I’m standing in Times Square staring at the church which was founded and opened in 1987 in this area which was once known as a center of X-rated films, strip clubs, prostitution, and drug addiction. If I were standing in this same spot back then, people might have assumed that I was a prostitute or a junkie or both.
I don’t do drugs. Don’t have the stomach for them and I have seen what they do to people. And as far as prostitution, goes, I would never get into it. Sex is a beautiful thing and it should be between a husband and wife or a man and woman in a monogamous relationship with each other. Sex should never be for sale.
I have nothing against prostitutes, though. I don’t think they’re bad women and I don’t believe that most of them choose the profession because they want to. Most of them do it out of necessity. I don’t think women in the Bible like Rahab wanted to be prostitutes either. The first opportunity, she had to get out of the trade, she did. She and her family went with the Jewish people and she got married to one of the Jewish men.
Everyone knew that she used to be a prostitute but that didn’t matter anymore. She had helped the spies and saved their lives when she lied about them not being in the city. She got married to a decent man and they had a son who turned out to be a decent man too.
I stand there, dressed in a fur coat and top with a very low neckline and jeans, staring at the church. I feel a strong urge to walk up those steps and through those heavy wooden doors. It has been years since I have set a foot in a church. I stopped going after I got pregnant by a married man who was also a member of that church. People treated me like I had committed the unpardonable sin and I felt like I was on trial and found guilty. I left and never went back. I lost the baby. It was a stillborn.
For a long time, I mourned my loss and then, like King David, I dried my tears and moved on. I went to nightclubs and bars where I met all sorts of interesting men. Most of them were interested in one thing but I wasn’t interested in having casual sex. I let them buy me drinks and I chatted and danced with them but I always left the bar or nightclub alone.
Then, one Friday night, I was with a bunch of friends at Puffy’s Tavern and one of them said to me, “Don’t look now, but there’s a very attractive man over at the bar, staring at you.”
“Really?” I looked over at the bar and I saw him. He was very attractive and he was alone. He was dressed in a navy blue shirt and black pants. My friend was right. He was staring at me.
“Why don’t you go over there and say hello?” she suggested.
I hesitated for a moment and then, I got up from the table and walked over to the bar. There was an empty chair beside him. I sat on it, facing him. I saw his gaze travel slowly over me before it returned to my face where it remained. This close, he took my breath away. And he made my stomach do all sorts of crazy things. All sorts of thoughts were running through my head. I smiled. “Hello.”
He smiled slightly. His eyes were intent on my face making it feel hot. “Hello. May I buy you a drink?”
“Sure. Thanks. I’ll have a virgin Strawberry Daiquiri.”
He signaled to the bartender and ordered my drink. “What’s your name?”
“Janine. What’s yours?”
“Salvatore. My family and friends call me Sal.”
I held out my hand. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Sal.”
“Likewise.” He took my hand and raised it to his lips. I felt that crazy sensation in my stomach again and my heart was racing. I saw something in his eyes which made my mouth go dry and after he raised his head, he continued holding my hand. “I’ve been watching you all night and I’m pleased to see that you aren’t here with a man.” He spoke perfect English with an accent.
“That’s because I don’t have a man.”
“And I don’t have a woman. So, here we are, both available.”
“Yes.” My drink arrived and I took a sip. “You have an accent,” I said. I sounded a bit breathless. He was still holding my hand.
“Oh. Which part of Italy?”
“As in Parmesan cheese?”
He chuckled. “Yes.”
“I’ve always wanted to visit Italy. How-how long have you been here in New York?”
“About fifteen years. I don’t usually come to bars alone but I’m glad I did tonight. So, Janine, tell me about yourself.”
I told him what I felt comfortable about divulging and then he told me about himself. We had a very engaging conversation which neither of us wanted to end but then it was time for me to go. He asked me for my phone number which I gave him. I got another kiss on my hand before we separated.
My friends teased me and told me what a lucky woman I was to snag such a fine looking man. I told them that he was Italian and a self-made Entrepreneur and they were green with envy. “Find out if he has any brothers or cousins,” one of them said and I reminded her that she already had a boyfriend.
Salvatore called me the next morning and asked me to have dinner with him. He took me to an upscale French restaurant in Greenwich Village with a wonderful atmosphere, great service and an amazing menu, not to mention the live, upbeat piano music. We had a great time. I was so relaxed with him. I felt as if we had known each other for years.
Afterwards, we went to the top of the Empire State Building. The view was spectacular and we spent at least half-hour admiring it. Then, he took me home. I invited him in and we ended up in bed. I invited him to spend the night but he said that he had to go. He promised that he would call me the following day. We kissed and then he left. I showered and turned in for the night.
I didn’t hear from him the following day or the day after. I began to think that maybe all he wanted was sex and after he got it, he wasn’t interested anymore. It wasn’t the first time that happened to me and that’s why I had stopped bringing men home or going to their places. I felt like a complete fool. I had fallen hard for Salvatore and had been flattered that he was into me. I told my friend, Ingrid when we met for coffee after work on Tuesday.
She patted my hand and said, “I’m so sorry, Jan. He looked like he was really into you.”
“I should have stuck to my plan not to sleep with a man unless we’re in a monogamous relationship or married.” I sighed heavily, blinking back the tears.
“You’ve fallen for him, haven’t you?”
“Isn’t that ridiculous? I’ve fallen for a man I’ve only seen twice. I should have my head examined.”
“Don’t be so hard on yourself. It isn’t your fault that things didn’t work out.”
“Do you think that maybe he’s married?”
I didn’t answer. I was too upset. After we left the cafe, I didn’t go to the subway which would take me home but headed to Times Square. And here I am now, standing on the sidewalk opposite the Times Square Church which my late aunt used to attend.
I quickly crossed the busy intersection and went up the steps. I pushed the doors open and went inside. I went to the third pew and knelt down. I spent a long time, praying about Sal and asking God to help me to get over him if he wasn’t the right man for me. When I was finished praying, I felt a kind of peace–the kind that comes only from God. I knew that He had heard my prayer and that He would answer it. I got up and walked to the front doors.
Just as I stepped outside, my cell rang. It was Salvatore. I answered. “Hello, Sal.”
“Hello, Janine. Please forgive me for not calling you before. My father suffered a heart attack
“I’m so sorry to hear. Where are you?”
“I’m in Parma.”
I almost dropped the phone. “Parma,” I exclaimed. “What are you doing there?”
“On Monday, my sister called to tell me that Papa had fallen ill and that they didn’t think that he would make it to the end of the week. I grabbed the first flight out. Things have been so crazy here that I didn’t have a chance to call you until now. You must think that I’m a how do you say it–a jerk.”
I leaned against the wall, relieved. “When I didn’t hear from you, I felt like a fool and thought that you played me. I even wondered if you were married.”
“I’m so sorry, Janine. I didn’t play you as you say. I’m mad about you. And I’m not married. I’m yours if you still want me.”
My heart skipped a beat. “Of course, I still want you,” I said breathlessly. “How is your father?”
“He’s not breathing on his own. He’s so emaciated. It breaks my heart to see him.”
“I’m so sorry, Sal. Is he in a lot of pain?”
“I don’t know.”
“Is it cancer?”
“No. It’s Parkinson’s. He has had it for over ten years. He was diagnosed a year after my mother died. It would have killed her to see him like this.”
“I wish I could be there with you.”
“You could be if you can get away.”
Fly to Parma to be with him? The thought was exciting and crazy at the same time. Yet, I heard myself say, “I can get away from work for a couple of weeks. I will phone my manager now and let her know.”
He sounded pleased. “Thank you, Janine. It would mean so much to me having you here. And you’ll get to meet my family.”
I told him that I would call him or text him the flight details. We spoke for a long while and then, he had to go. I walked to the subway. My heart was racing. I was going to Italy, albeit under very sad circumstances. I couldn’t wait to see Salvatore again.
As soon as I got home, I called my manager and explained everything to her. She was very accommodating. I booked a cheap flight from JFK to Parma, booked my stay at a hotel, texted Salvatore the details, packed two small pieces of luggage and went to bed. Then, I was on my way to airport and on my way to Italy. I was excited and apprehensive at the same time. I wished that it was under better circumstances. I prayed for Salvatore and his family. I knew what it was like to lose a parent. I lost my father to cancer. It spread from his prostate to his bones. This was five years ago but I still miss him a lot, especially on his birthday, Father’s Day and Christmas. My mother still finds it hard to talk about it.
I arrived in Parma on Thursday morning. Salvatore met me at the airport. We literally ran to each other and hugged tightly. After we exchanged kisses, he grabbed my hand and my luggage and escorted me to where his car was waiting. He bundled me into the car before he placed my luggage in the trunk. And then, we were off. It was so good seeing him again.
“I will take you to your hotel so that you can freshen up before we go to the hospital.”
I took the opportunity then to explain to him why I was staying at a hotel instead of at his condo as he had suggested. I was completely honest with him, explaining that it wouldn’t be right for me to stay with him and I admitted that I was afraid that we would end up in bed again which was something I couldn’t let happen because I’m a Christian. I didn’t want to have sex outside of marriage any more. As I waited for him to say something, I hoped and prayed that he understood where I was coming from and would accept my decision.
He reached out and squeezed my hand. “I understand and respect your decision,” he said. “I want you to know that my connection to you is more just physical. It’s emotional.”
That made me feel better, and I breathed a sigh of relief. We talked about other things and when we got to Novotel Parma Centro Hotel, he brought up my luggage. It was a very nice room, comfortable. Nothing fancy. I liked it. It was close to a cathedral, a gallery and transit. I didn’t expect to go sightseeing, though. I quickly freshened up and then we were off to the hospital.
His sister, Elena and her husband, Guido were in the waiting room with his sister-in-law, Anna. He introduced me to them and they were receptive. They spoke little English so Salvatore had to be our interpreter. It was awkward when he went to see his father, leaving me with the others. I didn’t know or understand Italian so it was hard to have any kind of conversation with them. I had brought my phrase book and dictionary but had forgotten it at the hotel. I felt like a fish out of water without it.
Salvatore asked me later if I wanted to meet his father. At first I hesitated and then I went with him. Tears sprang to my eyes when I saw the frail, emaciated man lying there, being given oxygen. His eyes were opened and he was staring at me. Salvatore introduced us. I reached down and touched one of the thin hands resting on the sheet. It brought back memories of my father and the tears fell more freely. I excused myself and left the room.
It was around 2 when Salvatore and I left the hospital and went to a Trattoria for something to eat. I was very hungry and was also relieved to get out of the hospital. It was good for Salvatore to get away too. I could imagine how difficult it was for him to see his father like that.
As we waited for our order, I reached out and covered his hands with mine. “I know how hard it must be for you. I went through something similar with my father.”
He nodded. “There are times when I wish he would pass away instead of continuing to waste away and there are other times when I don’t want to lose him.”
“I know. Tell me about him. What was he like? Were you close?”
He told me stories about his father–most of which were funny. His father sounded like he was a wonderful man who loved his family and worked very hard make sure they had a good life. I had a feeling that Salvatore was a lot like him. He would make a terrific husband and father.
And I was proven right when a year and a half after his father passed away, we got married and shortly after we had our first child. We are now living in Bronxville. I thank God everyday for blessing me with Salvatore and our growing family.