I write this in honor of my first love—who shall remain nameless.
I met you when I was young and you were younger. You were selling paintings and jewelry in an open-air market in what was for me a strangely familiar city in an otherwise exotic country. I admit, with shame, that I did not notice you at first. Instead, I was attempting to test my inadequate Spanish on the young female merchant right beside you. But it was you who responded. It was you who smiled brightly in the afternoon heat and remarked—in English that was much better than my Spanish—that “Matthew is a beautiful name.”
And it was you who not only introduced me to the craft of painting intricate designs onto a feather (one of which I bought for my mother) but also awakened in me what had been missing for the duration of my travels and, indeed, my post-adolescence: scandalous infatuation.
I was too innocent to know it would be scandalous at first, but the infatuation was obvious. I recall that I walked for the better part of a mile up the road before telling my friends that I had to return to the market. I did not give them a reason, but I think they suspected it. It was our last day in the city, and leaving you with my e-mail address printed on a faux business card seemed far from satisfying to all parties involved. I was determined to write a better ending to the story of my (first) study abroad experience.
So I came up to you again where you sat alone, reading a book; this remains my favorite image of you. I prayed that you would not be bothered by my return. When you did not seem to be, I asked if we could go for a walk.
Much is hazy thereafter, but I distinctly recall my heart pounding in a way I had never experienced before. It was as if we understood each other on a level beyond language and culture. It was as if we were destined to come together in that fleeting moment and that the previous weeks of my travels were mere buildup to that main event. Yet the main event was so tame that even the staunchest Sunday School teacher would take no offense.
Once it got dark, your mood changed. Your cell phone began to buzz incessantly, and I knew it was time for us to part ways. I did not know how angry your grandparents, whom you had left at the market, would be. When we arrived in a taxi, I feared my first real fistfight would be with your grandfather. My efforts to explain my (lack of) actions in Spanish were in vain, but your assurances won the day. I was both sad and relieved by the outcome. I recall that our final goodbye was rushed and lacking intimacy—as not to upset the fragile peace you had established.
Nonetheless, I turned my tears into laughs. The taxi driver had been waiting for me for several minutes and was curious what had happened. When I told him in the best Spanish I could muster, he was so amused that he even refused my tip. He seemed proud to have played a small part in our love story, which unbeknownst to both of us at the time, came to represent the entirety of my love life.
In many ways my heart never left the market.
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