In those days, I was kind of a bad actor. Not a nice young lady at all. At 20, I was already bitter and sick of life. My childhood had been frustrating, my adolescence as awful as anyone's, and I was attending college to stay away from my parents' house and because that's what everyone wanted me to do. That fall, I had one steady boyfriend, and three other steady on-the-sides. The other guys I dated once or twice in addition don't really rate a mention. They were all furniture, they were all tiresome, and my heart was as dark as a cave at midnight.
I may even have had bats, but I wasn't introspective enough to find out.
Bernie walked into my line of sight as I sat sulking in my apartment window. His hair was golden and he was built very, very nicely, with wide shoulders and narrow hips. I thought he would be a nice addition to my collection, and so I began my campaign. I would meet him, flirt with him, beguile him, use him, dump him. The usual.
So I met him. But he didn't flirt, or even snort and paw the dirt like most college guys. Instead, he talked. About classes, about courses, about news and events and psychology classes. Now I don't mean for a minute that he was the speaker and I was the spoken to (that would have been the steady boyfriend) -- indeed, he absolutely astonished me by asking me what I thought, what my opinions were, what my linguistics classes comprised. We spent time together in conversation, and were becoming -- friends. Good God, he actually got me doing my homework for classes by inviting me to study when he did.
There came a watershed evening when I told him about something funny that had gone on in my Russian class, and he laughed out loud at my joke. He wasn't putting it on to impress me, either. It occurred to me that night that the relationships I had with my social group had no substance by comparison. They did not understand me; they did not have an interest in understanding me. They were interested in dating and mating and grade point averages, not people. Bernie was interacting with a level of Me that no one else had ever bothered to look at.
The following weekend I put the Steady Boyfriend to the test, and as we were headed out to dinner, I told him the funny story from Russian class. Three-quarters of the way through it, I could tell by his eyes that he was lost in his own thoughts. I stopped speaking in mid-sentence, and he never even noticed. The next voice that was heard was his own, telling me about what he intended to do with his practicum in Philadelphia, as though I had never spoken at all. The Steady fought as manipulatively as he could to dissuade me, but a few weeks later, I broke off with him for good, along with all the various side dishes.
To my surprise, the world wasn't a bad place, after all. Bernie and I fit together like puzzle pieces -- the right puzzle pieces -- and from that partnership, the world began to transform. A girl from the AFROTC Women's Drill team named "Sue" unexpectedly wrote a poem about Bernie and me. I don't remember Sue's last name, but the poem has always floated about in my head, all these years. In the Rosemary Box, I found her original typewritten sheet that she shyly handed me. It said this:
"And just like the fairy tale
They met and fell in love
Looking deep into
each others eyes
And their smiles growing
Bright like a sparkle on
a sunlit gem
Their feelings glittered around
And all those who
Could hear the sounds
Of once upon a time
Yeah, Sue, wherever you are, you nailed it. Thanks.