On Thursday, February 14th— Valentine’s Day, about three weeks after my article, “El Úndecimo Mandamiento” appeared in The Anderson Valley Advertiser, Samantha called. It was the first time I’d spoken to her in 18 years.
Someone had told her about the article, probably my friend Richard, and she had several complaints and criticisms:
— She wasn’t from Uruguay: her parents were. Perhaps I was jealous because she can speak Spanish without a gringo accent unlike some people she knows.
— I neglected to mention that she had a BA from NYU and an MBA from Fordham.
— I had been more than a “client.”
— The end of the article was misleading and self-pitying.
She continued in a blend of Spanish and English:
—Te quiero, Luis, but it is always about you. That’s because you live by yourself and only think about you. You should get married.
—If that’s a proposal, I accept.
—You couldn’t handle me. Mira, Luis, there were other things happening when you had your Hepatitis C. I was hurt for a long time because I thought you had stopped calling me.
We talked for several hours. I asked if it would be acceptable if I wrote a sequel to “El Úndecimo Mandamiento.” She said it would be if I would let her see it before submitting it for publication. She made some revisions.
* * *
When Samantha and I had had lunch in Scotch Plains, she had given me instructions about contact and visits. I ignored these instructions and showed up one Saturday at 10:00 in the morning. I stood my bike against the wire fence in the ample, grassy backyard of El Úndecimo Mandamiento, and rang the doorbell of the rear door several times before a sleepy, irritable Samantha in a translucent blueish gray nightgown opened the door.
—¿Qué coño haces aquí a eso de las diez de la mañana?
(What the hell are you doing here at ten o’clock in the morning?)
—I wanted to see you.
She invited me in and took me up to her apartment. I wanted badly to kiss her, but she looked ready to deck me; I abandoned valor for discretion.
—¿Es que no comprendiste o que no eres capaz de seguir las instrucciones, eh?
—I understood you and I can follow instructions. I was out for a bike ride and since I was riding up Second Avenue, I decided to make a detour to see you.
I said this a bit petulantly. I hadn’t expected to be scolded.
I must snapped off “De acuerdo” with some emotion, because Samantha came over and kissed me on the mouth, put her finger on my lips, and told softly me to sit down on the couch and that she’d be right out.
She emerged from her bedroom ten minutes later, awake, made up, and draped in a soft flannel, burgundy-colored bathrobe.
— It’s too early for love. Take me somewhere for breakfast.
— I’m on my bike.
— Go home and get your car.
I flew home on my bike, showered, changed into white chinos and a blue denim dress shirt, and got back to pick up an ebullient Samantha. We drove into the Manhattan so we could brunch at Il Violino on Columbus Ave. There was no traffic on the George Washington Bridge and we were at the restaurant at 12:30.
I told Samantha that I ate at Il Violino when I went to the Met. Samantha told me she liked opera, but had never been to the Met. When I had finished my western omelet and Samantha her eggs Benedict, we walked around the block to the Met and discovered that the matinee performance of Die Fledermaus was sold out. However we ran into a scalper whom I knew, with whom I had done business before, and who bargained in good faith. He had two adjacent tickets in the pricey Grand Tier, which he was willing to sell me for $150 (for both). This is about half the box office price, but is serious money for a teacher. I bought them without negotiating.
Die Fledermaus is a great opera for people attending their first opera or for people who think they don’t like opera. It’s like a good Broadway musical comedy in German. (Subtitles are visible on a small screen in front of you.) This production was excellent with attractive singers who were good actors. Samantha was enthralled. On the way out, we looked at the coming attractions and discussed getting season tickets for the following season, but in the less expensive Dress Circle.
I had paid for brunch and for the tickets. Samantha paid for the parking garage. We stopped at my place for what Samantha said would be “for just this one time.” She called Cecilia and told her she would be arriving at El Úndecimo Mandamiento late. “Late” turned out to be Sunday morning.
* * *
May 13 was on a Sunday that year. I know that because it was my birthday. At 8:00 a.m., someone was ringing my doorbell incessantly,
—All right! I fucking hear you!
I opened the front door and beheld an enchanting twenty- year old woman whose dark blond hair was tied in a bun behind her neck. She was wearing a blue JC Penney work-shirt with the top two buttons open, sleeves rolled up to the elbows, and jeans cut off just above the knee. I had trouble talking.
If I had examined Samantha more closely, I would have noticed that she was also wearing running shoes. It was a warm, sunny spring morning and Samantha insisted that we do five miles on the Warinanco Park track.
—It’s my birthday.
—Ya lo sé. (I know.)
I never was a great runner and usually took just under forty minutes for five miles. Samantha pushed the pace to about 7 minutes per mile, so we finished in 35 minutes and then walked another mile.
We went back to my house, showered, and ate lunch. Samantha had cooked mofongo the day before— one of my favorite Uruguayan dishes, and I prepared a fresh salad and a pitcher of pink limeade with the “pink” coming from half a bottle of Beaujolais nouveau. Samantha hung out until 11p.m.. It was one of the best birthdays of my life.
* * *
There were many weeks when I only saw Samantha at her bordello. There were also quite a few days when we saw each other in other places.
We bought a subscription for the 1991-1992 Met opera season. Samantha liked the Saturday matinees. We attended performances at the Mozart Festival in Lincoln Center, saw great movies at The Film Forum and baseball games at Yankee Stadium. I am a terrible dancer, but Samantha forced me at gunpoint to take her to clubs and discos, and generously pretended not to notice my ineptitude.
Samantha resisted bicycles for a while, but I eventually got her to go on rides. The bike trip that convinced her runs from Cape May County Park to the lighthouse on the Cape May beach. It’s a lovely route that passes through the Wildwoods, over boardwalks, and along beaches and bird sanctuaries; it crosses picturesque little bridges where we were exempted from tolls, and winds up on the beach where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Delaware Bay.
After that ride, she was an addict. My close friend Stefan and I have birthdays two weeks apart in May. It had been a tradition for us to go on bike excursions at the end of May as a birthday present to ourselves. Starting in 1992, Samantha insisted on being included in our plans. She and Stefan got along very well— Samantha got along very well with everyone. At her insistence, I shared a room with Stefan— not with her, when the bike trips were in places like Maryland, upstate New York, or Cape Cod and required overnight stays.
* * *
In my original article, I mentioned that I had been diagnosed with Hepatitis C, had told Samantha, and that she had been very angry with me and ended the relationship. As I learned, the true story was more complicated.
Yes, Samantha was upset at learning that she had been exposed to Hepatitis C. What I did not know was she was dealing with the terminal illness of her mother. She thought that Cecilia or Mari-Teri or one of the other women had told me. No one ever did. I thought she never wanted to see me again because she blamed me for getting sick.
So we went eighteen years without seeing one another, without talking to one another. She was my lover, one of my best friends, and someone whom I called when I desperately needed someone to talk to, and who would call me when she needed to say things that she could only say to a few chosen friends.
How could something like this happen? In high school I had a friend named Matthew, whom our circle of friends referred to as “Kafka” because he was brilliant and melancholy. He once told us that he had not spoken to his older sister for eight years. When we asked him why, he said he couldn’t remember. We were dumbfounded. How do you not talk to your sister for eight years for a reason you can’t even remember?
* * *
Samantha is approaching her 44th year on the planet, has been married for eleven years, and has two little girls. She shut down El Úndecimo Mandamiento in 2000 shortly after meeting the man who would become her husband. He’s a successful documentary filmmaker and Samantha is a great catch for him: she manages the business while he concentrates on the art of film making. They live in Chappaqua, New York, but also have apartments in Paris and Brussels.
I will be 69 in one month. I am a survivor of prostate cancer and am no longer a contender. Samantha and I have seen each other only once since February when she called. I went up to Chappaqua a week later and she introduced me to her family. We stay in touch with e-mails and phone calls.
Motherhood and eighteen years have made Samantha more ample and more voluptuous than the twenty year old I remembered. The added weight isn’t visible below the waist: it is concentrated in her breasts, shoulders, and arms— which are rounder and more muscular from carrying around her two young daughters. There are a few lines under those almond eyes, which now seem deeper and more knowing. Seeing her after all these years produced a heat and a longing that belied my own alterations from recent surgeries. Samantha isn’t merely still beautiful; she is more beautiful.
* * *
I am bewildered at the imbecility of human behavior, especially my own. Everything is moving at a vertiginous rhythm these days. How could I have wasted so much time on minutia?
I think often of a very short story by Franz Kafka called “The Next Village”:
My grandfather used to say: “Life is astoundingly short. To me, looking back over it, life seems so foreshortened that I scarcely understand, for instance, how a young man can decide to ride over to the next village without being afraid that — not to mention accidents — even the span of a normal happy life may fall far short of the time needed for such a journey.”
Yes, life is astonishingly short. I’m glad that Samantha is a part of my life again. Her two little girls speak French, English, and “Spanish without a gringo accent”— unlike some people Samantha knows.