“It’s Sad to Belong” is the title of a song about having a commitment to someone else when the right one comes along. I was in high school when I first heard the words, long before I belonged to anyone or anyone belonged to me, but even so, I knew that yes, it was sad. Years later, I’d learned firsthand how sad it was. In the decades between, I was brought up momentarily on many occasions, of both the directly experienced and the observed kind, by the stomach-knotting sickness of lost opportunity. But experiences don’t come along any more in the way they used to, as well-defined and memorable moments, but instead slide and ooze into my ken, mutable, first appearing as one thing and later appearing as another, and if you had told me a month ago that this song would again rise to my consciousness as an encapsulation of yet one more experience of love, I would have laughed. “Not likely!” I mean, please, I’m no lovelorn teenager, I’m no young adult living with mistakes to lament. I’m all grown up into someone who believes there is no right path, no right person.
And then, it happened. I fell in love. And of course my timing was bad. Love did not proclaim its presence for that special one until I was on the cusp of committing to another. “Well?” I was asked by the young man.
I screwed up my face. “I’m not sure,” I said, though I’d gone to the rendezvous fairly certain of which was the smarter of the two options I faced that day. But as I looked this one over, I began to doubt. “No,” I said, finally, though rejecting the better choice hurt. I couldn’t say exactly why I was turning away, but my heart, it seemed, yearned for the other one, not this one. “I guess not,” I said. Then I hightailed it back to the other, my discomfit in the presence of the wrong one morphing into joy at the prospect of reuniting with the right one. The right helper, chum, representative, the right faithful right-hand man. Always at the ready, quick to start, glad to go, nice to look at but never preening, not glamorous but classy, with a touch of seriousness though never self-important. Dependable. Able to protect me. The right one for me. Yes—the right car. My father asked me when I chose my first car, a worn but dignified Mercury Comet, if it could be my friend. Now, 40 years later, in another country with another life, I wanted more—I wanted love.
What would have happened that recent warm September afternoon had fate not already decided matters? I would have arrived at the used car lot, seen the Peugeot waiting there, right where we’d parted three days earlier, and, given human nature, I’d not have run to it with open arms but walked up cautiously, newly assailed by misgivings. “Is this the right one?” I’d have asked myself. But the car was no longer there, having been sold the day before, and now someone else was with my car, someone else settling into the seat, running a hand over the dash, someone else turning the key, starting it up, shifting the gears and pressing the pedals. Someone else was in my place. Oh, it’s sad. Though I’d been slow to understand it, I’d wanted this car. When I lost out to someone else, I really wanted it.
I have continued my search for a small, cheap used car but with a hint of flair. Is there a car out there—a Peugeot 206, say, blue or red, hoping for the sadder but wiser shopper? Because that’s the new me. I know what I want now, and I will not dither. But if you ever see a pale silvery green 206, the sides adorned with a contrasting sturdy black plastic strip that was scrapped in later models, handy pockets on the seat backs, woven fabric upholstery in perfect shape, experienced but not exhausted by its 150,000 kilometers, nary a ding showing but obviously no spring chicken either—if you see my car, maybe you’ll see nothing special. No gleam, no sparkle. I wouldn’t be surprised because the car must be sad. Sad to have belonged to someone else when the right one finally made up her mind. Oh, it’s sad.
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