Last night I finished watching “Normal People,” which is set in Ireland, and I am remembering the time I hitchhiked around Ireland on my own. Richard is reading “Time and Free Will” by Henri Bergson, in which the author proposes that when we look at art, we deposit our individual personality on the doormat and give ourselves to the artist’s way of knowing.
I was 21 that summer and would that fall be 22 and thought of myself as on the old side for a first trip to Europe and to the abandon I thought necessary for being a certain kind of young I had skipped over by marrying at 19.
“Normal People” is one long sequence of falling in love between a boy and a girl, who want each other equally and have the same amount to gain from the relationship. They lose each other only because it is a TV show and the script demands suspense in order to sustain 12 episodes. Their young bodies are beautiful as is their sex inflected with love and a desire to leave themselves on the doormat to enter the other.
In Ireland it was always raining either a fine mist or a splashing downpour, and I got used to walking on lonely roads with a towel wrapped around my head and one of those American raincoats cinched tight around my waist. I was wearing the worn jeans of the boy I had met in London and who had sent me on this adventure so I would see more of the world than him. Everything was shaded by the fact I was being unfaithful to the man I was married to and was a liar. The lovers in “Normal People” do not lie much to each other or themselves, and while I watched the show I liked imagining that kind of love.
Sometimes when I was afraid on the road alone, I thought there was something soft about me for feeling this way. I didn’t have that much of a bourgeois life to slough off. In temperament, I was closer to the wily peasants and gonifs of my forebears than to the well-appointed girls I’d gone to school with at Woodmere Academy and Barnard. Still, I had something to escape, as does everyone, and that is where you find the fun of life.