Someone tapped me on the shoulder. I turned to see a young man, with the full lips and soft curls of a Greek god, a red sweater and camel-hair jacket over his broad chest and muscular arms.
It was my boyfriend.
He put those gorgeous lips to mine, then encircled me with his strong arms, pressing me to him for long breaths, seconds, minutes. The sunglasses hooked in the V-neck of my black sweater dug into my sternum.
“I parked kind of far away,” he said.
He took my mini suitcase as I carried my shoulder bag through the terminal and into the parking garage. I concentrated on keeping up in my black high heels and new skinny jeans.
“It’s kind of cold out.”
“Yeah, I know,” I said, having looked at the weather forecast. ”It’s still better than Virginia.”
We hadn’t seen each other in almost two months. Usually our reunions are subdued initially, as we’re trying to get to whatever hotel we’ve booked. But this time when we climbed into his white Jeep SUV we started making out. I could feel him shaking and I knew I was too. It reminded me of the times in Madrid, after music shows, after expatriate bar crawls and drinking games, before the night I let him come upstairs.
In the Jeep I thought of, then quickly discarded, the idea of having sex in a parking structure packed with cars, any one of whose owners might approach at any moment. There might be children.
So we took to the highways. The hotel we’d gotten was on the beach, an hour and a half’s drive from the airport. We stopped for lunch in a deli where he also bought a bottle of his favorite Belgian beer and a $20 Ribera del Duero called Alidis. ”As good as Arzuaga,” I pronounced later, naming our favorite Spanish brand.
Four and a half days of inspired bliss ensued: hot tub and mimosas, the crossword puzzle in bed, drinking wine in bed, a lot of things in bed, some things not in the bed. Two afternoon/ evenings in a row were spent on the road to and in St. Augustine, the oldest continuously settled European-established city in the U.S. Spanish longer than American.
It is full of American teenagers, college students and tourists, but that did not hinder Taj’s and my enjoyment of the knife shop with swords from Toledo, the lingerie shop, the Taberna del Galleo, where I got buzzed on port and sangria and we played a drinking game. We ate a sumptuous Spanish dinner at Columbia, courtesy (mostly) of an American Express gift card I’d gotten from the vice president at my now-ended temporary job. Thank you, American corporate office. We got a bottle of Alidis again. Seared scallops, filet mignon, grouper topped with (ironically) Maryland crab.
On the way to St. Augustine the second day, we stopped at The Alligator Farm. We saw a lot of gators, crocs, snakes, birds and caimans (small-type alligators), and a majestic wood sculpture of a huge crocodile with baby crocs in raised carving all over its body, made out of a tropical tree from East Timor.
“I want something like that in my house someday,” said Taj.
“I was just thinking that you should have one,” I said.
“The first thing you see when you walk in.”
Almost a year ago, he noticed it calmed me down when he traced a finger from my solar plexus up to my sternum and back down. Up to my heart, down to the edge of my abdomen, slowly up and down again.
“You’re like a baby alligator,” he’d said. ”If you do that to them, they fall asleep.”
That made me really want to see the alligators, and now I had. Then it was off to dinner, and back to the hotel.
It’s different, this stopping of life for love. They used to be so easily interspersed.
It was a Friday morning in February, in my little room in Madrid, when he said to me, “I don’t want you to go.”
“No?” I said.
“I mean, I know you’ve gotta do your thing but I want you.”
I moved into his warmth and we kissed again. I liked his look: the crisp button-down from last night thrown on carelessly, buttoned half-heartedly. His skin radiated health, passion and substance, smolder and flame both.
Then I sighed and began rifling through my clothes cupboard again. ”I left your sweatshirt at your house. The one I can’t live without.”
“Are you trying to tell me something?”
“I’ve been trying to tell you.”
“What about my other jacket, that I gave you?” he said.
“The bright green one?”
“Yeah. Why don’t you wear that?”
“Because it’s bright green. OK. Keys, cell phone - aargh! I won’t finish my run in time and I’m going to be late for my class.”
“Go, girl,” he said.
I kissed him again, to say goodbye. ”Remember when you told me you’d noticed me at school, before we actually met? I was doing all my things back then: running every day, dance practice four nights a week, things that - “
“Well, you noticed me.”
“I’m just feeling selfish now. I wish we could have had breakfast in bed, then lay in bed all morning -”
I looked into the air. ”We could do that tomorrow.”
“Don’t be tellin’ me what to do.”
I grabbed the belt loops on his jeans and kissed him one last time. ”Bye, baby.”
The next day I wrote:
It’s the perfect Saturday morning, about twelve-thirty. In Madrid, night is not for sleeping anyway. Rain drums on the top of the building all around me, here in the seventh floor rooftop apartment. I am harboring Brad’s copy of an Updike novel, curled up with it. Taj is in the kitchen making me breakfast. Music plays: sweet melodic electronica quickly giving way to B.B. King, CSNY, Johnny Cash, Allman Brothers.
I’m sleepy. Was still half-asleep before Taj got up, when I returned from the bathroom and said, “What side do you want me on?”
“In the middle,” he answered, “on top of me.”
January 21st, 2011, northern Virginia. I’m lying in the twin bed in my room, whose rent I hope to keep paying with the freelance journalism work I’ve been getting. The editor who employs me the most made a reference in a recent email to her freelancer budget - not a great sign.
For now I am okay though, with two months’ rent in the bank and enough coming in to finance another trip to Florida (this one will be more hostel than hot tub).
On the phone, Taj tells me he went downtown to see some of his old friends and have a couple of beers. The bar got rowdy all of a sudden and he decided to leave, despite his friends’ insistences that he pound shots with them.
“They said, ‘That’s not the Taj I know.’ I said I’m tired and I’ve got things to do tomorrow. Anyway, there’s been shootings in some of the bars around town.”
“In the bars? Like, gunfights in the bars?”
“What is it, the Wild West?”
“No,” Taj says, “it’s the Dirty South.”
Oh Madrid, where I could walk through groups of sloppy drunk people past gangs of prostitutes at four in the morning down brightly lit thoroughfares and my biggest fear was getting hit on by tottering and harmless Spaniards.
I also remembered a couple of months ago when Taj had told me about shootings in the D.C. area. This was before I had my car, and sometimes I had to walk home or wait for buses late at night. I thought, what do you want me to do? You left me here, and I have no one to protect me.
But it was my decision to leave Madrid and come here. Then he left because he wants to make enough money to spend it on himself and me. Now I have to wait. I can’t go back, so I invoke hope and trust, and remember to have gratitude for the true love in my life. That’s a big part of what this blog is about: I admit it.