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Sunday, August 30, 2020

‘There Are All Kinds Of Love In The World, But Never The Same Love Twice’

Robert Haskins had been inordinately, passionately, hopelessly in love with Lavinia James.  He dreamed of her, tasted her, smelled her, was reminded of her by flowers, songs, perfume.  He was helpless, an actor in a bad romantic comedy, as obsessive about her as Humbert Humbert was about Lolita.  He smelled her clothes when she was out of the room, he combed his hair with her brush, he climbed into her empty bed, he wrote love letters and sent her flowers.

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Lavinia was his first love, so he can be excused for his excesses, for all men know that first love can never be matched.  Fitzgerald wrote that ‘There are all kinds of love in the world, but never the same love twice’ but also understood the consequential nature of first love.  Robert would always try either to find another Lavinia or, as a justification for having lost her, look for her polar opposite.  Nothing in between would ever do.

Because they were so young when they met and ‘fell in love’ – the term seems so antiquated now in an age of sexual equality, liberty, and practicality – he missed important cues.  Lavinia was beautiful, talented, smart, and sensual; but Robert missed her sexual irritability, her unconscious notions of indiscriminate love, and her will and determination.  To him she was the girl of his dreams, the satisfaction of every romantic sentiment he felt for his Chanel, Dior, Ava Gardner mother and her elegant, sophisticated, bejeweled, perfumed , and gorgeous friends;  a fairy tale loveliness, innocence, and grace – a Disney Princess, a Rapunzel, a maiden to a knight in shining armor – but to herself she was a restless, sexually ambitious, hungry, and dissatisfied woman.,

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Their marriage lasted hardly two years.  Once married, removed from the tutelage of her parents and college administrators, close to the big city and far from her Midwestern home, she was finally her own woman.  She realized soon enough that marriage with Robert would not be enough, and after a number of affairs and incidental romances, the marriage ended. Robert, hurt but more than anything befuddled – never saw this eventuality coming.  No one had ever prepared him for it.  His romantic vision, and simple uncomplicated idea of romance had blinkered him. 

Both Lavinia and Robert remarried – he unsurprisingly to a woman of no surprises, and she surprisingly to a man of social position and wealth.  Both marriages were perhaps derived from their first; he wishing to forget Lavinia’s brazen sexuality and she making amends for it; but In both cases they both did conventionally well – successful children, homes in the suburbs, and professional success.  

Of course neither of them could possibly reform and hew to the conservative garden path they had both chosen.  Not long after their second marriages, they both reverted to form.  Lavinia once again took up with artists from SOHO, Seventh Avenue fashionistas, and the second generation of Andy Warhol’s genderless factory.  She restarted her old life with no guilt, recriminations, or second thoughts.

Robert’s trajectory was more troubled.  Whatever Lavinia’s quirks, sexual twists, and independence may have been, he had loved her without question.  The romantic fantasy that he had created was as real to him as any sensible, practical relationship.  Losing her was a terrible loss, for not only had he lost his first, unequivocal love; and not only had he lost a passionately romantic love; but he was now slave to her memory.  No woman could possibly satisfy him except one of her beauty, charm, and indescribable sexuality.

His affairs were necessary triage – not Usha, not Greta, not Emriye, not Cleopatra – as passionate and attached lovers as they were, they were not Lavinia.  Each of these women were very much like Lavinia in looks, allure, and temperament but they all somehow missed the mark.  Robert had been far more damaged by his first love than he realized.  He would not only never have a love like Lavinia, he would never ever have Lavinia again.

He fooled himself with Greta, a Danish architect with Lavinia’s sexual irrepressibility; but Greta made no commitments or nor had any allegiances, nothing more than passing, easily accommodated affairs that lacked Lavinia’s propriety.  For all her sexual adventurousness, Lavinia was – or could be – grounded with feeling.  Indira– Kashmiri Brahman nobility, from a princely family, and very welcoming to this American kaffir – had been tempting.  The Arabian Nights was offered, Shakespeare’s sybaritic East - a lively harem of sexual amanuensis sanctioned by the Prince himself – but he demurred.  Indira was too regal, too immured in tradition, patently passionate but within too many bounds.  They both were desperate romantics but East and West in this instance could never meet.

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Like many men who have lost loves foolishly, Robert, after many years, tried to find the real Lavinia.  She was at Sloane Kettering, the housekeeper said, and that he might like to visit her sooner rather than later.  She said that she still loved him – and, romantically and melodramatically, said she always would.  He was as confessional, but more serious.  His first love, his final love, and his search for lost love was there in his last kiss to her cold, thin lips.  In retrospect he was ashamed of his treacly, Hollywood-trained response.  The worst of daytime television could never have been so melodramatic; and yet there he was, the male lead in a very bad soap opera, kissing his beloved for one last time on cold, deathly lips.

It was only after her death that the niggling suspicion of bad decisions began to take hold.  Why did he not try harder to keep Lavinia in the first place, compromised, or even embraced the underground Factory, Seventh Avenue, SOHO life she had chosen? It was not so much that he berated himself for sexual ignorance, but for lack of courage.  He had retreated to a safe harbor, sails furled, dinner set, cocktails served and sunset over the port bow.  He had been a sexual coward.

He tried to cover up this craven sexual timorousness through a series of inconsequential affairs.  The women who had come and gone from his bed in Khartoum and Port Stanley had meant nothing.  They were dalliances, one-off gratifications of sexual ego, temporary amnesia.  Age curtailed his search for Lavinia.  Sexual pull-by dates come sooner than expected.  God’s ultimate irony is that he created virile, sexually potent and ambitious men, but after giving them a few decades of vigorous performance and delight, consigned them to many more of constant, persistent, unsatisfied desire.

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Robert in encroaching old age thought of Lavinia constantly, and badgered and berated himself for having ever given her up.  No woman had ever enticed or satisfied him like her.  No woman, however strong her love or dependence; no matter how sexually satisfied or emotionally comforted she might have been by him, could ever match Lavinia.  Here he was, having thumped along for decades since her death, bedding this one or that one, patient and responsible to his wife as a matter of course and routine; still longing for Lavinia.

Fitzgerald was absolutely right – there is no replicating or reproducing love – but Robert Haskins had no idea whatsoever what Fitzgerald was referring to in The Rich Boy. He had no idea that one love could be one’s only love. 

Try as he might to cast his present life into dramatic proportion – a loving wife, loving children, a successful career, publications, some renown, and many friendships – it always came out stick figures at best and some awful Anselm Kiefer landscape at worst.  How could he die with such a horrible mistake on his mind?  How could he have been so weak to have given it all up?

Such is love, Fitzgerald implied in his elegant, subtle prose.  Gatsby lived with the loss of his first, only, real love – Daisy – for years, and tried desperately to regain it.  He, like Robert Haskins, saw only his beloved’s grace, beauty, charm, and allure; but missed her venality and emotional callousness.  Even if Robert had understood the impossibility of a second chance, he would have tried.

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The worst death is a death with regret; and sadly it is a common fate.  As much as Robert tried to dismiss Lavinia from his mind near his approaching end, he could not; and his last thoughts were of her.

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