"So what do we desire when we desire a person?" Bellagio repeated.
I thought about the book I'd finished two nights earlier, about the sensitive little boy living in 19th-century Paris in Remembrance of Things Past. Young Marcel lies in bed, awash in delicious anticipation of his mother coming to kiss him good night. Yet in a stroke of irony, the moment he hears the rustle of her dress in the corridor near his door, he trades joy for sorrow. Her coming reminds him that she will soon leave, and he knows he will be left longing once more.
My eye fell again on the gnarled branches. "Pain," I said finally.
Bellagio leaned his head sideways and lit up his pipe as if to say, Think again.
"Well, okay," I said, considering the little boy aching for the rustle of the dress that might signal his mother's arrival. "Are we desiring the person's desire... I mean desiring the person to want us?"
Bellagio's wrinkled brow unfurled. "So we don't necessarily desire a person when we desire?" he asked, intrigued.
I was confused then. I remembered that later in the book the aristocratic Swann, pursued by a woman not of his class, is indifferent to her until one day he realizes she is with someone else, and a panic of jealousy engulfs him.
"When Odette was after Swann, he didn't notice her. And when he grew interested, she stopped caring about him," I said.
Bellagio looked up at me, his face shining, eyes flickering fire.
Emboldened, I went on. "It seems that another person's interest in us can often make our desire for them flee."
Bellagio leaned way back in his chair, kicked his foot up onto his desk, and smiled.
I don't know what gave me the courage to tell him what was on my mind, but I did. I was standing at the door, and instead of leaving I risked a confession. "Not wanting someone who wants you. It feels kind of...familiar right now."
"What? Are you living out your own Swann in Love?" he said. I knew he wasn't going to let it go.
"Actually, it's my boyfriend. You met him two weeks ago at the play." I blushed fiercely. I knew I wasn't being clear. "It's just that he kept leaning against me.... he's..."
"Always around? Too attentive?" said Bellagio.
He'd nailed it. "How did you guess?"
"Law of nature, of desire, if you will," said Bellagio. "He wants you, so you don't want him."
"But why?" I protested. "It seems like such a cynical interpretation of human nature—that we can only feel desire when we're with someone who doesn't reciprocate! Are you saying it's always going to be this way?"