"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Never The Same Love Twice–A Love Story

There are all kinds of love in this world but never the same love twice.” – F.Scott Fitzgerald, ‘The Rich Boy’

Harley Fitch had just gotten over a painful divorce – painful not because of the usual acrimony, vindictiveness, and bad feelings; but because he had truly loved his wife.  In fact they both loved each other deeply.  They had gotten divorced for all the wrong reasons; or maybe the right ones.  It was hard to tell.  It was their first love – passionate, devoted, and in many ways innocent; but even so it impinged on their sense of entitled freedom.  What good was it to be born brilliant, educated well, and launched successfully into the New York underground; and to have to be tethered, especially at so young an age?

They both regretted the decision the more time went by. By any reasonable measure they would have torn the marriage apart so eager were they to find out who they were and what they wanted out of life. She cruised the New York underground and he the margins of the law.  He was close friends with Mafiosi, the new black showcase professionals, and drug dealers.  In her bisexual, vain, and dismissive world she bedded fashion models, David Bailey, and Ultra Violet.  He negotiated drug deals, did favors for the Mantoloking Mafia, and did yellow jackets, red devils, and Bombay Black with Larry, Harry, and Andy – wired but connected Nicky Norks making their way in the business.

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This was the reason they were so attracted to each other, this uncategorized side.  They were both Ivy League, both from upper middle class families; and their life trajectories were supposed to stop on Wall Street, Harvard, and Martha’s Vineyard.

Her affair with Paul Friedkin changed all that.  His was the legacy of Albrecht Durer and Lavinia Fitch,  like any one of Picasso’s lovers, was drawn to his artistic power and his sexual allure.

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Harley had grown up in New Brighton, a small town in Central Connecticut which in the 19th century had been one of the most important manufacturing centers of the country.  New Brighton’s arms and munitions had helped the Union win the war; and its hardware had enabled the recovery.  His parents were burghers, solid citizens of the community. They were no different from any of the other of the rising middle class families of the community for whom Rotary, the Elks Club, the Women’s Hospital Auxiliary, and the Fern Brook Country Club were the fulcrums of their lives.

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Harley, however, got his Great Grandfather Elmo’s genes; and like his forbear rebelled against the respectable, even admirable conformity of New Brighton society. Both men, brought up well, went rogue when it came to religion, politics, and social norms.

Yale did nothing to squeeze the genie back into his bottle, and Harley, outraged at Fence Club, conservatism, and noblesse oblige, barely graduated. No one was dismissed from Yale in those days.  “If you’re smart enough to get into Yale”, the adage went, “you are smart enough to stay in.”  Although Harley pushed the envelope, his pedigree and brains were enough to see him through and graduate with his class.

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He met Lavinia on a blind date, shared weekends at the Taft Hotel and the Berkeley Inn in Amherst, discovered manacles,traces, and The Story of O; and they both knew that they ‘were meant for each other’.

The wedding, like all family expectations was grand, happy, and enthusiastic; but once they moved into their apartment overlooking the Hudson, all traces of their modest and predictable past vanished.  They were finally on their own.

They divorced because he was at heart too traditional and far too Catholic.  She invited him into the world of The Factory and Seventh Avenue, but he demurred. He would always be an outsider, an eye-painter, an observer.  There was no way that he could become Larry Marchetti or Harry Palumbo let alone Andy Warhol, Divine, or the trannies of the East Village.

The problem was that Harley and Lavinia loved each other; and until the day they died they both only thought of each other. Ironically they both married whom they should have married in the first place – socially conservative, sexually straight, and morally righteous spouses.

It was many years later that Harley read the Fitzgerald short story, The Rich Boy, and read the line that summed up what he had learned since his divorce with Lavinia: “There are all kinds of love in the world, but never the same love twice”.  He had never gotten over his love with Lavinia nor forgotten her; and he compared every love affair with theirs. None measured up.

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There was Monika, a Swiss woman he had met on a mission to the Comoros who had come the closest to the almost illegitimate sexuality of Lavinia.  The sex itself might not have been as demanding and exciting; but there was something about being abandoned in Moroni in the pounding rain of the microclimate, the gunship of Robert Dinard floundering offshore after his unsuccessful coup and barely visible in the fog, and the encasement of the mosquito net that made their short-lived adventure familiar.

Harley and Usha never would have been lovers except in Sofia after the fall of the Soviet Union.  There was romance in faded elegance, and they both could have imagined living in the city in earlier, aristocratic days.

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He would never visit Peshawar, her home, nor Islamabad where she lived; but the common foreignness of the place was an ideal venue for their love affair.

Because Laura was the last love of Harley’s life she was the closest to his first.  Although she and Lavinia shared nothing – neither intelligence nor rebellion nor the incestuous sexuality that had been at the heart of Lavinia's demands – Harley was as besotted with her as any woman in his life.  For a brief period he accepted Laura for what she was – a farm girl long single and tired of being alone and childless – but couldn’t help folding his love for her into that for Lavinia.  He wanted to complete the circle, justify the beginning and the end, and perhaps make sense of his life which had started out so passionately but which had evolved into a predictably cobwebby marriage of many years.

Fitzgerald was right after all, thought Harley. ‘Never the same love twice’; but he had spent a lifetime searching for his first love.  What sense did that make? How logical was that? Why couldn’t he have move on?

Harley was not angry or even disappointed at the way things had turned out.  He and Lavinia had stressed their emotional halyards to the breaking point.  No one can live such a precarious sexual and fundamentally passionate life for too long.  Winds change, sails luff, and courses are reset for home.

Yet, to his dying day he could never forget Lavinia. How could he have divorced her? How could he have ignored the fundamental – no, existential – relationship between them? Youth, perhaps and certainly. Ignorance even obtuseness? Probably not since no one expects wisdom of the young. What, then?

There were many things that Harley wished to shake from his memory – failed loves, idiocy, stupid remarks, cowardliness – but he knew that the bitter-sweet, lovely, and often painful trace of Lavinia was there forever. A sentinel perhaps even in his old age. A beacon.  Love does exist, but never the same love twice.

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