Through the window I could see my sister’s children, Cate age 12 and Oliver age 8, racing through the back yard laughing and giggling. Their laughter unleashing shades of summers past… my father napping in a macramé hammock strung between two trees on lazy summer afternoons…my sister having a race with her cat Broccoli being more like sisters than pet and person…my mother, a city girl, engaged in her suburban passion of gardening…my brother and I running through sprinklers…It was a perfect place for what we needed to do today.
When you think of Rio De Janiero, you think of Copacabana, Ipanema, and perhaps if you are very sophisticated Leblon. Elaine’s home was in neighborhood called Barra de Tijuca, about 20 km west of those famous beaches. Unlike the high rises and urban atmosphere made famous by Jobim and Sergio Mendez, Barra sits on the edge of the Tijuca forest and is suburban with private homes and low-rise apartment complexes nestled between the beach and Pedra Da Gavea, a 2,970 ft mountain.
As we drove through the gates of Elaine’s community, Jardim do Itanhanga, I could not help recalling my thoughts on my Jeep tour through Rio two months ago. Passing through the forest, into this area, I had pondered what it would be like to live here. Now I was going to find out. It was easy to see why Elaine had fallen in love with this area. It was, ironically, for the same reason my parents had fallen in love with Summit: The trees. Instead of clearcutting the lots the builders had taken great care to preserve the ancient trees including several examples of the Pau-Brazil tree, which as Elaine explained, is not only the national tree of the country but how the country got its name.
Elaine’s home was at the end of a cobblestone road in the far corner of the community. Like all of the houses within the community it resided behind 2-meter-high gates topped with barbed wire. This provided a stark contrast from home. Even within our gated community, in our most tory communities, rarely do people live behind walls. Certainly not in middle class countries. I wondered as we drove onto the property whether this was because we were more egalitarian, or they had more crime here.
Elaine’s house was beautiful. Sitting on ¾ of an acre it is of modern design. Made of poured concrete it is three rectangular solids, stacked slightly askew on top of each other. The house was designed to allow the outdoors in. The entire ground floor living room had floor to ceiling glass doors, all the bedrooms had panoramic doors, and there were two airshafts with glass doors that were, in essence, terrariums planted with indigenous flora including. For a man who is used to living in 700 sq ft (65 sq meters) apartment it is a little overwhelming and impressive.
However, before I can be too overwhelmed, I am introduced to Jocelino. He is a slight, dark haired young man, wearing a faded t-shirt, shorts and the ubiquitous Brazilian flip flop. Elaine tells me that he is her “gardener” which I learn later really means he is responsible for the outside of the house and the property. I go to shake his hand but before contact is made, I catch and eye signal from Elaine, telling me this would be inappropriate, so I hold back. She tells Jocelino to take my bags upstairs for me.
Walking into the kitchen I am introduced to Regina whom I am told is the cook/maid. She is African decent, short and extremely obese. She nods at the introduction and gives me exactly the same look a mother might share with her daughter’s suitor when they first meet. In other words, withering, with malice should I hurt the lady of the house. I will learn later that she is also a practitioner of Candomble, an African Brazilian religion, and the chance of real curse is very possible. Elaine tells me that Regina has worked for her for 13 years and considers herself a part of the family. This becomes obvious over the next few days in many ways including muttering under her breath at requests, uneven housecleaning and lunches that were often so late that would have qualified for dinner in Florida. I
Eventually, Elaine leads me upstairs, ostensibly so that I can get cleaned up after spending the better of a day traveling. When we reach the entrance of the bedroom suite, she kisses me and the rest of the world greys out. All I care about is in my arms and nothing else matters.
The next week disappears in blur a lovemaking, sightseeing, shopping and long conversations about everything and nothing. By the time, I leave I know the affair begun on the Costa Pacifica was not a mere shipboard fling. It is the real thing. It is love.
Shakespeare got it right. Parting is such sweet sorrow. And I wrote Elaine (whom I had nicknamed Lupita because she told me in NY many people had mistaken her for Mexican.)
My Darling Lupita
The definition of a long day is any day that I leave you behind.
Add to that a 10 hour flight, changing planes in the purgatory known as Miami Airport, three appointments, finalizing my lease and unpacking and you have an exceptionally long day….
Saying good bye to you last night was one of the hardest things I have had to do. My last glimpse of you, you peering out from beyond the barrier, you smile shining like a summer sun, and it was all I could to do to keep placing one foot in front of another. I wanted to run back to you and feel your arms around me. To bury my face into your hair and your neck, to smell your scent, and your body against mine. When I cleared immigration I turned to see if you were still there but you had gone so I found a seat in a departure lounge far away from other people and put on my sunglasses so people would not notice my tears.
I got to the lounge way to early. There was over an hour and half to wait. And I didn’t feel like being distracted by a book. Or by playing a game. I just wanted to think about you.
One of the first thoughts I had was that I had made a mistake. I should have walked you to your car. I felt badly that you had to walk through the building and to the parking lot by yourself. It was very ungentlemanly of me. It made me feel horrible. So I am sorry. When I come back in July, you will be walked to your car.
Then I wanted to call you on the phone and hear your voice but I realized that you were in the car and my calling would be a distraction. And then I realized night was falling and it made me feel badly that you were driving home alone.
Then I realized that I was just feeling sorry for myself because I missed you so much already. So I decided that what I needed to do was think of all the time we had just spent together and the happy times that we had together.
I thought about your smile. Your beautiful radiant smile that warms every part of me. It is truly incandescent my love and it means so much to me when I see it. When I am telling you stupid jokes…a ham sandwich walks into a bar. Or when I tease you a little and you realize it and it flashes on your face all the dimples glowing. Or after we make love and your happy in our intimacy and your whole face is aglow. Or that first smile, when I came out of immigration and I saw you standing there and the happiness written all of your face that made all the missing I had done seem like a very small price to pay.
I thought of our trip to the war memorial. How proud you were of your city and your country. How you were happy to walk through the museum with me and share the moment of joy, and wonder, and sadness that I felt while walking though it.
I recalled our movie nights. How nice it was just to be able to share these stories we loved with each other ….Love Actually, Slumdog Millionaire, Closer, It’s a Wonderful Life. I loved holding you near and naked talking about the movies what we liked. How wonderful your hand always feels in mine.
When they called my plane. I went but not without looking back and wondering where you were and hoping that you were home safe and perhaps even missing me a little. When I got to my seat I opened my cell phone to see if you, hope against hope, had written to me. And of course you did. Your note was so beautiful. I was sad that you had to fight the tears home but happy that my shoes and clothes were a comfort to you. I understood the beer and the sadness and the message that we would be seeing each other soon….but I knew the 30 days until I see you would pass with all the speed of a glacier. Sigh.
The woman next to me was a chatter. And she was fat. And had too much perfume. But she was sweet, so I nodded a lot and paid attention to my book when the chatter got too much. Eventually they brought me dinner. The steward made the trip easier by giving me a triple vodka for free with my dinner. So sleep came very quickly.
It was quite a shock when I woke up a few hours later. For the past ten days I had awoke to the woman I love. Her warm body intertwined with mine. Her beautiful smile waking me with sunshine whether it was raining or not…every morning was a beautiful morning. This morning I woke to a fat woman with a blanket over her head who was stealing my arm rest and forcing me to contort just to be a little comfortable.
Worse, I had figured out how American Airlines had decided to save money. They have removed all of the padding from the seats on their airplanes. Really they were so uncomfortable I had no choice but to think of happy things so that I could at least find a little bit of comfort.
I thought of our trip to Sugarloaf. I thought about the joy you had in sharing with me your beautiful city. The memories of your father and your trips. Pointing out all the landmarks. Telling me the history of your city and how glorious you looked in the glow of Rio Di Janiero. I thought of how I remembered thinking that day how deeply and gloriously I was in love with you.
I mused about our shopping trips and our raids on the kitchen late at night. About cooking for you and wanting to take care of you and make you feel cherished and well loved.
I thought about our midnight talks and how can always tell you how I feel. How one night I told you of my hopes for our love. How I wanted to have my last first kiss with you. How I want you in my life always and how making you feel safe and loved was going to be my true north. How one night I woke and was unable to sleep because of worries and sadness and when I shared them with you they disappeared and I could fall back to sleep again.
The plane landed early in Miami. As I have written to you Miami airport was a purgatory of long walks, disinterested staff, and endless waits. But I did go outside at one point and saw the nearly full moon high overhead. I thought of the moon on Saturday night. How it glowed over your house and our home and how we had danced to it and delighted in it and how I could probably never look at a moon again without thinking of you.
The only thing that made the trip bearable at all is the knowledge you will join me in New York in just a few weeks.
I love you more than planes love wings more than the moon loves beams.
You are, and always have been, my great love.
I remain forever yours.