L.A. Affairs: He pulled over on a dark, deserted road and I thought: ‘Uh oh...’
“You can walk around the corner and fall in love.” Those were words of wisdom from my kooky great-aunt Estelle, who loved the idea of love and would seek me out at family events to bestow her advice. Just keep turning corners, she’d offer, and you’ll bump into the person you’re meant to be with.
But I had walked around too many bad corners, and I was at a point in my life when I was determined to go only in straight lines.
I had moved back to Southern California after graduating from college on the East Coast. Before I could unpack, people were trying to line up dates for me. My cousin, my aunt’s friend, my grandmother’s lunch buddy all wanted to fill my dance card.
My polite “No, thank you” never seemed to discourage them, which led me to find myself on ill-fated outings.
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There was the man who took me to a Chinese restaurant in Studio City and refused to let me order. He proclaimed that he knew the best dishes on the menu, but they all contained either pork or shellfish, two items I do not eat. Or the guy who spent our time together asking for dating advice, which he admitted he wanted to use to win back his ex-girlfriend. Or the guy who took me to an art exhibit in Pasadena. I thought we’d had a nice time, but when he drove me home he put the car in park and crushed me up against the passenger seat as he leaned over to swing open my door. (I thought at first he might be trying to kiss me, but in retrospect, I think it was a graceless attempt at chivalry. No thanks.)
So far, “turning corners” — being ready to bump into my forever person — equaled disaster. The men weren’t to blame. It was the well-meaning matchmakers who saw two single people and thought, “Bingo! A match!” without any regard to whether it was really a match. Besides, I did not believe I would actually turn a corner and suddenly Mr. Right would crash into me.
So when a colleague at the teen magazine where I worked began asking whether I was single and what I liked in a guy, I could see where it was going. I was not interested in catching what Joey was throwing at me. I said I was done, done, done with being set up.
Not a day goes by that I do not miss him or think about whether we might still someday have our chance.
But Joey insisted that I might like his friend Eric. Joey said he just knew it would be a match. He said he and his wife met on a setup, and he wanted to pass along his good luck. There was something about it that made me say, “OK, have him give me a call.”
Eric called that night, and we talked for more than three hours. The conversation was never forced. It felt right, as we talked about a variety of topics and realized how much we had in common. I asked him what he had been doing earlier that evening, and he said he’d been sitting by the fire reading Browning. “Which one,” I asked, “Elizabeth Barrett or Robert?” My question about which poet he preferred was met with silence. “Robert,” he finally said, adding in astonishment: “When I talk about Browning, no one has ever asked me which one.” At the end of our conversation, I accepted his dinner invitation.
Date night arrived with a prompt knock on my door. Eric stood there with yellow tulips, my favorite. I was speechless. And impressed. He took me to a little bar and grill in Agua Dulce, after seeking out recommendations. He said he’d picked it because the menu was broad enough that I was sure to find something I liked. No one had ever done that for me before. (And he didn’t know it then, but I am a picky eater.)
Was I turning a corner?
I know that conventional wisdom says, ‘Don’t date your roommate.’ But this felt different.
I was living in the Santa Clarita Valley at the time, and after dinner he said he wanted to take “the canyon way” back to my place. I didn’t think much of it until I noticed how dark it was on the lonely stretch of road through the mountain pass and how few cars there seemed to be. I started to get nervous. Then he slowed and pulled off the road. “What are we doing?” I asked. “It’s a surprise,” he said, and he got out of the car. I heard him pop the trunk.
By now, I was scared. I was in the middle of nowhere with a stranger. Was he going to chop me up and throw me over the cliff? When he appeared at my car door and opened it, he was carrying a blanket and what looked to be a large piece of ... cardboard?
“This is the perfect spot to see some amazing constellations,” he explained as he placed the blanket on the ground so we could sit. He adjusted the cardboard — which turned out to be a star chart — between us.
I was hooked.
On weekends, we strolled through LACMA, the Norton Simon Museum and the Natural History Museum, and went to plays. As I fell in love with a city that was always in the background, I also fell hard for Eric. He’d even bought himself rollerblades because he knew how much I enjoyed gliding along the bike path in Venice Beach.
We were engaged but in no rush to be married. Our lives in 2019 were oriented toward the fulfillment of our future selves. Coronavirus erased that.
A few months later, he said he’d like to take me to Venice for my 30th birthday, which was several months off. Thinking he meant Venice, Calif., I smiled and said, “We can go anytime. Why wait?” Then it was his turn to smile. “I meant Venice, Italy.”
As we gazed upon the Bridge of Sighs in Venice, he promised more adventures as he proposed.
For our 20th wedding anniversary, we went back to Venice and took our son, Ethan.
I guess great-aunt Estelle knew what she was talking about. You can walk around a corner and fall in love.
The author is a freelance technical writer. She is on Instagram @emgroten
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