For all the love I have for reading I have never enjoyed a book by Ernest Hemingway. That is not to say that I do not appreciate his genius talent as an artist of words. I have never been moved by his pages. However, what has moved me is the stories about him — as a man, as a traveller, as a sorrowed lost lover.
A few weeks ago, I experienced the beautiful happenstance of stumbling upon a memoir by A. E. Hotchner titled, Hemingway in Love, His Own Story. Curious, I bought it. Enthralled and in tears, I read it. Hemingway and Hotchner had been friends for 13 years. Hemingway confided in Hotchner, bestowed in him how he spent years married to different women only not to love any of them except for his first, Hadley. Hotchner was with Hemingway in the hospital three weeks before the disturbed writer was released and went home where he killed himself. That was in 1961. For 54 years Hotchner kept the heartbroken confessions of the enigmatic wordsmith a secret, respecting his friend and widow, Mary, who was married to Hemingway at the time of his death. Finally, in 2015, at the age of 94, Hotchner published a memoir chronicling the wounded misery that was Hemingway’s heart. A story of devout friendship and escaped passion, Hemingway in Love, not only pulled at my heartstrings but at my memories too. His recollection of Hadley is captured in such immortal prose I almost thought I was reading a diary. A tribute to unrequited love, I, as the reader, couldn’t help but recall my own sentiment for the male characters that have storied my life.
I couldn’t resist the natural pondering of the love I have given and of the times where it has been reciprocated, or not. The conviction in which Hemingway loved Hadley, in the desire he had to find her again. To embrace her and to never let her go. I got to thinking as I read this gift to the world — a raw insight into the heart’s of one of the 20th century’s greatest writers — who is my Hadley? If he were to sit across the table from me would I remember him? And if I did, if I were to see him again and remember him, would I still love him in the manner as I had way back when?
The following is an excerpt from Hotchner’s memoir. It chronicles the last time Hemingway saw his beloved Hadley. It shares with us how vulnerable it is to be in love and how devastatingly poetic it is to meet the one you love again only to watch him or her walk away.
“‘You know, Hadley, just yesterday I saw a Gypsy begging for coins and I recalled what a beautiful Gypsy you were that time in the Camargue.’
“‘Oh my goodness, you remembered that? The way we stained ourselves with walnut juice so we cold crash that Gypsy dance?’
“‘Yeah, all excited, thinking about the food and the flowing wine.’
“‘We must have been very hungry to crash a Gypsy dance.’
“We were starving. We ran out of money, don’t you remember? We hadn’t eaten for a couple of days.’
“‘And then we found out — there wasn’t anything to eat, no wine, just Gypsies dancing in the dust.’
“‘The worst part was that it took over a week for the walnut stain to wear off.’
“You made a very handsome Gypsy–I can still see you with that silk scarf around your forehead.’
I asked if she could have dinner with me. She looked at me, remembering me. She gave it some thought.
“‘I guess not,'” I said, “‘I have no sinister motive — just to look at you across a table for a little while.’
“‘You know, Ernest,’ she said, ‘if things hadn’t been so good between us, I might not have left you so quickly.’
“‘How many times I thought I saw you passing by. Once in a taxi stopped at a light. Another time in the Louvre I followed a woman that had the color of your hair and the way you walk and the set of your shoulders. I followed her all through the museum. You would think that with the passage of time, not being with you or hearing from you, you would fade away, but no, you are as much with me now as you were then.’
“‘And I’ll always love you, Tatie. As I loved you in Oak Park and as I loved you in Paris.’ She raised her glass and touched it to mine. She drank the last of her champagne and put down her glass. ‘I must go to my appointment,’ she said.
I accompanied her to the corner and waited with her for the light to change. I said I remembered those dreams we dreamed with nothing on our table and the wine bottle empty. ‘But you believed in me against those tough odds. I want you to know, Hadley, you’ll be the true part of any woman I write about. I’ll spend the rest of my life looking for you.’
“Good-bye, my Tatie.’
The light changed green. Hadley turned and kissed me, a meaningful kiss; then she crossed the street and I watched her go, that familiar, graceful walk.
That was the last time I saw her.
That line, “She looked at me, remembering me,” tears right through me. I imagine a longing stare, his head and heart searching her eyes for a flicker of hope. Some distant flame that she remembered their love too. And she did, she loved him still. Yet she had let him go and in doing so she had immediately changed. Just as we all do. Love lingers but we evolve. Our spirit strengthens. We meet a new man (or woman). We fall in love anew, indeed it is different. No love is the same. But I believe that two star crossed lovers can meet again. That cosmic connections can be reignited. You can fall in love with an old lover again. For isn’t every hello a new beginning?
Hemingway to Hotchner during their last conversation three weeks before he killed himself, “Tell me this: How does a young man know when he falls in love for the very first time, how can he know that it will be the only true love of his life? How can he possibly know? How can he know?”
Hotchner never had the chance to answer the fading poet’s question. Hemingway fell asleep and as Hotchner left his friend to rest in peace he had know doubt that his dreams were full of Hadley.
It’s a beautiful spell, being in love. Fortunately for me, I knew every time when I was falling in love. I’ve never known if one time was more truer than the other. Each person brought a different meaning of the feeling to my heart. What I don’t know is when and if I will ever see my Hadley again but if I do I know for sure that I will remember him, his smile, his shoulders and his walk, and I will tell him that I love him. I will give him a meaningful kiss. And I hope that instead of a green light and a goodbye ours linger red as he looks up at me and says, “Hello, it’s nice to love you again.”