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Saturday, July 14, 2012

A Bastille Day Story

La Fête Nationale

  "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times" was the year 1789 and the liberation of the Bastille began the bloody French Revolution. In Charles Dicken's brilliant and exciting Tale of Two Cities, Lucie Manette and Charles Darnay survive the wicked revenge of Madame Defarge to have a happily ever after marriage. This week's story demonstrates that although Bastille Day may still have its pitfalls, courage and perseverance can ultimately result in that fairy tale ending we all seek.  
Summer 1991, mid-June night:
A friend and I sit on my porch on a warm summer night.We are drinking cold beer and eating warm tortillas full of beans and spicy rice.It is a perfect night.But I need to leave.A promise to go to a barbecue fulfilled.The barbecue, hosted by a dear college friend, Leslee, could not be blown off.At the barbecue after a bit I sat in the kitchen and had a long, comfortable and intelligent talk with a super woman named Robin. I'd never met her before; at the end of the night I figured I'd never see her again. And it's not what you think.
Bastille Day, July 14, 1991:
Leslee asked me to go to a Bastille Day party with her.It is a famous annual community event, on Marlboro Street in Boston, and I'd never been.After the street fair I went with Leslee and her friends to a brownstone -another party to continue the night. More people I did not know.
In Boston, the townhouses have two front doors: the outer door lets you
into the building but only to the vestibule.At that point, another locked door to push inward, a need to be announced, a buzzer, and you are in.
As we walked through the second door and started up the stairs and I held the door I noticed a group following us into the building. A woman and some men.I held the door so they could make it through the inner door without a need to be buzzed in.I was already on the stairs, a step or two above the group.As I held the door the woman walked to the stairs and looked up.
"Thank you," she said. I looked down from my step into the blue of her deep
eyes and was done.
"You're welcome. I'm Dave," I said.
"I'm Jackie."
"No. Jackie." She laughed at me and walked past, three wideboys in suits following.Jackie was English and beyond being gorgeous she was perfect. I saw that.In her blue eyes.
The rest of the night I spent walking into the kitchen of Leslee's friend's kitchen. I was trying to catch Jackie alone so I could talk with her.No doing.She and one of the guys she walked in with had their arms around each other (Jackie to this day maintains he had his arm around her, not the other way around).So I'd grab a beer, walk out of the kitchen, go back and stand with Leslee and drink the beer. And then I'd go get another one and repeat the exercise. Nothing changed.It was now late. Leslee turned to me,annoyed, and said "look, I'm leaving. If you want to ask her out, ask her out. But if you want to leave with us you better ask her now."
I went into the kitchen. There they stood, arms around each other.I walked up to them.
"Hi," she said. So smart. What an accent.
"If you're not seeing someone" - prefatory clause to give the tall suit hanging on my girlfriend - well, not yet my girlfriend - his opening to say something or punch me but he did nothing - "If you're not seeing someone," I said, "I'd love to take you out one night."
"Sure," she said. "I work at Saga Holidays. Give me a call."
Okay! I thought. Let's go! 'Yahoo!' I thought, and went back to Leslee
and the group and off we went.
And by the next morning I had forgotten where Jackie worked. I did everything to try to reconstruct the conversation.I meditated, I looked through phone books, I repeated the conversation with anyone who would stand it.Nothing.Weeks went by.
I gave up.
One day I ran in a road race with thousands of others in downtown Boston.I happened to finish the race at the same time as an old acquaintance, a man I'd not seen in years. We made small talk. I asked where he worked. "I work at Saga Holidays," he said. 'Bing!' I thought. "Do you know Jackie,"I asked.Yes he did and he seems a bit protective of the information. It did not matter.I knew what I needed to know.
I called.
I called again.
Okay, now I would finally drop it.
What happened on the other end of that phone, however, was more than what is normal. Jackie heard the first message and thought 'it's been weeks; who does he think he is?'
She barely listened to the second message but she mentioned it to a woman she worked with.She asked her colleague, Robin,
"do you know a bloke named David R.? I met him at a party and he's called
Robin did know a bloke named David R. because she had met him at Leslee's house a month or so before.The two had sat in the kitchen at a barbecue in mid-June and had a long, thoughtful conversation.
"I do know him," she said."He's a good guy.Don't blow him off."
So Jackie called me back and we made a plan to go out. And then she called to say she'd be traveling and would be flying in that night. And I said, no problem,I'll pick you up at the airport.And you know what? It was the gesture of offering to pick her up at the airport - which no one had ever offered before - which made Jackie think 'hmmm, he might not be so bad,' and which I had offered without even thinking, let alone thinking strategically.
A series of coincidences and overlap, a party to celebrate French independence, a kind but ordinary gesture brought us together and nothing will pull us asunder.
Thank you Robin.Thank you Leslee.Happy Birthday France.
We celebrate the holiday every year.

David Rocchio works, writes and lives in Stowe, Vermont.

Please check out his brand new blog at
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July 14,2010