I caught a re-run episode of The Big Bang Theory a few days ago, the one where Leonard says to Penny “I love you” and she says… “Thank you.”
Lord, isn’t that the bravest thing in the world, saying I love you to someone for the first time? And I think it might even be braver if you say it and don’t know, have no way to be sure, how the other person feels. Or maybe it’s just crazy to say it under those circumstances, I’m not sure. I’m not good at saying it first. I never have been. I am, happily, in the position where I don’t have to say “I love you” for the first time to anyone again, or have it be said to me, at least not in the romantic sense!
But there are other relationships that sometimes ask for that phrase to be used. Or maybe it’s just the people in those relationships. Or, in my case, one of those people… and it wasn’t me who said it. At least, not at first.
Let me take a giant step back here to open a curtain into a completely different portion of my life, the portion I spent living and working in New York City. There is much to be told about those years, and I will share some lovely, funny, wonderful and sad stories from those times, but this story is about I love you.
My friends will know that the job I had in New York is the job I hold up to all other work opportunities. I worked with a lawyer who has since become one of The names in entertainment law – not just in New York, but through the entire entertainment industry. When we started working together, he was just starting out in his own practise after a few years with a major law firm and a talent agency.
George is one of those guys who knows what he wants to do and does it. There’s no big scene about getting it accomplished – he just makes it happen. Of course, the fact that he’s incredibly intelligent, very well schooled and read, willing to put in the huge number of hours to accomplish his goals, and is smart enough to hire great people around him (like me!) has helped him achieve his goals, and move well beyond what he & I once shared.
I got the job with George because of a whale watching trip my brother Greg took. Reader’s Digest version: We lived in Boston and Greg came to visit. Greg met a girl named Susan on a day trip he took alone because we were working. Greg & Susan tried to date long-distance for a while, didn’t work out. Susan moved to New York. A year later, so did we. I called Susan, we met up for drinks, but she was dating someone else and well, you know how that goes, trying to be friends with your brother’s ex. Except that, a few weeks later, she rang me up and asked if I was free to come work for her for a day at this lawyer’s office because she had an audition and she was going to lose the job with the lawyer if she went to the audition and couldn’t find someone reasonably intelligent to take her place. Still new to the city, still temping while I looked for a job, I went to the lawyer’s office, and worked there for five hours. Three weeks later, I was his PA.
The first few weeks were crazy, busy, wonderful. George discovered I had a gift for talking with people that made them feel great, satisfied even, without committing him to any course of action. I knew how to write coherent letters, handle contract administration and his business financial affairs. I knew all his clients’ names & phone numbers within three weeks of starting, and what their biggest problems/challenges/successes were. And I never complained about working late. He also discovered that it was fun to tease me, I brought weird food for lunch (and usually enough to feed him too) and that I am unswervingly loyal.
I remember quite clearly the Friday of our third week together. George was leaving early to get to his house in the country with his wife, Joanna, and their daughter, Emma. He was rushing to catch the train, throwing things in his briefcase and giving me last minute instructions, including not to stay late myself because the weather was too gorgeous to waste on work! And just before he ducked out the door, he said to me “Thanks for a great week! I love you!”
And then he stopped.
There must have been some… look on my face because he stopped and said, “What? I do love you.” My response was nervous, trying to masquerade as off-hand. “Oh, okay, sure. Thanks.” Very Penny-like of me, although I would like to reassure you that, unlike that scene in The Big Bang Theory, this was taking place in the office, not bed.
George came back into the office, and closed the door. He put his briefcase down and looked at me very seriously. “What’s wrong?” I shook my head and tried to explain in a couple of simple sentences that I thought he – my boss – was completely off his bloody rocker. How could he possibly love me? It wasn’t meant as a romantic declaration, nor did I take it as such. But love? Of any kind? After three weeks of working together? Yeah, so not possible. But I didn’t know how to say that without sounding like the judgemental prig I know the above paragraph sounds like.
Because I was fumbling for words, he started talking. And he told me why it was possible to love someone after knowing them for such a short period of time. Why my faith in him, my loyalty to him, my sense of humour and honesty, and most of all my incredibly bad coffee, all made him love me and value me as an important part of his life. Did I understand that, he asked me. I nodded yes, and he picked up his briefcase, opened the door and said again, “I love you.” And this time, I said right back, “I love you, too. Now go catch your train.”
Over the years we worked together, we really did love each other. We went through some really challenging times professionally, and even worse moments personally, and I know that what we shared took us into places beyond where words like “boss” and “friend” make sense. I also know so many years later we do love each other still.
George is the person who made me believe in myself, who made me see that there really isn’t anything in this world that I cannot do if I want to do it enough. He thought I could run a film studio if that’s what I wanted to do, but I’ve been very happy with the chance to make a difference in running the theatre companies I’ve been part of.
It’s very hard to get hold of him for more than four minutes at a time these days, and since Emma has grown-up, I don’t return to New York as often to see the two of them as I used. So when we talk, the conversations are about personal things, not unimportant stuff like work. But still to this day, when I’m faced with a difficult decision at work, or about work, I ask myself what would George do or say, and I can hear his voice inside my head offering advice, providing guidance, even when I can’t hear his voice on the telephone.
At the most recent point in my life when the path I thought I should be on took a fork that could not include me, his words were the best piece of advice I got: “You’re the smart one. Make something else happen.”
And I think maybe that’s the greatest gift his love has given me – the continuing presence, even in his absence, of his faith in and understanding of me.
There is another part to the story of George & I, and Emma, too, for that matter that I hope to share with you, but we’ll leave it here for now.
Good night, George. I love you.