I immediately fell into the habit of telling John how he would feel when our romance ended. “You’ll remember me fondly,” I informed him. “I’ll be like this really great summer vacation you once had.” I was probably two lines away from breaking into “The Way You Look Tonight.”John let me go on making my goofy pronouncements for two reasons: One, he thought I would eventually wear myself out, and, two, he didn’t believe we would be over come fall. He was idealistic about love, sure that it would trump age, or distance, or some girl talking like an urbane, world-weary David Niven in a drawing-room comedy.After we had been seeing each other for a few months, I found myself spending the summer in Los Angeles, while John stayed in nearby Newport Beach. Since neither of us had a car, he told me he would take the bus to see me for an evening. The distance between us, by car, was no more than an hour, but by bus it was well over three. Again, I went all David Niven on him. “Oh no,” I told John. “Really, darling, you needn’t go to all that bother.”This is how I ended up waiting for his bus on the sidewalk of a busy L.A. street, which, instead of stopping, sped right past me. I saw the boy through the window, though he didn’t see me. Since I knew he didn’t know where he was, I began running until the bus disappeared. At which point I panicked, as if the boy had passed me by forever—an idea that was irrational in the moment, but not so irrational looking down the figurative road of my future. Especially if he decided to treat me as casually as I had been treating him.
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In that moment, the present touched the future, allowing me a glimpse of life without John, who was sweet and funny and would travel almost seven hours on a bus just to spend an evening with me; who reminded me of the Ricki Lee Jones line about “having a cool, inspired sort of jazz when he walked”; who loved me—not the me he wanted me to be but the me with the ridiculous inner David Niven. And I loved him in a way so different than how I had ever loved anyone that I couldn’t even recognize it until he blew by me on the bus. Those few months of dating turned into marriage and parenthood; today we have been together almost 30 years. I think he would still make that ride today. And I would still make that run.
Whitney Otto is the author of four novels, including A Collection of Beauties at the Height of their Popularity and the critically acclaimed How to Make An American Quilt.