I’ve been thinking about my then-girlfriend recently. She’s not my girlfriend now, of course, but she was then. Then was a different time, when children frolicked in the pastures and lambs gamboled, too, although neither children nor lambs were mine. Come to think of it, neither were the pastures, but things were freer then, you could walk through the countryside without owning it, without worrying about someone with a shotgun chasing you away, making you move at a much faster pace than a mere gambol.
So you begin to see why in thinking about my then-girlfriend, with whom I had so many fond memories, I have begun to feel a little nostalgic.
“My then-girlfriend.” It rolls trippingly off the tongue, doesn’t it? My. Then. Girlfriend. Of course, back then, the concept of “my then-girlfriend” had never even occurred to me, wasn’t even in the realm of possibility. There was no then-ness to my existence then, or to hers. We were now. It is eternally now as she leans over the picnic basket, laughing, to drop a piece of cheese—Camembert? Gruyère? Cheddar? Gouda?—into my mouth.
And in that now back then, there were children, because just as we used to drive out of the city into the pastures, it was only natural that other families with children stuffed into their station wagons would do so as well. But did I perhaps imagine the lambs? I’m closing my eyes, tilting back my head, and trying to remember those pastures: ringed with trees whose boughs swayed lazily in the breeze; green of grass, a green hardly conceivable outside of children’s fairy tales. Unless that’s where the green of my memory has come from, too. Did I even have memory back then, when my then-girlfriend and I had our déjeuner sur l’herbe, when her delicate fingers cradled the bottle of wine whose name has escaped me? Certainly we spoke only in the present and future tenses, little suspecting that the seeds of the past tense lurked within them.
So let me think back: yes, I see a pasture with trees around its periphery. Few stones, just a few dangerously jagged rocks that would wreak havoc on young flesh—or, in my case, flesh younger then than it is now—if someone chanced to trip and land against or on top of them. I would say...