A song came through my head this morning, When I was in Love, by Stephen Bishop. In case the link dumps you at the start of the video, go to 1:05:50 (yes, it’s a long video, and it’s the last song) and wait for a moment. It’s a lovely, sad song, and it reminded me in some respects of my life between, say, the ages of 14 and 26.
During that period, I dated a number of girls and women. Some of the relationships were fun, some were strange, some were difficult. Some were short and some were long, and in some the other person invested far more than I did. And in some, I invested far more.
For the heck of it, I sat down about a year ago, looked through old journals, and made a list of the people I had actually been in a relationship with. I dated others, but these were the ones I worked at. There are 17 names on the list, so most of the relationships were not terribly long, as you can see. Out of those 17, thinking back over more than 40 years, I can say that I was actually in love perhaps four times.
I had the enormous fortune to fall in love, the last time and quite permanently, with a woman who loved and loves me, too. This year marks our 30th year together, the 28th since we married–in fact, we met in April of 1984, in a classroom at the University of Chicago, and started going out in May.
What is it about being in love? Some loves are triumphant, and some are tragic.
Stephen Bishop is singing about love lost–the tragic–and I remember that feeling. Sitting in my studio apartment on Blackstone one rainy Valentine’s Day in 1983, all alone, my heart breaking from the months-long loss of a woman I considered, at that point, to have been the Great Love of my life. Some friends anonymously dropped off Valentine cookies, They meant well, but when I rushed to the door to find nobody there, only a plate with cookies, I cried. I was a wreck, and so, so, so terribly alone. Perhaps the only feeling worse than being alone like that is the awful realization that comes when you confess your love to someone who does not love you back.
And yet there is that lyric: “at least once in my life it turned out alright.”
A year and a bit after that Valentine’s Day, still living in that same studio apartment, I met T. We had lunch together, went for a couple of afternoon walks, and then one day I invited her over and made dinner for her. I still remember afterward, sitting on the couch together, learning about each other. I dragged out a stack of Doonsbury and Bloom County books, and we laughed together, and then we kissed for the first time. It was gentle, and I remember my hear pounding–taking the chance on a beginning. It was (and is) a great and terrifying feeling.
She was headed out West to stay with family for the Summer, but that Spring we spent a great deal of time together. I suspect one of my attractions was that in 1984, I owned a computer, and T used it to write end of term papers. I remember one hot and humid Chicago evening running to the Short Stop Coop convenience store to grab ginger ale while she wrote. It was warm, so I tossed it into the freezer and went to nap while she wrote. I woke up to find the cans had exploded in the freezer!
All that summer, we wrote letters back and forth (I remember telling her what a great movie Ghost Busters was, and how it was destined to become a phenomenon). I was careful never to use the word “love.” The risk was too great.
When she came back in the fall, though, I met her at the airport, and there was no question. I was in love, and it turned out alright.
We went to movies, danced, took silly photographs of each other, met a huge black poodle named Toby and his owner (his owner said Toby was a Jewish dog) under the trees of Hyde Park, sang together, walked all over the North Side, had dinner at Anne Sather’s, picnicked on bread, cheese and apples on some city explorations, went to the Great ACE (a hardware store) and Divine Idea (a retro used clothing store), walked under bare trees through a parking lot filled with leaves, and that’s when I knew that I was not only in love with, but that I could not live without T.
It’s been nearly thirty years now–a bit more than half my lifetime. We don’t look the same anymore. We have four kids and two grandchildren; T’s gained some weight and I’ve gained some weight. We both have gray in our hair. We’ve been employed and unemployed, we’ve taken chances and bought and sold houses. We’ve moved around the country a lot. We’ve had sickness and health. Joy and sorrow, but mostly joy.
She’s flying back this afternoon from a conference in Chicago, and I can still feel my heart pounding.