Pic supplkied by author
Maria and I decided to postpone the remainder of our interview for another time since we´d already spent five hours conversing at the restaurant and were both emotionally drained. I asked if she´d like to stop by my flat the following day and continue the conversation. I was fascinated by her story and felt privileged that she shared such intimate details with me.
The next afternoon, she came by and almost immediately began her story where she´d previously left off. I poured us each a glass of wine and placed a tray of sliced cheese and mini-sandwiches on the coffee table.
After speaking for a short time, she turned to me and asked off-handedly, “Who am I today? When I slip into my reverie of the seventies, I see myself as I appeared then, and believe that I am the same me now – though transformed into a considerably older version. The receding hairline, the inevitable wrinkles, thinning hair laden with more than a few swaths of grey, and the sagging anatomy, all present themselves around aged fifty. Say nothing of the accompanying aches and pains. Time has taken its toll on me, and I accept that fact, but adamantly refuse to embrace it.
“There still beats within a youthful heart and a spirit that eagerly anticipates each new day of my existence. I´ve traveled extensively and acquired a stellar group of friends. Been married twice and have decent relations with the exes, especially with my second husband who was a chef at a French restaurant in Toulouse where we first met. Together, we embarked on a culinary career which eventually led to us opening a café and settling in Spain. It was a successful venture, but we divorced shortly after that. I chose to remain in Madrid – once again single, relatively happy, but alone. I´ve no immediate family remaining except my grown-kids: free-spirited, attractive, level-headed people whom I like.
“I relate these facts to you so that you´ll be aware of my past circumstances and frame of mind.
“Colin and I continued our relationship throughout the seventies and late eighties with no sign of it ending. We continually spoke of a future together. There were weekend trips and evenings at the theater, but mainly he visited after work when we dined and slept together. I placed no demands on his time nor questioned him about his family life. Yet I did wonder how he so adeptly maneuvered his role as a business owner and family man while he spent many nights with me. I knew he had two young sons, the same as me. Apart from that, I displayed no curiosity about his other life and what he did when I wasn´t with him.
“That blissful period of imposed ignorance ended abruptly on a Saturday afternoon when I received a phone call at home. It was to become the worst day of my life.
“His wife had discovered our affair, and he called to explain the situation to me while she listened on the extension. He began, ‘Maria, I can´t see you again.’ Before I could question him, she came on the line. Her words were direct, ‘If you don´t end this affair, immediately, I will either kill him or one of our sons. And that will be on your conscience.’ With that, the call abruptly ended. Me, who I was that beautiful morning, had ceased to exist by mid-afternoon…”
I watched Maria´s face as she related this incident to me. I could see her re-living the painful memory of that day, and suggested we take a break and listen to some music, thinking that it would help to lighten the atmosphere. I turned on YouTube but forgetting that my video playlist began with the genius performances of the iconic Leonard Cohen, the famous American poet and songwriter. He wasn´t a strong vocalist but was brilliant enough to partner his mesmerizing voice and spoken words with extraordinary background singers and talented musicians. They meshed to create his particular style of music. It isn´t possible to hear the haunting lyrics of A Thousand Kisses Deep, You Got Me Singing, Hallelujah, or So Long, Marianne, and not comprehend the pain he endured because of unrequited love. Unfortunately, I hadn´t achieved the effect I´d desired.
Maria listened, glanced reflectively at me, and with a heavy sigh, resumed her story.
“It´s difficult to describe the sheer sense of abandonment that washed over me during the moments after the phone call. It was as if someone close to me had died, and I was inconsolable. It was also the day I planned to tell Colin that I was pregnant. And, of course, I had romanticized it, which is what women tend to do. We idiotically believe that having a baby when involved in a potentially doomed relationship will make everything all right. I don´t remember when or even why I´d stopped taking my birth control pills. But there was no plan. Over time, I think I´d just become complacent and took my safety for granted. But my love for this man was absolute.
“As the day progressed, I sank deeper into depression. I couldn´t imagine existing without him, much less bringing a new life into our world. I wasn´t able to come to grips with the finality of our relationship and sank into mind-numbing, soul-destroying despair. There was no way out for me. I needed to excise the pain, to free myself, and something inside me snapped.
“While my boys played with their toys, I closed myself in the bathroom, opened the medicine cabinet, uncapped two bottles of sleeping pills and Excedrin PMs, and swallowed as many as possible. It was neither melodrama nor a cry for help. I couldn´t cope any longer and believed this was my way out.
“I didn´t want Colin to bear the burden of the unfolding events nor would I permit him to share in a decision involving an abortion since it would serve no purpose, merely add to the real suffering.”
I butted in her winding and tortuous story. “Honey, my readers aren´t aware that I intend to write at length about your lives, but we have a great deal more to cover before I can prepare the book outline and I must complete this fact-finding introduction and synopsis first,” I told her. “I don´t want to minimize your suffering which precipitated the suicide attempt, and I appreciate that you´ve shared so much with me, but let´s fast-forward once again so we can lead up to the significance of those black pearls.”
“Alright,” Maria agreed and continued speaking more quickly. “I wasn´t physically in touch with Colin after the mid-nineties when we were heavily involved in making plans for his highly anticipated retirement. I was living in Toulouse at the time, and he planned to join me, but it never happened. I reasoned that either he had another woman or was still married. So I gave up. And his private life remained private.
“In 2004, as I was preparing to leave for Madrid, my home phone rang. The caller said he was Colin. However, the reception was so weak I could barely distinguish the words. I believe it was his voice that informed me that he was going into hospital to either have a liver or kidney transplant. Short call. Poor reception. I wasn´t able to call back and never heard from him again. Admittedly, it was a strange incident, and I could never determine the hospital he was going into, much less, which country.
“Over the years, I made several attempts to find him through social media but was finally forced to give up without success. Several Colins had replied to me, but none were him. I assumed that the transplant hadn´t taken and that he had died and it broke my heart. But I needed to accept that fact, relinquish my hold on the past and get on with my life.
“In 2018 when the news erupted about Cambridge Analytica utilizing our data with Facebook´s blessing, I was thoroughly disheartened: I´d trusted them and didn´t think for a minute that they´d sell our private information. I was so disillusioned that I came home, opened FB and started deleting any posts denoting personal information, family members´names and any unread communications.
“I cast a cursory glance at the many messages which hadn´t warranted my attention and proceeded to read and delete them all, one byone. When I reached the ninetieth, I noted surprisingly that Colin Schinn had been looking for me since 2005. His message stated that he still loved me and wanted to be with me, as always. The text indicated his landline, mobile number, email and a New York home address. As I reviewed the remaining messages, I realized that he had been trying to contact me on Facebook twice a year for the previous five years.
“My God in Heaven, this man is still alive. A variety of emotions washed over me, but it was vital that I hear his voice. Then, and only then, could I be sure that this wasn´t a dream. It was 3:00 PM my time, and I estimated that it would be six hours earlier for him, so I rang the mobile. He picked up almost immediately and said “Hello” rather quickly. My heart was pounding and I thought I wouldn´t be able to respond. Yet I did.
“‘Is that you, Colin?’ I asked.
“‘Is this Maria Valdez on the line?’
“‘Oh my God, oh my God. It really is you, Colin?’
“‘As real as I´ll ever be, my love.’
“I cannot describe my overwhelming joy. He was standing in the middle of a snowstorm and refused to go inside, afraid that the call would be disconnected. So, we spoke for hours. On the third day of our marathon conversations, and after we´d caught up on every last detail, he asked for my address so that he could send me a package.
“Within a week, I received a bulky envelope in the post. I opened a package that contained numerous lovely romantic pictures of us spanning four decades, an antique watch, memorabilia from our trips to Las Vegas when we were young, and souvenirs from events that we´d attended together. The last item that I opened was the light green jewelry box from so many years ago. It was the first time I´d seen the pearls since the eighties. But, more than that, I had never before touched them. I opened the box and removed the cotton filling. And on the bottom of the box were engraved the words, Reuben Ortega Jeweller, 10 Calle Princesa, Madrid, Spain – an address that was less than thirty minutes away.
“The full impact of that revelation hit me hard. During WWII, my mother´s German boyfriend purchased a set of black pearls when he was in Spain. He brought that gift to my mother who was living in New York at the time. Seventy-seven years later, those same pearls that had been safeguarded and cherished by Colin Schinn in New York for over forty years were returned to me, her daughter, who resides in Spain. What part did this scenario play in my destiny?”