- What Matters in Matters of Love
“You were the grey beret and the still heart.In your eyes the flames of the twilight fought on.”—Pablo Neruda, “I Remember You As You Were”
A certain nostalgic humor surrounds young love: the floating, deceptive happiness, the naïve belief in forever. With him and me it was as if nothing else could ever matter. We would sneak into the art closet in the middle of sixth period, kiss, touch. We would spend the night breathing to each other on the phone, doze on the other’s shoulder in the auditorium before school started. We carried with us the ethereal thrill of romance, everything was done with the ease of a leaf unfurling, our lives opening and curling in the same moments. I will always hold with me the sensation—room spinning, stomach flipping upwards and around—when, at seventeen, in a darkened night club, in front of his cousin, in front of my friends, for the first time, he held my face between both of his hands, moved his thumb across my cheek, and bent down to kiss me.
I can tell you that he adored my hands, my always chipped red [End Page 39] fingernails, the two-inch width of my flimsy wrists. If I happened to be driving (he wouldn’t get his license until years later), my left hand spread wide over the black leather steering wheel, I would catch him staring: I just love those hands, he’d say if I asked. Irrefutably, he was also crazy about a few other choice curved parts of my body where his fingers naturally grazed. In those moments it was I who felt a deep adoration for his hands.
On nights when I would sleep over (in his sister’s room, often braiding her hair until she fell asleep), I would wake hours before him and sit comfortably with his mother on the sofa while she brewed, for me, American coffee. There was always the smell of kadaif warming, of toasted nuts, melting butter. There was always someone who would whisper translations into my ear. I had already learned a few words: yes (po), I do not understand (nuk koptoj), I love you (te dua). I was always welcome.
Mostly, he would come to my house after school. It was cold, at my home, then: just my mother, my sister, and me in a home we had been so accustomed to sharing with my father, thus with caution, under an overwhelming cloud of tension, alcoholism, tempers, that the newly discovered freedom from sadness seemed to pull us apart. We had dinner at six, would talk over schedules, school, work, of the highs and lows during the days that passed, we loved each other, after all, but at the end of the night we all went our separate ways. My mother was dating, my sister was dating, and I was falling in love.
My mother was dating. I had expressed to her that the thought of her with a man other than my father rested uncomfortably within me like a knot in a thin gold chain. She said I would get over it. I rarely remember my parents being happy and yet I could never picture my mother with someone else, never wanted to. But this is how I describe her now, since she has been married (to the exact man whom she had been dating): someone may ask me, how is your mother? To which I will reply, happy. At that time, though, I held resentment, rebelled. I sat on my boyfriend’s lap in our office upstairs, his hands wrapped tightly around my waist, I kissed him goodbye at the front door. After my father died, my mother would curse at the breaking appliances [End Page 40] around the house, you did this you asshole, if the plumbing needed to be fixed, you left me, she’d cry to the washing machine that moaned even when it wasn’t running.
When I first told my mother that my new boyfriend was not yet an American citizen she was none pleased. Stereotypes flared in her mind. There...