The continuing narrative of how I fell in love with my wife.
The year 1967 was the last time I saw Karen. Every once in a while I would spot her at a Yeshiva league basketball game, or in the local pizza shop. Once we all graduated high school, I no longer saw her. My college, Bard, was in upstate New York. I learned that Karen was attending Barnard.
Speaking to my parents by phone they told me that they had driven Karen home from a wedding that past Sunday.
“I told Karen that you’re a poet!” my mother gleefully exclaimed.
Inwardly I groaned, horribly embarrassed. I no longer wrote poetry. Gee-willikers, I was writing screeenplays. Karen probably thinks I’m a total lo-ser.
I graduated college, spent a year in Israel, lost several close friends in the Yom Kippur War, and wrote a blisteringly violent script about war and the way violence makes men of boys. I heard from someone that Karen was still not married. Hmmm. Interesting. I assumed that Karen would be one of the first of our class to stand under the chuppah.
I was living on the Upper West Side in 1976, working as the editor-in-chief of Millimeter, a New York film magazine. On Shabbos, I attended the Lincoln Square Synagogue, in those days, a magnet for Jewish singles.
One Shabbos, I lifted my gaze from the siddur and looked at the women’s section.
Lincoln Square Synagogue, Main Sanctuary
There was Karen.
And she was not wearing a hat. Which meant that she was still not married. My breath caught in my throat. She had grown into her beauty in the most elegant way. I didn’t do much davening after that. Karen prayed with single-minded intensity. Her eyes did not roam. She did not speak to the women sitting next to her. Her black hair shined like a planet. When she stood to chant the Shmoneh Esrei, the Eighteen Benedictions, my eyes fixed on her body swaying back and forth. I was hypnotized. If only I would concentrate on my davening the way I was concentrating on Karen.
Watching her, I realized that my feelings for Karen had not changed in all these years. I was still in love with the girl I had first seen when I was nine-years old.
How to explain it? How to understand it?
I told myself that after shul I would go over, introduce myself and ask Karen out on a date.
To be continued.
Karen adds: I do remember that ride to the wedding. Robert’s mother didn’t just tell me that Robert wrote poetry, she told me he had won some kind of poetry prize. I didn’t think he was a lo-ser, I just didn’t relate. He was “arty” and I was on my way to a wedding where I would meet a medical student and fall into another disastrous relationship that lasted about a year. My memories of Lincoln Square Synagogue are full of social anxiety. It was built in the round. Minimal mechitza that has since been modified. In between each aliyah, the gabais would marshal people in and all eyes would turn to the fresh meat entering the shul. It was humiliating. I found a back entrance. My salvation was being able to enter from the top balcony right into the woman’s section. Going to shul became easier after that. Robert probably couldn’t find me after shul, because I would flee the same way. Well, I’ll see what he writes, he never told me.