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Going Around Again
I can't go on like this much longer. It isn't so bad during the day, I can do
the things I need to do, but I do them without thinking -- my mind is elsewhere.
Then when night comes, the dreams begin, and I find I'm living a different life,
in a different time. Different in many ways from the one I lived before.
My children are grown now. They are busy with their own lives, they think of me
often, I'm sure. They check on me from time to time, for their own sake as much
as mine, I imagine. But I don't need to be checked on -- I want to make that
Even though I'm perfectly able to take care of myself, I'm grateful for the
tenuous thread of affection that holds us together. There will come a time, I
know, when I will need all the help I can get. But not now .... not when I've
found Libby again.
It began about a month ago. I woke one morning and found two ticket stubs to
"The Little Foxes" on the end table. Libby and I went to see that play back in
1938. The night before I found the stubs I dreamed of Libby again. The dream was
sharp and painful. Libby and I broke up shortly after that night, and it's been
all of 53 years since then. I always blamed her. That's the way men are. It's
easier to live with yourself that way. But I've come to learn it wasn't Libby's
fault, it was mine.
We might have married, Libby Grimes and me. I used to wonder what being married
to Libby would be like? In the dream I had that night and the ones since then,
life with her would have been a lot different than the forty five peaceful years
Libby wanted to get married, (almost demanded it) but there were so many reasons
why we couldn't .... why it was wiser to wait. The war. The war was the excuse
for everything those days. Reason? Excuse? No, I don't think so. It's plain to
me now, it was the fear of Libby, fear greater than the love I had for her.
That's where "The Little Foxes" comes in. Libby Grimes wanted to be an actress,
and she pictured herself in the part of Regina Hubbard. She pictured herself as
Emily in "Our Town" too, and as Scarlett in "Gone With the Wind." Her desire to
succeed on the stage absorbed her completely. It wasn't conceit or vanity, it
was an obsession to succeed that made it impossible for her to be a normal human
Libby was a strikingly beautiful dark haired girl, and now, when we're together
in the dead of night, I can see that loveliness with agonizing clarity. Her dark
Irish beauty is irresistible, and when her face is near and her fierce dark eyes
beckon to me I curse whatever excuse or fear kept me from a life I can now live
only in dreams.
Yes, there was a war, a terrible war, a war far more compelling than the lives
of Libby and me. I had five years of sailing in iron ships to strange places.
Five years of bearing witness to the fright and fragility of young men. In those
five years, Libby's lovely face faded away, and other faces came between
us .... in the brief moments of peace between the sailings -- those interludes
that all fighting men need to keep their savageness at pitch. Libby was not
there for me. Had she been there I would not have these dreams now. They are the
life I might have had with Libby.
She shared her passion for me with a far greater passion for the stage. She was
a creature of passion and, I think much of the fear I had of her stemmed from
her overabundance of passion. It is a special instinct for some performers to
put so much of themselves into their work that those who love them are swept
away -- unable to keep afloat.
I never heard from Libby after I left for the war. I wrote to her constantly. I
loved her, after all, and wanted her to wait for me until the war was over.
While in port, I wrote weekly, and while at sea I wrote every day ... they were
all returned. I combed the newspapers for news of her, thinking perhaps she'd
changed her name and finally found success in the theater .... perhaps in
another city, but there was nothing. Not a word.
As the war ground on, my love for Libby faded. With no word from her, my letters
grew shorter and fewer and finally stopped altogether. I met Julia .... a girl
less passionate, less spirited and far less absorbed in herself than Libby. She
was an antidote to war and wanted nothing more than an end to it and a life of
normality. We married when the war ended and raised a family. We built a home
and lived a lifetime together. Libby, whatever became of her, never entered my
Now that Julia and the children are gone, time is a profound burden to me, and I
often think how life would have been with Libby. It is this, I suspect, that
causes me to dream of her.
I mourned for five years when Julia died. I thought the grieving would never
end. I saw Julia everywhere, heard her voice in empty rooms and felt her gentle
touch at night. I ate my silent meals alone wondering if she could see me
sitting there. I would call out, "Why! Why! wasn't it me .... ! It was supposed
to be me .... !" It was selfishness, I didn't know how to cope with the loss
.... widowers never do.
Somehow I got through it, not overnight but slowly, a step at a time. After two
or three rounds of Christmases and a grandchild or two, the present, (what there
was left of it) seemed worth living after all. Yes, I still kept her clothes in
the bedroom closet and I spoke to them from time to time -- but the pain grew
softer, more like an old wound that only hurts on rainy days.
I am old now .... almost all of life behind me, and now I have the time to
wonder what kind of a life I might have had if I did things differently. If I
had taken writing more seriously, if I hadn't sold the piano, if raising a
family had not taken precedence over a life of challenge and adventure.
That's when the dreams began.
They are as close to real as dreams can be. They are episodes of life before the
war, that's the reason the ticket stubs were on the end table. I must be very
careful. Should anyone see them they'd never understand. I search the house
carefully every morning looking for signs that Libby might have spent the night
with me. Sometimes it's a script she's been reading, sometimes it's her little
Benjamin Franklin eyeglasses. I really wish she'd be more careful, but in the
heat of the moment she'll throw them down and rush over to me and say, "There
didn't I do that well! .... the stress on the word "NEVER," that was good wasn't
it?" Then, one thing will lead to another and, well .... you know how young
But my writing goes slowly -- by fits and starts. It's not my fault, really it
isn't. The fault is Libby's. She is so demanding, so self-absorbed -- I can't
get a thing done. She's a stand-in for Rosalind in "As You Like It" and
trying out for Emily in "Our Town." With her script in my lap, I must listen to
her rehearse, I must take her here and there for costumes, I must take her calls
while she makes faces at herself in the mirror. Then, when she's exhausted, she
wants me to make love to her! My nights are sleepless and my days are
spent in picking up the mess she's left behind.
Then there's the feeling of guilt. I was always faithful to Julia. Now I feel as
though I've let her down, spending these nights with a woman I knew long ago. If
she were here now there would be the devil to pay. Why has Libby come back to
haunt me? Where was she when I needed her long ago? But I'm in control -- don't
get me wrong, I'm no longer infatuated with her. I can see her faults very
clearly and I thank the fates for stepping in and bringing Julia and me
Last night it went like this ...
"Libby, I've got to work today, I've got to! I'm thirty three
pages into this novel .... thirty three pages! In three months all I've got to
show for it is thirty three pages." I take the cover off the typewriter and work
in a sheet of paper.
"What do you think you're doing ....! I've got a fitting this afternoon and a
workout at the spa this morning. You've got to drive me, there's no place to
park in the city."
No! She can't take the subway or walk the streets. Not Libby .... she has to be
driven, she must arrive by car at the proper address precisely fifteen minutes
late. Furthermore, the car must be waiting for her when she's ready to leave
.... she can't be left standing at the curb.
"Have you read the paper, Libby?"
"Of course, Odets is casting "Golden Boy." I don't know if I'm right for
something like that. What do you think?"
I held up the front page. "Look at the headline, Libby. Hitler's invaded Poland
-- doesn't that mean anything to you?"
"I was never good at geography, love. Have you seen my ballet slippers?"
©Harry Buschman 1998
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