Dec 6, 2020

In Paris, after our landing in Le Havre the previous summer, I’d swung through the rainy streets with a boy from our program named Pete—on our way to buy him an umbrella. He was an economics major—handsome and outgoing, with an amiable charm. From time to time during the year we found ourselves together, and I would get my hopes up that it was the beginning of something, but he would always back off.

“At the party Pete told me about the book The Games People Play and we went to the kitchen to try our hand at tortillas, but there weren’t any eggs in the fridge. ‘Por fin y al cabo’ we ate at the university cafeteria and went walking through a park—the grass was wet, the night balmy. There were shadowy figures on benches, low murmurs. Pete carried me over a hedge. I was amazed at how easily he lifted me up. I said one or two things that made him laugh—like pointing out the constellation Orion with his three belly buttons. But it wouldn’t have been necessary to talk at all if he had held my hand. Debbie and Bruce were walking hand-in-hand. His aloofness began to bother me, and I started to tense up. The walk home was uncomfortable, the lack of physical contact so unnatural I think it upset us both. The evening just fell off; he clapped for the sereno, said ‘Adios!’—that was it. I wondered if he would ever ask me out again. I thought he wouldn’t, and I swore to protect my feelings no matter what happened.”

Then, on a trip with some girlfriends, we missed the train back to Madrid and disagreed about what to do. While two stayed behind to wait for the next train, two of us went to the outskirts of town to hitch a ride. There on the shoulder of the road was Pete with a male friend. He and I hitchhiked together that afternoon and shared a room in a pension that night. And although nothing happened, the intimacy of the situation caused something in our friendship to shift.

I found out from Wendy, who was dating a friend of Pete’s, that he had a girlfriend back in the States, which I realized had been the obstacle all along. That spring we hitchhiked to Portugal together. He was great fun to travel with—being ingratiating enough for the TWO of us—and people responded with warmth wherever we went. He didn’t speak any more Portuguese than I did, but had no inhibition about speaking Spanish and changing just the endings of words to approximate Portuguese.

One afternoon we found ourselves on the wrong bus, so the driver let us off along a country road, directing us across a valley to a distant road somewhere on the other side. We waded through a field of wildflowers that streamed up and over the steep hills to either side, the two of us getting giddier and more intoxicated with the natural beauty as we went. We wanted to touch each other but were too shy, so we horsed around instead, frolicked and chased each other until we finally collapsed, exhausted, on the ground. Beneath the flowers, mint was growing everywhere, and when Pete finally kissed me, his hair, his clothes, everything smelled of mint.