From Lost & Found
We met on Main Street. C. had driven two hundred and fifty miles to get there, although not to see me; she was on her way from her home in Maryland to a week in Vermont, followed by a wedding in upstate New York, and the town where I lived made a convenient stopping point. A few months earlier, a mutual friend had introduced us by email and, meaning nothing much by it, told us that we would adore each other. We’d exchanged polite notes, and later that spring, while planning her road trip, she realized she would be passing nearby. She suggested lunch; I named a local café. When the appointed time came, I walked to town, ducked my head in the door to make sure she hadn’t already arrived, then stepped outside again to wait.
This was in the middle of May, on a day that had dawned chilly but was rapidly turning beautiful. In front of me, the street wound down toward the Hudson River; behind me, the summit of an eastern spur of the Appalachian Mountains was just starting to leaf over into a pale springtime green. That morning, I had gone for a run up there, on a trail that tracked upward alongside a stream until it reached a rocky peak with a view west across the river to the Catskills and south almost all the way to Manhattan. I had moved away from New York City nearly ten years earlier, which meant that, to my considerable surprise, I had now lived in this town with its backdrop of hills longer than anywhere else since childhood. That’s what I had been thinking about—the pleasing but also somewhat arbitrary nature of my home—during my run. I don’t remember what I was thinking about standing there on Main Street before I looked up and saw C. walking toward me.
It is strange, all these years later, to summon that version of her and that version of me. In Plato’s Symposium, Aristophanes imagined lovers as two halves of one being, separated by the gods and unable to feel whole until they found their missing counterpart, but C. and I were perfectly whole before we met. In fact, what strikes me now, when I remember that moment, is precisely her wholeness: there she was walking toward me in all of her remarkable specificity, and there I was, still knowing nothing at all about her. Slender, fair-skinned, dark hair falling past her shoulders, improbably dressed for her road trip in an oxford shirt and jacket: that was the sum total of the available information about what had just become, although I didn’t know it yet, my new life. In retrospect, I’m not even sure how I knew she was the person I was supposed to meet for lunch, so entirely was she a stranger to me at that moment. Rotate history a billionth of a degree and she would have remained that way forever. Instead, I watched her make her way toward me up the street, closing the last brief stretch of all the space and time before we met.
It is not precisely correct to say that I knew right away. What I felt most of all, over that first lunch, was extremely alert. She was serious-minded and extraordinarily intelligent, so much so that my heightened attention was akin to that of a climber in steep terrain: the peaks high and varied, the views vast and lovely and surprising. She somehow conveyed the impression of being both forthright and reserved, so that when she first laughed, with swift and genuine delight, I instantly wanted to make her do so again. I watched her as she talked, her long fingers organizing the air between us as precisely as a conductor; I watched her movements, formal yet easy, as the day warmed and she took off her jacket and cuffed her sleeves. We sat and talked in the empty outdoor patio of the café for two and a half hours, although it felt like half that—or, really, felt loosened from the forward hurrying of things altogether, as if Old Man Time had caught a glimpse of us and temporarily waived the rules, like the kindly airport cop who, laughing, let us linger over a long farewell in a No Stopping Zone outside Departures some weeks later.
Finally, after we had finished a last superfluous cup of coffee and returned our dishes to the counter inside, I obeyed an impulse that remained opaque to me and invited her to come see my place before she got back on the road. We walked there together and I showed her the little carriage house where I lived and the garden out front, the tomatoes and peppers still no higher than our ankles, the bean plants just starting to unfurl like tiny periscopes from the earth. Then, suddenly uncertain why I had brought her there or what to do next, I wished her safe travels, and we bade each other a slightly awkward goodbye. When I went back inside, I was startled to realize how late it was in the day.
That evening, she wrote to me: “I’m woefully out of practice at this sort of thing and you live three states away, but I’d love to take you to dinner next time we’re anywhere near the same city.” Two things happened so fast that I’m not sure I’d even gotten to the end of that sentence before my brain began its life-altering reorganization. First, as with an optical illusion where one image suddenly resolves into another, the afternoon we had just spent together entirely rearranged itself. It had not crossed my mind, before getting that note, that C. dated women—which is why, I suppose, I hadn’t correctly registered the nature of my own intense focus on her. Second, I knew without thinking about it that I was going to say yes.
We went on our first date a week later, when C. was on her way back from her friend’s wedding. After dinner and a movie that we both thought was terrible, we headed out for an evening stroll. I can still remember the exact route we took, and also the wending way we walked, now closer and now farther, the shifting amount of space between us suddenly uppermost in my mind. The night was mild and cloudless. A crescent moon chaperoned us from its usual discreet distance, vanishing and reappearing among chimneys and treetops. Occasionally that laugh of hers rose into the air, like starlings startled from their roost. By the time we got back home and settled into my couch, I was intensely aware of how much I wanted to touch her, and also how much I wanted to keep sitting there listening to her. It is my fault, then, that it was so very long past midnight when we finally kissed.
I will not try to describe it, except to say that I could; I mean that it is one of those rare moments, out of only a handful each of us gets in a lifetime, that remains imperishable in all its particulars. We had, by then, strayed outside again. The moon had set. Stars and quiet filled the sky. All around us, the universe was expanding, not from something, not into anything, all on its own, changing the scale of space, stretching the boundaries of existence. Gravity, electromagnetism, the strong and the weak, all the known and unknown forces were exerting themselves on the cosmos. If we felt them, if we ever feel them, we did not know it, brimming as we were with our own forces, spinning inside it all like the tiniest of Ptolemy’s heavenly spheres. Afterward, I led her back indoors. For a long time after that, everything that wasn’t her—the house around us, the rest of the world, the passage of time, the past and the future—retreated into unimportance.
The next morning we woke up shy and happy and amazed, in ways both large and small. How little we still knew of each other: she was startled by the tattoo on my shoulder, which she hadn’t noticed in the dark; I was startled to find that her serious brown eyes had turned a lovely sunlit green. Hazel, she acknowledged, but I thought, magic, and I have thought of her as magic-eyed ever since. We left the house together, choosing to walk to town for coffee rather than make it at home, and on the way up the little hill outside my front door I took her hand in mine. It was different, thrillingly so, from how we had touched the night before, more chaste yet also more definitive. Overnight, I had become someone who wanted to hold someone’s hand on the way to breakfast.
She left by noon, although not before surreptitiously pulling a volume of poetry from my shelves and leaving it, opened to a perfectly chosen page, where I was sure to find it. When I did, a few hours later, something in me flared upward, like a candle newly lit. If I hadn’t already known before that moment, I knew it then.
From Lost & Found by Kathryn Schulz, published by Random House, an imprint of Penguin Random House, LLC. Copyright (c) 2022 by Kathryn Schulz.
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