GHOST OF CHRISTMAS PAST
Though it is not a holiday piece, there is something about the following story -- maybe it's the foggy weather or the gathering of friends -- that always brings New Year's Eve to mind. Like the Tennessee Williams poem ("The Summer Belvedere") that I posted a few weeks ago, this story by William Saroyan is not easy to locate, so I'll use this fortnight's blog post to pass it on to you.
"The Faraway Night" was first passed on to me thirty years ago by a co-worker, someone I knew for only a short time and never knew well. We never kept in contact; yet, she is memorable to me for adding to my frame of reference this very short story by an author that I had been unfamiliar with until that time. Would I have discovered the story anyway, in some anthology or other, or through some other acquaintance? Perhaps so, but maybe not. I prefer to believe the Fates arranged for our paths to cross so that I might have this sad beautiful story in my life.
by William Saroyan
Armenian - American Author, 1908 - 1981
Pulitzer Prize for Drama, 1949
Academy Award for Best Original Story, 1943
This was a day of fog and remembrance of old days and old songs. I sat in the house all afternoon listening to the songs. It was darker everywhere than light and I remembered a song I sang to girl on a bus once. For a while there we were in love, but when the bus reached Topeka she got off and I never saw her again. In the middle of the night when I kissed her she began to cry and I got sick with the sickness of love. That was a young night in August, and I was on my way to New York for the first time in my life. I got sick because I was going my way and she was going hers.
All this day of fog I sat in the house remembering the way a man's life goes one way and all the other lives another, each of them going its own way and a certain number of young people dying all the time. A certain number of them going along and dying. If you don't see them again they are dead even if it is a small world: even if you go back and look for each of them and find them you find them dead because any way any of them go is a way that kills.
The bus came to Topeka and she got off and walked around a corner and I never saw her again. I saw many others, many of them as lovely as she, but never another like her, never another with that sadness and loveliness of voice and never another who wept as she wept. There never will be another with her sadness. There never will be an American night like that again. She herself may be lovelier now than then but there will never be another sadness of night like that and never again will she or anyone else weep that way and no man who kisses her will grow sick with the sickness of the love of that night. All of it belongs to a night in America which is lost and can never be found. All of it belongs to the centuries of small accidents, all trivial, all insignificant, which brought her to the seat beside me, and all the small accidents which placed me there, waiting for her.
She came and sat beside me, and I knew the waiting of all the years had been for her, but when she got off the bus in Topeka I stayed on and three days later I reached New York. That's all that happened except that something of myself is still there in that warm, faraway American night.
When the darkness of day became the darkness of night I put on my hat and left the house. I walked through the fog to the city, my heart following me like a big patient dog, and in the city I found some of the dead who are my friends, and in laughter more deathly and grievous than the bitterest weeping we ate and drank and talked and sang and all that I remembered was the loveliness of her weeping because the years of small accidents had brought us together, and the foolishness of my heart telling me to stay with her and go nowhere, telling me there was nowhere to go.
It's that line, "A certain number of young people dying all the time," that cuts straight to the quick. He's right, of course. Some do die young; others just die away from our reality: "If you don't see them again they are dead even if it is a small world."
We are fortunate that the world is smaller these days than it was when Saroyan was writing; with email and facebook, people don't slip away quite so easily. And even without technology, there is still the occasional, good old-fashioned coincidence. It could happen in real life, just as it does in Dan Fogelberg's song "Same Auld Lang Syne," old friends meeting unexpectedly in the grocery store on New Year's Eve, picking up last minute party supplies -- paper hats, balloons, eggs, a bottle of champagne. It could happen.
Happy New Year! Auld Lang Syne!
SEE YOU IN TWO WEEKS FOR MY
First Fortnightly Post of the New Year
Friday, January 14, 2011
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