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 .
They were both from Washington, but at the time, they were too young to be from anywhere. They were in the process of creating themselves when they met their sophomore year.
It happended very late one night, when the walls of the student newspaper office were still warm from the arguments over whether to endorse the NLF. She looked up from the story she was editing, and there, under the Mao poster, he asked her for a cigarette.
The next day, he invited her to a Godard movie, and she fell in love. She loved him for his long ragged shock of hair and the black intensity of his eyes, and the way he talked about Durkheim. He was not, unfortunately, the son of Jewish parents who had been radicals in the '30s, but he did know "Spain, 1937," by heart.
They smoked Marlboros and romanticized their angst. They marched in demonstrations. She changed her thesis topic from John Donne to proletarian literature. In time, it was understood, they would be married, and by then, she would know why he love her.
After graduation, they lived in different places. The differences were not confined to geography. He learned economics and lived in a gray city where the working class lived not in textbooks but in neighborhoods.
His hair was cut short. Jeans were abandoned, but the idealism was maintained. He searched soberly for balance. He tried to tell her of the changes, about what it meant to get on with life.He spoke disparagingly of the old self. The one she loved.
She moved to Washington, got a job on the Hill. She wanted no judgments to render or surrender, so she played the chameleon and tried on life like a fancy dress. Her high heels made her taller than he.
Still, she assumed that one day it would all fall into place, that she would become the sort of person who could live her life with him, want the things he wanted.
Last winter, they went to New York. A bitter wind drove them to the Plaza. They drank tea to Haydn.He proposed. She said no, she wasn't ready yet, there were new selves to be tested. Options had yet to become cages.She asked for time.
Last spring, he moved to Washington. Briefly, they hoped their romance might hold a conversation without being drowned by the past. He asked her to have a drink with him in a dupont Circle bar that still held the shards of their old love.
He said he still loved her, but he had done so with hesitation. He said he had taken disco dancing lessons. It was decided they should not see each other again.
She wished, for a moment that she had become that woman he wanted, the one who could storm the citadel of doubt and devotion.
They looked sadly at the selves they had become.
He asked for a light. But she had quit smoking. CAPTION: Illustration, "William, do you have the courage to love?" Drawing by Koren, Copyright (c) 1977, The New Yorker Magazine Inc.