ChapterPage 1. FINDING LOVE 2
2. WHAT HAPPENED TO CHRISTINE? 7
3. PARIS 12
4. HOLLAND 19
5. TO ITALY 24
6. ROME 27
7. BUDAPEST 38
8. SOMOGY DÖRÖCSKE 49
9. CALIFORNIA 61
10. LYON 66
11. BACK IN THE BELLY OF THE BEAST 73
12. SWITZERLAND 74
13. CHRISTINE’S SIDE OF THE STORY 86
14. THE LAST MEETING 92
15.HAPPY END IN CALIFORNIA? 98
SEARCHING FOR CHRISTINE
Thomas M. Kando
1. FINDING LOVE Every man needs a woman to tame him
George Gilder (paraphrased)
The week began uneventfully. It was a quiet time of hard work, a week which Matt had to spend by himself, because his beloved Christine had to go the AAMT convention in San Diego. He missed her, of course, but he took advantage of his loneliness to forge ahead on some important research.
The two of them were not living together (yet), but they saw each other nearly daily, and they were deeply committed to each other. By now, early April, they had been dating monogamously for nearly a year. Their relationship, a hit from the start, was getting even better. There was a clear momentum toward marriage. Just before she left for the convention, they agreed that she would move in with him upon her return.
* * * * *
Matt was twenty-eight years old when he met Christine. They say that you often get the things you wish for only after you stop looking for them. By now, he had recovered from a disastrous divorce, four years earlier. He was no longer on the rebound. He was no longer desperately lonely and in search for a replacement. He dated alright, but he carefully avoided deep entanglements. He was happy by himself. He was independent and productive. He was working on his second book. At one time he had wanted to raise a family, but this was no longer something he worried about a great deal. If it happened, fine, but he was now just as satisfied working on his career.
Curiously, that is precisely when Christine appeared in his life. One of the courses he taught was the core Social Theory class required for all the majors. That class enrolled many mediocre students and a few very bright ones. He had already experienced both types of students when discussing esoteric concepts such as Phenomenology. One of the better students in that class was the beautiful young brunette whose name Matt thought was Christine (which was confirmed when he checked his grade roster).
After receiving an “A” in Matt’s Social theory Class, Christine enrolled in his Urban Sociology class the following semester - not because she thought that he was an easy grader (he was not), but because she was, as a sociology major, required to take the course. There were over a hundred students in the class. When Matt arrived in class the first day, he was happy to see Christine’s familiar face. She sat in the middle of the front row, wearing a miniskirt and her red boots again. She wore her hair in a semi-long curled fashion.
Her beautiful large brown eyes looked up at him, the professor, full of anticipation and eagerness to learn, not trying to look bored and ‘cool,’ like so many others. Matt smiled at her, indicating that he recognized her, and her smile back made him shiver inside. He told himself to pull himself together.
Throughout that semester, Matt went to that class always looking forward to seeing Christine sitting in the same spot, always focusing attentively with her big beautiful eyes on everything he said, often raising her hand and asking good questions. On the rare occasions that she missed a class, Matt felt badly about himself, believing that she was no longer interested in his course, that she was bored.
Socializing outside of class was out of the question while she was his student, but he had his eyes set on her for after the end of the semester. He invited her out during the early part of Christmas recess. She appeared so vulnerable, so innocent. She had just turned old enough to be allowed in a bar. She laughed a lot and blushed easily. She must have been in awe of her (former) professor.
They dated for a few weeks, saw plays like One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest and A Streetcar named Desire in San Francisco, they skied in Squaw Valley and other Sierra resorts, they spent many fabulous weekends together. Matt truly did not think that much more could come from this relationship. He felt like the big bad wolf going after Little Red Riding Hood. He knew that he was damaged goods - divorced, scarred and cynical. Christine on the other hand was a young, super-straight middle-class American girl who had never even smoked marijuana - unheard of on a college campus. She dressed impeccably and beautifully. She seemed so pure, so lovable, so fragile. Matt realized immediately that she would be the best woman any man could ever marry, once she’d find the right man. But he could not possibly be that man himself. All his life he had been surrounded by scumbags, struggling, getting down into the gutter. She was clean and unspoiled. He felt that she was way too good for him.
After graduation, Christine became certified as a medical transcriptionist and began to work for a major medical group. She rose rapidly, became local chapter head and then statewide president of her professional association - the AAMT.
During that year, they became closer and closer. Both outdoor lovers, they hiked Yosemite, scaled 14,500 foot Mount Whitney, camped in Sequoia National Park. They took wild trips everywhere, cris-crossing California, the Mojave Desert, Death Valley, Nevada, Arizona and Northern Mexico. They had a ball driving to the Grand Canyon and to Las Vegas, camping out in the desert. They went to the Getty Museum in Los Angeles, to jazz giants Cannonball Adderley and Les McCann at LA’s Lighthouse and to operas like Tosca and La Traviata. They joined a ski club, skied at Mount Baldy and Mammoth, they flew to Sun Valley, Vail, Park City and Snowbird.
* * * * *
For their trips across the Southwest, they relied on Matt’s antique little Fiat convertible, an unwise decision. FIAT, of course, stands for ‘Fix It Again, Tony,’ something both Christine and Matt can attest to. Most mornings, the car wouldn’t start. They referred to it as the ‘bobsled,’ because they had to use a running start just like they do at the winter Olympics - Christine at the wheel and Matt pushing and then jumping in as the car started rolling downhill.
Sometimes the little red two-seater managed to cross a desert or to get to the top of a hill, but it usually failed to do so, especially when it was hot, which is often the case in the Mojave during the summer.
The Town of Baker is close to the epicenter of the Mojave Desert. Interstate Fifteen goes through Baker, on the way to Las Vegas. Immediately to the East of Baker, there is a particularly long and steep incline of about twelve miles.
On their way to Vegas one time, Christine and Matt reached Baker in the early afternoon. They stopped for a quick lunch at Denny’s and resumed their trip, hitting the twelve-mile incline at the eastern edge of town during the hottest part of the afternoon. At first the little Fiat did its best, but the further up the hill it got, the slower it went, until it came to a full stop, perhaps only a couple miles before the top.
Matt and Christine decided to try again. After all, they had almost made it to the top on their first attempt. They made a U turn and rolled back down to Baker. This time, they would take a running start. So they waited a while, poured some more water and coolant into the radiator, and then Matt revved up the little high compression engine and attacked the bottom of the hill at 90 miles an hour. Up they went, slower and slower with each passing mile, and just a they could see the top of the hill less than a mile ahead, the car gave up again, coming to a full stop.
The third time they tried this, disaster struck. The fan belt broke, and soon thereafter the radiator began to spew water, a prelude to exploding and burning up the entire engine. They had no choice but to roll back down to Baker.
There, they went to a garage. When the mechanic looked at the Fiat’s engine, he began to howl with laughter, asking, “what’s that? an outboard motor or a moped? Haha.”
Matt figured that there were still desert hicks in the 21st century apparently, who hadn’t heard that not all cars were Fords and Chevrolets. However, it was Christine who displayed the courage, temper, fierce sense of loyalty and the admirable protective instinct which were among the main reasons why Matt fell so deeply in love with her. She told the mechanic, “what’s the matter with you, idiot? Never seen a foreign car? Can you fix it, or are you too damn stupid?”
Whoa! thought Matt, cowering. She’s going to get us into trouble! But she didn’t. The red neck apologized and said, “sure I kin fix it, but it’ll take a couple a days. I gotta get parts from Vegas.”
Christine and Matt were stuck in Baker for the next couple of days. They couldn’t find a motel room, so they spread their canvas tent out somewhere in the desert sand near the freeway, and they slept under the stars, surrounded by cactuses and listening to howling coyotes in the distance.
That is how Matt and Christine roamed around America shortly after they became serious.. Their hair blew in the hot desert wind, the radio blared music out - oldies like Neil Young’s A Horse with no Name, which became their song, appropriately dealing with the rugged beauty of the desert. They drove, and when it got dark they stopped, and they slept in godforsaken towns like Hawthorne and Tonopah in Nevada, or Kingman in Arizona, or ghost towns like Trona and Cody in California. Sometimes they found a motel, sometimes there weren’t any, so they set up their tent, or they just slept sitting in the car, or in the sand under the stars. It was romantic, adventurous, fun and glorious. They didn’t care. They were young, they were in love, and they were happy.
* * * * *
Meeting Christine was a watershed in Matt’s life. He felt that she had transformed his life from darkness to illumination, that she changed him from a frequent loser to a happy winner, from a flawed person to someone of substance and achievement. She showed him the way and filled his life with happiness. She always stood by him lovingly, loyally and patiently. Her long list of qualities began with her natural innocence, her natural inability to become bitter. From the moment he first met her, Matt knew that she was incapable of meanness, and she assumed that other people were also that way. Matt could see that meanness in people surprised her. She did not expect it.
However, what made Christine so attractive was that she combined her natural goodness with the fierce temper of her Italian-American ancestry. Let her become righteously angry, and the offender had better beware!
One time they went to Disneyland and they got stuck on one of the amusement park’s dullest rides - the Bank of America’s It’s a Small World After All boat ride. The other riders on the boat were three very small children plus a group of rowdy teenagers, who began to rock the boat dangerously. Christine behaved like a lioness! Fearing for the young children’s safety, she grabbed those teenagers by the neck, and she would have tossed them into the water with superhuman strength had they not stopped. Matt, the only man in the group, just sat and watched in awe.
Early in their relationship, Matt wondered where such strength came from. After all, Christine looked like a delicate flower, not a fighter. In time, he came to understand where her amazing toughness came from. As the months went by, she told Matt more and more about herself and her background. He loved to listen to the saga of her youth, which she would recount over dinner or in bed after they made love. That saga was a microcosm of America, the strength, beauty and grandeur of the country of which Matt was a citizen by choice rather than birth.
She told him how she had been raised in the military fashion by parents who were highly disciplinarian and harsh taskmasters. She had to address her father‘Sir’ and answer her mother ‘yes Mam,’ military style. That kind of said it all.
Also, up to the moment she moved out of her parents’ house at eighteen, Christine’s duties at home had been heavy and non-negotiable. When she arrived home from school in the afternoon, it was her responsibility to set the table, to get dinner ready, and to serve it promptly when her parents arrived home at 6:00 p.m. She was also expected to do the vast majority of household chores, including cleaning, vacuuming and laundry. Saturday inspections of all the rooms were rigorous. Disobedience carried a high price, including physical punishment in the form of belt lashings.
Christine’s parents considered compliments and displays of affection sentimental and inappropriate. They came from that tough old breed of Americans who had survived the rigors of the frontier. Her mother’s ancestors had moved to America from Wales in the middle of the nineteenth century, trekked westward in covered wagons and settled in Texas. Then, they followed the Oregon trail to California, while Apaches, Comanches and Sioux raided their wagon train. Christine’s grand uncle was shot through the heart by an Apache arrow.
However, it was from her father’s side that she inherited her delightful Italianness. Her grandfather’s name was Christophoro. He came from an ancient family of clockmakers who lived in Italy’s Tyrolean Alps and in Venice. The moment Christine showed Matt a photo of the old man, he could think of only one character: Pinocchio’s father Geppetto. Christophoro looked exactly like that kind, old, sturdy, bespectacled, Tyrolean watchmaker type. However, Christophoro moved to Rome when he was a young child, and he grew up in the eternal city.
Later, a branch of the family emigrated to New York at the turn of the 20th century, taking along Christophoro and his six brothers. They first settled in New York’s Hell’s Kitchen, and four of Christophoro’s brothers died in the 1918 influenza pandemic.
Like Christine’s Welsh ancestors on her mother’s side, Christophoro also decided to move West. He settled in Colorado, a place that reminded him of the Northern Italian mountains in which he had grown up. And that’s where the next three generations of Christine’s family built their American dream, and where Christine was born. However, immediately upon high school graduation, she left for the University of California. By the time she and Matt met, her father had been dead for a decade and her mother lived alone as a widow in Colorado. Matt had never met her or any of her other relatives.
As Christine told her life story, she had a special relationship with her grandfather Christophoro. He amply made up for the coldness and asceticism of her parents. It was Christophoro who turned her on to the warmth and the beauty of the Italian spirit, to the music of Verdi and Puccini, to Madame Butterfly and to the voice of Mario Lanza, to the fine art of Italian cuisine and to the wisdom and humor of the Italian mind. As Christine’s godfather, Christophoro passed on to her much more than just his name.
As a naturalized American, Matt was utterly captivated by Christine’s story, because it was the stuff of which America was forged. This was pure American History 101. It represented America’s heroic age, the age during which the country was transformed from wilderness to civilization. Christine’s family had been there, and it was The Godfather and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, it was John Wayne, it was half of what Hollywood was all about, and it was, above all, true. Thus, Matt came to understand Christine’s strength and toughness. It was the strength and toughness of the American people.
At the same time, Matt could also see that Christine was the most sensitive person he had ever met - not sensitive in the sense of not being able to withstand pain, but sensitive in the sense of being a true empath. He found out that she could respond to whatever message he emitted , verbally or non-verbally. She understood everything. She was unable to not respond. However, he had discovered from experiences such as the ones in Disneyland and in the Mojave desert that Christine’s kindness was not to be equated with weakness. To the contrary, she was the toughest, bravest fighter he had ever met, when the need arose. In this, too she symbolized America itself.
Both of them had come to California from far away. Both were, like so many other Americans, uprooted newcomers who were re-inventing their lives uncluttered by the past. Their origins and families laid thousands of miles away. They were alone and together, which added to the strength of their bond.
Matt saw Christine as his savior. She was endowed with a superior social intelligence, an instinctive wisdom to always make the right judgment, and Matt increasingly relied on her for all his decisions, personal and professional. Before he met her, his life had been chaotic, frustrating and conflict-ridden. Many of his relationships with women had been dysfunctional, most of all his first marriage. Now he had found someone with whom he wanted to spend the rest of his life, and she appeared to share that goal.
2. WHAT HAPPENED TO CHRISTINE? So Christine went to San Diego as one of the organizers of the national AAMT convention. Matt could hardly wait for her to come back and to move in with him. He had bought his first house when he took the job as a 27-year old assistant professor at the university, two years earlier. It was a fine, fifteen-year old three bedroom house close to campus.
In anticipation of Christine’s return and move-in, he worked like the devil during her absence. He began each day with a sturdy ten mile run along the American River. He was training for the Boston Marathon, at the end of April. He had qualified for it by running the Napa Valley Marathon in 2 hrs and 59 minutes. Since then, he kept in shape by running ten miles a day and twenty on Sunday, sometimes doing intervals and gradually increasing his speed to sub-seven minute pace.
The river was brim full, wide as the Mississippi, thanks to the heavy spring Sierra snow melt. The trees were already in bloom, California was at its most beautiful, basking under a cloudless sky in seventy-degree weather. Matt was truly addicted to his daily runs, especially the mid-week ones. He loved the proverbial loneliness of the long-distance runner, rarely encountering anyone else, often seeing deer darting away as he approached, sometimes watching a coyote quickly cross the trail in front of him, occasionally side-stepping a rattler, too.
It was Monday now. One more day and he would drive to the airport to pick up Christine. He finished his run, took a quick shower and began to check his messages - first his voice mail, then his e-mail and then his MSN text messages.
To his delight, there was a voice mail message from Christine, although it was cryptic, saying something like, “I got some terrific news honey, call me A.S.A.P. Love you.”
He called her back immediately at the San Diego Marriott, but she wasn’t in her room. After playing telephone tag for a while, they finally made contact. Christine had some impressive news indeed: She said that a couple of high-faluting French doctors who were attending the convention from the Institut Pasteur were offering her a job!
“What do you mean?” Matt asked, somewhat worried. A French job?”
“Right!” she replied, excited. “In Paris! But I would do most of the work in my home office, and I would only have to fly there five or six times a year for a few days! They saw my qualifications and they want me to work for them. They said the work will be highly classified. They need someone who understands the legal ramifications. It also helps that I know French. I’m meeting with them again this afternoon to find out more about it, the pay scale and so on.”
“Wow!” he said, impressed, but still a bit concerned. “Are you sure you want to do this? Have they made an offer?”
“Well, not quite yet. They want me to fly back to Paris with them tomorrow for the job interview. Of course they are paying for everything. I’ll be staying at the Hotel Georges Cinq. I would come home on Friday instead of tomorrow...”
After expressing some more misgivings, Matt acquiesced to Christine’s changed travel plan. He didn’t have any choice in the matter anyway, it was her decision to make. Plus, he trusted her judgment. If she felt comfortable doing this, it must be alright. He would just have to languish an extra three days before being with his beloved again. He would pick her up on Friday instead of Tuesday, arriving on American flight #24 at nine p.m.
Christine arrived in Paris on Wednesday morning. As soon as she checked into the Hotel Georges Cinq, she called Matt, telling him that everything was fine. She was going to get some sleep and get ready for her job interview the next day.
* * * * *
Friday came. As the day progressed, Matt was increasingly excited. He drove out to the airport nearly an hour prematurely. There are two possibilities, they say: Either ‘out of sight out of mind,’ or ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder.’ In Matt’s case, it was definitely the latter. Her week-long absence had felt like an eternity.
The flight landed, the passengers came out, many dozens of them. Matt kept waiting and looking, to the bitter end, but to his consternation, no Christine! After waiting some more and making sure everyone had deplaned, he went to inquire, somewhat agitated. But he could get no information from the airlines as to her whereabouts, or what flight she might have booked. Privacy blah blah blah.
He called the San Diego Marriott. They told him that, yes, she had been there (which he already knew) but that she had checked out three days ago already.
Then he tried to remember, where did she say she was staying in Paris? The Saint Georges hotel, or was it the hotel Georges Cinq? He definitely remembered Georges something. ATT information told him that there was indeed a hotel Georges Cinq, so he called them. They said, “Oui Monsieur, Madame Christine etait ici, mais elle est partie hier deja.” (Yes Sir, Mrs. Christine was here, but she already checked out yesterday).
Merde! he felt like saying, but he said merci instead. He drove to her apartment, rang the bell and knocked on the door so persistently that he attracted the attention of the manager who threatened to call the police if he didn’t leave. It was midnight. Of course Christine wasn’t there.
Back in his own house, he spent the next couple of hours pacing the living room, watching Conan O’Brien and desperately waiting for her to call. But she didn’t. He finally fell asleep at four a.m.
He spent Saturday in a daze, trying to get some work done and performing some errands like an automaton. It was torture not to know where she was. He e-mailed her again, called her apartment and then he drove to it again, just in case.
To his amazement, the area was cordoned off with yellow police tape, indicating that there had been either an accident or a crime. He approached, and was shocked to find out that it was precisely in Christine’s apartment where something bad had happened. Neighbors and onlookers were milling around. Matt heard someone say ‘burglary.’ Through the window he could see that Christine’s apartment had been ransacked.