The Long View

The winter of life

Out of the blue, I got an email from R, my boyfriend at the University of Florida for some insanely brief period—weeks, I think. Such encounters are barely blips on the radar screen of seven decades. Yet the contact enlivened me, not because of reconnecting to a relationship that never got past the larval stage, but because it touched that time when I bubbled with enthusiasms and dreams, was firm of flesh and wore size five.

R’s note was brief: “I just found your email address. Are you alive and writing?” I wrote back, “Indeed, on both counts. And you?” No reply. I guess my answer satisfied his curiosity. We’re in the decline of life when many of our contemporaries are no longer living. Since my 50thhigh school reunion, six years ago, I get a notice of someone’s passing several times annually. That was all R wanted to establish: I’m still here; are you?

I first heard from W before I retired from teaching, several years ago. “I told him I can’t release that information,” the secretary said firmly, handing me a phone message from ____, M.D. “My god,” I said, “this is an old boyfriend. He’s a doctor now? I should have stayed with him.” Secretary thought that was hysterical, as did the two students who overheard me. Kidding, you guys: I was kidding. W and I exchanged one email and that was the end of it.

Still, the contact was pleasing. As we enter old age the tedium and pain of youth are screened by hazy years and our memories become more seductive. We remember how good we looked, how full of hope we were.

Last month, a new email from W arrived. “As I’m getting older and haven’t much time left, would you please call me?” I consulted Phil, because I consult Phil for almost everything and he said do it. I was delighted to recognize W’s voice, a voice I loved fifty-one years ago in California. The professional portrait I saw online, heavy-set older man in a suit, was someone I’d walk right past on the street. That’s no surprise: I’ve known the bitter experience of having some young person look at my youthful photo and exclaim, “You were so pretty!” Or even worse: “That’s you? Seriously?”

“Your email made me think you were dying,” I said. “Well, I am dying, aren’t I?” W replied reasonably. He remembered that he’s two years older than me and noted that on average he might have ten to twelve years left. I don’t care for this kind of reality-based talk and was relieved when he changed the subject.

“Why I really wanted to talk to you,” he said, “is to tell you that I’m grateful to you for introducing me to Kenneth Patchen and Hugh Masekela.” “The Americanization of Ooga Booga,” I said instantly, the title popping up from the past. That’s a great album. “Because,” W added, “I didn’t listen to jazz until I met you.”

As we used to say, this blows my mind. W was a college-educated black man from Boston and I was a naive white girl from a small town in Florida and introduced him to jazz? Once I got off that Greyhound in California, I must have been a quick study. I knew nothing about jazz then and don’t know much more now, except that I like listening to it. Patchen I get. I was a poet and almost no one of any race knew anything about Patchen but poets.

We talked for an hour. I finally stopped feeling guilty for how I broke up with him, how hard he tried to get me back. Because I found out he met the woman who would be his wife soon afterwards—very soon afterwards, when he should’ve still been broken-hearted, which sort of annoys me. (Never mind that I married my first husband the same year.) W’s been married 49 years, became a doctor, raised three kids who all have advanced degrees and professional careers. His daughter is an immigration lawyer. My dears, I am so off the hook.

Because that’s the life he would have wanted from me and I wasn’t the woman for it, have never, ever, not once, regretted not having children. Not having children was the right thing for me to do. During the years of my two unfortunate marriages I sometimes thought “what an idiot I was to let W slip away.” Because he was a good man, looked damn good next to the men I married. I was young in those marriages, in my 20s, my early 30s, and ignorant in so many ways. Those experiences left me sadder and wiser and considerably less ignorant. All that is far behind me now. In this good third marriage’s 35th year and half a century after my California adventure, I can say with confidence, breaking up with W was the right thing to do, for us both.

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7 Responses to The Long View

  1. Renardo says:

    Resonates with this old dude.

  2. I’ve never been to a class reunion before, but I’m going to my 50th high school reunion in 2020. Will get back to you afterwards. The 20th was good, I hear. The men did not look so good, but the women did. I saw my commie Jewish girl friend (not girlfriend, even though we went to prom together, just because we were the two least likely people to go to prom: the hipsters did not invent doing things ironically) in Berkeley just a few years ago. She hadn’t changed a bit. I suppose I hadn’t either.

    Lyrics from a song I had to play every night for two months in Nagoya, a song I hated, as did Sinatra: “Regrets, I’ve had a few/Too few to mention.” The rest of the song is shit, but I’d second that emotion, as that other song goes.

    • dubrava says:

      Look forward to that 50th reunion report. Although: 2020. The good lord willing’ and the creek don’t rise.

  3. C.M. Mayo says:

    Dear Pat, How life can throw such unexpectedly perfect curveballs. Thanks to you here on a rainy day with my coffee, so enjoying reading your blog. PS Viva Patchen!

  4. Jenny Lynn Ellis says:

    Thoughtful piece, thanks! And, my dear, you were never on the hook. What relief I feel, every day, that I’m well past the officially young, inherently confusing, season of my life and on to steadier, differently confusing years.

    • dubrava says:

      No, no, you don’t understand: I have world-class guilt here, better than Jewish guilt or Catholic guilt. Things like that breakup are always clearly my fault. But I’m with you, I’ll take it from here, aging complications and all.

  5. Bob Jaeger says:

    Beautiful piece, Pat. I didn’t attend any high school reunions, and though there are one or two people I wonder about, I don’t remember their names. Gerri gets almost weekly updates about folks from her class having died. Hmmm….

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