By Simon Barget
I once knew a girl called Diane. I knew her but I wasn’t infatuated like some of the others. She was intriguing. Some people were loopy about Diane, fell head over heels for her. I could certainly see the attraction, she had everything a good woman needed for a good man to want her. But it wasn’t just the good men that wanted her, a lot of the not so good men hankered after her too. I’d say, on balance, she was an acquired taste. You had to take the rough with the smooth. Not the woman for every Tom Dick or Harry, not your girl for the common man.
I loved Diane but that was some years ago. It was more than thirty years ago; I can hardly even remember. For years, Diane was gone from my life, she was barely a flicker. She drifted away. I mean she’s just a woman with everything a woman represents and stands for. But no matter what a woman stands for, no matter how lofty her ideals, it doesn’t mean you have to be smitten. After Diane went AWOL, like I said, I hardly even thought of her. Funny how I’m thinking about her now just to be met with the thought that I wasn’t for all the in-between years. Funny after feeling such affinity for her that it so easily blew over. But things move on and take their course, new people hove into view, things you hardly have control over, and it’s only now I can look back and say I’m a bit surprised about all the fuss I made over Diane, and more than that, that after making all that fuss that I just instantly forgot her.
I loved Diane but didn’t have her all to myself. Diane couldn’t be exclusive; that wasn’t the bargain. We spent time together but her suitors were never far at hand, or they might have even been there in plain view, demanding her attention. And then you never really knew how Diane felt about you. It was a one–way mirror, like she didn’t know you were there. But you put up with it, you made do, because she wasn’t quite like other women. Her attention split between all of us was more valuable than the undivided attention of all the other women put together twice over.
It was twenty-five years later then when Diane suddenly stepped back onto the scene. It was like from nowhere. I admit, though, that I wasn’t blown away. I didn’t feel I had to go back running. I took my time, made tentative approaches. I didn’t know how she’d look, didn’t know if she’d even recognise me.
And then she started to work the old magic and I was riveted like the first time. I wanted more and more. I wanted to see her every week and not only that, I wanted to see her when she was away, because she was a teacher and after the season was over she took her long break. I wanted to see her for more than the hour she had pencilled us in for. She hadn’t lost any of her youth of her shine. I wanted to be around her, and yet I didn’t precisely know why.
Then she left again. I don’t know where. I was disappointed but no more than that. I was mentally prepared for it I suppose. I was a bit mystified. It had all felt like a dream.
That seemed to be it as far as Diane was concerned.
But then I randomly bumped into someone who started talking about Diane and quite out of the blue. That wasn’t uncommon; people were always talking about her, speculating, expostulating. And we got into conversation, I mean it was more him talking at me than to me --his name was Trevor -- and before I knew it Trevor was bombarding me with these facts about Diane, facts that made me realise that I never really knew Diane at all; that I’d never understood her. He told me things I had never remotely thought of when we’d been together, all these intricate details that hadn’t crossed my mind, not just superfluous things, but things that underpinned and held together the fabric of Diane, and you know what, now I feel stupid, I feel so stupid for not seeing all these things about her that Trevor’s just spent almost five solid hours conveying to me, seeing myself as a perceptive person, someone with a level of insight.
Because when he explains them, they just all hang together. They are consistent. All these quirks of her nature, all the things she did and the reasons behind them, well I just can’t deny these revelations because they have that damning ring of truth. As soon as he opens his mouth you know he’s talking about Diane, and you know he’s so right, it’s unmistakeable, and yet it’s so galling that he knows her so much better than I do, it’s so demeaningly humbling, it’s discomfiting; it’s not so much that I didn’t know the woman I had been together with, that I couldn’t have had such a solid relationship with her after all, it’s much more that it makes me question my persistent identity as a smart cookie, I had always believed you couldn’t put anything past me, I mean what am I now if I completely missed the boat with Diane?
You see Diane wasn’t really at all what I took her to be. Yes she was strange and exotic and tantalising and enigmatic, yes she was different and unique and one of a kind, yes she looked like a goddess or swan, but you see, that doesn’t probe half of her depths, the person I’ve been told that she is. Diane is much more than that, Diane -- and stick with me because it starts getting opaque here -- Diane was not just even just a woman, she was much more than that, she was a symbol for womanhood, I mean I hardly even understand it myself, but Diane was a woman who knew what she was on the inside, she was painfully self-aware to the point where she’d be conscious of being conscious of being conscious, she could see herself from the outside looking in -- I am really having trouble explaining myself here, and it’s a bit second hand anyway -- but Diane wasn’t what you got at face value, you couldn’t take anything she said at face value, because everything Diane did or said was symbolic of a wider expression of need, of preference or opinion, what Diane made you believe with her body language or mien was much deeper than surface and you had to read in.
Basically Diane was a lock to unpick; a discrete puzzle. She spoke in riddles but not profuse, difficult ones; once you knew the code it was quite easy to understand what she was driving at.
Sometimes the way we write is elliptical, concealing something much bigger, something far more at hand, and all the while what we mean is not what you’re taking it to, the superficial is a smokescreen, it hangs together alright, but it’s not what we’re saying. Why? It’s just easier like this, it’s more rewarding, more fun, sometimes the writing becomes bigger than the thing we’re trying to explain, taking on much greater truth.
Here were the things you needed to know, according to Trevor: Diane was an antidote to all the other girls and mainly this one girl called Judy. Diane scoffed at the other girls, the girls all the men went for. Judy was transparent, the tits, teeth and arse. Judy was sparkling, stupid, ditsy and doped, she was easy and alluring, the perfect slab of arm candy. To really get Diane, you had to know that Diane didn’t like Judy, was the antithesis of Judy, as if Diane was put on this earth to make Judy look simple. I know there are more than two girls in this world, but Judy got all the attention in our town and Diane got none. Why Diane got it into her head that she needed to correct our misattributions, rewire our brains, kick us into shape, Trevor really didn’t know why either. I mean how to begin to explain the motives of one person, there’s a whole host of complexities going back to their parents and their parents before them ad infinitum. In any case, rule no.1, get rid of Judy, I mean get men to re-evaluate her and not be so one-sided, so taken in by her profane and gross femininity.
It started quite well until the worst thing happened. Diane drummed up support; took back her limelight. Men cottoned on to her complexities and they liked all the drama as well, because there was often a lot of drama involved with Diane, there was always a cliff-hanger, a calamity, and the men who warmed to her liked to be kept on their feet and maybe even saw her as bona fide entertainment. But most of all, I think, they warmed to her loving nature in spite of themselves. What Trevor didn’t focus on in his five hour disquisition is that Diane exudes love. What I mean is that she’s loving and warm, she’s light and she’s wholesome in a way that seems sappy at first until you realise it’s straight down the line. Diane has her dark side and I think people get taken in by it, focus on it to their detriment, but I think the point of Diane was to show that you only needed one particle of light to be able to blow right through any screen of darkness. The guys who became interested in Diane were initially attracted by this darkness, or at least this mystique she exuded, but it this was the worst thing, because they completely misjudged Diane, and all they wanted was more suspense and mystique, more cliffhanging, they had got hung up on Diane for all the wrong reasons. She was a show-pony and they wanted her to perform.
But all the while Judy stayed on the scene, the men were falling for Diane, but they still wanted Judy, perhaps they even saw Judy hidden inside Diane, they falsely imprinted the one onto the other.
And that’s when Diane turned on us. That’s when she left.
I think I was just one of those people. I was only fifteen when I met her, but I feel I should have known. Or perhaps I wasn’t able to have plumbed the depths of the female psyche at such a young age. But as I remember it, I fell in love with Diane for all these same quirks and not for the real reason, that being that she wanted us all to be turned off, to keep us away from that one-gulp-consumable slop that was Judy.
I cannot say I loved Diane if I didn’t know her. If I got a chance to rekindle our love, would it make it better, would I have the wherewithal to do her justice? I would not have the right to approach her.
So back to what happened. Diane got upset. Everyone was reading her wrongly, liking her for all the wrong reasons. She got fed up, lost patience. She left for twenty-five years to return completely transformed. She changed herself, changed her behaviour, decided to make herself into a sort of backward clone of her real-life self. The Diane who I’d reconnected with twenty-five years later was not the real Diane. She became a facsimile, a cheap reproduction. If you still liked her now, you liked a cheap plastic Diane you had brought into being through your impulsiveness and short-sightedness. If you fell for her now, the joke was on you. This clone looked exactly like Diane from the outside, wore the same green pleated skirt, had the same shock of pink hair and the bright pink eyeliner, had the dainty left nostril piercing, the same discreet dainty hands, the multi-coloured painted nails, she had the same slight drawn face, the sallow cheeks, the same cast-iron glare shot through with something faintly haunting and sad, all these exterior things she did not change and brought to bear in the clone, except she was just a kind of a nothing, a muted down version of herself. Gone was her essence, the gusto, gone was the string that held together her behaviour, gone was her centre and what was left was something that should not have fooled me or anyone else for that matter. It was a shell.
I knew Diane and I barely noticed she wasn’t the same woman. I am ashamed of it. I can’t tell you how stupid I feel. But now Trevor points it out from the safety of his front room, I cannot deny it. Diane was a shadow.
I found out yesterday that Diane was dead. I wouldn’t have sought her out even if she wasn’t. It’s old news, all in the distant past. I think I found it hard to believe she was dead when Trevor told me, so much so that I can’t really get a handle on the images going through my mind. I thought somehow that she must be immutable, immortal, that she had a duty to go on for ever. I felt she had an obligation just to be herself, to be in existence, so that if I wanted to see her, then she’d be there for me. I couldn’t come to terms.
So all I have are the memories, these images, I play them back in my mind a bit like a film. That’s a testament to their clarity. But what good are the memories when the memories were skewed, when you’re with this person for all the wrong reasons, when what you were aggrandising, immortalising anyway was your own twisted version of what you wanted them to be, running away with shoddy explanations that could be maintained by your psyche?
But then I can’t fault myself because of ignorance, I mean I simply didn’t know. I wasn’t prescient enough, not sufficiently astute. I’m not the paragon of insight I once held myself to be. Where is my place now? But lots of you knew Diane and Judy too. Had you misjudged them? Let me know; I want to know because I can’t be the only patsy in here.