The Huntington Library is a lovely place to fall in love.
I was there to study its collection of writings by Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and other prominent suffragettes, and one day I took lunch in the San Marino library's outdoor cafe. I sat at the only empty table, but the white-hot sun made me realize that a spot in the shade would be better. I looked around and saw an empty seat next to an attractive man whom I had noticed earlier. Acting on instinct, I picked up my tray and asked permission to join his table.
Our lunchtime conversation wasn't memorable, but afterward we strolled the grounds, passing through the rose garden, descending the wisteria-covered stairway to the Japanese garden and wandering through the ethereal bamboo grove as we got acquainted. We were both in our mid-to-late 20s, and we already had first marriages that didn't gel. I had recently left my first job as a television writer-producer to pursue a project based on the suffragettes. Jim, an American, was working on a doctorate at the University of Toronto. He was studying the library's collected works of William Blake. He had found some previously unattributed works by Blake elsewhere and was making a name for himself in his field.
I was smitten.
Early the next day, a Friday, a former employer in Hollywood called me to assist on a project. Without Jim's number, I was left to wonder what he was doing all weekend long.
On Monday I learned that he spent lonely days without a car in a quiet residential area of Pasadena. He was as delighted to see me as I was him.
The following weekend, I invited him on a tour of L.A. We compared our hands and feet to the prints at the Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, walked Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills and sat at the Pacific Ocean's edge. It was the beginning of a wonderful romance.
We quickly became inseparable, going to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and concerts at the Greek Theatre. I no longer had to be envious of all those enraptured couples at the beach. By the time Jim's research project came to a close at summer's end two months later, we hated to part. I visited him in Toronto before the Canadian winter took over; he came back during the cold months and gloried in the Southern California weather.
It was the late '70s: We sent letters. His were often five pages long; the details of his life poured into my hands. He wrote that I was the only one to whom he felt safe in revealing his emotions. He asked me to write to him all my thoughts on everything, closing with, "Work well, be happy, trust. You are perfect."
Considering that he was a graduate student on a limited budget, his gifts were abundant: a vibrant Pucci scarf, an abstract print. He inscribed a book of Blake's writings and illustrations with the line "Behold this gate of pearl and gold." I hoped he was referring to our relationship, our opening to a lifetime of love.
But as the spring semester unfurled, I sensed a subtle shift in the tone of his letters. The focus changed to a need for foreign language credits. He was frantic to complete the requirements. From time to time, when I made a late-night call to his home, the phone rang unanswered. I puzzled over his reasons for not being there; they seemed unconvincing.
Needing to shore up my bank account, I took a job that prevented me from attending his graduation ceremonies. My confidence in our relationship was undermined. Was I simply feeling slighted by inattention, when he had been legitimately distracted? Soon, he was off to London for the summer to complete a study grant at the British Museum.
Finally, in August, he returned to L.A., ostensibly for our life together to begin. Unable to find a suitable teaching job, he had accepted a position he dreaded — heading a motorcycle accident study at USC. Transportation was a problem. He hated needing a car. We hadn't seen each other in five months, and we seemed to be terribly out of sync.
I told him I didn't think we were ready for a committed relationship. It was only then that he admitted that there was someone else. Feeling betrayed and realizing that he would only be unhappy here, I urged him to return to the place where he belonged. I thought my instincts had saved me from moving deeper into a relationship that would never succeed. But, in fact, we had succumbed to the pressures of being apart, of being young and of feeling everything too intensely.Copyright © 2015, CT Now