by Ellis Anderson
This month, a look at romance later in life, when it comes from "Out of the Blue."
I open it up and read. Then I read it again. After a third time, I say to Nan, “Oh my gosh, I think I’m being asked out on a date!"
“No!” says Nan. “Really?”
The incredulity in her voice borders on insulting. I like to think that even at fifty-three years old, there is still hope for romance in my life.
“What do you mean by that?” I challenge.
“Read it, read it!” she insists.
It’s hard to deny someone who’s been your friend since you were twelve, so I read the email aloud.
The note is from someone I know socially, but vaguely. A friend of friends in Pass Christian. Maybe only one degree of separation. His name is Larry Jaubert. I have no inkling that in eighteen months we will be getting married in France.
His email is casual, but careful. Artfully written. He uses the word “inexplicably” and I am charmed. He says I’ve been on his mind lately (inexplicably), even though our paths haven’t crossed much since Katrina. Maybe I would like to meet for a cup of coffee one day at the Mockingbird? Also, an old friend of his is the featured artist at a New Orleans gallery next Saturday. Would I like to attend the opening with him?
“Yes!” Nan affirms. “He is asking you out. Only it’s tomorrow night and I’m here. You can’t go.”
I double-check the dates. Although the mail had been written a week before, it had been languishing in my old mailbox for six days. She's right. The possible date would take place tomorrow.
In high school, Nan and I swore we’d never cancel standing plans with a girlfriend at a moment’s notice to accept a date with a guy. Even if he was cute. In this case, I would have been tempted to change the forty-year-old rule, but Nan had moved from New Orleans to Massachusetts after Katrina. For the past several years, she had only come south in the spring for her job as art director for Jazz Fest. She’d steal away from the intense work marathon for a few days before the festival and head from New Orleans to the Bay. We’d have forty-eight hours to catch up on a year's worth of friendship.
I sigh in a martyr-like way to make her feel guilty and start composing a note expressing my regrets.
“How well do you know this guy?” Nan asks. “Is he cute?”
I explain our light acquaintance, and admit that I think he’s handsome. “And now we know he can write a great letter,” I offer. “And he’s not an axe-murderer. Someone would have told me. Stuff like that gets around in a small town.”
Nan points out that he’s from Pass Christian.
“Gossip that good would cross the bridge,” I counter. I send off the response to Larry, asking for a rain-check, wondering if I’ll ever hear from him again.
It occurs to both Nan and me how odd it is to be in our fifties and talking like high school girls about a prom date. Nan never married at all and my own twelve-year marriage had ended in an amicable divorce nearly fifteen years before. According to common lore, women our age had a better chance of being offed in a terrorist attack than walking down the aisle.
Nan and I enjoy the rest of our visit and a few weeks later, I claim my rain-check date. And another. Then another. I suggest a long walk on the beach. I want to see how this man will relate with my dogs. He runs and throws balls into the water for them. Afterward, my pitifully fearful rescue, Buster – who normally has to know someone weeks before he’ll tolerate being petted - rests his head on Larry’s knee.
A week later, Larry invites me to travel to San Francisco with him for a few days. He has tickets to a Grateful Dead concert. The fact that he likes the Grateful Dead and would travel across the country to see them scores big points. Just thinking about the trip peels about thirty years off my age and I start fretting about what I would wear to the concert. I call Nan to make sure I haven’t lost my mind.
“You have to go!” she commands, the prerogative of an old childhood friend.
“What if we have an awful time?” I ask.
“Then you’ll know right out of the box if he’s the guy for you or not. Better to know sooner than later. And you’ll have a chance to see how he behaves in airports.”
She doesn’t have to explain. We both know that men who get angry in airports are men who don’t make good partners. Since every trip involving air travel in recent years provides a perfectly justifiable reason to lose one’s temper, Larry will be tested. So even though I have developed a a mid-life fear of flying, I accept the invitation.
The flight out of Gulfport is delayed and we miss our connection in Dallas. Larry finds this amusing. We enjoy a leisurely lunch in the airport, after which he clowns around a huge contemporary sculpture in the lobby.
In California, we spend the days before the concert driving from Sausalito - where Larry used to live - up the stunning coastline. We find we travel well together. One day while exploring the winding roads, I sing every single song from the Sound of Music a capella. He’s not annoyed and actually thinks it’s hilarious.
At the concert a few days later, I realize I needn't have worried about feeling out of place - the audience is equally split between college kids and aging baby boomers. The Dead has never sounded better and my guitar hero from the Allman Brothers, Warren Haynes, practically melts the strings with his leads. They've gotten better with age, I think. Why can't we?
But while the trip is a huge happy-memory maker, the part that most wins my heart is sitting next to Larry during those long, sometimes turbulent flights and discovering that when I hold his hand, my fear of flying dissipates and then disappears.