I was in love with a boy in high school, but he was Jewish, and he didn’t want to get involved with me—a Catholic. He wanted to date and, of course, marry a Jewish woman. To say he was devout was an understatement. His name was Sam.
A month before the prom back in 1980, Sam took me out by the tennis courts behind the high school and said, “I can’t take you to the prom. I’m going to go to the Purim Ball at the Jewish Community Center.”
I was disappointed. I did love Sam. I loved him for his wit and his incredible musical talent. He could wail on the saxophone.
We graduated and went our separate ways. He ended up moving to New York, becoming a professional musician and marrying the Jewish woman of his dreams. They had one daughter and were incredibly happy.
I married a sensible, kind Catholic five years my junior. This year, we celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary. We too have one child—a son. We, too, are happy.
About a month ago, my husband Steve and I got invited to a party at Karl Evan’s house. I’d gone to high school with Karl. It was a small affair; everyone there had graduated with me in 1981. And everyone there but me had been in the band. I felt special because I had been in the orchestra, but was invited anyway. I played the violin.
We decided to attend.
I never dreamed Sam would walk in, but he did, on the arm of his Jewish wife who was practically carrying him.
“Sam!” I exclaimed, reaching out to shake his hand (I didn’t want to come on too strong with a hug.)
He didn’t shake my hand, but simply said, “Hello, Laura.”
“How have you been?”
“I’ve been through an awful lot.”
Although he was only 54, he looked like a man of at least 70. He had a long, white beard and he was bent over and looked tired.
Sam introduced me to his wife Leah, and I introduced him to Steve. Someone grabbed Sam’s other arm, and they steered him over to the couch.
I was curious to know what terrible thing had happened to him, but held my breath and sat down on a chair next to Karl’s plaid couch.
Sam’s wife Leah sat on a straight back chair next to me and quietly began to explain Sam’s predicament.
“Sam has a malignant brain tumor.”
“Oh, my God,” I said. “I’ve had cancer twice.”
“The radiation treatment blinded him,” Leah said.
“That’s why he didn’t shake my hand,” I said quietly. “He didn’t see me offer it to him. How did he know it was me?
“He has a one-inch window of sight left.”
I got the courage to sit down next to Sam, who began to tell me his story in his own words.
“When I was a child, I was terrified I was going to be diagnosed with a brain tumor. I’d seen it happen in the movies all the time. I obsessed on the idea constantly. And then I developed one.”
“Oh, shit,” I said.
“I had to go to Boston to have surgery four months ago. They got it all, but the tumor came back. The radiation made me practically blind.”
Then I told him my cancer story.
“I was diagnosed with breast cancer back in 2011. They operated, gave me chemo and radiation. The radiation gave me a second cancer which was discovered in 2016. I had a second operation to remove that.”
“That damn radiation,” he said.
Then, Sam did something I’ll never forget.
“I love you, Laura,” he said.
“I love you, too,” I said.
Sharing our cancer stories had given us the intimacy we needed to declare our love for each other. We would not leave our spouses and join together. It wasn’t that kind of love. But it was a deep love that had lasted a lifetime.
After this, we started talking about how you’ve just got to laugh at your cancer sometimes. Sam understood this. It was nice to have someone understand. Then, we chuckled, and Sam held my hand.
We might not see each other again ever, but we would remain in each other’s hearts.