It occurred to me after the fifth straight day of clouds and cold rain last week that the magic in my life has disappeared. Maybe it’s because it’s finals time and I’m stressed, or because there’s always more work to be done, or even simply because it’s raining. I have a sense, though, that it’s more than just the rain and the homework and the exams. I think the magic is just gone.
My grandfather, Aloysius Kelly, grew up poor in Brooklyn. He shared a bed with his three brothers and spent most of his days sitting around or creating mischief, because there wasn’t much to do and no money to do things with. He used to tell me that every time he got a nickel (which wasn’t very often during the Great Depression), he went to the movies. It was always a great day when he saw a picture, because it was guaranteed to be something he had never seen before and it let him escape for a while.
There was no television in his 1930s Brooklyn, and the characters in the movies he saw were fascinating to him because they were so unlike the people he knew. They were novel, interesting, and eloquent characters who led romantic lives. The men angered the women, and the women slapped them, because they could do that in the movies. He told me that he loved the romantic pictures, because he secretly wanted a woman to slap him too.
Aloysius met my grandmother, Mary Merten, after what could most accurately be described as a love at first sight that took a long time to manifest itself. They took the same subway train home to Brooklyn most nights and gave each other “the eye” for a couple of weeks or months (they never told me how long it was — there seemed to be less of a time scale back then). Mary agonized about how to start a conversation, and discussed the cute sailor with her friend. “Drop an envelope addressed to you,” the friend said. “Then he’ll know where you live and he can go ask you on a date.”
My grandmother never had to drop the envelope, because one night soon after, Aloysius got off at her stop and introduced himself. Then he walked the mile-and-a-half back to his house. They started dating, but my grandfather’s family disapproved because Mary wasn’t Irish and wasn’t from their neighborhood. Eventually, things were settled and Aloysius proposed.
The engagement was uncharacteristically long for the post-war 1940s. My grandmother is stubborn to the core and argues until the cows come home, no matter the subject. She gave the ring back so many times that they spent seven years cycling between being engaged, not engaged, and reengaged — rare for a World War II sailor who fought at Iwo Jima and a New York gal. “I thought your parents were never going to walk down the aisle,” Mary’s best friend later told my mother.
When my mom first told me this last summer, I was mesmerized. I thought about my own love story, which was born on the roof of the Stata Center last May, the night before my 7.02 final, and how it would never be even half as magical, by virtue of the fact that I go to MIT, and life is never magical for me here, because we have permacloud from November until May, and there is rarely free time.
And now I find myself almost a year later, wanting something exciting to happen because I have spent the last eight months walking back and forth through the infinite several times a day, looking out at a gray Boston skyline and wishing I could go to brunch instead of chemistry lab.
To everyone about to spend the next few rainy weeks wanting to do anything but studying: think about my grandparents — about how a dashing young man shared a bed with three brothers, went to war, made it all the way back from Iwo Jima to New York, found a woman whom his parents didn’t want him to marry, then eventually convinced them to let him marry her.
May you find some magic during finals.