L.A. Affairs: How I got a second chance at love
In the year after my husband’s death from a massive heart attack, I functioned, but only barely. I went to work, I shopped at the supermarket and cooked, and took care of my two teenagers. But a gray patina seemed to envelop me and I was beginning to wonder whether my life was over too, even though I was only 44.
Well-meaning friends and relatives tried to set me up on blind dates, but I was never really interested. I was working at the Fairfax branch of the Los Angeles Public Library at the time, as a librarian, when a man walked in. I noticed him right away, by the way he carried himself. I would learn later that he was a product of military schools while growing up, and then UCLA and the Air Force.
Russ was addicted to books. And he became a regular patron. During the hours I spent at the reference desk, he would frequently stop by to make a special request. Once, he asked me to recommend a book about astrophysics. He had a mind like a dry sponge, soaking up information everywhere he could. I began to look forward to his visits, even though no personal word ever entered our conversation until the day I mentioned moving from Puerto Rico to L.A., and how difficult it had been, shipping costs being what they were, to decide which of my books to take and which books to leave behind.
I had convinced myself that I was undeserving of affection. Losing weight helped me regain some of my confidence.
“I didn’t have that problem,” he said, “When I divorced, my wife got the house and I got the books.”
Ah, I thought. So he might be single.
But how to let him know I was too, without baldly announcing it? After all, I was still wearing my wedding band, and the name on my tag was preceded by “Mrs.”
What to do.
One afternoon, I ran into Russ “back in the stacks,” in the quiet rows amid the books. I remember we were standing very close to each other. I swear I felt an electric current between us. I was wearing one of my favorites, a chic Italian knit sheath, and he said to me, “That’s a very attractive dress.”
My therapist had helped me to work out that the third date would be the polite time to let a guy know about my mental health.
And just like that, I had my cue!
“Thank you, that’s so nice to hear. My late husband was very observant. He died last year and sometimes I miss the small things more than the big. My children are complimentary but it’s not the same...” Was I babbling?
“I’m so sorry to hear that,” he said. By the end of that conversation, he asked, “Will you have dinner with me some night?”
We exchanged numbers but when he called a few days later, I panicked. I stalled, using my workload as an excuse as to why I couldn’t meet him for dinner that night.
Imagine, sweaty palms at my age!
Luckily, two days later he called again. On the night of our very first date, when he opened the passenger door of his car for me, I saw a single rose lying across my seat, waiting for me.
He explained that he didn’t want to arrive at the front door with it.
“I was afraid it might upset your children.”
Not a day goes by that I do not miss him or think about whether we might still someday have our chance.
A lovely, leisurely dinner at an Italian restaurant on Santa Monica Boulevard gave us the opportunity to talk about ourselves and fill in the blanks. It was followed by after-dinner drinks and dancing. Slipping into his arms on the dance floor made me feel safe and sound.
The end of that perfect evening was a warm kiss.
That first date was followed by many more. Dinner, movies, theater, the opera — which we both loved. There was a romantic weekend to Catalina. Occasionally, the kids joined us. Russ never made me feel I had to make a choice between him and them, which I appreciated so much.
A pattern developed and I was happy with the status quo. With a full-time job and two teenagers to raise and get off to college, I wasn’t thinking of anything more permanent between us.
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But one day, as we were driving down Vermont Avenue, I happened to say something about “our affair.” Russ jammed on the brakes, bringing the car to an abrupt stop in the middle of the street. He exclaimed, “Our what?”
I was so startled, not knowing what I’d said wrong.
With the traffic honking and piling up behind us, he explained why he was so upset. An “affair” is a relationship that has a beginning and an end. And this relationship of ours?
“This has no end,” he declared, and then got the car moving again.
I was speechless.
A few months later, I was attending a cousin’s wedding in Fresno and would be gone for the weekend. He drove me to the airport and as we were walking through the LAX concourse he suddenly put my bag down and reached for me.
“I need to know that we are going to spend the rest of our lives together,” he said. “You can have it anyway you like,” he added.
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If you want to get married we will, he went on. If you want to live in one house, OK. And if you want to continue living on your own, and we keep two separate apartments, that’s OK too.
“I just have to know that you’ll be with me the rest of my life,” he said.
Well, that effectively put an end to any ideas I had about an “affair.”
We got the greenlight from my children and began looking for a new home together. We slipped down to Los Angeles City Hall for a quiet ceremony. It was a seamless transition. We settled into our marriage as though the institution had been created just for us. Nothing pleased me more than to please him and nothing pleased him more than to please me.
What better recipe for happiness?
Do all newlyweds feel this way? Maybe the first time around, and when young.
To feel that way at our age — I was 48 and he was 56 when we each married for the second time — felt like nothing short of miraculous, and that the miracle never left us was a miracle in itself.
The author is retired and lives in Pasadena. Her husband Russ died of a cerebral hemorrhage after 25 years together. She is looking forward to her 98th birthday in May.
L.A. Affairs chronicles the search for romantic love in all its glorious expressions in the L.A. area, and we want to hear your true story. We pay $300 for a published essay. Email LAAffairs@latimes.com. You can find submission guidelines here. You can find past columns here.
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