I’ve said so much about Anne and myself, and barely mentioned dad. It’s not that his part wasn’t the most important in this story, not that I don’t think he’s interesting… I’ve never loved anyone like I loved him, and of all the emotions which drove me, back then, those I felt for him were the most stable, the deepest, the ones I held onto the most. I know him too well to speak freely, it feels too close… But it’s him who I have to spend the most time explaining, to make him seem acceptable.
He wasn’t a vain guy, and he wasn’t big headed. But he took nothing seriously and there was no cure for that. It’s not that he was incapable of deep emotions, he wasn’t irresponsible. His love for me shouldn’t be underestimated, it wasn’t just a habit he had to have as a parent. He suffered more for me than he did for anyone. And that despair which came upon me one day must have been because he was starting to desert me, start to turn his eyes away… He never abandoned me during his affairs… Some evenings he would pass up what Webb would have called ‘a beautiful opportunity’ so he could take me back to the house. But apart from that he was absorbed in his own pleasure, he was fickle and pretty easy, I can’t deny it. He didn’t really think what he was doing. He offered these physiological explanations, which he thought was smart: “If you can’t bear yourself, it’s simple – sleep less, and drink more.” He was the same about the violent desire he would suddenly feel for a woman, he didn’t dream of blaming himself for it, or try to make it into something more complex. He was materialist, but was understanding, and a good guy, in the end.
This desire that he felt for Elsa annoyed him, but maybe not like you’d expect. He didn’t think “I’m leading on Anne, and that means my love is less real”, instead it was: “It’s tedious, needing Elsa. I’d better get it over and done with so there aren’t any complications with Anne.” On top of that he did love Anne, he admired her, she turned him away from this series of flings and stupid women that he’d spent so much time with in the past few years. She satisfied at the same time his vanity, his sensuality and his sensitivity because she understood him, offered an intelligence and experience to challenge his. Now, whether he felt the seriousness of Anne’s feelings towards him, I’m less sure. He saw her as the perfect mistress, and an ideal mother for me. Did he think of her as “the perfect partner” along with all that would mean in terms of duties? I don’t think so. I’m sure that in Sal and Anne’s eyes he was basically a bit weird, like me. But that didn’t stop him having a life of passion, because he considered that a pretty basic need and he put everything into it. I didn’t think about him when I came up with the plan to get Anne out of our lives – I knew he would get over it like he did everything: tearing him away would cost less than that uneventful life would, because he wasn’t really effected or sapped by anything except habits and plans, like I was myself. We were so like each other, him and me. Sometimes I thought we were embodying beautiful and perfect nomads, and other times just poor and dried out pleasure seekers.
At that time, he was suffering, or at least exasperated. Elsa had become for him the symbol of his past life, of youth, of his youth mostly. I felt him aching to just come out with it – “Anne, my love, give me a day, I just need to go show this girl that I’m not a washed up old guy. I just need to exhaust my need for her body, then I’ll be at peace.” But he couldn’t tell her – not because Anne was jealous or completely virtuous and unbending on that subject, but because she’d accepted to live with him based on the following conditions: that his phase of easy flings and orgies had finished, that he was no longer behaving like a student but like a man she could trust with her life, and that because of this he couldn’t act like an idiot anymore, a slave to his drives and should instead be a gentleman. And you couldn’t blame Anne for that, it was a perfectly normal and healthy thing to expect, but that didn’t stop my Dad from fancying Elsa. He wanted her more and more, more than anybody, and with that double desire we have for forbidden things.
And I could have done it then, easy. All it would have taken would have been telling Elsa to give in to him, and to think of some reason to take Anne to Nice or somewhere to spend an afternoon. When we got back we would have found my newly relaxed dad, full of a renewed tenderness for regular relationships, or at least ready to become so when I went back to school… There was also another thing that Anne wouldn’t have accepted – to have been a mistress like all of the others: temporary. Her dignity and self respect made life so difficult…
But I didn’t say to Elsa to give in, or that Anne should go with me to Nice. I wanted the feeling in my dad’s heart to infest him and make him make a mistake. I couldn’t stand the contempt that Anne had for our past, this stupid contempt she had for what my dad and me had called happiness. I didn’t want to humiliate her, just make her agree with the way we thought about it. She needed to know that my dad had tricked her, and she needed to take it as it really was, just a purely physical fling, not as an attack on her personal value, or her honour. If she wanted to be right at any cost, she had to let us be wrong.
I even pretended to ignore the torment my dad was in. Above all I couldn’t let him confide in me, or force me to become his accomplice in talking about Elsa and sidelining Anne. I pretended that his love for Anne was sacred, and Anne herself too. I found it easy, actually. The idea that he could trick Anne like that and face up to it filled me with terror and a wave of admiration.
While we waited, we had a great time for a few days as they flowed past. I took every chance to get my dad excited about Elsa. Anne’s face no longer filled me with remorse. Sometimes I thought she would just accept everything and that we would live a life with her that suited both our tastes and hers. But I kept on meeting Sal in secret and having sex. The smell of pine trees and the noise of the sea, and the feeling of his body against mine… He began to regret his role in the plan, he found it so distasteful. He only accepted it because I told him our relationship depended on it. There was a lot of pretending, and interior silence, but so little effort, and so few lies! (All that made me judge myself were my own actions…)
I’m brushing over this period because I’m afraid that by looking I’ll drag up memories that will overwhelm me. Already if I think of Anne’s happy laugh, her kindness, then something hits me, with an evil low thud which makes me feel ill and breathless. I feel so close to bad conscience that I’m forced to come back to some motions – lighting a cigarette, playing a track on spotify, messaging a friend. Little by little, I think of other things. But I don’t like it, having to go over the failures again, the simpleness of my mind, instead of fighting them. Even if I might be glad to have them, I don’t want to remember.