She was crying, the kind of outpouring that men and women have sometimes. Mascara was flowing down her face, but she kept her hands clenched on her lap. The room seemed smaller and hotter than I remembered it, even though the windows were open and the fan whirred at full speed. Sobbing, she looked at me, eyes reddened, knowing that I would be gone soon, maybe forever. I was trying to be stoic. I did not know what to say, how to explain, when to hold her hand, what to do.
. We had met only a few months before; one of those chance encounters that everyone says is kismet. We lived near each other. I guess we saw each other when she was coming from work. I was walking home from school, the long way. Our eyes met, we nodded, that kind of friendly kind of nod people use all the time. That was that. I climbed the stairs; walked into my home, spoke to the maid.
She told my family that she had seen me, wondered who I was. It started that way, the first hint, followed by family reminders that I should call or see her. I hesitated, reminding everyone that I just was passing through, on my way from here to another place. I was not even sure when I would ever get back.
Dinner was a formal affair, and she was there with her mother and younger sister. I should have known that I would be seated opposite her; the smirks on everyone’s face gave away the game. I found it hard to make a connection, I was not as socially aware as she was. Her mother looked at me during the meal, assessing me as a suitor, I guess. I was too inexperienced to see most of what was happening, so I concentrated on eating and not spilling food on myself. Her younger sister giggled a lot. Most of the conversation was about things I never cared about, or did not understand.
I wished her family goodnight at the door. Her hand seemed to hold mine longer than anyone else’s. She looked at me in a way that no one had before. I was uncomfortable, but I liked the feeling.
A few days later we talked in the lobby, hesitatingly at first. She wanted to be sure that I knew she was not married. I said that I did. She told me her mother wanted her to be married. I assured her I was not. She laughed, sharing some joke that I didn’t get at the time. She asked if I could come for a formal dinner at her house. I said I thought I could.
All day I thought about our dinner date, wondering what might happen? I got home and laid out my best clothes, telling the maid that I needed my shoes shined to their best gloss. She looked at me with knowing eyes, answered yes.
I arrived early, even had flowers. Her mother met me at the door. Without a word she ushered me in, told me to wait. We ate dinner, can’t remember what, and talked. Mother was in the kitchen, watching, waiting. It was small talk.
We started to see each together, but not out of her apartment. She wanted to see me, but not be seen with me. I thought it strange but went along. We tried to learn about each other, where we’d been, where we were going. At times we could not find the words.
She had beautiful brown eyes. Expressive eyes. She told me that when people could not speak with their mouth, they used their eyes. I know that was right then and now.
Our third date we held hands. Her mother had just taken a phone call and she took my hands in hers. I shivered, but she just smiled. The room seemed cooler, the traffic lighter, the walls brighter. We spoke of our plans, the future we might have together. For a long while we said nothing.
Her mother came in the room, our hands pulled apart. I stood, walking to the window, looking at the traffic in the street below, the stagnant city air rising up from the concrete. She and her mother spoke, I didn’t hear what they said. Her mother left.
We were together a lot that summer. It was difficult for me to juggle everything that I had to do, but I made time for her. We spoke on the phone, we left notes.
I remember the promises we made, how we swore to love each other forever. I remember that apartment, the swinging door ajar between the living room and the kitchen, her mother always nearby. I can almost touch that marble window sill, the one that I looked out of when her mother came in the room. I remember that feeling of being in love, or wanting to spend the rest of my life with her.
Times change, situations change, promises were made and then broken. I had to leave. We were young; at 19 she was three years older. She was working, had a good job. I could not ever marry her, I guess only I knew that. I was in high school, a Student Exchange Student in South America. It was 1961, so long ago.
I have one thing from her: a small black and white picture, her writing on the back: it says “my love always.”