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Courting Alfred
Eingestellt am 05. 01. 2009 21:15

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The one thing that made it special –the one thing that made it possible and the one thing that ultimately ruined it – was of course my utter cluelessness.

You see, I either have a clue or I have a romance, that’s just how I roll. Might be somehow connected to my nasty little habit of immediately looking for something wrong in every guy showing just the slightest bit of interest in me. (Clearly, there are only two possible explanations: a.) cruel joke on me, or B.) final act of desperation on part of the guy.) Thus, the longer I remain unaware of his intentions the longer I can postpone the self-destructive paranoia.

I’m just not that attractive. We don’t need to start a discussion about unrealistic beauty standards now; I think the entire issue is so depressing that I prefer to blame my personal lack of success in the dating department on other deficiencies. On my bad days I’m a doubt ridden, stressed out, disgruntled zombie staggering through my life while looking as grim as possible and I can somehow see why that’s not terribly sexy to most people. On my good days however I can transcend the neurotic mess that I doubtlessly am. On my good days I can be quite serene. And my theory is that I just had a number of good days in Cannes.

Now maybe, just maybe, serenity looks better on me than my usual default expressions of wild-eyed exhaustion (“Don’t you see I’m busy? Don’t bother me now or I’ll snap) or sullen existential discomfort (I’m a creep, I’m a weirdo/what the hell I’m doing here?) Or maybe it was that famous light that has attracted so many painters to the region which was kinder to me than the light in our lines of latitude. Or maybe there was such an abundance of beauty in this summer at the Côte d’Azur that my own lack of beauty simply didn’t bother me. At any rate, for some reason or another I did not think it was completely absurd that Alfred might have seen something in me that people usually don’t.

Or maybe it was him. Somehow I doubt that I was so much less fucked up at 17 than I am now, yet I never suspected him of any foul play. We were both in Cannes to improve our French. His was better than mine, which earned him a place in the advanced course of the language school we both attended and my instant admiration. He came over to my class in one of the breaks, only to point out a mistake on the cover of my dictionary, which I found awkward but cute. We had met on the airport, where we had engaged in surprisingly effortless small talk and I remember thinking of him before falling asleep on that night. “ I’m going to botch that entry examination tomorrow, I shouldn’t have booked the water-skiing, this will be a disaster, why does everyone at this school speak better French than me? But this Alfred, that’s a nice one.”

So he came to see me in the breaks, and when our group went out in the evening, I spent most of the time talking to him. On one of my free afternoons, while initially aimlessly strolling down the Croisette, I found myself heading towards the park where he had told me he had been the day before, in the vague hope that I might find him there again. He was not there and I went home, not giving the entire thing much thought.
And then came the night of the lost shoe. One of the girls of our group was celebrating her birthday, and we were having a party on the beach. Now picture the scene: sea, stars, wine, the distant laughter of the others, Alfred and me, sitting a bit apart from rest and group, him resting his head on my lap. And I didn’t think anything about it.

So when I went back to fetch some more wine and Lila asked me about my progress with Alfred, I was completely surprised. Had she not made that remark, I swear I would have never connected the dots. Which actually might have been better in the greater scheme of things, as it all went pretty much downhill from there. I returned to him, overwhelmed by this shiny new perspective on things and suddenly he talks about not being able to talk about things, but maybe he’ll write to me about it someday. (“It is impossible to say just what I mean”, hm? ) And I even have the nerve to ask whether it’s something about me, but no, that’s not what he meant, that’s not what he meant at all. So when he goes on, talking about wanting something that is near, yet inaccessible, what else should I believe other than that it’s merely meant to be understood on a metaphysical level? And yet, my friend’s remark still in my ears, I cannot help thinking that maybe, just maybe, on a different level it might be a little bit about me too – which makes me terribly ditzy, a state of mind I’m not used to and cannot deal with. And then some people suggest that we go swimming and I’m up and gone to join them, and he stays and the moment is lost.

Now, this midnight-swimming-session was only the first in a line of shitty ideas I had in the following days, but it basically set the pattern. I don’t regret it, though – the really regrettable moves were made later. I guess I just needed this at this moment, the cold water, the vastness of the sea, blackness surrounding me, time to think about this development – a bit of distance after unexpected intimacy. I was however determined to further investigate the matter (and maybe disabuse someone from certain misconceptions about inaccessibility) in the further course of the night, but alas, when we returned, the remaining party was in a state of disarray, hastily packing their things and getting out of the way of the caterpillar that had arrived during our absence, preparing the beach for the next wave of tourists. The caterpillar had wrecked havoc on the beach and my things in particular, as I had not been there to rescue them in time. So I spent the rest of the night searching for my right shoe. Unsuccessfully, by the way. Lost the shoe, lost the chance, lost the man. But I didn’t know this then. It was the second Friday of a three-week stay and I thought there still would be time.

And indeed there would be time (to wonder “Do I dare?” and “Do I dare?”). Time for another row of stupid mistakes. The next days were a succession of awkward moments and missed hints. I guess, I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. (I just cannot stand men who think they know how to deal with women).

I was strangely happy, unusually gregarious, very pleased to be right here, right now. I had finally found a good balance of study and leisure (very important for me, as prolonged periods of non-study tend to propel me into a state of rapid mental and moral degeneration), between social interaction and solitude. The drawback was that at the one moment in my life when it would have paid to be bit more exclusive with my attention, I suddenly had to discover my ambition to present myself as a fucking social butterfly. Look at me, I can talk to all kinds of peoples about all kind of things, am I not versatile? Still makes me want to bang my head against the wall.

Alfred and I both had booked the trip to les Îles de Lérins. This was when I really botched it. He suggested that we should leave the others, but I, for some unfathomable reason (I had seen the moment of my greatness flicker/and I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat and snicker/and in short, I was afraid) decided to stick with the group and he went away on his own. I regretted it immediately. Now I was stuck with Katja, the aspiring personal trainer, chatting about her new work-out schedule. I accepted her as some form of divine punishment. That’s what you get for being a social butterfly.

He pretty much gave up then and I cannot blame him. Quite a shame - We would have made such a good couple. Lila said so; I can remember this clearly, because I was so delighted to hear it. “You would be good match” she said, “He is such a dreamer and you are more down-to-earth”. It is not true of course – I am absent-minded, abstract, aloof, woefully unfit to face the trials and tribulations of everyday life – but I had always considered this to be a deficiency in me and made it the big project of my adolescence to transform myself into someone more efficient, more pragmatic, more practical. And when Lila said this, I suddenly realized that one of the reasons (not the only reason, not even the main reason, but one of the reasons) why I had tried so hard to accomplish such a transformation was that I wanted to be a good complementation for that kind of man. I had failed. Had I really been efficient, practical, pragmatic, there would have been a different ending to this story.

Had I really been efficient, practical and pragmatic, it might have occurred to me that I could have said something myself, instead of forever waiting for him to make a move. Should I, after tea and cakes and ices, have the strength to force the moment to its crisis?

Now, we did do a lot of talking, even about feelings, but on a very theoretical level. I remember the conversation we had on our last evening. We were taking a walk on the beach and I was explaining a favorite theory of mine – how the perceived opposition of heart and head is actually a false dichotomy, as reason alone is always just a means to an end, never provides a sufficient motivation for anything. The conflict is always one between feelings – say, a longing for adventure and the fear of change, and the one on the verge of losing falls back on reason - or rather pseudo-rationality - to support itself. Considerations fueled by the fearful side, aimed at avoiding risks and guaranteeing stability, are usually considered reasonable, but that’s nonsense really and this entire “head-vs-heart-“dilemma is nothing but a cheap explanation for people lacking the necessary analytical skills to arrive at the heart of their dilemma. Now, that’s ironic, isn’t it? Because I probably possess more analytical skills than necessary to arrive at the heart of my dilemma – a banal fear of rejection preventing me from taking a more straightforward approach, rationalized by my plan to avoid the risk of disillusionment and forego my shot at romance in favor of preserving an untainted memory of the potential – but I could as well be a pair of ragged claws, scuttling across the floors of silent seas, for all the good it does me.

He tells me about his last summer, going on Interrail with a female friend, and about his frustration, because she could never clearly say what she wanted. Now, dear reader, on this occasion I somehow feel the need to stress that I usually do not consider myself to be a complete moron, but I swear to God, I really did not get the hint. At all. But I did notice that we were not really making any progress. And I did not mind. A pleasant night, and pleasant company, and pleasant conversation – why rush things? How do they say - the night is still young. There will be time … for a hundred indecisions, and for a hundred visions and revisions. - No, actually I thought there would be time to get properly drunk, which would have probably accelerated the proceedings. Usually I find it difficult to get drunk (it seems to contradict something fundamental in my nature), but for this evening I had the best intentions.

It was not meant to be. While Alfred and I had been absent, a group of strangers had joined our friends. They had asked for fire and then been invited to sit down. Then one of them had tried his luck with Lila, and she had rejected his advances – probably in a rather straightforward manner; vibrant, outspoken Lila was not known for excessive politeness - and by the time Alfred and I returned, the situation had escalated. She told the guy to fuck off, he couldn’t deal with it, hit her, she fell, he dragged her up, hit her again. We all were watching the scene in horror, scurrying around her, trying to come between her and the guy – a testament to ineffectuality. He continued to threaten her, blocking her way, when we tried to get her out of his reach. We did not dare to attack him. His friends outnumbered us. It would have been foolish to get into a fight. Fortunately one of us had the good sense to call the police. The sound of sirens approaching, the situation was resolved rather quickly. He made her promise not to file a report before he left, but she was too traumatized anyway. We would leave the next day. She just wanted to forget. The world, which had seemed to lie before us like a land of dreams, hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light, nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain.

Alfred walked me home. I was upset. He was probably too. All thoughts of tender feelings were gone, crowded out by my seething hate for the guy who had done this to Lila. I’ve never experienced such a tangible hate for a person before. I wanted this guy to rot in hell. I wanted him to be beaten up. I could think of nothing else. And yes, I was disappointed. Not disappointed at Alfred (You cannot proclaim a pronounced preference for the intellectual types and then be disappointed when they do not immediately revert to caveman-mode on the single occasion one could see a benefit in that. I’m glad that our boys did not fight. It would just have made everything worse). I was disappointed at myself. At my sudden onset of bloodlust. At my own complete uselessness in the face of a crisis. Why didn’t I think of calling the police? Why couldn’t I get her out of harm’s way? I’m a tall girl. I’m not delicate. I could have done more to help Lila. Maybe Alfred sensed my disappointment. Maybe he misinterpreted it. We did not sort it out.

But we did arrange to meet the next day before going to the airport, in order to spend our last morning in Cannes together. This could have been our last chance. If we had been alone.

I don’t remember if Mike had invited himself or whether Mike and Alfred had made prior arrangements and I was actually the last minute intruder. At any rate I was surprised when Mike announced his intention to join us, because I had not noticed that Alfred and Mike were close. I guess I could have – probable should have – made objections, in a polite way of course, but I could not think of any objections against poor melancholy Mike. I remember having a longer conversation with him on one the organized trips and I do not remember what exactly it was that he said, only that it made me shudder, because it was relentlessly bleak. In the course of our stay Mike’s melancholy only got worse. On my night of the lost shoe (the night of the caterpillar) Mike drank a bottle of whiskey on his own. He stayed away from the whiskey afterwards, but his mood did not improve. I still think it would have been interesting to find out what was eating Mike, but that’s just another opportunity I missed. At any rate it seemed to me unnecessarily mean to oppose the invitation of someone obviously not having the time of his life at the moment.
So Alfred, Mike and me spent the last morning in Cannes together and I talked about nothing but fluffly nonsense, and then we were at the airport, and everyone else was overwhelmed by sentimentality and hugged and cried and took photos, but Alfred and I …I think, we only shook hands.

Alfred, wherever you are now, I think I cheated a bit. I got my fond memory and you probably only got the frustration. I still think it was all very romantic, awkwardness and cluelessness and bad luck included. I even miss that special kind of stupidity. Since Cannes I have used my advanced knowledge in matters of romance only to sabotage my relationship with men in much more hideous ways. Romantic love, someone said in some movie, is always unfullfilled, and that is certainly not a very deep thing to say, because it is so blatantly obvious, but I agree. You cannot get more unfulfilled than we did, can you?

It’s a shame though. I really think this could have been better than romantic. I think men are lovely, but the sensation of being smitten with a charming smile and deep voice is so ephemeral and they rarely get me interested beyond that. And even then, it’s often just abstract longing - falling not for the man, but for the idea of him. My longing for you was never that abstract to begin with, but I probably realized this a bit late in the game. It’s difficult enough for me to find someone to pine for, it’s almost impossible to find someone who makes me feel at ease. And you did, at least the beginning, before the awkwardness finally took over, and even then the tension was not entirely unpleasant.

Yes, I got my fond memory and it haunts me. So Alfred, if this is any consolation to you – if you still care about it at all by now – you really got close. Closer than most. And I hope you’ve stopped lingering in the chambers of the sea. Because I fear that if we have not managed to leave them by now, we’ll be stuck there for good.

Till human voices wake us and we drown.

.A mesure qu'on a plus d'esprit, on trouve qu'il y a plus d'hommes originaux. Les gens du commun ne trouvent pas de différence entre les hommes. (Pascal)

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