Saturday, November 24, 2012

Something to Look Forward to When I Get Home

We met in a student lounge, one filled with vending machines and booths and two-person tables. I was sitting in one of the booths with a friend or two, classmates who were also residents at a nearby Catholic seminary. Another such friend approached, trailed by a very tall, very thin, very red-headed man in blue-tinted glasses whom I'd never noticed before. We were introduced. I don't remember how long we all sat together, but eventually the two latecomers left.

Many years later the redhead told me he'd been "seeing" me "around" and had been plotting to meet me.

Early the next afternoon I was hogging a couch in another lounge, legs stretched across the pillows, textbook in lap, highlighter in hand, when he approached me again, this time alone. I invited him to sit and surrendered the other half of the couch. We talked for a long time, until one or the other of us had to go to a class.

It was mid-February. Years later we would begin to celebrate Valentine's Day as the approximate day we met.

Suddenly, in the days and weeks that followed, he seemed to be everywhere. He figured out my schedule, including what time I went to lunch each day, when and where my classes were, and where I went to study in between. He began to show up toward the end of my lunch period, just as my lunchmates were heading off to class and leaving me behind.

One early spring day he followed me out onto the balcony. As we leaned against the railing, silent for some moments, he suddenly said something like, "One of these days we should go someplace else for lunch." I looked at him, smiled, and said something like, "OK." He looked back at me, eyes twinkling, and replied, "Really?" His usually deep voice squeaked in that way I can still hear in my head.

A day or two or three later (I don't remember such details the way he did), we wandered downtown and into a corner restaurant called Central Park. I remember I had French onion soup. Years later he still remembered what I was wearing that day, but I have forgotten what, even though he reminded me.

That was the first of many wanderings off campus, for the rest of that semester and the next, at the end of which he left both the seminary and school. I had one semester to go. One day that winter, a year after we met, I found a letter from him waiting in my student-center mailbox. Among other things, he told me he would soon be coming to campus for a couple of days to retrieve a few things he'd left behind at the seminary. As I headed back toward my dorm, reading the letter again as I walked, I glanced up and—there he was, about twenty feet away, walking toward me.

We continued to correspond. A little later in the semester he arrived for another visit, this time unannounced. He found me in the student center, sitting on the same couch where we'd had our first long conversation. At one point he asked if I'd gotten his last letter. Indeed I had. "And I wrote back but I haven't mailed it yet," I said. I reached into my book bag, pulled out the evidence, and handed it to him. He stood up, said "I'll be right back," and headed out the door. Through the building's plate-glass windows I watched him go down the stairs and deposit the letter into the big mailbox in front of the student center. "Why'd you do that?" I asked when he returned. "So I'll have something to look forward to when I get home."
"In fairy tales, all the difficulties come first, then the hero and heroine marry, and they live happily ever after with death never mentioned; in the story of the saints, being drawn closer to Christ leads to many years of intense suffering, with intense joy in the spiritual marriage, interior peace in the depths of the soul, and a promise of eternal bliss." (Ronda De Sola Chervin, Becoming a Handmaid of the Lord, p. 213)
"A promise of eternal bliss"—sounds a lot like "something to look forward to when I get home."


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