So there I was, unpacking mementos of my 76 years as an unsentimental minimalist, when I happened upon a tiny coin-mounted silver llama which has traveled with me for six decades, mostly tucked away in kitchen drawers. In Scott Fitzgerald’s words, I was “borne back …into the past” and stopped polishing the silver to think about when H entered my eighteen year old sheltered and ordinary Brooklyn life. A richness of long forgotten yet well remembered detail brought me back to that meeting and its joyous aftermath.
How did the path of a young Brooklyn College student link to that of an Argentine marquis studying at NYU’s Institute for Latin American Studies? Even that’s a story: my dearly beloved best friend “sister” Gioia went to NYU and, when I came to spend the weekend, we were set to meet her then boyfriend at the Catholic Students Lounge. There we met H and his Latin American coterie (it was the friend from Peru who gave me the llama) and went to one of the famed Village cafes. Somehow H and I connected and he introduced me to one of his (many) charming ways: he taught me to link arms with him as we sipped our wine. That was enough: I was smitten!
His group of friends befriended me and we attended NYU parties and drove to the cafes on Sheepshead Bay while H and I enjoyed a lighthearted and (we both knew) ephemeral romance. He was the first (only?) man who serenaded me with gaucho love songs; he wove stories about how if he and Peron met in the street only one would live; he told of the day he was speeding around a dangerous curve on his motorcycle and the Virgin Mary saved his life (Jewish girls from Brooklyn do not marry men who were rescued by the Virgin Mary); he described the paintings in his parents’ home. And when my birthday (I think it was my nineteenth because I’d met Marvin before my 20th) arrived, he gave me a gold charm engraved with my initials; when I asked why he didn’t sign his name he said that my husband would not be pleased to see such a gift from another man. If he ever did an unkind deed or hurt my feelings, I don’t recall – I don’t think he did.
I don’t remember how it ended but it wasn’t hurtful for either of us: my dear husband of 53 years entered my life soon after that birthday and I lost touch with H and his friends (they may have returned to their home countries after I was given the little llama).
Each person we care about transforms us in some way: Dashing H showed me the prospect of a bigger world, of a life of romance, of the possibility of playing one’s days out on a larger stage. For this I will always be grateful.
The charm and little silver llama remained with me for all these years, as has the memory of this happy time.