I was surfing today when I saw an ad for a contest, promoting the film Last Chance Harvey. On the site Divine Caroline, the contest asked in very few words to describe one of the most romantic things that had ever happened to you. Most of the responses were, well, sad or pretty standard. I could think of many, and added what I think was certainly the most random.
I was in my early 20s living in Chicago. It was a warm day. I wore one of my favorite long cotton skirts, white sleeveless shirt, and wide brown belt. I needed a tube of red paint. I stopped in an art supply store. The clerk, a cute bearded young man came round to help. At the register, he flirted. I was down the street to the corner of Michigan Ave. when I heard him yelling. I turned around and he was running towards me, apron in hand. He had cut work to follow me. He asked where I was off to, and if he could walk me there. I told him fine, and that I was on my way to a matinee down the street. At another corner further on, he popped into a convenience store and bought us both bottles of juice apple — without prompting. We sat on the grass across from the theater, talking, and drank them. I asked him why he had followed me. He shrugged and told me quite simply, because I thought you were beautiful. No one had ever said that to me before. I laughed, eyeing him sideways, wondering if he was as sincere as he seemed, or playing a good come-on. He asked for my number. I said no. He gave me his. We parted, I went to the movies. He went back to work. I never saw him again.
I can still recall many details of that event. Everyone should have a random stranger tell him or her they are beautiful.
I look back at photos of myself from that time and shake my head. Do we ever know who we are when we are young? I see the fit, long haired young woman who was worrying everyday about what she was going to do with herself. I knew I was not as pretty, smart, funny, or worldly as so many of my friends and acquaintances. What I failed to see was what I was, instead of all the things I was not.
Romantic events should, I think, be those unexpected times when we are raised above the mundane routines of our lives. Those times when life becomes crystallized, even for only a moment, and we feel truly alive. We associate the sexual so closely with the notion of romance, to the detriment of romance. They are not interchangeable themes, but do often overlap.
One of my greatest fears is succumbing in old age to dementia of some sort. I do not ever want to forget so many things, especially the romantic events of my life. Just recalling them helps me have perspective, and laugh.
2009 has started as the year not many of us can seem to catch a break. In times like these, I think knowing we have well and truly lived with hope and honorability matters. May you remember random moments of romance. May we all have more someday.