“He takes with Him Memories of Ourselves” by Paul Stephen Lim. Reprinted from Dreamtime: Remembering Ed Ruhe: 1923-1989, edited by Robert Day and Fred Whitehead. Published in 1993 by The O’Neill Literary House at Washington College in Chestertown, MD 21620.
I remember taking Ed Ruhe’s “Novels into Films” class in the fall semester of 1969 (with people like Chuck Sack and Jim Pearce) and how, years later, Ed often said that it was the most extraordinary group of people he had ever taught. What really made the group extraordinary, of course, was Ed himself, with his boundless enthusiasm and passion for the visual in print, the literary on film.
I remember innumerable afternoons and evenings spent around the large and cluttered dining room table in Ed’s apartment, talking both small talk and Big Talk. Whatever the subject of conversation, whether it be an essay on cannibals by Montaigne, or an obscure movie by Kurosawa, Ed would reach back at some point and pull out some dusty book from those inexhaustible shelves to further the discussion.
I remember trips to Kansas City with Ed to dine at some new Italian restaurant, to hear Kathleen Battle, to see the Alvin Ailey Dancers, to marvel at the latest foreign film at the Bijou, to browse through the bookstores and record stores at Westport.
I remember sharing with Ed a rare 1958 Maria Callas recording of “My Heart at Thy Sweet Voice” from Samson and Delilah, which she had suppressed because she had been unhappy with her rendering of three or four notes, and Ed’s playing the said recording over and over, trying to determine exactly which three or four notes had displeased the diva, until we both gave up because it was nearly midnight, and much too late to call Jim Seaver and ask him for his opinion.
I remember the parties at Ed’s apartment, not only the lively ones, but also the deadly ones. One, where an out-of-town friend of Ed’s decided to show over 200 slides of tombstones he had photographed in Europe, and how the guests slipped away quietly until there was no one left, but still the show went on. Another, in which Ed listened quietly to the interminable chit-chat about the significance of I-forget-which-novel by I-forget-whom, with the discussion ending when Ed finally said, with great impatience, “Only time will tell, and we won’t be there to hear that discussion.”
On a more personal level, I remember bringing early drafts of my plays Conpersonas and Chambers to Ed’s office and subjecting him to the agony of listening to me reading all the parts, and the heated discussions we had afterwards because he said my plays were “too complex.” Years later, the reviewers in Washington, D.C., and elsewhere said the same thing, and when Ed saw how depressed I was, he took me aside one day and said, “There’s nothing wrong with being too complex. It just means you’ll never be rich.”
I remember the last movie I brought to Ed’s apartment, to watch on the new VCR I had convinced him to buy. The film was Pedro Almodovar’s The Law of Desire. I’d seen it before, but wanted to view it again with Ed, to see if the movie would strike him the same way. It did. Toward the end of The Law of Desire, there’s a scene where the flamboyant transexual heroine goes to the hospital to visit her brother, a victim of amnesia. The woman brings with her a faded photograph of two little boys at the beach, a photograph of the two of them when they were still young and happy. She thrusts the photograph in her brother’s face and begs him to remember. “You must remember,” she pleads, “because if you don’t remember, then I do not exist.”
Ed Ruhe was a great teacher. Hardly a day goes by when I don’t miss him, not only because he had a tremendous capacity for friendship, but also because he had a phenomenal memory. He’s gone, and he takes with him bits of ourselves which only he knew and remembered, memories of ourselves that now no longer exist.