Cover image for Love lessons : twelve real-life love stories
Love lessons : twelve real-life love stories
Brady, Lois Smith.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Simon & Schuster, 1999.
Physical Description:
236 pages ; 20 cm
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BF575.L8 B69 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Learning about how true love developed is fun. Lois Smith Brady has made a career of interviewing couples about everything, from their first date to who first said I love you. In this text, she offers 12 of her favourite stories.

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

In the infectiously optimistic voice that has earned Brady a cult following for her syndicated "Vows" column in the New York Times, she recounts more "how they met and fell in love" anecdotes in this follow-up to her first book, Vows. Brady clearly admires the protagonists of these true-life fairy talesÄwhom she calls "survivors" of bad relationships, widowhood, disabilityÄand tells of their experiences in loving detail. The stories are the real reason to read the book, since there's nothing new about these "love lessons": that persistence and patience pay off; that emotionally it's riskier sometimes not to take risks; that love may be found in the least likely of places, or that it may go unnoticed for some time. While love may be easiest to evoke by comparing it to other experiences, at times the narrative is packed with too much metaphoric imagery. The poetry should have been reigned in a bit more in passages such as: "her spirit was as natural and clear as a Vermont stream. Eddy was the rough ocean." The writing improves when the author reminisces about attending dancing school at age 12 and her parents' tempestuous 50-year marriage. Perhaps "Vows" enthusiastsÄand othersÄwill someday enjoy a memoir by this chronicler of others' nuptials. Agent, Linda Chester. Author tour. (May) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

From the author of the New York Times's popular "Vows" column. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Chapter Five Love Is Blind Real love, I've learned, is a very, very strong form of forgiveness, and I think that's partly why so many people yearn for it so much. I don't think people yearn for love because they hate staying home alone on Saturday night or because they dread going into restaurants alone and saying "Just one" to the maître d' for the millionth time. People want love because they want their taped-together eyeglasses, unstylish clothes, or lack of athletic ability to be forgiven. They want someone to look right past the surface stuff like bad hair days, a laugh that's too loud, strange family members, or potato chips crunching underneath the couch pillows whenever anyone sits down. When William Neumann met Richelle Sasz, he was blind to many things about her that others found glaring. He first saw her in a crowded nightclub in Cancún, Mexico. She was with a few girlfriends, and although she was leaning on a pair of crutches and wearing braces on her legs, those weren't the first things he noticed about her. "Just looking at her, I could see she was so upbeat," he said. "She had a perky look, she was very spunky and very aggressive. She wasn't somebody who felt sorry for herself. Nothing was going to stop her. She was out on the dance floor! You don't see many disabled people at clubs. But she doesn't think she's disabled." Richelle grew up near the ocean on Long Island, in an all-American, middle-class neighborhood with block after block of ranch houses and capes, many with hot rods, souped-up pickups, and boats parked in the driveway. Until she became disabled in high school, Richelle was a cheerleader -- she could do perfect splits even in a pair of tight blue jeans. At home, she and her three older sisters shared one bathroom, which made her even more patient and easygoing than she was naturally. Her oldest sister, Debbie, owned the most clothes and was known for locking them in a closet protected with multiple padlocks. But whenever Debbie left the house, Richelle and her other sisters would pry open the door by unscrewing the padlocks or, if that didn't work, they'd take the entire door off its hinges and steal all the clothes. In high school, Richelle was popular -- one year, she was voted Class Flirt, Best Personality, and Most Spirited. Besides being a quintessential, blond, athletic cheerleader, she was also known for break-dancing in the school hallways. "She was on a break-dancing team," said Denise MacNamara-Bandl, her best friend from high school. "Oh my God, she used to do headspins that would last forever." She also drove to school, which added to her popularity, even though her car was a brown, beat-up Camaro that stalled all the time. "It was a hand-me-down from her sisters," said Denise. "It was probably the ugliest car I ever saw." One October morning in 1986, the Camaro didn't start, so Richelle caught a ride with Denise and another friend, Tommy. Richelle describes her state of mind that morning this way: "I had just started eleventh grade and I was dating one of the most popular guys in school," she said. "I couldn't believe I got him." On the way to school, the three friends got into a freak car accident, catching the bumper of another car and fishtailing out of control. Richelle was thrown out the back window and flew ten feet through the air and into a tree. "At first they couldn't find me," she remembers. "They were screaming, 'Where is Richelle? Where is Richelle?' I was going in and out of consciousness. The next thing I remember is being in the ambulance and they were cutting up my sister's winter jacket and I was thinking, Oh my God, my sister is going to kill me. They're cutting up her new jacket." As it turned out, Richelle had injured her spine during the accident and was paralyzed from the waist down. The doctors said she had zero chance of walking again. Instead of going back to high school, she stayed in the hospital for months, then went to wheelchair school. There are certain things you never want to experience -- such as what it feels like to drown or to be homeless -- and living in a wheelchair is one of them. "I learned how to cook in a wheelchair, how to set the table, how to get dishes out of cabinets, brush my hair, work a blow-dryer," Richelle remembers. "I don't know if you'd call it denial or positive thinking, but I kept saying, 'Why are you teaching me this stuff? I'm not going to be in a wheelchair.'" A year after the accident, she returned to high school, driving a car outfitted with special hand controls, with her wheelchair folded up in the backseat like an enormous winged insect. "I went from being one of the popular girls in school to being in a wheelchair," she said. "The people around me were very scared. Guys definitely looked at me differently. No one, no one wanted to date me. They wanted to be friends, but they couldn't see past the disability. It was definitely too strange. They wondered, 'Do I open doors for her or let her do it herself? What if she falls, what do I do?' It's just a big question mark. I made up for it by proving myself -- I wanted to prove I could still have a lot of fun." She did. Friends say she never let the wheelchair slow her down. She soon resumed her car pool, picking up the same friends she drove to school before the accident. On Saturday nights, she went out dancing with friends -- she would wheel out into the middle of the dance floor and shimmy from the waist up without any self-consciousness at all. She went everywhere a wheelchair could go, and whenever her wheelchair got stuck -- on bumpy sidewalks or at the bottom of the bleachers at basketball games -- she would just get out and crawl. Or she would ask friends for piggyback rides. "We used to bring her everywhere," said Denise. "I would bring her to the beach and walk with her on my back. I'd always take her to parties, and even though she was sitting there in a wheelchair, she never let it bother her. She was funny, too, because she wouldn't hesitate to ask a guy she didn't know, 'Would you mind picking me up and carrying me over there?' Guys loved it." Sometimes Richelle's sisters carried her places, taking hold of her legs and arms and transporting her like a huge starfish: "I remember once my sister and her friend took me to Friendly's," Richelle said. "They carried me out of the car -- my sister took one arm and one leg and her friend took the other arm and leg. We were laughing so hard. My friends would pick me up all the time and carry me around all over the place." After high school, Richelle spent two years in intense physical therapy, learning to walk again. At first, she began walking with clunky, thigh-high metal braces, which made her lurch like the Tin Man in The Wizard of Oz. Then, after her legs strengthened, she started walking with high-top Reebok sneakers and white plastic calf-high braces that look like lightweight ski boots. "Walking is such a wonderful thing," she said. "It's an awesome feeling. You're upright, you're getting exercise, you're seeing eye-to-eye with people, you're able to dance on your feet, you're able to reach things in the cabinet, you're able to walk down stairs instead of crawling down them. You're talking about two different worlds, a wheelchair and walking." Even once she started walking again, Richelle's love life ranged from nonexistent to tragicomic. "I clearly remember once when I was dating a guy and I was at his house and I had to go down these stairs that didn't have any kind of railing," she said. "I actually fell down the stairs and into a bush. When I fall, I usually laugh and people who know me laugh, but strangers freak out completely. Everyone screams, 'Oh my God! Oh my God!' People just freak out when a disabled person falls. I always feel bad for the person who's picking me up." If guys ever approached her at parties or in nightclubs, it was usually to ask what was wrong with her. "A lot of guys thought, She's really pretty but she's disabled," Richelle said. "I had one guy come up to me in a bar and say, 'Oh my God, can you have sex?' Since I wear braces on my legs and walk with crutches, they think nothing else works properly." When she was twenty-two, Richelle moved into New York City by herself, enrolled in college, and got a part-time job at Just One Break, an employment agency for disabled people. In New York, she continued going out to parties and nightclubs with friends, and she became even more daring on the dance floor, occasionally climbing up on top of the bar and dancing, usually while holding on tight to the hands of a girlfriend. If people stared, she ignored them. Although Richelle sometimes loses her balance -- she has fallen on crowded sidewalks, tripped while walking out of elevators, tumbled onto the carpet before a roomful of men in business suits -- her personality is incredibly grounded and even-keeled. "It's hard to stay positive, but it's harder to be depressed and negative," she said, summing up her overall philosophy. "You can either choose to be upset or you can choose to get over it, move on." While some people in wheelchairs or on crutches look slumped and sad, Richelle is the opposite. She's as cheerful as someone in a Breck shampoo commercial. She still looks like a cheerleader, with her waist-length blond hair, freckles, perfect teeth, and sparkly blue eyes. Naturally gregarious and very funny, she befriends strangers everywhere -- in elevators, bars, workout gyms, grocery stores, airports. She wears bikinis and miniskirts, letting her braces show rather than trying to hide them. When William saw her in a bikini, he thought she looked beautiful. The son of a fireman, William grew up with three older sisters in Watchung, New Jersey, in an eighteenth-century house with very low ceilings, enormous fireplaces, and walls insulated with horsehair and mud. He skis, scuba dives, drives a green pickup truck, works as a construction supervisor, and looks like Tom Cruise with curly hair and wire-rimmed glasses. While he has the muscular build of a rugby player, he also has the soft-spoken, patient, sweet temperament of a poet. "As a child, I was surrounded by females," he said. "I think it made me more sensitive. My sisters taught me to have patience, to bake. They even had me crocheting." His sisters recall he was a cross between Dennis the Menace and a monk, both mischievous and deeply sensitive. "He used to booby-trap the kitchen," said one sister, Lori Iverson. "He would take fishing line and put pots on it so when I came home late from a date, I'd make noise coming through. He also put hermit crabs and rubber worms in my bed." On the other hand, when one of his grandmothers entered a nursing home after a stroke, William was the one who visited her most often, lying beside her in bed and telling stories. At the time he was seventeen, an age when most people think of nursing homes as haunted houses. In Cancún, Richelle and William ended up spending a week together by the pool, sharing drinks the color of tropical sunsets and talking about everything except why she wore braces on her legs. "It was like he never saw my crutches or braces," Richelle said. "For him, other qualities of mine outshone the crutches. He saw me for who I was and he didn't see the disability." Finally, she said to him one afternoon by the pool, "So, do you want to know what happened to me?" Unlike most other men Richelle met, William was more interested in her great jokes and sparkly presence than her accident. "I knew something had happened," he said. "I saw her in the pool and I saw her scars, but I was interested in her. When you find the right person, you see past certain things and concentrate on the positive side. I just didn't think about her disability that much." Over the years of writing about love, I have met so many people who never thought they'd find someone who'd overlook their imperfections, sad experiences, meager bank accounts, or complicated lives. One of my most inspiring interviews was with Wendy Williams, an overweight woman who figured she had about as much chance of falling in love as she did of finding a dress her size in the boutiques on Rodeo Drive in Hollywood. Men were rarely nice, let alone flirtatious, around Wendy. Growing up in a small New England town, she recalls guys screaming as she passed by, "Look at her! She'd crush you." Until she was in her late thirties, Wendy felt happy, even proud, to be single. She lived in Newton, Massachusetts, in an apartment filled with scented candles; she loved her job as a nurse; she was active in the local Presbyterian church; she listened to public radio and alternative rock stations; and she never obsessed about men, love, or becoming a bride. "I was brought up in the throes of feminism, and I was quite content not to be man hungry," she says. "My attitude was, Let an enlightened smart man come find me." Her attitude changed almost overnight when she was thirty-seven and two of her best friends were diagnosed with breast cancer. She suddenly realized there was a possibility she could die before an enlightened smart man found her. So she decided to begin her own search for a husband. "I rolled up my sleeves and told myself, Just go for it," she recalls. "The first thing I did was place a personal ad in Boston magazine. I thought, 'There's a needle-in-the-haystack principle here. I'm going to go through person after person until I find someone I like." She also answered personal ads, reading them with a big Magic Marker in hand, circling, starring, and crossing off people while sitting in her apartment late at night. "I was looking for tongue-in-cheek humor and a droll, fun attitude that showed the person writing the ad got the fact that this is a lark," she says. "If I read an ad like, 'I'm a forty-year-old gentleman who loves long walks and wine before the fireplace,' I'd gag and cross that off. If they said anything about their earning capacity, I just walked right past them. That's not what I consider important. It spoke volumes when people spelled out, 'I want a five-foot two-inch blonde with blue eyes who works out ten times a week.' It seemed like they were trying to replace something they'd lost." Wendy, who is blond, five-nine, and weighs 250 pounds, finally met Jeff, her future husband, through a voice-mail personal ad. She was the one who placed the ad; he responded with a recorded message. When she heard it, Wendy immediately liked him. "He sounded very quiet and subdued," she remembers. "He said, 'I have two boys and they are the most important things in my life and I positively do not, I repeat do not, like any sports. I really like bluegrass music and I've just recently taken a class on King Lear and I keep mulling over King Lear's life." Wendy called Jeff and they hit it off so instantly, it was almost eerie. One of the first things he told her was, "Wendy, don't worry about your weight. I wear glasses and have a beard and I'm not the tallest guy in the world." For Wendy, meeting Jeff was better than finding a miracle diet pill -- he didn't even care about her weight problem. Jean McFadden, another bride I interviewed, never thought a man would be able to see past her complicated, sad life story. A young widow, she was supporting herself as a cook when I met her, preparing meals for homebound people with AIDS. At a party one night, she was introduced to Edward Layton, a student of acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine. "I tended to really scare men off," Jean said. "I was in med school, which terrifies a lot of men, and I was married before and my prior husband died, and I worked for an AIDS organization. Most of the men went screaming into the night, but Ed looked at all that and said, 'Cool.'" Similarly, after William got to know Richelle -- crutches, scars, and all -- he said, "Cool." William has been her steady boyfriend ever since they met in Cancún. Now twenty-eight and twenty-nine, they share a high-rise apartment in New York City, a place so uncluttered and neat even the wastebaskets are empty and spotless. Sometimes, if you look closely at the white walls, you can see fingerprint marks, like pale shell prints on a beach. Richelle often uses the wall for support when she's walking around the apartment, and every few months William repaints the entire place. Richelle still walks in high-top sneakers and lightweight braces, and her closet is full of identical black Reeboks, like shoes lined up in a bowling alley. When William introduced Richelle to his parents, they were almost as blind to her disability as he had been. "When I first saw her, she drove in my driveway in a white convertible Infiniti and I thought she was a movie star," remembered William's father. "She was very pretty and self-confident." While covering weddings, the couples I love the most are ones like Richelle and William, Wendy and Jeff, and Jean and Ed, the ones who don't see each other's weaknesses or problems, who forgive all kinds of quirky habits, baggage, and history. I covered a wedding recently where the bride read a passage from a poem, thanking her new husband for ignoring so many unlikable things about her -- including her habit of wearing a big black mask to bed every night to help her sleep. Meeting Richelle and William also taught me the importance of politeness between lovers. They are kind, easygoing people, especially with each other. A wedding guest once told me she thought the thing that made love last was not chemistry, humor, or dancing in the kitchen to slow Patsy Cline songs, although those things help. The real thing that preserves love, she said, is good manners -- being courteous and considerate, not slamming doors or throwing insults around like a football, thinking about the other person the way a perfect host might think about a guest -- what will make you happy? Richelle and William have amazing manners with each other. For his sake, she rarely complains. When the weather is bad and her legs hurt, she stays quiet and still like a bird waiting out a rainstorm. For her sake, he thinks of ways to make the usually cumbersome and mechanical act of dressing up more fun for her -- for a party they went to recently, he spray-painted her Reeboks and crutches to match her clothes. Soon after they started dating, he taught her how to scuba dive, since that's the one sport where it's impossible to fall down. "Once we're in the water, she's totally independent," William said. "She's a fish. Nothing holds her back like on land. Sometimes I try to picture her in real life on land without crutches and braces. I've seen videotapes of her before the accident. I watched a couple of tapes of her in beauty pageants, and it was really interesting seeing her in high heels. I knew it was something I'd never see in real life. I love shoes, probably because I have three sisters, and Richelle is limited to sneakers." When I was in my early twenties and thinking about love nearly constantly, I had a very clear idea of what it would be like to finally find THE ONE. I imagined falling in love would be like putting sunglasses on -- first of all, I'd suddenly feel thinner. Also, the look of my entire world would change. Once I fell in love I'd no longer live in my tiny basement studio apartment, where all the doorknobs wobbled like loose teeth and I was eye level with the sidewalk and could watch people walking by all day in their old, beat-up shoes. I no longer think of love that way, partly because once I found love I continued living in places with bad views and wobbly doorknobs. But mostly, from meeting couples like Richelle and William, I've learned that love changes your mood more than anything else. Falling in love is not about upgrading your apartment car or dining room furniture; it's about improving your emotional state. Richelle and William live in a small, simple apartment with only a few pieces of furniture, a tiny kitchen table, a flowery couch, a television. It is not the sort of place Ralph Lauren would ever use for a photo shoot. But in their little unglamorous home, they've created a reprieve, a place where Richelle is not disabled. Together, they filter out the negative, the insulting, the depressing. Richelle and William are as determined to find the bright side of things as little kids are to find hidden Easter eggs. "People think if you're in a wheelchair or you're on crutches, you have a bad life," Richelle said. "You can't possibly be happy. But I'm a really happy person. I just don't let anything get me down." The greatest favor people in love can do for each other, I learned from Richelle and William, is to at least pretend that life is easy. Nowadays, William sometimes carries Richelle when she needs to be carried. On a recent trip to the Caribbean, he carried her every day from their beach chairs across the bumpy, hard-to-navigate sand and into the deep water, where she would take off like a dolphin. "When you truly love somebody so much, it doesn't matter what has happened to them," Richelle said. "You live with them and work it out no matter what comes up. That's what love is -- it's understanding, it's helping, it's aiding the other person, it's encouraging them to be a better person, it's believing in them and giving them the strength to believe in themselves. It's lifting them up when they can't lift themselves up." Copyright © 1999 Lois Smith Brady. All rights reserved.