The Love of My Youth
By Mary Gordon
Hardcover, 320 pages
List Price: $25.95
October 7, 2007
"I hope it won't be strange or awkward. I mean, what seemed strange to me, or would seem strange, is not to do it. Because in a way it is strange, isn't it, really, the two of you in Rome at the same time, the both of you phoning me the same day?"
Irritation bubbles up in Miranda. Had Valerie always been so garrulous? So vague? Had she, Miranda, always found her so annoying — the qualiﬁcations, the emendations, laid down, thrown out like straw on a road to mufﬂe the noise of passing carriages when there'd been a death in the house? Where did that come from? Some novel of the nineteenth century. The early twentieth. And now it is the twenty-ﬁrst, the ﬁrst decade nearly done for. There's no point in thinking this way, focusing on Valerie's habits of speech and diction. As if that were the point. The point is simply: she must decide whether or not to go.
It has been nearly forty years since she has seen him. Or to be exact — and it is one of the things she values in herself, her ability to be exact — thirty-six years and four months. She saw him last on June 23, 1971. The day had changed her.
Adam tries to remember if he had ever been genuinely fond of Valerie. What he can recall is that, of Miranda's many friends, Valerie was the one who seemed most interested in him. The one who asked him questions and then listened to his answers, who assumed he had a life whose details might be worthy of her attention. 1966, '67, '68, '69, '70, '71. A time when he spent his days trying to determine the perfect ﬁngering, the ideal tempo, for a Beethoven sonata, a Bach partita. A way of spending time that Miranda's friends considered almost criminally beside the point. The point was stopping the war. Stopping racism. Stopping poverty. Diminishing the injustice of the world.
In those days, he couldn't speak to anyone about his pain over the fact that Miranda seemed entirely taken up by the problems of the world. The things that absorbed him no longer captured her attention. Not that he ever wanted to capture her attention; her attention was not a bird he was trying to snare, a ﬁsh he was netting. For that was what he loved most about Miranda: her mind's speed, but not only her mind, her quickness in everything. Darting, swooping, leaping, thrilling to him, who moved so slowly, whose every gesture was considered. Those who criticized his playing of the piano accused him of being incapable of lightness. She was a bright thing, a shimmering thing, a kingﬁsher, a dragonﬂy. Thirty-six years later she would be no longer young. Had she kept her quickness? Her lightness? Which would he have preferred, that she had kept or lost them?
Is that why he's agreed to it, to seeing her after all these years, at this dinner Valerie has arranged? Out of simple curiosity? Along with lacking lightness, he has been charged with lacking curiosity. But perhaps both had always been untrue. That curiosity has in this instance triumphed over shame: this must be a sign of strength. For if his soul is, as he'd learned in Sunday school, a clear vessel that could be blackened by his sins, what he did to Miranda was among the blackest. When he told himself he couldn't have helped it, that he had done the best, the only thing he could have done under the circumstances, the words rang false. He would be tempted to say that to her now, but he would never say it. He is hoping there will be no need. That they will see each other once again, no longer young but healthy, prosperous, intact. That he will see the proof: that he did not destroy her.
She stands before the spotted mirror. A dime-sized pool of expensive moisturizer — rose scented, ordered especially from a Romanian cosmetician in New York — spreads in the heat of her palm. Miranda wonders what Adam looks like. She tries on a long black skirt, throws it impatiently on the bed, then Nile green silk pants with wide legs. She tries on the black skirt again. Then a violet knit top, which she rejects because it emphasizes her breasts. Once a vexation to her on account of their smallness, her breasts had done all right with age. She's glad he won't be seeing her naked. Or in a bathing suit. Well, she is nearly sixty now, and her body shows the marks of bearing two strong healthy sons. Her legs, which, he had said, caused him a desire that was painful in its intensity when he saw them in her ﬁrst miniskirt — September 1965 — but which she'd always thought too thick, too straight, these had gone ﬂabby. She's tried — swimming, running, yoga — but nothing really helps. Most of the time she doesn't think of it, she doesn't really care. It's one of the beneﬁts of age: such things have lost their power to scald.
She's blonde now; he would not be accustomed to thinking of her as a blonde, and her hair is short, boyish. In the time they knew each other her hair had hung down her back at one point almost to her waist. Her hair was brown then, a light brown; he'd called it honey colored. She'd parted it in the middle or braided it into a single plait. Then she remembers: he did see her, brieﬂy, with boyish hair. She doesn't like to think about that time.
She looks at the lines around her eyes, her mouth. Her face has not ceased to please her, but it could never be the face that he had loved.
Excerpted from The Love of My Youth by Mary Gordon. Copyright 2011 by Mary Gordon. Excerpted by permission of Pantheon, a division of Random House Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.