Frehel Diaries: Low Tide
After our time at the casino, the obligatory three course silent and uncomfortable lunch with the parents, we took Nana, picked up Chunk, and went to the beach for the afternoon.

In many ways I am the living personification of the Holocaust survivor mantra “Never forget.”Oh sure details about things I have to do, phone calls I need to make, meetings I scheduled, checks I need to mail, slip my mind all the time. But my memory of experience doesn’t fade. I can describe to you the shoes I was wearing when I walked across the stage at my graduation from my master’s program at Radio City. I can tell you that the jacket I was wearing the first night I met Eric Kinsman, the red jacket with the silk lining, had a broken zipper. I can close my eyes and describe the morning after my prom down to the weather conditions-down to the conversation about I had with my date about the proper way to eat bagels.

Much of my life has been in pursuit of forgetfulness because. Despite what the Scientologists tell you, we are not meant to remember our lives in such detail. We are meant to forget, not live life in a continuous haze of recollection.

Yet for me, the past isn’t the past. It’s still alive.

Sitting on that beach with the Sauvage, Nana and Chunk, I was reminded of all the summer vacations my family took to Martha’s Vineyard (an island, interestingly, that once used to have such a high population of deaf people that everyone, hearing and non, spoke in sign). There were lots of bad things about those vacations-the sailing lessons, for example, which my father forced me to take for years. But there were good things too. In the mornings, we would bike to Edgartown for breakfast-a raisin bagel toasted with cream cheese on the pier, then on the way back select a fairly empty beach. My father would go out and swim in the ocean. I would swim some, and spend some of the day combing the beach for pretty rocks and shells. My mother would spend all day slathered in the heaviest sunblock she could find hiding under a large sunhat she bought in Chinatown. There was also a pool at the hotel, and I spent hundreds of hours in that pool perfecting my handstands, finding out exactly how many somersaults I could do in a row, diving for change my father threw and trying to catch it before it hit the bottom. One of my father’s favorite stories was that the son of the owner, as a thank you for housing the crew of Jaws, was cast in the movie as one of the victims. It was that same son who taught me how to swim.

At night, we would go to the Black Dog for dinner, which was right on the beach. Afterwards, we would walk through the town. We would go to the bookstore and peruse books, always buying a stack that would we would ravenously devour on rainy afternoons. We would go to the local ice cream store for which there always a long line. Other nights, we would go to La Grange where there was a huge black Haitian chef who made the best frog leg’s I’ve ever had. Allegedly it was one night at La Grange where Philip Roth, on his way out, saw me reading at the table and patted my head on his way by. When I was very young walking along the beach, my parents would grab each hand and swing me in the air.

How I loved to feel weightless.

Sitting on the beach all of those memories come flooding back, and I realize the one ring I’ve brought with me is a ring my father bought me for me there. Although I want to say I was 13 (one of the other strange qualities about my memory is that although I have vivid recall of details, my sense of temporal reality, even in memory, is distorted and unreliable), but I know I had to be closer to nine or ten. There was a new jewelry store across from the Black Dog. There was a silver ring. Very simple, a flat silver two headed snake that entwined itself around the finger.

I looked down and realized that I was wearing it on my ring finger.

It was, of course, the perfect symbol-married to an overthinking, but sinful lifestyle-too much head, but still awfully tempting and deceptive for all of that.

He must have saw the look on my face and asked me what I was thinking. I told him, in my hobbling pidgin French, that I was thinking of my father and vacations I used to take with him as a child.

I can’t explain it to him, not in any more detail than that, too many words I don’t know, too many concepts I can’t explain. Is it better or worse that he doesn’t know? That I can’t explain? “You miss him?” It’s almost a statement, but not quite. Something about the inflection demands a response.

Most of the time, saying I miss my father is like a person saying, “I miss syphilis.” But, on rare occasion, I do have a moment where I miss him.

But this was not that moment. No, it was a simple sadness about the little good from my childhood I can remember. A moment in which the past flickered in front of me like a mirage only to be dissipated by the voice of another. But I know what is expected of me. I’m supposed to be a good girl even now. Say yes, I miss him. Even though it isn’t true. Not even now. Because the truth is, if he was alive, he would absolutely hate how I’m living my life. Traveling over the ocean for a french lover? It’s at moments like this I ponder the fact that I’ve almost made a second career out of collecting lovers my father would have hated. Living a life he would have never approved of.

“From time to time” I say. It’s not exactly a lie, if it isn’t exactly the truth either. “He would have hated you.” I remark by way of explaining why it’s a good thing he is dead. “Hated me? Why?” “Because you’re French. World War Two.” He seems disturbed by this revelation, although I don’t know why. I mean if one of his parents can hate me because I’m American, it seems only fair that my dead father hate him because he’s French. Still, I decide to reassure him. “ Don’t worry about it. He hated the Russians, the Swiss, the Germans.” He paused. “He liked other Americans.” I start to laugh. Of course, he’s still thinking my father was sane. “No, he hated them too.” I can see the confusion on his face. “Because they were Christian. He thought they were anti-semitic.” If I had language, I would be able to explain that my father, really, hated everyone including me. Including himself. Instead I just look at the Savage and say in English, “Yep, he would have killed you.”

He pauses for a moment-looking at me hesitantly.

“Oh, don’t worry,” I continue, “He would have killed me first.”

Frehel Diaries: Needful Things
All you people are so scared of me. Most days I'd take that as a compliment. But it ain't me you gotta worry about now. -Riddick (played by Vin Diesil) in Pitch Black

Because I was raised under unusual circumstances by an insane father who was so self centered that the words "Here there be monsters" should have appeared at the tips of his shoes and my enmeshed enabling mother, it's hard for me to know what is normal behavior for children. For example at nine years old, I was wearing a backbrace and two leg braces. I was seeing specialists and once a week went to physical therapy where I had my hip flexors massages. That may sound nice, but anyone with tight hip flexors will tell you that is about as far from relaxing as you can imagine. And I was not to complain and certainly not to cry. In fact my parents wanting to live in the delusional dream that I was a "normal child" didn't want me to talk about what I was going through at all. And so I went through all of this with a stiff upper lip, a tome of Shakespeare tucked under my arm.**

And this was at nine years old.

So Nana's habit of bursting into tears three or four times of day for reasons like she didn't like her father's tone of voice, well, I found it disturbing. But worse, I didn't know if this was because there was something wrong with me or something wrong with her. There were, however, other factors. Like the fact that they walked ahead of me, while I trailed behind, walking as fast as I could. There was also the fact that if she cried or pouted, everything had to stop. While the first time I witnessed this it was touching, now when I saw it, it made me sad. It was what I hadn't had as a child. And because I hadn't had it and couldn't have it, I could feel an instinctive hatred, resentment of it, beginning to develop. And thus I knew my judgement of it was clouded. Was I disturbed because it was disturbing or was I disturbed because I am disturbed and unable to fathom an actual healthy father-daughter relationship? And how much would it cost me to call my therapist from Frehel and ask her these questions?

He dashed off in the morning to take her to her riding lessons. After he returned, we drank coffee at a local cafe and chatted about the only thing we could actually talk about-movies and tv shows where I continued to be amazed how much craptacular TV we had exported and how willing the French were to watch it. About the only decent American movie the Sauvage had ever watched was Young Frankenstein. After coffee, we went and picked Nana up. We all went to the saddest casino I've ever been in, which was located in Sable D'or Les Pins.

While I have one golden rule about gambling-I never bet on ANYTHING unless I know I'm going to win 1 I've been all over Vegas. I've been in some gorgeous huge casinos, and even though I don't like casinos I have to admit the Bellagio is splendid. This casino, by contrast, was sadder than even the saddest casino in Atlantic City. It was basically a big box with a few gambling tables, a few slots, some videogames for the kiddies, and a bar. What was even sadder was the fact that there was a casino here made this little town a tourist attraction. The level of development in Sable D'or, the number of hotels, bars, cafes, and even crappy snack stands clearly indicated that this town was one of the tourist hubs in the immediate area. All because of this pathetic excuse for a casino.

The Sauvage and I ordered coffee while Nana drank water with a green flavored syrup in it.2 After quickly drinking her water, she wanted another. The Sauvage told her no. There was the slow turn, the pout, the silent tears. The Sauvage refused to relent so when the waiter neared our table she took it upon herself to order another one. He said nothing to her. A moment later ,he kissed her head and fluffed her hair. She asked for change to play video games. He gave her a handful. She took her water and bounced a way.

He looked at me and began to struggle with English for a moment. “I llllllllove her,” he finally said. He fought his way through English to tell me, the girl who flew across the ocean and then braved a seven hour car ride and a toilet a la turque, that he loved his daughter. This much I know. If deprived of all my senses and buried in an underground chamber for a year, I would still be able to feel that he loves his daughter. It’s that self evident. That obvious. That overwhelmingly clear. When you leave your girlfriend behind and prefer to walk with your daughter hand in hand on the beach, you don't need language to communicate that love.

There are people who think that I am amazingly needy. An interesting perspective considering how much of my life is spent alone and how much of my life has been dedicated to helping other people. Not just as a teacher. I won't go on about it here, but I'm more generous than I let on and kinder than I am comfortable with. If I'm so needy, than why am the one who is always willing to travel, to inconvenience myself,

I looked at her playing video games, blithely unaware of everything her father is doing for her. His apartment decorated in her picture. She simply takes what she wants. Nine years old and already adepts at manipulation with her long blonde hair and her slightly lopsided smile. Understanding the effect of tears while I couldn't cry in front of a man until I was 20 years old. She will grow up to be beautiful, but demanding. She'll expect to be the center of a man's world-catering to her whims. Yet she'll have no sympathy for the sacrifices for others, having made none herself. In another 10 years, she'll be a monster eating the hearts of French college boys by the fistful. They will twist themselves into double helixes and reverse the laws of physics in order to run their fingers through her hair or get a flash of that ridiculous smile. And instead of being grateful for it, she'll barely even be aware of it.

Me needful? You people have no idea the terror that is awaiting you in another 10 years.

** At nine I was actually reading Shakespeare, and not a special kiddie version. This was because I hated when medical staff condescended to me. I thought if they saw what I was reading, they would talk to me like a normal person befitting my intelligence. Instead they failed to take note of the reading. It is because of this repeated experience, I deeply hate anyone condescending to me or failing to address me as an intellectual equal or, more likely the case, superior.

1 I actually managed to win 2 bets on my virginity, one I knew about and one I didn't. In both cases I won by keeping it. The first bet was that I wouldn't make it to 18 a virgin. I made this bet with my closest and oldest friend. The second was that I wouldn't make it through prom night a virgin. I didn't find out about that bet until the following week. While I won both those bets, by the time I was 19 I was not a virgin, but just barely.

2 The French are very fond of using syrups not just to flavor wine, like kir, but to flavor water as well.

3 While the word "nana" in French is slang for a babe or a "hottie", it is also the title of a Zola novel about a beautiful but heartless courtesan. It is precisely for this reason I chose this name for her. Since the Sauvage met in an Assomoir (L'assomoir, or the Drinking Den, being the title of the novel that details the life of Nana's parents and her birth), I thought this especially appropriate.

Frehel Diaries: Ma Vie En Rose

“A quel demon bienveillant dois-je d’etre amis entoure de mystere, de silence, de paix et de parfums? O beatitude ce que nous nommons generalement la vie, meme dans son expansions la plus heurues, n’a rien de commun avec cette vie supreme don’t j’ai maitenant connaissance et que je savoure minute par minute, second par second.”

“To what benevolent demon do I owe the joy of being thus surrounded with mystery, with silence, with peace and with perfume? O beatitude! That which we generally call life, even when it is fullest and happiest, has nothing in common with that supreme life with which I am now acquainted and which I am tasting minute by minute, second by second!”
The Double Room by Charles Baudelaire (translated by Michael Hamburger)

Now playing: Eartha Kitt - La vie en Rose
via FoxyTunes

I figure after dinner, we will drive back to the hotel, but instead he drives us down by the ocean and turns off the lights. He turns up the radio, and I look out over the sand to the ocean and the moon. It's a clear bright night lit up occasionally by the lighthouse on Cap Frehel. He kisses me passionately and feel his hands exploring first over my shirt and then under. He pulls my shirt off my shoulders, followed by my bra. How long has it been since I made out in a car? Almost a decade. And I've never made out in a car by the ocean. The music is too loud for me to hear the pounding of the surf, but I can feel it-the pull of the elements. There is a part of me that wants to pull off all my clothes and go running into the surf. It's been far over a decade since I skinny dipped, particularly in a natural body of water. But I would have to extricate myself from this embrace first, which would be nothing short of impossible. He leans back, my breasts exposed to the night. He places my right foot on the dashboard and then allows his hand to travel up my pant leg. His kisses swallow any objection I have, any fear of being caught. I have no idea how far this is going to go, but I suddenly regret that I wore jeans to dinner instead of a skirt.

Eventually, he leans back and lights a cigarette. I pull up my shirt as I take one cig from the pack and light up as well. As we sit inhaling the night and the music, two cars come down and park near us. It's a pack of teenagers. They spread out-one unhappy couple bickering by the car, another couple making out on the front hood, the unmatched or not yet matched playing with glowsticks on the sand with members occasionally peeling off to coax the couples to join the group. One of them comes up to our window to chat. I am amazed at this attitude, which I see all over France. In New York we go out of our way not to see people we are practically on top of, but here a few words about "Hi, how are you? Here for a vacation? Have a nice night" are exchanged no matter how odd the circumstances. And here we are a 42 year old single French father and his 32 year old American mistress surrounded by a motley gaggle of French teenagers. But "En France, as the Sauvage would say "C'est normale" (In France, this is normal).**

Eventually all the teenagers light out onto the sand, until they become like fireflies. The only reminders of their presence are the flitting glowsticks that dip and swoop and twirl seemingly suspended in the night air. I sit looking out at the ocean and the lighthouse, and I think, "If anyone had ever told me I would be having this moment even 6 months ago, I wouldn't have believed them." A year and a half before, a man I had known for 12 years asked me what I wanted and what I said was I wanted to be surprised again. The last time I had the feeling was on the balcony of the Bellagio hotel. The world had seemed full of wonder and beauty that I couldn't even imagine, and it was all spread out below me just waiting for me to put out my hand. I had given up on ever having that feeling again. People were predictable and simple as was life. And life after that moment seemed to be dedicated to nothing more than beating to me to death with predictable monotony and loss. Daily reminders, like the pounding of the surf, of all I had lost. Not just love, not just someone to come home to and a life goals previously thought unattainable firmly in my grasp, but an entire world. I had lost my capacity to find beauty. But now, I had found it again. Here I was at harmony with these vast elemental forces-looking out at the Ocean, the night, the sand, looking at Eternity, and not knowing what it held and yet feeling completely calm. Knowing that I had found what I thought could not be achieved in a way that I never anticipated. The universe had, indeed, eventually given me exactly what I wanted. Desire, romance, adventure, and most importantly surprise. And I am in that moment, deliciously happy.

What the Sauvage is thinking I do not know nor does he ask me what I am thinking, which I wouldn't be to translate.

And the night is done with surprises either...

He takes me back to the hotel room, and, in silence, makes love to me like a man who wants to spend his last night on Earth getting through as much as the Kama Sutra as possible. I didn’t know that I could actually hold a full plough position for that long. My yoga teacher would have been so proud. Afterwards, I'm so exhausted I fall asleep in his arms without being aware of it.

** I am not being condescending here. There are many words in French that look similar to English, but have very different meanings so I thought I would clarify, just to be on the safe side.

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