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Saturday, February 14, 2009

The Tragedy of Laura M.

by Roger W. Gardner

Of course we were both lost back then. She in her world, me in mine. Inmates in that resort of last resort, drying out in an alcoholic ward of a big city General Hospital. How old were we then? Maybe twenty-four, twenty-five? Both self-consumed, withdrawn, suicidal, drawn to each other by some indistinct but irresistible magnetic impulse. Her name was Laura M. and she had one of the most beautiful faces I had ever seen. Regal, dignified, imperturbable, the cool, refined, sculptured features of a Grace Kelly.

This was the right side of her face.

The left side of Laura's M.'s face was a shocking mangle of bones and flesh, the eye slightly drooping, as though her skin was melting. And this startling, unexpected facial schism was of course the tragedy of Laura M.

Perhaps it was that great schism that we had in common, mine mostly hidden from the world's scrutiny, hers manifest for all to see. When we'd walk together down the street, I'd see men look at her and smile, until she turned to look at them, then the smile would quickly vanish. Laura would always maneuver herself to be on my left side. Was it to save herself or to save me from the embarrassment of that awful truth? But, then again, what was the truth? Laura M. had two faces and both were true. The one on the right was lovely, the one on the left was horrid. The full face was a shocking incongruity. But which face was the real Laura's face? Wasn't Laura's face that delicate beautiful face that had been so grotesquely disfigured by that random auto accident, that undeserved and unaccountable trick of fate to which we are all so vulnerable, yet which most of us somehow undeservedly escape?

We were together for two or three months, I think, before I left for another city and another life. I remember, she always slept on my left side, burying her poor ravaged face into the pillow, so that I could sleep with her beauty. Her personality was unpredictable and extreme, as though she was ruled first by one side, then the other. Laura was smart, quick-witted and capable of a deep sincere compassion, from which she could suddenly explode in a torrent of unprovoked cynical attacks. Then she'd become calm and kind again. And you never knew which to expect.

Why did I eventually leave? Perhaps I couldn't deal with the extremes. Or perhaps I couldn't deal with someone who couldn't deal with the extremes. Perhaps...

Why am I even writing about this now, after all these years? It's got nothing to do with politics or culture. Is it because I'm approaching the end of my journey and everything in my past has suddenly become invaluable and chock full of meaning? When I started out writing this story of Laura M. I sensed that if there was some deeper significance to this tragedy it would occur to me before I reached the end of the story. But it hasn't. I don't know whatever became of Laura M. and I don't know what's going to become of me. I don't know what the real meaning of this story is, unless it is this. Perhaps the meaning of the tragedy of Laura M. is the meaning of the tragedy of our world. - rg