Resurrecting Romance: The Amazing Pigeon-Man

People in the Park

A.S. Byatt’s “Possession” teaches us that love’s not dead.

Secretly, I snigger to hear my friends confess they are jaded when it comes to romance. It took them, perhaps, two or three times in immature relationships for them to decide that they don’t believe in love anymore.

Me, I was born a cynic. Some of us are, or else it started early.

However it is, I say to my friends—secretly, that is: “Be not afraid of cynicism: some are born cynics, some achieve cynicism, and some have cynicism thrust upon them.”

But, oh, I’ve grown up, too. I don’t take myself so seriously anymore. So, I can appreciate love in its rarity when I see it. And I sense another truth in the dark, right before I fall asleep: Love is my dream. I long for love.

Don’t we all? Still? Despite the nearly-debilitating fear of rejection and pain?

And I know this because of what I delight in. I just finished A.S. Byatt’s book “Possession.” It was pedantic, to the last, but sweet, engaging, and…well, yes, romantic, all at the same time. The story follows two young scholars who stumble upon a secret love story between two Victorian poets, while slowly falling in love themselves. Byatt is an inventive master in this book, but it is the fresh way she brought together the two jadedly modern academics that moves the reader.

Yes, romance is not dead, not even for us stuffy intellectuals. In fact, the subject never ages in fiction or in real life. We are insatiable consumers of it, which I have discovered when watching two students in the classroom in which I work.

Let’s call him Carlos. Like the other male students, he is irascibly annoying: jittery, constantly talking, fiddling with the teacher’s belongings…occasionally stealing. Yet, at his lower-income apartment, he has the patience, nay, the compassion to house a group of pigeons. He knows everything about pigeons, he’s named all of them, he feeds them, and they return to him every night. So I think, “My, what a character twist! What a romantic character!” While the other teachers roll their eyes at his antics, I’m excessively charmed at his favorite deep-voiced repetitions, “Tweet! Tweet! Tweet!” He is, hands down, the smartest student in the room (the only one remotely interested in how rocks are formed). His prowess with all things Apple makes him indispensable around the classroom. He is the lover.

The loved: let’s call her Jenny. She’s pretty, calm, very feminine. The fact that she’s a bit fuzzy in the brain is irrelevant, because as us bookish people know, the lover (not the loved) is nearly always the most interesting, charismatic, inventive character. Being loved is like the two first words of this sentence you are reading now: it’s passive, not as gripping. She doesn’t “like him like that.” She likes some other phantom figure of a boy who doesn’t care for her much.

The scene is set. Carlos has been obsessed with Jenny since the moment they met in our class last year. He’s always talking about her, always picking at her, helping her cheat on tests. Ah, true love, though Jenny sees him only as a friend. Imagine me, watching the progression of this one-sided adolescent love affair. I am enamored of his enamored state. Oh, I am always on the side of the frustrated lover in the cases of unrequited love. Then…the climax of the story: he is sent away to a “special” school for the rest of the year for inappropriately trying to touch her.

I was disappointed. While I didn’t doubt for a minute that he was guilty, I still liked the kid. To be honest, though, I was more disappointed at the disruption of the story. The way it evolved: it was so…not romantic. (It’s another dilemma to consider: if a writer has the responsibility to document even the unpleasant, unromantic twists and turns of life, or if they should idealistically document what they want to see in the world.)

When it comes to romance and when it comes to literature, sometimes we can be obsessed by the need for closure, a proper ending. In my opinion, a story of unrequited love has only two endings (dismissing wild, crazy occurrences): the loved gives in or the lover gives up.

The situation didn’t turn out as serious as it sounds Jenny reported him before he actually did anything. Carlos was thoroughly chastised and punished for what he did and he has never done anything like it since. He was just a stupid kid who made a stupid mistake, as we have all done from time to time. Carlos returned this year, and, surprisingly he and Jenny are rather good friends. He’s still crazy about her and she still doesn’t “like him like that,” but I watch and wait. Bets on that she gives in!


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