|From “Love, Sex, and Beautiful Cultists”|
Let’s have lunch together,” Sarah suggested one day. She’d heard about a restaurant in Chinatown called the Sang Kee and wanted to try it. “All the local Chinese go there,” she said. “So, it must be good.”
At this time, I was working part-time at a daycare center in Chinatown. I had applied for the position not long after returning from my third stay in Taiwan. By that time, I had spent two summer vacations from university there, and one six-month sojourn after graduation, during which I taught English as a foreign language. Having worked with children as well as adults, I was able to parlay my experience into a job as a teacher’s assistant there.
We decided to meet in Chinatown, on Race Street. So, Sarah and I set a day, and around noon, she showed up on the doorstep of my workplace. Together, we strolled to the restaurant. It didn’t take long; Philadelphia’s Chinatown is very small, and most places aren’t more than three or four blocks away from each other.
The Sang Kee was at the very edge of Chinatown, just by Vine Street. Soon, we were sitting down to a pleasant lunch of chicken cooked in lemongrass. We chatted aimlessly about this and that. After we finished, Sarah wanted to check out some new stores downtown at One Penn Center. We walked back to the parking lot on 6th Street where’d I’d left my car and took off.
Although by now I had known Sarah for a year, I was suddenly struck by just how handsome a woman she was. I’d never really noticed her beauty before. She was going on about her sadness over growing older. She was feeling very low. I asked her if I could ask how old she was, and she smiled and told me that she didn’t mind; she was thirty-eight. She told me she’d locked herself up for three days and cried when she’d reached that birthday. Sarah continued, speaking at length about the hopes and dreams she’d once had for her life, and how none of them had come to anything.
It was difficult for me to imagine at the time how she could be so sad; she was beautiful, she had her own successful business, and she was married to the one she loved (or so I thought at the time).
We spent the rest of the afternoon window shopping on Chestnut Street. Toward the end of the day, Sarah wanted a drink. So, we returned to the car, and drove down to Downey’s pub on South Street. Over our drinks, I began to understand the extent of Sarah’s unhappiness.
We took a small table out on the second-floor balcony. It was a beautiful early summer’s eve. The sun was on its way down, and it had begun to get cool. I had a lovely view of Sarah against the river and the Camden Waterfront in the distance, as we sat opposite each other.
After we were seated, she began talking about life with her husband. She said that she needed to go out once in a while, to have some fun; but that Gerry wouldn’t have it. He was far too conservative about finances. I timidly ventured that one can’t play all the time, and that perhaps Gerry had a point about being careful with money.
“I work my arse off in that salon every day,” Sarah retorted. “I need a break sometimes, but Gerry won’t hear of it.”
The sadness and venom in her voice surprised me.
Sarah ordered a glass of wine. I had scotch. We shared a dish of chocolate mousse. Sarah continued to tell me of life with Gerry. She really was feeling miserable, and her gloom was becoming contagious. On the table between us was a small decorative vase with a couple of flowers in it. On impulse, I took a lavender-colored daisy and presented it to her.
“What’s that for?” Sarah asked.
“You looked like you needed a flower.”
She smiled, looking down at the daisy in her fingers.
“Aw, that was sweet… See, that was romantic.”
After an hour or so, which included a second dish of mousse, and another glass of wine, it was time to go. The moon had risen, but the sky was still very blue, and not yet dark. We took our leave. Sarah said that she wanted to be dropped off around the block from her apartment, on Iseminger Street, rather than on East Passyunk. She said she didn’t want people to see her getting out of a strange man’s car. She said further that we needed to be careful about being alone together. I was surprised.
“I’m a woman… You’re a man… It could happen.”
I laughed at her in my naivete.
“No, it couldn’t,” I answered. “You’re married!”
“That doesn’t matter,” Sarah said seriously. “It could still happen.”
Looking back at this exchange, I realized two things: First, that Sarah was genuinely unhappy in her relationship with her husband and was probably trying to indulge in a harmless romantic fantasy, without carrying it out. Second, I was unable, and unwilling, to understand how anyone could possibly be interested in fat, stupid, ugly me, and I hadn’t the experience to see what was really happening. But of course, you know what they say about hindsight.
We pulled up at the corner of 13th & Castle, by Pierce Street, away from prying eyes. We sat quietly for a while, and then our conversation turned to matters of faith. Having known one another for a year or more by now, we were becoming good friends. And, of different religious sects, we were concerned for one another’s souls. Using a Bible that was in the back seat of the car, we gently argued back and forth about the correct interpretation of certain passages, and which of us held the truth about God.
“Do you pray to Jehovah? You must use Jehovah’s name, you know. ‘God’ and ‘Lord’ are just titles, but as his children, we have the privilege of—”
“But his name isn’t ‘Jehovah.’”
“Of course it is,” she protested. “See here?” She opened the Bible to a passage in the Prophets that she said supported her case. But in my Bible, The Name was translated as Lord. Sarah was slightly put off her stride.
“Look,” I said. “We have the four consonants of God’s name, but no one knows how to pronounce it anymore, cos we don’t have the vowels.” I tried to explain to Sarah how Hebrew is written. “What we have are the consonants YHVH and the vowels of the word Adonai— ‘Lord.’”
“But ‘Jehovah’ is how it comes down to us in English.”
“It’s probably closer to ‘Yahveh.’ Anyway, it is forbidden to pronounce The Name.”
“That’s not right,” Sarah said. “We’re told to call on his name to be saved.”
“We’re to call on the name of Jesus Christ, according to the New Testament.”
“No; the name of Jehovah God.”
“Well, what was Jesus, then?”
“He was a perfect man. He was the perfect sacrifice. He was the first being Jehovah created, and he balanced the scales for us when he died…”
Of course, neither of us was to be swayed. So the day ended on a mildly sorrowful note.
I watched as Sarah got out of the car and began to make her circuitous way home in the oncoming night.