Forty Years of Flying

The “He” and “She” in the story “First Flight” were recently included in the website Snippet & Ink’s series Snapshot of a Marriage.  Happy 40th anniversary!

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Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing

It is November of ’97.  It’s an early release day, in preparation for the Thanksgiving holiday. I am in fourth grade.

I am standing in the concrete traffic circle in front of the gym at in suburban Massachusetts, watching a long line of luxury cars and SUV’s conga line through the little man-made-child-irrigation port the school has so kindly created for this exact purpose.  My eyes are scanning past champagne colored Lexus sedans, and sea-foam green Land Rovers in search of the gunmetal Accura TL that my mother drives.

The first and second graders have almost completely vanished from the lot, their construction paper turkeys and pilgrim hats waving in the bitter cold breeze that could very well bring us a Turkey Day dusting of snow.  I watch closely as one after another they pile into their nanny’s or mother’s car, their chime-like voices relaying the exciting events of their classroom celebration vaporize out of the fall air as each car door seals them into automotive cabin silence.

Ten minutes pass. To those still waiting for their parents, it seems like days.

My closest friend at school, Melissa, stands next to me. Her glasses slide down her nose  and her knobby knees knock together in their flower patterned stockings as we trade plotlines from  the science-fiction novels we’re reading at home.

Just as I’m explaining the climax of The Keeper of the Isis Light , Melissa’s mom pulls into the empty traffic circle and opens the automatic mini-van door.

Now I’m alone. I stand for a few moments in my school-regulation jumper, stockings, and patent leather Mary Janes. The toggles on my wool coat look like bear teeth–or at least that’s what I imagine them to be as I toy with pushing each one through its corresponding leather loop and back again.  I lose myself a few minutes in this quiet adjustment until I realize that all of the teachers have left the lot.

On the far end of the lot is a small cement wall, about five or so feet high, which makes it not so small to those who average a height of about 4′-4’8″.  Students are usually forbidden from sitting on or hanging out on “the Wall” during pick-up, but now that the teachers have come, waited their mandatory 30 minutes , and gone, a group of about seven or eight sixth-grade boys have gravitated to the Wall, not only to sit on it but to jump from wall to pavement in an ultimate test of bravery.

I watch a few minutes, secretly thrilled by these boys, jackets off, ties thrown carelessly by their backpacks on the ground, flying through the air for a few seconds before they land gracefully (or at least without injury) onto the pavement. I stare with my hands balled up just under the stitching of my coat sleeves, my long hair fluttering into the corners of my mouth and eyelashes for what feels like days in slow motion.

Then he jumps.

Ryan Clarke unbuttons his pale yellow oxford , balls it up, and shoots it like a three pointer over the edge before him. He stands at the precipice and spreads his arms out wide like an albatross in flight. He looks up to the cloud-covered sky, then down.

He looks right at me. I can’t look away, even though I’m embarrassed. I have to watch him jump.

So I do.

He is beautiful. He is fearless. All of the other boys had some sort of fear, no matter how much bravado they put on. You could see it. Josh, with his pretty blond hair and straight teeth, closed his eyes just before he jumped. Cullen closed his hands into fists before his flight. Dan had to get a running start so he couldn’t stop at the edge. Ryan just jumped–as if he might fly away–with his green eyes wide open.

As soon as he landed on the pavement I looked away. I heard the boys laughing-and the inevitable chorus of “Ooooh’s….”

Steve made no effort to keep his voice low as he barked audibly against the now howling gale : “Looks like that lower-schooler has a crush on you, man!”

The school was divided first through fifth grades into the “Lower School” and sixth through ninth into the “Upper School”. There wasn’t a huge age discrepancy, but it was very much a status divide within this bizarre world of elementary private education.  I was a “lower-schooler,” a baby, invisible most of the time.

I turned around and looked at the big clock face embedded into the side of the school’s main building. It was quarter to one. Forty-five minutes had elapsed and my mother was still not here. And now, I was panicking: the sense of urgency surrounding my mother’s arrival began to build.

My hands move instinctively to my pockets. I scrape the bottom edges, searching for lint, a stray thread, a penny– anything to distract my nerves.

I hear the sound of dress-shoes on pavement. I know that they’re walking straight for me, but I can’t go anywhere.

Before I know it–four of them are standing around me. Steve, Cullen, Josh, Kevin — they’ve got me surrounded. Ryan and the others are still gathering their things , but these four, they’re standing around me, looking down into the part of my hair when Steve says.

“So you’re a 4R right?” Kevin asks, confirming which fourth grade section I’m in.

I say nothing, just nod and try to focus hard on the lint balls on my stockings by the edge of my shoe straps.

“You have a big crush on Clarke, don’t you?” Steve taunts,  reaching forward to grab a strand of my hair and flip it in the air.

Part of me wants to cry because I’m scared, but the other part of me knows that they aren’t really going to do anything and I am exhilarated by this much attention from anyone.

“How old are you anyway. Have you even ever kissed anyone?” Cullen asks.

I feel my cheeks get hot. I’ve been hit by a few kiss-and-runs by boys on the playground, but never the “real thing”. I’m mortified, petrified, and still silent.

“Of course she hasn’t. She’s, like, eight,” Josh scoffs.

“She’s got to be at least 10 or 11.” Steve slaps him upside the head playfully.

I keep great eye contact with my scuffed shoes.

Kevin reaches forward and pulls on one of my toggles. I instinctively look up at him.

“Nice buttons,” he laughs. “Did you steal them from Sasquatch?”

They all laugh. Steve tosses another piece of my hair.  They all laugh harder.

I cross my arms over my chest. I contemplate the likelihood of my  being able to pull off the same move with my backpack that I saw in that Jackie Chan movie with my dad last week. I imagine for a split second that I might remove my backpack and swing it around my head with a triumphant whoop and knock each one of their butts onto the blacktop.

I decide I’m not far along enough in my training to execute this maneuver. I just stand there frozen instead, hoping that playing dead will save me.

And then something unexpected happens.

“Leave her alone, you, guys,” Ryan calls from just outside the circle.

The four boys stop laughing and step because, as if moved by some unseen force.

I don’t look up. I’m trying my absolute hardest not to cry.

Ryan walks past us, toward a group of benches. The group of boys falls silent and slowly follow after him.

Another 20 minutes pass. Every 10 minutes I muster up the courage to look up at the bench, the number of boys waning until only Ryan is left.

It is now 1:05 PM. My mother was supposed to be here at noon. I do not own a cellphone, there is no pay phone on the school grounds. Everyone has gone home for vacation except Ryan Clarke and myself.

Ryan gets up off the bench. I am shivering and my legs are sore. I have been standing in the same place for the better part of an hour paralyzed with fear and wonder.

Ryan doesn’t say anything at first. He just stops in front of me, a good head and a half taller, and reaches one hand into the bottom cuff of my jacket sleeve. His hand is the warmest, softest thing I have ever touched at this point in my life.

He pulls me like a tug boat, steadily and quietly to the bench. I sit down, my backpack flush with the bench back, my legs dangling off the edge of the seat, not quite reaching the ground.

“I’m really short for my grade,” I explain, as if to excuse my short legs dangling in the November air.

He laughs.

“So you do talk.”

I blush and can’t think of anything else to say.

“I knew you sang,” he nods. He hums a few bars of a song from Sleeping Beauty, which I sang in the art room closet while getting tempra paints for the art teacher.

I’m as still as a statue as he speaks. I feel like steam should be drifting off my ears they feel so hot.

“You have nice freckles,”  he continues, his buzzed brown-blond hair catching  the light.

“Thank you” is all I can manage.

He still hasn’t let go of my hand and now sweat begins to pool between our palms. I’m scared he’s going to let go but he doesn’t, so I begin to get scared that he won’t let go… or something…

And then I hear the sound of tires on sand and pebbles. Someone is turning into the lot.

“That’s my mom,” Ryan smiles. He squeezes my hand one last time and hops off the bench.

“Bye, Evey,” he calls before he starts running for the Porsche pulling around the bend.

I watch him close the door behind him. We keep eye contact through the window as he pulls away.

I relax once he’s gone. I slide off of the bench with a deflating hiss.

I bring my hand to my nose and smell it. It smells like clay slip and pen ink and barbeque chips.

It’s one-thirty and I don’t even care where my mother is anymore. I’m just so thankful that today she was late.

Unlimited Texting

Image

It’s your garden-variety modern love story: Boy sees Girl. Girl does not notice Boy. Girl still recovering from recent heartbreak. Boy continues admiring Girl from afar. Girl still doesn’t notice Boy.  Boy convinced that theirs is a love story that will never happen. Girl shows up as “People You Might Know” on a social networking site. Boy decides to send Girl a message. Girl only vaguely remembers Boy, who is wearing sunglasses in his profile photo. Girl writes, “Do I know you? How do you know me?”

See —  the beginning of every love story.

He told me that we met where I worked as a resident physician. I had a vague recollection of him, an attractive pharmaceutical sales representative who visited the hospital every Wednesday. It was precisely because he was good-looking that I stayed clear of him. But he seemed nice and funny and, since I knew him from work, I thought it was safe to accept his invitation to friend him. That “accept” was the beginning of our daily, non-stop, almost hourly texting, calling, messaging, and chatting.  I smiled every timed my phone beeped. I felt so comfortable with him. I enjoyed his company and we hadn’t even had our first date.

We decided to meet at a cafe. Before our date, I texted my sister: He is cute!

A cafe. A grocery store. Snacks bought at street-food kiosks. Mountain Dew drunk deep on a sidewalk. We laughed. We talked. He kissed me on my forehead. We went our separate ways. Smiling. I cried when I got home and asked God, “Is he the One, Lord?”

We texted. We spent time in the real world. I couldn’t text him back when I went abroad to spend time with my family, yet, every day, he texted me.

And every night, every night, a “goodnight.”

The day before her birthday, he proposed to her over dinner with a beautiful white gold diamond ring.

First Flight

He chased after me, not the other way around.

The year was 1971. Marcos was a year away from declaring martial law. 1971 seemed, then, a more innocent time. We were both representing our colleges at a leadership conference in Zamboanga City, Philippines. He was studying marine engineering at the Philippine Merchant Marine Academy and I was in my last year at Bayambang Teachers College. A city boy, he had grown up in Manila, and I grew up in the rural province of Pangasinan. He was already living away from home and had already completed a few apprenticeships. I had never been too far from my house. It was an honor to be my college’s delegate, but the primary reason I was interested in attending the conference was that that trip to southern Philippines was my first time on a plane.

Since I was a young girl, I had dreamt of flying, of traveling to places I had read about. St. Petersburg and Cleveland and Tokyo were equally exotic to me. This dream of living and working abroad at international schools is the reason I became a teacher. With the image of my first flight in mind and my mother’s encouragement, I went.

The first time I met Him, I was waiting on one of the conference buses when he sat next to me and bought me maruya, a Filipino snack of deep fried bananas. On the waxy paper that held the maruya, he asked me to write my name. I didn’t think much of his asking me to scribble my name on a piece of paper. I was sure he wanted to be friends. When he found out where I was from, he told me that he knew a girl from there. It was a small town. She lived next door.

A couple days later, while everyone was out enjoying each other’s company, I was back in my room, which I shared with several other women. I missed my mother. I was homesick. I had a 103-degree fever. He came in, with a guitar and his PMMA sweatshirt, which he gave me. I was shivering even in his sweatshirt. He began strumming chords on his guitar and asked me to sing. I told him I didn’t sing. He put the guitar down and talked to me until my roommates returned from their night out on the town.

The next night was the conference party, and he asked me to promise him the first dance. I kept it. Several men asked me to dance, and I said no. I had told my new friend that I’d save my first dance for him. Some would say that I was too literal and stuck too closely to the letter of my promise. Perhaps. But I was being a friend, a friend who was becoming increasingly annoyed with the fact that he did not ask me to dance until the last song.

I shook my head, no.

The next morning, he ignored me, even as I tried to start a conversation with him over breakfast. To get back at him for not talking to me, I got on a bus in Zamboanga City, a zip code which I didn’t know my way around at all. My goal was to get lost. Somehow, in my twenty-year old mind, I imagined that if he didn’t see me at dinner, he would blame himself. He would understand that his silence at breakfast resulted in my getting lost in a strange town and missing dinner.

I didn’t know  that he had stepped onto the next bus and followed me into the city, just to make sure that I found my way back.

They will be married 39 years this January. They lived abroad for more than 27 years and have traveled to almost 30 countries.

That’s Not My Name

He told me his name was John. Except it wasn’t.

I was  a shy and quiet junior at a boarding school in Pennsylvania when I met him. The goalie of the varsity hockey team, he acted the way everyone expected a member of the hockey team to act. A nice person would call him “confident.” I thought he was arrogant, as he stood in front of me in line at lunch in early September. He turned his head and smiled. There’s a language of smiles, and his said,  I think you’re cute.

I ignored him.

“What’s your name?” he asked.
“Melissa. What’s yours?” I asked, though I already knew. Dan. Everyone knew.
“John.”
I was already irritated with him and all he had said was his not-name.

Boarding schools in movies look as if there’s always something happening. Young men in coat and tie, reading Whitman and Thoreau by a bonfire. Girls sneaking out of their dorms to meet up with the bad boys from the neighboring town. Boys from Providence, Rhode Island, falling in love with beautiful blonds from Greenwich, Connecticut. The truth is more prosaic. Sometimes we do discover the meaning of life eating ramen after study hall, but for the most part, the usual weekend is boring. The school provides dinner and entertainment in the form of an orchestra concert. You know, activities that prevent teenagers from doing what they would rather do, which is to create the kind of havoc they see in movies.

Perhaps it was my boredom coupled with my decision to give him a second chance that led to our going to one of these concerts together. Before going, I went upstairs to my room and changed my pants. I came back down a few minutes later where he waited for me in the common room. He smiled at me and blatantly tilted his head to stare at my behind. I said nothing and kept walking. I tried to ignore the stereotype of the varsity goalie. He seemed intent on trying to fulfill it.

It would be another three months before I would see him again. Hockey practices were intense and occupied most of his time. When I finally bumped into him in the hall, he still carried the same smile, but instead of thinking it was arrogant, it eventually became nice and familiar.  We became friends. A few more months. One spring break. One night, he told me that his girlfriend had broken up with him; he had pretended his cell phone was broken over break. I laughed and told him that lying about his phone was a jerk move. He didn’t care. We laughed more, talked longer, and flirted a little. I forget what we were talking about that night, but I remember his looking at me, his smile saying, I always get what I want.

It’s been seven years. I got what I wanted, too.

Their wedding is set for March 2013.

 

When Mulder Met Scully

Eight years ago, I, Monica, was a very shy college freshman in upstate New York who mostly stayed in her second-floor dorm room during the first month or so. Mike, sort of goofy and a bit nerdy, was the boy down the hall. You’ve seen enough romantic comedies. You know how this story ends.

INT. DORM ROOM – AFTERNOON – ESTABLISHING SHOT

Sunlight filters through windows. MONICA, 18, sits at desk doing homework. Her side of the room is covered with five X-Files posters. CALIN, 18, a nice girl, who has a boyfriend back in her hometown, walks in and lies on MONICA’s bed.

CALIN: Hey, have you seen the kid in the lounge down the hall?
MONICA: Yes! He is always in there.
CALIN: I am going to find out why he is always in there.

MONICA returns to her homework, seemingly uninterested. CALIN walks down the hall to the lounge, which is near the bathrooms. CALIN returns.

CALIN: The Kid in the Lounge is a sophomore. His name’s Mike.  He likes doing homework in there. Says it’s a great way to meet people. He’s cute. He lives down the hall next to the lounge.

FADE IN — INT. DORM ROOM — AFTERNOON, NEXT DAY

MONICA, wearing different clothes, sits at desk, same position. Knock on door. MONICA turns around and sees MIKE, 19.

MIKE: Is Calin here?
MONICA: No, she’s at diving practice.
MIKE: I’ll come back another time.

SAME ROOM — NIGHT, NEXT DAY

MIKE: Is Calin here?
MONICA: She is at equestrian practice, sorry.

MIKE looks around her room and notices the five X-Files posters on wall.

MIKE: You like X-Files, don’t you?
MONICA: (laughs) Yeah, I love it! I’ve been interested in it since middle school.
MIKE: I watched it growing up with my mom.

Show MIKE and MONICA enthusiastically trading X-Files stories.  CUT TO MONICA and MIKE ballroom dancing.

CUT TO MIKE AND MONICA dancing at their wedding.

What’s in Tequila?

When I left for Basic Training in South Carolina, I was dating a Dutch Reform minister.  I was the furthest thing from a minister’s wife, but marriage had come up, even though we’d only been together a few months.  I then went to Basic where I met a man from the Bronx who was headed into Air Defense Artillery. He supported me while I struggled.  By graduation, I was cheating for the first time.  I left South Carolina, celebrated Thanksgiving in Maryland, then headed to Camp McCall, North Carolina, for my job training.

At Camp McCall my class suffered waiting for the class ahead of us to graduate so we could have the barracks.  It was cold.  Soon, it would be the first time it would snow at Bragg in six years.  Not that I was surprised: There had always been some freak weather event on my birthday. And I was dying, sick with pneumonia, malaria, and cervical cancer but hadn’t yet been diagnosed with any of them.  Green pudding streamed steadily from my nose and projected from my mouth every time I coughed.

Then I met Patrick, the only other person from my Connecticut Reserve unit in my class. The drills had a barber brought out to camp so the guys’ hair would be in regs.  Everyone was miserable as he sat out in the cold waiting for his turn.  Patrick was sitting on a low fence with his towel (for the haircut) and his black watch cap (so he wouldn’t freeze).  He rolled up the cap and wore it like a beret, threw his towel around his neck, and started speaking fake French.  He made everyone laugh.  Even me.

We both headed home to New York for Christmas.  Patrick called me.  He wanted to hang out.  I told him I was tired. I’d been up all night with my boyfriend from Basic.  He asked if I was free the next day.  I told him I was busy. I had to go break up with my sort-of-fiance.  He called after Christmas and invited me out with his high school friend.  I told him how I’d been in touch with my on-again, off-again sweetie from high school, with whom I was hoping to end up when I got to California for language school.  He wanted to know exactly how many people I was dating.  Ouch.

But he was only half an hour away, and he was fun, so I went.  I don’t know why I matched his friend shot for shot on tequila, but on the ride back to his place, I was kissing Patrick in the back seat.  I remember the whole night.  I felt rather defensive about my promiscuity, so in the middle of our naughtiness, I asked him sweetly, “What’s in tequila?”

When Patrick called a few days later to ask if I wanted a ride back south, I thought, Sweet! He saved me some dough.

Back in North Carolina, his intentions were clear: he figured I was easy.  His idea of flirting was to write “Dirty, dirty, trashy, trashy, nasty, nasty…” on the cover of my text book, as if he hoped it were a self-fulfilling prophesy.  And, being me, I thought it was funny instead of offensive.

Patrick was good company.  He was a No Bull kind of guy. He made me laugh.  But I didn’t need someone else to juggle. I finally explained I had no interest, unless he thought he might be serious.

“So what if I were to say something like, maybe I might love you?  What would happen then?” he said.  We were outside with the whole company, hacking away at an inch of solid ice on the walkway in front of our building, using our entrenchment tools.

“I’m sorry, what was that?  Say that again a little louder. I didn’t quite hear you.”

“I said, I think I might love you.”  Our friends turned and laughed.  I assured him I would work to disentangle myself from my Basic fling, who was in Texas, and reach a proper decision after I’d seen my high school boyfriend in California.

I left North Carolina four days before graduation.  I was hospitalized when I finally collapsed from malaria-induced anemia and a 103.8 fever.  I was placed on convalescent leave and told I would have to repeat the course during the next class cycle.  Graduation was on a Thursday morning.  At two in the morning on Friday, Pat’s JEEP pulled up my parents’ driveway.  He was still in uniform.  No sooner had he arrived at his parents’ house from the airport, than he had gotten in his car and driven to my house. He said he missed me and needed to see that I was OK.

That was almost twelve years ago.

What is in tequila?

Empire State of Mind

2008 was a shitty year. Literally. December came into, or more appropriately, came out of my life with salmonella poisoning. Not even a week after recovering, I was hit with the stomach bug – a relapse that happened when I was mid-audition for Antigone.

Also, I had no friends.

My friends had left for graduate schools across the country. I could now count the number of good friends I  had in the city on one hand and still have fingers left over. Like any liberal arts grad with the “gee whiz, I can handle anything” mentality, I decided to be proactive. I started befriending people at random – at work, on subway rides. I even attended speed-dating events until the sound of a gong started to make me feel schizophrenic. Yet conversations did not seem to go  further than where they had gone to school and how they ended up in New York. When I tried showing a little bit more of myself (e.g. how I liked to sing; how I only enjoyed movies with symbolism; how, at 13,  I cried every time the Backstreet Boys came out with a new music video), people would call me random.

I was in a city of 8 million people, and I was lonely.

In  typical New York fashion, a friend of mine acquired bedbugs. In a month, she was out of her old apartment and into a Craigslist sublet with two men. She asked me to come over to make sure her new roommates wouldn’t have her end up in an SVU: Special Victims Unit episode. Roomie 1 and 2 strolled into the apartment, and I decided that they wouldn’t crawl into her bed in the middle of the night.  An hour later, as we were getting ready to go out dancing, the doorbell rang.

I heard Jimmy before I saw him. He had barely gotten into the apartment, and he was already talking – to his friend, to himself, to the jacket he was hanging – to whom, it wasn’t clear. But he managed to talk, laugh, and sing a few notes within the first few sentences of his entrance. He even danced a little bit on his way to the coat rack, and I liked how his arms kind of dangled when he did. He went out dancing with us, and we spent most of the night on a sofa making fun of each other, Nietzsche, and his mother, who  managed to convince him to sit through the Mariah Carey movie when he was 13. We spoke to each other in Southern accents just because we felt like it.

Funny things happen when you’re attracted to someone. The synapses in your brain go crazy.  Coyly brush your hand against his! Kismet — he sang a cappella at a NESCAC school, too!  If he’s not Mr. Right, he’d at least make a good karaoke partner. I can’t believe he looks like Jonny Quest.

At the end of the night, he and I exchanged phone numbers. 413 and 802.  He had gone to college in the town where I had grown up; I went to school in his home state.

In a city of eight million people, three numbers suddenly made me feel like I was home.

“This Is Your Husband.”

I’m not one to hear voices on a regular basis.  I’ve seen one ghost, a handful of celebrities (some ghostly), but voices, only twice.  Once I ignored and once I listened.

To begin, after six years, I ended a much-devoted, albeit bad-as-fuck, relationship.  About one month into this thing I knew it was wrong.  I didn’t listen.

At the urging of a friend, who met her then-boyfriend, now-husband through the internet, I signed up for a dotcom dating site.

Throughout that summer, I went on a date with a long-distance runner, a banker, a man who neither opened the door to Starbucks for me nor paid for my tea, and a man who asked me to get in his car and go to a place my friend told me about.  (OK, I listened to the voice there, too).

Then, this guy, who hailed from Chicago (+), had parents who were teachers (+), liked to roll with the punches (+), liked the blues (+), gave me the wink, the nudge, the nod, whatever cleverness came from that site.  I hesitated.  We e-mail chatted.  We progressed to the phone call.  We met in public.

And as Porky Pig says, Th th that’s all folks.

To be fair, we dated.  We went sight-seeing, we went boating, we went hiking, we went motor-biking, we went canoodling, we went family-a-meeting.  (How’s that for parallelism, teach?)  We went.  And, we fit.  Like every possible metaphor out there, we fit.

Now, back to the voices.  We were sitting in Piedmont Park in Atlanta.  It was October.  There were pink-ribboned breast cancer walkers everywhere.  There was green grass and blue skies.

I watched him lying there.  And then, some sort of event that I have never been able to understand or explain, like a chill that runs through your body, my Self came from outside my Self, dove directly into my head and told me “This is your husband.”

Ten months later we eloped to Savannah, Georgia.  The morning of our wedding day we took a walk on the beach.  We had breakfast.  He dressed and went for a beer.  I dressed and met him in the courtyard of our B&B where we said Yep to the minister, hopped in an un-bejeweled carriage to the restaurant where we ate and drank and said everyone should marry this way.

USA v. Poland, World Cup 2002

I was only a couple of weeks from graduating from college with a degree in computer science. Due to clever timing, my commencement coincided with the absolute depth of the dot bomb. I had no job offer and no prospects, so I was spending a lot of time partying to relieve the anxiety of my impending homelessness. It was the most liberating experience of my life. I expected that I’d be relocating anywhere a job was offered, so there was no pretense of starting new relationships. I expected anyone I met would be out of my life for good within the month. I could be the Real Me, which is a spectacular way to avoid making friends of any kind. I was executing this strategy to perfection the night I met Her.

For various and sundry reasons, I was hanging out with a lot of expatriates, mainly because, having grown up abroad myself, I could more readily identify with them and partly because they also partied like rock stars on indigent budgets. I was that night at a party hosted by a very large group of Mexican engineers. There were very, very few girls, which was just fine for me given my recently adopted single serving friend strategy and the fact that I had just spent five years at an engineering school with a 5:1 gender ratio. The Mexicans were fascinated by the spectacle of a gringo doing shots of tequila with anyone who would ask, so they kept asking. I was playing the drinking version of the movie Yes Man.

Late into the party, I was introduced to a gorgeous Polish woman whom I immediately started teasing about her ancestry. It was the first round of the 2002 World Cup, and the United States and Poland were paired in the same group. The next day the two teams would be playing each other. It was a meaningless match as the United States was already through to the next round and the Poles had been eliminated, so it gave me a great chance to gloat incoherently about a game that had yet to be played. Despite this, the very pretty lady invited me to another party that she was going to with some friends. My strategy of “no new attachments” dictated that I politely decline and stick with what was working for me.

Fast forward to two weeks later: I’ve graduated from college, have no job at all, and Poland has soundly defeated the United States 3-1 in the match. I’m back at the same party, having had even more to drink than at the previous one, and I run into the same Polish beauty, whose name had escaped my mind, leaving not even a trace of its ever having been there. She immediately gives me what I richly deserve regarding the Polish domination of my team. I was enthralled with this attractive woman who can put me in my place, so I spent the evening drunkenly saying words to her that occasionally managed to organize themselves into intelligible thoughts. At the end of the evening as she was leaving, I got her phone number, attempted to kiss her, and received a face full of cheek for my effort. I called her the next day and attempted to have a conversation with her over the sound of the nuclear weapons testing going on inside my head and a spotty memory of the preceding night.

I am very grateful to this day that I met her at a time in her life when she was bored and looking for a project and that she has such lousy taste in men.

They have been been married since 2003, have two children, and still look forward to the World Cup.