I met my second husband in the street. I saw him walking toward me fast with short steps, already waving his fine hands. In the dim light of the street, I caught a glimpse of his thick white hair which seemed to hover almost like a wig above his smooth youthful face, the dark eyes, the sensuous lips.
We were meeting him outside a Japanese restaurant.
My friend, who had arranged the meeting, had said to me a little tentatively, “He may be Jewish,” I nodded, thinking of my mother’s love story. She had fallen in love with a Jewish man who worked with her father in the diamond industry in Johannesburg. She was seventeen, when she eloped with him. Her parents came after her and annulled the marriage, or so she told me.
My friend had also told me, “He’s a good man, do you know what I mean?”
I nodded thinking that was expected of me, but I’m not sure I did know. My father, a timber merchant, had died when I was seven years old and I had hardly known him. He and my mother lived in one wing of the big house and my sister, a Nanny, and I in the other. My parents had gone on an eighteen month trip around the world to buy timber when I was five, and on their return my father had a heart attack in Port Elizabeth while I was lying in bed with the scarlet fever, tended by night and day nurses in Johannesburg.
My first husband had fallen in love with another woman after ten years of marriage. So my knowledge of “good men” was not extensive.
This one sat opposite me in the Japanese restaurant while my friend and her husband sat opposite one another. We all spoke of our children. I was forty two years old at the time and had been married to my previous husband for twenty of them and had three girls. I sat there certain this handsome, cultured Jewish man who had been educated at all the best schools in America must be counting my wrinkles, or perhaps my grammatical errors.
Toward the end of the dinner, he turned slightly green I noticed and asked me, “ Would you like to have a cup of coffee with me?”
Like Levin in Anna Karenina, I told my heart to calm down.
“How would I get home?” I asked in a trembling voice, as though New York city was as bereft of any sort of transportation as my native South African veld.
He smiled sweetly and said, “I could perhaps drive you?”
Thus began our love affair. Again like Levin in Anna Karenina I felt this handsome and brilliant man with all his many degrees and accomplishments could not possibly be interested in me, a struggling writer, no longer twenty one, with three young girls in tow. Yet apparently he was, though his reaction was perhaps not as extreme as my own. But he might tell this story differently.
Yet how similar our falling in love is. We find echoes of our feelings in all of great literature, this fall not just for one man or woman, but for a whole exotic world, someone different from us, and yet in the end so familiar.
The story of my mother’s love affair is described in “Love Child”
Sheila Kohler is the author of many books including the recent Dreaming for Freud.