I was re-reading some of the earlier short stories I’d written (I do that sometimes) and was struck by one thing: I had a hard time remembering which of the events I described had actually happened and which were made up. There was one story in particular; I’d called it “Kate.” In it the protagonist Mark Grey, a young man who lives in San Francisco and works for the State (as I had) meets a girl, Kate, at a party and they begin dating. They have a good time doing all of the things that San Francisco had to offer young people at that time---going to the Cliff House, dining at Fisherman’s Wharf,, having a drink at the Fairmont, driving across the Golden Gate Bridge and having lunch in Sausalito with its view of the City.
After a time Mark discovers that Kate’s’s moods fluctuate between being upbeat and enthusiastic and being depressed, depending on what’s occurring in her life, outside of their dating. She works as a secretary in a publishing house and when one of the editors praises her revision of a letter and promises to upgrade her position she’s up. When he doesn’t follow through on his promise she tells Arnold the editor was just trying to hit on her but it doesn’t matter as she’s going to start teaching in the fall.
When she begins her teaching job, with third-graders, she’s enthusiastic and makes great plans for her class and tells Mark all about the school principal who is very erudite and who has taken her under his wing. Then the principal goes off to be married and she’s disconsolate. Meanwhile, Mark has gone back to New York to visit his parents over the Christmas holidays, after Connie disappoints him by saying she’ll be too busy to see him much. He finds a set of Jane Austen’s novels in a bookstore and, as Connie has told him Austen is her favorite writer, buys them for her. However, when he gives them to her the gift falls flat; she tells him that the principal, who hasn’t gone off to be married yet, says Austen is second-rate. That pretty much ends their relationship.
I have a scene to presage that Mark and Kate’s relationship might not last. On a beautiful spring day they go to Golden Gate Park and to the Planetarium at the Science Museum. After the Planetarium they stroll through the Japanese Tea Garden and then find a lake to sit by. Connie says to Mark: we’ll always have days like this, won’t we?” Arnold freezes at the word “always” but says they will. Then, as happens in San Francisco the fog rolls in, it gets cold and they leave the park.
I know I’ve been to that Planetarium and have gone through Golden Gate Park, but did all of that really happen or did I make it up? Try as I might, I can’t remember. I wonder if I’d gone there with my wife when we started dating in San Francisco and wonder if I should ask her. Then I think maybe I should let well enough alone. So what does all this tell us? First, I think, is that when you’re a writer the line between fact and fiction gets blurred, especially as the writer gets older I believe that Somerset Maugham said something like this when he looked back at his life. Secondly, events in your life that seem so important may not matter that much in the long run. Mark breaks up with Kate but he meets other girls and eventually gets married in other stories (under different names) I wrote. Finally, time does heal. I had a girl like Kate in my life and I’m sure that when we broke up (most likely, she broke up with me) it hurt. However, like Mark I went on with my life, eventually married, had a family, and here I am, re-reading my stories.
I also found that I’d written a little poem about that event in Golden Gate Park. I think the poem came before the story. Here’s the poem:
That afternoon in Golden Gate Park
On a golden San Francisco day
We walked hand in hand
In the Japanese Tea Garden
Before sipping tea from delicate cups.
Then we sat on a bench
By the DeYoung Museum
And made up stories
About the people passing by.
Later we lie on the grass
And embraced each other.
We’ll have more days like this,
Won’t we? You asked.
Just then the San Francisco fog
Fell on us from the trees.
Chilled, we folded our blanket
And hastily left.
I never did answer your question
Because I knew that what we had
Was as delicate as those teacups
And as breakable.
I still don’t know if that afternoon, in whatever version, actually happened.