Relationships

From Russia With Love

On a blind date overflowing with the words of Boris Pasternak, I couldn't see what was clearly in front of me

In a world where smart women make foolish choices, I said yes when my friend Heather told me she had a guy for me.

At dinner in a Japanese restaurant, Jim, a Sam Waterston lookalike, only had eyes for me. To be honest, I wasn't particularly taken with him. He had a bushy, unkempt beard and pink sweater that looked like a hand-me-down. But his deep, seductive newscaster's voice slowly began to draw me in.

Jim talked about how he had created a software company, sold it, retired and moved to the Bahamas at age 35. "After two years of sleeping til noon and floating in a pool every day, I realized I was finally relaxed," he said, "but incredibly lonely."

"So, what did you do?" I asked.

"I came back here about two weeks ago."

"And what will you do now?"

"Try to make my life a lot less lonely," he said, looking into my eyes.

After dinner, Jim and I walked to his old Volvo. "It's a starry night. I'm taking you to a hilltop to see the constellations," he said, matter-of-factly.

We drove to a secluded area, the kind that you see on "Dateline." I got out of the car, uneasy. The beauty of the clear sky filled with stars, the coolness of the breeze and the smell of the flowery air somewhat eased my tension. Jim looked at me, standing, anxious and clumsy.

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"Your hands are graceful and beautiful. May I kiss them?" he asked.

He kissed the top of each hand like a gentleman out of a Henry James novel. Jim was weird in a poetic sort of way that I found endearing. "It's getting a little cold and late. Can we go now?" I said.

We met again the next day and decided to take a drive to another hilltop. In daylight, I could see that his car was in desperate need of washing and had many boxes on the back seat. We walked and talked for hours about art and music until we finally settled down underneath a big tree overlooking a pond.

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"Being with you has been the most relaxed I've felt since coming back to Santa Barbara. I've been reading something I'd like to share with you," he said, opening a book. His voice was so mesmerizing, I barely paid attention to the words. It was something about snow and trains and cold. The story seemed strange and incongruous, almost laughably so.

"What's this book?" I asked.

"'The Diary of Boris Pasternak,'" he said.

His soothing tones gave the story an aphrodisiacal quality, and as he put his arm around me and nuzzled my neck, I felt myself becoming aroused. He put the book down and we began to kiss with increasing passion. I was surprised that Boris Pasternak could get me that hot and bothered.

Suddenly, a brisk breeze from the trees turned to rain so we hightailed it back to his car.

"I need to stop at my place to pick up a few things. I'm housesitting for friends who have a great gourmet kitchen," he said. "I thought I'd make you dinner, some wine by the fire and maybe read some more Pasternak."

Dinner and more Boris? I was intrigued. He stopped the car in front of a nondescript building. "Are you sure you want to come in?" he asked.

"I'd love to see where you live," I said.

"I don't really live there as much as crash there and it's especially messy now," he apologized. He squeezed my hand right before unlocking the door. His place looked like it was decorated by the Unabomber. Piles of unopened mail and scattered pizza boxes hid most of the furniture in the living room. A bay window was so close to a tree that when you stood by it you were practically sitting in the branches. As I gazed at the view, I heard Jim rummaging around and mumbling, stuffing things into his backpack.

"I'm ready to go," he said.

I turned around quickly; not realizing he was standing so close to me, I practically fell into his arms. He caught me and then held me close. It had been years since I'd been with anyone and I was so swept up in the moment that I started to cry. Now I was afraid he'd find my behavior strange.

"It's been so long since I touched someone," he said, echoing my very thoughts.

We held each other tight. He kissed the top of my head, then my forehead, tenderly and lovingly. Then, as if we were in some sort of a melodramatic movie, we were shaken by a bolt of thunder and lightning. While we drove to the house, the clouds lifted and the sun streamed through.

The house had beachy décor, white walls, and looked right out of a magazine, especially the kitchen that Jim had raved about.

"I'm gonna change into sweats," he said. "There's a pair of silk pajamas on the door, why don't you wear that."

So, I went into the bathroom, which was mirrored from floor to ceiling, and changed into the slinky PJs. They made me feel beautiful.

In the kitchen, Jim was prepping ingredients for some elaborate stir fry. He clanged pans and chopped onions. Tchaikovsky's "1812 Overture" boomed on the stereo, with Jim conducting the kettle drums of the loud Russian opus with his knife.

After dinner, we settled down in front of the fireplace with his book and a blanket. I was charmed by the romantic setting, as Jim read again from the diaries of Boris Pasternak. I felt my skin getting hotter, one thing led to another and, all of a sudden, I became Julie Christie and he became Omar Sharif in "Dr. Zhivago."

The next morning, we got out of bed and jumped into an outdoor hot tub. Jim fed me strawberries while we sipped on champagne. It was pretty idyllic.

Early on Sunday evening, it was time to leave. We cleaned the dishes, changed the sheets and straightened up the house. I thought, OK, it was a nice weekend fling that had a beginning and an end, and this is the end. I expected to never hear from him again.

Jim called two weeks later and I invited him to spend a weekend in Los Angeles with me. He arrived four hours late and I immediately knew something was different. On Sunday, he slept until two in the afternoon and then took a bath.

"Get them off me! They're crawling all over me!" he screamed from the bathroom.

"What's crawling? I don't see anything crawling."

"It's my meds. I haven't taken my meds. I left them home."

I called 911 and the medics came and took him away.

Years passed, and then, a few weeks ago I was walking along the harbor in Santa Barbara enjoying the first summer breeze when I saw a group of homeless men. One of them came over to talk to me.

"I'm sorry to bother you," Jim said. "Maybe you remember me."

How could I ever forget that voice? "Of course, how are you?"

"I'm fine," he said. "They take good care of me here."

I was distressed by how thin he looked.

"Things are good for me," he said, smiling.

"Take care," I said, walking away into a fresh snowfall from the past.

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