February 18, 1999
Send in the Clowns
Girl meets clown.
Girl is fascinated by clown, who is a bona fide graduate of clown college and can walk on stilts. Girl also can't help but notice clown is tall and handsome and can stick a long nail all the way up his nose. Girl makes it obvious that she wouldn't be adverse to the idea of a little "clowning around." Clown rejects girl. Clown just gets on his emotional unicycle and rides away.
If this sounds like the setup for a joke, it isn't. It's my life. Yes, I was rejected by an actual circus clown, and that can really bruise a girl's ego. And I think I blame the clown for my latest bout of "dialing down memory lane."
If you don't know what I'm talking about -- and probably all but the most well-adjusted of you have done it -- I mean getting home at 3 a.m. and taking out the little black book and calling every one of your ex-boyfriends who doesn't totally hate you.
Maybe it wasn't entirely the clown's fault that I was drinking and dialing. Maybe it's February. What a miserable, cloudy, useless Seasonal Affective Disorder-causing month this is. February is like one long month full of Sundays, and I hate Sundays, especially Sundays that coincide with a certain romantic holiday designed to underscore the loneliness of us single folks.
So, maybe the clown, who I barely knew, was really just the catalyst. Still, everyone I woke up from a deep sleep this weekend, you can blame him. Or perhaps just chalk it up to human nature.
Why do we do it? What are we looking for when we dial into in the past? I don't really know. I have only a couple of half-baked theories.
The first guy I called I haven't spoken to since we broke up four months ago. It was a terrible relationship. We hated each other so much by the end that we were just like two ships passive aggressive in the night. But at that moment, phone in hand, all I could think about was the candy he scattered across my floor last Valentine's Day, the little notes he would leave under my door, the fact that he learned to love televised figure skating.
Nostalgia is like the mind's own photo retoucher, blurring the wrinkles and blemishes and leaving a picture of the past that's as inaccurate as Kathie Lee Gifford's face on the cover of Good Housekeeping.
Luckily for me, he didn't answer the phone. His answering machine picked up, and, as I listened to him jovially refer to himself using his own cheesy, self-styled nickname, I remembered in an instant why I didn't miss him that much after all.
So I went long distance. I called an ex from San Francisco. No luck, just another machine.
I called a third guy, who I stopped talking to when I realized he had cracked the code to my answering machine and was checking my messages to erase the ones he didn't like. Yes, you could call that "stalking," but, when dialing down memory lane, you don't think so much about the felonious nature of such actions; you just want to talk to someone who, at one time, cared about you.
When he answered, his voice sounded angry and scary. I hung up, but he called me back, barking, "What is so important that you have to call me at this hour?"
"Sorry, wrong number."
I put down the little black book and decided that it might be better to fall asleep watching a Taibo infomercial.
What made me do it? Why do we go backward, sometimes only dialing, but often rekindling an old relationship in person for a night or a week or month?
There is something so compelling about revisiting a person, even an old friend, who at one time knew us, really knew us. Even if only momentarily, something that is broken is whole again, and that creates a feeling of safety and comfort. It didn't work out, and, for all those same reasons, it still won't, but the fantasy of connection, of reunification, is powerful.
That little black book is filled with people who loved us, laughed at our jokes, watched us cry. The past is magical in that anything that could go wrong already has.
The present? That's rife with uncertainties. And the future? Well, it's not unlike how I felt about the circus as a little girl: The toys are too expensive, the experience a little overwhelming, and there's always too many clowns. n
Teresa Strasser is a twentysomething contributing writer for The Jewish Journal.
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