I was nineteen years old. I had just been asked to leave the college I was attending and was in Korea, visiting my mother and step-father, burning some time, teaching English to harder working students than myself and getting ready to go into the Coast Guard. I didn’t know shit about anything and I was pretty lost and confused and trying hard to act like everything was okay, like I had things figured out.
I remember standing in the living room of my mom’s apartment and I don’t remember the doorbell ringing or my mom opening the door or anything- all remember is when this woman walked into the apartment and the whole world came to a stop.
She wore blue jeans and a jean jacket and there was a red bandana wrapped around her dark hair. She was slender, slight, of medium height and her skin was the color of something warm and burnished. Not a color I could identify so much as a sensation- like late summer, just before dusk. And then I saw her eyes. Never in the history of the world have there been eyes like those. I know, I know, but that was the impact that they had on me. Dark. Wide. Brilliant. Deep, a depth that just kept going on down the farther I fell into them.
I’m sure that we said hello to each other briefly before she left with my mom or the two of them hung out there and I left, I don’t remember anything else that happened. But for me it was like walking into a familiar room and finding an enormous golden elephant glowing there, vast, ethereal, yet undeniably tangible, present.
I probably saw her a handful of times over the next few months. I got to go to her house where she lived with her husband (whom I loathed and despised for his great good luck and the ease with which he seemed to exist around her) and her two children. As far away from me as she was just in her own astounding beauty and power and grace and intelligence, any hope of winning her receded into the impossible mist of distance seeing her in her own home, with a husband and kids- shit, I was a kid. It was painful to witness what it looked like to be a grown up and to see clearly how far from that place I still was.
Ah, but I pined for her anyway. All the more, really, because she was impossible. And yet, and yet. I could talk to her. I could run into her at the market and give her a hug, breathe in the smell of her and hold her in my arms, even if it was just for a second.
And then I was off. Back to the states for boot camp and then two years on a cutter in Alaska. There was a girl there I wanted to stay with but she moved to New York, so when I got out of my six month tech school for Aviation Electronics, I picked the Coast Guard Air Station in Brooklyn to be my new home. Of course, before I could even get there the girl found herself someone interesting in the city and that was that.
So I found myself in the big city all alone.
One day I was talking to my mom on the phone, maybe singing the blues a little bit about my predicament, when she says to me, “Hey, remember my friend from Korea? She’s in the city, too, right now. She and her husband moved back there and I think they’re going through a divorce. You should call her up. You guys could have coffee and go to a museum or something. At least she’s a familiar face, and you won’t feel so alone.”
A couple of weeks later, we got together for dinner at a little Italian joint. We had a nice time. We walked around the city, had a couple of drinks after. I walked her to her door.
I went in.
And I never left.
It’s the most romantical thing that ever happened to me.
Now it’s twenty-seven years later and I still got it superbad for her. We have lived a whole bunch of lifetimes together in those years. Immolated in the fire of first love, wrecked on the rocks of despair and confusion, wrung out by poverty and hard work, subsumed by parenthood, adrift in the doldrums of daily routine, fights, making up, clinging, running away, we’ve had it all. We made a baby and she grew up and made babies of her own. We watched her burn down the world and emerge from the ashes like a phoenix. Over and over again we picked up our battered hearts, put them back into our torn-open chests, and beat on them till they started up again.
So here it is 2015 and she’s in Mexico with her Dolphin and a rag-tag bunch of full-time RV’ers, having a big adventure. And in a minute I’m off to India for my own adventure.
Somehow we have managed this great good thing. We have loved each other with this kind of whole-body fierceness, but without stunting each other, without demanding that the other comply with how we might want them to be. Not that we haven’t gone at each other hammer and tongs, because we have. And still do. (Mostly she has to go hammer and tongs at me. I have proven to be a slow and intransigent learner. But I keep trying.) But mostly we have treated each other with tenderness and kindness in the face of a world which can be cruel and indifferent to our needs.
I love her. I hope to breathe my last breath in her company. I see us growing older and it only gives me joy. I never feared getting old, I don’t know why. I look ahead at the long decline and I’m convinced that our happiest years are coming to meet us at last.
I don’t know what I’m up to here except that I wanted it on record somehow that I love this woman and that loving her has been and continues to be the practice of my life and the way I learn the language of my heart.