02/17/2012 08:46 am ET Updated Apr 18, 2012

Ageless Love: It's Really Not Over Until You're Dead

My mind was certainly not on dating, but leave it to my 1940s glamour-girl, 86-year-old mother to put it back there.

"He said that you went to school together," she says over the phone, long distance. "And his name is Dave," she announces victoriously, as if that is all the identification he will ever need, like "Cher."

"Did you get a last name?," I inquire, expectantly.

"I don't think so," she says, unsure. "But you went to school with him," she repeats, defiantly.

"But--which school, Mom," I ask gently. "There is college, grad school, high school, elementary school...did you ask him which one?" There is a substantial pause.

"I'm just not so sure," she says, her voice trailing off with childlike embarrassment. "Gee-whiz!" she adds, "Do you really have to pummel me with questions?"

It's only a moment before my aunt, who lives with my mother, commandeers the phone.
"What the hell are you making her feel bad for, for God's sake, you know she has the early Alzheimer's, she can't remember what she had for breakfast, never mind some stranger's name!"

"I had Cheerios!" my mother pipes up, from the background.

"Forget about it," my aunt groans. "Some guy from the past. It doesn't really matter, does it?"

I do not want to tell my aunt that it might matter. I don't even want to tell myself that it might matter. But the mention of a "Dave" and "school together" sets off a whole series of scenes in my memory. They are of a certain "Dave," laughing and talking for hours in my college dorm room. I remember that he was from the Midwest, and really made me laugh. Now his face comes into full focus in my mind, even though I haven't seen it for 30 years. And this particular Dave is not someone with whom I ever had a romance. "Gee-whiz," as my mother would say, I never even kissed him, never mind had sex with him. Why am I seeing his face?

As I hold the phone, I reluctantly wonder if some powerful, unrealized love is dragging this face -- and now his voice, his hand gestures -- from the recesses of my memory. Now I start to hear his laugh, and can even see his teeth, his lips. They were full and looked soft. Uh-oh. This is ridiculous. I don't even buy into this kind of silly, Hollywoody, long-lost-love fantasy anymore, because it is, after all, a fantasy, and I live in reality. I am an over-50, divorced mother who has had the fantasy knocked out of her for good. I'm not too old, I'm too wise.

Just as my better self is driving the face out of my mind, my mother grabs back the phone.
"I got his phone number, would that help?" she asks, innocently.

My hope soars like a silly teenager's, but I conceal it.

As my aunt falsely accuses my mother of really giving me the number of a local hair salon, I ponder the number. It is a local number, from the New England town where I grew up. It might not belong to the "Dave" who has invaded my mind, because the caller lives in or near this town. But then I remember that the Dave in my mind talked about going to law school in Boston. He would make fun of his loud, "country-boy" Midwest self, living happily among the more urbane Puritans. So he moved to the town, I rationalize, has a thriving law practice today, and probably had an unfortunate divorce, like me.

Months pass, and I am visiting my frail but glamorous mother, who still wears lip-liner. We are on a walk together when I say, "Maybe I should call that guy Dave, I've got nothing to lose."
"You know a Dave?" she asks.

As we amble slowly along, I am followed by that most hateful of pests, Regret.

"Gee-whiz, Mom, I really did run from all the really nice young men in my youth, didn't I? God, I was an idiot," I sigh.

"Oh, don't be so hard on yourself, " she says. "We all make mistakes."

"So you're not going to list my mistakes, like you usually do?" I inquire.

"Well, I can't remember them that well anymore, so you're in luck, aren't you?" she quips, delighted.

"Mom, do you think back and--see any particular guy in your mind, anyone who you--you know, have regrets about?" I ask.

"I still think about Bill Love," she sighs, deeply. I have heard this name from her before.

"Really, Mom, his name was Love?!" I tease. "Isn't that a little -- heavy-handed?!"

"That was his name!" she insists, outraged. "He couldn't help it! I was crazy about him. We'd talk and laugh for hours, about everything. Everything. Gee-whiz, it's been 60 years, and I can still see his face, like it was..." She breaks off, overcome with emotion. We sit on a park bench, as tears run down her face. "I don't know why I'm crying. I guess I just miss him."

"Maybe you could--find the Love man," I offer, foolishly.

"I can't."

"Why not?"

"He died."

"Well, that's a good reason," I say, surprised that she must've already tried to find him.

She is calm now, and blowing her nose into all the Kleenex. "Gee-whiz, it was 60 years ago and I can still see him. It was the feeling I got with him. I felt so -- comfortable and comforted. By a truly sweet, funny man who was my friend. And you know what? At any age, you can have that feeling. Any age. So you have plenty of time to find it, plenty of time. It really isn't over until you're dead. And it's the best part anyway."

Back at the house and emboldened, I pick up the phone and finally dial "Dave's" number. A gruff-sounding mother tells me that he does not live there, that he was just visiting.

"Did he--go to school here?" I ask, deflated.

"The local high school," she says, matter-of-factly. His last name rings no bells, and I get off the phone as quickly as possible before I'm asked mine. Then I smile, at my absurd human self. I so wanted it to be the college "Dave" that I willfully overlooked the obvious clue, the area code. I realize that this local "Dave," with whom I apparently went to high school, might be a really sweet guy today, and the college "Dave" who has invaded my memory might not be. But it is the feeling that I want again, the feeling, of being both comfortable and comforted. It comes from being able to laugh and talk about everything with a really sweet guy (and have sex too, that could work).

There is an ageless quality to feeling that is exceedingly hopeful. I guess the only thing that really does stop the hope of it again is--well, death. Gee-whiz. Does this mean I should
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