Apologia pro vita mea


Scipio’s Last Hurrah

She loved Dostoevsky, and all things Russian, and Leonard Cohen’s early songs, the good ones.  She learned to love sushi and the dregs of a margarita glass.  Like a famous Glen Close character, she would not be ignored. She fought for what she understood, which was not enough, and what she loved, which she only partially understood; she fought for her idea of love as timeless and exclusive,  highly sexual and starchily moral. She did (to her discredit) what she said she was going to do, a creature unburdened by conscience but immersed in feeling, the smell of justice . And when she finally convinced me that she loved someone else, I tried to kill myself.

She did it in stages, advancing and retreating with the stealth of a hyena, and like a floundering antelope I lay riven in the sun and  at night by the hope of death.

A chat. You whore. Shall I call him?He will be here in thirty minutes–he is here now, in my apartment.(Later). I cannot talk to you now. I have been up all night.

In the long run, this is not about tricks and lovers. It is about how an aging academic unprotected by common sense and prudence reacts to being set up.  In my case, I was beginning a new job in Hangzhou. It was not a job I especially wanted. The job I wanted was near to her, but in a prior twist, she made that one impossible for me.  I fled a small Central Asian republic accused of rape.

Weeks later she was desperate to find me, in Sudan, New York, London, everywhere.  But I could not be found for if I were I could be tricked again, like any of love’s weak and cowardly fools. Sonnets have been written and wars fought over such love.

In Hangzhou, after the saga of the the phantom lover, I swallowed rat poison. Not enough to douse my spirit, but enough to rupture my esophagus and be fed on a tube for a week. Days– days– before we had spoken by phone.  We would see each other.  She would come, She would forgive and forgo jealousy. Love would reign, and I would be happy at last. But then the phantom lover–the perfect lover–crept into bed and I countered with untrue tales and inciting details of trysts I had never had with people I hardly knew.

When you swallow arsenic pellets laced with barium and thallium, you become nauseated.  And hungry at the same time.  The experience is so intensely conscious and physical that you  don’t know that one or two more will kill you. When you realize you are dying, or in serious trouble, you don’t know whether to throw up or finish your ice cream.  In my case, both happened, followed by spurts of blood.

If love has died, suicide will not revive it.  By the time self-pity becomes weaponized, the hope of evoking compassion in another is already dead. Scipio survives, and what has died in him is not love but the hope that love will conquer death.

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