Friday, October 20, 2006

Fifty years to say goodbye

I came across a photograph of an old boy friend yesterday, and it reopened a small wound which had left a permanent scar on my heart. Due to an idiotic mistake which was never explained, we parted without saying goodbye, in a way which was not only frustrating but painful, as it left each of us feeling let down by the other. But he was a good guy and would not have done that to me, I am sure, and I would not have had him think that of me for the world either.

It was during my time in Geneva, working for the World Health Organisation. I shared a flat with a girl friend, and across the road from us lived two American medical students. They were Jewish, and had come to the medical school in Geneva because at that time it was difficult for Jews to get places at the schools in the US. The four of us got on well and saw a good deal of each other, and for Sy and me there was soon more than friendship between us.

By the beginning of 1956 however, I was preparing to leave Switzerland and return to the UK, as my two-year contract was up. The man I would eventually marry had stopped off in Geneva to visit me on his way home from India on leave, and I was pretty certain that I was going to say “yes” to him this time. I explained this to Sy, and as we had both known that our relationship would not be long-term, there was no difficulty about agreeing to say a sad but friendly goodbye over dinner, one evening before I left for home. So we set a date and a time, and fixed a place to meet in the centre of the town.

The evening came and off I went to the rendezvous. I was not late – (I rarely am) – and I waited happily for a while... and a longer while ... and an even longer while ... until eventually, in disbelief, I rang the flat and spoke to his flatmate. He said that Sy had gone off to meet me as arranged, and he could not understand that we hadn’t found each other. He would come along to where I was still waiting, though, and take me out to dinner himself.

Sy rang me next day and said he had been where we had arranged, and where was I? I said that I had been there, and where was he? We checked what the arrangement for meeting had been; there seemed to have been no confusion, and we could not understand how we had missed each other. It was too late by then to make another date before I left, and so we never saw each other again – our last contact was that unhappy exchange on the phone, when I could hear the hurt in his voice, as I am sure he heard it in mine. Good mates should not part like that - it still hurts.


A moment ago, just for fun, or sentiment, or curiosity, or whatever, I put Sy’s full name into Google Search, and came up with a listing in the digital library catalogue of the University of California, San Francisco: it was his doctoral thesis written in Geneva (in French) in 1958, two years after we parted there. It has to be him, I cannot believe anything else. I was strangely moved by this, as though we had touched hands again, even managed to say our last goodbye – at last! It was like laying flowers on a grave that one should have visited 50 years ago.


sunshinedaily4me_wuz_here said...

Judith - that really put a lump in my throat. It is very convicting far as we should always strive to make our words with everyone, but especially those we love, kind as we never really know if we will see someone again. Sure, we assume we will, but we never really know it may be our last goodbye.
I am glad you were able to look him up...and I hope you are able to get some sort of closure from it...but the situation is sad and melancholy.

Knowleypowley said...


I have just had an email from someone I haven't seen for 27 years and the urge to meet and say hello after all this time is very great. But should the past be kept in the past?

It's true what they say about the older you get the more you look back over your life and wonder "what could have happened if"

A hauntingly, touching post, thank you for sharing.


Knowleypowley said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Pauline said...

What a touching post - I like how you could not believe he would be unkind, and your sureness that he would not think unkindly of you. It speaks of a true tenderness. Will you contact him, do you think?

Sharon J said...

I had a row with my daughter a few weeks ago and refused to listen to anything she had to say. Then I suddenly thought "supposing I never see her again". The pain of knowing that we'd parted on such bad terms would have been too much to live with and I vowed that I'd never again allow anything to upset me enough to not want to speak to somebody I care about. Life's too short to spend time falling out!

Thank you for the post, Judith.

Judith said...

Pauline, I would dearly love to contact him, but I have not found anything to locate his present whereabouts. I followed the clue about the University of California, and the clue that his doctoral thesis was about cancer of the liver, so he may well have become an oncologist. But although I searched an American website for locating doctors by name I didn't find him. He's probably retired by now, even if he's still around. And anyway, as KnowleyPowley says, "should the past be kept in the past?"

I did find another old boyfriend once on google, as he has become a well-known author in the UK. I sent an email to the college he seemed to be connected with, but nothing came of it. And I reckon it's just some sort of vanity trip really, like writing one's memoirs!

herhimnbryn said...

J. Such a hauntingily wistful post. personal too. thankyou for sharing.

Wenda said...

I'm so moved by this story, Judith.