Man meets man. The two fall in love, have a beautiful, magical relationship for several years, then one of them dies.
No, I’m not referring to my relationship with Mark, but to the plot of a movie I finally watched the other day called “The Torch Song Trilogy.”* An old one (1988), it had been recommended to me months ago. I had purchased the DVD shortly after; but I guess I wasn’t ready to watch it until now.
The film opens in the early 70’s with the story of Arnold (Harvey Fierstein), a gay man living in New York. He meets a beautiful man, Ed, with whom he falls in love, but the man is “bisexual” and chooses to end his relationship with Arnold in order to be with a woman. Several years pass, then Arnold meets Alan (Matthew Broderick), another beautiful young man with whom he shares a deep loving relationship for six years. They plan a wonderful life together that includes adopting a child.
Then one day, Alan is killed. Arnold is bereft but tries to carry on with his life, which includes fostering a gay son. Then Ed comes back into his life, having married then left his wife. The climax of the movie focuses on a series of difficult encounters between Arnold and his quintessentially Jewish mother that includes a conversation about Alan’s death and whether Arnold has feelings for Ed.
The final scene features Arnold, alone, pondering his relationships – with his adopted son, with his mother, with his dead lover, and, ambivalently, with Ed, his former lover. In a poignant scene in his apartment, Arnold sees some oranges his mother had brought from Florida, his foster son’s baseball cap, and Ed’s glasses that had been left behind on the kitchen table. He picks up each of these items and sits down in a chair, holding them in his lap. Next to Arnold on a table is a photograph of Alan. Arnold reaches for it and presses it to his chest, along with the glasses, the oranges and the baseball cap. He is holding on, but the impression is left that he is ready to move on, letting go of nothing that is permanent and beautiful and never to be forgotten, but leaving himself open to what the future may hold.
This scene powerfully affected me. In my mind, Arnold had obviously felt that he wasn’t prepared to “leave” his relationship with Alan. He wanted to hold on, but he wasn’t sure he could move on, holding onto that relationship. Then, in a moment of clarity, he realized he could do both.
I have passed through many phases of grief since Mark left last spring. I have learned some things about myself, about relationships and, I think, about love. Sometimes, it appears, one learns a great deal about something in its absence - perhaps only in its absence, once it is gone. (Come to think of it, I guess a lot of songs have been written about this very thing.)
There is no Ed in my life right now. Perhaps someday there will be. I hope so. I already know, however, that if and when he does come, I will leave nothing behind that is permanent and beautiful and never to be forgotten—not clinging to it, but nevertheless holding it gently yet firmly to my heart while being open to what the future may hold, daring to hope for more that is permanent, beautiful and never to be forgotten.
* "A torch song is a sentimental love song, typically one in which the singer laments an unrequited or lost love, either where one party is oblivious to the existence of the other, where one party has moved on, or where a romantic affair has affected the relationship." – Wikipedia.