She took my breath away when I first saw her walking across campus on a spring day thirty-seven years ago. She was the most beautiful girl I had seen in my two years at this small New England college. There were only 1200 of us on campus, and of that number only 400 were women. How had not seen her until now? Who is she and how am I going to make sure I see her again?
It’s not that she knocked the breath out of me. It’s more that when I saw her I gasped. I was unable to let go of the breath lodged in my lungs. I was stuck, suspended – so taken was I by her light. This hadn’t happened to me before. I had read about it – it was that semester that I was taking an elective in Shakespeare. I’d heard about it – 60s and 70s swoon songs. But now it was happening to me. I wasn’t breathing. I couldn’t breath. I was completely and utterly seized.
When I did exhale, I let go of my breath with a spontaneous and surprising and audible, Oh Wow! She didn’t hear me, but I heard me. I was stunned.
Thirty-seven years later, I remember and re-feel and re-hear that moment as clearly and as viscerally as if it happened this morning. This is the first I have written of it. But not the first I’ve recalled it. Oh no. Not by a very long shot.
On a trip back to campus 3,000 miles away some six years ago, I went back to the very spot where I was walking when I first saw her. I breathed in the memory deeply. For a couple of moments, I relished the nostalgia. Then I sighed and walked on. I don’t know if or when I’ll return to campus again, but if and when I do, I’ll repeat that same bit of reverie. That moment changed everything. She changed everything.