Love in Santa Cruz

By Sherrill Pool Elizondo | April 26th, 2024

Their identities remain a mystery, but their love was obvious

love silhouette, for essay "Love in Santa Cruz." Image by Kostiantyn Gerashchenko

Strangers occasionally catch our attention, and we wonder about their stories. One such couple caught the eye of writer Sherrill Pool Elizondo, who still recalls their love in Santa Cruz. 

Sometimes one is fortunate to be able to observe meaningful exchanges between strangers that can bring a smile to one’s face. Such an occurrence happened to me during a trip to Santa Cruz a few years ago.

Never a huge fan of romantic novels or love stories portrayed on the screen without another broader plot and more intellectual story line, it surprised me that I was intrigued by what I witnessed one balmy September evening in Santa Cruz.

I’m a native Texan but have visited California many times starting at an early age. California is a stunningly beautiful state and, during the last 20 years, my husband and I visited our son while he was in graduate school in Los Angeles and later visited him and his wife and three children when they lived in the San Francisco Bay area.

We traveled throughout Carmel, Monterey, the wine country, Tahoe, Yosemite, and Muir Woods. The drive from San Diego up the entire coastal highway of California never ceases to amaze me. Muir Woods has always stood out in my mind as a special place. Being there made me feel as though I were standing in one spot on the planet that was there at the time of creation or the dawn of time at least … that perfect, peaceful, serene, and sacred.

A rock feature rises out of the Pacific Ocean, topped by gulls, along the coast of CaliforniaIn September 2013, we traveled to San Francisco to celebrate our grandson’s birthday. Instead of staying in the Bay area and having a party, we accompanied his parents and siblings on a car trip to Santa Cruz.

We stayed in a small but very cozy and well-maintained motel and walked to the boardwalk and pier more than once. The weather was glorious and the children loved the rides and activities on the boardwalk. We found a good seafood restaurant on the evening of our grandson’s birthday. The restaurant was crowded and there was a waiting list so we, along with other families and couples, sat in the bar area and had appetizers and drinks. As with most children, they were occupied with each other and coloring while I talked with my daughter-in-law. My husband and son sat alone at a table behind us engrossed in their own conversation, probably concerning football or business.

Directly behind my daughter-in-law, in this crowded noisy place, sat a young couple deeply engaged in a serious conversation. I did not mean to stare but could not help myself and they were oblivious to anyone there and never even noticed.

I have never quite witnessed in my entire life such an intense, non-physical, romantic exchange between two people. They were a handsome couple with Mediterranean good looks. Though very pretty, the woman’s beauty seemed to radiate from within as she did not appear concerned about how she appeared to others and she was focused totally on the gentleman.

They were not seated across from each other, but rather next to each other. I could see their profiles in the dim lighting. They were not particularly animated with their gestures or overtly affectionate but rather very intense and focused on each other’s words. Neither were checking cell phones or staring at the bar TV. I finally told my daughter-in-law to try to glance over her shoulder – very nonchalantly!

She smiled and commented that it was nice to know that there was still love like that in the world. I tried my best to converse with my daughter-in-law and grandchildren, but my eyes were often drawn to this couple.

They never stopped gazing into each other’s eyes and the woman seemed to hang on every word that the man was saying. There was no silly flirtatious laughter shared between them, but something was exchanged at a much deeper level I am certain, though I did not hear one single word exchanged.

Were they sweethearts who had known each other for many years or was it a first date?

Could they have been separated from each other for years and had just found each other again?

Were they married to each other? Or perhaps to other people?

Were they celebrating a special anniversary?

Were they locals or tourists?

I will never know their story, and that is how it should be or how I want it to be. They did not seem to be the kind of people one would even ask as to whether or not they were newlyweds. That, especially with this couple, would certainly have been a none-of-your-business question.

It would have been rude and intrusive to inquire.

What I observed in a restaurant near a marina not far from the boardwalk, if captured in a photograph, would have been a perfect Valentine’s Day card. This man and woman, who only had eyes for each other, suddenly were gone … I assumed their table was ready. I have thought of them at times and wondered how I could create a touching love story. It is difficult to paint a picture in words of the loving exchange that I observed.

Words might only make it sound like a silly love story.

I could make up names for them and create intricate life stories and dilemmas for them, but I think that the story would have no meaning without the mystery of who they were or what their love story was truly about. Being a skeptic at times, I could conceive that perhaps they were rehearsing a play or a movie scene as, after all, we were in California.

The scene between this man and woman was that perfect in its intensity.

I truly believe, though, that what I observed was a very real and beautiful few minutes of a couple in love who just happened to be sitting at a nearby table having an important and romantic interlude in a Santa Cruz restaurant one lovely September evening.

Writer Sherrill Pool Elizondo with two of her grandchildren. Used with "Love in Santa Cruz" essaySherrill Pool Elizondo graduated from Southwest Texas State University (now Texas State) with a degree in English and education. She’s a sixth-generation Texan and interested in genealogy. She’s been an aspiring writer for over 40 years and is the proud parent of three sons and has six talented and remarkable grandchildren. This essay first appeared in Santa Cruz Patch in 2014 and then Grand Magazine in 2017. A shorter version was in Boomer Cafe in 2020. She has other stories which can be found online at Bullock Texas History Museum, 70 Candles, Grand Magazine, Texas Escapes, Bridge of the Gods Magazine in Oregon, and Boomer Magazine.

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