Friday, July 17, 2009
A Woman Looks Back at Herself 40 Years Later
How do you tell a story that spans forty years? Mimi asked.
By starting at the beginning, Flor answered.
Mimi smiled and opened the window.
“What a glorious sunny day!”
She turned to Flor. She liked this young woman, her neighbor's daughter. She took Flor’s hand and began:
It was my first date ever. I had just arrived in San Francisco. Back in Perú, where I grew up, my father would never have allowed it. I was only 19. She paused. Her eyes were dreamy as she reached into the past. Then her voice changed to its usual cheerful tone:
George took me to BIMBO’s 365. Taught me to dance.
And I could hardly believe it, that’s where Steve invited me to go last night. Unlike most of San Francisco's clubs, BIMBO’s is beautifully maintained, still elegant. Just like then, in the fifty's. Famous. Most of all for THE GIRL in THE FISH BOWL.
The girl in the fish bowl? Flor's eyes widened.
Yes, Mimi said. A beautiful girl, blonde and curvy. I don't know how it was done, but there was this live mermaid in a huge fishbowl hanging from the ceiling. Everyone admired the marvelous sight. It was the main attraction.
Why wasn’t the mermaid there last night?
Mimi shrugged. I asked Steve. But he didn’t know anything about it.
I saw you guys, Flor said. I like Steve. You make a good couple. Flor smiled.
Do you think so? We’ll see, Mimi said, we’ll see.
Flor went on. He is so tall, and he has kind of a refined but wild look.
Mimi chuckled. Flor must have read that in one of those romance novels she was always reading.
She continued with her story.
Last night I took a good look around at the mirrored walls, the vast elegant interior, high ceilings, red tablecloths and candlelight reflecting on the club's dark wood. Romantic. Same atmosphere as 40 years ago.
So that night, at 19, I learned to dance. Yes. George kept saying. Just follow me. See? Of course you can. Mimi sat up straighter.
After the orchestra played "As Time Goes By," -- that became our song -- he kept asking the leader to play it for us again and again.
Was he handsome? Flor leaned forward.
Very. Tall. Red-headed. He was 24.
Do you miss him? Flor whispered.
Mimi shook her head. Yes, I do miss him. Still. She sat waiting for the tears to recede.
I sat by his bed for weeks, months, through his fevers, convulsions. The nights were the worst; they seemed to last forever. I even doubted, when it got so bad, how much did I really love him?
And later wasn't easy either, after he… Mimi sniffled. She didn’t finish her sentence right away.
He was only 28 when he died. I worked and put myself through school, but he helped, the money from the life insurance, his money, helped. At nights, late at night, I felt he was with me when I was studying, memorizing. He had wanted me to go to school. Languages, he said, polish your Spanish, English, French. At first I wasn't sure it was right way to go. Study languages?
Then what? Flor asked.
He told me to take the exams for court interpreter, translator. He said, 'if you pass, you’ll be in a secure field. And even if you don't pass, study harder, take the exams again.' Mimi smiled.
Flor picked up her cue. And you passed on your first try.
Mimi's eyes were shiny. She got up, crossed the room, opened a drawer.
Here, I’ll show you a photo of George and me. She hands over the black and white photo. The one taken at BIMBO’s.
There, frozen in time, is a young woman who sits smiling next to her handsome date. He is wearing a suit and tie. Her dress is an icy blue. It has short sleeves and a boat-neck with folds that drape softly to her waist. She wears a necklace of many strands; it matches the one earring that can be seen in the photo.
His face, posing, leans against hers.
So what happened?
You know what happened. We married.
Oh, yes, I know. But how soon after this first date?
Mimi sits up straighter on the sofa. Smiles mischievously.
The next day.
Flor’s mouth opens. She doesn’t say anything.
Mimi nods. Everything I wore that night I wore the next day. We drove around the city and the next day found a Justice of the Peace.
I had no idea, Flor said, softly.
After the ceremony, Mimi reminisces, we ended up at Angelita's home on Pacific Avenue, near where Kearny hits the coast.
Her eyes are dreamy again. What I remember most are the fog horns. We stood on the rocks, listened, but even when we went inside, kept hearing them loud and clear. We stood again on the rocks the next morning, our arms around each other.
I was a fragile 19-year old, Mimi says laughing. Thank goodness I didn’t get blown away by the wind.
Flor doesn't want to break the spell. She is thinking, Fragile? Mimi is talking about losing her husband a few years later, so early in their marriage?
The two women sat there, together, Flor staring at Mimi, until it was time to go.
Camincha is a pen name for a writer living in the Bay Area of California. She is a frequent contributor to MyStoryLives.