February 9, 2014:
Yesterday was the 33rd anniversary of the day I met Lorraine. It was a sunny day, as I remember, at a Sunday brunch in a ground floor apartment in Manhattan on February 8, 1981. I had just gotten back from California a few days before, having spent a month there researching magazine pieces. I was single at the time, my girl friend having left me six or seven months earlier; she was there at the brunch, but without her new boyfriend, who had set her loose already. I'm not good on my own and had dated people in the meantime, but not successfully. Most of them were ten or fifteen years younger than me and hadn't had children. For me, an uh-oh. I already had two children, both in their teens. I didn't want any more. I was broke in any case and couldn't possibly have afforded more children--so broke, in fact, that two-thirds of the way through my time in California I had to get from Carmel, where I was staying, to Los Angeles and didn't have enough money for gas to make the trip. I was only able to leave because I won $25 in a poker game. Overall, it was not a good time in my life. My ex-wife hated me. I was being sued for libel and invasion of privacy, to the tune of $3.75 million. Stress levels were, shall we say, high.
But not so high that I didn't notice the unfamiliar blonde woman who was not ten or fifteen years younger than me standing by a couch talking to some guy I also didn't know. I figured they were together. Then an acquaintance, Gael McCarthy, took her by the arm, dragged her over to me, and introduced us. I remember I was standing by the kitchen. We started to talk, about what I have little idea. She was easy to talk to, bright, friendly, attractive. We talked for an hour and a half, until I had to leave to go pick up my daughter at college at SUNY Purchase and take her to dinner. At one point my ex-girl friend walked over and tried to interrupt us, but I think I was rude to her, as in, can't you see I'm busy? Or I just ignored her. But what I do remember clearly, talking with Lorraine, was her telling me she had been seeing some guy for four years, and was going to give him another year. At that I broke into a cold sweat--oh damn, somebody who might be suitable, and she's taken. Just my luck. What she remembers about the conversation is that I didn't react when she told me she had given up a child for adoption and had recently published a book about her experience. I didn't react because I had a cousin who had lived with us when I was eleven and she was seventeen and pregnant and my mother and father had arranged a private adoption for her child. Shit happens. I had, vicariously to be sure, seen how devastating that experience was, I had already walked a mile in her shoes. You learn, if you have any compassion at all, and after looking long and hard at your own mistakes, not to make snap judgments about other people.
Besides, I'm cool. So I got her phone number and called her Monday or Tuesday and suggested lunch. I didn't expect anything; I just liked her, I wanted a friend, I've always liked having women friends. She hesitated when I called, but agreed finally to lunch in Manhattan (I was living in Ossining) on Thursday. We met, found a quiet place to eat, a gay bar, in fact, on the East Side, and had a wonderful time. Talked for two hours. She told me all about her boyfriend. I thought she was nuts to give him another year (after four? are you serious?), and I told her more about myself: my current poverty, my work, my first marriage, the whole nine yards. After lunch I walked around the East Side with her while she did some errands. When we parted she reached up and pecked me on the lips. I thought, well, that was strange, but the truth is, I didn't think it meant anything. I never expected to hear from her again.
Friday, a week later, she called me in Ossining. At the moment she called I was trying to work up the courage to call a woman I had had one date with, a double date, that had been, oh, kind of nothing. I was deeply lonely. Ultimately I don't think I would have made that call, but I didn't have to. The phone rang, it was Lorraine, and before she could say anything, I said, "Hi, do you want to have dinner tomorrow night?"
She did. At dinner she told me she had ditched the boyfriend. Mr. No-I-Can't-Commit. This time I was speechless--uh oh, this is not just dinner with a new friend, this is a DATE. But after a couple of cognacs at One Fifth Avenue afterwards I loosened up, and we have not been apart since. Within a few days we were living together; within two weeks we were engaged, and on September 20, 1981, we got married.
Is this not a sweet story? I think it is. Not that it's been sweetness ever since. We have different styles, different, deeply ingrained habits, and we're both strong personalities and have fought often over silly things and sometimes serious things. But happiness isn't the absence of conflict. Two people are happy together when they understand each other and accept each other for who they are, not who they want the other to be. Conflict is inevitable, and you have to accept it and face it and get through it. You do that by making the fundamental commitment to listen, to admit your own faults and weaknesses and fears (even if only to yourself sometimes), and to understand--most of all, to understand. We had each lived full lives when we met, we each knew something about pain. There was an emotional depth we sensed in each other. And it in in those depths that we love each other, and believe in each other, and share the essence of our lives. It is in those depths that we're happy.