I just finished a ravishing little novel called “The Confessions of Max Tivoli.” It begins, “We are each the love of somebody’s life.” The eponymous narrator, cursed by nature to struggle upstream of time in a body that shrinks younger each year, spends his life in the thrall of a woman who will never know him as he is, never love him as he loves her–first as father-figure, then as husband, and finally as adopted son. The novel’s premise soon loses its gimmick and spins out a fragile love tragedy, capturing in its web the tiny kernel of hate, self or blindness at the core of unreturned love. I’m not a romantic, but it’s a week before Valentine’s Day, the crocuses are jumping the gun and, I confess, I’m in the mood for unrequited love stories.
I first saw Travis under the fluorescent lights of the Infobases office on 5th West in Provo, where we were both new hires. His shift started when mine ended, and for a few days I savored his caramel hair and chocolate eyes as we passed in the doorway. When I ran into him that first weekend at a Bryan Ferry concert in Salt Lake, and then when he transferred to my shift at the office the next week, I was definitively charmed. Travis was intensely reserved–which only added to his appeal, of course–and, though he was kind and compliant, it was always I who suggested that we break together at Ripley’s, who asked to borrow his Sarah McLachlan CD, who waited for him in the parking lot so that we could bike home together under the stars (even though I had a car and could easily have driven!). I was no stranger to the conditions of unrequited infatuation, believe me, but at twenty-one I had just come through a tumultuous year of relationships, and maybe I had matured a little–or at least had improved my game. Whatever the reason, I had more success with Travis than I had with most of my hopeless college crushes: I managed to ease things into the agonizing hang-out stage, and I could almost glimpse more around the corner. We watched bad James Bond movies, ate Sunday dinners at his house or mine, gathered dried wildflowers in November. On Valentine’s Day he gave me a schoolchild’s Lady and the Tramp valentine, and wrote on the back “You’re a cool person. Better than cool…” Travis was no writer, but even a sonneteering Shakespeare couldn’t have infused those three tantalizing dots with more pregnant promise.
Unrequited love stories have no surprise ending, of course, and “better than cool” gradually cooled to tepid as the season turned and warmed: trees ran their sap through limb and twig, but Travis showed no sign of greening. And then Jared across the street started offering me rides to school on his motorcycle, and then I made an appointment with the bishop to collect my mission papers. Most unrequited love dead ends off the heart’s highway, but Travis turned out to be a through-street: I took Don Parry’s course on ancient temples because Travis did, and that course eventually led me through the bronze doors of the Los Angeles temple, which in turn awakened my long-dormant interest in a mission; I invited to my farewell an old flame, John Welch, since he lived nearby, and John started sending me long handwritten letters while I was in Portugal; we were married a little less than a year after I returned.
Travis was not the love of my life, nor was I his. But if love is life’s wide river to the sea, then Travis is a quiet brackish eddy in the current, salt with heartbreak, sweet with time.
Your turn now. What are your favorite unrequited love stories (PG please), autobiographical, fictional, historical?