The Love of My Life
By SusanWozniak on November 22, 2012
I did not know that Sunday marked a beginning. I was young, 13 or 14. Time passes slowly for the young and beginnings are difficult to trace.
But the praying hands held just above my shoulder, peeking into my peripheral vision, would pique my curiosity. They belonged to a boy who just reached his adult height of 6’,1”, which he had yet to grow into. Although the incident was embarrassing, I watched for him the next Sunday as he followed his parents to their usual seat, his energy barely contained.
Despite seeing him only in profile, I was fascinated. He was not handsome, which was good, as my mother said I was too homely to attract a good-looking man. Who was he?
When his picture – thankfully in profile -- appeared in the local paper, he was dressed in shorts and a dark sweatshirt, leaning forward, listening to the track coach, I learned his name and that he was an award winning middle- distance runner, a distinction redolent with its own poetry.
The next time his name appeared, I learned he was a National Merit Scholar. I wanted him to be my boyfriend.
I was just past my 17th birthday when, at a parish dance, he stood talking to the new assistant pastor. I already had a public persona, which I assumed, then walked over to introduce myself to the priest who introduced us. The boy leaned too far into my personal space, a concept I did not know but understood. I liked his warm brown eyes and his ready smile. Better still, I liked the way he looked at me. Later, he said all he could think was, “I want to meet this girl.”
We spent the summer walking and talking about cribbage, breakfast cereal and his ambition to practice medicine, but, in the fall, he flew back to Pasadena. Subdued and withdrawn, I ached for him. Two years would pass before we saw each other again.
As a college freshman, I dated my class valedictorian, a doctoral candidate at Ohio State and an assortment of pre-med and medical students with December birthdays, all without excitement. I thought of him, particularly after my mother returned from the grocers, angered by news he had transferred to the University of Michigan. I was delighted. However, because I worked at a local museum, I went to an earlier Mass. I did not see him.
The ache of missing him returned and grew until mid-summer, when intuition drew me to walk past his best friend’s home. He was sitting on a car parked in the driveway. He jumped off and walked toward me, stopping so close that I had to bend my neck to look up at him, grateful for my “sixth sense.” His face told me how happy he was to see me.
He was working as an orderly at University Hospital and would return to Ann Arbor that night. He asked me to join him for coffee before the drive. We sat in a café on Michigan Avenue, talking in an animated but intimate way. It did not feel that two years had passed since our last conversation. As we left the shop, he brushed his lips against mine. I wanted to grab the lamp post and spin around it, yelling with joy. I looked up at his broad smile and knew my face looked like his.
I asked him to the museum’s end of summer dance. In his arms, I felt
sexual arousal for the first time. I dropped out of dance position and stepped
Over the next 15 months, we read The Lord of the Rings together, wrote
poetry in tandem, went to Zappa and Fugs concerts, sang the Dylan songbook
and grew closer. My mother dropped hints about not marrying the first boy who
came along while reminding me how homely I was. Winter Formal at my
woman’s college approached and my mother talked about playing the field. I
asked another boy who responded with a love letter. No one told me that I could,
or should, break the date.
While I was dressing, the phone rang. “Hi,” he said in his bright baritone.
“I didn’t expect to be in from Ann Arbor but I need jeans. Would you like to shop
with me?” I stood in the kitchen, holding the phone while my mother glared. I
said, “I have something I can’t get out of but I would rather be with you. Could we
shop tomorrow?” His voice tightened. “No, I have a shift at the hospital. My last.”
“I’m so sorry. I would love to be with you.” That was as bold as I ever was
with him. I realized then that I loved him. My mother turned on her heel and
walked out, trailing anger.
My mother had called him by his last, never his first, name. After that call,
she added the adjective “crazy” to his surname, putting in the company of “Crazy
Phil Ochs,” and “Crazy Joan Baez.” She berated him for being a “professional
student,” demanding to know why he wasn’t in med school. He’s only 20 and
needs to finish his bachelor’s, I explained. She insisted he didn’t. My father
ridiculed his runner’s body, telling me, “You like them skinny guys.”
Despite months of parking, we were incapable of saying I love you, I want
to make love to you. The tension grew but he never pushed. Then, I had a
nightmare about him. I related it, sitting on his lap in his room in Ann Arbor.
When I finished, he quietly said, “I don’t dream about you but I think about you
during the day.” I stood and looked at him. I wanted to ask, “Did you just say
you love me,” but could not. Instead, I said in a sarcastic voice that I hoped
would convey my meaning, “I never think of you.” He looked at the floor and
By spring, we were clumsily hinting with uncannily bad timing. The night
he said, “We have to do this,” I answered, “Yes, we must do this,” but we never
said “make love” and we didn’t.
Four days later, I did not know when he picked me up that it was ending.
Neither did he. As we leaned back on his parents’ bed, the phone rang as the
clock chimed nine times. My mother screamed to come home because it was
“two in the morning.” I yelled over the clock that it was only nine. Too angry to
speak, we returned without a plan.
My father, who I had seen hit my mother, stepped toward him.
Instinctively, I moved to protect him. I never knew what happened but the door
slammed and I walked past my parents to bed. Several days later, I went to his
house. He was angry. I apologized. “No,” he said. “I can’t go on.” He picked a
daisy from the untidy plant at the kitchen door, gave it to me and went inside.
Two years later, at a rock concert with someone who tricked me into going
with him, I saw my beloved alone. He was a sophomore in med school. His dirty
hair hung to his shoulders. He looked strained, rat-like, cold, aloof.
During that time, I was often alone. Two relationships ended in tears. I
disposed of my virginity with a boy I had met that day, walking across the Diag at
the University of Michigan. My father threatened another boy who was just
another volunteer for Gene McCarthy who had driven me to a campaign event.
By then, I was afraid of my parents.
With time, I missed my beloved again, but heard he had another girlfriend.
Later, I heard she was gone. He was now a senior and I was a welfare case
worker, taking graduate courses at night. I sent him the lyrics to “Daddy, you’ve
been on my mind.” He called. In the white of a Michigan winter, we lay in silence
on his white sheets, in his apartment painted the white of temporary situations,
the white of cheap maintenance. I did not look at him but at his guitar, painted
hot pink and strippled with lurid colors. This was not the boy I knew. Who was
Several encounters later, he spoke about himself, sounding as he had at
18, his voice innocent, open. As a college sophomore, he wanted me to know
him. At 25, he seemed grim. I too was grim. I had hoped to win him back.
When I realized I couldn’t, I wanted him to remember me.
The other girl was not gone but in graduate school. They would be
married in a week. I stared at the guitar and thought, “Med school diminished
Eight years later, a new mother, married to a man I did not love, I
suddenly felt that the man who had been so important to me was divorced. That
week, my mother called. A letter had arrived from him. I said to forward it.
He had lived with his wife a single year. They moved west when he
finished his internship, but to different states and did not divorce. He wrote there
was no reason to. He said he had convinced himself that I did not love him
because he assumed the woman would declare love first. “I never wanted to
wait (to have sex) until marriage, only until I fell in love. I wanted you but you
never seemed interested.”
There was more but what mattered is that he had loved me. I answered
that I was married and a mother. I told him I had loved him very much and that I
had wanted him as a man.
I thought about him happily but less frequently. Occasionally, I checked
the AMA directory to see where he was. After the Internet, I looked him up every
second or third year. He journeyed around the United States, remarried then had
a family. I divorced my husband, returned to graduate school and watched my
children begin their lives. Early in 2011, I wrote a novel and gave the heroine his
birth year: 1945. I had UCLA deny her admission to graduate school because he
was denied a place at a California medical school due to Reagan’s policies. As I
wrote, I the same ache I had had at 17 enveloped me.
I longed to run into him, perhaps, at an airport, to know how he was, but, I
never travel. As his birthday approached, I decided to go to the theatre. That
morning, I remembered tobogganing with him, his best friend and his friend’s girl.
I could not remember the friend’s name, which haunted me. Home again, I hoped
his birthday was happy. I typed his name into my computer. In 0.38 seconds,
more than 6,000 entries surfaced. The first was his obituary.
He had died suddenly, two weeks before. I felt a pain in my chest. For
two days, I was an automaton. On the third, I collapsed on the floor and cried.
Then I remembered what had happened the last day we loved each other. When
my father moved toward him, I shoved him out the door to protect him. I could not
watch my father hit him.
I am glad we had sex. Perhaps, we did make love. Whatever it was, it
bought forgiveness at a bargain price. However, the realization that followed his
death was too dearly bought. Nearly a year later, I wish he were alive,
happy, productive and loved.
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