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.