Love, eventually

A kiss in the gazebo between Scott Hurd, B’89, and Diane Kraynak, W’89, was 25 years in the making.

It’s said that Italian is the language of lovers. Think opera and poets, Puccini and Petrarch. Or think Kevin Kline purring “mozzarella” and “provolone” to a comically rapturous Jaime Lee Curtis in the film A Fish Called Wanda. My wife and I, however, have stumbled onto another love language altogether. A language which is, in fact, officially dead: Latin. More logical than lyrical, Latin is better suited to law than to love. Or so I’ve read since neither Diane nor I actually speaks Latin. But as our love language, the tiny snippet we do know is working well for us so far.

Another language first brought us together — or at least placed us in the same room. It was one of Latin’s Romance children, French. Specifically, Dr. Robert Terry’s freshman year French, fall 1985. Both of us took French in high school, so our signing up for this entry-level class was a shameless bid to score an easy A. She got her A. I ended up with a B, entirely from lack of effort. Yet my teenage laziness placed me in near proximity to the woman who, 32 years later, would become my life partner.

More logical than lyrical, Latin is better suited to law than to love. Or so I’ve read since neither Diane nor I actually speaks Latin.

I wish we could report that, while conjugating aimer, our eyes met, our hearts fluttered, and sparks flew, sowing seeds of unrequited love that left us pining for each other over three decades. But no. We realized that we were in class together only much later, after searching for common denominators of four parallel years at Richmond. At the time, we sat on opposite sides of the classroom and didn’t note the other’s presence. She insists that my attention was focused on the cute swimmer seated to my right. Which isn’t entirely untrue. 

After that, our paths didn’t cross again in college as far as we can tell. We shared a handful of mutual friends, so there was only one degree of separation between us on several fronts. In fact, I hung out with some of her sorority sisters, one of whom helped me satisfy a traditional graduation requirement: a kiss in the gazebo surrounded by Westhampton Lake, which back then separated the men’s dorms from the women’s. Yet as students, Diane and I, let alone our lips, never met.

Vintage University of Richmond ID card shows a female student.
Vintage University of Richmond ID card show a male student.

Seventeen years after we received our diplomas, U.S. military intervention finally brought about our first conversation. A high school buddy of mine, an officer in the Army Reserve, was soon deploying to Kosovo. Through a combination of coincidence, good luck, and perhaps a hint of providence, he was married to one of Diane’s best friends from U of R. She was throwing him a big farewell party, and Diane and I were both invited. When I arrived, her magnificent blond hair, full and flowing and naturally curling, immediately caught my eye. She wore a coral pink skirt and a lime-green top, which I distinctly remember and which she still has. She was with another guy; I was with my first wife.

I recognized her as a Richmond classmate and introduced myself. We chatted, exchanged pleasantries, gave updates on mutual acquaintances, but nothing more. And that was it for a few years. Then, in Facebook’s infancy during the late aughts, her face popped up as a friend suggestion. We had several shared connections, so I sent a request. Not because I had intentions inappropriate for a married man, but because I had a book soon coming out and collecting social media contacts was a shameless advance marketing ploy. She wasn’t aware of that when she clicked “accept.” Neither of us had a clue what that simple key press would lead to.

We listened. We commiserated. We encouraged. Sharing our pain made bearing it bearable. And our blossoming friendship assured us that we were more lovable than we thought.

Diane had become a writer, too, and was interested in how I got published. Over the next few years, we swapped innocent and friendly messages about our shared craft. Days before our 25th class reunion, she asked, entirely understandably, whether I was coming. We hadn’t seen each other since our friends’ going-away party, and she hoped to catch up face-to-face. But I was not going to the reunion. Only the month before, my then-wife and I had separated, the latest stage of a progressive, protracted, painful, public, and — on my end — initially unwanted divorce. It was the lowest point in my life; I would rather have hidden in a cave than join a celebration. Politely referring to this as a “family crisis,” I asked for Diane’s prayers. 

She wrote back, expressing concern and support. I replied; she answered. We quickly established that we shared more than an alma mater and a love of writing. We also bore deep heartbreak scars from discarding and distress, ghosting and grief. Both of us, advancing on 50, contemplated our diminishing prospects for a coupled future, imagining ourselves as discounted scratch-and-dent appliances gathering dust on an empty showroom floor. We listened. We commiserated. We encouraged. Sharing our pain made bearing it bearable. And our blossoming friendship assured us that we were more lovable than we thought.

After a short time of this, she ended an email in a way I did not expect: “Peace, Diane.” I was floored. “Peace” is how I typically closed my messages. Just not to her, yet. I feared how she might react. Would she think it weird? Too groovy? Too pious or even sanctimonious? Until then, I’d concluded my emails to her with only my name, stumped for what else to say. It was too early for “love” or even “fondly.” “Best wishes” sounded too formal, and “sincerely” is strictly for business, at least in my book. But Diane had beaten me to the punch with “peace.” With one little word, I knew I’d found a kindred spirit.

A man and a woman sit next to each other wearing University of Richmond baseball caps.

She’d later admit that she’d never before ended an email in that way and has no idea why she did it. Maybe it was an unconscious manifestation of long yoga practice or a distant echo of her hippieish Deadhead days. Perhaps an unseen hand guided her. My doing so was inspired by Francis of Assisi, the 13th-century Italian saint known for his simplicity, care for creation, and commitment to nonviolence. Instead of greeting others with “hello,” Francis recommended pace e bene, Italian for “peace and good.” I’d always liked that — that by wishing each other peace, maybe there’d be more of it to go around, a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy.

Francis’ devotees Latinized pace e bene into pax et bonum, the form familiar to me. Yet when I introduced that phrase to Diane, I quoted it as pax et bene: two thirds Latin, one third Italian. Spanish speakers learning English claim to speak “Spanglish,” so what was my mashup? Latalian? Pidgin Latin? Confusing things even further, I asserted that bene is Latin for “blessing,” and we agreed that “peace and blessing” was a lovely sentiment for friends to share. However, soon thereafter I was reminded that bene is Italian for “good” and that pax et bonum was the correct Latin form for “peace and good.” I had been wrong yet again.

But Diane didn’t care. She spliced my linguistic stew together into “Pax et Bonum et Bene.” It stuck. “Peace and Good and Good.” Or “Peace and Good and Blessing.” Whichever. We’d conflated two languages but created something uniquely ours. “Pax et Bonum et Bene” now concluded all our messages. While we thought it was charming, we agreed that it was a bit long. It soon shortened to P+B+B and then simply PBB. Our phrase became an equation and then an abbreviation decipherable by only us.

A man in a tux and a woman in a wedding dress stand side by side, smiling with green trees behind them.

By this time, Christmas was approaching. In a gambit to nudge our relationship beyond the friend zone, I sent her a decorative Italian ceramic tile proclaiming “Pax et Bonum,” since only correct Latin was available. Diane later said it was the best gift she’s ever received. That February, she confessed to having a crush on me. We soon had our first date. Our mutual friends, at whose party we’d first met, showed up because of course there’s nothing better than chaperones at midlife. Fifteen months later, we were engaged. We kissed in the gazebo at Westhampton Lake. And we got married in Cannon Memorial Chapel.

“I speak Latin to God, Italian to women, French to men, and German to my horse,” Holy Roman Emperor Charles V famously boasted. Well, bully for him. My French is lousy, my German is nonexistent, and I don’t know where Latin ends and Italian starts. None of that really matters because Diane’s Italian tile with its Latin text now rests by our front door. It’s the first thing we see coming home and the last we see going out. No longer do we conclude our emails with “PBB”; those letters are how we wish each other goodnight. While Latin, our love language, may officially be dead, our love is very much alive. Taking a cue from St. Francis himself, I’m happy to say: It’s peaceful. It’s good. And it’s blessed.

A version of this essay appears in The Love Book, an anthology about love in its many forms, published by Blue Cedar Press in June 2024. The essay, published  as “Latin Lovers,” won third place in the anthology’s memoirs category. Scott Hurd, B’89, and Diane Kraynak, W’89, married in Cannon Memorial Chapel on April 22, 2017, surrounded by friends and family, many of them Spiders.