They met in Rome through a mutual friend. They were both in their sixties now, Adam, a musician, was there while his daughter was taking a master violin class, Miranda, an epidemiologist for a conference and solo vacation. They had been former lovers, first loves who were certain to be married until their relationship was shattered when Adam betrayed Miranda. Later we learn Miranda acted similarly.
“We thought that we would be each others one true love. We believed in that idea: the one true love. Now it is impossible that we should believe that, living as we have lived, having loved each other.”
This is the tale of Mary Gordon’s The Love of Our Youth. Do you ever wonder about a long lost love(s)? What are they doing now, where do they live, are they married and tolerably content? Do they wonder about you? It is unlikely you will have the type of encounter Adam and Miranda do or, if by chance you do, that it will be in such a historic place.
Adam and Miranda make the most of their time in Rome as they agree to meet each day to walk for a while in a different place. More often than not it is along the tree-lined paths of the Villa Borghese gardens, to a church or monument of the sort that can be found on practically every corner of Rome. Occasionally they linger over a meal in a café.
Adam had lived in Rome, he had family there and he wanted to show Miranda the places that meant most to him. As they stroll along, they slowly reveal themselves to one another and the persons they have become in the nearly a half-century since they last saw one another. “Are we fated to always be the people we were? Always making the same mistakes?”
Their lives, its rhythms, had grown radically apart. The things that had absorbed them once, no longer did. Yet they still play the question-asking game. “She enjoys this kind of play with him. It was who they were, people who played in this way. She doesn’t have people now who play in this way with her.”
Yes, they ask about each others life, families, and the work they do. But they explore more the real difference between them—the central concern of their lives. Adam is devoted to music; Miranda to political engagement and social change as expressed in her medical research in “undeveloped” countries. Their dialogue on these two lives pervades the novel.
“…she hears him playing a Bach partita, one of the preludes of Debussy, and she realizes that she had moved herself away from his music, thinking it irrelevant to the suffering of the world Now and newly she sees it as essential, an alternative to chaos, a sign of the goodness that is the counterpoint of the dread conditions she is living in.”
In reading Gordon’s novel I became the observer, following behind them as they recount their past, their uncertainties, and the way they are still bound to each other.
They circle around this truth, although Miranda does her best to deny it. The sharpness of her protest when Adam expresses “regret for the life we didn’t have together” awakens a regret sometimes felt at the passing of old loves, old selves, old hopes.
“It is time to go she says. They walk out to the road. Stand here, Adam, just stand here. It will be easier for me to remember if I can remember other things. You against this pale sky, the red, or is it purple of these leaves. And the silly palms, and the yellow of the plane trees. And the building, and the heads of all those poets, or whoever they are that made someone think they deserved to be remembered. By the likes of us."