Share a special moment from Millicent's life.

First Sight, part 3

Shared by Dennis Williams on June 17, 2016

Seven weeks. I was counting. Seven weeks from that night to the day of graduation. I was counting not because I was waiting for my time with Millicent to be over, but because it was an enchanted time when promise seemed to be fulfilled. I would be graduating with honors, having climbed out of the first-semester-probation hole that had diminished my sense of who I was. I had been accepted into a graduate writing program in Massachusetts.I laughed and partied regularly with a group of black students I had taken too long to get to know--and who would become an important part of my life for decades to come. (During those weeks we kept a running count of how many of us were left from the entring class.) And--could it be?--I was falling in love.

Although Millicent was also a senior, she would be returning for an additional semester. So she didn't have to stay after classes were over, but she did. Commencement ceremonies were on a Friday, May 25. After going home to Syracuse for a few days I woud be back in New York a week later to connect with my father, who would be driving me to Boston for my summer job. I told Millicent I would call her when I got to town.

It was many years before I reflected on the significance of that moment. After a brief, magical romance, it was possible that I might simply not call; she would bad-talk me to her friends for a while and then go on with her life. What is more likely, I insist, is that I would call, she would agree to meet me--and then not show up, leaving me to mope and brood for an extended time. But I did call, and she did say she would meet me in Central Park, and she did show up. And we talked and walked like we did, and we made plans. She would come to see me in Boston that summer. I would come to visit back on campus in the fall. During the following academic year, for the months until I could pay off my summer phone bill (her fault),I spent hours calling her collect from the pay phone outside the Amherst Motel where I was living. And the letters flowed back and forth, just like (it seems now) in the old movies.

And it began that June 1 in the park when a fling turned into a future, a moment opening up into a lifetime of possibilities. We were married almost exactly three years later, on May 30 simply because she refused to act out the cliché of a June bride. The closeness of the date may have been one reason we never formally acknowledged the other, earlier occasion. Until three years ago, when I insisted we go to New York for the weekend and take a picnic to Central Park and then surprised her with the explanation. I think it made her happy. Our favorite hotel, becase of a complaint she'd made on a previous trip, upgraded us to a penthouse room we hadn't known existed. We sat on the balcony and drank wine and held hands watching the sun set behind the water towers, out over the Hudson somewhere by the club called Casablanca. In that way we were able to celebrate our 40th anniversary after all, not quite of our marriage but of the life that love had joined together.

First sight, part 2

Shared by Dennis Williams on May 20, 2016

I am not sure when or why this mysterious Millicent decided to use her powers to command my attention. I do know that before I left campus for spring break, when I would be visiting my father in New York, I asked for her phone number.  It is still written on the inside flap of my copy of D. H. Lawrence's Women in Love, which I never finished reading for class that semester.  I called her.  She told me she was meeting some friends at a club called Casablanca on West 72 Street and I could meet up with them if I wanted to.  The address she gave me, I swear, was somewhere in the middle of the Hudson River, and so it was some time before I found it and found her.  I remember we danced to "Think" by Lyn Collins and that she invited me to somebody's party somewhere in the Bronx the next night.

I remember nothing about the party. It was one of those New York things where you spend all night getting there, decide whether you want to stay, and then spend all night going home.  I remember somebody holding a Daily News on the subway with a headeline touting a big break in the Waterfate case.  And I remember waiting on subway platforms talking to Millicent about Greek mythology and the Oscars and other nerdy things and deciding before the night was over that this was somebody, a girl, a black girl, with whom I could have been best friends in junior high, the kind of friend I would talk to about all the girls I wanted to be with who didn't want me until I decided one day that she was the one after all. Not bad for a first date.  That was Friday, March 23, 1973.

Two weeks later, back on campus, I was in a state. Another young black writer on campus had already published a memoir, which pissed me off because it was similar in theme to the one I was writing (and would not publish until many,many years later) and of course not nearly as good. That week, my "rival" had also published an opinion piece in Newsweek magazine--where I had been interning for the past two summers. Angry and jealous, I spent the night getting drunk.  Millicent, who would now consent to being seen with me on campus, spent the night alternately humoring me and calming me down.  She was amused (and,on some level, proud) that I took myself so seriously and also genuinely concerned that I not hurt myself.  It does not make sense, but I know this is true: before that night was over I knew that Millicent was someone I would trust with my children.  That was particularly significant since I had known from a fairly young age that I also wanted to be a husband.  Things were moving fast. The magic does what it does, and once you know you can't not know.

First Sight, part 1

Shared by Dennis Williams on May 20, 2016

During my senior year at Cornell I took to spending weekend evenings in the dorm room of my good friend, Granville Walker, Jr.  I sat in the seat beside his desk; he prowled from the desk to the stereo to the dresser where he kept the half-gallon jug of cheap Mohawk vodka.  One evening in the fall, Granville's friend Cynthia Barnes was there and she had brought someone with her: a girl who had planted herself in Granville's seat and who greeted my questioning look with a withering can-I-help-you glance.  I got her name wrong at first, as many often did--Melissa, probably--and that didn't help.  She had been on campus for more than a year, after transferring from Manhattan, although I didn't remember seeing her before.

Years later, challenged to recall what I thought of her at that first meeting, the only word that came to mind was "compelling," an honest though not particularly romantic answer. I don't remember what we talked about that night or even if we talked very much.  I was not smitten or obsessed, but i was...intrigued.

It turned out that we lived in the same building, and so of course I began to notice her often, usually with some sort of what-the-bleep-you-lookin-at expression on her face. You can take the girl out of New York...


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