Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past.
If all time is eternally present
All time is unredeemable.
What might have been is an abstraction
Remaining a perpetual possibility
Only in a world of speculation.
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.
Footfalls echo in the memory
Down the passage which we did not take
Towards the door we never opened
Into the rose-garden. My words echo
Thus, in your mind. But to what purpose
Disturbing the dust on a bowl of rose-leaves
I do not know.
– Excerpt from the beginning of “Burnt Norton” in T. S. Eliot’s Four Quartets
I’m quoting this partly in preparation for embarking on a setting of the Quartets this fall for my friend April who is currently living in the U.K. We’d both like to collaborate on a new piece of music for her to sing, and frankly, I miss writing serious music. We’ve both been thinking texts the last two or three weeks, and yesterday in an email it became clear that we were both thinking of drawing from the Four Quartets.
I’m also quoting this because I’ve been thinking about regret and what-may-never-be the last couple of days, and have been trying to figure out a way of expressing that without sounding maudlin or mopey. A couple of days ago I was cataloging titles of my blog posts here, both to keep them consistent and to see where I’ve been the last year or two. Re-reading the “Invidiousness” post, wherein I recount what happened on my birthday this year, brought back the feelings of regret about Seth that I’ve been trying so hard to kill—that it happened; that I risked a friendship and lost it; that several friends who I used to be close with have become distant, though for what reason I can only speculate. They’re starting a church with him so they spend a lot of time together. There’s that, but I also think there’s some awkwardness about it. Again, it’s just idle speculation, but there’s a definite sense of loss.
Part of me wishes that I could just get over it, because I do miss Seth and his company—but I also have to admit that I still have strong feelings for him, and the knowledge that I cannot ever have him in that way, combined with the foolhardy hope that maybe I could (and the agony of the realization that he’s probably dating someone else), makes that possibility impossible. It still burns like a poker in my brain, like Stanley Kowalski looking up at Stella’s window in Streetcar Named Desire. I’ve tried to wall it in, push it away, kill it, and yet it remains. Maybe time will heal that gash. Or maybe not.
Another part of me also fears that I’ll never find someone like him; that I’ll ultimately have to settle for second-best; that I won’t find—or worse, that there isn’t—anybody better out there. Believe me, I’m fully aware of what he did and how he ultimately treated me; and yet I find myself missing the good things that there were with what there was. To be clear, in reality it wasn’t much more than a fuck buddy relationship, at least as far as he was concerned. That was where it got messy.
What worries me is that these are not positive thoughts to be going into a relationship with: looking at the guy you’re dating and no matter how hard you try wishing he were someone else that will never be. I am trying to date, meet people and not just wait for someone to come along. But, while trying to move forward, I fear being stuck in the past, ghosts of the memories of echoing footfalls down the passage I could not take, towards the door to the rose-garden that I tried and found slammed and barred in my face.
In the past, I’ve often turned to the writing and songs of Fiona Apple. It was after my first traumatic breakup that I first began to understand what she was talking about—but I wasn’t deeply in love with my first boyfriend. The breakup hurt, yes, and I felt like a monster for doing the breaking up. But it was after being rejected the first time by Seth last February that I actually knew the agony of loving someone who didn’t love me in return, and loving them in spite of it. Her words provided a sort of solace, because it meant that someone else knew the same pain and was able to put it into words, like a tiny candle in the darkness.
So be it, I’m your crowbar (if that’s what I am so far) until you get out of this mess. And I will pretend that I don’t know of your sins until you are ready to confess—but all the time… all the time, I’ll know… I’ll know. And you can use my skin to bury secrets in, and I will settle you down. And at my own suggestion, I will ask no questions while I do my thing in the background.
But all the time… all the time, I’ll know… I’ll know.
Baby, I can’t help you out while [he] is still around. So for the time being, I’m being patient. And amidst the bitterness, if you’ll just consider this, even if it don’t make sense all the time—give it time. And when the crowd becomes your burden, and you’ve early closed your curtains, I’ll wait by the backstage door while you try to find the lines to speak your mind and pry it open, hoping for an encore.
And if it gets too late for me to wait for you to find you love me, and tell me so—it’s okay. Don’t need to say it.
For almost a year, this closing song from Fiona’s second album When the Pawn, “I know,” was emblematic of my experience with Seth. It expressed the ineffable, the waiting, the longing, the anguish and the anger. That last line, “It’s okay. Don’t need to say it,” was the torch that kept me from slipping over the edge into total despair. But now, with this new admission, her words seem to be turned around, like the relentless mirror that music and art can be at times, and are as much about me with the ghost of that pseudo relationship overshadowing my current and future relationships as it was about what he did to me, or I was doing to myself, or a combination of the two.
Today I responded to a photographer I follow on Twitter, PhotographyAmy, who posted about the Human Rights Campaign’s wedding registry, by saying that “as soon as I find someone to marry, HRC will definitely be getting an invite!!” Later she responded, “It will happen when you least expect it!” But the older I get, the less likely that seems.
God, I need an angel.
Apple, F. (Performer). (1999). I know. On When the Pawn.. [CD] New York City: Epic/Work Records.
Eliot, T.S. (1943). Four quartets. New York City, NY: Mariner Books.