Like a whirlwind of color, you flew into the room. Perfectly poised, with a suede hat and matching gloves you commanded attention instantly. From the moment I met you I could tell you were type of women that men notice. The type of women that leaves other women checking for smudged mascara. You looked the part of a 20’s flapper who was the talk of town. You turned heads with a sly smile. You knew your power and you used it well. And I loved it. I had never met anyone like you. So confident. So bold.
When you spoke, it was fast and exciting. It seemed as if you were always grasping for air, for the right combination of words to get across exactly what you wanted to say. Always excited, always energetic, with an opinion that just must be shared, you had an energy that was infectious.
There in a dimly lit wine bar, on a street in the center of Valencia, I met you for the very first time. I had just landed in Spain and after meeting up with an old friend, a group of us went out wine drinking. It was late in the night when you met us. And you didn’t stay long, but you made an impression in such a short time.
With a wine glass in one hand, You were switching languages every few sentences in order to converse with everyone at the two small tables we had shoved together in a corner. We were several wine bottles in and the conversation was comfortable and slow. It was a uncommon group sitting around that table that night. We were a group of half strangers. By my side was my teammate who I had dragged along to Spain. Next to her, my old friend Jose, our host for the week. As we made our way around the table there was Jose’s girlfriend, who didn’t speak a word of English, but who was kind and did her best to try and have a conversation with my broken Spanish. Across from her was Jose’s best friend who I had met the summer before and considered a friend. Then finally, you Natalya, the cousin of Jose’s girlfriend. All of us were half strangers, and for most of us, it was the first time we had met. But to anyone looking on, this group of half strangers seemed like old friends, catching up one night in a Spanish wine bar.
I had lost count of how many glasses of wine I had had that night. Somewhere around glass number eight, you leaned across the table and with an air of sincerity and importance, you declared that as soon as my teammate and I returned from Malta, you would host a great dinner party at your house for us. Flattered, I agreed instantly. Here I was, just a stranger to you. We could have gone our entire ives without ever meeting again. But we had a dinner party, and I am so glad that we did.
Less than a week later, the same group of half strangers arrived at your doorstep with wine in hand, ready for some classic spanish cuisine. We were a bit early and you had just gotten home. Dressed to the tens as always, you were flawless, even after a day of running around the city. It didn’t take long for everyone to start cooking and for me to find myself sitting at the table, wine in hand, talking to you about love.
Somehow, while we were sitting there drinking our wine, everyone else had started preparing dinner. I was in awe of how you had orchestrated an entire dinner party that did not involve lifting a finger. Your brother was off creating sauces, Jose was in charge of the main meal. An uncle of sorts was bringing home the fresh bread. It was all sorted and beginning to smell divine. We were left to simply sit, laugh and share stories.
There’s something about a conversation with strangers, or even half strangers that I constantly seek, a level of openness that is new and addictive. I barely knew you, yet somehow we could talk about something so personal, so intimate as love. There was no need for weather, or common questions. This was no interview, just two strangers, sharing ideas, thoughts and theories on what we all are searching for: love.
You were no rookie to the idea of romance. In your mid twenties, you had found romance all over the European continent. You had boys falling at your feet and men begging for your hand. But being young, beautiful, and successful, you needed something more than fleeting romance. I was inspired by you. Like a classic character from a romance novel, you waltzed around romance in your six inch heels, having the time of your life.
And it was in that tiny kitchen in the countryside of Spain, that you taught young, naive, twenty year old me that love is meant to be felt with more than just one emotion. It can’t be something I chose to do on a whim. Its not like choosing a show to watch. You can’t turn it on and off when it suits you. Love entails it all; lust, frustration, anger, sadness. It is easy to fixate on the physical and have small flings or crushes, but it will never be enough. Not really.
There were two boys in the picture for you that one night in Spain as we sat in your kitchen.
The first was a friend of your brothers. He was younger than you by about for years and very, very handsome. You showed all us girls his picture and, to the cringe of your brother, you talked about how with him, sex was all he could offer. He just kept telling you that you were pretty. It was then that you said something so simple, that would change how I would view myself for the rest of my twenties.
“I don’t need him to tell me I’m pretty. I know that I’m pretty. I need something… Some challenge, something…more you know?”
Oh did I know.
For the longest time I had chased boys who chased me. It was always about being pretty enough for them. It was never about how intelligent I was, or athletic, or well traveled. It always fixated on pretty. But after meeting you, I no longer need boys to tell me I was pretty. What more can they bring to my life? What more do they have to offer? You taught me to be more than just pretty.
The second boy in your life was hardly a boy. He was older, masculine and living his own life. It was him you were fixated on because with him, you could have conversations that would last all night. You’d argue and kiss and every emotion was felt. This was what it meant to be, at least a little bit, in love with someone.
We carried on chatting with the others for hours that night. We talked about everything from politics to princes. It was the type of night that no matter how hard I try to recreate it at home, its never quite the same. Maybe it was the fact I was miles and miles from the familiar. Or maybe just the beauty of having a table full of half strangers. Either way, it was quite a night.
So dearest Natalya, I can not wait until our next dinner party. We can trade the Spanish countryside for the hills of Napa, California. We can talk love and men over delicious food. You inspired me to be the greatest woman I can be, to love myself for more than just pretty. Muchas gracias mi amor.