We crossed the desert from Texas to California by car. We boarded a ship in San Diego and spent weeks in a cottage on a private beach in Oahu. It was before the days of mass tourism, so we went about naked, we made love in the surf and dived into the fluorescent waves after sundown. We had whiskey at harbor clubs in Sydney and Melbourne. We went on a guided tour to the inland rainforests of Ceylon. We tasted delectable food in Naples. He bought two delicately crafted rings in Zurich and proposed to me in a café on a boulevard in Geneva. We got drunk in Montmartre. We had modest meals in London. (If I Forget Thee, chapter 26).
As I am writing this, my beloved James and I are still together. We have lived through another war, encapsulated safely in our luxurious apartment on Ninth Avenue.
Old age keeps us from traveling far. Going to Atlantic City with our friends Maurice and Alec for a weekend is all we can manage now, and we do not regret this. After all, James and I literally traveled around the globe in our younger years, starting in August 1926 and coming home in July 1927. It saturated our desire to explore foreign territory for good, even though we went to Europe every year after that until the war broke out.
James was once known for throwing lavish parties every Friday and Saturday at his enormous house on West Egg. We barely receive guests now and whenever we do, only moderate quantities of liquor are consumed. Since the abolition of the Prohibition in 1932 and the collapse of bootlegging as a consequence, drinking heavily has gone out of fashion, for legitimate fruits are very bland to the taste in comparison to the erstwhile forbidden ones.
Television sets are rapidly becoming ubiquitous now. James was the first in our apartment building to buy one. We both grew tired of music shows and cheap Hollywood dramas after a few weeks.
Maurice and Alec, who vow never to have their homes desecrated by such annoying devices, agree with us. ‘We lived in the ages before the introduction of spoken movies and radio broadcasting,’
Maurice once remarked. ‘I’d say our generation is privileged. We had to undertake some efforts to have our minds inspired. Yes, we had fun then.’
Maybe it was this concept that made me sit down at my typewriter and decide to relate the story of our tour de monde. To my surprise, James did the same, in his study which is located next to mine.
‘You may be a better writer,’ he said to me, ‘but if you allow me to contribute, I will finally be able to cast off what has been weighing on my mind for twenty years now.’
I knew what he meant. ‘There’s nothing for you to feel sorry about,’ I retorted. ‘After all, I hurt you too. And you always said it didn’t matter.’
His eyes behind his reading glasses grew soft. ‘The very fact that we both repeated that phrase for ages accounts for one thing – that neither you or I have closed that chapter yet…Please let me participate, old sport. I can only do so much, but…’
The look I gave him stilled him. He had long ago stopped addressing me with this very British title.
I had grown used to him calling me ‘my only love’, ‘my husband’, ‘my beautiful dark-haired pearl’ and many things more.
Old sport – these words are still alive within him.
‘O.K.’ I said. ‘In fact, I see nothing wrong with you writing as well. My book would not be complete without a contribution from you.’ As if I ever intended to have it published, which would either have me end up in jail or in a penal colony, if such places still exist.
James and I agreed that we should write down what we saw on or journey, not necessarily to purify ourselves, but to elaborate on the invigorating, life-giving displays of friendliness and compassion we encountered, as well as on the hatred, the ignorance and the scorn, either intentional or not, that we had to deal with.
When our story is finished, we will keep the manuscript in a safe with a note attached to it telling our attorneys that it should be printed after our demise for the benefit of the next generation.