Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Happy First Anniversary

Here's a picture that Andre emailed me a few days ago. His hair looks longer already, even though I was just with him less than two weeks ago.

Andre and I met on August 6, 2006, exactly one year ago at the Hotel Atarazana in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. Maya and I had just arrived from Puerto Rico where we attended my cousin's son's wedding. I hadn't had time to plan our 2-1/2 week stay in D.R., but I quickly looked on the internet and found the name of a cheap hotel.

Maya refused to stay there after the third or fourth cucarracha scurried across the floor. The rooms were quite filthy and I wasn't crazy about having to stand on the bed frame to connect two wires whenever we wanted AC. The young druggie (I'm guessing. No evidence) who ran the place also showed me how to turn on the pump outside in case the toilet ran out of water.

We ventured out to see what else we could find. By chance, just around the corner was a really nice six-room hotel. I told Maya not to get her hopes up because it looked too expensive. When I rang the bell Andre came down and let us in. I was immediately attracted to him, which took me aback because I hadn't had a boyfriend in 8 years, not since Daniel and I broke up for the last time. I hadn't wanted to complicate Maya's life, so I resigned myself to being single until she graduated from high school. I definitely hadn't gone down to the Caribbean to fall in love.

Andre showed us a few rooms, all very nice, then I asked if we could go up the spiral stairs to the rooftop. I pulled out my videocamera and recorded the view of the river and some nice historic buildings, never once turning the camera on Andre. I asked him the name of the hotel. He said Atarazana so softly I asked him to repeat it. That's the only video I have of him from my first trip to D.R., plus one photo.

Andre had a totally different experience that day. I could have been any foreign tourist, but it was Maya who caught his eye. That girl could charm anyone with her beautiful spirit. Each morning when we came down for breakfast he would cut extra mango for her and prepare a scrambled egg just how she liked it. She would hang out in the kitchen with him and help herself to more juice from the fridge. I remember them chatting and laughing while I snuck glances, blushing every time he caught my eye. I didn't really know him yet. I just thought he was cute. And probably less than half my age. I was 49 and he looked to be about 22.

Luckily I got enough courage to ask Andre if I could photograph him in the beautiful red kitchen. He asked me to email the photo to him and that's how we got started writing. As time went on he started asking me questions like what I thought of long-distance relationships and how do you know when you're in love. I thought that was sweet that he felt comfortable enough to ask me so many personal questions. He even requested photos of me and told me I was beautiful, signing his letters "abrazos y besos" (hugs and kisses). I still didn't get it. I couldn't imagine that such a young, good looking guy would be interested in an old lady like me.

Meeting Andre seemed to wake up something in me. I started looking through the personal ads on craigslist and went on a few dates. I told Andre all the details since he was my new, best friend. We were writing practically every day by then. He wrote back and said he was jealous. "If you need a man, here I am."

I kept rereading that line, trying to figure out what he meant. Finally I wrote back and confessed that I was very attracted to him. If only I were 30 years younger I would definitely take him up on his offer. Then he wrote back, saying he was turning 30 in April, which made a big difference to me. Plus, I give him a few more years for having grown up in a third world country and then studying and working abroad for four years.

So today is our first anniversary. Like anything in life, it's just one day at a time, but I've enjoyed every one of those days. We're both very committed to each other. Like I wrote him the other day, our relationship has really been put to the test: going through Maya's diagnosis, treatments and death; living so far apart from each other; only being physically together for two months out of this first year; and when we are together, it's 24/7 without a break. All that on top of the cultural differences and the fact that we mostly speak to each other in Spanish, which isn't our native language. His first language is Creole, followed by French, then Dominican Spanish (I speak Mexican Spanish) and pretty good English.

Now it seems weird how freaked out I used to be about our 20-year age difference...until we got together in March. Age is hardly an issue anymore. Shoot, if Demi Moore can do it, why can't I? I remember one friend said, "I'm glad you're with someone 20 years younger. Maybe he'll be able to keep up with you." Just barely. I tease Andre that he's the older one because he's more conservative, not as adventurous, and he even likes to rest or take breaks sometimes. And I can still beat him 15-0 in racquetball, although lately he started getting a few points sometimes. We'll see what happens when we're reunited in early September. He's got a coach and practices a lot. And in case you hadn't noticed, he's in excellent physical shape.

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