When I was looking for a husband, somebody told me to accept every invitation I received. That’s good advice. Now, happily married for almost 20 years, I have my own advice for singles: be of service. Helping others will ease your loneliness, and just may lead you to your soulmate. That’s what happened to me.
I was young and single when I volunteered to be a buddy at AIDS Project Los Angeles. After completing the training course, I was matched with my buddy Roxanne, a 41-year-old African-American woman who’d contracted HIV during her years as a heroin addict. By the time I met her, Roxanne was sober and trying to repair relationships she’d destroyed by stealing from family and friends to get a fix. She was lonely, scared and deeply appreciative of my visits. We’d chat for hours, go to the movies if she felt well enough, or just kick back at her apartment watching pro wrestling, her favorite activity.
On December 31, 1996, I told Roxanne that after years of disappointing New Year’s celebrations, I wasn’t going out but instead would keep her company that evening. Roxanne’s angry reaction surprised me. “What’s the matter with you?! Don’t waste New Year’s Eve with me! Get out there and meet somebody!” I’d already reconciled myself to watching pro wrestling that night, but Roxanne was adamant. When she told me she’d be asleep by 8 pm I realized she had a point.
I did go out that New Year’s Eve with a girlfriend, and it was the night I met my husband Sal.
Less than a month later, I received a call from the hospital in the middle of the night. Roxanne had passed away. She’d left my name as her emergency contact so I was the first to receive the sad news. I am so grateful to Roxanne for giving me a priceless gift before she died. If she hadn’t insisted, I would not have gone out that fateful New Year’s Eve.
Sal and I started dating and for a while things were good. I was ready to resume volunteer work, and this time I contacted Jewish Family Services. They too had a buddy program, and I was matched with Marge, a 90 year old Auschwitz survivor from Romania living in a nursing home, far from any family.
I started visiting Marge weekly, and as with Roxanne, I was surprised at the depth of the friendship that quickly developed. I enjoyed sitting by her bedside and hearing stories about her old-world Jewish upbringing.
Sal sometimes came with me to see Marge. His mother Kathy is a Holocaust survivor from Hungary, and when she visited Los Angeles, we took Marge out to lunch, where the two survivors chatted away in Hungarian (Marge spoke four languages.)
After a year of dating, the fundamental differences between Sal and me became apparent, and a problem. He’s an upbeat, friendly optimist who sees the good in any situation, while I’m a cynical pessimist. Sal’s relentless cheerfulness got on my nerves, and my gloomy negativity brought him down. In the immortal words of Bob Dylan, “we split up one dark sad night, both agreeing it was best.”
On my next visit to Marge, I mentioned that Sal and I had broken up. She stared at me, having difficulty processing the unexpected news. I explained that we were too different and that I was hoping to meet somebody more compatible. Marge was aghast. Horrified. She started yelling at me, “ What’s the matter with you?? Do you think there are so many good men out there? There aren’t!!” I was bemused, and patiently tried to explain that I didn’t want to settle for somebody who wasn’t the perfect match.
I’ll never forget what happened next. Marge reached out and grabbed my wrist with her bony, Auschwitz-scarred hand. She clutched me with a death grip and looked into my eyes, “You will regret this.” I tried to brush off Marge’s melodramatic warning, but it stuck with me. Our relationship until that point had always been pleasant and light-hearted. Never had she spoken to me like that. I was shaken.
After my unsettling conversation with Marge, I did some deep thinking. Maybe the fact that Sal and I were very different wasn’t such a bad thing. Soon after that, I chanced to run into Sal at a Jewish singles event. With Marge’s warning echoing in my mind, I greeted him with a warm smile. He was happy to see me too. It was a mutual decision to get back together, and each of us was motivated to make it work this time. But if not for that eye-opening conversation with Marge, I would have avoided him that night and tried to meet somebody “better.”
Marge wasn’t well enough to attend our wedding, but she was thrilled that I’d taken her advice. I continued to visit her after my first child was born. She beamed with pride, and the knowledge that if not for her, this beautiful baby wouldn’t exist.
When my daughter was a toddler, Marge’s son came from Bethesda, Maryland and took her back east to live with him. I never got to say goodbye. I assume Marge is dead by now because she’d be about 112, but the gift she gave me is priceless, and one I thank God for every day.
Thank you, Roxanne, for making sure I met my husband. Thank you Marge, for making sure I married him.
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