“Many people who have lived life long enough begin to reflect on their past and find the meaning of experience in that look backwards. The Greeks had the notion that you were a man when you could look back, but not stay or go back. Nodal moments in our lives have resilience and inner life of their own which springs up unpredictably. Nowhere is that more in evidence than the list of people we have loved in the rooms of our soul.” – Henry Bender
My wife, the Love of my life, has given me permission to write this essay. – Theodore Morrison Homa MD
“There is nothing holier in this life of ours than the first consciousness of love, the first fluttering of its silken wings” – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Descartes once said that the ultimate sadness in life is when people look back on the best times in their life while they are in misery. I believe the converse, that the ultimate joy is when people who look back at the best time is their life when they are happy.
We met in grade school in 1951. For me it was love at first sight! Whatever that could mean then? We had a relationship. I loved her. She never returned the favor. Yet it was she that altered the course of my life by doing two great favors for me, one completely unintentional.
I saw the “apple of my eye” lying unresponsive on the portico floor at school. Nuns circled her. I could barely see her. Motivated to help and rescue her, I stood helpless on the sideline. The urge to help formed me. My love for her became a lifetime friendship. She, in her helplessness, set me on the path toward medicine. Years later, with the help of Christine, I found myself climbing strange mountains in foreign lands on a quest to rediscover my soul.
Because of her I was born again.
Kathleen was an Irish lass but Texan at heart. She had a red ponytail. She was all about competition. I had never been challenged for first place in class before. Now first and second place shifted back and forth between us.
June finals were over. We were rehearsing for the end of year musical. I surprised Kathleen with a kiss on the cheek! She surprised me with a slap in the face. Clearly, it was the shortest love affair of my life. We remained platonic friends calling each other on holidays. One day, she dropped off the face of the Earth without so much as a single goodbye. Love’s flame flickered on dimly.
Her gifts to me were insecurity and the spirit of competition.
We were a band of friends, all freshly aware of one another but old friends as well: Stan and I; Katia, his sister; Betsy and little Babette.
Somewhere in time, we rode a horse named Golden Treasure, waded in an ice cold stream, pulled the oars on a rowboat and helped the fisherman empty his nets. We called him captain and loaded fish into a salt house to preserve them. We enjoyed the scent of fresh cut hay, milked cows and walked along the rocky bank of the St. Lawrence River.
Stan and I competed with 22 caliber rifles, picked worms to sell to fishermen and climbed high rocky places along the river – all for Betsy’s attention. He was better at that than me, the downside of the gift of insecurity. One afternoon, Stan, without a driver’s license, crashed the rented station wagon with all of us aboard. Betsy’s attention soon went to Yvonne, a French Canadian with a black pickup truck.
During that time, back from Port au Percil, I would ride by Betsy’s house on my bicycle hoping she would notice. In the fashion of adolescents of that time, I inked her name on the back of my hand, never finding the courage to ring her doorbell.
With a high school dance six months away and pressured by another suitor’s plans to ask Betsy to go with him, I, voice trembling and apprehensive, called Betsy on the phone. I asked her to that dance! Joy, when she said yes.
Six months later in time we danced cheek to cheek. I loved her, but she was a year older than me. Time moves one along in life. That was both our last and one and only date.
Betsy had returned my love with the gift of confidence.
“Talk not of wasted affection-affection was never wasted.” – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Sacred Heart Church seemed to be the focal point of my relationship with Peg: C.Y.O dances on Friday night and church on Sunday. We knew each other but accidentally evolved to dating.
One winter night we did have a date or went to the same party – there are several versions of the story. I spent that evening in long discussion with Peg, only to be interrupted by a telephone call from Pop reminding me of the time. It was 2 a.m.!
That night was magical! We fell in love and started to date. Conversations with Peg were endless, always picking up where we left off; A definite sign of a true friend, if not a lover. By April we agreed to go steady. Age 16 came, and I got my driver‘s license. I was allowed to drive one of the family cars to school. I chose to ride the school bus instead because Peg was on it, and she needed my tutoring in geometry.
Life for “teenagers in love” was a collage of things done together. Picnics at Bear Mountain State Park; dates at a dance hall called The Log Cabin; band practice in Matt’s basement; prime rib dinners at Mickey Mantle’s new restaurant for under 20 dollars; movie dates in White Plains with Pizza at Lamanda’s afterwards were just a few of the memories I have.
High School came to an end.
I had decisions to make. Away at college meant no Peg and no car. Fordham College accepted me, and the choice was easy. A new life started that included Peg, drinks at the Webster Bar, The Mama and the Papas concert at Fordham campus, and proms in New York City. Peg was on my arm at all of those.
Back in Hartsdale there was a social life at Danny’s Bar; beer was fifteen cents a glass.
JFK was assassinated on a Friday. Our date that night was spent weeping at the death of Camelot.
We shared love and affection. We respected one another. We overheard our mothers planning our potential marriage.
Sometimes I was cruel and indifferent; she blamed it on my narcissism and forgave me. I unfortunately found it a hard lesson to learn. I lacked introspection, and she tried hard to give it to me. I worked long hours and it interfered with our social life, and she affectionately forgave me for that too.
The bittersweet lyrics of the Loving Spoonful song from 1966 were; “Did you ever have to make up your mind and say yes to one and leave the other behind”, and they described my predicament: Choose a good job with Carvel and they would pay for me to go to graduate school in Agriculture or go on to medical school. My focus was on St. Louis, Missouri not Farmington, Connecticut. As the song continues, “It’s not often easy and it’s not often kind” I chose medical school and hoped Peg would wait.
Most likely I lost Peg about a year before I knew it. We still shared her affection but not her love. When I finally realized it my heart was broken.
Longfellow wrote, “It’s foolish to pretend that one is fully recovered from a disappointed passion. Such wounds always leave a scar.” This one did!
Peg’s gifts to me were introspection, conditional love, affection, and many hours of conversation for which I am eternally grateful.
Peg’s rejection drove me to new narcissistic heights – a defense against the gift of insecurity. I was in love with being in love and I decided on a target. She was Eve. She was a trophy: blonde and drop-dead gorgeous with an outgoing personality.
I stole her from her boyfriend. We dated for a few weeks and agreed on an engagement. I worked three jobs that summer to purchase an engagement ring! I was a night watchman listening to my radio when Bobby Kennedy was shot.
Trips from Scarsdale to Huntington to see Eve were difficult, and the relationship seemed shallow and unsacred. I gave up on it and took the money I made for the engagement ring and went to Bermuda with my buddy for a well-earned break.
Eve’s gift to me was wisdom.
After 41 years of marriage, the night we met glows like fire in my mind. I was the social director of my fraternity. I answered the phone. A bold nursing student from Barnes School of Nursing asked, ”Are you guys having a party tonight?” My response: ”If you are desperate enough to call for a party, I will arrange one. It starts at 7 p.m.” Once off the phone I triggered the telephone tree and set the party in motion.
At 7 p.m., I was with my date, her name long since forgotten. Bill approached me: “There is a girl here who is on fire to meet you.” Her name was Kathy.
She inquired, ”Are you the arrogant medical student who spoke to me on the phone today?” My response: “Yes, but what are you doing here with a cast on your arm?” In truth, I was fortunate that she did not hit me with the cast.
Her girlfriend advised me that she was a world-class figure skater and she broke her arm practicing a jump. Figure skating never interested me. I could tell this was going nowhere! To my surprise, we talked more and had to move to the storeroom to avoid the noise from the crowd.
Hours later, close to dawn, we were still talking. We drank coffee until her dorm was safely open, and I drove her there. Someone else had arranged for my date to get home.
It was Christmas break starting on Monday after class. She gave me her number. I promised to call. When break was over I called her not once but three times. The third time was the charm. We started dating.
At Christmas break one year later, I was moody and miserable. Mom said, “I can’t wait for you to get back and see Kathy. You are in love. Can’t you tell?” Back in St. Louis after a nightmare drive through an ice storm to keep a date with Kathy, my room mate Les also advised, “You are in love with Kathy. Get it over with, tell her or get a new roommate.”
I gave Kathy a diamond ring that Easter. I found a way to get married and stay in school: I joined the Navy. They gave me full ensign’s pay until graduation. I gave them three years of active duty after internship. The Vietnam War was raging. President Johnson did not run for reelection. Nixon was President.
We married on December 19, 1970. We honeymooned in Bermuda. Kathy graduated from nursing school. Her income also paid the bills.
After internship, we went where the Navy sent us. Marine Corps Air Station in Japan. Thirty months together without interference even from television welded our marriage. We met some life-long friends there. My best friend to this day was our constant guest and Kathy’s doctor for the first eight months of her first pregnancy. At the end of her pregnancy, she gave birth to Natalie our first child.
“Done” with the Navy we went to New Britain, Connecticut for my residency in Internal Medicine. My shifts were 36 hours straight and 12 hours of sleep. This continued for a year. During the second year our daughter Priscilla was born on New Years Eve. While at UCONN in Farmington we had heated debates about where to settle. We argued about New York vs. St. Louis and compromised on Chicago. My third child and first son, Teddy, was born there. There we lived a storybook life, an estate in the woods for 20 years and now in a penthouse in Arlington Heights. There has never been a moment of regret in spite of years of hard work and selfless giving of unconditional love.
When I first found it, I was warmed by it. A fire in a deep chasm burned with fierce flame. Next to it was a reflection pool. The water was disturbed, and I saw no clear image. The fire burned. As time and life proceeded, the chasm was covered and became a mountain that I built over the chasm. I could feel the warmth of the deep fire that burned within. The mountain became larger, bits and pieces of life were tossed into the pile with little thought. The warmth never stopped.
One night I fell into a crack in the mountain. In the middle of the night, soundless peace surrounded me. I went deeper and found loneliness and sadness tossed into a corner. I hurried past them and went deeper down through the years of depth I had made.
I saw the flame. I saw the pool undisturbed. The flame burned like passions burn. I looked into the pool and saw your reflection, Kathy. You were the vision in the pool, the force that burned the never-dying flame. It was you! All else was just a surrogate.
Kathy, you are the Love of my life.
“Most men lead lives of quiet Desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them”
- Henry David Thoreau
I will not be one of them!
To the women in this essay I offer a salutation taught to me by a Franciscan friar who is a close personal friend: “Angels be with you” and Happy Valentine’s Day.