Sunday, May 19, 2013
Everything about her was different. I felt something with her that I had never felt with other women. Sisterhood. Something.
Whenever we walked down to the beach we saw dolphins. I never saw them when I went without her.
She wore this perfume, Eternity, and it was the only perfume I had ever liked to smell. Others gave me a headache. And maybe it wasn’t just the perfume, maybe it mingled with her perspiration, the trace minerals in the water that ran from her tap, the aroma of foods cooked with lemon and basil. It was colored by the timber of her voice, a soft but deep sound, slightly nasal, her laughter, a thing like a wave crashing against the walls of her chest before it hissed and bubbled out of her open mouth.
She was the only Greek woman I had ever met, a student on a visa, sitting alone on a balcony overlooking the pacific where it met the Golden Gate Bridge and the Northern California coast, a princess trapped in a tower, watching the mist roll in to swallow the Presidio.
Who could save her? Who in a land of strangers, in a culture where it was politically incorrect to be a prince, where individuality and isolation deserved merit and everything else required therapy, who could rescue her?
That question, the answers she found in books and yoga classes and homeopathic remedies, everything else I have mentioned, that scent mingled with all these things. And as I have said, it was called Eternity.
In October I found a bottle of cheap perfume among a line of scents that called themselves “impressions of the world’s most popular scents.”
Yes, I found an impression of Eternity for seven dollars in the drugstore. I wore it to a PTO meeting. Leaves twirling in empty space between sky and earth, the fog of Pacifica thick and briny, the taste of hot chocolate from the Café’ near the elementary school, my children, still children in that moment, laughing and skipping and running into the arms of their playmates. Their little hands, tender and warm and smelling of dirt and graphite.
That scent came to be entwined with these things too. With sweaters and sitting in a room full of women snipping satin ribbon, the sound of shears cutting through new fabric, their voices, their stories, their children, my children, prancing in the halls beside us as we prepared for the Winter Bazaar.
I felt a glimmer of it then, like butterfly wings on my cheek. Strange familiarity or familiar strangeness, warm and glowing, like almost remembering the words to a forgotten lullaby, or waking in a dream.
She was gone by then, in October.
Once when we had gone down to the beach we saw a bride and groom with a photographer. The bride's dress was long and white, the veil billowing behind her in a sea breeze as the groom, dressed in black, darted out of the way of the breaking surf.
She had been married in Greece, when she was 18, and something terrible happened. Her love had abandoned her and she had been dragged out to sea with the other emotional and inarticulate things that whirled about in the cold dark currents.
The noose her groom had placed around her neck was made from the rope attached to an anchor, and it pulled her into the icy depths where she forgot all of her names, she forgot that she had ever been human.
When the dolphins at last found her and carried her back to the shore, she came to America. In the United States the broken hearted, uncommitted, and antisocial are hip. So here, she lived with an American man who was teaching her how to be alone in the company of others. He was teaching her to loose heart with a smile and a shrug.
But in September, she called me, crying, and she asked if she could stay a few days. I wanted to tell her yes. I wanted to say, “Of course, you’re like a sister to me.” But I couldn’t.
Shortly thereafter she returned to Greece. There were no goodbyes.
At some point I sent her an email remembering the time we stood together in the water at Coyote Point. Children were flying kites and the sun was warm. Standing there in the water with her, I felt as though I was wading in the same sea that brushed the mysterious shoreline of her heart.
Afterwards we lay in the sun and she told me about men she wanted to introduce me to and old friends left in exotic places. The scent of grass and sunscreen and sweat, mingled with her voice, her pretty vision for me, her sad stories.
And of course there was, encapsulating it all, Eternity.