“Judith, sometimes it’s hard to be objective when it’s someone we love.”
With the years gone faster than the blink of Judith’s eye, she finds herself thinking about the same person she has since childhood, the one person whom has occupied the biggest room in her heart, Eliot Pine. The most pressing question of all, beyond why and how we love the people we do, is can you love someone who doesn’t love you with the same devotion and passion you feel for them? Is true love only measured in equal parts? Worse, can you stop yourself from loving a person who can never return your own? Judith is over seventy, and “trying to make sense of what I did with my life”, knowing her obsessive love was “consuming, painful, and, ultimately, unsuitable.” Here she presents her story of unwavering love for Eliot through her marriages, births of her children and her career.
Judith first meets Eliot Pine, a beautiful boy, when she is ten years old and transfers to Pratt Elementary School in Chicago her fifth grade year. The reader learns, just like Judith, through a fight he is in that his mother is in the mental hospital, again. His pain and sorrow becomes Judith’s own. Immediately her heart belongs to Eliot. First it’s love from a distance, each with their own little boyfriend and girlfriends until they begin to compete academically. Impressed by her intelligence, the two become fast friends, earning her even a special nickname from Eliot that sticks for life. She inserts herself in his passionate causes to be closer to him, getting to know even his mother, for a time. But she always seems to be asking him for more than he can give, their relationship one of imbalance. A terrible tragedy takes place, and Judith is only too eager to be Eliot’s solace. Through the years and difficulties of life, Eliot and Judith turn to each other as something far more undefinable than friends.
As growing up does, experiences change Eliot and Judith just can’t seem to keep up. As he changes, Judith longs for him in the Ann Arbor Gloom, focusing on her education, waiting for that ‘some day’ he always promises when she can finally, fully give herself to him, body and soul. Judith immerses herself in psychology and social work. The two meet up again and again through life, keeping in touch through letters before emails take over, their life circles different as Eliot’s in more affluent, and yet there are times they are unavailable to each other as he graduates Harvard Law and she travels the world with someone else.
Judith and Eliot’s life paths split in different directions, he with a career in law, she with a career in social work and later raising children as a single mother after a tragic turn. Eliot gives her mixed signals even after he is married to someone else, and all she can ever feel is “if only” about everything involving Eliot. Is Eliot moved more by their shared history and her utter devotion and attention to him? In love with the intensity of her love for him? She promises him to always be there for him, even when they’re old and she keeps that promise, which in fact may be the most beautiful part of the story and the most pure example of love.
The novel is Judith’s journey through life, always on the edge of Eliot’s as he goes on to do great things. Using her other loves and marriages as a means to have a life of her own, separate from Eliot. Her own love life comes with it’s own issues and temptations like any marriage. There are betrayals and losses, brutal days. It is with startling honesty that Judith tells her story of how she humiliated herself for love, which a woman once she reaches old age at some point has done over someone. Not every great love story is mutual nor mutually exclusive. Love is sometimes one sided, but is it any less true? Even when she tries to push away, there is always her heart beating for Eliot and it is tender until the end, loyal if not returned. Eliot, again and again ‘not choosing me’ and yet not quite ever releasing her either. She is the constant friend, and in old age, let her children think she is crazy, she will not refuse Eliot when he needs her the most. It may be painful to recognize yourself either in Eliot or Judith, the worshiped or the devoted. The end was tender and sad, dare I say beautiful?
Published November 12, 2019
She Writes Press