I was sitting at the bar at the old Palm Restaurant in West Hollywood, waiting for a girlfriend to show up for lunch. She was late. I felt exposed. Alone. Did anyone think I was trying to pick up a guy? I had a small present for my friend. It was her birthday.
Suddenly this cute man sits on the stool next to me. “For me?” he said, pulling the present toward him. His eyes twinkled with mischief.
I dragged the present back my way and said: “Gee, no. I must have forgotten. When’s your birthday?” “April 9th,” he said. I winked at him. “I’ll remember next year.” We exchanged names. We chatted. He learned what I did, and vice versa. There was instant chemistry.
A few minutes later, his business lunch partner strolled up and said they had to get back to the office. About the same time, my girlfriend finally arrived. We said goodbye. Sitting down to lunch, I told my girlfriend that I just had to see this guy again. I knew where he worked. I was going to call him — and ask him out.
Halfway through our lunch, the maitre d’ arrived tableside to tell me there was a phone call. For me? Turned out it was Chuck, the cute guy. Using the information I’d shared — the town I lived in and my profession, actress — he’d tried to find a phone number for me but had come up empty. (This was a time before cellphones and the internet, kids; he was using something called the phone book. He’d also tried the Player’s Directory, in which actors listed their photos and agents. Due to finances, I’d skipped the fee to be listed that year. Oops.) So he called the restaurant, hoping I’d still be there.
Did I want to go on a date? Yes!
We started seeing each other regularly. I knew I was madly in love. Everything seemed to be a good fit, although we didn’t follow the same religion. Did I see that as a stumbling block? Nope. God had a much bigger view than we did.
Two months later, Chuck made a big career move. I was fully supportive during that transition. Three months later, I asked him for a commitment. He couldn’t give it.
After his divorce, he said, he didn’t think he’d ever want to get married again.
Wait, what? How had I not seen that coming? I was heartbroken. I did want to get married.
If this relationship was a dead end, I needed to be the one to cut the ties. So, somehow finding the strength, I went to his office and told him we could be friends, but that was all.
I think he was shocked. A couple of weeks later, I told him I was traveling to New York to see a friend. Ten days later, I informed him that I was moving to New York. If he didn’t want me, I still wanted to pursue my dream of performing on Broadway. Once he got over the surprise, he asked what I was going to do with the condominium I owned. Would I rent it to him?
That was perhaps the best business decision I ever made.
He had to stay in touch. Had to forward mail. We talked every other day. I told him how I was faring as a New York actress — very well as a commercial actress, although Broadway was elusive. Lots of callbacks, no bookings. I listened to all the changes he was experiencing thanks to his new career. We became good friends. I knew he was dating. I tried, too. But nobody was matching up.
A year later, when the role of the second lead in a Broadway show fizzled — funding fell out — I decided I needed to move “home.” Chuck was there. If I wanted any chance of winning his heart, L.A. was where I had to be. The lease I’d offered him wasn’t up, so I rented a place. In the meantime, to make ends meet, I started selling real estate again. (I had before. Actors can’t rely on acting to pay the bills.)
When Chuck’s business manager suggested that he should buy a place as an investment, Chuck asked me to help him find a house. I wasn’t stupid. For our first appointment, I wore the prettiest dress I had. Upon meeting me, his business manager, who’d come along for the appointment, elbowed Chuck: “A friend?” Chuck assured him I was. The manager said, “Don’t let her slip away.” I could have kissed that man!
When Chuck needed someone to put the new house together, guess who was available? When his daughter’s birthday came around, guess who he asked to tag along? When his kids fell in love with me and me with them, guess what happened? So did Chuck.
It took three years for him to propose. But he did. Six months later, we said, “I do.”
We had 36 wonderful years together — 32 of them married. Over the years, we became closer than I ever thought possible. There were no secrets between us. We shared everything.
He died of pancreatic cancer in 2015. It took him fast. I have not dated since. I just have no desire to. He really was the love of my life. How I miss my best friend.
The author writes several food-meets-murder mystery series under her own name as well as the pseudonym Avery Aames. Her website is darylwoodgerber.com
L.A. Affairs chronicles the search for love in and around Los Angeles. If you have comments or a true story to tell, email us at LAAffairs@latimes.com.
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