It is Christmas Day, December 25, 2009 and I’m on a plane flying from Sarasota, Florida to San Francisco. I’ve just turned 71 and I’m traveling to meet my sweetheart 50 years after we first parted. I’m nervous.
We have planned a nine day visit which will include her annual New Year’s Day party where many of her best friends and family will be able to give me the once-over. The fish eye. The “who are you and what makes you think you’re good enough for our Isadora?” look. Who wouldn’t be nervous?
I have always been a writer but have always made my living in other ways. For the last thirty five years as an entrepreneur, creating and operating various enterprises. Since 1998 I had also had a burst of creativity, writing six complete and several unfinished novels and I was working on completing some of the novels and a few other writing projects. Self-publishing allowed me to get them into print and email gave me the means to announce them.
Among the names on my email list was Isadora Alman. I told myself that as an oft-published author herself she would be able to give me tips on marketing. That she would have connections that could help. And that if my books were good enough I would be redeemed in her eyes.
Redemption was important. As young lovers we were insatiable when it came to each other. I was thoroughly smitten and asked her to marry me several times, marshalling arguments and poetry on my behalf, but to no avail. As she explained it I was too much of a poet, a free spirit, to be tied to the realization of her dreams and plans for a solidly upper middle class life.
I should have been crushed, but in essence I thought she was right. Though that didn’t help my feelings any when she married another man.
No matter how lovingly rejection is couched, no matter how persuasive the reasons, when the one you love marries another it hurts.
Life ensued. Marriage, children, career, divorce, new career, serially monogamous love affairs, second marriage and second divorce.
But Isadora had stayed in my mind and, at least, with my books I hoped to regain a measure of the respect I felt she had taken from me by marrying another.
So I sent her an email. And she replied, apparently delighted. In one of the increasingly torrid exchanges that followed she wrote “I love you” and it was as though she had opened a long-closed door to a buried chamber of my heart and released a flood of emotion I hadn’t suspected existed.
The years rolled away. I couldn’t wait to fire up my computer in the morning to send her greetings. I would do that at 7:30 am in Florida knowing she was still fast asleep in California. Then I would go on my daily four to five mile walk and think about her. Write poetry to her. Feel sexual stirrings and waves of desire for her.
I’d return to my house and force myself to shower and eat before returning to the computer so she would have had plenty of time to respond. And there it would be – a love note. And I’d happily reply with a report of my walk and include a bit of verse and tell her how terrific our correspondence was making me feel.
As part of moving out of my married home I had unearthed several boxes of papers that constituted the history of my life. Writings primarily, but also letters, photos, notes and memorabilia. I had started to work my way through them while unpacking but under the spur of my correspondence with Isadora I made a determined dig.
To my surprise I found a smallish stack of letters and notes she had written to me over the years with a lot of “I love you’s” included. A sentiment I had always discounted since she had, after all, married someone else, but one which I now read with more avid and believing eyes.
Our daily, often twice or three times daily, emails were exciting me to a fever pitch and when finally, after several weeks of indecision, she phoned me, it was thrilling. Her voice was the same as ever and strengthened my desire to see her again.
We had tried this once before in 1975. She was newly divorced, I was unattached and so she flew to Florida to spend a week with me. It was fun. It was pleasurable. But it only confirmed her belief that I was who I always was and so we parted once again.
Yet here we are thirty-five years after that experience and the heat is flowing unabated between us. I am who I have always been and so is she. And yet…
And so I’m flying to San Francisco. We’re both older. I’m gray haired and the survivor of many injuries which include bladder cancer. She’s much heavier than the girl I knew and suffers from several ailments of age. How will we feel in the flesh? Nine days might turn into a slice of heaven or a cold and uncomfortable hell.
“Oh well,” I think, “if we can’t stand each other now’s the time to find out. I can always stay in a cheap motel until the return flight.”
These thoughts bounce around my skull on the limo ride to her house. I know that her daughter, granddaughter and son-in-law will be there when I arrive and will check me out so we won’t be alone at first.
It is mid-day when the limo pulls up in front of her house and she and her family are waiting on the front porch. She is smiling at me and as I approach she opens her arms. We immediately embrace and then kiss.
I’m surprised to realize I’m thinking, “This can work.”
After a little conversation her daughter and son-in-law apparently concluded that I was neither crazed nor dangerous and so we were left alone.
There was a lot for each of us to get past. The ravages of age are well named. Some are visible, some are not and all are piled on us higgledy-piggledy, making us less attractive, less mobile and never quite free of aches and pains.
For that first afternoon and evening we sat in her living room and began the conversation we still carry on. Getting to know someone you already love is made easier by the acceptance of the other which love provides. Getting used to each other’s much changed appearance is made easier as well.
We were hesitant, but very, very willing.
That night we went to our separate beds and I lay there trying to assess my feelings for this woman at once so known and so unknown. “So far so good,” I thought. “We’re open, we’re being honest with each other and certainly with ourselves, so whatever happens will be mutual.”
At about that time I heard stirrings from her bedroom and in a moment she appeared at my door.
“Oh, what the hell,” she said, or something like that, and slipped into bed beside me.
With a sigh of relief I took her in my arms and held her close.
“I remember this,” we both said, nearly in unison.
“Still feels good,” I said.
“Mmmm,” she replied.
That got our visit off to a good start and went a long way to relieve the strangeness of the situation.
The days between Christmas and New Year’s were full. We spent them talking, shopping for the party materials, talking, making love and talking.
On New Year’s Day guests began arriving in early afternoon by ones and twos until her little home was full of smiling, chatting people. Some gave me a genteel grilling, some a warm welcome and some showed little interest. All, however, had heard our story and we heard “Isn’t that sweet?” or variations of it until I visibly shuddered. I couldn’t wait until we were no longer “that cute couple,” and could become ourselves.
After the party was over we collapsed in our private conversation pit, she in her easy chair and me on the couch opposite.
“I think that went well,” she said. “And I was very proud of you.”
That warmed me immensely. Having her love me and be proud of me felt, well, wonderful.
For the next few days before my return flight we “played house” and talked about the practical aspects of the future and what we wanted to do about it.
From my point of view there would be no real sense in our getting back together, in our living together, unless I could whole-heartedly devote myself to it. To me that meant sharing bed and bedroom.
“But I roll and thrash in my sleep,” she said. “I need the whole bed.”
“I don’t take up much room,” I replied, “and you’d get used to it. You might even grow to like it.”
“I don’t like to cuddle,” she said. “I don’t really like being touched.”
I relaxed then, since we spent most of our time in bed touching, cuddling, making love and talking – exactly as we had done 52 years before.
We never did reach a formal decision but somehow in the last days of my stay we were planning the accommodations she would make to have me move in. “It” had been decided between “It’s been eighteen years since I’ve lived with anyone,” and “I think I’m missing you already.”
I flew back to Sarasota in an out-of-body sort of state. After nine days with Isadora I was preparing to pack my important belongings, say goodbye to my dear ones and move to California. “For the rest of my life,” wasn’t as scary now as when I was twenty-one. Fifty years on the rest of my life was a statistical crapshoot which at the most wouldn’t last twenty years.
Three years into our great experiment now and I’m happy to report things are better than ever between us.