I don’t need to close my eyes, though the image is more vivid if I do. We’re on the lower east side of Manhattan crossing Second Avenue for a quick lunch break when my friend Ayman (recently my friend, truth be told, having discovered that we share a fondness for cigarettes, Spanish culture, and psychiatry) pauses in the middle of the street and with a refreshingly animated air greets a young lady, taking her out of whatever world she was in by uttering her name, “Karee!”
Pleasantries are exchanged, as allowed by the rushed etiquette of crossing a busy street in midtown Manhattan, and the moment passes. Only, for me, it doesn’t just pass. I’m aware of my heart beating faster, harder, more forcefully in my chest as I watch her walk away. “Who is she?” I ask, turning to my friend. “Oh, Karee, she’s a girl I went to college with back at UVA, lawyer now.” Ayman, secure in the solidity of our friendship but overconfident in the depth of his understanding with respect to my likes and dislikes, immediately blurts out that Karee is “not my type.” In hindsight, though well-intentioned, my Coptic friend could not have been more mistaken.
My curiosity was piqued, however, and I ventured to query my friend in what manner this delightful creature was not “my type”. Ayman appeared taken aback by the directness of my question, or perhaps there was something in the tone of my voice which betrayed my displeasure with his premature assessment. “Believe me Manny, I know her and I know the kind of girl you’re looking for. She’s smart, don’t get me wrong, and she’s a really nice girl, but you two are on opposite ends politically, and let’s just say she doesn’t have the same values you do.” I suspect he was referring to the values associated with my Catholic faith, which were quite similar to those he espoused as a Coptic Christian.
As fate would have it, two years would pass before I saw Karee again. Our second meeting was to occur not on Second Avenue but at my friend Ayman’s apartment in Brooklyn. In the intervening years, Ayman had fallen in love with a Spanish girl named Eva, an Andalusian beauty that happened to be my cousin and to whom I introduced him while we were both vacationing in Seville during the famous Feria de Abril (the April Fair which takes place after Easter). As it turns out, Ayman was hosting a party to introduce Eva to his friends in New York.
So, there I was, a third year resident in Psychiatry at NYU staring at her in blissful disbelief. My eyes were drawn to her lips, her hips, the way she held the cup of seltzer in her hand. It had been two years mind you, but my heart seemed to pick up where it left off in the middle of the street, beating furiously and demanding that I speak to her. She was talking to someone, someone I didn’t know, but she seemed to know him no better than I. Their conversation was short lived, and soon an opportunity presented itself. She made her way towards my end of the room.
My mouth grew dry as my heart asserted itself within my chest. “Hi, I’m Manny. I think we met two years ago crossing Second Avenue.” Perhaps it was the words themselves or the insistent manner in which I blurted them out, but the look on her face was one of surprise. Her expression then changed and began to assume a guarded quality, such that I felt strangely like a stalker. Grasping immediately the need to sacrifice accuracy of recall for prudence, I retracted my statement and assured her that perhaps I was mistaken. Slowly her fear subsided and the conversation, happily, continued.
As fate would have it, not only did I happen to be reading a short story by the great Russian novelist, Tolstoy, but the mere mention of this fact ignited a spark in our conversation. Soon, I was describing the scene in the Kreutzer Sonata which deals with the serendipitous if not fickle nature of love, or that which we fondly call "falling in love." Her laughter invigorated me as her eyes reflected an understanding that at once made me feel intelligent and inspired. (It was most assuredly an impossibly happy coincidence that she was not only a science fiction geek but that I had a unique ear structure reminiscent of Star Trek’s Mr. Spock. My friend Tom pointed this out, after discovering that Karee was a fan.)
The rest of the night was magical. We all drove into Manhattan and had a few drinks at Iggy’s, our favorite local watering hole. I impressed her with my pool playing, and as the night wore on she seemed to re-enact a scene from Cinderella, suddenly stating that she had to go. “Wait a minute!” I thought to myself. "Something’s missing. I forgot to do something." As if assuming a life of its own, my right hand rose slightly and as I called out to her my index finger curled itself repeatedly, indicating that I needed to speak a final word to her before she left. She smiled, perhaps thinking to herself, “It’s about time” as she walked slowly towards me. Opting for what seemed at the time the safest request, I asked for her email address, and she scribbled it on a napkin as I inwardly shouted, “Yes! Yes! Yes!” As she walked away and then out the door, I glanced down at the treasure in my hand and gently folded it, careful to place it safely in my pocket.