Captions #3–Philosophical Reflections On First Love And Picture-Perfect Experiences.
By H. Alan Tansson
Previous Installments of Captions:
I met Annette when I was sixteen in a summer house on the Danish coast. She was 20.
The summer I finished high school I went to Denmark to work on a farm. The eldest son on the farm had just graduated as well, and was partying at the large family summer house with his cousins, and I was invited. A few nurses from the local hospital were also there. One of them, Annette, left the party by the back door. Now the summer house had been built like a motel to allow families of several brothers and sisters to get together for the holidays. So I waited a few minutes and followed her out back. She was sitting at the door to one of the cabins crying. I sat down alongside her and asked her what was the matter.
She told me in broken English while sobbing heavily. She had just killed a man.
As I understood it, he’d been an old man who walked out between two parked cars into oncoming traffic. She had been the traffic.
I comforted her as best I could, and she asked me to stay with her. I said I certainly would, surprised that none of the girls were planning on going back to the nurses’ dorms, which is expressly why this particular summer house had been chosen for the party. So we held each other all night. It was my first kiss, and it went on all night. We kissed and kissed and finally went to sleep. As you might guess, this would cause a boy of sixteen to fall immediately in love.
The next day we ran up a grassy hill overlooking the coast and collapsed at the top. I distinctly remember doing this because of a Newport cigarette commercial which was aired at the time in the United States. When we got to the top I was confused, because that’s where the commercial ended, and I had no idea what was supposed to happen next. We’d already kissed for several hours the night before, so this wasn’t exactly the time for that “first, perfect kiss” which the ad was alluding to.
My Danish was non-existent, and her English was very broken. We kissed again, but apparently had missed the opportunity for the perfect one. Neither was there anything to say. For my part, as incredible as it may seem to today’s generation, I had no idea of any sexual progression beyond kissing except to get married and have kids. I knew nothing of condoms or birth control, and couldn’t imagine things getting any better than that first kiss had been, which was in this case my very first kiss. So we simply walked back down the hill and she went back to the nurses’ dorm at the hospital.
I wrote my parents about her, and let them assume what they would, concerned that I was seeing a 20-year old Scandinavian woman, Scandinavia in those days was well-known for its sexual license.
Back on the farm I thought about her all summer and painted her an oil painting of the Tree of Knowledge, alluding to her accident with the old man. It was also an allusion to my first kiss and my love. At the end of the summer I hitchhiked to her home town, left her the painting, and went back to America.
It was the typical tentative love of youth, except that I’d had it far away in Denmark.
The year I finished college I went back to the farm to work for the summer. My father had a business trip to Europe and stopped up to the Danish farm-belt on his way home to get to know his son.
We went to the family summer house for a swim, and were alone for several minutes when a couple with their 3-year old son set down their things on the strip of beach. They seemed very domestic and Danish. The husband was playing with their son, and the woman came into swim, backstroke in our direction. She stopped swimming for a moment to make sure she wouldn’t hit us, then looked up. It was Annette. Somehow I knew it had to be. It was the end of the commercial.
We stood there, our shoulders above-water, facing each other, silent, filling up with mixed emotions, each absorbed in capturing the other’s face for a last time.
“You have a child. How old?”
“Three.” she said, “You haven’t changed a bit.”
I could speak Danish now, so my father didn’t understand.
I guess we both had wistful smiles, and I’d like to think there was the hint of a tear in her eyes as well as mine, but I don’t remember. Then we resumed our current lives, became polite and said good-bye.
On the way back to the farm I told my dad he’d met Annette. Having missed the words between us, he was even more surprised than I’d been, for great coincidences seemed part of nature when I was young. I almost depended on them.
Now what seems odd about this story is that it is a story with all the ingredients of a subplot in a slightly melancholy European film.
I think I would find it poignant and sweet even if it didn’t happen to be about me, for it was not just about revisiting a first love, and a first kiss, but about a father getting to know his son.
I’ve not thought about this story much over the years because life keeps coming at me. You forget about these things. So even though it was about my first kiss and the summer I got to know my dad, the meeting in water at the beach was just a lucky coincidence, the kind screenwriters like inventing for films to pull stranded pieces of their plot together.
In the film, however, the same story has much richer overtones of life’s significance. It’s got music behind it, and not only that, it is more memorable because we have only focused on the meaningful moments and pregnant glances. This is the film’s purpose… in this case, to let us see something working out right, the way we picture justice working.
I can picture the film in my mind, but have got to say, “Wait a minute! This was my life, and it didn’t have the music score behind it or the wide-angle cut-aways to make me appreciate it so much!”
Believe me, I appreciated it, and still do… more because of the memory with my father. But what was particular to me, the film would have made seem general– not in the sense of a film script, but as if it was an example of life’s script.
I have been lucky to have had many such accidental experiences, with endings from a script, and they were all stories that give one faith in things working out somehow. But the worst part, and the core to this parable is that it takes a novel or a film or another such experience to get such a feeling of faith again. And here it was my own experience!
Something that causes us bitterness and anger, sadness and cynicism we’ll carry with us for a lifetime. Negative traces of emotion can get themselves into every thought and word and action in life. The self-destruct mechanisms work fine and overtime.
But an experience that proves that things can work out perfect and poetically? We relive this kind of faith in feelings as fleeting as those of life, and occasionally we are given the chance to pass them along through literature and media. But believe me, it’s not easy to get the story of something that perfect exactly right.
AGAINST PROFESSIONAL PHILOSOPHY REDUX 296
Mr Nemo, W, X, Y, & Z, Thursday 11 July 2019
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