Monday, 11 November 2013

Visiting Jesse & Celine: Before Midnight

Celine & Jesse watch the sun set
I’ve known Jesse and Celine for eighteen years now. I met them at the right time, I think. We were similar back then. Their passions and intrigues and romantic notions were similar to mine. They are two or three years older than me, but that’s not much in the scheme of things.

I don’t remember who I shared their first story with. My friends from the mid-90s say they don’t remember Jesse and Celine. Perhaps I met them with a friend with whom I’ve lost contact in the years since? Much like Jesse and Celine lost contact after their first meeting in Vienna.

Nine years later, I saw with the couple again. This time, their lives and my life were very different, though our concerns were still similar – our fixations on the troubles of the world and our discovery that our lives weren’t going to turn out quite the way we expected.

I had, admittedly, never expected to see them after they parted ways in 1995. When I heard they were reuniting in 2004, I was worried. What if the second time wasn’t as good as the first? What if they’d changed too much? What if they didn’t like each other or I didn’t like them?

But as I left them alone in Celine’s apartment, even though that moment was ambiguous, I knew we would see them again. I knew, at least, this time they would not lose touch.

I saw Jesse and Celine together again this year. This time, in Greece. A lot has changed in their lives. A lot has changed in mine, too. They are in their early 40s – I’m not quite there yet. They seem settled, but maybe not comfortable. Their relationship seems stronger, and more brittle at the same time.

No, not brittle. It’s full of the emotional connection that time brings. It’s volatile because of the history they have and the commitments they have made. It’s passionate because it’s love.

The details of my life and their lives are entirely different now. I still love them, though. I’ve known them for eighteen years, after all. I can forgive them their foibles and their bouts of selfishness. I know, deep down, that they love each other. And when they fight, they are the arguments of people who fit together and who work together.

Even when Jesse calls Celine “the mayor of crazy town” and Celine tells Jesse she doesn’t love him anymore, I know it’s borne out of two people who have a lifetimes’ worth of ammunition. Sometimes they don’t know when to use it and when to hold back.

What I liked about catching up with them this time was seeing them not only in a new place but in a new context. We meet other people who are part of their lives, both familial and friendly. This is not just one night in Vienna or ninety minutes in Paris. This is a full day, the last day of a holiday – with  all the joy and regret the final day of vacation can bring. Yet again, they aren’t in their real lives – they are on the precipice of going back to work, taking new jobs and returning to a routine neither of them are quite satisfied with.

They are, after all these years, still a pleasure to be around. They might argue now more than they ever have before, but they also know each other better than anyone else in the world – they can make each other laugh, they are so comfortable with each other, they fit. Sure, there are tensions, but what relationship doesn’t have little tensions throughout a day.

It took me a while to write about reuniting with Jesse and Celine this year. On first thought, it was a bit too painful; it was worth doing, but it was raw in a way my other visits with them never have been. And that negative emotion overwhelmed my memories of that day we spent together.

Thinking back only a couple of months, I have to remember that this time is much like the last two times. This is just a day in their lives. This is just another day out of hundreds of days. If it were just the third in a film trilogy, it might be a dramatic finale. But if it is just another chapter in a book – or another book on Jesse’s bio page, it’s not the beginning or the end, but just the middle. The continuation of two lives.

And if it is just a continuation, if it is just another day, if I get to meet Jesse and Celine again in nine years time, the pain of the arguments they had on that last day in Greece will dissipate. And as with every time I have left them before, I’m never sure if it’s the end for them or not. I guess that’s fitting.