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Not me, her

In 1987, I found myself trying to write about a high school girlfriend that had been molested by her father when she was a child. I was 19 years old, struggling to find my way through a screenwriting assignment about delivering character. The idea was to describe messy young love between two Sid and Nancy want-to-be's. But that failed, as I could not stomach oversimplifying her complicated past, events that shaped her life as a 16 year old with a mohawk, a smart mouth, a lingering stare. I understood that I had to start at the very beginning.

No one wanted to hear the story. When it was my turn to read in class, it even came to be that some of the other students asked to stand in the hallway before they heard another description of what happened in that lonely little house in the middle of nowhere. I was trying, and failing, and trying again to get things right, to explain how this happened, how it could happen to this girl, how this man found his way to acts of selfishness and d…

2 spoons

Some people have the saddest eyes. Some have empty eyes, angry eyes, lying eyes.

I met a woman a year ago with eyes that actually laughed. Squinting, then suddenly wide open, innocent, believing, curious - she sat in my kitchen as I served her a chickpea salad, as I filled bowls with homemade pasta in an arugula pesto, as I spooned into a fresh tiramisu. A stranger, but by the end of dinner the way her hands waved around like little birds she already seemed familiar to me. Over the next days and weeks we shared odd little facts about our lives, cautiously, gingerly.

I asked her for coffee on a Saturday afternoon. She sat in my kitchen, her feet wrapped beneath her. We spoke in low, quiet voices. I cooked a number of coffees in the little moka, filling the red cups in a small dance with her. N, the private woman. Reserved, discrete. N, an open book and a mystery in the same moment. Her face holding no secrets, always asking a question. Her lips half-parted in thought.

E liked her. She said she was beautiful. She said she smelled good. N always brought a little gift for E, even if she was not there. A chocolate egg, a tiny doll, some lip gloss. Little artifacts in the house began to remind me of her.

Now, everything makes me think of her. The barista who is missing teeth, laughing a giant laugh with tiny cups in his hands. The sound of the neighbor woman singing opera while I wash dishes. The shells of lychees left over from last night's dessert. The man with a mustache who wanders around the little market, asking for Katya, who he loves. Asking when Katya will be back, telling all of us how kind she is, how sweet she is, his hands raised as if he is praying, his baggy pants and wet shoes making a great puddle on the floor. He is pleading and the cashier ladies are just staring at him.


I wrote about her, and she was shocked, flattered, pleased. She showed her mother some of the things I said about her. I told her not to worry, that I would always respect her personal life. She is a profoundly private person. I shared one photo that she was embarrassed of. It showed her bare shoulder, as she slept. Of course I thought it was a terribly innocent pose, but I was wrong. She forgave me.


A year together now, and like any relationship it takes work, effort, attention to detail. But it doesn't feel like work to me, it feels effortless for the first time. We anticipate each other's thoughts. We often have the same feeling at the same time. We share a bed like we have known each other for decades.

We are two warm spoons in a drawer. We are some wildflowers pressed between the pages of a great book.


Almost two years ago, I sat in the sandbox on the playground with the corkscrew yellow slide. E was jumping around, her hair flipping in the early summer breeze. I could smell the fresh grass, some orange left on my fingertips. I knew then I had to move out, but nothing more. I understood something had run itself out. Me, the train conductor who would ride the infinite rails had reached some kind of destination I had never foreseen. I was sending emails to a stranger that had appeared in my awkward expat life, a stranger that wanted to help me. I asked "will I ever love again?" It was a question I could only ask a stranger. It was easy for some reason. The stranger wrote back, quickly. "Absolutely."

I sat in the sandbox, watching E swirl down the slide. I closed my eyes, listening to the air going in and out of me. I stopped thinking about everything that would need to happen first. I stopped worrying. I stopped feeling like I had failed. I wiped my eyes, that smell of mandarine oily and sweet on my face.

Comments

Mely said…
N is a beautiful lady. What a blessing to find someone like her to bring back love to your life.

Kids must have a six sense. They can tell when someone is nice and kind. Like your Little princess E did with her. :)

Have a lovely week and bundle up, it's cold outside.

Mely
Omgrrrl said…
She is a lucky woman to have captured that large and lovely heart of yours. And you deserve her love.
Annie said…
I love the article in the expat blog on winter. I want to argue. Somehow the non-litigious nature of Russia is delightful, as a break. (Would have facebooked you this comment, but ever since they started doing the big distracting ads, my message feature fails to work 9/10ths of the time).

It wasn't that the sleeping photo was provocative, just that when you sleep you are totally vulnerable, and by taking the photo you took advantage of that (at least that's how I'd feel).
Annie said…
I hate comment moderation. It's like I was talking but you weren't listening. (OK, I'm stupid.)

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