Years later I heard my husband Francis’ version of the story of the first time we met.
Worried he might have trouble finding the address, he had been the first guest to arrive for the Saint Patrick’s Day party, but the Irish girls had already started the party, so to speak, by themselves while setting up and decorating the place with big green paper clovers. I suppose they felt the need to taste-test the foreign beverages before offering them to guests because they were already a bit tipsy when he got there. Naturally, as conscientious hostesses they’d had to try various combinations of the florescent colored mixers and wine coolers they’d discovered at the French supermarket.
The “girl he fancied” answered the door when he arrived. What happened next is a bit of a mystery.
He says she threw her arms around him and kissed him.
She said he kissed her.
I wasn’t there but I suspect what happened was a classic mishap. He probably tried to greet her with a typical French gesture called “La Bise” which is a casual exchange of a series of kisses on alternating cheeks. She probably turned her head to the left when she was supposed to go right. When their lips collided, in her tipsy state and given her crush on him, she was probably only too eager to assume HE’d intended to kiss her so she welcomed his lips and threw herself whole heartedly into it, thus advancing the exchange to a passionate level. So, of course, he assumed SHE’d done it on purpose.
All I know is that by the time I arrived with my two other musketeers, Lea and Leif, (fashionably late of course) the party was in full swing. When the door opened, we were engulfed in dance music, laughter and the din of too many indistinguishable voices. Francis and the Irish girl weren’t far behind the door, she was wrapped around him like a tennis sweater: a look that made him decidedly less attractive in my eyes. I guess he didn’t notice us enter because his story picks up again later in the evening in the kitchen.
Leif, Leah and I quickly agreed that we’d put in an appearance for about an hour and then head back up to my apartment.
The living room was packed. The music was loud and the conversations being shouted over it were even louder.
Somehow we managed to forge a path over to the drinks.
I couldn’t find anything that looked potable but my friends were less picky, taking chartreuse and highlighter-yellow concoctions. As Leif and Leah made their way through the labyrinth of people, their plastic cups regularly bobbed and sloshed above the heads of the crowd each time that one of them attempted to avoid total spillage in collision after collision with unsteady drunks and exuberant dancers. Like a tourist following an umbrella-bearing majorette-like guide, I used sporadic sightings of their clear plastic cups filled with florescent liquids to guide me through the room.
I could feel the soles of my shoes alternating between sticking to the floor and slipping with each step.
A cold blast of air perfumed the room with cigarette smoke. A guy had slid open the sliding glass door to rejoin the party. The entire front wall of the room was glass windows that were opaque with condensation. The shock of cold air drew my attention and through the open door I could see that the balcony was crowded with red nosed smokers whose steamy breath mingled with the ephemeral wisps of white smoke that feathered its way across the dark sky. Some were chatting, others kissing.
We just wanted to find a quiet little corner where we could chat. So I followed my friends on a tour of the apartment.
The hallway was lined with partiers waiting for the “loo”. Some appeared to have been waiting for a bit too long and were looking a bit queasy.
The bedrooms were occupied.
We had to traverse the main room again. Leif forged a path through the throngs of drinkers. He turned back to shout something at us, but all I could see were his lips moving. He was jerking his empty cup in the general direction of the kitchen. So, Leah and I continued straight for the kitchen while he made a detour to refuel.
The kitchen was illuminated with the harsh flickering light of a florescent tube that scared away the merry makers. It was virtually empty. A couple very tipsy girls were wobbling as they struggled to put bottles and cans in an overly full plastic garbage bag. A group of four people were gathered in the far corner of the room talking. Among them, Francis.
Francis had somehow managed to disentangle himself from his other half and was sitting on the table chatting.
Leah pulled me over to the wall opposite Francis where she could admire Francis’s shirt which was inspired by some Irish sport jersey but struck me more like a London-dance-club look. Not that I would have been an authority on what people wear in London nightclubs, having never even been to London. But that was what I thought. She and I leaned against the wall and started talking. I had my back to the door but I noticed that gradually people were leaving and entered the room.
Leif came up from behind me. He’d instantly noticed Francis and teased Leah and me that we would make excellent accessories for his shirt now that he’d lost the woman he had been wearing. Of course, he was just giving us a hard time and making sure that we noticed Francis had lost his “tennis sweater”.
Like clockwork, the conversation quickly turned to my favorite topic: my fabulous fashion sense. Leif, acting as if he’d only just seen me for the first time that night, suddenly noticed what I was wearing. With a mock-sympathetic face he informed me that, actually wearing me on his arm in my current outfit would be a serious fashion blunder that he couldn’t imagine Francis making.
Ha, ha, ha. I replied flatly.
I mean, they could have given me a break. I could hardly be expected to be Eurochic: I’d grown up in a small rural town in the Appalachian foothills of Ohio and gone to college in a rural Appalachian town in Vermont. That night I was showing my roots, no industrial edge. They decided my look was called “farm girl”.
“It really matters how I dress.” I said sarcastically to try to get them off my case.
“It should!” They informed me. This was the first time they’d really seen me crack. And they seemed poised like pumas to take advantage of the first window I’d given them into persuading me to be fashionable.
“But who cares?” I asked. Another, stupid, question –I know. I was just falling deeper into the trap. They told me that although I clearly did not care, I should.
Leif knew how to seize an opportunity. Now that he’d broken me down: he stroked my ego. “You could look beautiful.” He undid my typical every-day ponytail. My blond hair fell down over my shoulders. He played with it tucking it up, twisting parts back. “What do you think Leah?” He wanted to give me something called a “stacked cut” with a “bleached front”. He might as well have been talking about building construction and cleaning materials, for all I knew.
The florescent beverages had probably gone to my companion’s heads because things got a bit out of hand… in my opinion. More people were brushing past me as they came and went.
And just look at this body you are hiding.” He said, deftly undoing the bib of my overalls and carefully catching it around my waist with one arm so that he only revealed to everyone in the kitchen that I was wearing an uncomfortably fitted t-shirt that gave away every curve of my body. It was what I would have considered an “undershirt” and I wore it “under” sweaters or bib overalls. He illustrated to Leah’s approval, the “wondrous” contours I was hiding from the world.
I reclaimed my body. Rebuckled my straps. And, I strode defiantly across the room with them calling me back and telling me to be a good sport.
I’m not sure exactly how it happened. All I know is that I wound up engaged in conversation with Francis, who I hoped had not watched the whole mock make-over debacle. He probably asked why I didn’t have a drink, or something. I only remember a couple of things about the conversation. It was in French, of course, because even though he’d just returned from a year in Ireland, his philosophy was that you should speak the language of the country you are in unless you are with other non-native speakers. I vividly recall him extolling the merits of Guinness and me making the blasphemous argument that Murphy’s was better (which was a bit ironic since I’d only jut recently discovered either of them).
The first time I heard Francis tell his version of this story, he kept it short simply saying “The first time I saw her, I knew that she was ‘the one’.”
Of course, my friends disappeared. I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt and assume they went to keep each other company while waiting in line for the bathroom. But, honestly, that seems unlikely since we were headed up to my apartment where they wouldn’t have to wait in line.
I don’t know how the conversation carried on, but I know we talked for a good while. You’d expect me to be nervous. But, despite my first impressions of him, there was no reason to be nervous. He was taken. And, besides, I would be leaving in three months to spend the summer exploring Europe with a Eurail Pass my family had all pitched in together to buy for me. After that, back to the States!
Leah and Leif finally resurfaced and we went back to my apartment, per plan.
Then the most unexpected thing happened…