Conversations with Hemingway (9)

Friday, May 7, 2010

8:30 AM. Papa, do you have a selected topic this morning?

We could go wherever you wish, provided that we talk about my inner reality as I experienced it or you imagine it.

Yes, don’t think that isn’t always in my mind!

You are doing all right. Just continue as you’re going.

All right, let’s talk about the war — or, actually after the war. You flew home (I think) from Europe, and stopped in at New York and went right on down to Cuba. What was on your mind, and what were you planning, and what was your emotional state?

That’s a good enough starting point.

I left Europe older then I had gotten to it. I wasn’t in all that great shape when I got there. Certainly not emotionally, as you noticed in the poem to Mary. But a year at sea — even if Marty thought it was just drinking beer and fishing and playing — was serious business, and it took its toll as a year of warfare does anywhere. Most people in a war aren’t in the front lines, you know, so they aren’t in daily terror of their lives — but it wears them down nonetheless. The mere physical hardships that come with it are hard enough. And the strain of uncertainty. And the strain of responsibility. And the worry — stashed in the back of your mind, but it’s there — that you’ll never get back to your real work.

On the other side of the ledger, the time at sea had been a chance to see some real, worthwhile action. I don’t mean combat, though we easily might have had that if we had stumbled onto a refueling station, but — action. Movement. Something external with consequences, not just editing an anthology of war stories.

But on the boat, I’d been in command, and we had a small picked crew, and we knew what we were doing. In Europe it was going to be different and I knew it. A war correspondent’s job is not as serious as the commander of a Q-boat, however small the boat and however widely distributed the byline..

And there was the concussion. You picked it up — it’s funny how few do — that being in the air took away the headache for the time I stayed in the air. Something about air pressure at sea level, I suppose. But continual pain that can’t be endured and can’t be evaded wears you down. It’s almost worse to be able to get away from it for a couple of hours when you are in the air, knowing that it’s waiting for you on the ground.

Yes, I can hear you think I should have stayed in the hospital and let it heal — but there was no time! Were they going to call off the invasion until I felt better? Besides, that isn’t how I handled weakness or injury or pain. Germs and colds and all were something different. With them, I went to bed. That was more serious, because I didn’t know how else to handle them. But you’ll notice I didn’t put myself to bed in France in the Fall! It would have been silly, when we were any of us liable to be killed at any odd time for any or no particular reason.

I was finished with Marty, yes. You can see clearly enough that I wasn’t considering her at all, by the time I went to Europe. We had crossed the line, and it was just a matter of legal formality. I was in a continual slow burn about her. You know the feeling. It was impossible to remember how we’d felt — and how we’d been — in Spain. It was a passing emotion, in a way, or put it this way, she and I were in the same place and the same time for a while — emotionally, I mean — and we sort of forgot that fundamentally we were on different courses. I’m not going to come up with some complicated military metaphor about it, but you get the idea. Pauline’s political ideas weren’t very developed, and they were always bounded by her Catholicism and her wealth, with the insularity those things bring, particularly in combination. In comes Marty, making her way with ambition and journalism, passionately interested in politics on the right side of the line — against the fascists, I mean, and for the people — and the contrast made it look like she and I belonged together. Plus, she was younger and admired my work, which made her and me think she admired me. And then in Spain we shared danger and work and fun and bed and friends and, again, it looked like we belonged together. In a way you could say that we had a long shipboard romance, and as long as we were concerned with the fight against fascism and as long as we weren’t in competition in her mind, other things didn’t get in the way. She found us the Finca. That was the one best thing she did for me. And we went off to the Far East and some of what we saw in each other there caused some trouble, or probably I should say just brought it to the surface. Maybe if we hadn’t gone, we have lasted longer together.

She had the sense of herself as competent and tough and able to get beneath the surface of things. But in China she saw me as I was in such situations — picking up enough language to get by, picking up what not to do to not get sick, gathering impressions on little data and turning intuition into journalism. It all made her less in her own mind, and she couldn’t stand that. So she looked harder and longer at my many imperfections in her mind — and they kept growing in size and in number and importance.

She worked hard — she had to, she was making it strictly on hard work and talent — and to her it didn’t look like I did. That’s why later she didn’t think the Q-boat work was real. I had my fun as I went along, and it looked like the work did itself. She hated that, and she started to think I was superficial — especially when I started picking apart her politics. She was consistent and I was consistent, but it was a different kind of consistent. She was always on the left, always for the people against the rich, against the fascists, all that, and so far so good. But that meant that she wound up in a cheering-box. The only time I was tempted into doing that, I wound up excusing Stalin’s murder of Andres Nin and others, and it cost me the friendship of John dos Passos, and I’d have been better off keeping him and letting The Revolution go. My consistency was to honesty, not politics or ideology. When my head cleared again, I couldn’t sign on to a one-party view of things. You should know, it’s the same in your times. It’s the same always, probably.

Well, anyway, I was finished with Marty before I even got to England. No point in saying it was all over but the shouting, because we already done all that. It was all over but the pretending, and the lawyers.

What I’m trying to show you is that I didn’t get to England in such great shape. It wasn’t 1918 and I wasn’t a kid thinking I couldn’t be hurt. I had already been hurt, and I don’t mean just in Italy in 1918. I went there under a cloud of foreboding, feeling the loss ahead of time, and I didn’t confuse our gallant allies with angels. If England had let France do anything for Spain! If France had done it by itself! If Roosevelt hadn’t been so worried about the 1936 election! So — I knew what they were, and just how far they couldn’t be trusted, so it was hard to pretend (and I didn’t pretend) it was a great crusade. It was just what had to be done. And maybe J. Edgar Hoover thought I couldn’t see what Stalin was, but if he’d read For Whom The Bell Tolls, it was there clear enough. So it wasn’t a matter of believing in our side, so much as believing in the need to destroy the other side. But I wasn’t under the illusion that the war was going to bring anything better than we had had. It was just going to remove one particularly bad and dangerous thing that had sprung up. You’ll notice that Richard Cantwell in his last days still hopes and assumes that Franco will get his, and the Civil War’s results will be overturned.

I am afraid I’ll have to stop now. While you’re going good, as you always advised.

As you’re going good, yes. There’s plenty more.

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