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Max Roytenberg


by Max Roytenberg, posted March 10, 2014

It is impossible to tell in advance when that moment will arrive. We cannot foretell that instant event that will change the nature of our lives. We can look back and point the finger and say, yes, that was it, that is the instant in my life that changed everything. Everything existing in my life today flowed from the events of that moment. But to know in advance, that is impossible. We may have an inkling that a climactic event, something potentially important, may occur. We may have a hope, even a dream, but we cannot KNOW, really know, if an event of supreme magnitude may arrive until it actually comes to pass.

I have lived a conventional life in Canada. I was raised in Winnipeg by two parents who stayed married. My life was not marred by any personal tragedy. I went to school and received the requisite education, working my way through university like a substantial portion of my generation. Born in the thirties I belonged to a smaller cohort as a consequence of the economic distress that discouraged the continuation of a previously higher birth rate. I faced less competition for university spaces and jobs than those who came earlier, or later, during the “baby boom” of the post-war years, travelling widely. I was luckier than most.

I married young like many of my generation, eager to initiate my own household where I was the central figure in command of my fate. It was true that I was not circumspect in my choice of a mate, unfairly to her, because the one of my choice was beyond my reach. She was beyond my reach because I had never spoken to my intended-too shy, lacking in courage-until she had chosen another. I turned elsewhere, confident that I could manage events whatever the circumstance. But because, if I could not have my choice, to me it did not really matter, I did not give matter the attention it deserved. This insouciance in an important relationship like marriage had its inevitable consequences. Although it resulted in wonderful offspring, thanks to our love for them, my lack of engagement led to a contract that proved ultimately unsatisfactory to both partners and culminated in divorce.

Toward the end of my marriage, not knowing the way forward, indeed unable to articulate even to myself what course of action I should follow, I went to see the person who was my original intended. Little did I know that that person, still married, (she had been divorced from her first husband) was in the middle of a life crisis of her own. We met and all I talked of were some of the challenges I was facing on a professional level. We did not venture to raise issues of a personal nature. We failed on both sides to expose to each other what were the imperative real issues we faced. I did not have the courage to pierce the veneer of politeness. We parted, each disappointed, each wondering just why we had come together after so many years. I went on to marry again and father another child. That marriage ended when my wife passed away from cancer after we had been together for twenty-eight years.

Though in turmoil, operating, I recognize now, on a subconscious level, a plan was formulating in my mind. I was determined to change the pattern of my life. I had always followed the life events of my intended through family connections in Winnipeg where she still resided, and where we had shared growing up. I knew that she had long been a widow. Time marching on, we were both, then, seventy years of age, I being only eight months older. After what seemed to me a decorous period of mourning, I set out to visit the bridal candidate I had left in ignorance of my intentions all those years ago. The moment of truth awaited me when I came to Winnipeg, ostensibly to visit my sister for the  few days of the Jewish High Holidays. I acquired the phone number of my target and phoned my intended. There was no answer. I was forced to leave a message. Several anxious days passed. Did she not wish to talk to me?

Then I received a call. It seemed she had been away on a holiday with friends and had just returned. She had ignored all her messages to return my call. I asked if she could meet me, perhaps we could share a meal? There were so many things she had to attend to after her trip. (she assumed I was still a married man-why was I calling?), she demurred, just returning my call out of politeness.  Surely she could spare the time for a breakfast, I urged forcefully, until, finally, she acceded to my request.

We met the next morning and proceeded to a nearby hotel which had a bare excuse for a restaurant. I was careful to order something I was sure I was not likely to get all over my clothes. (I am a sloppy eater.) The conversation was desultory. I informed her of the death of my wife early that year. She expressed her condolences. Then she briefly described her life. She was considering a move into an independent living seniors’ facility, giving up the condo she loved. I shared that I was selling the marital home where I had lived for over twenty years. We were strangers with a connection reaching back more than fifty years, was it enough? Our encounter appeared to be heading toward the same end it had had almost thirty years before. Casting about, I remembered that my sister had told me the object of my affections had become a prolific painter. I asked if I could see some of her work. She agreed.

We drove to her apartment building. We took the elevator to her unit in silence. I had no particular plan. I was just seeking to extend our time together. How could I reach out to the vision in my mind? We arrived at her floor and she opened the door to the unit. She walked into the apartment. I followed. All the walls around us were covered with the products of her effort. She stood in front of me. Her back was to me as she pointed at one of her works. Still wrapped in winter coats, without thinking, I reached out and spun her about. Throwing my arms about her, I kissed her passionately full on the mouth, a kiss containing all the secret longing, all the unspoken daydreams of over half a century.  All the words I could not, did not know how to, utter, were in that kiss. Wonder of wonders, she kissed me back.

She told me later that she felt suddenly weightless, floating in the air, seeing stars, with feelings and memories that she had never consciously appreciated flowing to the surface. We spent the rest of that day, into the night, together, getting reacquainted. The past years disappeared as if they had never happened. We were young again, reliving what we might have had together fifty years before. That was the beginning of a new life for both of us that we pleasure in to this day.

All because of a kiss.


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