This is a story about the hand of God. What in the Jewish tradition we call B’sheret. This is the story of your mother and me.
Your mom was the “it” girl at Cleveland Heights High School, and I was in love with her from afar. Unfortunately I was not the “it” anything, and Laura didn’t know me. One night at the local skating rink I saw my big chance to ask her out. Your mom was there with some friends, probably watching her hockey playing boyfriend, and I went up to her and said “Hi Laura”. “Hi” she answered sweetly. After an awkward silence during which I couldn’t summon the courage to say anything further, she drifted away.
High school ended and your mom and I both went on with our respective lives. She went to Ohio State, and then got married, became a mom, and moved to Pennsylvania. I went to law school in California, stayed, and went to work in the entertainment industry. That was it for your mom and me for many years.
Now, my sweet daughter, you may be wondering how this is a story about the hand of God. Aside from a fleeting moment at a skating rink, our lives could not have been more disconnected if we had tried. But listen to this.
One day about fifteen years ago I had lunch with a producer (in Hollywood a lot of business is done over meals) and it turned out he is also from Cleveland. He told me about a talent manager who had gone to the same high school as your mom and me. Then she and I went to lunch (see what I mean about meals in Hollywood?), became friends, and I told her about my secret high school crush on Laura Givner.
She knew your mom and told me Laura was married, had two children, and lived in Pennsylvania. That news gave me a twinge of regret but to be fair, didn’t rock me the way a story about ill-fated lovers could or should have. After all, our love affair had played out many years earlier, and solely in my own head. I attributed the regret I did feel to things left unsaid or undone generally in my younger days, and didn’t give it much more thought than that.
Then in early 1999 my friend called. “Guess what”, she teased. “Laura Givner is in town. Want to join us for dinner?” At the time, of course, I never imagined a future with your mom. I simply assumed my strong desire to see her was of the “what happened to the ‘it’ girl” variety, not of the “she’s my soul mate” variety. For weeks afterward, I repeatedly asked my friend about the dinner but it never materialized. Finally I let it go.
Several months later your mom, who by now was back in Pennsylvania, sent me an email. She said that she she’d gotten my email address from our mutual friend, that she had been married but now was divorced, wrote a bit about Heather and Jamie, and asked me how I’d been for the past twenty years. What she didn’t say was that she had no idea who I was.
I was by then in my early forties, successful, and confident about my place in the world. Yet if your mom had said she didn’t remember me I might have reverted back to my high school insecurities and that would have been the end of us. But she didn’t, and so I didn’t, and the story can continue.
Naturally every story about fate and love has to include the part where the gods toy with the lovers, and this one is no exception. Since your mom didn’t remember me, she looked up my picture in our high school yearbook. Because the gods have a great sense of humor, that year my picture had been transposed with that of another student. And although I don’t look like Brad Pitt, I sure am Brad Pitt compared to the guy whose picture she saw when she looked me up. He was a goofy looking kid; funny ears, big frizzy hair, not at all grown into himself. Who knows, maybe he grew up to look like Brad Pitt. I hope so.
Now in those days I travelled to New York with some frequency, and after that email I would always suggest to your mom that she drive to the city and meet me for dinner. She would always decline (re-read the preceding paragraph to see why). One day I finally said, “I think I’ll take the train to Philadelphia and come see you. What’s your home address?” That got your mother to New York.
On December 18th, 1999 Laura, along with her two friends Sally Comisarow and Sue Furfari, drove to Manhattan from Bucks County. I had no idea she was bringing bodyguards, and I had made us a reservation at Joe Allen’s. Joe Allen’s is a favorite eatery for the Broadway crowd, so for my purposes had a huge advantage. Because the clientele to whom it caters sometimes have to get to a show quickly and sometimes unwind leisurely after a show, you can hang out there for hours and no one will bother you, or you can be in and out in thirty minutes. Since Laura and I had never met…well, you know what I mean… Joe Allen’s would work however things went. And they serve a mean banana cream pie to boot.
Waiting for Laura in the lobby of my hotel I wasn’t particularly nervous. That is, until I saw her. Wow! My heart skipped a beat, and then skipped another one. Your mom didn’t recognize me at all, even when I said hello. I wasn’t the guy in the picture, but I wasn’t anyone else she knew either.
Unbeknownst to me, Sally and Sue were standing about twenty yards away checking me out, but they didn’t reveal themselves. We did meet up with them later and all of us walked to see the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Plaza like two high school kids and their chaperones. I owe Sue and Sally a lot, and I won’t forget what they did for your mom and me. I found out much later they had pushed Laura to come to New York to meet me, finally sealing the deal by agreeing to go with her, and they subsequently cheered us on in the early days when your mom was skeptical about getting into a long distance relationship.
As I said it was December, and cold, and I was wearing the long gray overcoat I used to wear when I went back east during winter. We had walked into the Olive Garden in midtown to find Sally and Sue, and your mom started to walk upstairs. I’d never been to that restaurant and didn’t know there was an upstairs. As I started to walk past your mom took hold of my overcoat. There was nothing particular in it. A casual observer could have described the movement as simply one person guiding another by their coat. But to me, it came across as intensely intimate, sensual, and loving. I don’t know why. Yet the moment remains a vivid memory of the instant I knew I wanted to be with your mom forever, and this time for real.
A couple of days later your mom drove back into the city, alone this time, and we went to a Broadway show. Afterwards we stood in the freezing cold waiting for her car, which was parked in one of those outdoor vertical parking lots on Eighth Avenue that are unique to New York. Finally I turned to kiss her and suddenly I was back in high school, the “it” girl in my arms at long last. I remember thinking as we kissed that if I had to die right then, at least I had experienced this moment.
Your mom and I wish you many such moments, Mackenzie. They’re not all romantic ones, of course. I had that magical feeling when you were born. I had that feeling one night a few years ago when Heather called from San Diego, elated that she had made the cheer squad for a local sports team. I had that feeling watching your aunt Viv walk down the aisle with her husband. I had that feeling teaching Jamie how to drive, even as she was banging up my very expensive car. Most importantly, I still have that feeling every time I look at your mom and know that finally, really, we are together.
All my everlasting love,