During the afternoon mail call I received John’s letter. He told me Lisa wasn’t seeing anyone anymore and maybe I’d like to write to her. He knew I liked Lisa and she agreed to give me her address, which he had included in the letter.

About a year earlier I worked at the Spastic Children’s Foundation in Chatsworth, a district in the northwest corner of the San Fernando Valley. Lisa was buoyant, cheerful, and resilient—Steller qualities for working with children so severely afflicted. She was also athletic, funny and had a smile that charmed. I was enamored. I was captivated. But I was a poor, struggling college student. Also, the children were breaking my heart because I wasn’t buoyant or resilient. My future was a fog, so I joined the Navy.

I composed my first letter to Lisa with caution. I didn’t want to sound like some weirdo stalker. I told her that I admired how caring and animated she was with the children. And along with the letter I mailed a package with three tourist T-shirts, one for her and a couple for the children.

Our correspondence was proceeding on about a weekly basis as I gathered up the courage to express my feelings. I waited for Lisa’s reply. And I waited, and waited, cringing at what I had written. Did I sound sweet and romantic or like some desperate maniac? I had blown it big time!

Two months passed and I received a letter from Lisa telling me how sensitive and caring I was and how beautiful the letter had been. And she asked if we could hang out on my leave that summer. Yes!

I toned down the romantic prose a lot as we set up a date to go bicycling through Topanga Canyon to the Pacific Coast Highway.  

It was a July morning when I rode up to Devonshire and Topanga and saw Lisa standing in front of the 7-11. She wore knee-high denims and the blue and yellow T-shirt I had sent. Her curly, chestnut brown hair glistened, and her smile was even more radiant than I had remembered.  

We hugged and then I kissed her on the lips, surprising myself by how natural and inevitable it had seemed, and when she kissed me back my thoughts spun in clichés like “I’m walking on air,” and “I could die now and be happy!” We laughed for no other reason than we were happy being together.

Colors now looked more vibrant, and the trite became profound and beautiful. The perspiration on the nape of Lisa’s neck sparkled like gold dust, and her strength and drive as we ascended the hill made her an Amazon princess. Was I losing it? No—I was really in love for the first time in my life!

As we coasted by the Topanga Market, I signaled for us to stop. It was getting heat wave hot, so I offered to buy us a couple of sodas and a snack. But Lisa smiled coyly and suggested a bottle of wine.

Lisa and I enjoying wine and cheese and fruit in bucolic splendor? How inspiring! How romantic! I pinched myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming. I was just full of cliches.

I asked her if she’d find pinot noir to her liking, with a playful bow and sweep of my arm. And she smiled “Indeed, my lord” with something like an English accent.

I entered the store looking all around for Cupid. Surely, he had a hand in this. I selected a bottle of merlot, took it to the register and reached into my pocket. No wallet! I reached into my other pocket. Empty! In my rush to see Lisa I’d left my wallet on my dresser.

I told Lisa what happened and asked her if she was angry at how stupid I was.  And even though she assured me she wasn’t, there was no longer a smile on her face or a gleam in her eyes.

We started riding back to the Valley before the heat wave peaked. After a while, Lisa began to struggle and sweat profusely—it wasn’t glittering gold dust. I started feeling parched and tired. Lisa was turning beet red and could speak only in a whisper.

I promised Lisa I’d make it up to her. When we got back, I’d get my wallet and we’d go to a restaurant. She could order whatever she wanted. Afterward, I’d see her home. But she told me she didn’t want to go to any restaurant and was perfectly capable of seeing her own way home.

At Ventura Boulevard Lisa insisted that it was time to part ways.

How could I have been so stupid! I was exhausted, I was heartbroken. I looked for Cupid, but he obviously had better things to do.

Our love, or what we saw as love

Was ill-fated from the start

Our encounter had a poignant charm

But it’s time for us to part!

By Robert Gorelick