Bill and I sometimes google people from our respective pasts, just to make sure they’re still among the living. Yesterday, one wasn’t. He was one of “mine.”
He died on May 25, 2013, according to the obituary I found online. I hadn’t known. He lived in Massachusetts, I live in New Jersey, and the last time I saw him was in January 2006, when he came to lunch to say goodbye because Bill and I were leaving Massachusetts, probably for good. When Bill went to the bathroom and we were alone for a moment, he said to me, “He’s a good guy.” As if he were sending me off with someone trustworthy. After that, I never saw him again and we were never in touch — except once in 2010, when he sent a brief email congratulating me on the publication of a story.
“Oh,” I said to Bill. “Look who died!” As if it were a famous movie star or politician, who I never knew. But he wasn’t someone like Nuland. He was someone like no one else in my life. I’m slow to feel the impact of major blows. So it took a few moments for me finally to grasp what fell out of my life ten months ago, although I was only now learning about it.
You’ve read some posts which mention him. He was “X” in “When X Led to Y Led to Z.” He was the nameless “first serious boyfriend” in several other stories. He was nine months older than I was, and when he died last May at the age of 82 and a half, he was exactly the age I am now. It was a brief illness the nature of which was not disclosed in the Boston Globe obituary.
In the basement, I still have 147 hand-written letters which he sent in 1948 and 1949 to my mailbox at Sarah Lawrence College from the University of Chicago, and which I have managed to hold on to through two marriages and many moves and many decades. When we were seventeen and eighteen, it lasted two and a half years. We tried again when I was fifty-six and he was fifty-seven. That time it lasted two and a half months. But he called again three years later, and two years after that, although the timing was never right. And once more, when my mother died. Then I met Bill. We had one lunch after that. And then the last one.
He wasn’t a particularly poetic person — boyhood fondness for e.e. cummings aside — but at fifty-seven he told me that I had been his “heart’s desire.” No one else has ever said anything quite like that to me, so perhaps you understand why I have remembered it. I haven’t really given him a lot of thought in recent years, except when I write about my youth. But it made me feel safe to know he was still up there in West Newton, Massachusetts, only nine months older than me, the one person alive who went back the farthest in my life, who remembered things I remember, who knew my parents, whose parents I knew, who was the other half of me when I was young. At seventeen I thought we were going to be together forever.
Now there’s no one who knew my parents, and remembers things I remember, and who was the other half of me when I was young. So I am very sad. Not so much for him. As for me.
Once in 1948, when he felt I was not writing letters as frequently as he wanted to receive them, he signed one of his, “poor little me.” That’s how I feel now. So if you’ll excuse me, I will bow out today at 650 words, and see you again — with something more cheerful — tomorrow.