With a shiver of foreboding he saw his marriage becoming what most of the other marriages about him were: a dull association of material and social interests held together by ignorance on the one side and hypocrisy on the other.
– Edith Wharton, The Age of Innocence
I was on the phone into the wee-hours last night, when a text message came through from TenKey:
Remind me of the scene you would have tattooed on yourself.
It was out of context, but I knew exactly what he meant. He was referring to an old conversation, rehashed many, many times over. The debate had come up at a Winesday Christmas party many years ago when I had posed the question — What scene from literature would you have tattooed on your body?
We had gone around and each given our answers. Mine had been: Newland Archer waiting outside of Ellen Olenska’s apartment in Paris.
It was an entirely predictable answer, I guess.
And it was funny that TenKey was asking now, on the eve of the anniversary of my feeling like nothing more than a paper girl; like the best-written, one-dimensional divorcee in all of New York or London.
You should do it, he said.
Might get a line from Hemingway, I lamely countered. I had been reading too much Hemingway lately; trying to get Paris out of my head and instead, I was beating it into my brain like the sound of a bucket-drummer in the bowels of the New York subway, or pop music on the radio.
In other words: unrelenting; not easily forgotten.
Then my calls ended, and I went to bed.
I woke up this morning to another message from TenKey:
Hemingway was my first.
Taken out of context, it was a little funny. The idea of being deflowered — in any sense — by Hemingway was both gruesome and sort-of gorgeous. Though TenKey was talking about his first tattoo.
I didn’t know why I was thinking so much about Paris. It was ironic, because I was staying at the same hotel in which I had stayed the last time I’d seen TenKey — the night before I’d last been in Paris — where I’d snoozed (only semi-ironically) under a portrait of Audrey Hepburn.
What I know about Paris, though, is that people go there to behave like people in novels, and wait outside apartments, and live somewhat happily ever after, like some grimly unnecessary fairytale.
But we’re all really living long-form non-fiction, where real people are living somewhere and real things are happening to them.
Which goes back to my original point of why I’d have the scene tattooed on me, if I were to have a tattoo. One must remember that if it takes a man the better part of a decade to admit what he knew; what he had been withholding then he will wait outside in Paris at the end of the novel.
And we can’t behave like people in novels, can we?