Op/Ed

Clippings: ‘Stolen time and heart’

“What do you think about that movie ‘Love, Actually’?” wrote my friend in an email several years ago.
We’ll call this friend “the Lorgnette” (as in: opera glasses).
“I loved it,” I told her. “What about you?”
The Lorgnette didn’t like it.
“I often feel upset that movies like that steal my time and my heart without giving something back,” she replied.
“Oh, yeah,” I said. “Come to think of it, that movie did kind of suck.”
“It was interesting,” the Lorgnette said, “how the women in the film were the initiators of physical contact, but they often held subordinate positions to those same men.”
As I read this I realized I was too dumb to notice stuff like that.
“I’ve been told many times that I need to relax,” the Lorgnette continued. “People say ‘It’s just a film.’” 
But the Lorgnette gets invested, she said. Even in Peanuts movies. 
“My little heart was just crushed for Charlie … on so many occasions.”
Because she was immunocompromised, the Lorgnette tended to spend a lot of time in the isolation of her home, but she was so lively and cheerful in her emails that I sometimes forgot about that fact.
“Do you have any romantic/relationship films that inspire you to love more deeply?” she asked.
I wasn’t sure if I could answer that. Or if I should.
The Lorgnette clarified:
“Films that really give you something to grow from.” 
She gave some examples, which I wrote down on a piece of paper. It would be fun to watch the films and discuss them with her. Or write her a long, rambling philosophical email about them.
“After you see ‘The Theory of Everything,’” she added, “I’ll share with you how I’d rewrite the script to make it a worthy love story.”
Months passed and I kept not watching any of the films — mostly because I was too busy indiscriminately removing blocks from the giant messy Jenga game my life had become.
On one particularly bad day I removed a block from that Jenga game and realized that it was the Lorgnette.
There was no way to put it back. Everything had fallen down.
Once I realized that the Lorgnette would no longer talk to me or answer my emails, her movie list acquired a kind of mystical significance.
I soon sat down and watched the first one, “The Science of Sleep.” When it was over I wasn’t sure I believed it, which was upsetting, especially because I couldn’t talk to the Lorgnette about it.
I opened a notebook and copied down one of the movie’s lines:
“Listen, Stéphane, you have to toughen up a little. It’s not attractive for a girl to see a guy crying.”
This movie-watching thing was a bad idea, I told myself. Art can do many things, but it cannot bring back my friend.
And yet — what if I could gain insight into how I ruined my friendship? Or how to avoid ruining future friendships?
This made me hopeful.
To avoid having that hope dashed too soon, I decided not to watch any more of the movies for a while.
A year passed before I finally watched the next one on the list. When it was over I realized that I was no less self-centered now than I had been when I ruined my friendship. During the movie I had caught myself looking at the characters and thinking things like, “That is me, guileless and heartbroken.” And I had forgotten to ask, “With whom does the Lorgnette most strongly identify in this film?” Or “What inspiration did she draw from it?” Or just: “Why did she put this film on the list?”
By the time I finished watching all of the movies, I concluded that all of the bad things I had ever thought about myself were true. I sucked at ambiguity and I sucked at crying and I was morally dubious.
And I didn’t feel sorry enough for Charlie Brown.
With no more movies to watch there wasn’t anything left to hang my hopes on, so I told myself to let go.
This was another thing I was not good at.
But maybe that was the lesson of the films. 
It was OK to let go. 
Or: The letting go will happen with or without you, so you might as well try to participate in constructive ways. 
Was this “loving more deeply”? 
Or giving up?
Five years later I have mostly forgotten what the Lorgnette looks like. My tragic imagination conjures only her fragility: plague, respirators, beeping monitors.
I tell myself to go outside and listen to the river. I stand in the rain for a while, but the river tells me nothing.
She’s probably fine, I assure myself.
But she is never going to tell me how she would rewrite “The Theory of Everything,” so I decide I will rewrite it myself.
Or write something called “The New and Revised Theory of Everything.” 
Or “A Few Theories of Several Things.”
When I finish it I will put it in a drawer and make no further demands of it.
But before I close the drawer, I imagine, I will scribble a quick note on the front page:
“Dear Lorgnette: Yes, I watched the films. Yes, I was inspired.”

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