UNITED STATES—I get a kick remembering when Maya turned to me with the Wooster, Massachusetts edge and the fleeing r’s in her voice and said, “Are you a cynic?” It was a treat to have somebody close enough to observe that; it’s the bonus togetherness. Well, calling me cynical was like accusing Husserl of being a logical positivist. Time has given me the unblinking honesty to recognize that tendency I was blind to. My initial reaction, though, was a snicker of disbelief, “What! Me cynical?”
Maya. Scenes scattered over the fall in Los Angeles, 1990 as I kept up rewrites for “The Strawberry Butterfly” and managing houses in Mid-City. There was more furniture moving for Maya, a dresser and a couch (maybe that is why I to this day I prefer not to have a couch)—you the reader will be the cynical one thinking Maya used me for just that purpose of moving furniture. I was happy to help. She had brought in some more furniture for her cousin who was now living with her and still looking for a job, after a couple months in Los Angeles.
There was a kiss one night after we did make it to at least one movie on time, that kiss in the Subaru under a streetlight on Hobart, where she lived in an apartment full of old-country Armenians clustered in front of their apartment doors to watch and gossip. The kiss felt so geeky and awkward, I didn’t think I would ever kiss again or hear from Maya. But I did.
We enjoyed ourselves at a party at our house on Manhattan Place instigated by Joe, the comedian and historian and soul of that house. Tubs of ice and beer all around and all my friends from Nadeau Drive and Silver Lake came over: it was this confluence of different worlds. I was lucky. In Maya, I had a person who saw my better self, even while seeing my bitter self.
December passed, more rewrites, I didn’t see Maya for a while. She wanted to meet for lunch in the new year. She had a new job working for the boss of a messenger service for the studios. She was having issues with cousin Daniel, not looking for work “sincerely.” They were about to be disconnected because of mounting phone bills. Maya was being disillusioned by her own flesh and blood.
For me, it didn’t take flesh and blood. The telenovela actor and his wife from South America had vacated the Wylie properties for digs nearby, thanks to the good reference I provided for them. Residents were up in arms about him coming back into the house on Manhattan Place and stealing food from the refrigerator. It was a dark day for my humanistic optimism when I had to change the bolt locks on both the front and back doors of that house because of the food thievery.
It started to rain on the day I was going to meet Maya at a Thai restaurant on Sunset. I was late. The first drops of rain made the streets slick, washed by a rainbowed layer of iridescence fanning out over the blacktop. On Wilton before the stoplight, I braked hard and skidded into the bumper of the woman in front. There was no damage to speak of. The bumper tilted imperceptibly and evenly forward perhaps a quarter of an inch on the lower edge. The driver and I exchanged information, and it was curtains for my lunch date with Maya.
The thing was, I didn’t see her then or again. It set back the clock of my culinary evolution for 20 years not sampling that Thai restaurant. She ultimately set forward the clock of my heart. Regret over how shabbily I had treated her gave me a drive to be a better person. She showed me a lot about myself—she taught me the expression “walking on eggshells.” I was the person who made her walk on them.
The memory of Maya always left an ache.
Grady Miller is a humorist and author of the comedy collection “Late Bloomer.” Grady can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.