I met Henry in a loud, crowded bar in Sherman Oaks, close to our respective workplaces, in early March. Having been on my fair share of first dates (26, I’ve crunched the numbers), I came armed with cautious optimism, bolstered by the easy texting banter that followed our meeting on a dating app.
He walked in, and the first thing I noticed was his big smile. I felt this mixture of warmth and nervous energy radiating off of him, and my stomach flipped. Over the course of the evening we swapped stories of our Jewish upbringings, his in Chicago, mine in the San Fernando Valley. He showed genuine interest in my work as an educator and my passion for developing new plays. I loved hearing about his boyhood as an only child and how that translated to an obsession with and career in TV.
I felt as though we’d never run out of things to talk about. And there was this strong buzz of attraction between us.
As he walked me to my car I braced myself for the usual awkward exchange at the end of the night, only this wasn’t so awkward. He opted for a warm hug before asking if I’d like to do this again sometime. I did.
Date No. 2 was planned for the next Friday night at Escuela Taqueria, a BYOB spot on Beverly Boulevard. Since I had selected the restaurant, he had offered to bring the beer, but before he learned if I was an IPA or sour kind of girl, COVID-19 had other plans.
We rescheduled and hoped we’d resume our date in a few weeks. But our banter didn’t lessen, and we continued to talk and text as we settled into our quarantined lives. The citywide closure meant we had no other distractions. Instead of making plans to see a new play or try a restaurant, we spent hours just learning more about each other.
Then my world shifted. My 85-year-old grandmother, Judy, began to rapidly decline. My family made the difficult decision to begin hospice care.
At this point, Henry and I were just weeks into getting to know each other. The most serious topic we’d covered so far was documentary film. Could a new relationship stand the heaviness of my sorrow? But I had to tell him about my grandmother, a woman he’d never met but who made up my whole world.
My grandmother was my best friend. She was a published poet and had a wicked sense of humor. Some of my earliest memories are of her teaching me my ABCs. She’d drive me in her ’85 Volvo to Children’s Book World on Pico Boulevard and fill my arms first with Dr. Seuss, then Eric Carle. When I got older, we devoured Beverly Cleary books together and, when older still, Judy Blume. Although “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret” was later deemed inappropriate for a second grader by my mom.
My grandmother had been divorced 40 years before, and since we were both single girls in Los Angeles, it gave us the opportunity to have an especially close relationship with each other. We had movie nights that I deemed the Lonely Hearts Club, when we watched all the black-and-white greats. I was in charge of picking up food, and even though I never spent more than $30 on pizza from Mama’s or burgers from Apple Pan, she would always hand me a few 20s, ignoring my protests of “That’s too much!”
Sharing my memories of her with someone new made her life feel more vibrant.
When she died in April, Henry supported me when it felt like everything was crumbling. And amidst my pangs of grief our relationship blossomed. In July we celebrated our birthdays, which were less than two weeks apart, by sharing our writing. That was a huge step for me. I wrote a poem about the past five months of dating in quarantine. He wrote a sketch piece that presented me as the heroine of my small, 99-seat theater community.
In August, we donned masks and met at a park in Culver City. As we walked to pick up sandwiches for a picnic dinner, I felt that familiar hum between us and, aside from some second-date butterflies, I was completely at ease.
In the months since, I’ve continued to feel that way, only more so. I’ve found a person I can completely be myself around. I feel so lucky that amid a pandemic, I found love.
My grandmother would have gotten a kick out of Henry’s use of Yiddish and his quick wit. And while it’s hard for me to know he’ll never sit at her dinner table on a Friday night or join us for a Lonely Hearts Club movie, meeting him has felt like a final gift from her; some light in all the darkness.
The author is an educator and dramaturge in Los Angeles.
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