When I was little, there were very few cartoons on TV, so whenever one came along we made sure not to miss it. It’s not as if we had a big choice, so we were happy with whatever the little screen offered us. I don’t know if I really liked the Heckle and Jeckle show, but that wasn’t the point: it fit the bill. I assiduously followed the story of these buddies, two rather ugly magpies, and although there was no female character to identify with, I lapped it up. In the credits to the French version, the song included the words: “They travel all over the world singing à tue-tête [at the top of their lungs].” I didn’t know the expression chanter à tue-tête, but I liked how it sounded and I imagined it had a wonderful meaning. It would become my key, my way of loving this story about birds a little more. For me, à tue-tête must have meant someone who sings divinely beautifully, in extraordinary and joyful harmony. I used the expression all the time, a bit indiscriminately. I liked to say it, to repeat it, to see how it sounded. One day my mother gently scolded me: “À tue-tête? Why do you say that, sweetie?” I was probably using it in a totally wrong way. Ashamed and a little confused, I turned beet red. For a long while, I stared at my feet to mask the emotions welling up. I was vexed. I’d got it wrong. “I don’t know. I like it . . . à tue-tête is pretty. Why? What does it actually mean?” She simply replied: “Ear-splittingly loud.”
What a letdown. My whole world collapsed. To me, the phrase sounded sweet, beautiful and warm as milk. It conjured up a pleasant moment, like being hugged by your mom, like tu tètes [you suckle], like how I heard it, how it sounded. It evoked the memory of a pleasurable experience from long ago. Under my ginger locks, it was impossible to hold back the flood of tears and my blushing embarrassment. After this incident, I stopped watching the cartoon.
But Heckle and Jeckle, that loud, crazy twosome, probably had a bigger impact than I could have imagined. For I chose to make the duo central to my life: to find a partner, join forces and create something together, to split ears or caress them (depending on taste); to learn to make room and find your place, to meld, share, console and be consoled, be different yet together, to embody the possibilities of harmony. Caro and Jeunet, Jules and Jim, Jane and Serge, Thelma and Louise, Sailor and Lula, Delphine and Solange, Stieglitz and O’Keeffe, Scott and Zelda—with these fascinating couples, so inspirational you can’t imagine one without the other, it’s heartbreaking when they split up. For us they’re forever conjoined, and yet because they form such a whole, they leave little space for others. They go hand in hand, in a sweet or exhausting harmony. As William Sheller used to sing, we love them or we hate them.