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My Big Red Couch

Saturday, April 16, 2005

The Most Beautiful Woman I Had Ever Met

For the past week or so people from my past have been popping into my head. It usually happens in the morning, around 10am. I'll be working, drinking coffee, whatever and out of the blue somebody's face or a conversation from the past will pop into my mind's eye. Is this a named phenomenon? Am I coming down with some disease/disorder?

I was at a fund raising dinner for 4A's tonight that was also a part of the favorite poem project. I heard a dozen or so poems and they were all delivered from the heart. There I was, somewhere between the main course and desert, and she popped into my head. I didn't dwell on her for long but I couldn't let the image go so here's the story.

When I was 8 I lived in Valdez, Alaska. It was 1976 and Valdez was busy building the marine terminal of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline. My father worked for the only Engineering company in town and one of the engineers was from India. He had to take time off from work to go to India and get his bride, a woman he had been engaged to since shortly after her birth.

I was 8 and I knew nothing about women or sex or beauty. I only knew that it was fun to play in the woods between South Central #1 and South Central #2, both being trailer parks, or over at the Harris Sand & Gravel pit. During the pipeline construction nearly three-quarters of the population of Valdez lived in some form of housing that at one time had wheels under it in the not so distant past. I knew that the sun came up early and went down late and this was my time. One night I had angered my mother, she has told this story often, and she locked me out of the house after dinner and said “don’t come home until it’s dark.” In Valdez, Alaska in June the sun goes down behind the mountains around 10pm but it doesn’t ever GET dark, only dim. As she tells it I fell asleep on the porch and my father had to carry me in to my bed.

The engineer’s name was Hasmukh and I knew him as a small round man with big glasses and I don’t remember his wife’s name. Valdez had about 7,000 people during the construction (this dropped to about 2,500 after the terminal was completed) and whenever a new family moved in it was news. My mom was always social and was either volunteered or self appointed as the welcome wagon for the bride. “She’s coming from half way around the world. It must be a huge transition,” she said by way of offering some help.

I don’t ever recall seeing her after that summer but I do remember either being sent to her house to deliver something or going over there to get something. My friend Ben was with me or maybe it was his little brother Justin. We walked through the woods from South Center #1, where the company trailers were, to South Central #3, where the honeymoon trailer was. I remember being surrounded by these massive aluminum trailer houses, with their aluminum skirting and barrels filled with cement attached to cables that ran over the tops of them (commonly called tie-downs). There were vehicles in various states of disarray, garbage here and there and there was always somebody or something coming or going. We walked to the honeymoon trailer and I remember going up the small flight of steps and knocking on the door.

Knock, knock.

She opened the door a crack and the most wonderful smell I had ever smelled came out. It was spice. It was sweet. It was harsh. It was overwhelming. I cannot name what I smelled because I did not have the words at the time. It was otherworldly.

She opened the door more and I saw her. She was radiant. If I had to guess she was 19 or 20. She was wrapped in a colorful sari and her head was covered with a shawl. She was slight, small boned, a girl swaddled in vibrant color. She had the red dot in the center of her forehead but, even at age 8, I was polite enough to look past it. But I wasn’t looking past it. I was overcome by her beauty. I cannot describe her face because it was too radiant for me to remember. All I know is that she is what beauty meant.

I don’t think she spoke any English. I remember her motioning for us to come in. Her house could have been made of gingerbread, albeit gingerbread with wheels under it, and filled with candy as entranced with her as I was. We went in. She offered us a plate of something. It was cookie/pastry-ish and was delicious. It had a paste like texture and I know now that a lot of the flavor came from ginger. It was delicious even to my childhood palate. It was sweet but not sugary. It was spicy but not overpowering or maybe the spice smell of her trailer house took away from the cookie/pastry. I do not know.

The house was filled with large pillows and warm fabrics. It was an oasis although I did not know what that was at the time either. Ben or maybe Justin and I sat and ate and said nothing to each other, we had nothing to say, or to her, she shouldn’t have understood, and finished off the plate of a dozen cookie/pastries. She smiled as we ate and I remember whiter than white teeth between thin lips in a dark face. Beauty made more extreme with the juxtaposition in her face of light and dark

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