Hillary Caldwell is the light of my life and the fire of my loins (whatever dazed, confused fire is left in them!) and it’s hardly inappropriate to misappropriate Nabokov in telling the story because, while she wasn’t 12, she WAS just 22 when I first met her! She was a student of mine, but we both like to point out that she was also a colleague. We both worked at the same dance studio. I taught, and she worked in the theater. She took my class regularly, though, and from the very first time she stood out to me (in a room of 30 or so), not because she was beautiful (someone pointed that out to me later*) and not because she was such a good dancer (her body was not the sort that took to my particular form of torture; “bareknuckle downtown dance” a fast paced, athletic, acrobatic way of moving with as much time spent on hands as on feet, which was my little revenge on all those dancers I’d embarrassed myself in front of in college with their elegant long flexible limbs and their obsession with standing on their tippy-toes!). It was because she laughed at my jokes.
In a room of 30, she was the only on whose brain had the extra capacity to not only do the convoluted things I was asking them to do, but to actually listen at the same time (two boldly split infinitives.. to boldly split infinitives..). Or maybe she was just the only one who thought I was funny. Either way I was a little smitten (a little smut?).
I was a straight male dancer and on top of it, a teacher. I was recently single, after being with someone for a very long time. I was in a bit of a fish bowl. Anything I did was going to be under scrutiny. Whether it would be seen as an office romance, OR a teacher dating a student, there’s no way that it wasn’t going to be met with a certain degree of scandal. So. It never even crossed my mind as a possibility. Honestly.
*I used to take photographs while I taught. I remember scanning negatives one day and seeing a picture of Hill. I have no recollection of who it was in the room with me, but when I said, “Gosh.. She’s sort of pretty.. ,” the response was something to the effect of, “No shit, Sherlock..” Her mind.. her presence.. struck me immediately, in that first class she took with me. But, that I found her attractive and that I wanted to be near her all the time, were things that sort of dawned on me.. slowly, over a period of 6 months or so.
She lived on City Island (Look it up on google maps.. it’ll blow your mind), in a tiny little shack. She made barely enough money to get by and she had a two hour commute to and from work. I had Sunday night dinners in those days.. Students would come and eat at my house, mostly international students who I felt would benefit from a sense of community like that. Hill would come to those dinners and she tells me that it was the one time during the week that she got to eat meat, because she couldn’t afford it the rest of the time.
I’m going to leave parts of the story out, to avoid embarrassing myself too much (these are the parts of the story that Hill loves to tell), but skip forward a little and Hill had moved to Harlem. Not so far from my house. She would stop by for coffee in the morning before heading in to work. We started having lunch together when we both had the time. (It was during this period that my mother met her one day. She wrinkled her nose at me and shook her head.. “too young, Ezra!” She’s been grateful ever since that in this particular instance I ignored her). I had no game at all. I had been with the same person for the last six years, and was lousy at flirting. I remember, during one of those lunches, saying, “You know.. I’m actually quite a catch. Someone ought to just snatch me up and marry me!” and another time suggesting that there were probably a lot of rumors going around in the dance world about how maybe we were dating, and wouldn’t it be funny if we just called their bluff and DID! I sucked at this.
But she fell for it. One day, we shared an octopus salad. We had a little time before we both had to be at work and we went back to my house and somehow ended up on my bed for a short siesta. We kissed (on the lips!) and we have been together ever since (7 years).
Today is our 4th anniversary. Hill was with me when I was diagnosed and she didn’t blink. I was in treatment when I asked her to marry me and she didn’t even hesitate. When I collapsed in the park on the way home from chemotherapy, puking up anything that hadn’t already emptied out into my shit bag, simply unable to move, Hill came and found me and practically carried me back to the doc’s.
Her name comes up all the time in these posts, but it’s rare that I actually talk ABOUT her. From the comments that you all make it seems clear enough that you know how much I love her, but it doesn’t hurt, especially not on our anniversary, to be explicit about it.
I realize now, after my stay in the hospital (hill spent every night there with me, sleeping in a chair that smelled like bleach), that for the last month or so I’ve been dealing with a steadily increasing level of pain. Ultimately it has taken an incredible increase in pain killers to get it under control. Now that the pain IS under control a fog has lifted from me. Strange to be on more narcotics and feel LESS foggy. I’m actually feeling much better than I have for quite a while. I realize, though, just how much energy it has been taking me, unconsciously, to deal with it. It has taken total focus, like walking on a tight-rope. My response to any distraction, I’m afraid, has been pretty irritable. (“DO NOT fucking distract me, you have no idea how HARD it is to do what I am doing right now!!!”). I think that Hill has gotten the brunt of it. I’m ashamed to think of it. As with all things, she has remained ever tolerant and understanding. She takes it all in stride. To me, my wife is like the sunshine and I love her more than I can describe. I thought you all should know.