Gimme a ticket for an aeroplane,
Ain’t got time to take a fast train.
Lonely days are gone, I’m a-goin’ home,
‘Cause my baby just a-wrote me a letter.
~Refrain from The Letter,
first popularized by The Box Tops
Memorable Opening Lines
Call me Ishmael from Moby-Dick by Herman Melville (1851) is, according to the American Book Review, the best first line from a novel.
For my part, however, the opening that (still) thrills me every time are the first lines of the letter I received from Julie almost 40 years ago:
Are you the Dr. Showalter I used to know?
I’m divorced. How are you?
Those three sentences, which surely must be the most awkward, jejune phrases Julie ever composed since writing an ill-considered mash note in junior high school to her first boyfriend, Squirrely (sadly, that is not a pseudonym), make me shudder with delight even now as I write this.
At the time she wrote that letter to me, it had been six years since Julie left her first husband – and me – to be with Philip. In those six years, she and I had each married, relocated at least twice, and pursued careers far removed from our degrees in English. We had been completely out of contact with each other for the last three years, and neither of us had any idea where the other lived. Most importantly, we had both been smart enough, sensible enough, and mature enough to know that holding onto the illusion that the two of us would somehow, someday be together was not only unrealistic, but emotionally treacherous. Consequently, we had each surrendered that fantasy.
We did not, after all, live in a fairy tale of the sort which features children who mysteriously disappear only to be serendipitously reunited with their parents years later or a cheesy melodrama in which twins separated at birth discover each other’s identity when they happen to ride the same subway car and notice they are wearing matching lockets – or a mythical universe in which lovers reunite after living disparate lives for six years. No, this was real life.
On the other hand…
As you may recall, when we last saw our heroine, she had made an attempt to discover my whereabouts and, two weeks later, had declared – in front of a few hundred applauding EST participants – that she had “let go” of her hope that she would end up with that guy she knew in college (as before, that would be me).
Her later to be renounced effort to find me had been partially successful. She had contacted directory assistance in my hometown, found four listings under my surname, called the first one, and had a chat with my Aunt Saundra. Aunt Saundra was suspicious of a stranger, especially a woman, calling about me and so refused to provide my address or phone number, but she was too proud of her nephew to forgo mentioning that “he’s a doctor now in Chicago.” After a brief pause, she added, “And he’s married.”
Julie later pointed out that, by that time, discovering that I had converted to Mormonism and had eight wives, that I had been comatose for three years, or that I was standing trial as a serial murderer would not have deterred her.
A subsequent call to the AMA netted Julie a list of all the physicians in Chicago with my surname along with the medical schools from which each graduated. The next day she mailed her letter addressed to me at my residency training program.
Two weeks later, she had not heard from me and assumed, reasonably enough, that the recipient was not her Allan Showalter or, more likely, her Allan Showalter had chosen not to respond.
As it turns out, she had not reckoned with my medical center’s internal mail system, which kept her message meandering slow motion through a re-routing maze for 15 days, begrudgingly expelling it into my hands the day after Julie’s EST weekend proclamation.
Julie and I were talking on the phone within the hour.
But the phone call — like all that has followed — was denouement to reading the letter
In that instance everything changed forever.
Note: Originally posted May 3, 2006 at 1HeckOfAGuy.com, a predecessor of AllanShowalter.com
Julie Showalter was the fiercely intelligent, sexy, and loving woman with whom I had a outrageously wonderful marriage that ended with her death in late 1999 from cancer diagnosed the week of our wedding nearly 20 years earlier. She was also a brilliant scholar, the mother of our two sons, and a prize-winning author. Many posts on this blog are about her and still others consist of her writings. Julie’s Story is the account of our unlikely romance, Information can be found at Julie Showalter FAQ.