Recall the old saying “into each life a little rain must fall”? Well, I have been feeling a little damp over the last few. When that happens, I generally spend a lot of time reading, and I happened to pick up an Anne Tyler novel, “Back When We Were Grown-ups” . Something in it reminded me of a story.
Back in the day, in the City of Love, but after the Summer of Love, she was single again but involved in a relationship that she knew was not good for her. Then one evening after work, she went with a friend for a drink in a popular local bar. It was very crowded with people having good times, and she and her friend became separated. She found herself squeezing in at the bar trying to order a glass of wine but having little luck because the bartender was so busy. A fellow next to her took notice and was successful in getting the tender’s attention. She thanked the fellow and they began a conversation as she waited for her wine.
The conversation lasted for hours. Her friend left. She hardly noticed. The fellow was in the City on business, was from New York City where he owned his own company setting up conventions. He was leaving early the next morning to return home. The two had no difficulty conversing about anything and everything. She had experienced nothing like it before. She was usually a bit shy and found it difficult to talk with people she did not know. But that night, she was Cinderella at the ball, enjoying sharing her life with that stranger and being enjoyed in return. They laughed, they were serious. They talked philosophy and cartoons. Time passed without notice. The tender called last call. They walked out together, shared phone numbers and addresses without knowing why, and he walked her to her car. They said how fun the evening had been, then they said goodbye and left each other. She smiled all the way home. It had been a magic night, full of the new, that had allowed her to feel like someone different, someone assured, someone who could be happy.
Just after she got home, her phone rang. It was, of course, her current boyfriend, calling to see why she was so late getting home. They talked for a long while and her smile grew thin, then was forgotten by the time she hung up. Her real life had caught up with her. She slept.
In the morning, her phone rang again. She almost did not answer, but she understood that ignoring reality was not a way to live. It was the fellow and her smile lit up at hearing his voice. He said he had tried calling her several times when he returned to his hotel but her line was always busy. He had wanted to talk with her the whole night long. But, who was she talking with so long? She fumbled some words and it was clear to him. They spoke a while longer and she wished him a good trip home, and they said goodbye again.
Years later, she wrote him a letter saying that her sister was coming to New York and could she call him. She did not receive an answer.
Tyler’s Rebecca is a woman who made a choice when she was a young woman, and now at the age of fifty-three was wondering how she became who she became. What if she had made a different choice? How would things be different? How different would she be?
What if the first phone call that night had been the fellow? Is it possible that such magic could continue for a lifetime? Or was it a classic “night to remember”? It had the effect, as she thinks of it now, of bringing about the end of that not so good relationship, and causing her to leave the City for a new life in an old place. That new life was and is a good one, but once in a long while, when she feels damp, she remembers that magic night and she thinks about the woman she might have been had the timing been just a little different. And she smiles.