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My Latin Teacher Should Have Warned Me

Friday, July 29, 2022

By Judith Newcomb Stiles

I fell in love in ninth-grade Latin class. More accurately, I fell in love with the back of his head as Mrs. Struve droned on, conjugating the verb to be.

Sum. Es, Est. I am. You are. He is.

If Mrs. Struve had said to me, “Judy, eris uxor, you will be his wife someday,” I would have laughed and said, “Not possible.”

I studied the nape of his neck where it rose out of his starched oxford shirt, smooth skin that led up to fine barber bristles of chestnut hair. I had the urge to gently pet his hair in Latin class but, of course, I did not.

I noticed his hands and fingers were constantly in motion, sometimes lightly tapping his desk or the rungs of his chair to some beat I could not hear, but I could feel it. Watching those fingers sent a flood of electric pheromones coursing through me. But by eleventh grade, we hadn’t said more than a hundred words to each other even though we sat together in every class—his last name beginning with So, me St.

Once, I heard he had listened to a record—an LP of Keith Jarrett’s piano music—and his friends challenged him to play it back on the piano, and he did. He had different wiring in his head ; somehow, he had a pipeline to something miraculous hidden inside music. I wanted those piano-playing fingers to be all over my body, and soon they were.

Our relationship developed quickly. One day, I was quietly pining behind him in Latin class and the next, I was sneaking him into my neighbor’s house late at night when I was supposed to be cat-sitting. After returning home, I had a dream that we were flying through the sky between the stars, our arms stretched out like wings, me riding and gliding on his back. Our bodies were attached and it was after that dream that I decided he was the one.

PQ: “I studied the nape of his neck where it rose out of his starched oxford shirt, smooth skin that led up to fine barber bristles of chestnut hair.”

My mother never had a real wedding, so she was determined that I would have one in a white dress with a veil. Despite her best efforts, things still went terribly wrong.

Victoria, my best friend from art school, thought I was having a laid-back, hippie-type wedding, so she showed up with her girlfriend in yellow satin hot pants and fishnet stockings, the two of them dressed like hookers for a church service.

Next, the diamond fell out of my mother-in-law’s heirloom engagement ring into my shag rug somewhere…or could it have been in the car on the way to the rock concert?

We married on New Year’s Eve Day, and my husband had a gig at Alice’s Restaurant with his band that night, so I spent my wedding night dancing with a cute Swedish guy while my new husband played in the band. But the next morning, my sister called at 6 a.m. to say, “Dad and your friend Victoria kept on partying when the wedding was over, and when Dad stopped in the middle of Route 22 to light a cigar, he got arrested and put in jail for drunk driving. I am NOT going to bail him out so you’ve got to come home now.”

Venit domum nunc.

If Mrs. Struve hadn’t died, she might have warned me, Et divortium, you will be divorced. Your wedding day will be an omen with everything going haywire.

Omen Erit.

She might have said, “Pay attention, keep your head down, and whatever you do, don’t smart-mouth your husband. One day, many years from now, those fingers you love so much will make a fist, and they will punch you in the eye when you are washing dishes simply because you made an off-hand crack about how he is lazy and never practices the piano enough.”

Mrs. Struve should have warned me that the boy with the beautiful piano-playing fingers would not last as my husband, and he would be gone from my life nearly as quickly as he came in.

But whenever I hear plaintiff notes on the piano like he used to play, I stop whatever I’m doing and listen. Sometimes I can feel the notes like I used to, and his touch runs through me like lightning bolts that light up the night.

The sound is fleeting because music doesn’t stay, but still, it is the music of our love.

Musica amoris nostri.


From her Cape Cod studio in Wellfleet, Judith Newcomb Stiles creates original pottery inspired by the wonderful textures and vibrant colors of the seashore. She has taught on the faculty of Skidmore College and Pratt Art Institute, where she was department head of the MFA ceramics program. Following this period of teaching, she now owns an independent ceramics studio where the wares are sold throughout the US, Europe, Japan, in fine shops, galleries, department stores and Amazon.

For ten years, Stiles wrote human-interest stories for The Villager Newspaper in New York City for lousy pay and the joy of writing. She also wrote articles about everything American for the Europa Quotidiano, an Italian daily in Rome. Her article, “Who is the Boss of her Body?” published in Ytali.com, and her story “Pheromones and Fusion” was published in the Tiny Love Stories column of the New York Times.