…graven with diamonds in letters plain,
There is written her fair neck round about;
‘Noli me tangere; for Cæsar’s I am,
And wild for to hold, though I seem tame.’
—Sir Thomas Wyatt
She’s a rich girl;
She don’t try to hide it
Diamonds on the soles of her shoes.
The image of the poor boy in love with the rich girl is a powerful symbol of our yearning for what is unattainable. I remember my junior year of college as the year of F. Scott Fitzgerald. I read almost everything he ever published and wrote papers about his work for two or three different classes. He taught me a lot about yearning and more than a few things about myself.
|F. Scott Fitzgerald|
Fitzgerald, if you haven’t dived into his work the way I did, basically had only one story to tell: boy meets golden girl; girl destroys boy; girl dances away to destroy again. There is some variation from story to story—how brutal the destruction is, how much the boy has it coming, how golden the girl really is—but the arc of the story is always the same. Again and again Fitzgerald tried to tell the story of his life with Zelda so that it would finally somehow make sense. As a result, his work presents a harsh view of life, love and humanity in general.
It worked for me in 1967 and 1968, however, as graduation and the inevitable draft notice drew nearer day by day. What I yearned for was another world, another life to step into, in which longing, if sufficiently intense, could influence likelihood. This was child-like, magical thinking that I fell into again and again: if I really, really, really wanted something, then surely I could have it. But there is no bargaining with fate.
As things turned out for me, however, fate was kind. The woman I married has been the love of my life by any measure: 40 years into the marriage I am more in love with her than ever. My military service after college was easy and strangely rewarding. When it ended, I actually missed it for a little while because it had given me my first opportunity to feel competent in the world of adults.
Now, in the final third of life, I find the the old yearnings have been mostly left behind. Zelda-like women who might have bewitched me 40 years ago, for example, now seem self-absorbed and profoundly uninteresting, however lovely they may be. Remembering the young men in Fitzgerald’s stories fills me with gratitude for how far the years have brought me.
I escaped you when I was young, Zelda, perhaps by luck, but your time is past. You won’t get me now.