I have always thought of myself as a secret romantic. Perhaps not so secret as I mean to be. Perhaps not really secret at all. I was always torn between the great push to be a tough, independent woman and the deep desire to be swept up into an epic love affair complete with jealousy and protection and declarations of undying devotion. I liked to blame it cool on the outside, no matter what I hoped for inside. I was the girlfriend who denounced flowers (“They’re just going to die,”) and found Valentine’s Day un-noteworthy. I was fine hanging out with your friends all the time, and insisted all of our nights out were dutch, nights we never even referred to as actual dates. I wanted so, for so long, to not care about romance. I wanted so to be casual with my emotions, flippant with formality, secure in a love that need not be displayed. I lied a lot. To you, but mostly to myself. What I really wanted was to be loved beyond reason and with every thing you did.
I blame film mostly for these idealistic images of romance. I blame Casablanca, and Gone With the Wind, His Girl Friday and It Happened One Night. And I blame Audrey Hepburn. For everything she ever did, but for Sabrina most of all, which has been my go-to film in sad times for as long as I can remember. I blame scenes where people run in the rain to reach other, and soliloquies expressing unending devotion. I blame the misuse of romantic hyperbole, of dying declarations, and axiomatic edicts to love and cherish forever and ever with the same unbridled passion tomorrow as today. I blame swelling soundtracks and tear-stained eyes, and did I mention Audrey Hepburn?
But if I could, to be honest, dispense with pretension and my efforts to be secretively romantic, or just plain cooler than I am, I must confess that few movies of my time have captured my romantic delusions better than Before Sunrise. I am reminded of this one day, home in bed as MJ sits beside me reading, when I stumble over an article announcing that a final third film is coming out: Before Midnight. I sit up straighter when I see it. I feel a rise of excitement in my stomach, goosebumps forming on my arms, a smile spreading wide across my face. Even dealing with one of the hardest times in my life, I am lifted up by not just the new film, but the memory of the old.
I remember seeing Before Sunrise alone. It was 1996 and my first semester in college, and I had rented it and watched it on the small TV/VCR my parents had bought me for my dorm room. My roommate was away at a softball tournament. I had walked from campus to the nearby shopping center. On the corner across from the grocery store was a small strip mall that housed a surprisingly good Italian restaurant, a dry cleaner’s and a video store. I have long ago forgotten the name of the video store, except to tell you clearly that it was not Blockbuster or Hollywood video or any of those chains that wiped out the independent stores before being ironically wiped out themselves by the likes of Netflix. The video store was a favorite of college kids, primarily for the long standing deal that was written on large posters covering the entirety of the front windows: 5 movies, 5 days, 5 dollars.
For whatever reason I had avoided my friends and opted for a night in, knowing I would have the place to myself for once. I had picked up Thai food from the place across the street and I had picked out my five movies. I don’t remember the other four. I only remember Before Sunrise, which had intrigued me as I fancied myself an indie film connoisseur (a personality type that would later get renamed as “hipster”) and had already seen Richard Linklater’s Slacker. And okay fine, Ethan Hawke on the cover didn’t hurt – he who had stared in the other movie which so greatly influenced my ideas of romance and love: Reality Bites.
I am not going to try and tell you that Before Sunrise is a great film on par with Casablanca or It Happened One Night. It is a good film, it’s incredibly well done. But it’s not the kind of storytelling you probably except. I’m not even going to try and tell you that you will be floored by it’s romance. It’s a very particular kind of romance, I think. A particular notion of human interaction. But it was my notion, before I even knew I had one. It was all about these two people, about connecting and just talking and talking – learning about each other, thinking out loud about life, wondering about issues, and in between flirting and teasing and asking the silly questions, the hypotheticals, the ones you want answers to but may feel cool too ask. And I loved it. It felt real, and it felt like exactly how I hoped love would (I had no personal concept of it at the time). Even as I write this, thinking about the movie, those moments between them, the way it made me feel then, the way it makes me feel even now, I am back to that warm excitement in my stomach, that ache in my heart, those tell tale signs of falling in love, or at least, wanting to.
By the time Before Sunset, the follow up, was realized in 2004 I had my own apartment and a much larger TV complete with DVD player. I had been in and out of love. I’d had my heart broken, and I’d come to enjoy living on my own. I had no longer excepted I would end up in love and I had let go of most romantic notions. And I saw it in the theaters, because I was pretty anxious. The last scene of that movie is forever etched into my mind. Nina Simone sings huskily one of my favorite songs, the lyrics taking over the screen. Just in time. You found me just in time. It restored all of my original teenage desire to be loved in an epic and passionate way.
Since the IUI failed nearly a week ago, I’ve become fixated on romance again. It is hard to explain why, but the sight of the movie poster for the final sequel of this epic love story only ignites my desire more. With MJ I long ago gave up many of my illusions. I welcome the tulips he gets me every year for Valentine’s Days. I plan events for our anniversary and I call even the slightest nights out dates. I keep posted it notes he wrote me years ago taped to my work computer. But though I have given up on hiding my secret romantic side from him, it is hard to express my current state of mind. The one that wants to go to the movies right away to see the new film, and the one that wants to spend all night on the couch watching the old ones with him while making out like teenagers.
I think at first blush it’s about wanting to get back to us, after three years of focusing on getting pregnant, after three years of really mechanical sexual interactions and calendering, and doctor visits and lots of disappointment. That makes sense. But I sense there is more to it. If I’m being really honest, and dispensing with pretension, I think the real reason is this: I feel unlovable. I feel vulnerable. I feel like, here at the end of it, I’ve proved I’m a failure, that I can’t create life, can’t nurture it into existence, can’t give MJ what he wants, can’t be a real woman. And I feel so very much in need of rewriting my story, of being part of something other tale, some other legacy. Something I can succeed at. Something that reminds me of my own value to love and to be loved, not just even if, but especially if it is only the two of us forever and ever.