[These words from L.L. Barkat brought back this memory…]
She and I first met at the National Gallery of Art. Immediately I knew we were friends; we had common heart-hues, likenesses in our life palettes. She understands me, I thought. The friendship solidified in our ten-minute encounter, but I did not see her again for three and a half years.
The most visited place in Washington, D.C. is not the Lincoln Memorial, nor any monument or Smithsonian musuem. It is Union Station, its 270 stores and Amtrak and Metro hubs bringing multitudes passing in and passing through.
We had just lived forty hours on a joggety-jiggly train. Our legs, not yet adjusted to unmoving ground, took us into this Union Station with lurches and sideways steps. Signs hung from the ceiling, and we followed their arrows to the food court where we plopped car seat and duffle bags under two adjacent and amazingly unoccupied round metal tables, the kind you would normally find in someone’s backyard deck next to the grill.
The lunch-buying mission was mine and mine alone. Competition breeds the skill to sell, I guess, and the woman selling wraps somehow caught my eye within three seconds after we found our table. A slice of tuna wrap hung precariously on a toothpick at the end of her extended arm. She singled me out and beckoned with quick, downward thrusts of the chin. “Come! Free sample, you take! Come!” I came, took the sample, and returned to our table with a Chicken Caesar, a Chicken Arizona, and chicken-strip kid meals. The other food court vendors never had a chance.
Over this lunch we determined what to see before checking into the Governor House Inn. We stepped out into the gray mid-May D.C. drizzle, and my happy heart drove impatient feet straight to the National Gallery of Art.
I stepped in and first took in the architecture, the floor . . .
. . . the ceiling . . .
Then I looked for her, the friend who made such instant soul-connection three and a half years earlier. Which hall? Which room? My footsteps were quick. As I went, a thought came to me and I asked a security guard, “Is it okay to take pictures?” (Yes!)
Then, I turned a corner through a doorway and found her.
Hello again, friend. I’ve waited long to see you.
I stood very close, looking up. Sunlight from a skylight caused a reflection, so I moved a little left and right, a little closer, a half-step back, so I could see every part. My feet were planted. Standing close, I stared, looking up.
A security guard stepped to my left and warned, “Not too close. Just eight to ten inches.”
“Thank you,” I answered without looking at him, and stepped back.
Ten, fifteen minutes passed. By this time I was crying. So happy.
I took the first picture. My heart was not the only part of me that was rushed, and a sudden brightness reminded me I had forgotten to turn off the flash. I turned it off and took more photos while an elegantly dressed museum visitor approached me from the right. “I don’t think that flash is very good for the painting,” she said, firm and patient.
I turned to her and smiled, patient, too. “Yes, I turned it off,” I explained. “It was an accident.”
Another five minutes, and the security guard came back. “Found a good spot, have you?”
I turned to him, happy that someone noticed my appreciation. “Yes! This is my favorite painting in the whole musuem,” I said, speaking in a kind of hush.
“If you stand in the same spot for a while, we start watching you,” he said.
Well, he was doing his job, after all. I gave no answer.
“Just make sure you don’t get too close. Eight to ten inches.”
A scenario flashed through my mind of several guards coming at me from all sides and taking hold of my upper arms (Come with us, ma’am.) while I cried and made a scene (I just want to look at her!). After that I was more careful. Our meeting will have to be sneaky and clandestine, then. I decided to have fun with this, secret-club style. I took several steps back and even sat on the couch in the middle of the room. I crossed my legs and assumed a nonchalant pose, occasionally glancing at the other paintings. I got up and spent twenty minutes in other parts of the Gallery, then returned. I peeked in at her from the next room. Hi again! I see you!
I had arranged to meet my family in the coat room at 4:30, and it was time. I said goodbye, happy for a second meeting.
We donned our coats, grabbed our luggage, and stepped out. It was no longer raining.
(Originally posted for a 2010 book club.)
Linked at Seedlings in Stone: