By Phyllis Yamasaki
They served as touchstones for each other the whole time he was searching
for a woman just like her
Sunday, November 12, 2000
©2000 San Francisco Chronicle
My first apartment came with a matching green sofa and love seat, shag
carpet, gold curtains and an olive-green front door. I lived there with
three other girls in a square, concrete-block building of eight apartments:
533 Broad St., Apartment G.
We were students at Cal Poly State University in San Luis Obispo. The
black-and-white TV set sat on a blue milk crate; our stereo sat on plywood
across cinder blocks. We had a picture window with a fabulous view of the
parking lot and Mount Madonna. Rent was $400 a month, and my roommates and
I threw the best parties. All we needed was a keg of beer from Cork 'n'
Bottle, onion dip, a dozen bags of potato chips and a sheet cake from
Safeway. We never cared how much beer spilled on our green shag carpet
because the laughter was too loud, the smoke too thick, and we were having
too much fun.
The guys downstairs, in Apartment B, had the same carpet, furniture and
drapes. I loved making out with my neighbor, Brad, on our saggy green sofa.
I was 18 when I met him and I loved him five minutes after we met -- the
only time in my life that has ever happened to me. Brad, of Armenian
descent, was 6 feet tall, thin and wiry, with black hair, a thick dark
mustache, huge brown eyes, one long eyebrow and a killer smile. He was
conceited and oversexed and funny, and I loved him. By the end of fall
quarter, we had gone from deep, passionate French kisses on the couch to
sex on the shag carpet.
He was an architecture major from Fresno who'd never heard of William
Saroyan. We'd stay up studying until all hours of the night. I'd be lying
on the couch reading Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and he'd be sitting at the
kitchen table under the harsh, glaring light, drawing his lines and squares
and writing in that straight, neat architectural handwriting that drove me
wild with desire. Every couple of hours, we'd take a break and make love or
go outside to sit on the cold concrete steps to talk about school and life
and family and future.
>From the very beginning, he told me he was going to marry an Armenian girl.
He never veered from that decision -- not after we became lovers or even
after we fell in love. We kept in touch for a dozen years, long after we'd
both left San Luis Obispo. We'd rendezvous in Pismo Beach or Los Angeles or
he'd come up to San Francisco and we'd catch a Giants game. I even drove
down to hell-hot Fresno, where he'd returned after college.
I loved him through all those years -- even when he got electrolysis on his
one eyebrow to make it into two, even after he'd permed his hair in the
'80s, when it was OK for guys to have permed hair, even through all my
other boyfriends, when we didn't see each other for years at a time.
It was a Sunday evening in autumn, and Jeff, the Ken doll of my dreams, had
just left my house. He was tall, dark, cute, considerate, well-educated,
blue-eyed and boring. I knew as we kissed goodbye on my front porch that we
weren't going to last through the holidays.
I hadn't seen or talked to Brad in nearly a year when the phone rang.
I recognized the voice immediately. ``Brad,'' I said.
``You remembered.'' He laughed his boyish, high-pitched hyena laugh.
``What are you doing?'' ``I'm getting married,'' he said.
``You are? You were supposed to let me go first,'' I said.
``You're taking too long.''
``I can't help it.''
``I couldn't wait,'' he said.
``She'd better be Armenian or I'll kill you,'' I said.
``She is. She's 29 and a teacher.''
``What's her name?''
``Susan. You'd like her.''
``When did you meet her?''
``Eight months ago.''
``Where'd you ask her?''
``In the car.''
``In the car?''
``Yeah, we'd just bought the ring.''
``How'd you do it?''
He paused. ``I was sitting in the car, like I said, and she says to me,`You
never even asked me to marry you.' So I threw up my hands and said, `Hey
Susan, let's get married!' ''
``Then what'd she say?'' I knew there was more to this story.
``She said, `No, you have to ask me nice.' ''
As he spoke, I thought of all those years, living in the green apartments
at 533 Broad St., kissing passionately in the front seat of his blue Saab
at midnight off See Canyon Road, smelling the fresh wood as we walked
through the newly framed apartments he and his brother were building in
Pismo Beach, seeing his black head coming around the corner on Monday
nights as he searched for me in the dusty stacks of the old Cal Poly
Over the phone on that Sunday night in September, he told me how he'd
gotten out of his car, went over to Susan's side, opened the door, got down
on his knee, took her hand, and asked, ``Will you please marry me?'' This
time she said yes.
``That's sweet, Brad,'' I said, knowing that was as romantic as he could
``You'd really like her, Phyllis.'' He paused. ``She's just like you.''
At that moment, I could see his face so clearly, with his dark eyebrows
knit almost into one again, his full lips parted slightly. I took a deep
breath so I wouldn't start to cry and said, ``I know.''
After we said our goodbyes and he hung up, I held onto that phone receiver
for a long time before I knew it was finally time to let go.
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Phyllis Yamasaki is a property manager in Silicon Valley.
©2000 San Francisco Chronicle Page 10