Sunday, October 1, 2017

Listening to Scheherazade

The other night I was making dinner and listening to classical radio.  It is my routine to do this.  I can't say that I am actually listening as much as just letting the music work its way through me.  I didn't hear what the announcer said about the piece he was about to play but the moment I heard the opening refrain I knew what it was.  I don't have very good music recognition. I might be familiar with a work but I can rarely name it.  But in this instance I knew right away.  I put down whatever I was doing, picked up a glass of wine and sat down and listened.

It was a piece of music I hadn't heard in fifty years but I remembered the last time I heard it.  It was on my twentieth birthday in 1967, and I was in love with a boy.  I'll call him Steve. Steve had a girlfriend back home who sent him brownies that were still warm and knitted winter sweaters for him.  But we were lab partners in biology and we had spent a lot of time today.  We did an experiment in which we created a window in an egg and watched as the chicks grew.  Night after night we'd go to the lab and look at our chicks.

Steve and I spent much of our free time together, studying, or just having fun.  One evening I returned to my dorm to find a giant branch waiting with my name on it.  I'm not really sure why he left half of a tree for me but my dorm was impressed.  One weekend we road the MTA from Cambridge through Boston. We'd get on different cars and run into one another, pretending we hadn't seen one another in years.  We were thrilled to find one another again.  This made the riders very happy.  And on the night of the Boston blackout we stood on the roof of the library for hours, shivering in the cold, huddled together, watching until the lights came back.

But always between us there was the girl back home, making her brownies and sweaters.  I really didn't even know about her until one weekend when he told me he wouldn't be around.  His girlfriend was coming to visit.  He said it matter-of-factly but he knew it hurt me.  We hadn't kissed.  We hadn't touched.  But he knew how I felt.  And I think he felt the same.  And so the months of our first year of college wore on.

And then it was May, a beautiful month, the end of the school year.  It was the time of exams and it was also my twentieth birthday.  Steve asked me out for that Saturday night.  I didn't mention that it was my birthday but I was thrilled.  We went to a party, then we went into Boston and out to dinner. We walked all over the city.  And at the end of the evening he asked if I wanted to go back to his dorm.

I had a curfew but I don't remember what it was, and I'm not sure I cared.  Anyway I said yes. As we were walking towards his dorm, I told him that it was my birthday.  He was completely distraught.  "Why didn't you remind me" he asked.  "I feel like an idiot," he said.  I told him he shouldn't.  I told him that I'd had one of the most wonderful nights of my life which was, and in some ways still is, true. I was young and in love and not much else mattered to me.  But still he kept shaking his head, telling me how terrible he felt that he'd forgotten.

 As we were walking through the cinderblock corridors of his dormitory, I said I had to use the bathroom and he told me to meet him in his room.  And a few minutes later when I walked in to his room, it was dark.  Candles were lit.  There was a cake. And Scheherazade was playing on a turntable, and it played over and over that night.

We didn't make love.  We didn't lose our virginities.  It was in fact a fairly innocent night under the circumstances.  We wouldn't become lovers until many years later, long after he'd married his girlfriend, and they had children, and then broke up - and then only very briefly.   And the next morning Steve came to my dorm and told me that he was committed to the girl back home.  And I told him it was all right.  I understood.

Deep in my heart I know that Steve and I weren't meant for one another.  But we had that one moment.  That night.  That perfect night.  So that evening a few nights ago I sat in a chair in my kitchen, not making dinner, but remembering a perfect night just as I remembered the bars to a piece of music I had not listened to in fifty years.