The Sandra Texts
On the first of her birthdays that he could make love to her, Joshua presented to Katherine a thin tome of poetry by Octavio Paz ribboned together with a thin tome of poetry by Boris Pasternak. In them he inscribed something trite like, "Though oceans separate us, nothing will ever conquer our love." Five years later, lying on an air mattress on his El Paso floor, Joshua would consider the lines not only trite but also presumptuous. In place of "our," he would sigh to himself, he should have substituted the word "my."
It is late spring, several months before this first of Katherine's birthdays, Collegetown, Kansas, and Joshua tensely stands on a street corner. Though already the reader knows this romance will have its traumatic end, it is here, on this street corner, that it begins. Katherine is perched on the curbstone opposite Joshua. They both wait for the light to change.
If the reader could observe Joshua minutely and knew Joshua thoroughly, the reader might mark here a nervousness to Joshua's manner, a fidget to his posture. If drawn a little closer the reader might also note an unnaturalness to Joshua's breathing pattern, a paleness in his complexion. And if the reader were allowed inside Joshua's person he would most certainly experience the warmth suffusing Joshua's limbs, hear the heartbeats in his eardrums, taste the lump in his throat and feel those icy beads of perspiration seeping into the band of his cap.
But since the reader cannot be in these places and does not yet know Joshua well enough to make these observations, it is necessary for me to relate them. Too, I should explain why such a young man would stand trembling even in good health, why he would feel cowardly even at this precipice of his greatest, most lasting romantic triumph, and why he would let escape him the symbolic value of the street light as it now turns green, as it now gives our two actors permission to cross the street. Joshua, you'll note, does not act on this permission. With great trepidation Joshua firms himself. He waits for Katherine to cross to him.
Two months before had come the controversy. It had not been Joshua's story. Joshua had not broken the news that the new university president was spending tens of thousands of dollars on his own inauguration. But once the news was abroad, and the uproar commenced, the overwhelmed student reporter responsible for the article bowed out. Joshua, in a newsroom of the inexperienced, was the least inexperienced. In his junior year, having just returned from an internship in Mexico City, he was not intimidated by university administrators or small town politics. After surviving the most populated city on the planet, he could not take them seriously.
Katherine, incensed by the reports, became the focal point around which disgruntled dozens resolved. A natural leader, she organized them; articulate, she became their spokesperson. She was a central part of the story.
Joshua first met Katherine on an early spring afternoon. He met her in the courtyard of the university commons. He met her, tape-recorder in hand, to interview her.
Coal-dark hair, arresting eyes and a visage sculpturesque, Katherine struck Joshua immediately with her beauty. Intimidating, it was. And this just the beginning. For at his first question Joshua witnessed that beauty transfigure itself from unsure, almost trepid at his questioning, to fixed and fearless in answer. Her beauty focused. It flushed. He watched it seize at a purpose. Her countenance sharpened, lustered. Solid, Katherine became, unwavering. She had gripped something, he saw, or tapped something, a lodestone. She was captivating.
"I'm paying tuition to get an education, not to stroke this bureaucrat's ego," read a quotation box on the next day's front page.
These the words Joshua wrote. But the impact of the interview went much deeper. Her beauty had sounded him. A magnet she stood before his iron thoughts. Like a hypnotist she swung before him her charms. That strength of her committed presence! Of her feeling! So surely, she felt it, so strongly, and with unadulterated conviction! When he interviewed her again he found himself feeling what she felt regardless his supposed neutrality. And her approachability! This trumped all else. She had an air so easy, so affable that the intimidations of her beauty and charisma dissolved.
Joshua went about writing his articles. He telephoned Katherine for her reactions as the story developed. He reported on the burgeoning numbers of protestors and the outcomes of their meetings. Then arrived the day of the inauguration; and the protests positioned outside the hall; and the thunderstorm of press from across the state. And then it all passed. The controversy fell away. Last reports on the event's aftermath then. Last reports on the final tally of expenses. Final indignant statements. And finally the two of them were just students again.
A month or so later Joshua glimpsed Katherine walking the sidewalk near his flat. Still magnetic, she was to him. Still hypnotic. Soon thereafter he saw her a second time. He followed her curiously. She lived just three doors down from him. A third time he encountered her on the sidewalk. This time, striding opposite directions, their eyes met. Glances of recognition were exchanged--friendly. After this to see Katherine became painful for Joshua. He was compelled to commit himself. If ever he met her again on that sidewalk, he decided, he would ask her for a date. That was his decision. And now had come the moment.
So the street light, with its symbolic value, has just changed from red to green. And Katherine has just stepped into the street. And I'm sure now the reader can better appreciate that flush of Joshua's countenance, that pulse of his temples, that quavering resolve in his chin. For always he has been timid before the very beautiful, before those of intimidating beauty. And she is such. Were it not for her easy affability, were it not for the fact he had already met Katherine, he would never have braved this moment. Joshua takes his fidget in hand now. Joshua steels himself toward some semblance of naturalness.
And onto the curbstone Katherine steps from the street, holding her books across her breast. Katherine grins her bright white ingenuous grin.
"Hello," Joshua says.
"Hello," Katherine answers.
They smile silently.
"Busy day?" he asks.
"Not too bad."
Joshua clears his throat. He says,
"I heard Maddy mention you had to finish a paper at the last minute."
"Like always!" And Katherine giggles. Artlessly, she giggles. She tosses her coal-dark hair over her shoulder.
Joshua relaxes suddenly. Her charm relaxes him.
"You remember my name?" he breathes.
And she pronounces it.
The sun is warm on his face. A spring sun. The air is cool about them. A spring air.
"I was thinking," Joshua finally begins, adjusting his cap needlessly. "There's a play this weekend there in the arts center. Would you like to go?"
Katherine looks up, as if at her eyebrows.
"Maybe pizza afterward?" Joshua sweetens.
Smiling simply, "Sure," Katherine finally utters.
"Good. Okay. I've got your phone number in my notes. I'll call you tomorrow and tell you what time...if you want."
She giggles naturally, "Okay, Joshua."
And the street light changes again.
"...well, okay. I'll talk to you soon then...Tomorrow sometime...Katherine."
And it is Joshua's turn now to cross the street. And so cross the street he does. Light-heartedly Joshua crosses the street, light-headedly even, with only the mildest self-consciousness.
Those were Joshua's first ebullient steps toward making love to Katherine on her birthday, toward inscribing for her those trite few lines into Pasternak and Paz, toward imbibing from her a depthless and effusive passion, and, as we already know, toward what would be the grossest and most unhealable despair of his lifetime.