I was 15 that spring, and the car I was in was rolling through the beautiful Virginia countryside. We weren't your typical Carefree Youths from the toothpaste and soda pop commercials; nobody was ever that carefree, if you take the time to remember how it really was. But out major concerns centered more on the possibility of being left alone with our zits on a Saturday night rather than on where, in the vast structure of the universe, each one of us fit in.
I was sitting in the backseat with my best friend's older brother (an adolescent coup of the first magnitude), filled with a sense of wonder at the mysteries of Life and a growing apprehension about wandering hands. Then, as the car rounded a curve, I was greeted by a scene of remarable beauty. On a hillside stood a glorious white horse, alone in a field of chestnuts and bays. He had the spirit, you could tell. He was the king of the pasture, maybe even the world. I tried to hold the vision of him, gleaming white against the fierce green of the grass.
"Oh, look!" I exclaimed. "Look at that white horse." And even as I spoke, at the very moment when every head turned to see this extraordinary sight, that damn horse backed up to a spotless white fence and did something unspeakable down the side of it. The side closest to us. My sense of poinancy died on the spot.
Oh, there were other incidents. This one wasn't the only one. And the results were permanent: I suffer from emotional infertility: I can't get poinant. God knows I've tried. And tried. Often I get up in the morning determined to capture Life's exquisite moments. I tiptoe into my son's room and kiss his sleeping cheek. A smile crosses his face, and then I notice an indelible "F.U." inked on his outstretched hand. Later, as he and his younger sister climb the hill to wait for the bus, I watch her shyly take her brother's hand. Filial love, at last. Tears begin to well up. Suddenly he jumps back and screams at her, "You s.o.b.! Who said you could use my joy buzzer?" She laughs a throughly wicked laugh. On days like that I just want to get in my car and drive off into the sunset. But I know from experience that every driver I pass will be picking his nose.
Beauty, you might say, is in the eye of the beholder. And poignancy in in the eye of the poignateur. Or poignatrice. The real problem, of course, is fear of poignancy. Even in today's more "in touch" society, it's rough going for someone who walks about red-nosed, with tears streaming. People grow impatient with when you become pensive at every twist in Life's drama.
So I have learned to seek out the extra detail that renders the painfully moving moment ludicrous: The man who has laid down his head to hide the tears of anguish and frustration has set his elbow in an overflowing ashtray. The woman who has just said goodbye to a lover she knows she will never see again turns bravely away and walks right into the men's room. Her lover walks away, too, only to find his shirttail had been zipped into his fly all evening.
This defensive attitude toward poignancy can be decidedly unpleasant for innocent bystanders. People tend to cherish their touching moments, and resent anyone with a poignancy problem. I knew that. And besides I had reached the stage of my existence known as "mid-life." If I were ever going to get poignant, it was now or never.
I started a training program. I watched a cat gracefully glide through the tall grass of my back yard, while resolutley ignoring the mouthful of garden slugs that spilled down her chin. I listened to a friend tell me how important I had become to her, while choosing not to hear my son's whoopee cushion explode in the next room. Finally I was ready for the World of Poignancy.
But first the baby had an appointment with the pediatrician. Barely a toddler, she climbed bravely to the top of the indoor slide. Caution mixed with pride as I moved closer.
"Knock, knock," she said, more clearly than a child twice her age. "Knock, knock," she insisted as everyone in the waiting room stared in amazement at her precocity. This was it. I was going to get poignant!
"Who's there?" I asked coyly.
"F--k!" she proclaimed to a thunderstruck audience. Mothers threw coats over their children's ears and began to head for the door.
"Truck who?" I asked lamely as the waiting room emptied and hope drained from my heart.
It had been three years since we had shown our faces in that waiting room when I ran into the doctor at the supermarket. "My office staff still talks about that kid of yours," he said, patting my hand and smiling. "One helluva kid you've got there. One helluva kid." And he wandered absently off into the fresh produce.
The thing about poignancy is sometimes you just don't see it coming.