The Au Pair on the Train

James and I waited on the train platform in our sleepy Long Island town that would take us into Manhattan for a night of partying in New York City. My beer buzz was at a comfortable cruising altitude, but I was gearing up to reach sonic jet speed in the next hour. We boarded the train with a twelve pack of Blue Moon. I saw a two attractive girls, blonde and brunette, sitting in a booth to my right. “Let’s sit over here.” I jerked my head towards the girls and shimmied my eyebrows suggestively. I tried to act as if we had sat down next to them by complete coincidence. I sipped my beer for 2 minutes listening to them converse in a European sounding language.

“Are you guys speaking German?” I said, stupidly.

“Yes.” They look at each other conspiratorially, then laughed.   Heidi, the brunette asked a question to Sina, the blonde, and they had a few exchanges in German.

“So are you au pairs then?” I said. I was aware of the prevalence of European au pairs that were employed for low wages in our neighborhood.

The conversation stopped and started like a sputtering engine limping its way to the next gas station in the first ten minutes, on account of their loose grasp of English. Heidi, the brunette had blue eyes with wide retinas that appeared to have mini oceans contained in them. I became transfixed with her reticent yet mischievous manner, like a catholic school girl anxiously weighing the sinister possibilities. She avoided my gaze like it was a noon-time desert sun, and I was intrigued by her reluctance to speak. They spoke in German as if James and I weren’t there. We mounted our strategic conversational assaults in English every few minutes until we gained strongholds in the uphill battle of small talk with the Germans.

We talked for the length of the 40-minute train ride into Penn Station in Manhattan. The train was buzzing with that pre-party New Year’s Eve energy and the train car felt like a small room of a cocktail party. The adolescent girls sitting across from us took swigs of vodka mixed with Gatorade and winced after each gulp. Middle-aged construction workers drank large beers in brown bags. The loud girls standing by the door hissed and laughed hysterically while holding up small mirrors to perfect their makeup. The high-pitched tone sounded every 5 minutes to announce each stop.

Sina was better adjusted to life in America but Heidi had some bones to pick with American “bread” “beer” “cars” as she air quoted each one of them, mocking the purity and legitimacy of each as it compared with Germany. I said “This is so much better in America.” frequently in Spain. Now I understand better the plight of this constant daily onslaught of the unfamiliar, having been in the throes of expatriate-ship this year.

When we went our separate ways as the train pulled into Manhattan, Heidi whispered something to Sina and then turned to James and I. “We will text you.” She said, with a practiced diplomacy.

Thus began my relationship with this exotic European girl 5 years younger than me. Her radiant smile softened up my normally stubborn judgment centers and strong armed them into telling my brain that she was a sweet and pure girl. There was also the accent that was a rich and textured sound of the foreign.  I never had the heart to tell her she used the present participle and past participle interchangeably, because I enjoyed these small quirks.

Our relationship became a game of deflation and inflation, starvation and then satiation, feeling adrift and lonely and then partaking in a figurative orgy of co-dependence. This vicious cycle was obviously an unreliable source of nutrition. When the nourishment and calories wore off, I felt an even stronger craving to be with her again. I can turn anything into a drug, given enough time. I always wanted more, to possess and to own every part of her and her being, to confine her to emotional slavery where I was the only one to soak in her admiration. I heard someone say in a 12-step meeting the other day that they thought the rule for not having a relationship until being sober for 1 year, translated to 3 years for him, because he had deep-seeded attachment issues. Sometimes I think it will be 4 years before I can approach a relationship without being a bull in a china shop.

Heidi was a strong-willed independent women with clearly defined goals and aspirations. Those attributes both intimidated and aroused me at times, depending on the day. When I look at old pictures, it will catapult me back to the first time she put me into that trance and impaired my rational thought.  I resist the temptation to sit around lazily in the dusty storage rooms of my mind watching highlight reels of days gone by.

One night over the summer, we sat on the beach 10 minutes from her host parent’s house, the sun had gone down an hour before. The lights from the nearby country club were bright and reflected off the bay’s surface of the water. We brought only one towel, “you take it,” I said. Heidi wore Chuck Taylor’s and high-cut jean shorts frayed at the edges, exposing the soft skin of her long legs. We laid back and embraced each other as we stared up at the stars.

“One of my friend’s had a kid recently, the guy didn’t stay around to raise it so she is stuck with it now.” she said.

Another couple sat in a car, idling, in the parking lot, this was a popular spot for that.

“What would you do if I got you pregnant?” I said.

“Well I would be back in Germany by the time I had it, so I’d just ship it back over to the U.S. in a crate.” She said

I had to smile at her devilish sense of humor. Afterwards, we went to get some hot chocolate at this old style diner from a waitress named Sally, wearing a yellow dress and white apron. Heidi’s smile had a cherubic quality, as if she didn’t know the more cynical and calculating elements of human nature. I couldn’t quite distinguish if she was as pure and uncorrupted a creature as her sunny disposition would have me believe. Her smile enlisted her entire face in its deployment and it never seemed half–assed.

There was something intoxicating and mysterious about her presence, as if she was always carefully examining her next move, delighting in the infinite possibilities of the chess match of life.  I allowed her bubbly, positive personality to complement my brooding mentality of doom.  At times I felt like I had gained access to the VIP room of a party or a sports arena. I didn’t belong with her, it didn’t fit.  I studied and was at the same time in awe of her unbridled hope and faith in her future.  What captivated me most was Heidi’s belief in the possibilities of a complete and deep experience of life and the world’s many destinations as totally achievable and within her grasp. Her mind was not contaminated by the same toxic sludge that filled my brain.  It was like being in the presence of a vastly superior model of human functioning and wondering why that person would choose to spend her time with me.

One time we were at a party where my brother had put together a bunch of rag-tag underground comedians in their backyard. Heidi floated around the party talking with different guys, and I became infuriated and jealous. Later, she would tell me how she wanted to show the people we were a couple by kissing and holding hands. I was flattered that she wanted this, as someone who is not a proponent of public displays of affection. However vain I thought her reasons were, something in me wanted to be able to show something off, to not be bashful for once in my life.

When I was living in Spain, I had this childish feeling of being a floating piece of debris in a vast ocean. I wanted to grab onto something, anything to make Spain a more safe and secure place where I didn’t feel so alien all the time. When we parted and Heidi flew home from the U.S. to Germany, I had resented the fact that she was the one who was this lost floating entity in a large ocean and I was simply the person on the nearest ship to rescue her.  I understand her predicament now though.  I can’t fault someone for wanting to feel just a little less alien in a such a foreign land.

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