Life’s romantic path
Yes, here’s my tell all !
Her name was Gloria. Falling blond curls framed her 6-year-old face. She sat under the only tree in the play area at the Rye Boartding School in Westchester, NY. She refused to look at me. You’re not my boyfriend, she said emphatically. Yesterday I was, I responded. But not today, she said. Instinctively I reached out, grabbed her hair over each ear, and hit the tree trunk with her head two times. She cried. I was punished. What was I to do. Smacking was a way of life among kids in those days of playground relationships. I remembered the hurt I felt when my mom first left me at the school. This was worse.
1949 - INVISIBLE
Eighth grade. A different boarding school. St. John Villa Academy, Staten Island, NY. I couldn’t be graduated without ever having had a girlfriend from among the female boarders or dayhops. Lesser lights than I had firmed up their note-passing partners. Whom to choose? She was tall. Dark hair with Central Asian features, high cheek bones and exotically upswept eyes. And so my note was passed to Teresa Presmanez. She obviously knew who I was; she laughed without even looking over. She never looked over Then after a semester of panging and pining, it was over. She exited my life until a stressful hospital stay in Moscow this year. My young doctor had the face I remembered. A skipped heartbeat, I let it go again.
1954 - INCOMPARABLE
Two guys in love with the same woman. I was editor of the Brooklyn College evening session student newspaper, Ken. Days I was a copy boy on the New York Daily News. Always on the lookout for student writers, we put out a call. Standing at my desk was a tall muscular Irish kid, a sometime dock worker, Jack Dolan. Our conjoined talents led to a fast friendship whose intellectual roots were nurtured in Howard Zinn’s history class. Jack brought Rosemarie Juliano into my life; a family friend of his since grade school, the three of us became inseparable pals - except for the fact that she was engaged to a sailor. Jack and I loved her dearly until that fateful day. We were trolling in my car when she told us that her engagement was off. Jack and I gulped hard, looked at each other and knew that this was the greatest test of our friendship. Jack later volunteered that he would back off and tell Rosemarie that I was the right one for her. As expected, she chose him and they later married while I retreated to the safety of my uneventful life in Brooklyn’s Beach Haven Apartments.
1957 - INACCESSIBLE
Esther Gold. We met at a party of student members of Kingsman, the Brooklyn College main student newspaper. I was usually shy about making a new contact, but something drew me to her, and I asked her to dance. After she declined, I coaxed, “C’mon I’ll teach you.” And we did dance and talk, but then suddenly she had to leave. Disappointed, I walked her to the bus stop. Upon my return, the group was abuzz. “Do you know what just happened,” they asked. She had to be home before sundown; huh?Turns out Esther was an Orthodox Jew who didn’t dance with boys, especially Christians. I felt special. There followed a number of social settings that placed us together, and more of the same. On several of these occasions, when she had to be home before sundown, I drove her so she could stay longer at the party. And each time she left the car, she leaned in and kissed me ever so gently on the lips. Something had to give. So in 1959, as we approached Thanksgiving Break, we sat a across from each other chatting over coffee in the college cafeteria, I raised the idea of dating. As we inched toward the possibility, I asked her what her family would think. “They would disown me; treat me as though I were dead,” she said. I cant let that happen to you, and with that ended the relationship. The regret has never ended.
1959 - INESCAPABLE
Linda Spivak. The one whom I told I would never marry…and did. She was a member of the Kingsman editorial staff and I was an Associate Editor. In the summer of my senior year, she and her best friend, Judy Reiner, sublet a summer apartment on swanky Riverside Drive overlooking the Hudson. They invited me and my best friend, Gerry Perkus, up for dinner. Their plot worked well, and I found myself alone with Linda. I was perfectly clear, no marriage. We had a great summer and our continuing relationship just about wrecked my graduate performance in the Columbia J-School. Six years of on again, off again led to a marriage proposal, ostensibly to clarify where she and her mother would sit at my brother’s wedding. That says it all.
1968 - INOPPORTUNE
One rainy evening after teaching my journalism class at Brooklyn College, I hunkered in a back doorway waiting for the rain to let up so I could dash to my car parked off campus in the street. Next to me, one of my older students, Belinda Schaefer, married to a post-doc researcher in the Chemistry Department, had a similar idea. Do you need a ride, I asked. Yes, to her apartment 5 blocks away on Ocean Ave. We sat talking in the car until the rain became a drizzle, and off she went. The minute she left the car, a strange feeling of aloneness swept over me. Two days later, I handed out an exercise in class and motioned Belinda to follow me to my office. She sat on the other side of my desk and I blurted out, “What are we going to do about what happened last night?” I don’t know, she said. Never before or since, had I experienced that kind of emotional lightning strike. We met many times after to talk it out and clearly the ball was in my court. One evening at home, I walked into my children’s bedroom. They were sleeping peacefully. Then and there I decided I could never abandon them - the way I had been several times in my life growing up. Several years later, having grown a mustache, I came upon Belinda in the cafeteria sitting with other faculty. “Well at least you look like a man,” she said as our eyes locked. I didn’t feel good about myself for a long time after that. But never any regrets.
1987 - INTERCESSION
So I am sitting in my office at Loyola University (Baltimore) about to start another school year and two years shy of tenure. But on my mind was marriage. I liked a colleague, Judy Dobler, very much, but she was already married to an adjunct in our department, Writing and Media. I knew that the marriage was shaky, and since I didn’t trust extra-marital relationships, I felt my only recourse was prayer, and so, “Dear Lord, my mind Is finally settled. If I don’t get together with Judy this year, I will definitely become a Jesuit.” Well, the answer came within a week. Judy had separated from her husband under ugly circumstances, and I was the only support person in the department available. Soon we were dating. I pushed marriage. And finally she said yes just so we could be together during the tenure process. In conclusion I’ll reveal that the first day I met Judy my biggest disappointment was learning that she was already married. That was a big moment for a guy who had spent eight years looking for a second lightning strike.
1997 - INCANDESENCE
Here I was, feeling guilty, eating in an Italian Restaurant in Chapel Hill NC, playing hooky from the Duke Diet and Fitness Center where I had consigned my morbidly obese body in desperation. Willa, a fellow dieter, was waiting for a visit from her friend in Atlanta, a very successful Ob-Gyn and a media personality. Melody McCloud’s entrance was like the arrival of the Olympic Torch in an expectant host city. Her sitting next to me unleashed me into the moment. What followed was an evening of verbal exchanges and glances that left me emotionally exhausted. Being married precluded my instinct to follow up. However, it was enough just knowing that such a flare could occur given my age and situation. Renewed I moved forward with my life, carrying my weight with me but with more self respect. To this day Melody remains a dear friend with whom we can safely share confidences and expect honesty in return. This was better than romantic.
2009 - INDELIBLE
Her presence in his life was unexpected-she a landlord, he a tenant; she a vibrant Russian-born scientist, he a journalism professor near retirement. He had come to Durham on a mission to save himself at the world-famous Duke Diet and Fitness Center. She was a brilliant neuroscientist breaking new ground in the labs at Duke on the link between short-term memory and schizophrenia. She was inaccessible-a demanding lab schedule, a deep commitment to her Orthodox faith, emotionally isolated by the untimely death of her fiancé ten years previous. Her only escape was to lose herself in Russian literature, especially poetry. He sensed she cared when she emerged from her private reading nook upstairs, to spend more time reading on the adjacent couch, as he watched his nightly TV shows. He had much to say to her, and he intuitively knew that the best way to command her attention was to be as engaging as Pushkin. And so began the flow of poems until one day he jokingly asked her, "If I write you one hundred poems, will you marry me" Her affirmative answer caught him off guard. Now all can share on Amazon the language of courtship that connected him to his beloved, Olga Timofeeva.