Ivor W. Hartmann - Lost Love
Life leaves us. There's no other way around it, and the worst part is that its leaving happens quicker the older we are. Days, long as children, are fleeing as adults, and too often filled with work, obligations, demands, requirements. There comes a time, for some of us early, for others late, when we take a step back from ourselves and say – is this it? Is this what its really all about? Surely not, we think, but then the answer comes, at first a whisper and then a roar: Yes, this is it. Make of it what you can, because even this is vanishing.
Ivor W. Hartmann's short story, Lost Love, is a story of parallels. The surface parallel is the plot, which concerns a young man's infatuation with a beautiful girl he never quite manages to possess.
Life conspired to keep them apart; even the close friendship they once had faded away, driven into nothing by time, distance, and her other men's arms. She was a glorious butterfly whose wings unfolded too soon for him to behold and protect.
As the story continues, we learn of the narrator's attempts to be with her, at first with the engorged tumescence only a teenager is capable of expressing, and later with the more mundane “catch-ups”, where older people talk around the ordeals of their children. They never quite manage to come together, and then in the end, silence:
Over the decades the phone calls dwindled to emails, emails to sms's, to sms's only on special occasions, and then one year to nothing at all. Yet hope, faintest hope, hope which considers a possibility of lifetimes of which this one is but a part, remained with him.
The parallel to that story is one told in italics. It is the story of an old man, more than likely senile, and perhaps suffering from Alzheimer's, along with other unspecified illnesses of old age. These sections bookend the story, but they are also interspersed throughout. At first they are mysterious, ill-formed and vague, but we slowly realise that the young man chasing the girl is the old man missing the woman from his life. He is confined within a ward, and is unaware of the exact extent of his infirmity.
A loud weeping interrupts his reverie. Damn it all, did everyone wear their hearts on their sleeve now, what happened to public emotional control, he blustered silently. Peering around the ward to spot the bastard, he saw no offenders. One of the nurses stared at him from her station obviously annoyed as he was at the blubberer, yet she continued the stare only at him. It was then he felt the tears on his face and the shuddering gasps of breath between loud sobs.
Thus, the parallel. At the end of the story, these lifetimes converge, and perhaps in the end he dies. At least, he wishes to. But this is a story of parallels, and we have only discussed the first.
The second becomes clearer with a deeper reading. On the surface, the story concerns the never-attained embrace of a beautiful woman. Deeper, it is an old man's lament at life, clutching at the memories of the times when he was young, strong, fit, when the days ahead of him were greater than those behind. The 'Lost Love' of the title is not just a woman but also life - our narrator has lost his primary paramour, which is to say, he has lost his own life. There's nothing left of him but a shell, one that requires a nurse to wipe him, a watchful eye to ensure he eats, and stern gazes to stop him from dissolving into tears.
But the moment, their moment, their time to be together never arrived, always a potential, never an expression. First, she was partnered, and then he when she became free. So the die was set, a lifetime of inopportune moments.
Our lifetimes are, when we look back at them, a cacophony of mistakes and missed chances. Even the most successful of us will see this, and the older we are the more we realise that the mistakes we thought we could correct will never actually be fixed – they are ours and we must live with them. Each day brings its own happiness and sadness, but as the bottle of wine reaches its dregs, it is the bitter sadness which overwhelms the palate.
Hartmann's Lost Love is a complex story, and can be appreciated equally on either level. It works best when one is able to keep simultaneously within one's mind the concept of the girl as the Unattainable Woman, and also the Life Once Lived. She is both, and Hartmann's language at every stage serves to reinforce this. Sections that may seem overwritten if this is 'just a love story' becomes clearer when we realise it isn't.
What, then, does Hartmann have to say about the bitterness of life? A lot. The last two paragraphs, which will remain unquoted, are perfect in their summation and oh so bitter, and oh so sweet. He captures the melancholy of life, it's missed opportunities and small successes, and he farewells his characters with dignity and tact. There can't be a happy ending, because life ends, but there can be the closure of acceptance. Not, you'll recognise, of a happy ending and a marriage that lasts forever and is always happy. No. At some stage we must come to terms with the fact that the life we've had is the life we had, and that we must take responsibility for what we did wrong and what we did right. Hartmann shows us the sadness and the joy of this acceptance.
Lost Love by Ivor W. Hartmann is a short story from StoryTime's publication, African Roar (edited by Emmanuel Sigauke and Ivor W. Hartmann). This review is part of a series intending to examine each story from the collection, in an effort to broaden awareness of both the project itself, and the excellent array of authors contained within.
Reviews of other short stories from the African Roar Series