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old loves

Once upon a time, I was madly in love with this guy.

He was 16 and I was 15. I’d spent almost 4 years in a school with only girls when I walked into the classroom of the Halifax Grammar School, a private boys’ school that had just gone co-ed, to find 16 16-year old boys and 2 other girls. It was mayhem. The boys were not happy to have girls in the class, and the teasing was brutal. As those of you who’ve read “All My Loving” can attest, I was a hot bath of hormones, ready to move on from Paul McCartney to a real boy, with 16 to choose from.

I chose him – tall, athletic, handsome, aggressively self-confident and macho, head of the students council and a hockey player – the least likely guy for me in the class. Later I understood – I was desperate to love but terrified of the reality of a relationship, so perhaps I chose the boy least likely to engage back. In any case, I spent that year adoring but also fighting with him about the Vietnam War, which he approved of. And then my family moved.

Many years later, my ex encountered him during a business venture in New York and knew exactly who he was – or had been, at 16 – from my stories. And then he read my book and encountered his young self and how I’d felt back then. He said he was floored, that he’d had no idea.

So last night, during what he said was a nostalgia trip to Canada, he and his wife took me out to dinner. I dug out our yearbook, which most of the class had signed for me, much of it juvenile and startlingly sexist – what we put up with in 1966! One guy wrote, “Roses are red, violets are blue, Beth’s shoulders are blue, after I’m all through!” This guy wrote, “The people who criticize society are those who cannot get into it.” My English teacher wrote, “Best wishes to one of the lights of my life.” He opened the door to “The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock” and was one of the lights of mine.

My friend and I had a grand catch-up, though it made me sorry to find out he has not moved on in his politics and unapologetically voted for Trump. (“I voted for Obama twice,” he told me. “Big disappointment.”) So we spent the evening arguing, just like the old days.

His wife, his third, is wonderful – kind, interesting, thoughtful. I was astounded to find out she dated the poet Billy Collins and went with him once to George Plimpton’s house on the East Side. Now that’s royalty! No idea how she voted. But my friend is very happily in love with this woman and she with him. And it’s good to know people of different political stripes, especially ones that go back more than 50 years.

Speaking of old old love – the excitement is great already. Macca is coming to Canada in September! To Montreal! I’ve already booked my flight and I don’t even have a concert ticket yet; they go on sale next week. He’s 76; how much longer can he do this? It will be my beloved friend Lynn’s last night in Montreal before she flies back to France, so she’ll be there with me.

Old love, old friends, the music of the still-beating heart.

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2 Responses to “old loves”

  1. theresa says:

    I love this. So few of us have the opportunity to see those boys of our dreams as men. (Who might not share our politics…) I loved a boy when I was in grade 9 and I confess to occasionally trying to google him. I know now that his family was pretty conservative — they were rich, owned show horses, had an architect-designed house in a community of farms. I've never found him (his name very common…) and I wouldn't know what to do if I did. But you seem to have handled your encounter with grace and humour!

  2. beth says:

    It's a wonderful thing we writers do, to go back to the young person we were and bring her back to life. And in our books, we bring those others back to themselves too. I think though the depiction of this guy in my book is not a particularly flattering one, he is thrilled to be in a book – and, of course, to find out how much he was loved, back then, whether he knew it or not. And I think, subliminally, he knew it.

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About Beth

I began keeping a journal at the age of nine. Nearly fifty years later, I started this online journal, sharing reflections, reviews, updates, and the occasional secret.

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