“so we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” – last line of the great gatsby
i wrestle with the present as i bring up the past. and i get flung back, far beyond south entrance; back to encino, back to an all-boy’s jesuit high school, my freshman year. i am serving out detention for being late 4 out of every 5 days.
i get a ride from my best friend’s older brother, a senior. we stop most mornings at an abandoned school; the older brother joins and we watch as the riot kids and football players get their buzz on in the early morning dew. i guess i could get another ride and avoid tardiness all together, but there is a sense of inclusion that my friend and i have. we are let in to a world of exclusivity, if only by chance. and though the seniors don’t really give us the time of day, there are moments.
one time the star football player took me aside covertly and we snuck up a hill where we then pelted the group below with oranges. i got my ass kicked when i got down, but it was worth it. and he stepped in before they really hurt me. the coolest part was, for the rest of the year til he graduated, he would always give me a nod as we passed in the halls; even if he was with his friends. the scurvs i hung out with were always impressed and it seemed to make the day go a little better.
so i sit here in brother demian’s detention hall and do my penance for a sin worth it’s weight in time. my head down against the hard wood of the desk, getting high from the cleaning solvent they use at night; as i catch up on sleep. then midway through the year the new principal changes the rules: no more sleeping in detention. damn. well, i may as well read; there was no way i was going to do my homework. so it was there in a bare classroom amongst the cream of the crap that our school had to offer that i fell in love with the great gatsby. In particular, j gatsby and his wonderful world of unrequited love. it was to be a life long connection that would feed me and fuck me up. it’s only now that this occurs to me, though, as i begin rediscovering and reassembling my life in short story format. an exercise of reaching back to the past to get a hold on my present. the patterns do start to emerge. i figured they would, that’s why i’m doing it.
lesson number 1: i based my life, at least my love life, on j gatsby. always desiring what was just beyond reach and making it my mission to keep moving the carrot each time i was about to grasp it. the object of his and my desire was daisy. the perfect beauty, a flower that everyone adored to pieces. a girl slightly broken by this adoration. deep down, daisy loves or at least wants to love gatsby, but every time it’s about to happen there is an inevitable tragedy or omen. whether by chance or by purpose; it doesn’t really matter and the differences between the two are minimal at best.
When I think of the great gatsby, i think of the green light that he would stare at over on the other side of the bay. The green light was on the dock where daisy and her lame-ass husband lived with their kids. she is brutally unhappy with her life, yet unable to extract herself from the materialism that she bathes in. each night gatsby stands on his dock across the bay from her house. he reaches his arms towards the green light on her dock; across that small but unfathomable gulf where his attempts at getting to her have fallen short. he spent ten years away from her meticulously building riches and with precision and certainty made it all the way here; just across the bay. but, alas, after a journey of a million miles he is unable to take the last step.
my first daisy was ginny. we became really close friends my junior year. i was so in love with her and yet such a close friend that it was hard to reconcile the two. we talked every night and she let me in; deep in. i’m not sure if it was this trust that made me feel i would be betraying her if i let out my feelings. but, instead of surfacing my emotions i buried them. all the while planning how i was eventually going to win her love; even as she started dating my best friend. i may have even encouraged her, the sick puppy that i am. I was creating a persona to fit my feelings into how i thought the world worked. and when i realized that the world didn’t work like that, just like in gatsby, everything came crashing down. the real blow came after the war was lost, when i found out maybe she did want me all along. i was so busy looking up ahead that i couldn’t see what was laying at my feet.
in english class towards the end of that year, we were assigned the great gatsby, and discussed it in class. after a year of zero class participation i came alive. i hijacked the class, standing on my desk, madly debating with my teacher the green light and its meaning. he finally had to send me out to take a walk before we came to blows. but you could tell he dug it. when we graduated the next year he took me aside after the ceremony. i wasn’t sure why, we hadn’t talked since i had him that last year. he looked at my confused expression, chuckled and handed me a copy of the great gatsby. as he walked away he said “don’t ever stop arguing for what you believe in, chris.” i stood there for a sec, then i opened the book and thumbed through it. there was an inscription from him on the second page, “i read it again, and you were right.” while the book meant more than the diploma i held in my other hand, it occurred to me I hadn’t quite graduated from that school yet.
sure enough, i went on to play variations on the theme throughout my life. i don’t want to sound all doom and gloom. ask any of my friends who’ve known me, i have led a charmed and wonderful life. and while this past year has tried to make up for that luck, it ended up lifting me even higher. through impossible tragedy and destruction i have been broken open; wide open.
as i sit here now typing this, i am faced with another potential daisy. a love affair, in my mind, that is not only one-sided but also distanced and without much hope. i can easily see how i could turn it into another gatsby cycle, another repeated pattern. but fortunately, my circuits have been ripped to shreds and the patterns have been disabled. i am building my machine back from scratch. in truth i’ve actually stopped building. i’m just letting it all go. my daisy has turned into a muse. instead of trying to be someone i’m not, i let out my feelings without regard; real time. and reciprocation? well that’ll be nice one day. for now i am happy just expressing my love in poetry and words and actions to myself, to my muse and to my friends. i don’t need anything back. by giving, i receive. and in my best reality there is nothing outside of me that I quest for any longer. the best things are in here or will make their way in here in time.
the green light on the other side of the bay; it is a reflection on the water of what is already inside me. that’s why gatsby couldn’t reach it. but now that i know where it really is, maybe i can.