What We Tried to Do

Louise V. Gray - Washington, District of Columbia
As heard on This I Believe Podcast, February 12, 2018
Louise V. Gray

In college, playwright Louise V. Gray had a passionate romance with another young writer. Then just before their wedding, the relationship faltered and they went their separate ways. Now years later, Gray is still grateful for that time with her lover.

Age Group: 50 - 65
Themes: love
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I believe love is like pickled pig feet.

He was arrogant, stubborn, ambitious, opinionated, and absolutely irresistible because he adored me and loved me unconditionally—no strings attached—except a few threads like mandatory Sunday dinner at his mother’s house, where he would drop off dirty clothes and pick up his clean laundry.

He was a writer who worked hard for $150 a week. He never whined or complained about money or that he was born with a painful disease called sickle cell. Yet his revolutionary spirit railed against the system that birthed bigots, poverty, and simple-minded religions. Yup, he was a handful, and I reveled in his passionate pursuits.

While planning an autumn wedding, my sweetheart told me that he expected me to be an obedient wife, to observe a six o’clock curfew, every day, and to make our home in his bachelor apartment decorated in red and white, his favorite colors. I gently protested. “But my favorite color is yellow. Can’t we use yellow as an accent, like some pretty pillows?”

His quiet voice bellowed a resounding “No!” So, after some serious soul-searching, I told him, “No, I will not marry you. Cancel the wedding!”

He was mad and sad. I was relieved and sad. We tried a few reunions, like one Thanksgiving when my sister cooked and he thanked her by refusing to help wash the dishes. Then there was a romantic weekend we spent full of oohs and aahs but still ending with the inevitable epitaph “nothing has changed.” Finally, we went our separate ways. No Christmas cards, no birthdays, no phone calls.

Seven years later we had dinner and breakfast in bed and laughed at the foolishness of our younger mind-sets. But that was it. He later married and I moved on, resurrecting my filmmaking aspirations and dating occasionally. And yet I never stopped loving him and using his love like a battery booster whenever I needed to rev up my courage or soothe my sagging spirit. His love was unquestionable, persistent, everlasting. He taught me to never settle for less than “the light,” that look in a man’s eyes when he beholds me in both my peacock postures and in my most emotionally naked moments. My lover taught me that delight easily trumps any diamond-crusted bling.

Recently, I Googled my guy’s name and found out that he died over a year ago—too late to send a sympathy card, too late to ask him what he put in his scrambled eggs that tasted so good, too late to thank him for loving me. Hey, I wonder if I sprinkle some red and white flowers in the Potomac River if he would get the message: that I don’t regret what we tried to do, in the name of love.

Yes, love is like pickled pig feet: it tastes kind of strange, smells kind of funny, but when it tickles your tongue, the memory lasts forever.

A playwright and the founder of the Chocolate City Library, Louise V. Gray enjoys collecting and recording life stories of ordinary people. She is learning to write lyrics for her family drama, Greens . . . the Musical. Ms. Gray lives in Washington, D.C. This essay is featured in the book This I Believe On Love which can be purchased here.

Homepage photo illustration by Jane M. Sawyer via morgueFile.com