Chinatown Doorway, Jack Rusher

We were curled up together at our place in New York, laughing about the old days when she would come stay with me in Barcelona, back when I lived off the Plaça de George Orwell in that little room with just a bed, a desk and a sink, the shared toilet and shower in a closet down the hall. It was seedy then, before the security cameras were installed and the junkies had been chased out of the plaça, but she didn’t mind, we would drink a couple of cortados in the morning, then spend all day making love and eating oranges.

She told me she was impressed at how quickly I picked up the language, how comfortable I was in the simple transactions of life in Spain, when her four years of Spanish at school didn’t seem to help. I tried to explain that once you speak a few romance languages it gets easier to learn new ones, and living in immersion is completely different from taking a class, but she only spoke English and had never lived abroad, so it looked like magic to her.

— Can you still speak Spanish and Catalan?

— I know how, but I’m not fluent anymore. Sometimes time takes things we would rather keep.

We cuddled closer and talked about Paris, about how I had dot-com money to spare in those days, how I would fly her over for a week a month when I lived in that grand old flat by L'église Saint-Eustache. When she was in town we would do every stereotypical thing: eat crêpes, drink espresso, stroll the broad avenues and spend hours in bed, submerged in the romance of the place, our youth, the novelty of each moment we spent together.

— Can you still speak French?

— I know how, and I read Le Monde every day, but I’m not fluent anymore.

It’s easy to make things work when your life together is made of a series of holidays in beautiful places. By this time she had finished school, and work was harder than she had expected. New York is grayer and uglier than those other cities, and we had moved in together full time in a tiny Chinatown apartment. We had had our ups and downs, no longer living a dream life of long-distance longing interspersed with perfect passion, but rather negotiating differences that emerged once cohabitation left us nowhere to hide them.

Her head on my chest, she turned her eyes up to mine. They were the same luminous green pools that had seduced me years before.

— Do you still love me?

I thought for a moment.

— I still know how, but I’m not fluent anymore.

Sometimes time takes things we would rather keep.

This entry is part of my journal, published January 28, 2011, in New York.