The past is a vast attic -- the dusty toy, the old album, the forgotten fury, must mixing with desire.
Some experiences glow all the brighter for being gone. Youth is like that. Years take away the gawky pain, leave only the sweet taste of first times.
Other moments are so bitter that no number of years will dull the sorrow. "If you want to keep the beer REAL cold," moans a country and western song, "put it right next to my ex-wife's heart."
But we are more faithful than we know to the things we leave behind, to the spent emotions, the discounted dreams, to the fears we've fought and the lovers we've left. Here then are a few tales of former times, ornaments from the attic, shadows of the future.
What can you say about a sports car that died at 2,200 miles? That it was small and Italian and blue? That it had a convertible top and an 850 cubic centimeter engine and a stupendous sound system? That is loved high-test gasoline and high-priced mechanics? But not me.
I bought it in the spring, when these things inevitably happen. I bought it -- why not admit it right up front -- sight unseen. The seller was a copyboy at the newspaper where I worked, possessing honest brown eyes and the same name as one of my younger brothers. He held in his hand a receipt from a Brooklyn mechanic as proof that the car was now in the finest health. This should have been a clear warning of trouble ahead, but it was not to me. I asked him the only question I could.
"Is it cute?" I said, eager and intent as a lover awaiting a mail-order bride.
"Adorable," he said.
The check was in his hand before the warning calls came from my family. "FIAT -- Fix It All the Time," said Brother One. "Of course it has low mileage," said Brother Two. "It's been towed its whole life."
Naturally, I ignored them; much as, I assumed, Francesca had ignored the ancient warning when she first saw Paola. For by then I had seen the little car, standing, in the mild early evening, in the shadow of the Brooklyn Bridge. Were there stars in the sky? I didn't notice, though I was fleetingly aware that the locks had not been fixed, as the seller had promised, and the window on the driver's side could not be rolled down. Also, the shift stuck badly going into reverse, though perhaps that was my fault, being eager and unfamiliar.
"You just have to get the feel of it," the seller assured me, throwing in -- as a loan -- The Eagles Greatest Hits. I roared lamely off -- my blue beauty did not accelerate with the speed I had hoped -- discovering, as I cruised through Manhattan, that there was a short in the system and the signals did not work -- which would not have been so bad had I been able to roll down my window. Also, the car had difficulty idling. At stop signs -- and there are many in the city -- it came to a dead halt, often refusing to start.
It is, of course, a shabby lover who publicly proclaims her beloved's failings, so why belabor the fact that the car blw up the first time I took it out on the open highway; that the engine was rebuilt twice that summer; that I spent so much time in the Catskill Mountain shop of the local mechanic that it was rumored we were having an affair? Why recount the awful humiliation of the time one of the locals, watching the mechanic fussing with my Fiat, remarked that he was "meanin' to get me a rag-top?" "This is a rag-top," I shyly said. He looked at it and spit.
Far better to recall the good times -- those few fine times when the car and I were out of the shop, up the rolling Catskills, which must be among the most beautiful mountains on earth. The sky was blue, the world was green, Pavoratti and Sutherland were singing the duet from Rigoletto. I, with them, made it a trio. There are people who say you never know when your life has peaked, never know until it is over when the very sweetest moment has been, but I, then, singing Italian arias in an Italian sports car, knew it as surely as if God had posted it on my chart. "Wadler," the chart said, "this is it."
But, more often, it was not like that. The car spent more and more time in the shop, and when the cost of repairs exceeded the cost of the car, I knew it was time. I put an ad in the Times, "World's Worst Car, Fiat 850, Low Mileage, Push It To work," hoping at least for vengeance, and when that failed, turned the business of sale over to my father.
He sold it just one year after I had bought it. Some girl from Woodstock, he said. Came over just after supper, a real pretty night, and he had it out there with the top down.
"She went crazy for it," my father said. "Just took one look and said, 'Oh, it's so cute'."