This is about one of those events. It was neither good nor bad; in fact, it was some of both. What made it stick in my mind was that it was incomplete.
I should be glad that it wasn't one of those songs, when all you can remember is a single line that goes precisely with a musical phrase. But it won't go away. An example of that is the old country/western song, "I'm not through lovin' you yet." That's both the title and the only line I can still remember. It runs through my mind like a squeaky fan belt.
Maybe this plugs into some basic human memory quirk. What goes on in the back of our minds is a need for completion. Something is missing and we have to find the part that is lacking. When we do, there is a feeling of completeness, satisfaction, and closure. For a while.
Many sales pitches aim at this trait of human nature. We are offered an opportunity to obtain "a complete set" of whatever they are selling.
But what if there is no completion? What if we can never find the one missing piece of the puzzle? What if the part of the song we remember is something with bad memories, or that drives everyone around us to distraction because we are humming it, whistling it or even singing it? It has happened more frequently than we know.
I was a college freshman in 1957. The whole world was new to me. I was unprepared for the upheaval. Relationships with others caught me unprepared. I did survive and I didn't starve, with just enough money for food, rent, and gas for my old car. There was a friend or two, including my landlord who had rented me a room with kitchen privileges.
I didn't anticipate the old magazine lying on my bed when I came home from classes. Nothing unusual- looking, just a copy of a magazine housewives clutter coffee tables with, like "Ladies Home Journal" or "Redbook." I didn't know which; the cover was gone. It lay paper-clipped open to a page with a poem.
My landlord told me someone stuffed it in the mailbox and left. One friend I asked said - maybe - he liked it, thought I would, and like that. But when he added it had been written by a female murderer who had written it in prison before her execution, I decided he had made the whole thing up He was like that. I had no other leads.
The poem, apparently written by a woman to her husband or lover, advises about how she wants him to treat her. It is at once elegant and formally written, iambic pentameter for any lovers of poetry. Some samples:
"Never say the compliment expected." "Smile when I have grown too sad." And my favorite: "And when I merit least a fist of stars, give me the blazing sun. And set your love before me as a feast..."
So often over the years, It has run through my mind, especially the beginning:
"Be not too quick to give me all I seek, or bend your will to mine, lest you betray our love itself..."
Heavy stuff for a college freshman, and not much easier now. Who wrote this? Why? Did she write anything else? When and why did she write it? And why would these few lines from a tattered, popular magazine still haunt me? Who thought they knew me well enough to bring it to me? Almost no one even knew where I lived at the time. I couldn't afford girlfriends.
I haunted public and individual libraries. I bounced parts of it off friends and acquaintances. No one had heard of it, including some college instructors. Few offered other places to look.
Since the coming of the Web and Google, I have spent hours online,searching fruitlessly with phrases and key words. I own an impressive (and dusty) collection of old books by authors like Edna St. Vincent Millay, Emily Dickinson and Dorothy Parker, purchased just in case. Nothing even close.
The advice is authentic and carefully thought out common sense, in elegant, beautifully worded phrases both modern and timeless. I just can't find it, and I can't stop looking.
Have I ever followed the poem's advice? Some. That's for later columns. Ever hear this poem? I'd like to know.