Bewitched, Bothered & Bewildered

It’s a memory that may not have actually happened. The time of the year is accurate, the weather quite distinct, and the location a very tangible one. The tail end of August, after a rainy day, on the very tip of Cape Cod ~ Provincetown. It was still summer, but barely, and the first hints of fall were seeping into the night. The year was 1995, and Suzie and I made our virgin trip to what might as well have been the edge of the world. Foolishly, we hadn’t thought ahead to make any sort of reservation (things were slightly different back then) so we entered the town after a long drive, exhausted and not in the mood for the lack of vacancy that was going on. Finally, we found a place – well, Suzie did – and I went along, relieved to lie down on a stationary object.

It was on a quiet side street, and after the rain the town had seemingly gone to sleep. The forecast had not been a happy one, but Suzie and I were just glad to be out of upstate New York, and near the water. Overcast and cool, we couldn’t care less. Depositing our suitcases in the room, we rustled up some grub and had a leisurely dinner. That night, Suzie stayed in while I took a short walk along Commercial Street.

A long line of men stood watching me pass by. In a tight black t-shirt and flowing linen pants, I must have looked like a cross between ‘The Birdcage’ and the clearance section of International Male. I was too young and inexperienced to know any better, and I strutted down the street like a bashful peacock, a haughty, arrogant air defying anyone to say hello, a mask of outward confidence barely betraying a bottomless well of insecurity. I pretended so long and so hard that it would eventually come true, but back then it was ordinary make-believe, a case of flimsy affect that I was certain people could see right through. Quickly, I passed the crowd, much quicker than it felt I’m sure, and made my way further into the evening. The air had cooled from the rain, and that glorious fragrance of its aftermath, the scent that always made the rain worth it, was lingering like a few scant straggling blooms of the privet. A few still managed to hang on, perhaps tricked by the upcoming change in season.

I’m wild again, beguiled again, a simpering, whimpering child again
Bewitched, bothered, and bewildered am I
Couldn’t sleep, and wouldn’t sleep when love came and told me I shouldn’t sleep
Bewitched, bothered, and bewildered am I…

That much of the memory is clear. Pristinely so. The only haze was that of the actual evening – my head recalls every nuance perfectly – until this moment. On a street off of Commercial – and it may be directly off, or the one just above, running parallel – a quiet portion of Provincetown revealed itself between green hedges and immaculate yet lush landscaping. There stood a guest house, and through its windows a warm amber light glowed. It was painted richly in shades of purple and lavender, with accents of brick red that somehow worked (though I would never combine them in any outfit outside of a circus). Gold was at play too, either in gold leafing or brass handles or some sort of filigree that wound its way into my memory. There was music too, faint at first, but it came to the ear if you stopped pushing gravel around, if you stood still and listened like we never really do. Scratchy at first, like the muffled old spinning of a true record player, it smoothed itself out into a soulful and creamy voice singing of love and sex and loss and relief.

Lost my heart, but what of it?
He is cold, I agree…
He can laugh, but I love it
Although the laugh’s on me.
I’ll sing to him, each spring to him,
And long for the day when I’ll cling to him…

I looked deeper into the house through the windows. A bookcase stood on one side of the room. A chair was placed by a small table. I thought of two old men having tea and coffee together, sharing a moment, sharing a lifetime ~ a lifetime of twists and turns exemplified by the languidly-paced music.

This was, I believe, my first brush with ‘Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered.’ I’d just heard it in the film version of ‘Love! Valour! Compassion!’ so looking back it was probably that soundtrack that was playing. Ella Fitzgerald’s version, so dreamily slowed down into a dirge of desire, a meandering tale of the blossom and decay of romance, the tricky, capricious nature of love, and the way most of us would do it all over again no matter what.

He’s a fool and don’t I know it, but a fool can have his charms
I’m in love and don’t I show it like a babe in arms
Love’s the same old sad sensation
Lately I’ve not slept a wink
Since this half-pint imitation put me on the blink

I stood there, alone outside a guest house that wasn’t mine, near rooms that would remain forever closed to me, and looked into the dark sky. I wanted for something I could not put into words, for someone who seemingly did not exist. If you’ve ever wondered whether it’s possible to miss someone you’ve never met, yes, it is. I learned that then, as Ms. Fitzgerald told her wonderful, woeful, wild and winsome tale.

I’ve sinned a lot, I mean a lot
But I’m like sweet seventeen a lot
Bewitched, bothered, and bewildered am I
I’ll sing to him each spring to him
And worship the trousers that cling to him
Bewitched, bothered, and bewildered am I
When he talks he is seeking words to get off his chest
Horizontally-speaking he’s at his very best
Vexed again, perplexed again, thank God I can be oversexed again
Bewitched, bothered, and bewildered am I

Not having ever had your heart broken doesn’t mean you can’t access or know heartbreak – and sometimes loneliness exists even when you’ve never lost someone. I listened to the end of the song and walked back to our room. The next day, before departing, we’d visit the beach. A windy and wild day, it remained slightly overcast. The photos we took show us squinting into the rush of air and sand, hair blowing messily, propped against a travel pillow for whatever buffering effect it might produce. We read a bit there on the beach, listening to seagulls and the occasional snippet of conversation carried by the wind, and then it was time to go.

On our way back from the Cape, we brushed Boston, where these photos were taken. In a few weeks I’d return to Brandeis, but there, in the sudden dark, driving with Suzie, I was in a holding pattern. Waiting. Wondering. Watching for signs. The turn of the song, then, a surprise twist lending whimsy and humor and pathos, and for the next few years I’d find it all, even, and especially, when I didn’t want anymore.

Wise at last, my eyes at last are cutting you down to your size at last
Bewitched, bothered, and bewildered no more
Burned a lot, but learned a lot, and now you are broke, so you’ve earned a lot
Bewitched, bothered, and bewildered no more

Love, then, was a difficult business. It came in fits and stunts, it arrived unwanted and unheralded, it was there when you least expected it and elusive when sought out. It was a funny thing, made that way out of necessity. We’d all be crying if we couldn’t turn it on its head, but for me at least, it was hard to make a laugh out of such sorrow. Ella knew this, and her voice comforted and soothed. She said it would be all right, it would work out in the end, because sometimes we end up with the wrong people. Sometimes we have to go through the silliness, the sexiness, and the sadness, as she took us through the last lines of the song. Determined to leave it all behind, the words are a final declaration of defiance, and a chance to start it all over again with someone else. Back then, that was hardly an appealing notion. I wanted to fall in love once and for all and have it last forever. That was the romantic in me.

Couldn’t eat, was dyspeptic, life was so hard to bear
Now my heart’s antiseptic since you moved out of  there
Romance finis, your chance, finis, those ants that invaded my pants, finis
Bewitched, bothered, and bewildered no more.

And there it ended, not with a bang or a boom but with a simple “no more.”

The song haunted me for years. I wanted it to have a happy ending. I wanted it to work out. I wanted there to be something that matched the longing and yearning and wistfulness of the music. But it wasn’t happening, and eventually, after trying to force a few failed romances to be what they would never be, I understood. If it’s meant to be it will be. If it’s not, it won’t. Once I got that into my head, once it was understood, the world of romance became a much happier one, and I became a lot happier too. It was then that I embraced the song, every twist and turn of it, from the unlikely hope at the start to the freedom of the finish.


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