The author of several works, the French aviator Antoine de Saint-Exupery wrote brilliantly and imaginatively. He disappeared while flying over the Mediterranean after he’d written “The Little Prince”. Because I can’t hope to match his eloquence and power, I quote his words below as a fitting prelude to my own story of love gone awry.
“A man’s age is something impressive, it sums up his life: maturity reached slowly and against many obstacles, illnesses cured, griefs and despairs overcome, and unconscious risks taken; maturity formed through so many desires, hopes, regrets, forgotten things, loves. A man’s age represents a fine cargo of experiences and memories.” —Antoine de Saint Exupery
A few years ago I was in love, big time. Her name was Andi. I first met her during college in Chapel Hill. Her knees fascinated me, her words intimidated me, and I had absolutely no idea what to do with the rest of her. We went nowhere.
Seven years later I met her again, in the stairway of the building in Raleigh where I worked. We talked a bit. I smiled a lot. She seemed a serious sort, so I gave her some magic parting words: “I’d love to see you again”. I’d been demolished on the spot.
This time something worked. How and when we made the next connection is a distant memory. But the 12 months that followed brought a whirlwind of passion, love, some ungodly ups and downs, and even death.
I soon gave her the number for my voice pager. I began to live to hear that pager go off followed by her slightly husky, very sexy voice saying just these words: “Call me”. I’d run to the phone like a fireman to his engine. And I was on fire. The sex, the whole deal was incredible. She said, “You make me feel like I’m sixteen again”.
And I thought—no, I knew—I was in love. One of Andi’s coworkers read it in my face. She warned Andi as if she knew the woman well. “You better not harm a hair on that boy’s head. He’s got it bad for you.”
We spent one sunny afternoon touring Raleigh’s wealthy older neighborhoods in my beautiful Pininfarina-designed Fiat Spider. Andi fed me grapes, one at a time, while we admired the stately older homes. Sometimes she shifted the gears while I manned the clutch. I thought we made a very good team.
We were on and off five times that year. Each time she was the one to call it off. Persistence was my specialty: I would not give up. I’d wait for a while and try again. For the fifth installment, after I’d already professed my lifetime devotion to her, Andi moved into my cozy three-room apartment with her male cat Squeaker. I was delighted. But the additional feline, a male, was too much for my female cat, Spider. She spent her days sleeping in the bedroom closet. At night she prowled the neighborhood. She wouldn’t let me touch her. I was powerless to mollify her.
So there we were, a girl and a guy plus two cats, one happy male and one very pissed off female. We went to our individual jobs each day and shared the supper table almost every night, except when Andi had her girls’ night out. Andi baked bread every Saturday, filling the air with that warm, homey, ever-so-comforting fragrance everybody loves. We even put on a little show—quite unintentionally, of course—for the apartment dwellers in the building facing ours when we paraded naked in front of our glass patio doors while I did a sitcom-style intro for the Russ and Andi Show. She laughed heartily. This under-the-same-roof togetherness was my fondest, wildest dream come true. Finally, I had companionship. She was great company, too. I would have sold stock in her company to anyone.
One Friday night we took supper at an intimate little restaurant down the street. I had tickets for the symphony performance later that evening. We’d heard the symphony earlier in the year when the players delivered a high-voltage performance of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. That night I felt the electricity that holding hands could create. But on this Friday night, the current was different. I was halfway into a spoonful of soup when Andi made the announcement. “This isn’t it,” she said. We walked back to the apartment in silence, our heads bowed down. I suppose the symphony went on as usual without us.
I can’t remember what our sleeping arrangements were that night, what was said or not said. At 10:30, as we were drifting off, someone knocked on the door. We decided not to answer it.
The next day I found out who had knocked. It was a cop, come to offer his apologies for hitting my cat Spider with his cruiser. When I arrived at work moments later, my father told me that my mother’s prized Siamese had died. He asked me to bury her in his yard after work. He was deeply shaken when I told him that Spider, too, had died. When I returned to the apartment to gather the tools to break the ground, Andi stood silently outside, her arms folded reverently as she watched me carry the shovel and my late friend Spider to my truck.
In our front yard I dug a generous hole and lowered our two pets into the ground while my folks cried and offered little prayers for the departed souls. I have never known a sadder day.
I tried three times to visit Andi after we parted. Three times she raised her hand the moment she saw me, her palm facing me as she moved her head from side to side. We never spoke to each other again. At some point prior to our parting, while she lived with me, she did say this: “Here is all the love I’ve ever wanted; I just can’t reach it.” It was all very difficult for me to understand. Squeaker became my consolation prize, my new best friend, and I loved him dearly. There was no other choice.
PS/Isn’t that Spider a lovely machine? Its classic Italian style always moves my heart. And, yes, I named the cat after the car because she often slept in the driver’s seat.