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He gave me a paddlebal for my nineteenth birthday. I could tell, though, that it was no ordinary paddleball. It was a super deluxe model, made not of flimsy, unfinished pine but of polished dark cherry.
Two months later for his birthday, I sent him a book.
For Christmas, I bought him more books. And a tie. From the Gap.
Then he gave me books. A CD. A stuffed animal--a pregnant red lobster. And condoms.
From our gifts, you'd think we're not a very romantic couple.
But I do love romance. I adore romantic movies, novels and plays. Whenever I watch or read a particularly cheesy, soul-wrenching, mushy scene, my heart tightens, I lose my breath, and my eyes begin to water. It's exhilarating.
And it doesn't take much to make me melt, either. Any vaguely romantic scene will do.
A simple moment on the air or in print framing a tense or breathless or just plain corny "I love you," will cause me to sigh and exhale gallons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
Take, for example, one of the last episodes of that amazing TV show, "China Beach," which I watched religiously in high school at the expense of differential equations and James Joyce. In the most moving scene of 1990, Dodger, the strong, silent marine with a romantic soul, tells nurse Colleen not to visit him in the States after the war.
"Why?" the bewildered Colleen asks.
"Because I love you," he confesses in constipated tones.
About to implode with emotion, he looks away and climbs into the helicopter that is waiting to take him home.
It doesn't seem so affecting on paper, but I didn't recover for days.
My friends dismissed my flaky, mad ravings about this or that romantic TV moment as those of a fellow repressed adolescent who had attended an all-girls private school far too long.
"I want a boyfriend," was our eternal chorus, and we dreamed of Dodgers and Daniel Day Lewises and Rhett Butlers throwing themselves at our feet.
We thoroughly modern and liberated pre-women were in love with the idea of being in love and being courted by those knights in shining armor of the brat pack. We rented Gone With the Wind, Say Anything and Pretty in Pink and weltzschmerzed about our celibate lives.
At slumber parties, each of us would confide our visions of The Emotional Moment when we would say those three words "I love you," to that one a) unique, b) good-looking, c) kind, d) sensitive, e) funny, and f) intelligent boy. And we would sigh at each description which, inevitably, had been drawn from a few too many readings of Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights and Sweet Dreams romances.
But today, a short two years later, if my special someone were ever to whisper a heartfelt saccharine nothing or even a constipated "I love you" in my ear, I'd probably tell him to go buy some Ex-Lax. Or else start giggling.
But still, I often blame him for our less-than romantic relationship.
"We're such a boring couple," I always whine. And for a while, I had him believing that it was the fault of his cold, unromantic Yankee Stoicism that we frequented the Hong Kong and talked about Scheme Z more often than we took lingering walks along the Charles under the full moonlight, exchanging intimate secrets.
But soon he stopped running his fingers through his shaggy brown locks in despair and began to notice a trend. At every Meaningful Moment, it wasn't he, but I, who preempted any tender romantic confession with embarrassed giggles and a sarcastic qualifier.
I can't help it. I want to lead a romantic life. But I can't handle having my life imitate an immortal scene from The Thorn Birds or Sweet Dreams Romance #42.
Perhaps all those years of dreaming about true love and formulating my own version of the True Romantic Moment have made me afraid that when The Moment appears in real life, it will only be an anemic shadow.
Tomorrow is Valentine's Day. And I'm not quite sure what to give him. I could cook him a gourmet dinner and read him John Donne by candlelight.
Naah. I'll buy him a book. And we'll go to the Hong Kong for dinner and talk newspaper fonts.
It's what makes us happy.
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