A charming married man in his early 40s, a father of three, has a two-year affair with his young secretary.
So, what’s new? It happens every day. Indeed, it is an old, old story.
What is new is that it was my father. I was in my early teens at the time and the secretary, herself in her early 20s, was a frequent visitor to our house. This was ostensibly because she was far from her own home in Australia, but of course, there was undoubtedly another reason.
I knew my father was very impressed with this woman, as he told me that she had had no college education, but could recite long passages of poetry, including Shakespeare. He was trying to help her to move from a secretarial to an administrative position.
The affair only stopped when my mother found out. Evidently, she offered him a divorce, but he decided to stay with her and us children. To the great heartbreak of the writer. Again, a very old story.
And I found out 60 years later. When everyone has long died.
You may well ask how I came to learn of this affair so many years after. The simple answer is that the woman kept a diary.
Some years after the affair, she became a novelist (as well as a writer of non-fiction). And she was a good enough novelist – some say a brilliant one – that now, after her death, a professor has written her biography. It is gaining very good reviews and considerable attention.
And the diary was, of course, a wonderful source about her life and thoughts. Leading to my father.
Life lesson from the above – don’t have an affair with a writer. They tend to love writing things down.
We may be 60 or 70 or, in my case, 80. It doesn’t matter. Inside this older woman is the little girl of five, the teenager of 14, the young uncertain adult of 25 and so forth on up.
We don’t shed these personas like snakeskins. Rather, we grow new layers like trees. But all the layers are still there. They don’t come out to play very often, but when they do, we remember the pain from before.
Or, I should add, the joys experienced along the way.
So, when I learned about this affair, for a moment I went back to being a teenage girl in New York City. All I could think about is, why didn’t I notice?
And what would have happened if my parents divorced? I got on much better with my father than with my mother. Who would have taken me? And how would my life have been different?
Perhaps I should have worried more about the main participants in the affair, as well as my mother. But teenage girls, which I temporarily became, are much more wrapped up in themselves. And the participants have all passed on in any case.
The widespread importance of the layers lying beneath came home to me just this week, when I was talking to a man in his 60s who said he never liked Christmas. When I asked why, he said that his mother had walked out on the family on Christmas Day when he was seven years old.
What a tender age. And every Christmas time, he becomes seven years old all over again and very vulnerable.
A lot of pain to live with each year.
These things hit us from time to time. For some unexpected reason, we are reminded of an event in our 20s or 40s or whatever – and all of a sudden, we are back there with a vengeance. If we were hurt then, we are hurt now.
If it was something exciting then, it is exciting now. Perhaps I will write something about this more positive side of things on another occasion.
Yes, we have some perspective and, happily, we can switch into our older selves and the pain – or the joy – recedes.
I wonder whether we would prefer to be different. We have no choice, but I think it makes our lives richer to have these many layers, like filo pastry, underneath.
Do you often re-experience events from the past? What sort of events do you remember? Positive or negative? Do you welcome their emergence from time to time?