Saturday, July 9, 2011

"Summer of '42" & Other Results of Unrequited Love

“In everyone’s life, there’s a Summer of ‘42….”

Do movie taglines get any better than that? They certainly don’t get much more accurate.

              I fell in unrequited love as a fifteen year old boy in New England, just like Herman Raucher, as played to perfection by Gary Grimes in Robert Mulligan’s Summer of ‘42. The object of my affection was a straight male classmate, not a married older woman. Yet there was never a more accurate reflection of his inner and outer beauty than Jennifer O’Neil’s interpretation of the real-life “Dorothy”.  No other movie better captures what I felt, and why such a feeling was strong enough to linger with me for years.
             I wrote this essay in college shortly after I turned twenty-one, and I thought it was worth posting in honor of the 40th anniversary of Summer of ‘42. It was written as an assignment for an Emerson College class with Professor Murray Schwartz, at a time when the light of my own unrequited teen romance was beginning to dim. It was the last of many pieces that I wrote in high school and college about my first love, who was in my life for nine months but at the forefront of my romantic desires for years. Many of the assignments that preceded this one detailed the simple but sweet story of our meeting and casual friendship. But this assignment was about what I was feeling years later, as a result of never having been able to let go of that sweet, innocent teen love. 
             Thankfully, I cannot say that I feel the same way now as I did back then.  I did finally grow up, but that’s not to say that my feelings were trivial, or that he was less than worthy of such devotion. We should all be so lucky to have ever known someone as extraordinary as the beautiful hero whom I have renamed “Christopher”. My romantic feelings vanquished years ago, but my respect and admiration for him shall never, ever abate, and the vivid memories of that experience continue to inform my art to this day.
I did not make any changes to this essay, for it serves as a time capsule of where I have been, and what it felt like to be lonely and in love at the dawn of my Year 21.

Robert Jeffrey  10/1/02
LI123: Prof. Murray M. Schwartz, TR 4-5:45

                            Six Years Later: A Look Into Love

In Andrew Carver’s “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love”, Carver offers a glimpse into mankind’s endless pursuit of what it means to be in love. The definition of “love”, and an understanding of the concept of being “in love”, are concepts that I have often explored in my own life, and questions I have scolded myself for asking in the first place. I’ve always been fascinated by love, obsessed with it, you could say. But never more was I infatuated with the concept than in the past six years of my life, when I found myself the beacon of unrequited love. During this period of my life, I have found myself much more understanding of the many shapes love can take, and of the blurred line between “right” and “wrong” in the game of love. I absolutely agree with the “Terri” character when she asserts that a man who is violent and even murderous can be in love with his object of torment; love may be a beautiful thing, but it is not always pretty.
In great works of art, there has always been frequently reoccurring correlation between love and destruction. I suppose the works of Shakespeare provide the most consistent literary grounds for this argument. But as cinema is my native tongue, I generally cite the dark, often controversial love stories that I so adore as grounds for such an argument, as well as for an understanding of the power of love and passion. Nagisa Oshima’s In the Realm of the Senses would be the first example that comes to mind, because it is indeed the darkest and most violent, exploring the relationship between two people’s whose mutual obsession erupts in murder and dementia. Liliana Cavani’s The Night Porter explored the intense romance between the most unlikely of lovers, a concentration camp survivor and her former Nazi tormentor, whose explosive love led to reclusion and ultimately their deaths. Perhaps the most relatable and accessible of such films is Adrian Lyne’s Nine ½ Weeks, a movie about two people whose hypersexual relationship taps into a love so great that it overwhelms both of them. By the end of the film, each has encountered the most dominating form of love, in that they no longer have a need for anyone else but each other. The film ultimately suggests that such a love cannot thrive in this world, and thus one of them must say good-bye.
I distinctly recall a night in freshman year of high school, writing an essay about how attempting to define or understand the word ‘Love’ is such a completely fruitless pursuit. I felt that it was invalid, and inappropriate, a question that could never, and should never, be answered. At the time that I wrote this composition for school, I was infatuated with a male classmate. I was so infatuated that I could not even try to comprehend, let alone put into words, what I was experiencing.  I was convinced that such indefinable feelings were the only true definition of the word ‘Love’.
It was not the first time that I had been so smitten with another human being, but it might as well have been; at no other point in my life had I ever loved some one the way that I loved Christopher. To this day, he remains perhaps the great love of my whole life. I never was blessed with a physical relationship to share with Chris, and I have not seen him in the flesh since 1997. I was lucky enough to enjoy what was only, on the surface, a friendly acquaintanceship with Chris, until the day in 2001 when I finally revealed my love to him. That was the last time that I ever corresponded with Chris. He claimed to be flattered, but also taken by surprise, and unable to carry on a relationship with some one who loved him so much. I don’t know what happened to Chris. I completely lost contact with him eighteen months ago, and since then my attempts to reconnect have been foiled one way or another. I really don’t know where he’s at right now. And yet, six years later, there is hardly anything, or anyone, I spend more time thinking about.
There’s a part of me that wonders if anyone can love a person the way that they loved their first love. But there’s also a part of me that wonders if we can ever be with our first love, or if they exist only to be fondly remembered. I’ll never forget a quote by Asia Argento, something that meant so much to me when I first read it. She said, “When you’re alone, and you fantasize about love, it’s the purest form of love. That person needs to be either dead or unattainable, because that person’s love is going to ruin your love.” It struck me, because that that moment I realized that I might never be with Chris; not only because he might never love me back, but because maybe I just didn’t want him to. Perhaps, after all that time, all I wanted was to be alone, and to be wanting. Maybe I desired an ideal that I could never have, because it would foster in me a belief that, somewhere, perfection thrived in this seemingly imperfect world. I might even have wanted a muse, some one whose absence, rather than presence, would drive me to creativity and eventually success. Either option felt more attractive than what seemed likely truth: that I was in love with some one who would never love me back, and that this all-consuming heartache would ultimately yield my emotional, spiritual, and perhaps physical demise.
One time in a religion class we’d shared together, the teacher told us that he believed we would ultimately find ourselves beside the person whom we were “meant” to be with. If we were separated from the one we love, it would be because it is part of God’s “Master Plan”, because there was truly some one else out there waiting, and some one whom we were actually waiting for as well. At that very moment, deep down inside of my heart, I knew that I was not meant to be with Chris. But I also knew that I loved him more than I had ever loved some one else, and more than I ever would be capable of loving another human being. At that moment, I prayed to God that I would be this person, even if it did not adhere to our charted courses. Even if he was not the one meant for me, I simply needed to be with him. Every single day, I prayed so hard that we would be together, that the plans would be rewritten, and that we would share eternity in one another’s arms. That day never came. And at this point, six years later, I don’t see that ever changing.
I see myself now in the context of Chris. Perhaps not quite so much as in years past, but I still feel that my life continues to suffer the aftershock of his loss, everything being “post-Christopher”. I don’t know what he’s up to as I write these words. I don’t know whom he loves. I don’t know if he has his own family now. But wherever he is, he’s still the same to me. I think I’m falling in love with some one new, right now. And yet, there’s still a part of me that will never let go of my first love, a part of me that wonders if I shall ever move on, and if I even want to. And yet an even greater part of me still wonders what good could ever come out of being with that person.
Love is a great thing. It can take you to heights of passion and excitement. It can cure ills and spark evolution in a living being. But love is also destructive, and it is all consuming, and it is terrifying, and it is so cold that it is hot; it is the farthest extreme of pain and pleasure. I am not sure if something capable of being so horrible can still be something so wonderful. Sometimes I wonder myself what love is, or if I have any concept or understanding of it. The truth is that I don’t know anymore. I always thought that I was much more aware of undiluted, pure love than anyone else in the world. Now I’m not sure. It seems that, since Chris walked out of my life, it does nothing but bring me pain, and grief, and ensuing self-destruction. Years later, I find myself wanting love with some one else. I thought that after Chris I could never fall in love, but if I did it would only be with some one who was even more dominating over my mind and body. But now there is some one else, whom I feel more comfortable and honest with, whom I already care about greatly, and who is more likely to one day love me back, the way that Chris may not have been capable of. I want to be in love with him, because he’s so ideal, and I want to be in love with him because he makes me feel so ideal.
Whereas with Chris I was well aware of the strength of my feelings, I am not sure if I am truly “in love” with this person whom I care about. I think that maybe I want to be in love with him, even though I’m not sure that I understand how one can want to be in love with some one; unless, of course, there’s some ulterior motive, but I don’t think there’s anything sinister about this. I feel a beautiful connection, and each time I see him I want to hold him, and picture myself eighty years from now, still beside him. And still I cannot shake off the shadow of my first love; no matter how much I want to be with this person, the desire still holds merely a candle beside my fiery passion for Chris. I don’t know where this potential relationship is going, or where it will take me. Will I go higher than before, or lower? It’s a question that I suppose has to be asked, because if this experience is remotely similar to what I “shared” with Chris, will have a huge impact on my whole life, and on every other relationship that I hold most dear.
Love in its pure, unadulterated form is a force of nature, a beast that can never be tamed. We should never desire for it to be watered down, and yet that is exactly what so many of us look for in long-term relationships. We seek out comfort, compatibility, stability, and peace. But is that love? To achieve the greatest heights of love, maybe we need to experience it for what it really is: danger, passion, fury, and raw energy. Love is an inherently destructive force. When you are separated from your love, you burn to be with that person, right here and right now. When you are with that person, you want that person never to leave your side. If you don’t feel that way, is it true love? Oftentimes I feel that the obsessive relationships of the films I love are exactly what I seek in romance, because in such a seemingly “unhealthy” relationship, the love that you send out and receive is directed between only two human beings, not dissipated through the rest of the world. For better or for worse, it’s the closest that two humans can be.
Six years later, I still don’t think the question of “what love is” should be answered. Upon deconstruction, there are simply too many components to be pieced together, and the beauty and mystery of love lies within the sum of its parts. Maybe the pain really is worth it for the pleasure. And maybe the pleasure that I felt so many years ago, the sheer joy and passion and exhilaration, was worth anything that could possibly come my way thereafter. 

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