At dusk we walked amid the rushes and cherry blossoms that lined the Charles River. I was exploring English lit but was still undeclared, and invited him into my freshman world of passion and conviction. One early Autumn evening, the red and gold maple leaves crackling under our hard soles, I stopped along the riverside path to admire an alighting skylark in the moonlight. With a few awkward, lanky steps he came to my side. His touch was slow and deliberate, his whispers carefully circumspect and considerate. I watched with blushing pleasure at the awkward offerings and fumbled locutions with which he declared himself. Briefly, for a Halcion time during that stolen season, David Gergen was my lover.
If my fascination with him was brief it nevertheless burned with a searing intensity. He mused on the most ordinary subjects with a confidence and diffidence that appeared beautifully entwined in perfect opposition. His was not the language of diplomacy, which tactfully seeks a moral ground, but the language of punditry, which dresses ordinary ideas in the pretense of brilliance while draining them of content. I listened in rapture. I was only 18. He read from, and offered the outlines of possible thoughts or suggestions on, the Duino Elegies and Poe’s metered declarations to his own fated love. Odd choices, admittedly, but not bad for a politics major.
Alas too soon the light flickered and faded, leaving only a glowing ember. The lengthy precatory clauses with which he began each sentence grew tiresome. I was learning that economy of language and clarity of thought were synonymous. I wanted to pour rich meanings into single words, to hone a rapier wit. Gergen spoke as if circumnavigating ideas rather than penetrating them. "I get the sense that . . . " he would say, or “I can’t help but think that, maybe, and perhaps this is what you mean, that it if it wasn’t the case that” and so on. All in the falsely modest drawl he was already perfecting. A girl can only take so much of that. Also, he never understood Kafka.
It ended in an instant, as I suppose it had to, at the Harvard-Penn game, as I studied the way he socialized with the other members of the Conservative Club, which he had just joined. He moved easily among them. Always the same handshake, always the same smile. Here was a man destined for power. In his eyes I saw the earnest banality of scores of future Renaissance Weekends, and in that moment I saw clearly that we were meant for different worlds. I scorned my willful blindness; what woman doesn’t? Breaking the news then became a formality, one that we handled with implacable style. We did not shed tears for one another or for ourselves. My only concession to sentiment was to memorize his last words to me, which I penned in my private bedside journal. “I agree,” he said, “that this appears to be the prudent course.”