CELIA

One rainy afternoon near the end of September 1967 I found myself crouching behind a stone retaining
wall at the corner of Harrison Street and West Franklin in Richmond, Virginia. I was a freshman in
college—had been there about two months at the time. Through the drizzle I watched as a man, short
and broad, in a very black, nicely made suit, carried cardboard boxes down a slippery brick pathway to
the open trunk of a large old Rolls Royce. Behind him, following slowly, head down as if in mourning, was
a college girl I recognized. He placed the boxes in the trunk, opened the back door for her (I expected to
see a little bow, but there was none), closed the trunk as he went around, brushed his gloved hands
together, slid in behind the wheel and drove off smartly. There was something very sad about this
ceremony; maybe it was the rain, the girl’s demeanor, the way the huge shiny car disappeared in silence
down the street.

I stood up. I didn’t know quite what it all meant, but, once I was sure they were truly gone, I emboldened
myself to walk around the corner and up that same slippery brick pathway to the apartment door where it
lead. I knocked. A girl I’d never seen before came to the door.
“Is Celia here?”
“Nope. Are you Edward?”
“Yeah…”
“This is for you.” She handed me a tasteful envelope. I tore it open and took out the tasteful note within,
and read these words: “I will never forget you. I will always love you. Celia”
“She’s gone?” I asked while folding the thing and shoving it into the back pocket of my jeans.
“Yeah,” sighed the girl, perfectly bored. “She’s rich, and now she’s gone.” She started to shut the door,
but I put up a hand to prevent it.
“Is she coming back?” I had to ask. I had to know.
“I hope not.”
“What happened?”
“Her house burned down.” The girl sounded burdened but, at the same time, just a shade elated to
convey the news. She put the back of one hand to her brow and tilted her head back and fluttered her
eyelids like a heroine in a silent film. “Celia’s tragedy,” she said, “Tra-la-la-la-la.”
“Her house burned down?”
“Right to the ground. Her brother’s in the hospital,” she said leaning one hip against the edge of the
door.
“Is he OK; I mean, I don’t know the guy but…”
She sighed. “I think he’s OK. It’s the house they’re upset over.”
“But, Celia—she’s not coming back?” I needed to know. I needed to hear it again.
“Well, she took all her stuff, what does that tell you?”
“Wow,” I said.
“Yeah, bummer, now they all have to fly off and live in their place in Europe somewhere until their
humble mansion in Alexandria can be restored to its former glory.”
“Wow,” I said again.
“Yeah, wow.” She closed the door.

Celia was the personification of exotic beauty. She looked like the Hollywood image of Cleopatra. She
had that beautiful thick silky black hair cropped flat just above her shoulders; she had the noble nose;
she had the posture, the bearing, the composure, the quiet self-assurance, the nails. She had heavily
HEAVILY made-up eyes, which you know…well, I gotta admit….  Apparently, from what I’d been told, she
may have had the money, although, to her credit, there had never been any blatant indicators. She had
the cool, judgmental, cat-like demeanor of a siren. She was a stunner, there is no doubt about that. She
was also the first girl to “fall in love” with me so hard and so deeply that she could not conceive of ever
letting me go or ever letting anyone else enjoy the tremendous pleasure of my stammering company.
How it had gotten to that I do not know.

It started off simply enough, she asked me if I wanted to come to her apartment and study history. I went;
we studied; I left. As I recall, we did this twice, and by the time I left her place the second time she had
convinced herself that I was the one for her and she was the one for me; that nothing would ever come
between us, and that it would last forever. I wasn’t so convinced. In fact, for the longest time I didn’t even
know any of this was going on. It had never even occurred to me. Maybe she thought we had a better
chance to make it together, you know, to the end of time if I stayed somewhat in the dark when it came
to the details.

There is—at this point in my life--nothing very special about me. Though forty years younger, there was
even less special about me then. (By that I mean, now, I can play an awkward contrived blues on the
ukulele and can, when pressed, find my own ass without a road map.) With average height, average
build, average looks, I have always (regrettably) laid proud claim to a less than average mind and, due
to damnable Fate, a perpetually lower than average income. In those days I was excruciatingly shy (my
skin had just begun to clear up after many years of crippling humiliation) and I worked in the University
cafeteria for something like $3.23 per hour (maybe less, I don’t recall). I’ve been told that I can be
charming—I guess that’s true for most of us—but if I had actually been so at any time in Celia’s
presence it had been inadvertent. If I had said anything enticing or seductive or suggestive in her
presence, I was unaware of it. Furthermore, my extreme shyness in those days, caused me to put up
defenses that most people read as either pure arrogance or uncut stupidity, both of which I understand
to be repulsive traits.

About that, let me only say this (quickly), I’m not arrogant. Socially awkward is the phrase I think which
probably best described me then, and comes pretty close to describing me today in my 60s. So, I can
not even guess why Celia decided I was the guy for her. I can not even guess.

But, she was serious about it. I mean, if your home has recently been reduced to a pile of ashes and
your brother is in the hospital and you have to quit school in order to be whisked off to the comfort of
your familial nest somewhere in Europe, documenting an eternal commitment to someone you studied
history with twice might, quite reasonably, be the last thing on your mind. But for Celia, it wasn’t. She
took the time to dash off a little note before climbing into the backseat of her Rolls Royce. That’s
commitment.
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