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A Sunset Reunion (Or How To Stay Friends With An Old Crush)

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A pleasantly oft-forgotten footnote in the saga of my 1996 crush is its connection to ‘Sunset Boulevard’. I won’t rehash everything that went on in those embarrassing days of the mid-to-late nineties, when every date held the promise of a life together, and every guy who was unfortunate enough to cross my path was subject to obsession. It’s all there in the Madonna Timelines for ‘I Want You’ and ‘You’ll See’ and ‘You Must Love Me’. Hell, repercussions were still being felt in ‘Don’t Cry For Me Argen-freakin-tina’. My track record of romantic tumbles and fumbles speaks for itself, but in the last stages of my crush during the waning days of 1996, there is a story in the parting gift I gave to the hapless gentleman who had struck my fancy at the time.

In one of our early conversations, he’d indicated that he loved Broadway musicals – the bigger and more blockbuster the better. (He’d so extolled the virtues of a performance of ‘Miss Saigon’ that I dragged my parents to it. The same went for ‘The Who’s Tommy’ – and neither impressed me all that much.) When it became clear that he wanted nothing to do with me romantically, I made a last-ditch effort to maintain at least a shred of friendship, and gifted him the double-CD soundtrack to ‘Sunset Boulevard’, which was still playing on Broadway. I didn’t exactly feel like I was Norma Desmond to his Joe Gillis, but comparisons and costumes will be made and we’ll leave it at that.

On one of my last days at Brandeis University (by the grace of God I was graduating early and wouldn’t need to endure another semester of shame) I stopped by the mailroom to send out the package. I was too shy to give it to him in person. As I walked out a corner entrance of Usdan, I ran into him. Knowing what I’d just done, and that he would receive a ridiculous double-CD in a day or two, I felt even more flustered and foolish. We made some awkward small-talk and then I quickly left. Yet instead of leaving things alone, I went back to my place and ordered two front-row tickets to ‘Sunset Boulevard’, which was then starring Elaine Paige. How could he say no to front-row tickets to a big Broadway show? (Don’t judge me.) The logistics of meeting up in New York City could be worked out in the future, but I was certain he would go.

A few days later the tickets arrived. I’d finished out my time at college and was living in Boston, and though we exchanged a letter or two (and I’d put him on my official mailing list) we didn’t really have any contact. I wasn’t quite ready to call and ask him to the show, though that was my vague plan. What’s the worst that could happen? (A question I’d asked and then received answer after disastrous answer, time and time again.) For whatever reason, I let weeks pass without getting in touch with him. I was still mailing him the postcards and letters and all those silly things I sent out to my friends at the time, but he had gone silent, and I had gotten the message.

On a solo trip to Savannah a few weeks later, I was beginning the long trek North again when I pulled over for some breakfast and a USA Today. In the Life section was a small blurb about ‘Sunset Boulevard’: it was closing a few days before the date for which I had front-row tickets. The final crushing blow to whatever vain fantasy I had, I sat at the wheel of my car, stunned and on the verge of tears. It was small consolation that he would not know about this sad final play for his affection. We would not see each other for the next five years, after which Suzie and I ran into him at Madonna’s Drowned World Tour in Boston. Since then, and mostly through the ease of social media, we’ve reconnected and forged a friendship. Those who make a mark on us in the flush of youth seem to have greater pull and power than those we meet later on. It’s the essence of youth to lend import to such things.

When ‘Sunset Boulevard’ was announced to be returning to Broadway, he joked that we should see it together. I called his bluff and said I was game if he was, and next week we’ll convene at the Palace Theater, in the front row, for Glenn Close’s turn as Norma Desmond, two decades later.

Not only will this mark a reunion with Ms. Close (whom I had the great fortune of seeing near the end of her original run) but a reunion with the guy who unwittingly played such a formative part of my college experience. In the years since our ill-fated ‘Sunset’ non-date, we’ve each gotten married, purchased homes, and he and his husband had a son. We’re worlds beyond 1996, but we’ve stayed in touch and have forged one of the most unique friendships I’ve been able to maintain. It’s not quite as if we’ve never said good-bye, because I bid adieu to my youth a while back, but we’ve found new ways to dream.

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