Rebecca, 47

Most of our conversations were conducted between the Mexican busboy. Hector couldn't speak English, so he would talk to the busboy in Portuguese, and the busboy would speak to me in English. And then we arranged to go on a date.

By John Bowe

Published February 23, 2009 11:57AM (EST)

I was, I suppose -- I don't remember -- 36, 37 maybe. About 10 years ago. I was working in a little English restaurant. I worked 18 shifts per week, so I spent most of my time there. And it was mostly South American guys in the kitchen, American customers, businessmen, mainly, and English waitresses like me.

The man I was with at the time wanted children. He was an Italian count. I knew I wanted children. But it really stressed me to think of having them with him because he was always like, lying in a hammock, having a cigarette. He was very charming, but he was, you know -- I had three jobs, and he had no jobs. And I always thought to myself, if I have a child with him, he's going to be the child.

And then we had this new busboy. I remember seeing him one day when he was leaving. I was talking to my friend Carol, and I said, "Cool! Who's that?" and she said, "It's the new busboy." He was Brazilian. He didn't speak a word of English. He was picked up at the airport by another Brazilian guy, and the next day, he started working in our restaurant. He didn't know anything. He had a family in Brazil. Kind of left his wife, really. They kind of split up. He had gone straight from her to working here and sending money back -- that was the aim.

And we worked together for a long time. He had a really nice aura. Full of kindness, and he was hard-working. I suppose I really fancied him. The first time I saw him, I said to Carol, "I want to have his children." [Laughs.] But I meant it. I had this feeling, "That's the man I'm going to have children with." I wanted to have children with someone I fancied and really liked, and I was in a relationship with someone that I didn't really have a sexual sort of connection with.

He was two years younger than me. We would talk. He would ask me, "Can I have Coke, please?" and I'd say, "Who do you think you are that you can ask for drinks? Get back to work, you dog." [Laughs.] He'd go really red. And I'd say, "I'm kidding. I'm joking."

Most of our conversations were conducted between the Mexican busboy. Hector couldn't speak English, so he would talk to the busboy in Portuguese, which is somewhat similar to Spanish, and the busboy would speak to me in English. Or he'd write me little notes in broken English. And then we arranged to go on a date. We met at the Telephone Bar in the East Village. He was all dressed up for it. He brought flowers.

I remember saying to him, "Do you want some wine?" And he didn't understand that. I was like "Vino! Vino!" He had this little dictionary, and he took it out and I remember thinking, "How can he not understand 'vino'? My God! He's good-looking, but he's an idiot!" And then we had sex and everything, and -- I really did like him a lot!

And then I went back to France to visit my mom, and so it kind of stopped. I still had the boyfriend. But it was all right, because I'd found out that whenever he went back to Italy, to Rome, he would have little flings. So I thought, "OK. I understand now." I understood why it hadn't been right between us. And when I came back from France, Hector and I had another date. Next thing, we were sort of going out. We didn't tell anybody. They caught us kissing in the corner, and then it all kind of came out.

When I said I wanted to have children, he gave me this little lecture about money and drinking and responsibility and not having money and how having children is a big responsibility. I ended up getting pregnant the next month. We wouldn't have bothered to get married, but we needed to for him to get legal, to get his papers. So I had to get my citizenship, because I'd never bothered with that yet. Then we got married after my daughter was born -- Dominique. We got married twice actually. He found out he hadn't gotten divorced properly in Brazil, so we had to get that annulled, and then we got married again.

My brothers laugh at me. Because the count, just before I left him, he'd always be talking about his big estate. The big estate that he was going to get. Which he did. So my brothers always joke, "Ah yes, she left a distinguished Italian count for an illegal alien ... who doesn't speak English and is retarded." [Laughs.] But now they really like him.

I love him. But I sometimes hate him. We fight a lot. Sometimes it's money, because I spend more. I'm really bad with money. And he's more organized. He's a plumber's helper. The money's pretty bad, and he works long hours. We don't have enough money to live -- so sometimes it's that. Sometimes we argue about me going out with other guys. I have a lot of male friends. They were friends I met before him. And it's like, this very Latin thing -- who you can see and can't see. He wouldn't speak to me for a few days. He was doing that for a while.

Oh, and we argue sometimes because he says I don't let him finish what he's saying. I finish his sentences with not the right ending. We argue like that, for lack of communication. On the phone, I don't know what the hell he's talking about. He doesn't speak English properly. I don't speak Portuguese. So sometimes he says something, and I say, "I don't understand you!" [Screams.] In the office the other week, I found a plumber's job for him on Craigslist. And I called him and told him, and he said, "What? What does you mean?" And I said, "I'm fucking helping you!" It drives me to distraction.

I think it's a lot to do with not having a formal education. He doesn't read ... he didn't even go to school. He went back to school a bit when he was about 18 or 19. I mean, he's intelligent. But he was working when he was 8. He has made an effort. But -- he's crap at it. I thought he'd learn -- and he didn't! [Laughs.] But I'm not great at it either.

A friend of mine says you have to have three things in common: intellectual compatibility, emotional and sexual [compatibility]. So um, we don't have intellectual. But that's the thing: I have friends who have very intellectual relationships. That's really important to them. So sometimes I think, "Am I missing out on all that?" Like, the best-friend kind of thing? But that's the choice I made.

A lot of people don't have much sex because of their lifestyles, but they're still into each other. But a lot of people who have been in a relationship for quite a while -- they don't really talk about those intellectual things anymore. You talk to people about how did you meet, and they describe the thing, and they're having this memory, and it's so clear that the memory has to keep them going. They argue a lot. The way they speak about their partners, the way they speak to each other, the way they -- everything. It turns my stomach ... it's so awful.

I'll give you an example. I had a friend that I thought had a really wonderful relationship. She'd been with her partner for 10 years. They were both very intellectually in tune and very successful in the media and everything. They discussed everything, and they really seemed like close, close friends. And then she met another guy and she just fell in love with him. And of course, you know, problems had been happening, but nothing they ever talked about, or even they were problems that other people wouldn't think were necessarily problems.

And she fell completely in love with this other guy who was completely the opposite of her partner. She broke off her relationship and her children and everything for this other relationship. When I thought back, there's so many times when there was a kind of contempt. It came out just a little bit. He wasn't very good at doing practical things. And I think a light bulb or something had gone off, or maybe it wasn't a light bulb, it was something a bit more demanding, like maybe the fuse or something, and he was slightly unsure of what to do. And she said, "Just put that in there," and she starts looking at him with absolute contempt and hatred.

I think being physically tied to somebody makes you maybe kinder than that. I think if you have a good sex life with somebody, there's a fundamental respect for that person. There's a boundary that you can't cross, in terms of behavior between you. I think -- when your lover becomes your best friend -- you tell everything to him, and you share everything, and you work together, and you do everything together, maybe in the end, it becomes boring. Like, you can no longer smell the person, and it affects the sex. And ultimately, if you don't have that physical connection, you will leave, or you'll have an affair, or you'll find someone else, because that's what really you're hungry for. I think sex is the only intuitive thing that you do. It's not verbal. I think it demands a certain amount of mystery or independence to keep it good.

I have a lot of friends, who, when they're talking about sex with their partner, they go, "Oh, I can't bear it." They pretend to be asleep. You know, this isn't just one of my friends, it's most friends, like 97 percent. They say that they have sex maybe every month or two months. And I'm thinking, "Why have I ended up different from my friends?" And I think it's because we can relate sexually.

A lot of people I know that don't have sex -- it's because they can't be bothered. Since you can't be bothered it means that you're not too interested in the other person. And what differentiates that between a friendship? I've been in that relationship myself, where we haven't really wanted to have sex. I've gone through all that. It's a horrible place to be.

When kids come along, the relationship isn't "I love you. Oh my God, I love you, I love your mind." It's all about the kids and about work and the division of work. It becomes incredibly un-sensuous. I know this because I'm around our kids all the time. We have three of them now. But we've managed to keep things sensual. To a fault. [Laughs.] It's lovely. It's still good.

It's better even. But our relationship's gotten better as well. I am connected with him. I look forward to having sex and I look forward to seeing him and kissing him and those things, you know. I like the way he smells and lots of things like that. Kind of simple things. That man-woman stuff has lingered since the day we first met, really. He's very strong about who he is. He always wants sex every night, so it's just sexy, you know? It just feels natural: Have sex and then sleep. It connects you to something. To life, you know, to something important.

But it's more than just being turned on by hot, foreign dark guys. [Laughs.] It's a certain emotional sensibility he has. His emotional instincts are right -- about people, about things. He's much quieter than I am. He's quite shy. And more. I notice this so much in New York: So many people never consider other people, how they have to struggle to get by. They pass them on the street, lying down on the ground, and they never stop and consider what it's like, what it means, that they don't have proper food or a place to stay. These people go around all the time saying, "Oh, I deserve this, or I deserve that." Hector's of the other kind. He's had a hard life. He understands people. He stops and gives money to people. It's a goodness. He has a goodness in him.

I followed my instincts. I've never regretted that. I thought, I can never stay with someone who I don't have that intimate connection with, that chemistry. It wasn't like, Oh, I want to have good sex with someone and then marry them. I'm not that naive here. With Hector, it's the feeling of his being independent, capable and hardworking, the very opposite from my last boyfriend. And the thought of having someone who could look after you -- it's kind of an instinctive thing. Someone who's responsible -- to me it's a turn-on.

I'm one of those people who things always happened to. I never chose a career. And with this relationship, I wanted it. I created it. It doesn't matter if it was a good idea or a stupid idea. I wanted to live with this person, have a baby with this person. I'd never dreamed it would last this long. But I hope I grow old with him. Why not let it happen? I thought, "What's the worst?" The worst is that we don't stay together.

John Bowe

John Bowe is a freelance writer living in New York. He is the co-writer of the film "Basquiat," co-editor of "GIG: Americans Talk About Their Jobs," and author of "Nobodies: Modern American Slave Labor And the Dark Side of The New Global Economy." He has written for the New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, GQ, McSweeney’s, and appeared on NPR’s "This American Life."


Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Americans Talk About Love