I wonder sometimes how connections are made; whether friendship relies more on coincidence or more on intent. It was a few days ago, and I was sitting with Marc in a cafe in the late afternoon, in the Parisian suburb of Ivry, when he received a text from a friend of his, Yves, whom I'd never met. Marc had texted him earlier that morning saying he would be near his place later and wondered if he would like to meet up. Marc replied announcing he was with a friend from Scotland, we were already in Ivry, and he would find us at Yves' favourite cafe by the roundabout.
Earlier that day, when Marc said we might be joined by someone he knew, I asked a few questions about him, and Marc replied he would tell me later, but with the practicalities of picking up lunch for our picnic by the Seine, and trying to find Velib bikes for the cycle, I forgot to enquire further, and as we ate a baguette, some cheese and some fruit by the river, we talked instead of an affair Marc had recently and reluctantly been extricated from. When it did occur to me to ask again about Yves, it seemed inappropriate, as if all the questions I should have been asking ought to concern Marc's break-up. But what is interesting is that Marc's most recent love story and what he told me about Yves' life shared many similarities, and they were shared also I would realize, with another friend I knew in the city, and maybe even happened to echo my own.
As we waited for Yves to arrive, Marc said that his friend could be quite peculiar, that he could start a conversation without much point and would end it without much purpose. I asked him if Yves had always been like this, and Marc said that for at least as long as he had known him. However, there were sometimes things that he had heard about Yves's past, or that Yves had divulged about his own, that made sense of his nonsense, that justified the fragility of Yves' mind. But then Yves arrived before he could tell me what these things were, and my initial interaction with Yves was thus devoid of the back story I would later possess.
My first surprise was that he wasn't entirely French but partly Asian, and that his French wasn't as good as his English. He spoke it almost as a first language, and when I complimented him on it he said that he was brought up speaking three languages: French, English and Vietnamese. His family was Vietnamese and Vietnam was where he had lived until the age of fourteen. This was not quite how he conveyed the information to me, however, as he said a few words in Vietnamese, a few words in French and then, in English, said his father and mother made a hodgepodge of him and he didn't always know whether he was coming or going, though now he hated to leave France. Marc looked at me with a hint of amusement, but not at all with any condescension towards his friend, and he was aware that my usual interest in other people's lives might be tested by the non sequiturs Yves would offer, and his slippage into another language.
It is true that I have always been fascinated by people, and over the last dozen years while I have never written stories, I have put on paper many what I would call accounts. An account is a bit like a case history, but more speculative. I would muse over the lives of the various people I would meet, and try to differentiate them according to a specific and perhaps useless typology, but one that helped me understand a little better the reasons why people are the way they are and do the things they do. My work doesn't demand it, but it augments the work I do, though others might feel it distorts it. I am employed as a counsellor, and while people have come to me with numerous problems, often they break down into a small number of categories, of which the three main ones are work, love and health. Then there are the various character types in relation to these three problems. These are the procrastinator, the fantasist and the hypochondriac. The procrastinator promises to work on that great novel, to work harder when he gets promoted, to study a little more intently next year at school. The fantasist waits for the great love, and promises they will give themselves over to this feeling when the man or woman arrives. In the meantime everyone they see is of little importance, or they won't see anyone at all while waiting for the right person. The hypochondriac is always slightly ill, always not quite in optimum health, and feels if only they lived in another country, if only they could dedicate themselves to more exercise, or if only they could eat better than they could afford, they would be well.
I knew that Marc would fall into the category of the fantasist. He was in his late thirties and the story he told me as we sat by the Seine didn't surprise me at all: the combination of my own schema and Marc's track record meant that though I hadn't seen him since the previous summer, and we had only texted in the meantime, I could have half-told the story myself. Marc had been going out with someone for nine months, and in the last three she would sometimes ask him if he thought it would be a good idea if she moved out of her apartment on the edge of the city, in the north, at Guy Moquet, and that he move out of his studio flat in the fifth, near the Sorbonne. Shouldn't they find something together? He explained to her that they had a wonderful arrangement. She had her one bedroom flat with its large sitting room that they could eat and watch films comfortably in, and he had the studio in the best location in the city when they wanted to eat out, watch films and go to galleries or concerts. Where would they be living if they got a bigger apartment? He offered this to me as he no doubt offered it to her: as the practical. I suspected his refusal contained within it, though, the dream life he wouldn't quite acknowledge. I remembered a conversation more than ten years earlier, before I was, briefly, married to Louise, and before Jason was born, where he said that he would leave Paris and live in the country for a woman, but he wondered if he would ever find her. Over that period there must have been six or seven women, but with none of them did he suggest this life in the country, and I supposed that he wanted to continue living alone in Paris, but possess the hope that he would eventually settle elsewhere.
Yet as I sat and listened to Yves talk, I wasn't sure in which category he might fit, and believed as he spoke that he seemed the product of various traumas, as if a brilliant mind splintered by certain terrors of actuality most of us are lucky to avoid. As I guessed his age to be around fifty five, so he must have been in his teens at the time of the Vietnam war, and presumably left the country during it. I had of course like many others seen images from that conflict, images that many believed defined it and consequently lost it for the Americans: images that were obviously not the same as experiences, but nevertheless represented these experiences. I've often in my work tried to differentiate with clients the experience from the image, the actuality from its replication, and while I think the client is shocked by images, they are much more traumatised by experience. It's as if in the experience they cannot recall the image and are left with an undifferentiated event that they feel in their bodies but cannot quite see in front of their eyes. How can one give to the client images that are faithful to that undifferentiated event? If we simplify the image, we simplify the experience, and I sometimes draw the analogy with language: it is important that we avoid the clichd image as one needs to avoid the clichd phrase. If someone says their childhood was wall to wall hell, then it is for me to try and break that down into a series of concrete images, and to help the client fill out those images with as much vividness as possible.
The three of us talked for several hours that afternoon, and I was surprised to look at my watch and see that it was almost six: I had to meet another friend. I quickly went in to pay for the drinks and use the wash room, and then said I would be in contact with Marc the next day or the day after, and said to Yves that it was wonderful meeting him.
The friend I managed to be late for by only five minutes was someone I met in the city when I had visited ten years earlier. He had one of the most interesting minds I've ever known and at the same time lived one of the most uninteresting lives of anybody I'd ever come across. He had as far as I knew only two friends apart from me, and seemed unwilling to accumulate any more. He lived for literature and worked as a night porter, and said that he never got bored because the books always changed and so did the places where he would read them. He did very little reading while at work, since it was a job which allowed him the opportunity to sleep for about seven hours of the ten hour shift. He merely had to be on call if anyone had trouble during the night. He started at eleven, and most people were back at the hotel by one, and he could sleep through till eight, prepare the breakfast things for nine, and then go home. No, most of his reading he would do on park benches and in cafes throughout the city. He said by changing locale it helped him to remember the books he'd read: Paul Auster's The New York Trilogy in a cafe called Le reflet, up a side street in the centre of Paris, Bellow's Herzog somewhere around the Bastille, Kundera's Immortality drinking th a la menthe in Belleville. More classical literature he would usually read in parks - Hardy's Mayor of Casterbridge in Buttes Chaumont, Sentimental Education in Luxembourg gardens, The Charterhouse of Parma in Parc Monceau. If he started a book in one place he would keep returning to the same cafe or park until he had finished it.
We met that evening at a cafe near his flat that was in the fifth arrondissement not far from Odeon, and afterwards had dinner at his apartment. He would often invite me to eat at his place when I was in Paris, and it was rare that I would have a better meal during my time in the city. He was a vegan and much of his fruit and veg came from his aunt's garden on the outskirts of Paris, in a small town called Chaville. Every Sunday he visited her, had dinner there (she was now vegan too), and cycled back to the centre with his pannier bags full of garden produce. He was in his late thirties but looked much younger, and though as far as I knew Eric had never had a girlfriend, equally, I had never known him to express that he was lonely, and nothing in his actions indicated he happened to be. That night we talked as we usually did about books, but I also asked him a few questions about his life. I suppose it was prompted by my earlier meeting with Yves, as if the questions left unanswered around his experience led me to inquire into Eric's.
Eric and I had met in a second-hand English language bookshop where we were both browsing through the letter B, and I saw a book by a little-known Scottish writer that had long been out of print. As I pulled it out, leafing through its pages and looking at its price, and seeing it was in good condition, so I could see someone was looking at me as I was doing so. As I looked back he said he had been looking for the book too. I offered it to him, saying I wasn't sure if I wanted to buy it anyway, and he said he couldn't accept. I insisted - I've never had a very close attachment to books and could see that he did. He thanked me, took it and insisted he must buy me a drink in a cafe nearby. I suspected he might be a literary bore but took the risk, and we talked for several hours about our favourite writers. Though Eric wasn't much of an analytic reader, had never studied literature at university, and hated any mention of theory, he had the capacity to talk of authorial minutiae without making it seem trivial. I recall we talked that day of Kafka, Rilke and Henry Miller, and Eric mentioned that Kafka would take notes on his travels as if in fear of the monotony of passing days without purpose. He mentioned Kafka's fascination with his bowels, as if any irregularity in his life signalled a failure in his health. With Rilke he talked about the writer's letters, and noted that Rilke wondered whether Van Gogh's somehow worked against his art. That he was too articulate about what he was doing, where Cezanne was hopelessly inarticulate on the subject of his work, and needed the paintings to express what he felt. I recall him mentioning something Anais Nin said about Miller: that Miller was always talking to people, in cafes, on the street, and where Nin initially thought this was getting in the way of the work, eventually she could see that it was augmenting it. It was as though Eric read fiction and the life of artists to try and justify how he was choosing to live, and yet though we had talked about these other, literary, lives over the last ten years, it wasn't until that evening we talked of his own.
I started by mentioning my encounter earlier that day with Marc and a friend of his, and then when I said I thought a lot of people might have found Yves mad, he said that he supposed people would have thought he was a little mad also. I'm sure I am wrong, but it seemed to me like it was the first time Eric had ever allowed the conversation to turn so obviously towards him and his own life; and I took it as an opportunity to ask him about how he saw himself. I asked about the past, about the years before I had known him. I expected him to say it was of no importance, or of no interest, but instead he said that a very sad moment in our lives can lead to us finding the right path for ourselves: our vocation perhaps. Initially I thought he offered the comment as an opportunity not to expand upon it; he offered it with what I believed was finality. But after a pause (and there were always pauses in our conversations), Eric said when he was in his early twenties, when he was working in a cafe around Popincourt, and playing guitar in a band, he was also going out with the singer, and his life then was what he would now call egotistically wonderful. The cafe he worked in was a hub for creative people in the area, and while the pay wasn't very good, rents were still quite low, and he would also make money from the gigs the band would play twice a week.
The gigs were usually very crowded, not because they were a great band, though they were okay, but because everybody in the area knew the cafe, and that was where three of the band members were employed. It was as though working in the cafe strengthened their status as a band rather than diluted it. They all worked in the cafe as if they were on a stage, or perhaps a film set; they were public figures serving coffee, croissants, light lunches and so on as if each customer they served was another take in a film they were making: a film about their own success. I asked him if he looked very different then, and as I did so I looked at Eric's face and saw that his features were finer than I realized, and yet like a lot of people who have attractive faces but shy demeanours, a few small details can hide someone's good looks. Eric now had hair that was too fine (though not at all thinning) for the shoulder length style he wore it in, and the glasses he wore were too bold for his small face. He said he supposed he did look different then: he had kept his hair much shorter, and more carefully styled, and he used to wear contact lenses. But that was out of pointless vanity, he added.
I asked him what happened at the cafe, with the group he was in. He paused for more than a moment, as if deciding whether he needed to open another bottle of wine though there was still plenty left in the bottle we were drinking. He said he had moved to the 11th arrondissement after leaving school, and put up adverts saying he was a guitarist looking for a band, while at the same time going into cafes and bars asking if there happened to be any work. He got the job first, and it was there where he said he was a guitarist and a couple of other members of staff said they were thinking of forming a band too. One played bass, the other was a drummer, and so the three of them went out looking for a singer, and it was Eric who found her one afternoon in a square, sitting on a bench, as she sung quietly while listening to music on her headphones. Eric, who was sitting nearby, taking a break from work and taking in some spring sunshine, waited for her to finish, and then went over to her and asked if she was in a band. She thought he was trying to pick her up, and he supposed he was, but he wouldn't have gone over to her if the band weren't looking for a singer, and if there hadn't been something in her voice that appealed to him. It was as if she was a bird more than a human, and she had sung very quietly; she didn't seem to seek attention nor was she oblivious to social decorum. She explained that she would play a song very quietly, listening to it with the headphones, and would sing it slightly more loudly. It was her way of training her voice, she supposed, but she never really thought of herself as having ambitions to be a singer. Eric asked her what she wanted to become if not a singer, and she said that 'want' might not be the word, but she was studying medicine.
He asked if she would consider meeting the other members of the band, and gave her the address of the cafe, or rather pointed it out to her since they could see it from the bench. Later that evening, near the end of the shift, she came in unannounced. He expected her to ring first - they had exchanged numbers - but she arrived saying that she wanted to see the cafe anyway. He said the others weren't there. She said that was fine and waited for the fifteen minutes till his shift finished. At a bar nearby she said it was interesting one can want to be a singer, but didn't someone simply become a doctor? Of course, she added, top grades needed to be got and exams needed to be passed, but, for a good bourgeois like herself, becoming a doctor seemed to have very little of an aspirational aspect. It was expected of her, she said, again with invisible italics.
He thought about what Isabelle said for a moment, and saw that nothing was demanded of him, that his parents hadn't expected him to go to university, hadn't expected him to become a success in any field, and his musical interest they were neither supportive of nor scornful over. They seemed happy to see him get out of the house, and not at all worried that he had chosen to do so by going to Paris. It was clear from this brief exchange that Isabelle and Eric came from different social backgrounds, but Eric felt no resistance to telling her what his parents did (his father was a mechanic; his mother worked as a shop assistant in a bakery), and felt no special desire to hear what her parents' professions happened to be. (Much later she told him that her mother was a doctor and her father worked in finance). That night they kissed on the very park bench they had talked on earlier that day. The park gates in Paris I knew were usually locked by ten, and Eric and Isabelle had climbed over the wall and, adrenalized by their minor misdemeanour, kissed each other as if the kiss itself were part of a criminal offence. They kissed hungrily and hurriedly, perhaps like people about to part for a long-time and snatching kisses to keep in memory. That was how Eric described it, as if he had allowed the image to play in his mind many times as much as literature as recollection.
Isabelle met the other members of the band the next day and was rehearsing with them the day after that, and for a year they were a group who played gigs at the bar, and also other venues around the 11th. Eric said they were a great unobtrusive band, the sort that would play in a venue and still allow the customers to talk amongst themselves. They were a background band, and would introduce themselves at the beginning and thank people for listening at the end. But during the gig, they never introduced the songs, never tried to engage with the audience as people, and Isabelle's voice, which was strong but never forceful, set the tone of a group that wanted to appeal but didn't want to intrude. I said they sounded like my ideal: how many times had I been in a bar in Scotland and the chat I happened to be in the middle of was interrupted by a live band taking over and where conversation would become impossible. Eric said he always saw the group as an accompanying band; not accompanying another group, but accommodating itself to the place, and the people for whom they were playing.
After a year, though, the band split up. Eric and Isabelle went on holiday that summer and the idiosyncrasy of his behaviour became all the more pronounced in the absence of a work routine on his part and the demands of university on hers. Where before she assumed that when she left him alone it was because she was busy but that he would rather be with her, she noticed when they were holidaying in the South of France he would disappear alone for hours and come back as if she had presumably been occupying her time as fruitfully as he had been occupying his. Instead she would sit for hours wondering why he didn't want to go for that long walk with her rather than doing it alone, why he would sometimes go out in the afternoon and walk and watch the sun set without insisting that she watch it with him.
Of course they did many things together during that two week vacation staying in Isabelle's family's holiday home in the village of Ramatuelle, near St Tropez, but it was the things they didn't do that so perturbed Isabelle, and when they got back to Paris she said that she felt neglected, certainly, but even more like an object that one assumes can be left in a cupboard half the day and be played with for an odd hour. He didn't seem to give any thought to her in his absence; she gave him nothing but thought in his.
He knew that she was asking him to change his nature, and he knew that it was unlikely that he could have done so, as even during those two weeks he often felt claustrophobic in her presence, and would go on those long walks to feel the wide vista of his own solitude rather than the cramped closeness of them as a couple. He agreed that they should split up, even though there wasn't a day, perhaps even an hour he would sometimes think, when for a long time afterwards he didn't feel regret at their parting, and the joyful memories of his own solitude seemed inadequate next to the moments he would recall with Isabelle. Yet when he dwelt on this, he saw that finally his sense of regret was for more than the past, it was for not being another person altogether: someone who could have been in her company for days without feeling that he needed to escape.
He had not been with another woman since, he said. If Isabelle felt that she was a subject being turned into an object, maybe he should devote his life to objects that he could treat somehow as subjects, and that was what he did. He found them in books, and knew that he could treat them as well or as badly as he wanted, knowing that sitting on the shelf they would not mind being left there while he did other things. Did he ever think of writing books himself, I asked. Perhaps one day, he said.
He concluded as if there was nothing more to say, but I had several questions for him. I asked what happened to his interest in music, and what happened to the band; and also what happened to Isabelle. He smiled and said shouldn't every story told have its own mysteries. He offered the comment with enigmatic ease, but I suspected the story itself contained within it some distress. I knew that he was unlikely to tell me that evening except under pressure, and that would have felt unethical: in my work as a therapist I would never ask intrusive questions. I thought also, though, of earlier that day, and the conversation I had with Marc by the Seine, and felt in that instance that asking questions was central to sensitivity of response. Here it was to ask no further questions at all.
Over the next couple of days I saw nothing of Eric or Marc, and indeed saw nothing of anybody else either, as I went around Boulevard St Germain and poked my head in some doors that were showing small exhibitions, and sat in cafes watching people. I regretted that I couldn't observe my clients with the scrutiny I could give these strangers. I felt too often I knew much of what was going on in the clients' heads and what they fretted about in their past, but wished sometimes that I could watch them from a cafe and see them for fifteen minutes interacting with others: to see their bodies in motion instead of focusing so exclusively on the words that came out of their mouths.
Over the next week in Paris, though, it was as if my ideal analytic situation did become possible, and strangely not only in relation to one person, but three, as the lives of Eric, Marc and even Yves all became known to me, and made me wonder whether the work I did lacked the contingency, the varying perspectives and the simple observational possibilities, to understand at all well the clients who paid for my services.
I had met Marc and Eric on the Sunday, was alone for two days, and then got a text from Marc on Tuesday in the late afternoon asking if I would like to come round to his for dinner. I accepted, and that evening I said Eric had told me more about his life in a couple of hours than he had told me in all the years that I had known him, and this led Marc to ask if he thought I knew him that well. I said I believed with Eric it was a problem of privacy, even secrecy: that he was wary of disclosing details about his life. With Marc, I thought it was more simple: there were gaps in Marc's life that I didn't know very much about, chiefly because we would see each other once a year, and so there were experiences that remained unknown to me, but where I wouldn't have thought of them as secrets.
He wondered if my friendship with Eric maybe resembled his with Yves, and especially so in that just as Eric had told me more in two hours than in years; so, a few months earlier, Yves had told Marc more about his life in one evening than in the entire preceding period. It came about when Marc and Yves were eating dinner much as we were that particular evening; and Marc asked Yves about a night from years before not long after they had first met. It was after a film screening at the Cinematheque - where Marc and Yves had initially first encountered each other - and during a debate about a film concerning French colonialism in Indochina. Yves made a point that someone else believed was invalid. How could Yves have anything to say on the subject when he was a member of the elite: wasn't his family happy with the French presence there? The other person referred sneeringly to Yves as the prince, and ever since Marc had wondered whether this was indeed true: was Yves a member of the Vietnamese Royal Family? Afterwards Marc had read about Vietnam and found the remark unfair: the elite had resisted French independence; that the royal family had been abolished in 1945 and the Crown Prince lived for years in the South of France.
Yves admitted that he rarely talked about his personal life, but it was not because he was ashamed or proud of his heritage. No, it was more that his past contained within it a tragedy he rarely discussed. He could not quite explain why he was willing to discuss it with Marc that evening, but there were occasions where a space of conversational intimacy would open up between him and another person, and he found the solace of sharing was more pronounced than the feeling of desolation that came out of discussing it.
Yves said that he was indeed from a, formerly, very wealthy family, and talked to Marc more lucidly than ever before. He talked for about forty minutes about his childhood, the presence of the French and so on, but it was what he said afterwards that seemed to explain far more about Yves' personality. When he was twenty three and first living in Paris, he met someone whom he loved instantly and conceived a child with her almost as promptly. The child wasn't an accident no matter the recklessness involved - reckless because neither of them had any money; and she was nineteen. He may indeed have been from the elite, but he was an impoverished member. Their love however seemed to demand a life bond. The child would be this manifestation of that feeling. Yves and Nathalie lived for five years with their young child in an apartment that they rented very cheaply from a wealthy cousin who had left their homeland with more money than he was entitled to - though he was still more entitled to it, Yves supposed, than the French colonialists who took over.
After five years, though, Nathalie left him for a man who was his antithesis: someone from a modest background that was making money in the financial industry in the eighties. Yves would teach French and English to Asians coming to Paris, but he didn't like working very hard, saying to Nathalie that he often felt tired and was wary of exhausting his fragile health, that the people he taught had little money, and he would charge them less than he should have. Marc asked if she took their son, and he said no, that tragedy was kept from him for many years. It was not until the boy was in his early twenties that he was taken from Yves, and that was not by his ex-wife but instead by someone who mugged his son on the street, someone who beat him badly. Yet it was not the beating that killed his son, or not directly. He was in hospital for a couple of days, got out, and then jumped from the window of the apartment they were still living in, the apartment that his cousin had rented to Yves more than twenty years earlier. His son died instantly, and Yves moved out of the apartment as quickly as he could, and that was when he moved to Ivry.
I asked Marc if he knew why Yves' son had taken his own life, and Marc said Yves had thought about this on many occasions, but Marc was the first person with whom he'd offered possible answers. He wondered whether it was the humiliation: the mugger had not used a weapon, merely threw one firm punch and floored his son before taking his wallet, and then kicked him a couple of times while he was on the ground. Then again it could have been because the boy's mother didn't come to the hospital. His son knew that Yves had phoned her to say what had happened. Perhaps, again, it was that a few months before he and a girl his son was very fond of had parted. Possibly there was another reason altogether; or no reason at all. I asked where Yves' flat had been. I would often ask clients spatial details: it helped me ground their remarks. Marc said it was near Luxembourg Gardens, and told me the street, and then added it was above a second-hand English language bookshop. I asked him when exactly it was that Yves's son had killed himself: he said ten years ago, and Yves had given the exact date: it was on his son's twenty second birthday: on August the sixth.
I didn't say anything about it that evening at Marc's, but when he told me of the shop and told me that it was around ten years ago, I thought of my first meeting with Eric, and later, on my way back to the flat, recalled that when we talked that first time he said he'd been to the shop the previous day but the street had been closed off - someone had thrown themselves from the top floor window, and I tried to recall the year that we met.
I had a couple of days left in Paris and met up once more with both Marc and Eric. I told Eric the following afternoon that I had talked to Marc about Yves, and asked whether he could remember when it was exactly we had first gone for a drink. Eric said it was ten years ago, and he could check the precise date: he would always put his name, and the date he purchased the book, on the first page. The question was whether he could recall the books he had bought, and I reminded him it was by a Scottish writer, and mentioned the name. As we sat in a caf not far from Eric's flat, I said though it might sound trivial it was strangely important that I found out precisely when we had first become friends. I then went on to explain that, while it might seem irrelevant, the detail contained within it a situation of some seriousness, as I said that Marc had a friend called Yves, and Yves had a son who may have committed suicide the day before we first met each other. Perhaps the degrees of separation made the death seem unimportant, but this devastating moment for Yves that had been a mere nuisance for Eric might have allowed for our friendship. We went back to Eric's flat; he looked in the book, and there it was: the sixth of August 2002.
The night before leaving for Scotland I told Marc about how Eric and I came to be friends, and that it took one young man taking his life for another couple of not quite so young men to have the chance of a friendship. It was then Marc told me more of his own story, told me more about the woman with whom he had recently split. On the bank of the Seine he had said they broke up because she wanted more time with him than she felt he wanted with her, and when she said this he hesitated, and that hesitation created in her a feeling of anxiety so strong that a few days later she wrote him a letter explaining why she could not stay with him any longer. In it she said that years before she had been with another man not unlike Marc in his attitude towards needing his own time and space, and she could not stay with him because of it, and maybe she had made a mistake a couple of years after that in marrying a man she left not long before meeting Marc. He was, she admitted to Marc, a man who wanted to be with her more than she wanted to be with him, and this man she left out of boredom and not anxiety. But to stay with Marc would be a more serious error still, she believed.
Of course I wondered briefly whether this was the same person Eric had been seeing many years before, but a few further details made it clear it was not. However, as Marc added that he knew he couldn't become the man so many of the women he went out with wanted him to be (a man who would want to share a bed every night and much of his free time with them), so I wondered about Marc, Yves and Eric, and also Yves' son, and also a little about myself. I had long since left a wife and a small child whom I never see, a wife who remarried and said that she wanted her new husband to be the father of my son, and I accepted it perhaps because whether I would like to admit it or not, my love of freedom was more important than the love of my child. My only contact with my son is indirect - through a fund I set up for him and that he would receive on his twenty first birthday in eight years' time. But while I thought about my similarities with both Marc and Eric, I also thought about how these childless men had lived their emotional lives. Eric had chosen it seemed to forego passion with a woman and put it into books, into what he called a vocation, while Marc would pursue these affairs that would he felt have to end, as neither Marc nor the woman could find a way of negotiating their different demands, and he remained an emotional procrastinator. Over the years I knew I had lived more like Marc than Eric, but the next morning as I flew back to Scotland I also wondered about Yves, and the son that he knew well and who took his own life, and the son that I know not at all who l have no reason to assume is anything but fine. I also thought, though, of the irony in having the money to support a son I haven't known since he was two, and an aristocrat who knew his son throughout his life but never really had the money to support him. Yves' was the impoverished life of an aristocrat, perhaps not so much too weak to work but possessed of too much regal pride to feel he ought to do so, and whose son had taken his own life, perhaps because of pride of his own. Mine was the comfortable existence of someone whose son would come into if not a fortune then a sum that would make his life much easier than it seemed Yves' son's life happened to be. I didn't quite know what this said about the socio-political circumstances of the early twenty first century, whether it indicated post-colonial exploitation or democracy at work. My son would not be part of a royal lineage, but he could live, much more than Yves' son, in a kingly manner when he turned twenty one.
I thought also of my psychological taxonomy. I wondered if Eric had sublimated his passion for life into reading, while constantly putting off the book he wanted to write; Yves his take on life into mild madness, ending up with the ill-health (mentally) that he had claimed he possessed (physically); and Marc into fantasising about a future ideal, then where did that leave me? When Mark mentioned that Yves' son had been cruelly taken from his father more than twenty years after he was born, had I not cruelly taken myself away from my son after breaking up with Louise? That feels like another story, and perhaps one where I wish there were an analyst who could see me wandering around Paris and notice the freedom I possessed in return for inflicting a wound on my child: a son who might in years to come use some of the money available to him to pay a visit to a figure not unlike myself.
© Tony McKibbin