It is officially over. I should admit that publicly, shameful and embarrassing though it may be.
It pains me to think back over these years. When I first met her I cannot exactly recall (I had heard her name before I met her). I think I saw her first walking away from the library. In those days, she had that beauty you see here and there: simple, but well-tuned to the season and what was fashionable. Somehow she was both comfortable-looking and alluring.
I often met her in coffee shops—and book shops, of course. She introduced me to cultured and thoughtful books, as well as fun books—The Screwtape Letters, Durant’s histories, Watership Down, and things of that sort. As a young man anything seemed better than insufferable classes discussing the likes of John Knowles’ A Separate Peace or another course in which the massacre at Wounded Knee was trotted out. Her suggestions captivated me, as did she, and early on her recommendations seemed good. I was intrigued by her history and background (which eluded my complete discovery) and her seemingly endless and indiscriminate thirst for more books and ideas about everything.
I was told that she was obsessed with the Bible once—that was the kind of family she came from, my friends said. When I met her, although she was well-versed in plays and many novels, she mostly fancied nature writing—from Thoreau to Annie Dillard—and popular philosophy (think Gödel, Escher, Bach and—of course—Gibran’s The Prophet). After we got to know one another, then came all those books on eastern religion and philosophy, if there is a distinction—are not the two always one? I would sit there with some Penguin Classic and look over pages printed in Harmondsworth to see her tearing through the Tao of Pooh or something from Adler’s unceasing stream of Great Books summaries. It led to amusing conversations and passionate arguments.
Then her taste began more clearly to diverge from mine. It wasn’t just that she seemed always to be clutching Vogue or some home décor magazine, or that she read more and more online. Her forays in eastern philosophy meandered into explorations of “alternative Christianities,” which the books I was reading called Gnosticism and heresy. Shakespeare’s sonnets yielded to cheap paperback romances. What used to be “beach reading” became for her a serious matter. She followed the talk-show host recommendations religiously, and went to reading groups to discuss pulp as if it had some merit. Or maybe she was just going for the drinks and the attention, and to see what everyone else was reading—she always knew what everyone else was reading, everyone.
Again, don’t mistake what I am saying: I like pulp now and again. But there is a world of difference between The Thirty-Nine Steps and The Bridges of Madison County, or between Riders of the Purple Sage and Brokeback Mountain; and now there is a world between us.
We saw one another a lot over this past Christmas holiday—which she now calls just “the holidays.” She was still attractive, in a way, but there was a sad darkness under her eyes; an energetic weariness circled her; something jittery, something angry lurked about in her expressions. I see that surface-level agitation in her coffee-shop soul mates: too much time reconstructing home pages, too much time shooting Droid-delivered barbs, too much time spent raking the first 150 words of an Internet posting for more things to be mad about, too much buzz shoved into every moment so that there really was no more meaningful time left. Just being with them left me nervous and short of breath; I could barely keep up with all the things, the very attractive things they had: pods, pads, phones, and other I-centered whatnot—with whole collections of books and music and information stored away somewhere, supposedly; it was, you may say, stimulating to be with them, but it made me feel a deep, sad longing within.