“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”
I walked into the bar, hoping to see the young man again. He said he was not going anywhere. He said he would be here waiting for me. I did my part – I made the best effort to bring my mind back here, to the gloomy, dimly lit bar with quirky, sorrowful jazz music. I looked around. There were not a lot of people and I easily spotted the young man, in his faded suit, at a corner, moving his head and hand along the rhythm.
– Mr. Fitzgerald? – I approached him, feeling much more confident than the last time. – Remember me?
He was as sober as ever. His bright eyes looked up at me and in a quick split second, he smiled. The wrinkles around his eyes accentuated the maturity and sadness.
– The girl who thought she should be the smart one to call other fools. – He grinned.
I felt a little offended by that. I never said so. I never thought so. Or did I? But his warm voice telling me he had been waiting for me calmed me down. It felt good to know someone wanted to see me.
– I read your blog. – He said slowly after I had sat down. – Your personal one, not the one about your travel though.
– I’m sorry? – My jaw dropped just like in the very first second I saw him. – How could you…? I thought this was the 20s. Which decade is this? Where are we?
– We are in your dream, dear. – He said warmly and patted on the back of my hand. His hand, large and rough, and the way he called me dear. I smiled.
– You read all the posts?
I felt embarrassed. That personal blog was my diary, containing my deepest thoughts and ideas. Yes, I made it public, but I was sure no one I knew personally would read it. And I didn’t mind if people I never met, people who didn’t know who I was, could read it. What could they do? But no, I was not ready to have a conversation about my blog posts with someone, anyone, let alone the great mind Scott Fitzgerald.
– Only the ones written in English, of course.
That was better. The Vietnamese posts were all stories of me having troubles in high school exams. But anyway, why should I be bothered if he read the Vietnamese posts as well? He was in my dream. He was in my brain. And I was dictating what he would say, what he could say.
– Which one do you like best? – I asked, feeling more secure. The glass of kamikaze might probably have helped.
– I don’t remember the title, but it was the one where you wrote “That was when I realized we had been living in a lie, pretending we could forget the past but what had happened could never be erased. It was imprinted in our mind, leaving scars in our heart that could never be changed. The past, no matter how much we tried to leave it behind, to run away from it, would always find its way back to haunt us.”
– That was one of my proudest phrases too.
– I wrote it better though. – He said with a wink.
– The famous last line of The Great Gatsby? So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past?
– Exactly. – He clicked his tongue and I laughed. I never thought he would be so boyish. Maybe because it was my dream and I wanted him to behave that way. – But my question is, do you really think so? You wrote your past haunted you. Does it? How much does your past affect your present life? Did you make the decisions you made because you couldn’t escape your past, or because of some other reasons?
– Of course every decision I make is influenced by my experiences, which were shaped by my past.
– Is it? – Fitzgerald smiled, his eyes sparkled.
Just like the last time, he left me with a 2-syllable question and directed his eyes to the stage area. A beautiful blonde girl was singing Somewhere over the Rainbow in jazz style and Fitzgerald was immediately lost in her mysterious voice.
It felt as if I was sitting in my Sociology class again, discussing the roles of social norms and social positions in shaping my life. Maybe I would post my final paper for that class on my blog so Fitzgerald could read one day. Of course my past experiences shaped everything in my life. That man was weird, he challenged me every time, whether I agreed with him or not.
– You were disgusted by the notion of marriage when you wrote those sentences, my dear girl. – Having found himself detached from the singer’s voice, Fitzgerald calmly reminded me. – But look at you now, aspiring for love, believing wholeheartedly in a cordial, long lasting marriage. When did you change? How did you change?
– Now that’s something you don’t understand. It was my disbelief in true and eternal love that destroyed my last relationship. And how did I develop that disbelief? From my parents’ unsuccessful marriage. In that sense, I couldn’t escape the past. I let it control my present life. Because my parents treated each other like commodities, I thought my boyfriend treated me like commodities too, although in fact, he treated me quite well.
– There, stop right there. – Fitzgerald jumped in my mouth with victorious expression. – He treated you quite well. What do you mean? Why not “very well” but “quite well”? Why did you think he treated you like a commodity? Was it because of your parents or something else? Let me remind you of the real reasons. He wanted to have sex with you on your third date. Then he dropped a half-hearted apology. When you told him you wanted a serious relationship with trust that was not just about sex, he scoffed at that idea. He didn’t even apologize the second time he asked you to sleep with him. He called his female friend “honey” but never did so to you. He said he loved another female friend but never even said he liked you. He tried to make that friend happy when she was feeling down but never ever cared when he made you sad. He never picked up the phone when you called him. He didn’t make you feel special. Darling, you didn’t trust him because he was not trustworthy, because he treated you like shit, not because of your past.
I knew what he said was all true. I was just in denial. I didn’t want to think that I wasted my feelings for such a guy. I didn’t want to admit I was so lonely and desperate to have someone I could label “boyfriend” that I tolerated all his mental and emotional abuse.
– What’s your point? – I bit my lip.
– I was wondering what past you were talking about when you wrote those sentences. – Fitzgerald said dreamily. – You were 20, you were never poor, you never suffered, you were never in love, you were never rejected, you had everything. I thought you stole that idea from my masterpiece novel, but then I saw that you didn’t read my novel until a whole month afterward. And I realized as I continued reading your blog…You thought you made the decisions with influence from your past, but you’re not. You’re too young to have a past, to have experiences that you can draw on. You’re simply living your life, making decisions based on the present. What you’re doing right now will become your past later. Right now, you’re just creating your own history.
There was a time I would get angry when someone, anyone, said I was too young to do something. That time had passed. Maybe that was one of the signs of maturity – admitting you didn’t know it all ?
– Then how did you do that? – I asked. – You were not that older than me when you published The Great Gatsby. You were only 29, merely 6 years older than me now.
– But I already lived a whole life by that time.
– I want to be like that.
– Then my beloved girl, wake up and create your own history.
Fitzgerald’s large, rough hand patted on my shoulder and I woke up.