Gumbo Limbo Day, 1988


The other night I dreamt of a girl I knew in middle school— the first girl I know of who liked me, who wanted to know and be close to me. Her name was Liz and she was in my advanced life science class in 7th grade at Logger’s Run Middle School in Boca Raton, Florida. Our teacher was Dr. Irving Burness, one of the most beloved teachers there

Burness, Irving L.
May 11, 2004
BURNESS, Irving L. Irving L. Burness, DVM, 81 of South Windsor, husband of the late Rita (Cohen) Burness, passed away on Sunday, (May 9, 2004) at the Hebrew Home and Hospital after the most courageous battle of his life. He was born on July 3, 1922, in Hartford, the son of the late Nathan and Mollie (Osias) Burness, and brother of the late Eugenie (Burness) Schoolnik. He was a U.S. Army Veteran of World War II, having served in England and France. He graduated from Michigan State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine in 1953, and began tending to the needs of our furry friends.

…whom I tormented with extremely bad behavior— absolutely tormented— and now this torments me. I loved him too, he was an amazing person, so far as I could knew. I was wild, and I had taken the course before so I knew everything. One time the students were all grading each other’s tests, and whoever’s test I had— some girl’s, I have no idea— I slowly ripped it to pieces as I graded it, then handed it back to her.

Late in the year the class took a field trip to a nature reserve called Gumbo Limbo, where for some reason that day, Liz and I bonded. It was the first time any girl had accepted who I was. She was beautiful, very witty, and had a pure spirit— she wasn’t jaded and cynical like everyone else, including myself. That day I conducted myself extremely well— I think— even though having had no experience at all yet with girls. Both of us were open and free of pretense, and I have always thought it was sincere true love we felt.

I wish I could consecrate this moment with some kind of exhaustive Proustian prose, rendering all my impressions of the day so sensually that I feel like I’m there, not because I think anyone would read it or care, but because I can’t go back. This same ineffable feeling any of us has comes from knowing that we weren’t really there enough at the time. Because my mother and step-father were each nursing home administrators, I grew up spending a lot of time in nursing homes, where the residents throughout the days would just look out the window and barely speak of anything; they must be completely engaged in their deep past with memories like these, trying desperately to resurrect themselves.

It haunts me still and is painful to write— but after that day I could not make myself available to Liz. I turned away from her with no explanation. Even though we each still went to the same school for another year, I don’t remember what happened to her… I feel like after those few days I somehow never saw her again. She was too pure for me. I was given a great gift and lost it because I didn’t have the courage or integrity to open my heart.

In my dream of the other night, there was a room sort of like a classroom, which was dimly lit, almost candlelit and in some disarray, like there were a lot of personal effects there. There were different couples and small groups sitting on the floor around the room. Liz was there, a woman in her thirties now, and we talked about life for some time— and I was so glad to see her. Then we each had to leave, so I tried to write my contact information down so that we could stay in touch— but I somehow couldn’t write my name correctly. I was using a calligraphy pen and just kept writing my signature all over the page, “Elliott”, then apologizing— then the pen ran out of ink. She smiled at each me haplessly and we said goodbye to each other.