The young (in her mid-twenties) woman was lamenting the progress of her romantic life. She and the object of her affections (same age) texted or messaged one another often, but she didn't know whether he shared her feelings, which she never revealed in the texts. She said he did not always reply to her texts and sometimes he would comment on others' Facebook posts while failing to respond to her messages. (Mind you, many of these "conversations" fall into the "hey, whatcha doing?" category.)
She agonized over whether to continue to text him. You couldn't ever tell what someone was really saying in a text, she observed.
He lives down the street from her. I suggested she knock on his door and invite him for a walk. As in "oh, hey, I'm just walking by and wondered if you'd like to join me?"
Her eyes widened in alarm. A face to face encounter?!
Well, I said, you could do it the old fashioned way and write him a note. Not a lengthy letter, not a love letter, but just a "maybe I'll stop by one day and we can go for a walk!" type note. Or send him a funny Halloween card.
Now the young woman looked positively ill.
Send him a card? How weird was that? That was just too strange.
At this point, I rolled my eyes and asked my friend if she had ever read Little Women. No. Well, you should, I said, and proceeded to tell her about Meg's glove.
If you have read Little Women as many times as I have, you will remember that one summer day, Meg lost a pair of gray cotton gloves in the conservatory of the Lawrence residence. Only one was ever returned. Months later, on a fall day, Laurie reveals to Jo the location of the missing glove. His tutor, John Brooke, has been carrying it around all this time. Jo is upset.
"All this time?"
"Yes; isn't that romantic?"
"No, it's horrid."
He carried her glove? The young woman looked at me incredulously. Why would he do a stupid thing like that? Clearly the romance of Mr. Brooke's gesture was lost on her, much as it was lost on Jo.
I related the story to Warren, musing out loud that Louisa May Alcott used the same romantic gesture in An Old-Fashioned Girl. Tom carries "my Polly's rose" in his wallet when he goes away to work off debt and redeem himself, while Polly keeps a clip of Tom's hair, a button from his coat, and a boyhood picture of him in a locket. Only when they finally admit their love for one another does each reveal the token that kept hope alive.
Warren was quiet. "Well, I kept those photographs all those years."
He's right. I had taken a shot of his foot back in high school, never daring to take a photograph of his face, and had made a print of it for him. I had also taken a photo of his first car, a Volkswagen Bug, and given him a copy. Warren had hung onto them through the decades. He still has them.
And for my part, for the very longest time, I had a scrap of a broken Remo drumhead that Warren had given to me during his senior year marching season. I kept it in a small box of mementoes and would never see that ragged piece without thinking of Warren and those long ago hopes, hoping he was well, hoping he was happy.
The course of true love never did run smooth, according to Shakespeare, and any of us can easily attest to that. The age in which we live now—with texts and messaging and the expectations that responses will be instantaneous—adds an extra kink to that course. There is something to be said for not having an immediate response, for carrying the glove in the pocket, the rose in the wallet, the hope in the heart.