Sometimes the pain is hers. Sometimes the pain is his. Sometimes there isn't any pain, but that's comedy, not romance.
The wonder of it all, of course, is that we continue to go on with it, even in this town which thinks little of lightweights and lunacies that can't be legislated. Administrations change, races are lost, but it's still the same old story and here are a few of them. Changes have been made in the names and identifying details of the participants.
She lived in the East and he lived in the West and they figured that was just how it was. Separate careers and all. Jobs that would not relocate. They wrote long wailing letters to each other, she on her Washington newspaper stationery, he on his California legal paper; late at night, after a lot of wine, she would get into bed and call him up long-distance and tell him they were fools.
Came spring one year and she was introduced, at a Cleveland Park dinner party, to a charming man with a wonderful smile. He had lived in California, so they had something to talk about right off.
The man in the West, just about that time, was introduced to a charming woman, whose smile was also pretty glorious.
This had promise. It was spring and the world looked better than it had. But there was mystery clogging things up: the charming man and charming lady had unresolved romances in their lives, to which they made oblique and unsettling references now and again.
One weekend the charming man vanished, without explanation. She sat at home feeling foul and glaring at the crocuses. The telephone rang. "Hi," said the man in the West. Except he was not in the West. He was in Manhattan. He had come to Manhattan to find the charming lady, who had briefly sublet an Eastern apartment; he was going to spend an impulsive weekend with her in New York. Except the charming lady was not in New York. The charming lady had gone to Vermont, accompanied by her other man.
The man from the West was depressed. "Why don't you come to New York?" he asked.
So she went to New York.
Poop on the charming man, she thought.
They watched the Fourth of July fireworks on the Hudson, great golden snowflakes shattering over the water, and then they walked along Broadway for blocks and blocks. They were crazy about each other and they had forgotten how nice that felt.
The man from the West asked about her love life.
She told him about the charming man. She talked about the charming man's smile, and his demanding government job, and his unresolved love life, and his condominium. The man from the West stopped walking. "Wait a minute," he said.
He was looking at her as though she had broken into Urdu. "Say that again," he said.
So she told him again about the charming man.
The man from the West put his hands over his face. "Oh my God," he said. Then he chuckled. Then he sat down quickly on a bench. An idea was coming to her, a little glimmer of a notion so silly it hardly bore thinking about.
"Is my friend in Vermont?" she asked.
"Yes," said the man from the West.
Then she sat down too and for a long time after that a stroller on Broadway might have seen them huddled together on one end of a streetside bench, holding each other and laughing like lunatics in the New York night. CAPTION: Illustration, "William, do you have the courage to love?", Drawing by Koren, Copyright (c) 1977, The New Yorker Magazine Inc.