The crowd at Penn Station was a lot thinner than I remembered it being before the pandemic lockdown. I hadn’t taken the train or traveled to New York City at all since March 2020. Even being on the train again had me feeling head and adventurous. Perhaps even more adventurous than I would have otherwise felt. My train had arrived earlier than his, which gave me time to kill and grow even more nervous. I stopped into the bathroom to freshen up and reapply my lipstick. Then I took my time walking to the Starbucks inside of Penn Station where we’d agreed to meet. I found myself worrying that I’d be surprised by him approaching me from behind. For some reason, I didn’t want him to see me first, deciding that it would be better if I saw him first, or we saw each other at around the same time. I looked for signs for the LIRR because he would be coming from that direction when his train arrived, and turned to face those.
Eventually, the flow of people coming that direction grew heavier, signalling that his train had arrived. Having only seen him in photos, I searched the faces, hoping I’d recognized his. At 6’2”, I imagined he would stand out, making him easier to spot. We began to walk toward each other, and I stifled the urge to run, like you see lovers doing in movies. It seemed impossible that I was so excited to see a person I'd never met before. I didn’t want to appear too eager, or worse come off like some weirdo or silly woman who’d watched too many sappy chick flicks because, in fact, I hadn’t indulged in the romance genre since reading my fair share of Harlequin Romance novels as a teen. Remember those?
Finally, we were face to face. His smile was broad and genuine. And we hugged. It was a good hug, the kind of hug that feels like home.
I think of this as an autumn romance, not because the autumnal equinox just passed on September 22nd, but because it is one that is happening later in our lives. And I would argue that it rivals all others, beating out the romances of younger times because we, figuratively, know who we are, and beating out a winter romance, one that takes place in old age, we know who are, literally. Autumn is by far the most beautiful season, richly painted in tones of browns, oranges and reds, the earthy tones of nature -- earth and fire -- majestically rivaling all of the other seasons. Metaphorically, the autumnal romance is richly grounded and most passionately imbued, embodying a lifetime of acquired knowledge and survived heartbreak. It is hearth and home.
The original draft and title of this month’s essay, “A Joyous Loss for Words,” indicated that I am at a loss for words, as I felt far more equipped to tell stories of trauma, loss, healing and grief than I felt equipped to tell stories of the heart, yet here I am, “waxing poetic” about a meeting in Penn Station. But, since that meeting, my perspective has shifted from one in which I see mostly the conflict and pain of the world to one in which I stop to take notice of the way the leaves are dancing on the wind, which blows outside my window, Or how I’m not a fan of pumpkin-flavored or pumpkin-scented anything, but love the color orange, and the smell of fires burning in fireplaces and of cinnamon sticks. He loves cinnamon sprinkled in his latte. These small observations and details are the lens through which romance allows me to see the world -- insignificant, yet such significant moments of joy and pleasure.
I was talking to a good friend of mine, just the other day, about our tendency to invite conversations of hardship and strife. Most people seem drawn to such stories, while we roll our eyes at honey sweet stories of love. Eyes are rolled and listeners speak of diabetes. “Ugh.’ Even though research tells us that a healthy relationship is good for our health, boosting the immune system and decreasing instances of chronic disease, while stress-inducing, toxic relationships will kill us. Yet, we have more ways to talk about the stressful ones. We understand the paradigms of conflict, while we can barely put words to love.
I’ve thought more about this, and I think our “negative bias” is to blame. We are more inclined to pay attention to painful experiences and hardships because knowing how to avoid them benefits us and aids us in our survival, I suppose. Though, I question the wisdom of our tendency to stay mired in hardships, while viewing the alternative, tales of whimsical romance or long-lasting love as trite and saccharin. And so I listen to soul music, R&B, neo-soul, a little bit of country on my new headphones to build a vocabulary more suitable for my new experiences. In the lyrics of Kenny Lattimore, The O’Jays, Jill Scott, and Chris Stapleton, I find ways to fill in the gaps, so that I may write these stories with the same ease that I can write about my childhood trauma and my divorce because we are governed mostly by that which we can best articulate. The stories we tell shape our reality.
“So In Love” by Jill Scott
I see you cross the room
Talking with some men
I love your mannerisms, babe
The way you handle them
Oh, I’m so proud of you
So attracted to you too
You’re so damn good to me
In everything you do
I will surely borrow this from Jill Scott.
And I will borrow these words from The O’Jays
“The Stairway to Heaven” by The O’Jays
Here we go climbing the stairway to heaven
Here we go walking the road of ecstasy
Taking a load of the whole world off our shoulders
The door is wide open for you
The door is open for me
Uh, uh, uh, uh, uh, uh, uh, uh, uh, uh, uh, uh
Dear Reader, Try to be romantic this fall, whether your love is old, new, with another, or with oneself. May you find new ways to see beauty in the world.