For years we were united as a solitary front, and nothing seemed capable of rending us asunder. But one day I woke up, gazed over at him lying next to me and thought to myself, “This just isn't working anymore.” I was no longer satisfied with what Oscar was able to provide. It wasn't that he withdrew his affection from me. No, the problem, I felt, was that somehow he had not kept up the pace: he had not evolved. He started to become, sad to say, like a broken record, like a bad lyric from a seventies pop song which I could not purge from my mind. What used to be endearing turns of phrase now seemed hackneyed and banal. The “knowing” gazes had become annoying in the extreme, like the sound of styrofoam rubbing against styrofoam or fingernails dragged across slate.
What had drawn me to Oscar in the beginning was the novelty and excitement, the richness and glamour that seemed to envelop us in a golden glow whenever I was at his side. But now, suddenly, everything had changed. Somehow Oscar had lost his luster. He was growing older, it is true. But so was I, and as time went by, he slowly transformed from desirable to cloying, clinging to me like a vine. Snapping at me, it seemed at times, like a Venus fly-trap, at the slightest provocation. Irritating me with his predictable tics and histrionic mannerisms. The sparkle of the freshly poured champagne which our relationship once was had evaporated entirely away, leaving flat, warm, stale, urine-colored liquid in a glass abandoned by a drunken guest who passed out on the deck.
I had traveled many paths in many different directions over the years since our initial tryst, and each individual experience of mine had changed the person who I was. Yes, there was a continuous thread running through my life, and I cannot say that I had not retained any of my former self—surely some of my cells were the same—yet, it was nonetheless true that who I was, the referent of my name, had gained new perspectives, ideas, and beliefs. Oscar remained ever faithful to me, through thick and thin, in health and in sickness, right up to the bitter end. And it was, at least to him, of that you may rest assured.
I had loved him so, and at times promised to be with him and him alone forever, that I would never, ever abandon him. But as the adage—or is it platitude?—goes, "Never say never.” The problem with such promises—“'Til death do we part,” “I will love you forever,” “I love you more than life itself,” the list goes on and on—is precisely the problem with the oath witnesses are required to make before testifying in a court of law, their hand hovering hypocritically over the Holy bible: “I promise to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help me God.” The whole truth, of course, could only be uttered by God Himself, and so with the recitation of this oath, all bets are now off, as the witness has committed, at best, the ultimate act of blasphemy. But wait, there's more: the witness has also effectively perjured himself—whether wittingly or not, and I presume that in the vast majority of cases the person has not actually lied, though what he has said is also not true, even if he happens to believe that the word 'God' is not a surd, and the book over which his hand hovers is not filled with fairy tales. But I digress...
When we promise unerring devotion to someone like Oscar, we are who we are when we make that pledge. Later, we become someone else. Yes, we are the person who spoke those words, but later on down the line, they may no longer seem binding at all. For now we know more, much more than we did, and had we not been gripped by our ignorance of what we now know, we would never have uttered—or sputtered—those words!
What was it, then, that ultimately drove us apart? What was the wedge? What melted the blissful bond between us? Although it may sound mean to confess, I just felt that Oscar had become predictable and hum-drum. He wasn't a bum, squatting in my apartment while I paid the bills, leaving piles of dry pasta-encrusted dishes in the sink, half-empty cans of old beer in the living room, and stinky laundry on the floor. No, he always did his fair share, fully prepared to pull his own weight. But slowly, over time, he began to grate on my nerves. Where I used to see a regal, roaring lion, I now saw a scraggly, whimpering dog.
His doting devotion began to suffocate me to the point where I devised pretexts allowing me to avoid encounters with him. At some point, and this was perhaps the beginning of the end, I began explicitly to lie. No, I'd pretend, I could not go out tonight. A paper, some reading, a headache, even a hospitalized friend who needed my help—the excuses became more frequent and more creative in direct proportion to my feeling of desperation to escape from the trap that Oscar had become, the ball and the chain, the shackles holding me back, the prison, yes, of my own creation, but a prison all the same. I was gasping for breath, screaming in my mind “Give me some air!” not at all unlike the Susan Hayward character in the Robert Wise film I want to live! (1958), based on the true story of a woman framed for a murder and awaiting on death row her unjust execution. I had never bargained for this, and yet here I was, latched to Oscar, who would not release his tenacious clasp as I struggled to break away. I had embarked upon a journey toward self-actualization, while he remained the same, in what began to seem like an ever-more stagnant state.
Truth be told, I've left many a suitor in my wake: Oscar was my first love, but he was certainly not the last to be left in the dust kicked up by my spinning wheels. The ranks of those who once wooed me have swelled by now to the point where Oscar himself may no longer mind that I pay him no heed. Femme fatale? Not likely to be Oscar's view of the matter. Try: “shameless hussy” or “treacherous tramp”. What did Oscar and the many others littering the path I've traveled down ever do to me? In a word: nothing. They never did anything wrong to me at all. They had remained the same, ever faithful, but somehow fell out of my favor, not because they had changed, but because I, in contrast, had.
So, you see, the story reads quite differently, told from the other side. Some perfumes exhibit a remarkable stability, are never reformulated and never go stale, but still they become mere memory traces, no less than our most beloved discontinued vintage perfumes, which cannot, it seems, be resuscitated even by an act of God (or reasonable facsimile). Meanwhile, adding insult to injury, cheap imposters carry forward their names. But in the case of the perfumes abandoned in the back of my armoire, there is no one to blame. We may retain fond memories of what our love once was, but now that the love is gone, Oscar, too, has become a part of the past, yet a chapter in my personal history of perfume.
(written in October 2011)