I proposed on New Year’s Day. Would love pass my way?
Maybe two weeks into the relationship, Emily said to me, “You know it’s just an affair, right? I want to make sure we’re on the same page.
“I know,” I say. “We may not be on the same paragraph, but we’re on the same page.”
She seemed satisfied, even though my paragraph was already much more passionate than hers. Not surprising, considering I was much older and hadn’t felt anything this intense in decades.
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, we had met in nature, not online. I was trudging home from the supermarket and she was standing in front of a cheese shop, staring out the window.
“They have the best baguettes in town,” I said as I walked past her in the dusk, thinking that would be it. But she turned around and said, “I just moved here. Is this a good place?
She wore a bright blue mask, but her dark eyes creased into an unmistakable smile as she walked beside me. “What’s good for a take-out dinner around here?”
“Where I’m going next,” I said.
Believe me, it’s not often (think, ever) that I get this kind of attention, let alone from someone so young – 34, it turned out – from as beautiful and, in this case, of Japanese origin. She had fled her small New York apartment for an Airbnb in Santa Monica, and over the next few months we developed a warm friendship: walking her French bulldog puppy, picking up ice cream around the corner. Although I had been smitten with her – a very powerful lawyer, she had given up a career as a concert violinist – I had no hope of anything romantic happening, until a night it happen.
She invited me over for a movie night, and we chose, of all things, to watch “The Dead,” the movie based on a story from James Joyce’s “Dubliners.” But we had barely passed the opening credits – and I still don’t know how it happened – we were in each other’s arms on the couch. She claims that I initiated that first passionate kiss. I say she did, but that would be like unraveling the Big Bang. No matter how far back in time we go, we don’t know what really happened at that very first nanosecond of implosion.
And even though I’m someone who’s been chastised in the past for not being able to say the magic words “I love you”, it wasn’t more than a week or two before I said them, and once they got out, I couldn’t shut up. The floodgates had opened and decades of denial were dismissed almost as easily as my t-shirts (which, I found, younger men don’t wear as much as us older men).
As for those younger guys, who persistently pursued her, they might have carried gummies in their pockets instead of Eliquis, and they might have been ready for anything – polyamory, skydiving, Burning Man – but they didn’t. weren’t ready for commitment and devotion, which happen to be my strengths.
What I also had that they could never offer was the call of the impossible. Given our age difference, Emily could throw herself into our affair without having to think about serious future plans. She didn’t have to worry about where things were going (nowhere, to be honest) because she was planning to return to New York at the end of her tenure, to begin the search for a viable husband in earnest. And I understood.
Or thought I did. The head accepts what the heart ignores. I intellectually knew she was right, but my heart paid no attention, weaving elaborate fantasies that even included a mythical girl named Veronica, a precocious child who played the violin like her mother. For a divorced man who never had or wanted children, I was suddenly jolted by the alarm of a biological clock that I didn’t even know I had. But have I been given one last chance?
There were times when I thought I was, sometimes still Emily seemed willing to entertain this fantasy. “I love you,” she told me several times, and I flatter myself that she really meant it. I even proposed on New Year’s morning. But Emily, laughing, replied with “So where’s the ring?”
Could it be? Luckily I have had a ring – the one my ex-wife had missed – tucked away in the drawer of the bedside table.
I slipped it onto his finger, and we both studied it there, not saying a word but feeling what it would be like if it were to be real, before tears came to his eyes.
“You know I can’t,” she whispered.
And besides, I couldn’t either, I knew that. I loved this woman with all my heart, and therefore, in quite possibly a first for me, I really and truly only wanted the best for her – and that best was not me. It was a selfless feeling I had often heard of – concern for someone else’s well-being above your own – and I still didn’t know what to make of it; I felt a lot like Humphrey Bogart, sacrificing Ingrid Bergman, in the “Casablanca” farewell scene. Despite all the airy fantasies, Emily obviously needed someone much younger, someone to raise this family with. Her tiger mother, in fact, had already chosen an age-appropriate Hong Kong banker for her.
“I know you can’t,” I said, before adding, “and let’s face it – if your mother ever found out about us, she’d hire a yakuza to put a bullet in the back of my neck.”
Wiping away her tears, Emily said, “No, she wouldn’t.”
“She’s way too cheap for that.” And anyway, she would want to kill you herself.
His mother can rest easy. The last time I saw Emily, she was waving me goodbye from the United Airlines terminal on her way back to New York. I miss her terribly, every day, but as Bogie could have said, we will always have Santa Monica.
The author is a novelist living (alone) in Santa Monica. His website is: robertmasello.com.
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