jojo I spent the past two astonishing days at reunions for my elementary school (grade 6, class of ’63) and my high school (grade 12, class of ’69). These reunions were brilliantly and lovingly orchestrated by three of my fellow students from those days: Grant Mitchell, Nancy Gray, and the fine actor (and dear friend) Nick Rice. For most of us, this was the first time we had ever attended a reunion, and most of the 70 or so attendees had to fly in from wherever they now live to Winnipeg, where we went to school so many years ago.

In the tumultuous late ’60s we were an extraordinary group, academically successful, ambitious and confident we could and would change the world. We remain an extraordinary group, many with lowered expectations, some famous, most somewhat battle-scarred but almost all thriving, happy, remarkable.

With few exceptions, we had not seen each other in thirty or forty years, so the atmosphere was electric with curiosity. As I spoke to those I knew, or thought I had known, it was clear that a considerable number of us were looking for more than just renewal of old friendships. We were looking for closure.

In the Spring of 1969 I fell deliriously, profoundly in love with a tiny, intense young woman of quiet and staggering intelligence. Joanne was an accomplished pianist and flautist who planned to study music at the renowned Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York. I wanted to study philosophy and political science and creative writing and an extensive and incongruous group of other subjects. But most of all I wanted to travel the world with Joanne, to transport us to some wondrous, distant place, wrapped in a mutually-woven cocoon of idealistic emotional and intellectual passion and protected from an outside world that I saw as nothing more than a coarse and rude intrusion into the perfection and purity that was we two.

The brief time I spent with her that Spring was filled at once with ecstasy and exquisite terror. I was utterly in awe of her, her incredible talent and intellect, the way her eyes filled with fire and then tears as she expounded passionately, gracefully on subjects that I could barely grasp. Her mind was like a Bach fugue, operating on several levels simultaneously, artfully, weaving several ideas in tandem that she would finally resolve in a handful of words and then look right at you, right into your soul, showing that she understood, and questioning, pleading to see whether you understood as well. I wrote poetry and played music on the stereo for her, in homage to her — Satie’s Trois Gymnopédies and Rachmaninoff’s Second Symphony and Second Piano Concerto — and lit scented candles. We talked for hours about philosophy and the environment and politics and economics and language and literature and music and ideas and emotions and how to save the world.

Every day, every meeting with her was an impossible challenge, an exhausting, gut-wrenching performance, an attempt to keep up, an artless and inarticulate wooing of this magical, wonderful, incredible person who wholly and flawlessly personified my every ideal, my very purpose for living. Every evening alone was an agonizing re-enactment of that day’s performance, a humiliating admission of unworthiness, unworldliness, incoherence, and a shattered preparation for the futile attempt to do better the next day. I dared not try to make our love affair physical, where I was even less competent and self-confident than I was emotionally and intellectually. Besides, I felt no need to do so, and hence squandered the opportunity to deepen our incandescent relationship further, though into what unfathomable abyss that could have taken us I cannot say.

Rapturous, living in mid-air, I tried to feign casualness, pretend that this was merely clever intellectual sparring, the mental equivalent of a pair of otters playfully circling each other in an elegant ballet of point and counterpoint. Joanne of course saw right through this. I have no idea how much she loved me and to what extent she only endured and encouraged me because my amateur and desperate adoration flattered her. She did spend every spare moment with me for those few short weeks. I would give anything, put up with anything, to feel like that again.

When it was time for her to leave Winnipeg, I went into emotional shock and began to come unglued. Agonized, exhausted, helpless, I shrugged her off, told her (ridiculous, rehearsed words that haunt me to this day) that it was the wrong place, the wrong time, and maybe, maybe…. After I walked away she ran after me, and told me, crying, never to do that again. If I had not been already, I was undone.

She came to visit me a year later and I repeated my callous, inept, distant and outrageous act of indifference. I wanted to die. The next three years were a blur of nihilism and numb denial, and then, with some money saved and my idealism seizing control, I wrote and asked her to drop everything and go traveling with me. I was so broken I hadn’t and couldn’t think my proposal ahead any further than that. Her postcard reply was short and ambiguous “not now, Dave”. To resolve the ambiguity I went to visit her and spent a few short hours with her asking why not. Whatever she said, I did not hear, after the word “no”. Even then, she left a door open, saying she was surprised and flattered I would travel so far just to see her. Fucking idiot that I am, I failed to determine whether this meant “don’t give up” or was just politeness. As I walked out of her parents’ house that day I died.

It took me many years after that to put the shattered wreck that was left of me, through no fault of anyone but myself, back together. Over the next few years I visited Joanne’s house once more, and called one desperate night by phone, both times talking to her tactful father, since she had moved away.

It has been thirty years since I last saw Joanne. My wife of twenty-three years saw some promise in me in 1980, shook me out of my self-indulgent trance, and has made me whole, successful, content, productive, a competent provider and a responsible citizen — I owe her everything. It is a debt unpaid, an extraordinary favour unreturned. But that is a subject for another story.

For the last three days I have been wondering, half with curiosity, half with dread, whether Joanne would come to the reunion. I expected that if she did, there would be a rush of emotion, a catharsis, an answering of thirty-year-old unanswered questions. Closure. I cried on the plane, listening to Helplessly Hoping and Baby Boom Baby and I’m Going to Go Back There Some Day and, of course, Rachmaninoff.

This afternoon, Joanne came to the reunion. We hugged, traded histories, acknowledged significant others, spoke of getting together, the four of us perhaps. There was no rush of emotion, no catharsis. There was no asking and answering of questions, although she offered the opportunity. Whether there was closure or not, I do not know. I suspect that (my fault entirely) there was not. Thirty years…

There is a dragon here, and unlike the dragons I’ve written about elsewhere this one is at once real and fabrication. The dragon is the half-true story that I made up thirty-four years ago. Like any wonderful or terrible story it gets better, richer, truer with time and re-telling.

But it isn’t really a half-true story. It is a toxic mix of two stories: What actually happened and what might have been. What actually happened, what we really had and felt for each other, is a true story with a lot of missing facts. It is possible, though far from certain, that we will one day know the missing facts, and the true story will be at least complete, if not free from nuance, from ambiguity, from doubt. There could be closure to this story.

What might have been from the fateful day thirty years ago to today, is not a true story. It is fiction. Like any might-have-been story rooted in regret it is of course dangerous, larger-than-life, unambiguously wonderful and full of joy and redemption. It is tyrannical and the cause of grief, guilt, discontent and madness. The power of this story is our wish that it be true, and the impossibility of proving it ‘false’. It can only be defused by recognizing it, deep inside, as unreal, an impossibility, a fiction. What might have been is what was not.

Joanne’s visit has at last allowed me to recognize my might-have-been story as fictional. That’s not a denial that, if (huge if) something that did not occur had occurred, it might have been. But, like a vivid science fiction story that describes what might have been if an asteroid had hit the Earth in the 1970s, it is still a fiction. Once you’ve read it, you put it away and don’t think about it further. It is unarguably unreal, fictitious, even a lie.

Without the toxic catalysis of the might-have-been story, the what actually happened story becomes moot. Can’t change that. Done and decided. Can’t go back again.

Can you regret what actually happened? Of course, and closure, knowing what actually happened and why, can help deal with that. But with the might-have-been story back in the bookshelf, closure of the what actually happened story isn’t really that important. Yesterday’s news. Far more useful, and satisfying, is to talk here, now, about philosophy and the environment and politics and economics and language and literature and music and ideas and emotions and how to save the world. And maybe even actually make it happen. Now there’s a story.

Fellow graduates and readers that stumble on this strange and sad reminiscence, may you find peace and closure through discovery of what really happened in your own history, and may you have the extraordinary sense to put your fictions of what might have been, to rest.

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13 Responses to CLOSURE

  1. Chris Dent says:

    Thanks. I needed that.

  2. Rob Paterson says:

    Hey Dave – thank you. Like group therapy when I hear such a story told from the heart, my own stories rush back. My Joanne was called Liz. How brave of you to face your story – you could have always been a wanker and not gone. How brave of your wife to witness from afar. Namaste Rob

  3. silly me says:

    I think those heartbreaks of what-if’s and could-have-beens is what gives some of us the inspiration for or appreciation of “THE BLUES”. (I don’t mean this as a denegration of anything written here or else where.)

  4. Art Jacobson says:

    Dave… I was really touched by this. And thought, sadly, about a lost and distant love of my own.

  5. Camilo says:

    Those “what if” that haunt us also propel us, the experience, the need to do something, the knowledge of the intense pain it means to restrict and deny ourselves.Then, as you said, we move on to what has to be. But, oh, does it hurt whe it fisrt happens!You write, Dave!

  6. Dave Pollard says:

    Rob: I wasn’t really brave — I didn’t think she’d show up. And my lovely wife had no idea who would be there (I don’t really talk about things with her I haven’t figured out for myself), and has never read my blog, which doesn’t interest her and which she considers (probably validly) a self-indulgence. To the other commenters: I’m amazed at how many people (including private e-mails and two face-to-face contacts) have said they relate to this story, which I thought was highly unusual and not at all your run-of-the-mill “lost love” story. Perhaps we’re all more complex than we think. I do appreciate the comments. I wonder if I will get any from other reunion attendees when they come across this blog (I gave out the URL at the reunion)?

  7. Life Tenant says:

    Dave, thank you for this beautiful and insightful story. I have been considering attending a 15th law school reunion and musing over a few might-have-beens. I also wonder whether I made a wrong turn back in my early 20s away from my then-girlfriend, and I also owe my current quality of life to the generous salvage efforts of my wonderful wife. By the way, my wife views, or rather doesn’t view, my blogging much as yours sees, or doesn’t see, yours …. She almost never looks at it and in fact considers it not merely a self-indulgence but an outright escape from constructive engagement with the world. Though she appreciates the intermittent dialogue that you and I have, actually, and may even have looked at your site.

  8. Dave Pollard says:

    That’s interesting, SubDude. I wonder what that says about us, that we perhaps acknowledge the importance of the people who inhabit our world today in making us whole and sane, more effectively and articulately on-line to near strangers than we do to them in person, face-to-face in real life. But then no one really understands writers, do they ;-)

  9. polly says:

    I always thought men and women viewed this differently, but your story mirrors one of mine. I thought men just got on with some other action and put the past behind them. That’s how it looks from the other side, because you don’t often tell us ’til it’s too late. Unfortunately my situation is going on now: the people who inhabit my world are not eactly making me whole and sane. I can’t imagine any closure, ever. The more I explain and seek explanation, the worse it gets. Neither a logical approach nor ritual seems to work. I just hope I will be able to say one day soon – “Not now Dave”. All (?) your correspondents seem to be men, perhaps just prevalent on the net, but I would like to thank each of them and you too for revealing even just a corner of yourselves.

  10. Denis says:

    Thanks for writing this, it somehow resonates with my history too…

  11. Jeff says:

    I found this entry through one of Pearl’s comments on my site, and I have to admit that it touched me. You write very well, full of meaning, emotion, and intelligence.I wouldn’t have it in myself to go back to such memories. Sometimes I think that I can only get past such things by turning by back on them, but you faced them head-on. Your bravery is to be admired.

  12. Jon Husband says:

    Was there not a version of this story written pre-reunion ? That’s what I seem to remember reading (one of the first of your posts I ever read).I do not remember reading, then, that there had been the reunion and that the two of you had met up .. but it may well be my faulty memory.At any rate, closure can be a very good and useful thing.

  13. Chris says:

    Strange coincidence, that I should run across your blog for the first time today while searching for rationale behind the price of AAPL stock to soothe my rational doubts, when yesterday I reminisced about my own first love.In my case, closure didn’t happen in an evening, but gradually came over several years as I matured and grew to understand how what happened came to pass. That growth required discipline — forcing myself to move on rather than look backwards by emailing, calling, web stalking, or other any of the other desperate forms of connection we try to maintain during loss. What I came to realize, that although in countless ways my love and I were perfectly symbiotic, there was that difference that we could never quite get over — she didn’t believe that I loved her, and I wasn’t able to convince her that I did, partly because, this being my first love, but not hers, I didn’t think it could end — any problem we had could be fixed, because I figured we loved each other, as evidenced by the fact that we were still together. A tragic catch-22 for which I blamed myself for a long time. But what passed is past. There’s no other way that could have ended at that time. The question that’s more plaguing is, with this added knowledge, is it worth doing anything about it now? Of course, by the time this question is asked, time has run it’s course. Ce la vie.It’s as they say, the first cut is the deepest. Thank you for sharing your story.

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