The other day as I was walking down a street in Chelsea after a long rehearsal, I bumped into an old friend, someone I haven't seen in thirty years or so. We both did a double-take, and I was tempted just to keep walking, but he put a hand on my arm and said, "Is that really you?" Busted, I thought.
This was a guy I met at some music festival on Long Island when we were both in high school. I had a major, mind-numbing crush on him from the moment I met him, although our relationship never became more than a very good friendship. He played violin and I played cello, so we would get together frequently to play chamber music or to go to artsy movies and act as if we were intellectuals at age 16. (Too young to drive, we traveled back and forth to each other's town on the LIRR.) He was the valedictorian of his class and went to a major university, after which he went to a major medical school. He told me he's been practicing medicine in one of the toniest towns outside of Boston ever since--married a rich woman and settled into a very comfortable upscale suburban life. We agreed it was weird that I got my law degree and also lived in the Boston area for most of my adult life, but it took a random meeting in the middle of New York City for us to reconnect.
We ducked into a little dive on 8th Avenue, where he sucked on a beer (he drank it out of the bottle, because the place looked like it had doubtful glass-washing credentials), and I sipped a cup of coffee that tasted like it had been sitting in the pot for about 14 hours. I confessed I had thought about fleeing when I saw him because the first thing my vanity threw into my mind was that I was a lot thinner in high school. He laughed and pointed to his head and said we were even because he used to have hair back then. Then he commented, one eyebrow raised, on my purple hair. "I still dance to the beat of my own drum," I replied, and he just shook his head and winked.
"You were the star of all the plays and this really crazy girl," he said. "You were very cute, but I was a little afraid of you. Thought you wouldn't want to date someone like me." That was pretty shocking to me, but chicken that I am, I still didn't admit I really liked him--really liked him.
He confessed he'd had some problems with alcohol, but he was pretty well in control now. I said it was funny how I never really drank very much, but I was the one who did crazy things sober--went out in the Atlantic Ocean with my boyfriend in a rowboat that had one oar, and the outboard motor got tangled in seaweed and died (don't ask about that one; I never even told my mother); smoked a cigar in the Metropolitan Opera House at intermission (back in the day you could smoke in public places) and lost another boyfriend over that--this friend reminded me he let me cry on his shoulder after that incident; and, well, the purple hair, to name a few. We talked about kids and spouses and music and life. I told him I was waiting for the publication of my third novel in March and still really involved in playing music. He said he wasn't--no time with a busy medical practice.
Then he asked an interesting question--"What are the three most important things that energize you and define you? Don't think about it. Stream of consciousness." Without hesitation, I said, "My music, my writing, and my dog." He raised an eyebrow again. "So, you didn't mention your kids. Or your marriage. Or your career. I kind of thought you would have." I kind of thought I would have too. I pondered my response.
Music? It's been with me my entire life. My tone-deaf mother told me I sang before I talked, which I don't doubt, and although I didn't make my career in music (much to my father's dismay--he was hoping I'd be the second coming of Pablo Casals), it is a thing I know I would not want to--could not--live without. And now I get to fulfill my lifelong dream of studying harp.
Writing? Well, everyone who knows me knows fiction writing has been my second but most adored career, as it were. I delayed it for a lot of years while I worked in Corporate America, put food on the table for 6 kids and a disabled husband, and dreamed about writing the Great American Novel. After (how many?) rejections, the day I got that e-mail from my publisher saying, "We love it, we want to publish it!" was one of the happiest days of my life.
And my dog? Well, yeah. I've always loved dogs and have had at least one my entire adult life. Moki is not without his "issues." He's a Belgian, for heaven's sake. Anyone who knows anything about Bergers Belges, this wacky breed, needs no explanation. But as much angst as he's dished up, he's given me even more joy. He's smart as a whip, loves me unconditionally, listens to all my crap, and holds no grudges. I told my old friend that I take my dog to a farm in New Jersey where I run around in a sheep field with a crook so that Moki can herd sheep and I can practice my Bopeep skills. He shook his head and said, "You haven't changed at all, have you?"
"But I have," I said. "My hair is purple now."
He finished his beer; I left that cup of tepid coffee, which had formed a thick scum over the top, right where it was, and we took our leave. At the corner we kissed (on the cheek). He walked off toward Penn Station while I headed for the C train, and we promised to keep in touch. I'm not sure we will, but it was really fun to see him and catch up, as if we'd never had 30 years in between meetings. And it gave me some great insight about what really matters to me. Kids? I really do love you. If there had been four categories...