September 21, 2013 — I held Manon’s diary open, Moriarty and I sitting on the folly foundation in the warm September sun, and I continued reading aloud:
[My “Sebastian Quartet” comes with a soundtrack: Click on my “The Dream” player (right sidebar) for Thomas Tallis’s ethereal 16th century “Spem in alium” and Gluck’s “Orfeo ed Euridice, Dance of the Blessed Spirits” (Italian version).]
I sit now among my roses breathing in their sensuous aroma. I hold his response on my lap:
“My dear Manon,
You expect too much of me. I will only disappoint you.
Therefore, I find I must avoid you.
Our relationship was but illusion, as is all life.
“What a jackass,” I said, placing my thumb on the page and closing the book.
Moriarty gave me a steely look I could not define. I opened to the page and continued to read:
I am stunned. I cannot stem my torrent of tears. How cruel. Whence has this arisen? In fact it is he who has created the illusion. I hold only the kindest thoughts for him. He has not listened, nor does he care to listen. He does not wish to know me. Instead, distancing himself, he has created a false image of who I am: in his delirium he has created of me a Frankenstein’s monster, Prometheus bound. I cannot get through to him. This is undeserved. How could he twist this? Surely, he thinks of someone else. In his arrogance he is like a blowfish that swims through a crevice into a cave, puffs up and then cannot get out. His ego has outsized his head. He seems unable to take me at face value.
“You can take me at face value,” said Moriarty.
I looked at the Phantom.
“He sabotaged the relationship,” Moriarty said. “Whatever he was going deeper and deeper into, he was unknowingly and simultaneously trying to escape. Hiding behind his mask, he was only masking himself from his true self, trying to escape himself.”
“‘To know and to love one other human being is the root of all wisdom.’” Evelyn Waugh wrote in Brideshead Revisited,” I said. “I think Waugh was right. Though I wonder if this covers men marrying trophy wives and women marrying men for economic advantage, and then you’re always pushing your spouse to dazzle the neighbors, pushing your spouse to do more for you because, in your sterile arrangement, you don’t find him or her fulfilling. I suppose where you are married to a metaphor and you get along superficially you can still achieve some spiritual growth.”
I opened Manon’s diary three-quarters of the way through and read aloud: He has traveled to Phila. on business. He has written to tell me.
“And, then …,” I flipped a couple of pages ahead:
We have commenced carrying on a correspondence, writing every few days to one another. He could not face getting close here in these last months, yet while he is away he writes to me often. Often our letters cross.
He expresses his inmost thoughts as he used to when we were together, as if he trusts me implicitly. In his letters from Phila. he feels closer to me than he does in person.
I flipped ahead two weeks.
He has come back to Boston. Will he come back emotionally? I wonder. …
I turned to the next entry:
… Sebastian has not come to see me in the weeks since his return home, and his letters have stopped.
“Further …,” I turned a few pages … I handed the thick, little leather-bound book over to Moriarty.
He read, I encountered Sebastian in town today. He barely spoke to me and hurried on his way. It is curious why he picked up our communication while he was away in Phila. and now he has stopped. I never know whom I am going to get, the warm, natural Sebastian or the superficial, masked one.
“Maybe he just got tired of her,” I said.
Moriarty smiled quietly.
“‘The cruelty of lust and the frailty of love,’ I think Maya Angelou said that,” I went on. “She said to Anderson Cooper one night on TV recently, ‘Fear motivates cruelty. You have to laugh, otherwise you’ll die of solemnity.’”
Moriarty’s sudden laughter startled Dickens, who leaped to his feet and barked just on general principles. He shook his head, snuffled and sneezed; assured that the air was clear, he lay down and resumed resting his head on his forepaws.
Friends have told me that Sebastian engaged in unsavory deeds in earlier days, that he has redeemed himself and made reparations. Perhaps, too, something he witnessed in childhood caused his present reactions. Sebastian’s past and his past deeds matter not to me. I esteem him as he is now, unconditionally. He is just as human as the rest of us.
Could it not be that his harshness towards his past actions, instead of giving himself credit for good deeds, and his immature idealism lead him to see the world rather narrowly…? He acts as he thinks a man of the world ought to act and began treating me snobbishly and coldly, patronizing me because he regards me as a second-class citizen, a lowly woman – while yet he can be compassionate and generous to others. Instead, to impress me and others, his desire for and pursuit of advancement leads to an unhappiness he must mask with his false bravado. I believe that it is in his constitution to stop now, abiding in the night at which he has arrived. Come the dawn, he will see. Maybe in another lifetime. He is where he needs to be, as am I. Yet, for a season, I was his folly.
“Look where we are,” I said to Moriarty. “Our lives are as beautiful as our surroundings – this blog with a round table and a cupola, soon a folly, a Dickens of a dog, this sweet-smelling meadow and clear-running stream – and blue deer.”
Dickens lifted his head at the mention of this hoofed forager, barked a muffled bark, “Biff, biff,” that puffed up his cheeks, then laid his head back down.
“At the end of the path, all is right here,” I continued. “It’s not out there somewhere. Reading Manon’s diary and sitting here this beautiful day, we know, we have come to the end of the illusion. Social position is not the most important thing in life; the striving to attain which can cause one, caused Sebastian to hurt those he loved the most. Seeking retribution against others for his pain only caused more pain in others, not retribution. But the dream, the dream we can make real, when we have faith.”
Moriarty had handed over the diary to me. I turned to the last page. Five months had elapsed since Manon’s previous entry. I read her final lines:
Sebastian is afraid to follow his heart. He is ashamed of his own unhappiness. He has taken flight.
I quickly moved the diary out to my knees so that the tear that escaped over my cheek wouldn’t spill onto the page and blur the faded ink. I looked at Moriarty. “What happened to them, do you know?”
“I asked my family,” said Moriarty. “Manon met someone, actually while Sebastian was in Philadelphia. Ultimately, they married. They didn’t have children. She became one of the leaders in the women’s rights movement for suffrage, and she edited a women’s magazine. That’s how my family knows as much as they do about her.”
“And Sebastian?” I asked.
“Oh, he went to Italy and became a priest.
“They were alike,” he said.
I closed the little book.
Beauty appears when something is completely and absolutely and openly itself. —Deena Metzger
With thanks to Evelyn Waugh, revisited;
And a nod, neverending, to Thomas Hardy, “Jude the Obscure,”
his story of Jude and Sue I read lifetimes ago.