Real Mistakes, Real Laughs:

Air bases were built on captured islands of Tinian, Saipan, and Guam but they were barley within the range of the long-range bombers.

(hope the bombadiers weren't on gluten-free diets)

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Monday, May 17, 2010

Fleeting Friendships

On my desk sits a favorite photo of me and seven year old Marisol against the beautiful backdrop of the Alps in Bezau, Austria.  We met in the swimming pool of the hotel:  she on vacation with her parents, and I on a hiking tour with my grown daughter.  Marisol is one of those delightful blends of culture; her mother, a Peruvian, and her father, a German.  All three of them lived in America, where her father worked.  The family was at least bilingual; if not trilingual, and it was Marisol's repeated Achtung! whenever she took to the diving board that drew my attention.  I had thought achtung was a word used primarily by German soldiers.  At least, that's they way it looked on Hogan's Heroes.  I was surprised to learn that it's the German equivalent of "excuse me" or, in the case of Marisol's cannonballs, "incoming!"

I don't remember how this outgoing, obviously bright child and I embarked on a conversation but converse we did, easily and warmly, with my asking about her exotic background and she urging me to buy swim goggles like hers so that I could perform all the underwater acrobatics that I was so obviously sacrificing without them.  When her mother came to collect her for lunch, I introduced myself (lest Marisol's parents think that any adult keeping company with a child must have bad intentions).  Her mother laughed and called Marisol her "chatterbox daughter." 

Marisol was reluctant to leave.  Was I going to be at the pool the next day?  I was.  And indeed the next afternoon, after our morning hike, I was already in the pool when Marisol came splashing over to me.  We spent a companionable couple of hours together, watching her jumps and tricks, answering her questions, asking some of my own.  I have no idea why I had clicked with this child, or why she enjoyed spending time with me instead of the other children staying at the hotel.  Was I going swimming again the next day?  Alas, we were leaving first thing in the morning.  Marisol looked crestfallen, and I was a little choked up myself.  Why didn't she find me in the dining room tonight to say goodbye?  She nodded and ran off in answer to her mother's call.  Our tour guide caught up with me by the elevator and commented on the strange but obvious attachment Marisol and I had.  I confessed I couldn't explain why, but we definitely connected on some deep level. 

 Our hiking group had its own section of the dining room, which lent a party atmosphere to the evening meal.  Amid the laughter and toasts with many a weizen bier, someone alerted me to the little girl hesitating shyly by the door.  I turned, and Marisol came quickly over to my table.  Her bathing suit and swim goggles had been exchanged for a colorful long sun dress, her enviously straight and thick brown hair combed and spreading over her shoulders.  For a while she sat on my lap, quietly taking in all the merriment.  My eyes got a little misty as I thought that I wouldn't see my new friend in the pool tomorrow...or ever again, most likely.  When her father came looking for her, I asked him to snap a picture of Marisol and me together.  Then I hugged her with all the feeling that our brief encounter had generated.  I really hated to say goodbye.

That was in 2001.  We had exchanged addresses and actually wrote to each other a couple of times.  Not surprisingly, though, the connection waned as we went about our lives.   The next year,  I sent a Christmas card to Marisol's California address.  It came back "addressee unknown."  Although I had always known that an ongoing correspondence with a child would ultimately fade into oblivion, I felt the sadness of our Austrian parting all over again. 

I think of Marisol every day, since the photo of us in Austria sits on my desk.  A couple of years ago I tried to track her down on the internet.  I got as far as locating the name of a California school whose records indicated a student by the same name.  I had to tread carefully, not wanting to appear as a stalker.  I emailed the school and asked if they would pass on my contact information to Marisol, in the hope that, if she was the same girl I knew, she would write me. 

I never heard from her.

I don't know if the school I contacted had the right girl, or if she was the same girl but didn't respond to my outreach.  Marisol is a young woman now, a teenager no doubt preoccupied with all the things that make up a teenage girl's world.  Writing to some lady she met in Austria a million years ago is not high on the list.  I still can't explain why I continue to have such affection for this little human with whom my path crossed so fleetingly.  I just know that I grow warm at the memory of the meeting of our souls.  I marvel that someone can touch another's life profoundly, no matter how briefly.  Is there a greater purpose to our meeting?  Were we connected in a past life?  Who can say?  I just know that Marisol touched my heart as I hope I touched hers.  I have to be content with that.

Cynthia Polansky "Expect the Unexpected" http://www.cynthiapolansky.com/ http://www.cynthiapgallagher.com/

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