I once met a man at Harvard when I was pretending to be a woman from France. He was a third generation attorney named Perceval Harkness Granger the third. It was the actress in me, looking for something more interesting from life than the hand I’d been dealt. While he told me about himself, I got busy assembling a French accent and history to match. I was just back from France so my clothes reflected the culture.
Yes, this is my first trip to America, I told him, I’ve come to study music.
I was without shame. Unfortunately, the more we talked, the more I liked him and by the end of lunch we’d made arrangements to see each other again. Now I was really stuck. If I wanted to be with him, I needed to continue to be the person he’d met, which would be an on-going challenge.
The show-down came when he gave me a surprise birthday party, decorated his apartment like a street in Paris and invited all of his friends who spoke French.
I wanted to make you feel at home, he told me.
How dear. The only problem was that I didn’t speak French. I just had a great accent from spending my summer there. I walked cautiously from guest to guest, like a swimmer in shark infested waters telling them my latest lies.
I’ve promised that as long as I am in the United States that I will speak only English. That’s what I am here to learn, forgive me if I don’t join you.
It had taken everything I had to maintain my charade with Percy, but convincing a group pushed me over the edge. I decided to end the game. We’d dated for the better part of the school year, when I asked him to join me on a park bench to discuss ‘some things of common interest.’ I drank in his image for the last time. He was a handsome young man with dark wavy hair, his eyelashes, thick brush strokes executed with precision. He had opened my eyes to the world of art films, coffee houses, Harvard University and what it felt like to stand on a solid family base.
My voice sounded flat and ordinary, as I let go of my French accent and explained what I had done. Everything felt different as I did, colors, textures, the light, the very air smelled different. When I finished, he got up and walked away, feeling angry, embarrassed, and used. That was the last I ever heard from him, except for a book he mailed to me written by Eric Fromm, called, The Art of Loving. He wanted me to read it, but the title was enough. I got the point.
Last year I decided to Google him and found he had died. Percy decided not to become a lawyer after all. He migrated to writing instead, leaving a creative legacy for television, theater and the screen. Maybe I inspired him. You think?