My first true love was a slutty drunk.

She was a lot older than me when we met. I was 18. She was engaged to her soon-to-be second husband.

And she was “damned good looking,” according to Ernest Hemingway. My first love was Lady Brett Ashley, the lead female role in The Sun Also Rises.

Although, he never really describes her physical features in too much detail, I know what he meant by “damned good looking.”

She is a 34-year-old divorcee, engaged to one man, involved with others, runs off with a 20-year-old bullfighter but is really in love with the impotent hero of the novel, Jake Barnes. A war injury, however, left Barnes unable to do the deed. Even Jake’s “true” love can’t contain her spirit. She can’t stay with him, and she blames his “problem.” At the end, we know Brett to be as flawed as at the start and both still in love. You are left angry with her for not being able to change so she can be “happy.” She laughs and plays and dances away at the end  … still “damned good looking.”

I was in love.

****

I’ve been a Hemingway fan from the start. I wanted to be him. In college, I majored in journalism and creative writing. At 20, I drove my old Volkswagen bus down into Mexico to camp on the beach and write the great American novel. My novel was called Sometime Manana in reference to the “Manana Culture” of Mexico.  The story’s heroine, Whitney Pearce, was a former scholarship volleyball player who walked away from her parents, their money, their dreams and expectations to work as a nanny near Puerto Vallarta. She befriended a 60-year-old expatriate, JT, who lived on his aging boat in a marina when his son, Mitch, comes down to reunite.

You haven’t read it because it was terrible. I am not sure that I let anyone ever read much of it. I think there is a copy of it in a file folder in my basement.

My model for Whitney was Brett (She was technically Lady Ashley but I am sure she would want me to call her Brett). She was beautiful, confident, didn’t really follow the rules. She falls for Mitch but then realized that while he made her happy, he wasn’t really what she needed to fix her broken life. In the end, having learned her lessons, she returned home to live happily ever after.

But that was the difference in Hemingway’s Brett and my Whitney. See, Hemingway created Brett and presented her in all her glory and with all her flaws and beauty intact. At the end she is still the beautiful, amazing, exciting, depraved, wretched, flawed woman she was at the beginning. And I still loved her.

Whitney was different, while she started out she was very similar to Brett but I realized, as the author, I was free to “fix” her into the person I wanted her to be. So I smoothed out her rough edges and rounded her sharp imperfections.

I fixed her up so good that she didn’t work. I didn’t love for her anymore. I didn’t even like her.

I ruined my perfect woman by making her “perfect.”

****

I am not saying we shouldn’t work to change things to fit the mold we want — just learn to look and recognize that this is the world we live in and the people we live in it with. We have to learn to accept it all while working to change it … and sometimes understanding that perfect, isn’t perfect.

Maybe perfect isn’t even a thing.

And despite your religious or spiritual leanings, that is really the universal wisdom of the Serenity Prayer. Change what you can, accept what you can’t and search for wisdom to know the difference.

Sometimes there is truth in the beer hall philosopher’s simplistic lament, “It is what it is.”

Because sometimes, it just is.

****

I still visit her once a year or so when I reread the story. The old feelings are still there.

Despite it all, I like to think that I could have made things work out with Brett. Lets face it true love conquers all, right? That is what we tell ourselves … we can fix it and make everything better.

And maybe she would have eventually changed and settled down. And maybe not. We have this idea that all things could be something else. And they can. Except when they can’t.

Acceptance is as much a skill set as perseverance.

Brett’s impotent beau and the narrator of the novel, Jake Barnes, seemed to understand. He was in love too. He was just smarter than me. He knew that changing his disability or Brett’s “frivolity,” wouldn’t have fixed things either. It might have ruined the very things they loved about each other, whether they could ever really love or not.

The novel ends with the two of them reunited in a taxi, sitting close together. She says to him:

“Oh Jake, we could have had such a damned good time together.”

“Yes,” He said. “Isn’t it pretty to think so?”

 

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