As the reader knows from my writing, I spent all of my summers, while in college, as a counselor in summer camps for teenagers from NYC whose parents wanted their time free for travel. It was a wonderful experience for me - a veritable training lab for themes in my life, such as mentoring and developing interpersonal skills.
At a camp dance, with a fiercely chaperoned dividing line between girls & boys, my eye happened to fall upon a tall, thin -- calling her bony would be cruel --- sixteen-year-old young woman named Elizabeth. What I particularly appreciated about her person was the straight way she stood with never a rolled shoulder to her height, the direct glance in her eyes and the hint of a small smile, tinged with touches of amusement and observation, crinkled in the corners of her mouth. She also wore braces on her teeth if my memory serves me accurately. Our glances may have crossed or not but at least on the conscious level there was no connection between us of which I was aware.
Back in the City in the fall I was surprised by a telephone call. It was Elizabeth, out on Long Island, supported by her giggling girl friends in the background, and as I listened, she informed me that she would be in the City on Sunday. She asked me if I would spend the day with her and I agreed with no pause for thought.
It was a clear, sunny Sunday in October. As my Columbia football teammates and I had won our game against Brown on Saturday, I was pumped! Elizabeth and I met on the steps of the Plaza Hotel at Fifth Ave and 59th Street. I decided that I was going to treat our meeting as a formal date and that I was going to share with Elizabeth some of my absolute favorite places in that section of New York City. She came up to me on the steps of the Hotel, we said our quiet greetings, and she proceeded to place herself at my side. It was so nice to have a tall, sparklingly attractive young woman next to me, stride by stride. We spoke very little to each other, but I was aware that she was moving with me in a mysterious manner, which somehow communicated the idea that we were a couple. She was completely open to receiving the gifts that I set before her, one by one, picking up, quite perceptively, my pleasure at sharing them with her.
We first went to see a 20 foot tall Teddy Bear on the main floor of F.A.O Schwartz. Then we sat under the Rose Window at St. Patrick’s Cathedral and bathed in sunlight and the purple air, which streamed through the window and caused the suspended dust motes to sparkle with iridescent color. The car noises from Fifth Avenue seemed far away. Next we shrugged at the statue of Atlas (Ayn Rand would have been pleased) and watched the ice-skaters pirouette at Rockefeller Center. This was followed by us swimming through a green filtered pond in the Monet Room at MOMA in a basement room, whose walls had been painted green and where the glass in the windows were also tinted with green. More than a dozen of Monet's Water Lilies were displayed, and I felt as if I were a fish in the pond at Giverny.
After the traditional cup of hot chocolate together with ambrosial whipped cream at Rumplemeyer’s where I took all my dates, we walked to the subway, through a pedestrian tunnel underneath the highway that runs through Central Park.
The sun was setting by then and, in the middle of the tunnel, where the light was most filtered, without words; Elizabeth and I embraced and kissed. Even Mikhail Baryshnikov could not have more carefully choreographed our movements. We broke our embrace, said not a word to each other, and Elizabeth thanked me for a lovely day when we arrived at the subway. I like to think that her smile may have deepened a bit as she said this but my eyes may have been deceiving me as eyes are wont to do. Elizabeth and I never saw each other again and that is all right too. She is with me in every moment of tenderness that I have been able to spend with any woman in my life. Please accept her, my dears, as she bears gifts, not threats.
On my dresser I have approximately a dozen semi-precious stones. One of them, about an inch and half in length, is coffee-with-cream brown, together with orange marmalade specks. One side of the stone is completely smooth, and the other side is ridged. When I first pick up the stone, it is cool, but my hand soon warms it. I call this stone Elizabeth.
Some fifty years after I began calling the stone Elizabeth, I decided to write her a letter.
I know your eyes will never see this letter but I want to write it, nevertheless. I see you now as a tall, thin, graceful woman with great teeth. The smile around your lips has deepened and your observations are tinged with sadness and wisdom, in that order. Grandchildren are at your knee just taking in your love and fierce protection.
Do you ever sit in front of the fire, Elizabeth, and see that day we spent together, in the flames? I do, and hope that you do too. We created something together that is as permanent as our lives and perhaps something that we can even pass on to others.
Thank you for picking up that ‘phone. Thank you for your boldness. Thank you for offering me your innocence. Thank you for casting a powerful spell upon me. You will always walk at my side.