“Lady Liberty” is what she’s called and I was in awe of her. I was in awe of all of her, her size, her stature, her color and her crest. She was better than I thought she’d be. She was the best of anything man-made I’d ever seen and she remained that way until I saw the Aqueduct in Segovia, Spain two years later.
While I was admiring her and appreciating her enormity, Joe, my host, reminded me of what I had missed.
“Peter, where were you? We get on the island and then you’re gone!”
“Yeah, I was mailing a postcard. This is the only place you can get a ‘Liberty Island’ postmark and nothing was gonna stop me from getting it.” I said.
“Well, that’s great but you weren’t around and you weren’t answering your phone!” my friend protested.
“Yeah. I was either in line or getting assistance and I knew I’d see you in five minutes. What’s the big deal?” I asked.
“The big deal is you missed her!”
“Missed who?” I marveled.
“Missed your perfect match! Brunette, sexy, single!”
“I’m telling you, Pete! You would have loved her! I know your type”
Trying to obfuscate my blown opportunity, I challenged him on his conclusion rather than question his premise; after all, he does know my type.
“How do you know she was alone? What, was she wearing a sign?” I laughed, trying to conceal my obvious regret.
“No, you could just tell. Taking pictures of herself with her camera. Making smiles, posing with the Statue behind her. A total tourist!” he explained.
“Awww…nuts!” my disappointment was obvious.
“Yup! I’m telling you! You should have answered when I called. Now she’s gone forever!”
In a moment of acceptance and a temporary swell in optimism, I said “Well, this is the last boat to the island. She’s bound to be on the boat going back. Maybe I’ll see her then and if not, no worries. I’ll see what I’m meant to see.”
“Maybe,” he admitted before continuing “We didn’t see her on the ride over. Probably won’t see her on the ride back either.”
Secretly, I thought he was right. I thought I squandered a perfectly good opportunity for a pick up all because I was mailing a letter.
Joe and I documented our stay. We took pictures, made memories and imagined seeing the Statue of Liberty for the first time from aboard a ship which took weeks to reach America. Recollecting newsreels of smiling faces and fathers waving a hand-sized American flags in front of their children caught my mind’s eye. The thought of a father sharing his elation at his child’s good fortune for coming to the promised land swelled in my imagination. It was enough to give me chills. I could feel what it must have felt like to be welcomed by what had previously been nothing more than a rumor of good fortune and a promise of an unforeseen hope rising in a distant land. Lady Liberty is that beautiful. Maybe my grandparents felt that way when they saw her for the first time. I know I did. And I know Joe did too.
We finished up our miles of memories (at least I did mine, this was not Joe’s first time seeing the Statue of Liberty) and boarded the boat going back to the harbor. I found a seat on the upper deck and Joe chose to stand. I looked back at my green Queen once again before turning my attention to the people on the boat. They were sharing their pictures and reliving their pleasure in seeing the symbol of America and the Icon of our Freedom. It was then, in making my visual rounds that I was caught off guard by the site of a beautiful woman basking in the spit of the sea and the shine of the setting sun. Joe was looking off into the distance talking to me while I was hypnotized. He carried on with his friendly chiding, “Pete, you missed her! I’m telling you! She was perfect for you.” His voice droned on becoming white noise among the waves. I didn’t hear the rest of it. I was busy staring at the brunette.
“Peter!…Peter!” I heard from against the backdrop of the sea.
“Huh…what?” I responded as if awakening from a stupor.
“Were you listening? I was telling you about that girl back at the Statue.”
As persistent as I am, Joe doesn’t give up either.
“Sorry, Joe” I said unapologetically. “I’m a little preoccupied with the girl in front of me to think about the girl I missed.”
“What girl?” I heard him ask as he turned toward me only to capture the line of my gaze. Following it, he exclaimed “That’s her! That’s the girl I was telling you about! See what I mean!”
I did. I saw exactly what he meant. Joe knows me as well as he thinks he does.
Joe and I have known each other since high school. He went to Temple City. I went to San Gabriel. In college, we used to take his annoying little sister to the mall with us as bait. “Chick magnet” is what we called her. Over a decade later, when I saw her at Joe’s wedding, I called her something different. Joe’s little sister had gone from “chick magnet” to “man magnet.” She was a bombshell! I can still hear her admitting to her childhood crush on me as she shook my hand “hello.” Ugh. On second thought, let’s move on. Joe might read this.
Though Joe and I didn’t share the same school, we grew up at the same church. Good people, the lot of them. Though few still attend church (myself included. I worship in other ways), I’m pleased to have called them my friends. I still see some of them. Joe, infrequently. After graduating college, Joe moved to New York to become a fashion photographer. Though I couldn’t see his talent in that area (I know nothing about haute fashion or photography), his gift in architecture was obvious. It became his career. Looking out for me, part of his selflessness, was his other gift. I admired it all the while wondering why he hung out with me. I measured him in masculinity and football and always felt as though I came up short. He measured me with liberal dose of tolerance; I have a history of being hard to tolerate.
Back to my story. “If that’s the girl, Joe, I’m talking to her” I said from onboard the boat. I don’t know why confirmation was required to talk to her. I could have approached her regardless and I might have, but it wasn’t until Joe informed me of this woman’s identity, that of being the sexy, single brunette he had seen on Liberty Island, that I decided to pursue her. I’m glad I did. As it turns out, she was a doctor vacationing from Hungary. Her name was Melhia. With Joe’s blessings, I offered to become Meliha’s tour guide. We wanted to see many of the same things; Central Park, Strawberry Fields, lamb curry for dinner and The Empire State Building. Only her idea was Ground Zero that night and the Empire State Building the next morning.
“The morning? Are you feeling ok?” I teased. “You don’t want to see the Empire State Building during the day! You want to visit her at night!”
“No, it’s dark at night. You can’t see anything!” she protested.
For a doctor, she didn’t seem very bright. I chalked it up to lack of imagination rather than a lack of intelligence.
“Trust me. There’s nothing to see but a sea of grey during the day. You want to go at night.”
“No, let’s do it tomorrow! First, let’s go to Ground Zero.”
Unwaivering, I made my case with the map. “Look. We’re here. Ground Zero is way down there. It’s gonna take forever especially at this hour. The Empire State Building is close by comparison.”
“But…” she interjected.
“Tell you what. Let’s go tonight and I’ll buy the tickets. If you don’t like it, don’t pay and we can come back to it tomorrow. If you do like it, you owe me the price of the ticket.”
“Deal!” she said.
On our way we went.
A few subway stops and throngs of people later (New York is crowded), we navigated the final few blocks between us and our historic destination. “You know, this is the building King Kong climbed in the movie,” I offered. She looked at me without making an effort to conceal her contempt. “I’m not a complete idiot” Meliha explained. Did I mention I how much I liked her?
We burst through the entrance shortly before closing (no way we would have made Ground Zero), marveled at the multi colored tile floor and made our way through the maze of the now thinning line. As I bought the tickets, she quipped “Are you sure?”
“Hush,” I reassured her, directing us towards the elevators as I tucked my change into my wallet.
Meliha and I made our way up, and up, and up to the highest available floor of the tallest and most famous building in all of New York before the elevator door opened. We walked out, exited the elevator bay and turned right. As we stepped through the doorway onto the roof, I heard it…
I let her keep the cost of the ticket.