The First Day
You see him for the first time on the subway, a book in his hand. A massive one. The cover is muted, but you see the title: Magic Mountain. Then you look at the man. Not huge, not muscular, but fit, reasonably so (too fit means he spends more time at the gym than in his chair reading). Your heart pounds. This is the man for you. The only problem is getting him to notice you. So you sit beside him and say, “Ein einfacher junger Mensch reiste im Hochsommer von Hamburg. Is that how it begins?” He looks at you at last. You ask if he drinks tea.
You see him across the table, and he hasn’t stopped talking, except to listen to you. The waiter has to stand there until he finishes that run-on sentence about Ulysses and lemon soap, then yours about the self-parody in the second half. Over dessert, you’re mocking East Lynne together. Too improbable. But wasn’t that nearly all of Dickens?
It’s your surprise for him, also your test: Nixon in China at the Met. Will he cringe? When he sees the tickets, his eyes fill with tears. You think how lucky you are.
Third through Twentieth Date
You see each other every night. Readings. Films. Symphonies. Chamber works. Theater (experimental Chekhov!). Indian food in a bus shelter, eaten with straws because that was all you had in your purse. Riding the subway past both your stops because you can’t stop talking, until it feels like you’re both in Waiting for Godot. Finally, you suggest that he get off with you. The next morning, you suggest that he shouldn’t leave this time.
One morning you both wake up from odd dreams—you of hiking with Italo Calvino in a desert, without any water, feeling the thirst tear deeply at your throat as you ask question after question about the meaning of life, and all that Calvino does is nod; him of cycling with Kafka and Trotsky in a madcap race to infinite repetitions of Ballet of the Unhatched Chicks from Pictures at the Exhibition. You both say—at the same time—that you want to spend the rest of your lives together.
Your wedding favor is a bookmark. Your invitation is covered with quotes from Madame Bovary and Jude the Obscure too faded for anyone to read. The service is filled with allusions and poems that no one present understands, not even either of you, at least entirely. And that, you both know, is as it should be; you have a shared lifetime to devote to pages to figure it all out.