As You Like It: Once Upon a TimeBy Joan Florek Schottenfeld
I’m an incurable romantic. I’m a sap for mushy movies, happy endings, couples persevering against all odds. I savor transformations of ugly ducklings and Cinderellas. I want to believe that there is a partner for everyone because it would make me too sad to think that there wasn’t.
That’s why despite the fact that it is a winter month, a cold month a snowy month, I still like February. How could I not when Valentine’s Day is right there in the middle? And Valentine’s Day may be a commercialized, over-hyped, pseudo holiday, but it’s still all about chocolate, flowers, and most of all, affection.
Over the years I’ve learned that Valentine’s can be about love for everyone in your life, so I send chocolate to my daughters, flowers to my mom, and cards to my friends.
But I’m lucky that I have romantic love in my life. I have Steve. Or rather we have each other. We’ve had each other since we were juniors in high school. We actually met when we were sophomores, but that didn’t really count since he sat all the way over on the other side of history class.
When my girls were younger we would talk about dating and how it has changed. When I told Lisa that I had dated many young gentlemen in high school, she was appalled. She said that if she dated more than one boy at a time she would be called a name that impugned her virtue.
“You do understand,” I said, “that we only went out to the movies or dinner.” But it seems that it didn’t matter what went on during the date; the mere fact that I had dated many boys was enough for public censure.
This time I was appalled. “But we were only 16! Why would we be so serious at 16? We wanted to have fun, not get married!”
In the sixties it was considered weird to go steady. I tried it once and I was sorry the minute I agreed to it. I felt as if the silver ID bracelet that the boy had given me to wear was a smothering handcuff.
The funniest part was that I had discussed the whole “going steady thing” with Shatz. I needed his advice and since he was my best friend I knew he would be honest with me. Later on he told me that in fact, he had been as discouraging as he could because he wanted us to go out and my going steady would put a serious crimp in his plans. I can still hear him say, “You know if you go steady with Keith, we can’t go out anymore.”
Lisa listened to all of this as if I had told her that her father and I were aliens from the planet Ork. In her world you were locked into one guy and one guy only and the two of you hung out with a group. I gave up trying to get her to understand. After all, I didn’t live in her world.
But though I went out with many guys while also dating Steve, he was the one who stood out from the crowd. He was also the one boy that my dad liked. He gave all my other boyfriends silly nicknames (one poor kid, Brian, was known as bunion in our house), but never Shatz. Maybe it was because he already had a nickname, but I don’t think so. My mom and dad always hoped that I would end up marrying this sweet boy from Sheepshead Bay.
We spent our nights going to the movies and out for hamburgers, or ice skating in Prospect Park where poor Steve suffered. He told me that he sacrificed his ankles for true love. We stayed home and watched television when funds were really low or hung out with friends.
We spent summer Sunday afternoons in Central Park, rowing on the lake, renting bikes or just strolling with the throngs. We would go to a jewel of an ice cream parlor, Blum’s, for huge sundaes in cut glass goblets or window shop at Tiffany’s and Saks.
By the time we were in college we had become a couple. He went off to Boston University and I stayed home commuting to Brooklyn College. He spent all of his money on long distance phone calls since there was no such thing as unlimited calling back then. Our ultimate phone experience was the time that I called him collect so that he could explain Einstein’s theory of relativity to me. Thanks to him I passed freshman physics.
Ours was never a “struck by lightening” love. It was more of a slow, leisurely, “Oh my God, I can’t live without you” kind of passion. We endured separation, loss, uncertainty. We wrote boxes of letters, traveled cross country together, and against the odds, found each other again.
February 17 will be the 46th anniversary of our first date. Forty-six years since we dressed up and took the D train to Broadway for a play and dinner. Forty-six years since I decided I would kiss him goodnight, since he was obviously too shy to kiss me. Forty-six years since, once upon a time, my love agreed to be my valentine. And if that isn’t happily ever after, then I don’t know what is.
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