So Solomon Elder had been in love, all those years, just as I’d suspected. Only he hadn’t been in love with me. It was as I sometimes thought, merely his knack for making everyone feel special. I could be forgiven for thinking I really was.
But I had harbored hope all this time. It was something I drew from, like a well when I needed to keep going. A scholar’s life can be solitary. I didn’t mind, when I thought that I was, perhaps, the secret love of a man with a great mind. I blush to think it and to think that I had wished it for so long.
I modeled my own approach to love after his: this concept of the lover transforming through the softening of internal structures that happens when we are in love. That is the purpose. It is the feelings, the way the specific neurochemicals of love open and broaden us. What matters is to experience that, and as we do, our best selves come to the fore, so we bring benefit to all we interact with. When that process happens as it should, it isn’t necessary that we express our feelings to the one who engendered them. This is what Dr. Solomon Elder taught, and in my hubris, I took this as his secret confession, and I lived my life accordingly.
How many times have I been in love? More than I can number. How many times have I confessed? Enough to count on a single hand, and each time I declared my affection, I felt selfish, in a way, unloading a burden onto the beloved, and like a traitor, betraying my mentor’s teaching.
But all this time, his unprofessed feelings were for another.
What purpose does it serve? For most of my life, I believed that each of our loves calls into being an aspect of ourselves that would otherwise remain latent. This was a subject of research and study for me. Of course, at the core lay my observations of my own personal development, and behind that, lay the question of what I brought forth in those who loved me, for example, in Dr. Solomon Elder. But if Solomon hadn’t loved me, and had loved, all those years, someone else, someone whom his granddaughter was now hoping to find, then I brought forth nothing in him, perhaps, or maybe nothing more than an inquisitive and devoted graduate student might bring about.
I suppose the truth at the core of all of this is that I loved him: I loved Solomon Elder from our first exchange, and I never professed my feelings. And what did he bring forth in me? Loving him carried me through. How did I manage to complete my dissertation, go on to gain teaching positions, publish articles? I didn’t want to disappoint Solomon.
We all felt that way. Perhaps we all harbored the secret wish that he loved us. And maybe he did, as every good teacher loves. But he didn’t write secret poems for each of us.
I thought of all those I’d loved–how many could I remember? The boy with the long ponytail and long eyelashes who took the first Plato seminar I taught. It would never have done to have confessed my feelings to him–he was a student, and I, a first-year lecturer. The baker at the coffee shop on the corner, who, every morning as I walked to the university, came out in her white apron, golden with flour dust, singing. I still love her–she gave me a sense of home that I draw on even now. And I would never tell her, for she had a husband, grown children, and busy days that began before dawn.
Just the other week, I fell in love. I was happy at the time for it to be a love encapsulated in a memory of a moment: her face, her brash words, that smile. I have been drawing on that these weeks, and I’ve grown stronger, at a time when I’ve needed strength.
But what if this were something different? Solomon Elder never loved me, it seems. He loved someone else, all those years. And so, what if I tried something different this time?
What would happen if I went to the café near the corner where I saw her? What if she frequented that café? What if I introduced myself to her, and we got to talking, and I heard that saxophone laugh of hers? “Life’s a bitch,” she had said, “and then we get on, anyway.”
I could use a friend like that. I think, even, I could use a lover like that.
I think I am, perhaps, through and done with the secret beloved. I am all about the confession now. Baby, I love you. Let’s see where that takes us.
Prompt for May 13: “Start with a life-changing moment and lead your characters through the story to show us who they become,” from StoryADay.org