I fell for her the very first moment I saw her. "Oh, my god, who are you?" I thought. "Where did you come from?"
She was seated at the table next to me in the coffee shop I visited early each morning. I'd just celebrated my first-year anniversary of being sober and drank a lot of coffee.
I don't know about other people—and it hasn't happened often in my life—but when I fall, I fall fast and hard. As I quickly fell for her, even though I'd vowed to myself never to fall in love again. It had been too painful.
She was younger than me by several decades. I knew that was not a good thing. Even if we'd been closer in age, I knew right off that she was way out of my league. The funny thing is, if I'd been younger, I would have been too intimidated to ever introduce myself and initiate talk with her.
But I did. And she didn't brush me off.
I quickly learned that, aside from being beautiful, she was super intelligent. An artist. A poet, with a book of poetry about to be published. She had a hesitant way of speaking and a killer smile that made her eyes crinkle.
I couldn't wait for the next morning each day so that we could exchange a few words with each other.
I'd noticed that she usually left the coffee shop on foot. One morning, I asked her if I might walk her home. I hadn't done that since high school. She said sure.
As we walked, we talked about books, what we liked, what authors we favored. At one point during this conversation, she pulled a tattered paperback out of her bag to show me what she was reading. It was an old book by British humorist Stephen Potter. I was floored. That wasn't what I'd expected. So, we talked about things that made us laugh. I mentioned P.G. Wodehouse. "Oh, Bertie and Jeeves, I love him!" she said. And I realized then and there that I was in love with her.
This may have been superficial and shallow of me, but I can only respond to my own emotional definition of love. How, why, when and how fast it happens is beyond my control.
After that, I guess we became friends, just seeing each other in the morning with our coffees. We usually chatted about books, though in one conversation, she let me know that she was a non-drinker, too, and had been sober for several years. She mentioned that she'd like to have children.
One time, I offered to let her use my old beat-up car to take her driver's test. She'd let her license expire. When we arrived at the DMV and she shifted herself behind the wheel, she looked at me and asked, "Which side is the brake on again, left or right?" I was a bit taken aback, but I also realized this was the kind of question only a real poet—someone who spends their time thinking on other things—would ask.
We went on a date once, though I'm not sure she recognized it as a date. An actor friend of mine was in a play by P.G. Wodehouse and I asked her if she wanted to go. She did. The theater was a couple of hours' drive away from where we both lived, so I rented a car, afraid that my 20-year-old beater wouldn't be able to make the trip. I went out and bought some new clothes. I cleaned my apartment just in case we should somehow find ourselves back there. I bought little snacks for the journey.
It was my first real date since my marriage had broken up some 15 years before. This hadn't been for lack of trying. I'd asked many women out over those years, always to be turned down. I usually got the "just friends" response or the "busy" response or the "I'm seeing someone" response. A couple of times, I'd gotten the "how dare you" response. There is just something about me that's unattractive to women, was the conclusion I finally came to, though I didn't fully understand why. So, I was alone. With my cat. And I hated it.
During our two-hour drive to the theater, we talked, but it was a bit halting, particularly on my part. I was nervous. When we got inside the theater, I looked at our fellow audience and realized most of them were older, which I commented on. I did so before realizing that, in fact, they were all about my age. I was embarrassed.
After the play, we went out to eat with my actor friend. He and she walked to the restaurant talking together, me bringing up the rear. I felt a bit out of the picture.
Driving home, it started to rain and I got lost. She told me she needed to call her boyfriend, who had texted her during the performance. I hadn't known she had a boyfriend. I listened as they talked. We didn't converse much after that; instead, we listened to music from my playlist and watched the rain fall.
When we finally arrived back at her place, I was hoping she might ask me in. But she didn't. Instead, she gave me a little hug and thanked me. I have an eclectic taste in music, with everything from 1920s jazz to R&B to hip-hop to opera (to pretty much everything else) on my playlist. My playlist had pretty much behaved itself on our drive back to town, playing nothing too jarring or inappropriate to the mood ... until she gave me my little goodbye hug. Then Jimmy Durante came ha-cha-cha-ing all over the car speakers. It was an uncomfortable moment for me. I must have seemed ancient to her.
I drove home and fell into a deep depression that lasted several weeks. I didn't see her much after that. She'd moved to a new apartment and no longer came to the coffee shop. I did go to her poetry reading. Her poems were beautiful—seeds that grew and blossomed into colorful flowers. Her boyfriend was there. They hugged when he arrived. He was young and handsome.
We did keep in touch with the occasional text. One morning, I texted her just to ask how she was doing. Later in the day, I received her response. "I've relapsed," it said.
I asked if I could call her. She said yes and I did. We talked on the phone for a long time, about all sorts of things. It was the conversation we didn't have in the car. A couple hours after we'd hung up, she called again. "Tell me to go to sleep," she said. I could tell she'd been drinking. We talked for a long time more. "Are you ready to go to sleep yet?" I finally asked. "No," she responded.
The next morning, I texted her, asking if she was OK. She didn't respond for several hours. When she did it was with another call. "Will you come over and spend the night with me?" she asked. "I need help not to drink."
I called a woman friend who was long sober and explained the situation, asking her advice on what to do. "Don't go!" she said. "Tell her to reach out to a female friend." I ignored this advice, got into my sad car and drove across town. During the drive, I promised myself I wouldn't try and take advantage of her or the situation.
When I arrived, it was clear that she'd still been drinking. We sat in her apartment and talked for a long time. I learned new things about her. She was a big fan of the '40s actor Clifton Webb. I was surprised and impressed. She told me a few secrets. I told her some of mine. Finally, she said, "Do we have to talk?" So I shut up and we just sat there together. She never smiled. Not once.
After several hours, she had sobered up and we started talking again. I don't remember what led up to it, but I was sitting on the floor when I said to her, "I have feelings for you." She looked surprised and asked me to repeat myself. "I have feelings for you," I said again.
She started to get mad, asking why, with men, it always came down to that. I interrupted, telling her that I'd always been a gentleman with her and felt I was being a gentleman with her now.
Getting up, I said I'd better leave. She asked me not to. I said I thought I'd better. She asked me not to. So I told her I was going to lie on the floor and get some sleep, that she could give me a nudge if she needed me for anything. She told me she wanted me to sleep in her bed. I said I thought that wouldn't be a good idea. She insisted. So, with my clothes on, I went into her bed.
She followed me there. She took my hand and held it. I hadn't held hands with anyone in years and felt like crying. We just lay there that way. Once, she brushed her hand across my face. My body shivered.
At one point, I reached out and touched her shoulder. She recoiled and said, "Don't touch me!" Then she said, "No, no, no … you can give me a back rub." I tried, but she stayed tense and stiff and unyielding. So I stopped, turned to face the other way and went to sleep. While I slept, I dreamed of her.
I felt a hard poke. I jumped up, not knowing where I was. "You're snoring," she said. I was embarrassed but asked her not to poke me so hard if I snored again. I did snore again and she poked me again. Finally, so that she could get some sleep herself, I got out of the bed and went into the other room and tried to sleep on the floor.
I'm an early riser and I woke up around five a.m. Her door was open, so I looked in to see if she was asleep. She was. I left the apartment to have a smoke and walked down the street in search of someplace I could get coffee.
When I returned, I wanted to get back into the bed. But now her door was closed. I sat in the living room and looked out the window, drinking my coffee.
It was around nine when she came out of her room. I brought some fruit with me when I'd arrived the day before. She sat on the floor and started eating it.
"You don't have to stay," she said. "Thank you. I'm OK now."
I got up to leave. I went to give her a hug and a kiss but she turned her head, giving me her cheek. I said goodbye and drove home.
A couple of weeks went by. I didn't see her or speak with her, though there were a few "checking in" texts from me. I couldn't stop thinking about her or about that night. It was driving me crazy. I was sighing all the time. Big, heavy sighs. Like a character out of P.G. Wodehouse.
One night, I got off the couch, walked the two blocks to Whole Foods and purchased a $10 bottle of red wine. I walked home. I quickly drank the entire bottle. I picked up my phone and I texted:
"I love you."