I was born in Minnesota, in September of 1896, to the embrace of two parents who still mourned the passing of two beloved daughters who had drawn breath before me. In that light, perhaps it’s not unusual to think that I was bound to be doted upon. My family was well-off and my mother, Heaven bless her, wanted all for me that she, her family’s fortune and my hardworking father could give. I was born in St. Paul, but before I was seven, we moved three times - to Buffalo, then to Syracuse, then again to Buffalo. I attended the schools my mother selected and was afforded an education that I’ve come to look back on in the long years since with something like profound appreciation. Despite whatever hardships I came to face later on in my life, I was raised by good hearts and sound minds to be as confident, prepared and excellent as I could be - and Catholic, though what good that particular avenue was intended to do for me, I can’t be sure.
When I was still a boy of ten, my father’s misfortunes with work saw us retreating from New York to return to St. Paul. In hindsight, I believe I didn’t take to this well. My early ventures into what would become a lifelong passion for writing started shortly thereafter, and went well for a first blush. I was even published by the school paper a few years later. Alas, at fifteen my continued displeasure with the pace of our lives, and to an extent my newfound preoccupation, saw me summarily dismissed from my academy in St. Paul for being neglectful of my studies. My father was disappointed; Mother’s response was to enroll me in a preparatory school in New Jersey at which I did better - well enough that I enrolled at Princeton in 1913. At University, I joined the school paper, the Triangle Club and the Nassau Lit, all of them outlets for my growing passion for the written word. I made good friends as well, some that stayed with me for the decades to come. God bless them, they were good to me. University, however, was not. I confess now, looking back, I still don’t know what it was, whether my academic hungers had been weaned off being studious and excellent, or if I was bored by it. Perhaps a bit of both. In any case, I gave it a shot - twice - before I left University for good without my degree and chose to enlist myself in the United States Army. Mother was horrifically upset by it, but it was considered a great, honorable pursuit for the men and boys of my generation and the popular thing to do for those of us who found ourselves failing at other occupations. Ranked as I was at second lieutenant from the go, my commission would never add up to a fortune, but it was enough for me I thought, at the time. I was even stationed here in our own country, in Alabama of all places, but my mother could not be convinced that I wouldn’t be blown to a thousand pieces in the dead of night. I sometimes think that it was her anxiety alone, that of losing her last child, that somehow miraculously ended the war. To my minor shame and her magnificent relief, I never saw action in real combat - but I was under siege all the same, for in the grasp of the young Montgomery society life of 1918, I had fallen well and truly in love.
Her name was Zelda, Zelda of Alabama’s wealthy Sayre family. She was the golden girl, the darling of their societal circles and the one who had, without mercy, set my heart aflame for her. While I was enlisted, she was content to bait me - to give me coy smiles and to meet my eyes over the rim of her glass, or to save me a single dance on her card. When the War was over, I took a job with an advertising firm and wrote short stories for the paper to supplement my wages. She had agreed to marry me once, but then she would not have me, convinced that whatever pittance of a sum I earned would not be enough to support her in our life together and though I was heartbroken and furious, I knew her to be, in all likelihood, right. I retreated to St. Paul, to my parents’ house, and to the bottom of a bottle to seek relief. All that I had achieved in my life that made me happy, and all that I had ever wanted to do since my dwindling interest in academia, was to write. Somewhere, in the haze of a summer fueled primarily on cheap, bitter whiskey, I dragged from whatever dark place I’d hidden it the unfinished manuscript I had started at Princeton. The Romantic Egoist was the tentative title then and while at University, I had hit a wall on working with the piece - I could not finish it, no matter how long I stayed hunched over the pages at my desk, pen in hand. Yet, with Zelda’s dismissal of me sitting fresh and pain like a burn across my soul, I found the rest of the story came out with a bitterly surprising ease. I finished it, revised it, and two weeks shy of my twenty-third birthday anniversary I handed it to a friend to deliver to a publisher, still drunk on my upset and alcohol and toying with the unrealistic notion that perhaps if I could make it work, if I could become a published author with an overnight success, I could get Zelda back. It was a fool’s gamble, born of whiskey dreams and the hopes of a man fueled by some unspeakable sort of desperation, but it was a gamble I took, despite all its foolishness.
Yet still, it worked. The book was accepted by the publishers within days, albeit I was told the actual printing and public release would have to wait until Spring despite my intense begging. It was of little matter. The night after the news arrived, I put myself on a train to visit Zelda, to convince her. My twenty-third birthday present was her acceptance. She agreed to marry me once the book was published - indeed, we did marry, four days after the initial publication what came to be called This Side of Paradise and only a single day after the first printing had sold out. I was a whirlwind of pleasure then, my dreams realized. Overnight celebrities, we were, she and I. Not famously wealthy, perhaps, save for her family’s fortune, but literary recognition earned me a higher selling price for my short story work and that was as welcome as anything could be. I remember riding up Fifth Avenue in a cab, Zelda beside me. I was young, rich, famous, and in love. The tears that burned behind my eyes in that moment were pure joy, and relief. I felt I could never be happier than I was at that moment.
We spent the early 1920’s in New York, living the fantastic dream. In 1921, our darling girl was born, the most precious child - a culmination of all the feverish love and want and glitter of those first years with Zelda. We named her Frances, but she was always Scottie to me. She was my princess and never had I loved any creature so, not even her mother.
In 1922, they published my second novel The Beautiful and The Damned, and a collection of short stories I’d written which had rather cleverly been bound up into one volume under the title Tales of the Jazz Age. Both sold well and we moved into a rented home on Long Island. The whirlwind of parties, pleasures, drinking and spending - they were what both Zelda was used to, and what I thought myself so naively entitled to, at the time. It got us into trouble in more ways than one. Funds ran short and we attempted to cover ourselves by writing a play, Zelda and I both together, but it was a spectacular flop by the standards of the day and we quit New York altogether to make a new home in Europe. We spent the bulk of our time in Paris, and the French Riviera. Zelda favored the scene and the atmosphere of Paris and I found it to be a balm to my wounded creativity, a city that much alive with inspiration, with the energy of life and the people who lived it. I finished another novel there and in 1925, The Great Gatsby was published. I swore then that I never wanted to leave Paris again. We became expatriates, Americans living abroad as Parisians, and were never so grandly welcomed anywhere at any time in our lives as we were in Paris by those other runaway individuals who had left their natural countries behind to settle there. I found fast company and made lifelong friendships with some of the people who would become nearest and dearest to me.
I still mourn the loss of Ernest. I loved him as I loved few people. Despite what might have become of us in later years, I did care for him, greatly.
That he and Zelda never cared very much for one another is probably very fitting a metaphor for the overall scope of my life then. Zelda, whom I had once chased with such unrelenting want and who’s smile had once been the sole subject of my dreams, represented everything that I had been in the beginning of my career, idealistic, boyish, full of fervor and ready to do anything to get what I wanted. I sold myself and my work to magazines and news publications, to support her and the lavish lifestyle she encouraged me to lead. I can’t fault her for all of it, because I was only too eager to live in the glitter and garish decadence, to spend money faster than I could earn it. The drinking did little to aid our marriage, admittedly. We were both besotted in the whirl of life, and drink and excess, but reality was a bitter light in the morning in which we looked at each other over the breakfast table at noon and realized that whatever love we may have shared once, we had grown apart - acrimonious, self-absorbed with ourselves, false in the facade we shared and true only in the love we bore for our chid. I think back, sometimes, and wonder how things might have been had we had a conversation about it, had we chosen to sit down and discuss it as intellectuals with our hearts set aside. Separation then and there might have saved us, though in the end perhaps we were too in consumed with our hate and by each other. Our relationship persisted in its twisted fashion, she hurting me, I hurting her. We lashed out at each other in private and smiled in the presence of friends and drank ourselves stupid no matter the place or the time or the day. And we drowned. We dug ourselves into holes that I scrambled to write us out of. Ernest and I had a word for this to which Zelda didn’t take too kindly - whoring we called it, for that was exactly what it was, to sell our work to the newspapers, to the magazines. I whored myself for the earnings I made at those transactions, and I took a job for writing for Hollywood only two years after Gatsby, only because I had to, to keep us afloat. Hollywood was never my passion. I think Ernest knew that, if Zelda did not. She knew this and that and the other, though which it was at any given time was not to be predicted, not by myself or by anyone else for that matter. Zelda, the love of my youth - my once beautiful, vivacious wife, swallowed whole in the labyrinthine confines her slowly unravelling mind.
Some days were filled with more normalcy - our normalcy, understand - than others. Some days were not so blessed. In April of 1930 when we were once more in Paris, I had her admitted to the sanatorium for her own good and, riddled with angst and torn by terror and tears, I planted myself at a Parisian bar I once frequented often in the days before.
Looking back, I can say without doubt that in that single evening, the course of my existence was irrevocably altered. I bought a man a drink that night, a whiskey sour. I spoke to him as if I spoke to myself, the melancholy and distinct misery in his half-hearted smile as poorly concealed as my own. After a time, he too spoke to me and we talked aimlessly, back and forth, each speaking for the other.
A year and day later, that man offered me an apple that gleamed gold in the light of dawn - and I took it.
All the things that came next and followed are documented by history and countless biographers - as is most of what I’ve already listed above. There are many versions and many tales, anecdotes and memories and things left out and things added in. Which you choose to believe is up to you but I will say this: things are as they appear and at once, they are also not. A man made immortal cannot die, but nor can he live unaging and unchanging in the eye of the world or in the circled embrace of his friends.
History marks the mundane, but poetically tragic passing of the much praised, oft criticized F. Scott Fitzgerald on December 21st of the year 1940. May he rest in peace.
My name is Scott and in April of 1931, I became immortal.