Anniversary, How It Came To Be and How It Is
In my favorite French film, And Now My Love (1975), directed by Claude Lelouch, the man and the woman almost meet for 150 minutes and finally do, via their two suitcases, in the last scene. Their baggage seen touching on the airport conveyor belt has brought them together.
It was finally our baggage that also brought Peggy and me together twenty-three years after our first meeting. In 1957, U.C.L.A. sponsored a poetry extension course which Peggy hosted in her Reseda home. I attended for the ten sessions in her living room but she has no memory of me. Color me nascent.
Claude Lelouch would have rendered me a rather forgettable guy…which I was. But I remembered her when, in November, 1980, she introduced herself after a Robert Bly reading. Aren’t you Norm Levine, she said. I checked my wallet and sure enough I was. Peggy had been at a poetry reading I gave earlier that summer. Our separate travels had somehow deposited us at that same time and place.
We connected that night, soulfully. Two people fully met. At Christmas time we even gave each other the same book (Wendell Berry’s, A Place on Earth). For the next three years four months we had memorable trysts and assignations. While I agonized over my crumbling marriage singing spirituals on the back forty she read me the Emancipation Proclamation and waited and waited.
In the hands of Claude Lelouch it wouldn’t have taken so long. But I’m no Andre Dussollier. My vacillation would have been compressed to no more than twenty minutes. In the French rendition we would have run off for weekends in Carlsbad, Montecito or Ojai which is just what we did.
At last in March, 1984, I called and told Peggy I had good news and bad news. The bad news had something to do with Reagan supporting the Contras in Nicaragua; the good news was that I was packing my toothbrush and moving in with her the following Saturday.
The 25th of March is our real anniversary but we made it official with benefit of clergy two and half years later on Sept. 20th. Peggy was a very young sixty-five and still in her prime now at 96; I was a reinvented fifty-three. Life, Part Two, had begun. It is still beginning every morning. As a French film we would need no subtitles. We are fluent in the language of intimacy which knows when to allow silences. A murmuration of two, unsayable and unmapped.
All passion as yet unspent. Whether it be for poetry, art or even the Dodgers Peggy is nothing if not capacious (a word I use sparingly) in her wide embrace of life. Her enthusiasm is irrepressible beyond the scope of any French actress who might be cast. Yet at the same time she is contemplative with access to her vast inscape.