My eyes scanned the terminal as I walked off the jet bridge. We’d only started dating a month earlier and I was touched that the guy that I’d met at Yankee Doodles on Santa Monica’s Third Street Promenade said he’d pick me up at the airport. I looked for the tall, handsome, blue-eyed man, but he wasn’t there. I don’t know why I got it into my head that he’d be standing there with flowers. Maybe it was because he sounded so into me when we spoke on the phone while I was in New York for the U.S. Open. When I left for the Big Apple he’d seemed so disappointed. The weekend before I’d been at a wedding in Monterey. The weekend prior to that I was at The Pigskin Classic in Anaheim.
“Don’t you ever want to see me?” he asked with a voice achingly sweet.
“Of course! I’d rather stay and stare into your eyes,” I wanted to say, but I stayed cool, “Well yes, but I have a life.”
I forced myself to stick with the plans in place, though I was tempted to cancel at least one of them. My mother always said “You’ll find love when you’re least looking for it.” She also said, “If you’re hard to get, they’ll want you even more.”
I decided that translated to “If you’re hard to get, they’ll show up at the airport with a bouquet of roses because, after all, a man should fight for the one he wants!”
This was long before the Hallmark Channel offered saccharine love stories for every season. But we did have Harlequin Romances, and if, while alone on a Saturday night, you read one by candlelight while listening to Seal sing “A Kiss From A Rose”, well you could easily conjure up a modern-day Hallmark movie script.
This was also before 9/11, back when you could meet your love interest at the gate. Shoes and belts stayed on and you could bring full-sized shampoo, lighters and even firearms in your carry on without passing through security. And, should you choose, you could use those lighters to chain smoke your Marlboros and fill the little ashtray in your armrest.
Sleepless in Seattle was that summer’s blockbuster. An earnest and sensitive soul like Tom Hanks would do whatever it takes for the one he loves, and I wanted a guy like Tom Hanks! I longed to star in my own Rom Com, complete with Empire State Building happy ending.
Instead, I waited for my tattered grey suitcase, the same one I’d come to California with five years earlier, the one I inherited when my grandfather died nearly a decade before that, and I scanned baggage claim. No sign of he who I’d nicknamed C.G. for “Cute Guy.” I didn’t want to give his name to my co-workers less this be another failed relationship in my depressing string of Jims and Steves and Bobs.
I stood there as time moved on at the speed of the baggage carousel. 10 minutes. 25 minutes. 45 minutes and no C.G. His professed interest had clearly, rapidly evaporated. I was glad I hadn’t shared his name. He would forever be known by initials, engraved on his tombstone in my heart’s burial ground.
There were no cell phones then. No way to text an update or excuse. I waited in line for a payphone and used my last quarter to call a friend who lived nearby. I didn’t have the money for a Taxi. I didn’t think I’d need it.
More than an hour after I landed, I was standing by the curb at LAX when my friend pulled up. We threw grandpa’s suitcase into the trunk of her burgundy Mustang, and as I was getting into her car, I thought I’d spotted C.G.’s grey Ford Explorer screech up to the curb about 50 yards in front of us. I was pretty sure I saw him run into baggage claim three carousels beyond where I’d just been. Had he actually come to get me?
Calling out would have been futile. Running after him seemed desperate. I was on time. He wasn’t. And asking a friend to pick you up at LAX is a big request. You don’t just say “Never mind…”
I tempted fate and tried to put C.G. out of my mind as my friend drove north on the 405 and I regaled her with stories of time spent with in dance clubs, at Broadway plays and tennis matches in New York. You can count on your girlfriends, I’d learned. Guys were generally not as reliable.
I’d been home in my Sherman Oaks condo long enough to put my suitcase in the bedroom and collapse on the couch with a glass of wine when the door buzzer sounded.
He said he’d lost track of time. And there was traffic. He described sprinting through the airport like OJ in a then still germane Hertz commercial, looking for me. He said he felt awful.
I wanted to stay angry, but those Alaskan Husky icy blue puppy dog eyes seemed so sincere. Though he vowed to make it up to me, time would prove that he was never one for bold romantic gestures. And while 9/11 was a horrific tragedy that led to extreme TSA security, I suspect C.G. was grateful that picking people up at the curb became customary procedure and he would never again be expected to stand at the gate with a bouquet.
We had squeezed in a few dates between my travels and I liked this guy. One evening as we headed to the beach to watch the sunset, he popped in a Clint Black tape, thinking, I suppose, that it might charm me since I was a Carolina girl. But I’d been raised by my Brooklyn-born mother to shun country music. My dad was relegated to listen to his Hank Williams 8-tracks in the shed.
I called my mother the next day and told her about this smart, charming, gentleman who kissed my hand at Toppers as the sun sunk below the horizon. But when I got to Clint Black she said, “You’re going to have to let this one go.”
Ever the rebel, I didn’t listen to her.
She’d also repeatedly told me things like, “If they don’t bring you flowers when you’re dating them, then they definitely won’t when you marry them.” I’d taken that wisdom to heart, thinking that blooms meant love. But C.G. was never one for flowers or lovey-dovey deeds. He was however, steady, sincere and made me laugh.
So I married him.
He bought me a house with a white picket fence behind which is a row of mature rosebushes that bloom ten months of the year. Camellias line our yard and dot it with color the other two months. For the most part, my life has been a bouquet filled with the blossoming smiles of my children, the bright buds of travel, and the buried bulbs of possibility.
Still, sometimes before a birthday or anniversary, I’ll write in his day timer: “Today would be a good day to bring your wife flowers.” Every once in a while he heeds the advice. I know that flowers are fragile and impermanent, but it is their ephemeral nature that pulls at my heart even amidst a more enduring love.