A Movie. A Book. A Memory. Longing. Forgetting.
The other night I was watching the movie THREE COMRADES directed by Frank Borzage, based on the novel by Erich Maria Remarque and written for the screen by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Toward the end of the movie Robbie has been visiting the love of his life Pat in a sanatorium where she is dying of TB. They embrace and she objects to the ticking watch. He hurls the watch to the floor…
It all came back to me from Patchogue in the summer of 1965 on Robinson Boulevard.
But first let me quote from the actual novel:
After a while she grew restless.
“What is it, Pat?” I asked.
“It ticks so loud,” she whispered.
“What? The watch?”
She nodded, “It’s so threatening---“
I took the watch off my wrist.
She looked anxiously at the second hand, “Throw it away.”
I took the watch and flung it against the wall. “There, it’s not ticking any more now. Now time is standing still. We’ve torn it in two. Now only we two are here; we two, you and me and no one else.”
She looked at me. Her eyes were very big.
“Darling---“ she whispered.
I could not bear her glance. It came from far away and passed through me to some other place beyond.
“Old Lad,” I murmured, “dear, brave, old lad.”
She died in the last hour of the night, before morning came. She died hard and no one could help her…
From the scrawled inscription of my name I can say I bought the 50 cent Popular Library paperback in my eighteenth year when I was a Freshman at Beloit College. I would eventually acquire and read all of Remarque’s novels. As to their quality, I never gave that a thought.
When my son Lorcan was in seventh grade at Grace Church School he was required to read ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT. Of course I was pleased but he was very disappointed, “The book was interesting but really sentimental, Dad. I know it ‘s supposed to be about how awful war is but being so sentimental you don’t believe it.”
Of course he was right. And I admitted the justice of his comment and gave him Ernst Junger’s STORM OF STEEL. This book renewed my credibility and Lorcan told me Junger was really a good writer and he had written a much better book as it didn’t tell you what to feel in the way Remarque insisted.
But the ticking watch… at the end of June or early July, 1965 I was walking back from the Patchogue Theatre with Melinda Brady. We had seen the movie THE TRAIN starring Burt Lancaster and directed by Fred Zinnemann. It was a long walk from Main Street to Hewlett Avenue where Melinda lived. We walked by way of the shadows of Robinson Boulevard. We kissed for the first time and I could hear the watch on my wrist ticking.
I had longed for this moment since sometime in the fall of 1961 when I had first seen her in the second floor hallway of Patchogue High School. I was a senior and Melinda was a sophomore.
The ticking watch has an inscription on its face
LONG ISLAND PRESS 1 YEAR SERVICE AWARD.
I had a newspaper route before working at Francis Bannerman’s in Blue Point and before going to college out in Wisconsin, before going to Dublin where everything changed or didn’t change.
I wrote two short stories about a Melinda and a guy named Joey who would die on November 6, 1918 in World War One. Alfred Willis published them in the high school newspaper THE RED AND THE BLACK in the spring of 1962. Willis did two tours as a Marine in Vietnam…
In this the one hundredth anniversary of that World War One…
In the fictional moment labeled the present both Melinda and I have been married three times. She lives far away in a tiny village in Maine and I live on East First Street in Manhattan. The watch is broken and on a shelf in front of Julian Green, Ernst Junger, James Thomson, Hannah Green, Pati Hill, Louis Ferdinand Celine and Evelyn Scott books… in another part of that present Melinda asked me how I had known her birthday as Joey had died on… but I had not known and…