Steven was so puckish, so cute, so energetic, and so devoted to me that it would have been absurd not to have fallen in love with him. Then there was the sexual relationship, which I think was the best of all the boyfriends. For one thing, the readiness of 19-year-old boys to do it and to keep on doing it is legendary. And at 39, I was just at the right place for a dramatic increase in the level and intensity of my physical relationship.
Steven was unique for me in another way. He was the one and only boyfriend with whom I engaged in no dalliance whatever while we were going together. It had a lot to do with having such a high level of security, I think. I was his first lover, and he professed absolute, eternal love for me. We did have disagreements and little fights once in a while, but nothing rocked the sense that we were married forever.
It came as a complete surprise to me, therefore, when after almost three and a half years together, quite suddenly there was another man in his life. Steven had been in Milwaukee visiting his mother (at least that was the outward purpose), but he had apparently met this guy and taken up with him. Upon his return to Madison, he was barely inside the door when all at once he burst into tears. Intuition told me that could only mean one thing, and sure enough, it did.
It was hard for me because of being so totally unexpected. Even a year later I was still sometimes overwhelmed by grief, for I had no clear sense of why it had happened. By degrees I came to understand. Here I was, entering the closing phase of my professional career, settled in my life in this town, in this house, in this job, rooted and unable to set out in dramatically new directions, owing to the nature of the golden cord that our retirement system represents. By very great contrast, he was finishing an art degree, ready to make a major change, able and more than willing to branch out onto new terrains. So it was inevitable. He moved to California (don't they all?) to sample the wilder opportunites of Baghdad by the Bay.
There was a little tension between us occasionally along the mother axis. I was never too crazy about his, for I saw her as strongly controlling Steven. But he was (and remains) devoted to her, a tie strengthened perhaps by the sudden death of his father (a brain aneurysm) when Steven was still a teenager, a loss that he felt very keenly. I was always a little suspicious that his mother thought I was not the best influence for her boy.
About a year after we broke up I was visiting my mother, who surprised me by saying she had always had reservations about Steven. I wondered why she had never mentioned it before. "Well," she said, you seemed quite happy with him, so I didn't think it was my place to say anything, but I felt he was taking advantage of your open heart and your generosity." I thanked her for the circumspection, but protested that whatever I gave was freely and unreservedly given and that I had always felt amply rewarded in return.
Many years later I got a phone call from Steven, saying he would be in Madison and wanted to visit with me. I was more than willing, and the visit turned out to be something of an odyssey for him. I thought it was a casual occasion until he told me why he had come. He had several very specific purposes in mind. For one thing, he wanted to revisit the paintings of Allyn Amundson. This was a great surprise to me, because when we lived together, I didn't think he cared much for Allyn's work. On the contrary, he told me; they had been extremely influential in his life as a painter.
The major reason, it developed, was to seek my understanding of and forgivenness for the manner of our breakup. It certainly was not necessary for him to do that, but I was impressed with the motive nevertheless. It was youth and inexperience, he told me, and not at all a fitting reward for the kind of nurture I had given. I had to protest that really high-quality nurture also requires being able to let go when the time comes.
Also included in his purposes was spending the night. I thought that fairly interesting, and in fact it was!
Steven has become successful as a painter. He lives in San Diego now, and has managed to synthesize his various visions into a body of work, much of it based on imagery deriving from imaginative contact with Indian spiritual impulses, which apparently he intuits strongly. We exchange relatively rare letters; I'm sure there will always be fondness in each of our hearts for the other. He was a lovely person back then and still is, nearly a quarter-century later.
I visited San Diego in 2001, where I stayed in Steven's charming little house on a particularly precipitous hill directly overlooking the airport. Every morning at 6:30, a long line of jets would take off, bound for wherever, the enormous racket of each full-throttle departure a few hundred yards away causing the windows to rattle, as if to say, "Wake-up time!"
But we had a great visit too. He's changed in many ways, less mercurial and flighty, more serious about life. In short, things have worked out well for both of us, all these years after.