Tuesday, January 20, 2009
The Undiscovered Country
Years create secrets. A younger man in love with an older woman learns this quickly. Watching the film The Reader reminded me. I didn’t learn all Sheri’s secrets right away. Some came out the first night we agreed to love each other. She revealed others in the months and years that followed. Perhaps there are some she still keeps to herself even after fifteen years of marriage. But I remember important truths she told me and when – truths few if any other people know.
The first night we shared our secrets, we sat on the couch in Sheri’s condo apartment. Her cat Pequot hid; it would be weeks before he trusted me enough to sit with us. It was March. In my memory, any March night in Hartford is rainy. In a few short weeks Sheri and I had moved from dating into something lasting, though how we knew neither could say. We trusted. I trusted. So I told Sheri a secret I thought she needed to know. My secret, that of a 26-year-old, seemed important then, but now I know it was like a folded note in a school desk, a teenaged concern. Sheri took the information without judgment or surprise. Then she spoke. Her secret, earned through another 17 years of living, as part of another generation, tasted like blood in the mouth.
An older man in love with a younger woman will have stories to tell. Is that the difference, that older men have stories, while older woman harbor secrets? Maybe. Maybe the difference – at least in the case of Sheri and Hanna Schmitz in The Reader – is that older women willing to dare unconventional love with younger men have likely led unconventional lives. Unconventional lives lead to unconventional joys and unconventional pains: secrets.
Now Sheri’s secrets are mine.
More than anything to do with sex, Hanna Schmitz’s private history initiated her young lover into the complex, complicated questions of adulthood. A younger man with an older woman will learn more about life from her secrets than from her bed.