Last month I got a new follower on Twitter. Since I'd joined over a year ago, 20 had trickled in and at that rate each gets special attention. Who? I wondered and peeked. Him? The same name as him or, the name he'd assumed when we met in Paris. Lifetimes had passed, couldn't be I thought and let it go.
A week later he sent a cryptic note and even at 140 characters, the phrasing caught me. See, that was the thing about him -- his way with words. The possibilities disturbed my complacency about romantic love. I'd resigned from the game because I'd always get too easily lost in the swirl of it all.
It took two days for me to write back and ask, point blank, are you him?
That question prompted this one: Can we ever go back? And, I wasn't sure I wanted to know the answer.
We met in 1970 at the American Center on the Left bank, a hub for ex-pats, and a place to find work, meet friends and hear people like James Baldwin give talks about America. A young single Mom, I'd recently escaped Los Angeles with my two children after murder and mayhem had robbed our bright sunshiny city of freedom and light. He was from Texas, had changed his name and moved to Paris for his own reasons.
I'd heard him play guitar and asked a mutual musician friend I knew from L.A., a fellow expat and songwriter, to introduce us. The kids and I lived in a ground floor flat two blocks from the Center in Denfert Rochereau. He came over. We clicked and were together until a year and a half later, when we said adieu in the attic of an abandoned house in Amsterdam. During that time, we'd shared a house in the countryside of England, travelled, played and wrote songs together, had broken it off once, reunited in Paris and moved to a small town in Holland, where he'd been living.
Our love, like all great loves, was mythic, mystical and 'meant to be.' And, like the couple in the movie Casablanca where the title of this piece comes from, circumstances conspired against us.
When the kids and I returned to Los Angeles, they moved in with their Dad and I wrote songs about my Paris love. Songs I'd sing on the showcase circuit my new music friends and I were haunting. I'd tell them tales about the psychic bond he and I shared and whenever someone who might look like him would enter a club we were playing, they'd joke, "Look! It's him, he's found you."
Then stuff happened. The present began erasing the past and feelings faded.
A message on twitter; he'd written. Yes, he's him.
Anxious, I called a friend. She asked me what I was so afraid of.
"Losing myself again," I said.
"You're not the same person, you've changed," she said and gave me some great advice. "Don't be afraid, be curious."
Within a week, he and I left twitter for the longer sentences and paragraphs of email. We exchanged general blow-by-blows of our respective forty some odd years. He'd married, had kids, roamed and had not settled down. As for me, after suffering a tragic loss, I tried escaping for more than a decade until reality forced me to stop running and settle down.
His language, the ease of our conversations got my juices flowing and just like old times, I was swirling. Sense memory? Who can tell when you're in it? Who cares? I dove into the rush and it felt good. Besides, I rationalized, entire states separated us.
About the fifth day of drifting into dreamy memories, I was driving my old pickup when it went over a pot hole and jarred me out of my state. I remembered. In Paris, when he came over that first time, we began talking and didn't stop until the end. That's how it started then, and I was in the midst of the same thing happening again.
Maybe age has done what it's supposed to do, I don't know, but I dig almost everything about my life today: The good, bad, miraculous and tragic.
Can we go back was the wrong question for me to ask. The word can implies ability, circumstances. And, as far as feelings go, I'm able.
My friend had nailed it, though. I'm not the same person. I have changed.
Will I go back is the right question for me to ask now -- it involves choice. In any event, whatever happens, we'll always have Paris.