I moved to Romania for a year in 1996. There was a decaying Deco mall in Temesvar dropping chunks of leaded glass. My boyfriend’s turned up nose reddened in the cold under a fedora that an old Bulgarian restaurateur gave him, a remnant of commie Black Sea resort culture. As the plane had pulled away, Portland faded out beneath me in grayed-out swaths of rowhouses and boulevards. My boyfriend had another girlfriend, a Hungarian village girl who didn’t realize M and I were sharing a bed. There was a hotel in Iasi with white stucco and marrow-red curtains all down the gusting hallways, gypsy kiddos carrying mangy lambs in the smelly passageways of trains, a bright blue van on bright orange fire in front of lengths of unfinished apartment blocks. I tried to explain to Ildiko but was hindered by my lack of either Hungarian or the ability to sketch this in a socially tactful manner.
My mind turned into a little pocket Instamatic. I wanted to carry a super-8 camera and install a system of surveillance cameras throughout the entire region so I could adequately capture the intensity of the moment, which sometimes I couldn’t quite believe was happening. The time we were interrogated by the Serbian police and slept in a dairy factory, the laziness of 3 a.m. wrapping my hand around M’s groin and holding on as if for comfort, the first time I ever lived with a man. I came home and no one was as interested in these stories as I wanted them to be and this made me want to write a novel.
I moved to Portland and dumped M, or maybe he dumped me, it was hard to tell. First he moved out, then he made friends with B, then B and I started taking long smoke breaks during parties, the chili pepper lights glancing off the light yellow flecks in his moss-green eyes. I felt like I was melting into the crystalline structures of his irises, standing there inches away from the resiny wood smoke smell of his aftershave, and I totally forgot to notice how to describe them to myself later. Then M went down on his knees, literally, and asked me to move back in with him. B and I had already spent hours stroking each other’s hair, freaked out about who kissed who first on the stairs at Mt. Tabor Park and what that meant, taken snaps of me posing riding a brass lion the size of a VW Rabbit in B.C. There was no way M could get me back, for in B’s presence, somehow I didn’t need to record or monitor.
We moved in together and I learned to revel in the furry line of his happy trail, not that I got to follow it all that often. We noticed pigeons, and swans in Victoria Park, any pair of birds that mated for life basically. We mentioned these moments in birthday or anniversary cards. We wrote them in the inscriptions on books and mementos. He turned out to be more of a strictly affectionate person once we were living together, which was disappointing given my love of giving head, among other things. We took many photographs of our vacations together including some in different countries, of us remodeling the 1904 Victorian he bought, of him pretending to spank me with a 2’x4’ on Nye Beach, and I put them in photo albums with catchy captions. Before we got engaged, I cheated on him with an old boyfriend at my girlfriend’s wedding and admitted it, and he said he forgave me.
The birds turned into a symbol, and we put them on our wedding invitations. We tried to eat game birds at an anniversary dinner at a ruinously good restaurant and couldn’t do it. The sex had been the kind where you can’t focus on anything else but the sensations, the kind I wanted us to have. We went on a tour of Eastern Europe for our honeymoon and took a picture of me riding a brass lion the size of a VW Rabbit that we found in Prague. We went to all the places I went to with M in Romania, and many more. We put a pair of mating birds on our illustrated Jewish wedding contract, for which I ordered an enormous gold frame for and hung prominently in the hallway, a piece of paper I wound up burning later in a barbeque, not wanting to remember that moment anymore.
B left me, eight years in, out of what appears to have been a tragic sense of disappointment, at least from what he told me. The house we lived in is sold and gone, and now I watch the pale sky wash out from the patio in back of my new forties townhouse, a sluice of gray light over the glistening wet maple leaves, hoping for a fat orange harvest moon to come shock me into standing there, jaw dropped, thinking nothing at all.