There’s no getting young love out of your life. Sooner or later, memories—or promises—come due.
"Who ARE you?”
Hearing my question, the pretty visitor in my dorm’s cafeteria line looked up. She was a tall, fair beauty; I, your basic dark-curly-haired Jewish intellectual. Usually I went for my own kind. But there was a quiet dignity about this blonde that intrigued me.
The gods smiled upon me, for my forwardness appealed to her. “Alouette,” she replied.
“Alouette, I’m Paul. Sit with me.”
She did. Over Chicken Kiev, we spoke of politics and philosophy. Of ethics and religion. Of Walt Whitman and Ayn Rand. Of Grieg’s “Morning” and Beethoven’s Seventh. Our rapport was genuine; our principles and tastes, eerily aligned.
After lunch, we strolled the campus. I walked her to The Point, a rocky, romantic nook at Lake Michigan. By 6 o’clock, when she parted to fly home to New Jersey, we were in love. For twelfth-grade Alouette, it was a new experience.
For this University of Chicago senior in 1978, life suddenly brimmed with promise. Our love would rival the medieval romance of Peter Abelard, the French heretic, and Heloise, his brilliant, beautiful protégé. And our letters—ah, our letters! They would surpass that pair’s timeless missives.
Behold what dizzying happiness you’ve brought me. … I sing your beauty, I sigh your lovely name, I kiss my pillow, I hug you as I sleep, I reap armsful of sunbeams, that they might congeal into your form. … My air teems with your molecules.
I delighted in your restless and sparkling intellect and was happily astonished to discover the mature depth of sensitivity behind it.
You get the picture.
That May, Alouette turned 18. I celebrated her womanhood in verse:
A score less two—a sum not prime,
But like fine sherry, hers awaits its season;
If eighteen years a woman ripens,
Thirty-six gives Woman’s ferment reason….
After graduating, I settled in Cincinnati; she enrolled in Harvard. For Thanksgiving, we rendezvoused at her parents’ home, where the next morning I vomited her mother’s meal. On that note, Alouette and I boarded a train to Cambridge.
I stayed in a nearby dorm. But Mom was not pleased by my unchaperoned visit. After two days, she telephoned at 6:30 am, waking Alouette with an ultimatum: Lose Paul today, or lose your tuition. As we kissed farewell at Logan airport, I sensed it would befor the last time.
We wrote, of course, but the fair Alouette had no shortage of suitors. The following Spring, she called to tell me it was over. Fifteen months; not a bad run for a romance sustained by letters. Come what may, I’d be remembered as her first love.
We would meet again but once. The Summer before her senior year, Alouette interned in the nation’s capital. She called me. “Why don’t you visit DC?” “Sure,” I said. We met at a restaurant, catching up on life and love. And with a hug—or was it a handshake?—we bade farewell.
Back at my hotel, the concierge handed me a phone message. “Dear Paul,” it read, “I forgot to tell you one thing: I love you!”
How sad, I thought, to lack the courage to speak those three little words. But this much I knew: Fifteen years hence, wherever Alouette might be, I’d send her a dozen roses with an unsigned card: “Thirty-six gives Woman’s ferment reason.” It would be my final gift to her, a gift to the Ages.
May 1996 arrived. Alouette, I had learned, had married in ’92 and was living in Northern Virginia. The women in my office were giddy with anticipation. “Isn’t he romantic!” they swooned. Isn’t he, indeed.
But a week before D-Day, I made the most bizarre decision ever made by any man, anywhere, in any century.
I announced my plan to my wife.
Stupid, stupid, stupid.
Her response took but five words. “Do it, and move out.”
Poof! A half-life of planning, up in smoke.
I was indignant. “Don’t you see?” I explained. “I’m not doing this for her; I’m doing it for romantics everywhere!”
She didn’t buy it.
“Lina,” I continued, “Alouette is probably expecting some gesture. If I don’t do this, she’ll be crestfallen. And,” I intoned, “I’ll resent you forever.”
“If you do do it,” she volleyed, “I’ll resent you forever.”
Back at work, my fan club stood squarely on the side of romance. “Why not just send her the damn flowers anyway?”
“Because,” I explained, “One day my wife will ask, ‘Have you ever lied to me?’ I want to be able to answer, ‘No’.”
And so, May came and went. Happy 36th, Alouette.
And now, the rest of the story.
In 1998, I finished writing my first musical play. In one of those shameless, male-ego, Look-who-you-could-have-married gestures, I mailed the script and the musical cassette to all my former flames. All, that is, but Alouette. She and her husband had vanished. I tried her former employer. I tried every search engine you can name. I’d be damned if I’d try her parents.
Three years before, I had moved to Poolesville, Maryland, a quiet hamlet of 4,400. One evening, as I stood in line at the local drugstore, the pharmacist called the name of the woman ahead of me. Her surname was uncommon, yet familiar.
“Excuse me,” I said. “Your last name is the married name of an old girlfriend. It’s a long shot, but could the two of you be related?”
My neighbor was intrigued. “What’s her first name?”
“What was her maiden name?” How many Alouettes do you know, Lady? I smiled and told her the name.
A grin spread across her face. “She’s married to my husband’s brother. They’re out of the country for a year, on business. With their two kids.” The gods had smiled again.
I reached into my belt pouch and pulled out a cassette. “I’ve written this musical. Can you send it to her?”
“I’d be happy to,” she smiled. “once I’ve listened to it.”
“One more thing,” a voice within me wanted to say. “Tell her, ‘Thirty-six gives Woman’s ferment reason.’”
But from the pages of the Talmud came another voice: “Not everything that’s thought must be spoken.” As my eye caught the gleam of my wedding band, something told me this was one of those times.
© 2000 Paul Franklin Stregevsky