: all of these titles deal in varying degrees with sexual abuse.) I’ve read some pretty solemn and gruesome shit, these women who’ve just bled themselves onto the page, and I keep qualifying my own story with, “Well, I mean, nothing that bad happened to me. It’s not even on the same scale, in the same ballpark.” And yet, deep down, it still feels bad. It still shames, and it still hurts. But there is the hesitation, that fear that if I speak up about my old relationship, will my parents – who were kept in the dark for a large part of it – still love me? Will people look at me differently? Will they be able to look at me at all? Will anyone who knew me be able to recognize me?
I just don’t know. For a long time, I couldn’t recognize myself.
So where do I find that voice? Where does it exist? I’ve been taught in creative nonfiction workshops to separate the author from the narrator. They aren’t the same person, so don’t be fooled by the use of “I.” So how I can I separate me from myself? How do I stop getting in my own way? How do I stop myself from stopping what I need to write?
I’m hoping my upcoming tenure at Chatham will help get it out of me. I haven’t the slightest clue how to write it in an organized and thoughtful way. But I figure after eight or nine years of waiting, it’s time to try. It’s time to say what needs to be said.