I Remember My First Great American Love

I remember the first time I met Sophia at O’Hara’s the quintessential American café on Restaurant Row in Manhattan’s Theatre District, 35-years ago on the Tuesday before Good Friday.

I remember leaves sprouting after the long winter nakedness.

I remember she paused at the coat check.

I remember she had on a sleeveless, navy blue, pinch-pleated silk dress with spaghetti straps.

I remember her raven hair shining, cut to shoulder length, defining her facial features, smooth nose curving at the tip naturally.

I remember an enticing space between her top two teeth.

I remember her pearl-adorned neck.

I remember the dress hugged her slim waist where the flirty pleats began, hemmed just above her knees, revealing her long legs.

I remember she had on black pumps.

I remember she looked at the mirror behind the oak bar before walking to the corner table where I stood, my hand extended.

I remember heads whipped around.

I remember when our eyes met, I saw a yearning.

I remember offering her a chair.

I remember the scent of jasmine, pale rouge on her cheeks.

“What does the emblem on your blazer mean?” she said.

“Ad Aethera Tendens
(Fly high and higher)
Sri Pratap College
Srinagar Kashmir”

I remember adding, “Captain, cricket team.”

“Cashmere! Is that where wool comes from?” she said.

“Yes.” I said, “Woven into shawls for the Pashas. Hence, Pashmina.”

“Excuse my ignorance,” she said, gently sipping Pinot Noir. “Many Americans are poor in geography unless of course we bomb a country, and the evening news shows us a world map. “Where exactly is Cashmere?”

I remember thinking I love her comment. Hey, here’s somebody who shares my outlook. Be careful now. Play it well. Don’t fuckitup.

“Exit 18. I 95. Hang a right. In Kashmir, my roads diverged,” I said.

I remember she tossed her head back laughing, the space between her two top teeth was beguiling.

I remember biting into my juicy hamburger.

“I’d love to photograph you,” she said. “I have a studio at work on Madison Avenue.”

I remember long drives from Manhattan to Popham Beach, Maine, where she was born and raised and where her dad, a WWII vet, taught me how to sail; I still treasure a photo Sophia took of my wire rimmed glasses, my Meerschaum pipe, a tin of Borkum Riff tobacco and my L.L. Bean wristwatch: still life on the deck of a small sailboat.

I remember one night at her parent’s cottage reading “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” to her after she had a horrible fight with her sister who somehow learnt her husband had fucked Sophia.

I remember our trip to Tulum, where Sophia sunbathed in the nude.

I remember our memorable drive in a rented Fiat from Milan across the Swiss Alps to Venice.

I remember slowing down at every road sign that said Caduto Massi, worrying what it meant in English.

I remember waking up at Pensione Guerrato, in between the Rialto Bridge and Ca’ d’Oro, to the clickety clop of heels on the stone pavements and loving it, Sophia didn’t.

I remember later in Firenze I asked my friend Roberto what Caduto Massi meant.

“Falling Rock Zone,” he said.

“Holy cow,” I said.

“There is more art and architecture in one square mile of Florence,” Sophia said, “than is found from sea to sullied sea in America.”

I remember trekking with Sophia beyond Gulmarg to a seemingly virgin meadow in the majestic Pir Panjal Range that circles the Vale of Kashmir: we took a peaceful nap amidst wildflowers.

I remember months after our first date, making love to Sophia in her photography studio on Madison Avenue; my many faces on the wall smirked back at me.

I remember once pleading with Sophia not to abort, but she did anyway; her heart had its reasons. I never probed her about the abortion; I wished I had because I felt diminished.

I remember later that first evening after dinner at O’Hara’s, the night still young, I offered to drive Sophia home in my navy-blue second-hand Skylark.

I remember parking next to the fire hydrant in front of the Episcopalian church opposite her brownstone in Chelsea.

I remember we steamed up the windows; she was forthcoming: it was easy: I felt comfortable with her; I thought I was blessed.

I remember years later a fateful day when I started cheating on Sophia, the Challenger blew up in the sky.


by Rafiq Kathwari