I am sitting at a table in a fashionable Washington bistro, a 275-pound fly on the wall listening to the chilly young couple, dressed in gray, at the next table.
"What do you do?"
he asks. They have met on the subway, or through mutual friends, or
as a result of a lonelyhearts ad.
And this is when I realize that they will never know love not for an instant; not with each other; not with anyone. Indeed, they are each so in love with themselves that to love another would be a form of unfaithfulness. They will never know the sort of love I have for my escargot, supine in its buttery bath. I have no judgment about these little creatures, except as to their suitability for the moment. I pick one up, inspect it, smell its garlic perfume. It does not matter to me that it never served in the Snail Congress, or brought an Assistant to an Associate Deputy to heel. Whatever its past sins were sloth, cowardice, even murder I am prepared to forgive them. And then: the moment of consumption. It explodes in my mouth; washes my taste buds with its essence; and slides down my gullet. I love it; I absorb it; and at the moment of absorption I am filled with a deep and abiding satisfaction. It is always that way with true love, which, oddly, is a form of consumption.
Love is transformative:
it changes the beloved from one thing to something else. My love for
those little snails has transformed all of them but it has also transformed
me: I have more molluskular molecules in me than before. Indeed, it
has been observed that diet alters behavior; vegetarians are traditionally
less aggressive than carnivores, and aboriginal Fijians believed that
they could acquire the virtues of their enemies by eating their brains.
Well. Perhaps we should step back. I dont mean to suggest that we should get our lessons in love from Hannibal Lechter. But can anyone seriously suggest that there can be true love without absorption? Observe the family man, putting away the groceries; his patterned, meticulous swoops from table to refrigerator or cupboard are not a hangover from his bachelor days. And had he remained alone it is unlikely he would do much shopping at all; he would probably take his meals at the bar of the neighborhood tavern, watching the Lakers on the tube. But he has consumed part of his wife; absorbed her concern for order; and that aspect of her personality is now as much a part of him as my snails are now a part of me.
I recently ran across a couple I knew from high school. They were dating then and are now thirty years married. They talked proudly about her racquetball prowess; she was now first among the 50-and-over women in her club. This astonished me, as it was inconceivable that this secondary school princess, whose principal interest was flower gardens, would ever risk a nail at something as violent as racquetball. I remembered, however, that her guy was an athlete. We talked for a while before they had to leave; he was picking up some mulch for his prize-winning roses.
This is why Dracula is such an unforgettable story: he loves better than most of us. I will make her Queen of the Vampires, he roars, meaning Lucy, never stopping for a minute to explain why. But why is important: it is not readily apparent. They are obviously not of the same religion, this Vampire and his human succubus. Has she done something which has inspired Draculas fierce admiration? If so, it is not apparent to us, the audience. Is she exceedingly comely? Neither Stoker, in his novel, or Balderston-Deane, in the theatrical version which made Bela Lugosi a star, suggest that she is. Why, then, does this extraordinary creature risk everything even his near-immortal existence to bring her over to his dark side?
Perhaps it is because he likes her. Loving is notoriously idiosyncratic. The most admirable woman in my ken is Mother Tereesa; but I would not date her, even if she had not taken a vow of celibacy. Pamela Anderson is a mighty beauty, but I would not opt to spend my remaining days on the planet with her, even imagining that I had that option. Instead, like most men like most humans I would prefer to spend my time with my spouse, whose beauty and virtue come in proportions which I can properly apprehend.
This is why I came to love Lorraine: she told me a funny story about the police towing a car with a talking alarm. This is why she came to love me: I brought sushi to a picnic. Later we brought each other more substantial delights, but it was these initial impressions, now emblazoned into our mythology, which cemented our lives together. We have no need to justify our love for each other; it pleases us, and we are immoderately satisfied by it. So, too, Draculas love for Lucy. So, too, Gods love for the elect at least in the Calvinist philosophy.
Consider: Dracula picks Lucy, not for her merit, but because she pleases him; he demands her soul and promises her immortality. This is not just love, this is Gods love, grace reaching down to His elect. All Lucy need do is make herself be supine, like the shrimp on my lunch-plate, and be eaten, be consumed, by her God-lover, the Vampire Dracula who makes her anew as a creature like him, just as God accepts our sacristal selves, lying like corpses for Him in a sort of reverse Communion, remade in His image. The female praying mantis tears off the head of her mate during intercourse, the better to encourage his uninhibited mating. So too does the true lover seek to tear off the superego of the beloved, so that passion is not alloyed by doubt, or rational thought. Dracula, like God, demands irrational, unconditional love. It is the only love worth having.
An honest person seeks to avoid judgment. My wife knows me well and I am grateful that she has chosen not to pay too close attention. Rather, she chooses to celebrate my virtues, such as they are, and only gently chides me for my many vices. I need not be privy to the Associate Deputy to win her love. I need only be.
Dracula. A Love Story explores the attractiveness of a creature whose secret is that he is familiar with, and accepts, you. That this acceptance may take the form of consumption is only to be expected; we knew, in the end, that to be loved was to be drunk up.
last updated July 1, 2003.