Revisiting Carina, Part II:
Seattle from My Bedroom
“Yes, I got it,” she said.
“Do you like it?”
“I love it, Jeff. Thank you.”
“It’s right by my bed; I look at it every night before I sleep.”
With my very tenuous handwriting, I had a week before written on a padded envelope her host family’s address, stuffing inside a note along with one of the pictures taken of us by Montjuïc inside a twisted metal frame that I had purchased at the pharmacy where I worked during the summers.
I know I sent letters, but I don’t think I got any back; we did manage to talk on the phone, about once a month. I would call, a member of her host family picked up (usually the father or daughter, seldom the mother, although I found that existed), there would be the sound of the receiver hitting the counter, and socked feet padding about, yelling to Carina, who was in her room.
“How is English going?”
“You enjoying it?”
“It’s so-so. It’s me and like 20 Asians.”
We talked of Christmas occasionally.
“It would be like a dream to be back in Avon!” (Volver a Avon – qué ilusión!)
“You’d stay with me?”
“Of course; your parents wouldn’t mind?”
“They love having company.”
“And we have a guest room and everything.”
“I wrote a song for you.”
“I don’t know.”
“When do I hear it?”
“When I see you in Connecticut.”
Regarding the prospective visit: I sought permission from my parents, which was granted, complete with chiding from my father; I performed the song in front of an audience in my sophomore dorm, which gained tentative applause among most, and a few whoops from friends; I changed a few things. It was October, I was a student, and I had hopes.
In November, though, there was an e-mail: she was cutting her year short in Seattle, to complete just one semester before voyaging to Germany (“BASF – the chemical company!” she would chime years later), where she would take a job.
Then it was Christmas break, and after dropping a friend off at home, I drove home, towards midnight, the suburban roads deserted, with nothing to interrupt my wandering thoughts: the non-event of seeing my friend had Carina been here, if she had been there, would we have kissed, if we did, where we’d have done so, and if, in this case, a kiss was just a kiss.
I had taken a creative writing workshop the semester in which I phoned Seattle in my small, thin-walled singled. It was a humbling experience, which was well-timed, given the merit I attached to some of my high school works which, looking back, were, simply put, awful. It was in this workshop that I discovered that narrative poetry was more rewarding to write than lyric, and that creative non-fiction was fertile ground that I had theretofore ignored.
Late that spring, upon a somewhat successful completion of that workshop, I sat down to write a piece that straddled fiction and non-fiction. I was probably duly influenced by the conversations in I had on those Tuesday and Thursday afternoons, discussing the differences between “frolic” and “romp,” and debating the exact size of a “dollop” and whether such a thing would appear on a pancake, and from Soldados de Salamina, a book that I was reading for a Spanish class. In it, the author, Javier Cercas, penned himself into the novel in such a way that sounded biographical (taking the time to include details on his feigned marital strife, etc.); in his interviews surrounding the book, however, he would later insist that the details were, in fact, fiction.
The geography of the book, which takes place largely in Catalonia (if memory serves), of course, served as a simpler means by which I might return to thinking about her; the general theme of the book, of an author (real or augmented) in search of something (in the case of Soldados, a soldier who spares the life of an enemy), the making the connection becomes simpler still. Add to this the fact that the professor, a certain Llorenç, was Catalan, and had just that semester seen the photos that I had taken while abroad, and the reasons why the need to narrate yet again should be at this point sufficiently revealed.
It was an interesting and much needed departure from previous attempts at penning the entire experience of Carina. The influences of my professors, mostly non-creative writing types, made themselves apparent in the narrative. I shared it with a few friends for feedback, heard back from fewer, let it travel from hard drive to hard drive (there’s a paper copy somewhere), opened just recently to remind me of a few details I might have forgotten, and in so doing, challenging myself to distinguish what parts were real from the beginning, and what parts have since become true.
It was, in short, my sole means of communicating with her for the better part of the spring, and even this was quite one way; the phone calls, once she returned to Germany, were replaced by the process of writing that story, reading it, revising it, and, since at the time, I found them to be particularly clever, finding the perfect epigraph from Mr. Borges: “…el terreno de mañana es demasiado inseguro para planes…y los futuros tienen una forma de caerse en la mitad. / …tomorrow’s terrain is too uncertain for plans, and the future has a way of falling apart in the middle.”
When a friend showed me that poem two minutes before an evening lecture began, I nodded, looked at him, muttered, “Wow,” and then opened my notebook, readying myself to write down interesting things about trouvères and troubadours, Lancelot, and the relatively tenuous biographies of Chrétien de Troyes.