At the bottom of the stairs in my childhood home, there is a piece of furniture, the primary purpose of which is to hold vinyl record albums. It is open on all four sides, exposing the cover of the albums on either end. For as long as I’ve been conscious, that record stand has been there, and for as long as I can remember, the record on the end has been the soundtrack to Breakfast At Tiffany’s, by Henry Mancini.
When you watch a meticulously filmed movie or read a well-crafted novel, little details like a record stand are often imbued with great meaning and foreshadowing. I think the same can be said of the stories God crafts out of our lives. It’s no coincidence I grew up with Audrey Hepburn’s provocative, innocent, sparkling doe eyes watching me as I evolved from charming toddler to awkward tomboy, through bucked teeth, bad perms, acne, and eyeglasses into insecure, rebellious artist longing for sex and security and suburban domesticity.
When I was 13, I learned how to play Moon River on the piano with sheet music that my mom had since she was in her 20s. I hadn’t yet seen the movie and had no idea what it was about, but I was pretty sure its song was written about me.
Fast forward ten years. At 23, I was a less sophisticated manifestation of Holly Golightly. (In retrospect I realize I was about as unique as any other 23 year old post-adolescent, which is probably why my favorite movie has endured as such a classic, laying the foundation for Carrie Bradshaw.) The 40-something “Rusty Trawler” in my life joked that I needed to go to finishing school.
I’d finally seen the movie when I was in college, and it resonated with me, but I couldn’t figure out why. In the mean time, no one wanted to play the role of Paul Varjak; I guess they had better boundaries than that poor man Holly strung along on her adventures.
When I first saw Breakfast At Tiffany’s, I had no idea Audrey Hepburn’s character was a call girl. I thought she was just a insecure, naive flirt, an introvert pretending to be an extravert. I was projecting my own self-image.
Other than the iconic party scene, the best part of the movie comes right at the end and cuts to the heart of me every time.
When I was in college, one of my “Paul Varjak” candidates took my inventory in much the same way. “You’re fickle, shallow and weak,” he said. Those words have echoed around in my head ever since. Plenty of people tried to convince me that he was wrong, but he wasn’t. I am fickle, shallow and weak. Who isn’t? I’m also steadfast, contemplative, and hardy. In fact, I possess those qualities in greater abundance.
At the end of the movie, Holly recognizes that she’s emotionally unavailable, comes to her senses, rescues the cat she abandoned in the alley, and is held in the arms of Paul, who is waiting for her. How nice that must be!
In real life, the realization that I’m emotionally unavailable didn’t happen suddenly like that. It dawned on me slowly, after projecting my own qualities on all the “rats” and “super rats” I’d invited into my plot. Even after it sunk in, I wasn’t so sure being emotionally unavailable was a bad thing for me. The “only real chance at happiness” is not falling in love or belonging to someone, despite Paul’s convincing speech. But he was right about one thing – no matter where I run, I will just end up running into myself. Real happiness comes from falling in love with myself and belonging to the universe. Until I find that happiness and contentment, I’m not going to be capable of taking care of a stray cat, and certainly not any stray human beings.
I doubt that there will be kisses in the rain when I finally find that happiness and contentment, and I’m pretty sure it’s not going to come to me after a lecture and a ten minute reflection in the back of a taxi cab.
The story of my life ends differently, because I get to write it. In my Breakfast At Tiffany’s, I go home with the cat, call a girlfriend, and spill my guts over the phone. I take a bath and I get a good night’s sleep. I call Paul and apologize for acting like an ass. I practice gratitude and staying in the moment and trusting providence. I wake up one morning and realize that what I want more than anything is a buddy to walk along Moon River and drift along through this crazy thing called adulthood, sometimes drifting together, sometimes apart, not afraid of anything because we’re after the same rainbow’s end. Funny how when you have a common goal, relationships become a help on the journey toward self-discovery, not a hinderance.
In my version, happiness comes in fits and starts as I walk along that river. It comes when I watch the behaviors of people who walk softly and humbly and observantly through my life, inviting me into theirs. It comes when I sit down with the journal I avoid and write out my feelings, or text someone when I have a case of the “mean reds.” It comes when I pray – not for myself, but for the ones I love.
The family record stand is just one of the many pieces of poetry foreshadowing the trajectory of my life. There are songs, stories, and family artifacts which act as guideposts, and relationships that are like trail markings, showing me where to put my feet on each stretch of the journey. It is a privilege to share some of it with those who read what I write. My huckleberry friends.