Friday, April 13, 2012
I met Josefina at a wedding in Toronto in 2005. She was the younger sister of the bride, and I was tagging along with my older sister, who'd been in a touring dance group with the groom. The first time I saw her was at her house the night before the big day; she was sitting on the floor in the kitchen writing place settings. I noticed her immediately – she looked like a young Penelope Cruz with dark eyes, dark eyebrows, long hair and golden skin – but we were ushered out as quickly as we arrived so all I got was a quick glance but no introduction. The next day I sat behind her during the service and spent more time admiring the back of her neck than I did concentrating on the vows. As the night wore on, I positioned myself directly opposite her at every opportunity, staring at her with what I hoped was a seductive intensity.
I never actually mustered up the courage to speak to her at the wedding, but every so often I'd catch her eye and hold it for as long as I possibly could. Two days later, a big group of us went to a movie, and when we walked out, she just happened to be standing outside the cinema. My sister very helpfully invited her to lunch and this time I sat next to her. We talked a little bit, but I spent most of the time singing La Bamba at the top of my lungs – I'd learned that she was from Colombia and it was the only Spanish thing I knew. (I quickly picked up a riff on the classic mi casa es su casa – mi cama es su cama.)
The next few days we were inseparable. Where I went, she went, where she went I went. We walked, we talked, we shopped, we drank coffee, we stayed up late, she fell asleep on my shoulder. It was amazing and innocent and fun and it felt a lot like love.
On the final day, she came to the airport. We kissed and said goodbye and I walked away feeling like I was making the biggest mistake of my life. The next day, in San Francisco, I sent her a cinematic and hyperbolically worded email telling her exactly how I felt. She replied saying she liked me too but that it was probably better that we looked at it for what it was as opposed to anything else due to the obvious geographic complication. But I wouldn't take no for an answer.
I began emailing her every day, then chatting to her on MSN Messenger, then calling her from phone cards. I did everything in my power to make her fall in love with me, and it worked. We made a plan – as soon as I finished university, I'd move back home to Christchurch for five months and save up enough money to move over to Toronto permanently.
As time passed, the realities of a long distance relationship (pre-Skype) became apparent. I found that the longer I was away from her, the less I'd think about her. Absence did not make this heart grow fonder. Words came easily in emails and on phone calls, but my focus shifted from her to everything else that was far more accessible – and tangible.
One thing remained constant – I was moving to Toronto. So when I finished university I moved back home like planned, worked two jobs six days a week for five months, saved up a giant chunk of money and left New Zealand - first for the Middle East, then Europe, then New York, then Toronto. On the flight over from New York I remember thinking, 'Well, this is a surreal experience. You're moving to another country to be with a girl that you're not even sure you like anymore.' The movie-like nature of the situation obviously appealed to me, but there were certainly moments of doubt.
Luckily, those doubts were assuaged the moment I saw her. She was more beautiful than I remembered, and just being in her presence brought all those feelings flooding back. Once again, we became inseparable, and for a while, I was happy.
As a career-oriented person, work has always been of utmost importance to me. But in Toronto, despite my experience working for the top menswear designer in New Zealand, my university degree and my extraordinarily charming personality, I could not get a job in my field. I tried PR agencies, no dice. Fashion TV, no response. Magazines, nothing. Even American Apparel wouldn't hire me for their retail store, no matter how many times I applied (and I applied something like seven times).
One day I walked into a food spot named Burrito Boyz and ordered a quesadilla. The 40 year old guy behind the counter asked me where I was from and what I was doing there and I gave him the spiel – making sure to mention that I was looking for work. He looked at me for a second and said, "Be here at 8:30 tomorrow morning. You've got the job."
Literally three days later I went for a walk in a park by my house and started playing catch with these two guys, one of whom looked exactly like a 30 year old Jack Nicholson. We got talking, I gave them the spiel and they told me to turn up at their upmarket Italian resto-lounge (I kid you not) the next day.
I was back to square one – working two jobs six days a week, then spending every other waking hour with Josefina. I was happy with her, but I wasn't happy in Toronto. I had that nagging feeling that I was just coasting along until the day when I'd eventually pull the pin. It didn't take long.
After three months, I'd had enough. I'd been gone from New Zealand for seven months, I was freaking out about my career (or lack thereof) and I knew I'd have better opportunities at home. So I told her I was leaving. She was devastated, but she knew I'd made my mind up. I booked a flight for 18 days later, gave notice at my jobs and began to prepare to leave.
Josefina would come visit me at Burrito Boyz and every time she walked in the door and I saw her, I'd have to look away so that I didn't start crying. I got that nagging feeling that maybe I was making a terrible mistake, but my career seemed more important to me.
The day I left was hideous. We cried for hours, she was a total wreck and it killed me to walk away from her when she was breaking down in the airport. But I had to do it. A funny thing happened on the flight to Los Angeles – I was suddenly struck by an overwhelming sense of relief. I was going home, I'd managed to get out of a place I couldn't stand and maybe the relationship wouldn't have worked out anyway.
When I arrived back in New Zealand, there was an email from Josefina to say that she'd bought a ticket to come visit for the summer. She'd arrive in three months and spend six weeks with me. I was thrilled, but as the weeks dragged on, the same thing happened again – the longer we were apart, the less I thought about her.
She arrived in New Zealand and we spent six amazing weeks together. My friends loved her, my family loved her, and all was well with the world. But that nagging feeling I'd kept getting in Toronto when I couldn't find a job kept coming back. It started off small, but the more time we spent together the more I felt it. We were not well suited temperamentally: She was quiet, I was loud; she didn't like big groups of people, I thrived in them; she'd use the silent treatment when she got upset (which was regularly), I'd scream and shout.
We were happy together and I loved her, but I didn't know if I would ever fall in love with her. And since it hadn't happened yet, I suspected that it quite possibly never would. I mentioned it to her in passing one day, as you do, and it did not go down well.
The day she left was hideous once more. We cried, we hugged, we both felt like the world was going to end. But the next day was a repeat of what had happened on the flight to LA – I felt oddly calm with the separation. This was mid-January. When she arrived home, she emailed me to say that she wanted to move back to New Zealand in June, for good. I immediately agreed.
Then, a few things happened in short sequence: My grandfather became very sick, very quickly, a male model from America moved into my spare bedroom and I met another girl. It was a time of highly charged emotions – in order to deal with the extreme grief I was experiencing as I heard daily reports of my grandfather's swift decline, I began partying every day, and I felt justified in my selfish behaviour. I still spoke with Josefina, but it was always on the way out the door, or coming home from a late night out, or when nobody else was around to deal with my impending train wreck.
It came to a head one night in late May after Grandad died. I was with the other girl, I hadn't spoken to Josefina in 10 days (the longest we'd ever not talked in two years), and she called my cellphone. I didn't pick up. The next day I called her, and she was very upset. Without thinking through it, I told her not to come to New Zealand.
And that was that.
I jumped straight into a relationship with the other girl, and tried to block Josefina from my mind. But it didn't work. I kept calling and emailing, despite her repeatedly asking me not to, and attempted to salvage some form of friendship, or anything to allow me to keep in touch with her. After a while she simply stopped replying to my emails and answering my calls. But nine months later, I had a breakthrough. My sister had decided to return to Toronto for a reunion and I told Josefina I wanted to go too. She said it'd be good to see me.
By this stage, Josefina had started dating a new guy. By all accounts he was safe, and reliable (the antithesis to me), and so self assured that according to her, he wasn't worried if we spent a few days together in Toronto. I booked my flights and prepared myself to leave, telling the other girl it wasn't going to work out.
When I flew into New York, there was an email sitting in my inbox from Josefina. It was two lines long – 'I've changed my mind, I don't want to see you. I'm not putting myself through this again.' I emailed her straight back telling her I'd come all this way just to see her, but she wouldn't budge.
Sure enough, when I arrived in Toronto the next day, she wasn't at the airport. I called her from a payphone that afternoon and she told me she was busy. Let me tell you the very definition of frustration – spending two weeks in a city you hate with the friends and family members of a girl you've flown halfway around the world to see. I emailed her again and again, and she finally conceded to go to dinner with me on one condition – she could invite as many people as she liked, including her boyfriend. I had no choice.
We arranged to meet at an Ethiopian restaurant downtown. I was the last to arrive. When I walked in, everyone turned to stare – she'd invited 15 friends, and there was one empty seat; it was on the diagonally opposite corner from where she was sitting across the other side of the table. Conversation was impossible. I attempted to call down to her a couple of times, but her replies were monotonous and apathetic.
It was a three hour ordeal that I'll forever remember as being the most awkward dinner of my life (it is no doubt also the culprit for my extreme dislike for Ethiopian restaurants).
When it was done, she got up, said goodbye, and walked out. And I never saw her again. That was June 2007.
Why am I telling you this story after all this time? Because Josefina is coming to New York tomorrow to visit me for six hours enroute to Colombia. Maybe I'll take her out for Ethiopian food.
I LIKE YOU!