Do We Love or Do We Emulate?

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All day they’ve been playing Marlon Brando movies. I can’t believe how hot he was. I can’t believe I’ve never noticed him before. It’s not just that he’s attractive – it’s that he’s my ideal. My type to say the least. Hotter even than Paul Newman, because he’s got brown eyes. No, if I’m honest it’s because he looks just like him, like Paul.

Before happening upon “Julius Caesar” as I channel-surfed, it’d been months since I thought of Paul. It’d been ages since I uttered the name of the man I judged all other men against. Until he was there. On the screen, except it was Marlon Brando. Is he objectively my ideal or is it that he’s the spitting image of my first love, my first romantic admiration?

Paul was the embodiment of everything I thought I could ever want in a man. I was 17 maybe, when I first walked into his bookstore. He was so cute that my shy bookworm self could barely lift my eyes to meet his whenever I came in to buy whatever Truman Capote book I hadn’t yet read. I became a regular and he finally drew me out. At some point, I even stopped blushing the entire time I was around him.

He had big warm brown eyes (I’ve been a sucker for them ever since) and short, blond hair that had a bit of a curl, not unlike Brando as Mark Antony. And though he had a small fame, he had an athletic build from years of soccer. He wore V-neck sweaters with a white T-shirt peeking out from underneath, something I’ve also been a sucker for ever since. (For some odd, odd reason every guy I’ve ever dated since has refused to wear a V-neck sweater. I wonder if they knew how much play it would get them, if that would make a difference. But I digress…)

He wrote, on an old Underwood typewriter no less, painted, and played wonderful records. He is responsible for cultivating my love for Chet Baker, jazz, and various indie pop bands. Best of all, he owned a bookstore, his dream… a dream he’s left a six-figure accounting job for in Atlanta. That made him almost untouchable in my 17-year-old lexicon.

When I visited home from college, his shop was one of the first places I went and I was always guaranteed a cup of coffee and great conversation. At some point, I think I was in my junior year, we hooked up. It was like fornicating with a god. Whenever I was between relationships, I knew I could hook up with Paul. Really it only happened a handful of times, but how many people get to do it with someone they idolized? I’m not sure there’s been a more perfect morning in my life than one cool Florida winter morning, air streaming through the window, in Paul’s bed, having coffee. He touched me the way I always wanted to be touched, and saw me the way I’d always wanted to be seen. He had a way of stripping everything away.

I’ve never dated a man who could hold a candle to Paul, and most people would probably say they couldn’t because of the pedestal I placed him on. There’s truth in that, and five or six years later, I can see his faults. He was emotionally unavailable and closed off, unable to commit. And let’s face it: he was willing to sleep with a 20-year-old when he himself was 32.

Still, I’m not so sure that’s all of it. I wonder now, though, whether I more admired him so much as I wanted to be him. I myself was an artist, a book lover, a dreamer, a soccer player, and later, I could find, a writer. I admired the courage it took to leave that kind of security, knowing that he came from the same alcoholic, working class background as I had, to pursue his dream of owning his own business.

I identified with his vivacity and openness in thought. He was so much stronger than me it seemed. He was so confident in who he was, and he seemed genuinely at ease in his solitude. I guess I still do admire Paul, though he’s closed his bookstore and moved on. While I say that I judge all men against him, perhaps it’s really myself that I’m measuring.

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