I once had a girl. She was from Norway, but we met in New York City at a jazz club on the West Side. My friend Lane had dragged me there; he told me that the sax player would really send me. (I know, that is 60s lingo). I didn’t want to go because I was broke and I was embarrassed that Lane always picked up the check when we were out. But he persisted in asking, so I went with him that warm August night. It was a night that changed my life forever.
Lane and I were from upstate New York, we had been friends in high school. We were both going to be writers and write the Great American Novel. And here we were, Lane wrote copy for an ad agency and I wrote short stories that no one would buy.
I was twenty years old, and had just dropped out of college. I wanted to be a writer and I did not think college was the way to go about it. I thought the only way to be a writer was to write. So I headed for the big city, found myself a roach-infested apartment and opened my laptop. I got lucky and sold my first short story to a weekly newspaper. It was a free paper, but they did print fiction. They paid me all of twenty-five dollars for it.
After that, I figured it would be only a matter of time before I had The New Yorker knocking at my door wanting me to write my genius fiction for them, and if not the New Yorker, then at least the Village Voice. Well, things did not work out that way. Six months later, I had not sold another story. The newspaper that had bought my first story was long out of business as I contemplated my future. I was nearing the end of my savings and something would have to break soon or I would have to get a job. Something did break and her name was Karina.
Unbeknownst to me, Lane and his girlfriend, whose name was Sally, set me up with a blind date. When we got to the club, I saw Sally sitting at a table with a blonde girl. I immediately grabbed Lane’s arm and halted his progress toward the table. “What’s the deal?” I asked in a low voice. Then I added, “If Sally is trying to set me up again, I’m leaving. You know I don’t have any money to date.”
With a phony and shocked look on his face, Lane said, “No, no, it’s nothing like that. It’s just that the poor girl is in town and doesn’t know anyone. Sally’s mother and her mother were friends. Sally’s looking out after her, that’s all. Don’t worry; she’s not your date. And she’s got plenty of money; she can pay her own way.”
With a sigh and a shake of my head, I said, “Lay on, Macduff.”
We seated ourselves at the table and I was introduced to the blonde. Sally started right off yakking away, but I heard nothing she said. I was looking into the eyes of the blonde. They were green, the color of emeralds—they were sad eyes. She was good-looking in a not glamorous sort of way. There was something about her. Something that made me want to put my arms around her and tell her everything would all right. That night I fell in love, head over heels. To me, she was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. But it wasn’t her looks that got me. It was her soul. She looked vulnerable and she had those sad eyes. I know that’s a cliché, but that is what it was, plain and simple. I was hooked. Her name was Karina.
We talked and ignored both the music, and Lane and Sally. When Sally saw where things were going, she nudged Lane and said they had to go, but that we should stay. As they left, out of the corner of my eye, I saw Lane hand some money to our waitress and point our way. He had made sure that I wouldn’t be embarrassed for lack of funds.
The music was really too loud to carry on a conversation, so I suggested that we go somewhere more conducive to getting to know one another. I had no hope that she felt toward me as I felt toward her, but I just couldn’t let her go out of my life until I knew everything about her.
We settled in at a Starbucks and talked until the early morning. Her parents were both dead and had left her relatively well off. She was in the States because she owned a cabin in North Carolina, up in the mountains, and she had come here to sell it. At twenty-two, she was two years older than I was. But that was okay with me; I liked older women. I prattled on about my writing and she said that she would like to read some of my stuff someday. Someday? I wanted her to read my stories right then and there. But I held my tongue.
As I walked her to her hotel, she slipped her arm through mine and we walked on in silence. My feet never once touched the ground.
We said goodnight in the lobby of her hotel. She looked at me with those big sad eyes. “Please, may I see you tomorrow and read some of your stories?” Now normally, I would let anyone read my stuff at the drop of a hat, even if I had to drop the hat myself. But in this instance, I was reluctant to say yes. I didn’t want her to see how I lived. I mean, she was staying at the Plaza, for God’s sake! After a momentary hesitation, I told her I could bring my laptop over the next day and that I would be proud to have her read a few of my stories. We set a time and I left. We shook hands—we did not kiss goodnight.
Well, the short of it is, she was as smitten with me as I was with her. Why I don’t know. She postponed her trip south and stayed in the city. We saw each other every day. Sally must have told her about my financial situation, because Karina always insisted we go someplace that cost no money. We hit the art galleries and the museums, among other venues. Central Park was our favorite. As we walked through the park, the sunshine would ripple in her yellow hair like waves upon a sparkling ocean. At the end of two weeks, we both knew we wanted to spend the rest of our lives together.
Karina liked my writing and told me I should be writing a full-length novel. Then, when that sold, I could put out a book of my short stories. No wonder that I loved her, she believed in me, more so than I believed in myself.
One day, a Sunday, as we lay on a blanket in the park holding hands (we still had not made love), Karina asserted herself. She told me in no uncertain terms that she was taking me to her cabin In North Carolina. She would cook and clean for me while I wrote my novel, and then when it sold, I could take care of her.
I told her that I would have to think on it. She stood and took my hand. I raised myself from the ground, and forgetting the blanket, we went back to the Plaza. We made long, slow love all that afternoon. And then again that night.
We hit the mountains of North Carolina as the leaves were changing. It was the perfect metaphor. Our lives were changing; we were melding into one entity.
As the snows came, I wrote and Karina loved me. I didn’t want to write. I wanted to make love to my girl, but she made sure I stayed at the computer at least six hours a day. The rest of the time I devoted to loving her.
As the snows melted and the leaves slowly returned to the trees, my book took form. Karina would read what I had written each day. She would correct my mistakes and give me input as to the characters and the plot. As I sat there in the evenings, seeing the firelight reflected in her eyes while she read my daily output, I fell in love with her all over again.
When spring was in full bloom, the book also bloomed. I had completed my version of the Great American Novel. I emailed my query letters to agents. Within a month, I had a signed contract. When summer came around, the book had been sold to a publisher and I had money in the bank. Now I could take care of my Karina. But it was not to be.
It was August once again, almost to the day that Karina and I first met. We were leaving the next day for New York. My agent had set up a meeting with my new editor. There was still work to be done. Writing the story is one thing, getting it out there is another. However, before leaving I wanted to buy something for my love. I went into town and bought Karina a ring. Nothing fancy, it was a simple band of gold. I was going to ask her to be my wife. I couldn’t wait to get back to the cabin, get down on one knee, and tell her of my love for her.
I saw the smoke long before I turned into the drive to our cabin. Then I saw the flames. I pulled the car to a stop, rushed to the cabin, and heard her screams. Those screams will never leave me.
“KARINA!” I shouted as I rushed the door.
When I pushed open the door, a blast of heat and flames knocked me on my ass. I got up; nothing short of hell was going to keep me out of that cabin. And that is exactly what kept me out . . . hell. I could not penetrate the flames. On my third attempt, the burns and resultant pain caused me to pass out. When I awoke, I was in a hospital’s burn ward.
Karina was gone and I was alone.
I sold the rights to my book to my agent. I couldn’t edit and work on it with anyone else now that Karina was gone. I took the money and bought a sailboat down in Miami. I had Karina painted on the sides in large letters the color of her eyes. I now sail the Caribbean, going from island to island, looking for nothing and finding nothing. I’m certainly not finding relief for the pain in my heart.
I once had a girl. Karina was her name.
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