< eL Diluvio
August 5 2023
New York City

Didiet

I.

"Let me guess, they asked you for your insurance card first? Before saying hello?"

I nodded. 

"My friend back in Albania, he told me not to come to America, you know why? Because in America you are only a number."

Didiet was short, with a broad chest, and muscular like a lion. He had curly grey hair cut short and silver stubble on a cutting face. I lay on the hospital bed as he performed an ultrasound on me, taking pictures of my heart for the cardiologist to examine.

"25 years I was a doctor back home. 25 years. I was a pediatrician with my own practice in the capital, Tirana. Then I came here 6 years ago thinking I could be a doctor here. I was crazy." He scoffed as he applied more jelly to the camera.

"Why did you move here?" I asked.

He looked at me and smiled. "American dream." A pause as he adjusted the camera and turned my chin up to get a different angle. "More like American nightmare." 

"It can't be that bad," I offered.

He pulled the camera off and turned to look me in the eye. "Here, no one cares about you. People you see and work with everyday, they don't even say hello or goodbye. They smile fake, they laugh fake, they don't tell you what they really think. Everyone is for themselves."

I laid there in silence.

"This hospital is a little better than my first one. In my first one, everyone thinks they are your boss. From the person cleaning toilets, to the person at the front desk. And the doctors? Most of them are half my age and walk around with their chest out, come in, and don't look at the patient, They just try to make as much money as they can. You know how many times I overhear a doctor talk to a patient and get the diagnosis wrong? But I learn to bite my tongue, because these young doctors look at me like I am nothing."

"What is the process for you to become a doctor here?" I saw his eyes narrow as he stared at the black and white images of my heart beating.

"Your heart rate is 95 now. Was 70 when you came in. What are you here for again?"

"I've had these strange episodes for the last month. I randomly get light headed, my vision gets blurry, my mind gets foggy, I get nauseous, and feel like passing out. My blood tests all came back normal. So now they're thinking it could be heart related. My dad thinks it's all in my head."

No response as he continued to study the imaging intently. I felt my throat close up and my symptoms started to slowly rear their head.

"Tell your doctor to send you for neurological tests as well. Just in case."

I took a deep breath as I made the mental note.

"Everything looks good on the picture, don't worry. It is possible that it is stress."

I concentrated on the poster near the door that talked about the proper hand washing technique as I continued to take steady deep breaths.

"Three big tests. All of medicine in one week of big tests."

I raised my eyebrows.

"You asked me what it takes to become a doctor here. Three big big tests about a bunch of things you don't even need to know. Then you have to apply to residency. And you think I have chance to match? I'm 52. They’d rather take the20 and 30 year olds."

I could feel the nausea subsiding and my breathing was no longer shallow.

"That’s unfair—do your 20 years mean nothing?"

"25. And no I guess not. When I came here, the first three months we lived in StatenIsland. Everyday I went to all the hospitals and clinics and doctor's offices looking for a job, any kind of job to get my foot in the door. Many wouldn't even talk to me, others would laugh in my face. The worst, the worst would take my resume with a fake smile and when I return pretend they never met me."

"That's bullshit. They're losing out on someone who has a passion for medicine."

He instructed me to turn over to my left side, with my body facing the wall.

"Passion.”He chuckled. “I used to have.”

He nuzzled the camera on my collarbone and instructed me to hold my breath for 10 seconds.

"You know why I became a doctor?"

I shook my head.

"You were right. It was love.”

He took the camera away and motioned for me to put my shirt on. I grabbed it from the wooden chair and stretched my arms up as I slipped it on.

I turned to face him and listened. 

II.

I was 15 when I met her. We were stupid boys, as boys are at that age. I spent that entire summer going to Lake Kashari, big beautiful lake 20 minutes from our town. We would bike there in the morning and spend the entire day jumping off rocks, playing soccer in the grass, drinking beers, and making jokes. Sometimes we would run in to groups of other boys, other girls from other schools and all party together until it was dinner time and we knew our mothers would want us home. Everyone was trying out new hair styles, clothes, fake accents, anything to make yourself stand out amongst people you had known all your life. It was that time when romance filled your mind.

I would lie to my parents about where I was going because there was nothing about it they would like. They wanted me to get a job. They didn't like the friends I had. My mother was sad because one of my cousins was paralyzed after jumping head first into a shallow lake. I told them I was doing odd jobs here and there with a cousin in a town over that they thought was a smart guy, so they left me alone.Or now that I'm a parent, they probably knew but didn't have the energy to stop me. My mother worked herself to bone as housekeeper, and my father was a carpenter who built houses. Simple people, not much emotion, not lots of hugging or kissing. Here in America people treat dogs better than people.There, a dog is happy to sleep outside and get our scraps. But my parents were good people, honest people, hard working people. They showed love in different ways and looked you in the eye. You saw a real person looking back at you.

One day, near the end of summer, we were having contest to see who could throw a rock into the lake the farthest. My friend Kaustav and I got into argument because his winning throw came from a rock way smaller than everyone elses’s. I pushed him, he pushed me, and our group of friends yelled to encourage us to fight. Stupid boys, I tell you. Then I looked over his shoulder and aw group of girls come through the trees. And I swear at that moment the world stopped. I could hear nothing, not the yelling beside me, not the birds in the water, nothing. I was deaf.

I saw her walk through the trees carefully, the third one out. She looked like newborn the way she walked, it was clear she was not the type to go on adventures outside. She was wearing a long white dress and had her hair down to her hips, long brown hair, wavy. And when she looked up at me—her eyes killed me there and then. Blue eyes, the bluest eyes I ever seen. I wanted to jump inside of them.

When I came back to Earth, all of my friends were turned around staring. Coming out of the trees was a group of 7 girls. The funny thing is, they looked like two groups put together. One group, like my girl, looked very out of place. Their hair, their skin, the way they held themselves, their outfits, and the way they looked nervous—rich girls. And the other group, more the type of girls we were used to seeing in our town, still pretty and young but more like us.

To be honest, I don't really remember what the rest of the girls looked like. I only knew thatI had to have the blue eyed flower that stole my breath. She stole it really. I normally was not shy, but then, I became like a mute. I could not help but stare at her and have my heart race. I was terrified at the thought of her talking to me.

Kaustav soon forgot the dirt in his eye and waved at one of the village girls, his sister’s friend. We spent an hour with the group, chatting and taking them on the trail around the lake but I swear to you I said no words the entire time. It must have been obvious, that I liked her, because she caught me looking at her once or twice as she played with her hair and talked to the rest.

She was a popular girl—easy going in the way she talked, but very good at making everyone feel as if they were included, listening to anyone who spoke up. I overheard her talking to my friend Damian about the new American movie she watched, TheBreakfast Club, and how she was obsessed with it—watching it over and over and memorizing the lines because she wanted to be an actress in Hollywood one day.I thought it strange, because she seemed to be so smart when she spoke, smarter than I thought an actress would be. Her duality intoxicated me: she had a love for the spotlight, a coquettish nature, but was also shy and warm.

Truly, that first encounter, I was a coward. The girls excused themselves as they had a party they were attending later but you could tell some of them wished to stay around and talk to the boys they had their eye on. I looked at her as she waved goodbye and could hardly hold her eye as I blushed. She smiled and turned around, disappearing into the trees once more.

Can you believe no one remembered her name? I asked my friends, but no one could recall it. I thought it crazy—she was the center of the universe from the second she stepped out into the clearing, and yet they all treated her as if she was not. I needed her name, I needed something to drizzle honey on.

There was only a week of summer left and then we went back to school. I knew she didn't go to my school so there was no hope of seeing her there. Kaustav had been having liaisons with the girl he knew from the group, a girl named Juliana that went to a neighboring all girls school. I asked if Juliana knew any information about her. The truth was, my mystery girl was a third order acquaintance—Juliana's mother was a housekeeper for the mom of one of the rich girls in the other group, and their mothers thought it fit that they hang out that day. That happened to be the day when my mystery girl tagged along.Juliana didn't make any effort to keep up with the other group, so that was a dead end. This of course, only inflamed my obsession for a bit.

Without anything to feed the dying embers, it was October and my fixation on her began to fade. Even though I fought for it. I was a cinephile—ever since I saw Taxi Driver as a boy I wanted to be director. I tried to watch more and more movies hoping to capture an actress that resembled her but it was also useless. No one on the big screen had that combination of long brown hair and blue eyes. You had blondes with blue eyes, and brunettes with brown eyes, but nothing matching my flame.

Then, like many things in life, she resurfaced as soon as I let go of the thought of seeing her again. It's as if God rewards your persistence precisely when you loosen up—but you cannot have what you want without your initial suffering and stubbornness.I was lingering at a cafe on a busy narrow street after school with an old friend from childhood, a Kilena, talking about the plans for the parties that weekend, who was eyeing who, who had kissed who—all you gossip about when you are that age.

We were seated at a little metal table right outside the big window filled with pastries, Kilena sipping a coffee, me with a cigarette, and I remember her saying something that made me laugh heartily. Again, as if appearing from nowhere, I saw my royal prize holding her textbooks to her chest, wearing a navy school uniform.She was walking with a group of friends and giggling herself. We locked eyes mid laugh.

This time I lasted maybe half a second before I darted my eyes away and cut my laugh off abruptly. Kilena could sense something amiss and turned in her chair to see what caused my reversal. I looked up again and saw that the mystery girl was staring at us as she walked by the table. Kilena looked back at me and smiled. 

From that point on, I dragged Kilena to the cafe after school almost everyday. She was a good sport about it. Especially because she could fill the time telling me about her crush of the week and I could pretend to listen enough while looking out of the corner of my eye. Two weeks later, our gambit paid off.

Again, my mystery girl appeared on the street with her group of friends. This time, I swear she walked slower. I saw her before she saw me and relished in a few seconds of being able to drink her in before her eyes would freeze me up. Sure enough, when she looked in my direction, I turned my attention back to Kilena and stayed glued to my seat, my palms sweaty as she walked by. Kilena saw my gulps and continued the conversation in the hopes of defusing my nerves. She was angled differently this time, so that she could see the mystery girl without turning her body around, and stared her down as she walked by. 

"She's very pretty Didiet. If I had eyes like those, I could have any boy in the world."

Then, that very curious phenomenon when a boy and girl fancy each other happened. The girl becomes bolder—not direct (never direct) but she presents herself to the boy in increasingly more obvious ways, willing him to make a move, offering herself as an object of adoration. And on the other side, the boy, no matter how courageous he may be at heart, if he has a genuine crush, becomes shyer, more withdrawn, overthinking himself and tripping over his own thoughts and actions.

The next day the same pattern repeated: mystery girl walked by, and Kilena and I remained engrossed in our conversation. Except, this time I looked up because I sensed her gaze was on me—she was smiling at me. At first, I didn't believe it.

"She likes you." Kilena knocked me out of my stupor. "Why else would she drag her friends through this street that's out of the way? You see her navy uniform, it's either from Polemia or Licrana, but both are three, four boulevards over."

That smile alone kept me up the entire night. My mind was exploding with her sweetness.

I couldn't believe my luck the next day when our delicate dance repeated. She got closer still. This time, her and her friends, who by now spoke exclusively in hushed whispers, walked right in to the cafe to order drinks and sweets. Even Kilena grew silent watching the scene. They walked out and looked right in our direction, with the mystery girl holding a scone as she smiled at us.

I was floating.

"That's it, next time they come, I'll talk to them." Kilena resolved.

The following day was chillier than expected—I was nervous that she would not show. But there she was, a burgundy scarf wrapped around her neck and her hair blowing in the wind.

Again, her and her friends ordered from the cafe—but instead of walking out, they grabbed the two tables across from us and brought them together so that they could sit.I'll be honest, I don't recall much of what happened next, only because my nerves were at their highest. I know Kilena opened the dialogue by complimenting someone's shoes, and then before long we had pulled up our chairs to the group.

Kilena did her best to guide me into the conversation—when it turned to the latest films in the cinema, she remarked that I had great taste in movies and that I would be a famous director one day. I could see the mystery girl's eyes light up. One of her other friends asked me what my list of favorite movies was. To be honest, I probably gave an "underground" list, in a clumsy attempt to show off my taste. Again Kilena came to my rescue and continued on about how I had started the student film club at our school and was working on a few short films.

As happens in a larger group, smaller conversations began to break off and soon, I was one on one with my treasure.

"My friend also told me Le Samourai was lovely. Did you really like it that much?"

It took me a second to realize she was talking to me.

"Yes.Yes, it was good."

She giggled. "It must be, if you put in your top five."

I smiled and loosened up. "It's my favorite Delon film, he's a fine actor."

"Oh fine is not enough. He is a diamond. So cold but you see the emotion right beneath the surface. And with a portrait like that. I wish to have that control."

"You like to watch lots of films?"

"I do. It's my favorite thing, ever since my father used to take me to the cinema every Sunday as a little girl. It's why I want to become an actress. In Hollywood."

From then on, the conversation flowed like the river. As it went on, I was able to stand looking her in the eye for longer and longer. It could not have been more than 10 minutes, but I felt as if we had spent a vacation together. Her friend stood up and mentioned she had to be home for a piano lesson, so the group began to pack up.

"I’m not sure I caught it. What was your name?"

"Didiet. And yours?"

"Dijellza."

Dijellza. Dijellza. Dijellza. Dijellza. Dijellza, a million times Dijellza. Knowing it, saying it, hearing her rosy timbre echoing as she said it herself. I was drunk off eight letters.

That first encounter happened on a Friday, and I had a weekend to enjoy the honeymoon of a lover's love. That brief period of time where your own fantasies are so strong, you bask in the playground of romance that you've built in your mind. The other person is a prop for your make believe. You can project any sort of personality, any sort of future on to them—you have just enough to make it seem within reach, but not too many details to take them off the pedestal. I did not say more than a few sentences to my parents that entire weekend. I remember at church, the songs sounded purer than ever. How could they not? I had sat face to face with an angel.

III.

I will spare you the details of our courtship for two reasons—for one, I believe that romance is in the withholding, the private memories between the two people. For two, because it was long and arduous. Know that I summited the mountain, but I don't wish to recall every step, every near fall.

You see, what began as cafe liaisons, grew to seeing one another at parties because of Kilena's puppeteering, and eventually dates with our groups of friends. If she wasn't there, I would be in a flat mood the entire time. Always, we would end up talking one on one and I felt myself growing in confidence around her. 

What confused me most was how happy she was to talk to me, but also how happy she was to talk to anyone. I knew that she was a social girl, a talkative girl, liked by everyone, friendly to everyone, but I started to feel as if she took my interest in her for granted. I saw her eyes light up the same if she was talking to my friendJustine, or my other friend Paul. I even heard rumors that she was dating another boy, from the most exclusive all boy’s school in town. The few times she brought up his name, it didn't seem to be in any way that resembled a strong connection. Still, it planted doubts in my head. Yet there was always as ign or two, right when I was frustrated most, that she held me in a special place. A sideways glance, a detail remembered. Where my delusions ended and reality started was unclear, which is why I was hooked. 

Finally, after a few months of this, in the dead of winter, I could bear it no longer. I asked her out to the cinema. Just us two.

"And why not our friends? Why deprive them of this film that you think is so good?"

I looked at her and saw a slight turn in the corner of her mouth.

"I just thought it would be nice. The rest of them don't care about cinema as much as me and you do. They're liable to want to leave early, or talk during the film."

"You know that's not true. Amelia wants to be an actress as badly as I do. And your best friend, Paul, he's part of your film club!"

I deflated and dropped the matter.

Again with the hot and cold, Dijellza, Dijellza who alone made me want to live or die with her words. Who controlled my moods with her eyes.

Two weeks later, we were all at a shopping center together, when she came up to me and asked me if I had ever written a letter to someone.

"I suppose only the ones my parents forced me to, out of politeness. Relatives, people who sent gifts, that sort."

"Why don't you write me a letter?"

"What for?"

"I've always wanted to exchange letters with someone. Like before, I mean people still do but not like they used to before."

"Okay."

"But don't mail it to me. I'll give you the address of a park near my house. Drop it off in the tallest oak tree by where the purple bench is."

"Okay."I tried to conceal how terrified I was. I didn't think of myself as a particularly good writer.

"Hmmm. This is good. Very good." Kilena said when I told her at school the next day. 

"What do you mean?"

"See, I never wanted to tell you this because I thought it would discourage you. And to be honest, when I talked to her about it, it never seemed that serious. It's as if she knew that it was never going to last. But those rumors about Dijellza dating Erjon? They are true Didiet. Were true. Apparently they've known each other since they were kids. Their families went vacationing together until they had some falling out. They were together for the last two years." 

"Two years?" 

"Yes, and then you came in the picture. But as Amelia told me yesterday, they have not seen each other for months and Dijellza admitted to her that she finally cut it off." 

My head was spinning. Spinning at the fact that Dijellza had built up a world for me where I thought I was the only one, but also for being so blind to see that it was not the truth.

"Wipe that angry look off your face you idiot. She's choosing you. But you don't expect her to throw herself at you, so soon. She wants you to prove yourself to her, to take your time."

Kilena was right. And so I stayed up all night two days in a row writing and rewriting my letter.My older brother Kreshnik was a plane mechanic, and would come home late after drinking at erratic times. I would have to quickly hide my pen and paper when I heard him trudging up the stairs.

Every Saturday morning for two months I would dutifully place my letter in the oak tree, and every Sunday night I would find one addressed to me. Those letters. There's nothing I can say about their contents that would do them justice. So much said about one another without actually saying anything. And the best part? We both acted as if they were never written whenever we saw each other in person. I could feel the temperature rising.

One Friday night, when I was staying up to finish another letter, I must have been half asleep because I didn't hear my brother open the door and creep in.

"Ah so this is why you've been waking up early on Saturdays. A girl, of course.Well I'm happy to know my brother is no faggot. But he's the next worst thing, a romantic."

"Shut up." 

"So, tell me about her." 

"I'm not going to tell you anything. Go to bed. I can smell the alcohol on your breath." 

"Come on, I know what it's like. I can help." 

"Help with what? I've seen how you treat your women. I don't want your help."

"Okay Romeo. Tell me, have you slept with her?"

Silence.

"Okay, well at least you've kissed her no?"

Silence.

"I ought to rip that letter up you louse. You're slaving away writing poetry for a girl who has only held your hand. Straighten up."

I wasn't going to correct him that we hadn't even held hands.

"What's this arrangement anyways. Letters? She lives far away I suppose."

 "Well not really, she goes to Polemia..." I trailed off.

I turned around and saw that the strange noises I heard were my brother laughing into his shirt in a drunkard stance with his feet spread apart.

"You really are more pathetic than I thought. Here, I just got paid today. Let's goto a whorehouse and we'll clear your mind."

"No."

"Every week you send her a letter. Does she even send you one back?"

"Of course. That's where I go Sunday nights, to pick hers up."

I was eyeing the wooden box on my windowsill, which I had left unlocked, hoping my brother wouldn't notice.

"Ahhh, I was wondering what that was. To be honest, I thought you were smoking weed already and I was preparing to give you a pat on the back." He darted and in one swift motion flipped the lid open and palmed me down with his other hand.

"Stop, that's not yours."

"Let's see what she says little brother."

"I'll yell right now I swear. I’ll wake up our parents.”

My brother lost the smile as he contemplated my parents yelling at him for his drunkeness. They were already unhappy with his career choice.

"Fine. But at least, tell me one thing. How long has this letter writing been going on?"

"About two months, now beat it."

"And how long have you known her?"

"Over 6 months."

Any excuse to talk about her, as much as I hated this line of questioning, I couldn't resist.

"And these letters...you haven't missed a week?"

"No, obviously not."

He shook his head. "You're really stupider than you look."

"Fuck you."

"You do want to sleep with this girl don't you?"

I looked at him and said nothing. 

"You at least want to turn this script into a film, let's leave it at that." 

I continued to stare him down, willing him to leave.

"Just do me a favor for once and trust your older brother. You can send this one. But next week, don't. And if she asks you about it, tell her you were busy and leave it at that."

I recoiled. 

"I know, I know. It seems cruel. Do you see her often?"

"With friends, yes, usually once or twice a week."

"Okay, even better. Next time you see her, act distant. Don't be an asshole to her, if she tries to talk to you, be polite, go through the motions. But don't give her everything, don't give her yourself too easily." 

"Why would I do that?"

"To make her love you."

"That doesn't make any sense."

"No it doesn't. But you can learn this the hard way, or the easy way. I'm giving you the shortcut."

"I don't believe you."

He ignored me. "Of course, the week after, return to your regularly scheduled programming. Do so for another two weeks, and go back to acting normal in person. Make her doubt that the slip up even happened. And you'll notice she'll be warmer than ever. When you sense that shift, skip another week. This time two weeks. If you can stomach it, maybe even ask out another girl, someone she's sure to hear about."

"You're heartless."

"Look at this." He unrolled a crumpled napkin from his pocket. On it, a number, with a lipstick and the name Elira scrawled. He winked and turned for the door. 

"Don't be a sucker." He left me with, wagging his finger in the air.

IV.

It brings me no pleasure to admit my brother was right. After my second missed letter in a row, Dijellza cornered me at the first night of the spring carnival on Skendenberg Square.

"Look who it is. Mister I'm too busy to keep my word."

I wasn't.

"Remember me?"

I ate my sausage as I smiled at her.

"I hear you've been hanging out with Yulissa."

I hadn't.

"And to think I thought you were someone who cared about me."

"What does that mean? Of course I care about you."

She crossed her arms and turned her head. I took a step towards her and she took a step back.

"Dijellza, who is telling you those lies?"

"Oh, don't deny it. I see the way you look at her."

"What way? What are you on about?"

"Finish that thing, I can't stand the smell."

I scarfed down the sausage and she walked with me to throw away the paper plate.

She concentrated on the Ferris wheel. "Everyone has been talking about that movie with the boy who takes a day off from school. Have you seen it yet?"

"Ferris Bueller. No I haven't yet. It's only been out a week no?"

She nodded, still not looking at me as we sat on a bench in the busy square. 

"Tomorrow night, why don't we go to see it?" I said.

"Who is we? You, me and your little girlfriend? You want to invite her too?"

I suppressed a smile.

"No you brat, we as in me and you. Didiet and Dijellza. The director and his starlet."

She looked at me, but turned away quickly. 

Ferris Bueller's Day off got us holding hands. It took until our fifth Friday showtime, which was Le Rayon Vert, for us to kiss. 

From then on, we were inseparable. We spent every day of that summer together. If we weren't in the cinema, we were at the theater. If we weren't at the theater, we were making our own short films together.

Before meeting her, I had been nervous to write my own scripts. I usually had one of my friends write something, or practiced by making my own version of famous scripts out there, adapting a play or so on.

"You have the eye, you have the heart Didiet. Write. Write for me."

And write for her I did. Once I started, I couldn't stop. I had to pick up a part time job at my local grocery store just to be able to afford the rolls of film at the pace we were going. Always, she was the star, the script revolved around her. How could it not? I saved up all the money I got from my birthday, and from Christmas to buy a top of the line Betamax a local professor was selling secondhand. All so the camera could capture those blue eyes and do them justice. 

It wasn't until a year after our first kiss that we consummated our love. We didn't think it was possible, but our obsession with one another only grew. One weekend, after my brother had moved out, my parents went away to visit my aunt and we had my house to ourselves. Dijellza's parents were unusually liberal—her father was always traveling for work, her older sister was studying at university in London, and Dijellza never spoke much of her mother but I had gotten hints that she was a terribly lonely woman who kept to herself.

I will never forget that weekend. It was paradise. I treated Dijellza like a doll—I had her dress up in different outfits, pose in a million ways, act like dozens of women—all with my camera rolling, worshipping her, admiring her, adoring her.Taking her as if it was the first time, over and over.

That Monday at school, I could not concentrate for the life of me. The following weekend we screened our weekend escapades. We had to pause them every few minutes because we couldn't help but reenact the scenes. 

V.

My parents loved her. My mom always called her "zogu" or little birdie. My father who was normally the last one who wanted to make conversation would sit with them for hours in the kitchen listening to her and my mother go back and forth. Even my brother gave me a punch on the arm and a nod of approval when he met her.

Yet, she kept putting off introducing me to her family. There was one time, where her mother caught us by surprise. We were waiting outside of a house party for her friend to come out and drive them both home, when a black BMW pulled up. The color left Dijellza's face. The window rolled down and a pale woman with sunglasses smiled at Dijellza and called her name. She seemed to not notice that we had been hugging, and in fact, completely ignored me as she motioned for Dijellzato come over. She pushed her sunglasses up and I could see her glassy eyes, her empty gaze. Dijellza walked quickly to the car and hid her face as she opened the door to the passenger seat. I asked her about it but she shut me down and I never brought it up again.

Anytime I approached the subject, she would deflect. Why bother? Her parents were terribly boring, they were hardly home, she didn't care of their opinion, they didn't approve of anyone. There was always an excuse. At first I cared very little, but as we started our final year, my own parents began to raise questions that began to irk me.

That was really the only time we fought, but it became more frequent. I talked to her about what we were to do after graduation, and she would laugh and say I should live in the moment more, that we could figure it out later. Then she had a period of trying to convince me to move to Los Angeles with her, that we could both try to make it in film like we've always dreamed of. I told her that we should slowdown, go to the biggest film school here in Albania, then maybe move to France before making the jump to America.

It all boiled over one day, when I received a call from her while out drinking with some friends two nights before the New Year. Her voice was shaky, as she begged me to come pick her up. I picked her up in a grocery store parking lot, where she was in her pajamas and missing a shoe. On the car ride to my house, she explained that her father was begrudgingly home for the holidays, not off with one of his mistresses as per usual. Her mother, who was normally drunk most days, was doing anything to get on everyone's nerves. Over the last year, she had been pestering Dijellza to talk to the son of a family friend, which Dijellza had been shooting down. It all blew up when Dijellza couldn't take her mother's irate comments and let out that she had been seeing me for three years and intending on running away to America to marry me. This didn't set well with her mother, who then proceeded to make it her father's problem. In a vain attempt to shut his wife up, he hit Dijellza. They forbade her from seeing me upon learning that I didn't come from a well to-do family, and especially because I had been encouraging her Hollywood dreams. She was sent to her room and Dijellza escaped through a window, determined to never see them again.

We sat in the parked car in front of my house for a good thirty minutes before my father came out and asked what was wrong with us. Upon seeing Dijellza’s face, and my own nervous voice recounting the situation, his face hardened and he told us to drive to my grandfather’s house across town to spend the night there.

We didn’t sleep that night, frozen in a catatonic state. The following evening, I received a call from my father to come back. Dijellza's parents had found out who I was and where I lived, either through some friends or a private eye, and had stormed to my parents house. They had been going back and forth for hours, but demanded to see Dijellza after they began accusing us of kidnapping her. My father said to come quickly but remain calm.

On the way over, Dijellza begged me to drive us to the airport and buy the next ticket to America. To take off. She grew more hysterical as we got closer to my house.

"If you drive me back there, we will not end up together. I cannot stand up to my parents."

The exit for the airport was a mile away as I remained silent. We sped past it and she let out a squeal.

I don't recall how the sit-down with her family went, because of how surreal it was. I remember her father, a tall fat man berating my parent's lack of education. How upset he was that I was entertaining Dijellza's actress desires. That was the only time I remember speaking up—yelling at them that they didn’t see that she was a star in the making. I remember her mother yanking Dijellza by the hair ass he dragged her to the car. I caught her look in the backseat as they drove off.

I should have known then it was over.

We kept persisting, meeting in secret. There was a weekend we almost ran away for good.There was a couple of months where we thought about eloping. That was the same two months we kept trying to have a baby. But the light was fading.

One day I managed to get her father to sit down with me. He treated me like a piece of gum on his shoe, but the only time he did look me in the eye, he told me that maybe, just maybe if I became a doctor or a lawyer, that he would respect me, and consider allowing his daughter to marry me. He flaunted how their bloodline came from some nobility, and his own real estate empire meant that no one in his family had to work for generations. He wanted a son in law that he could trust to run the business, for he only had two daughters himself.

I was reckless and selfish with her up until that moment. From then on, I threw away my cinema dreams and applied to become a doctor. That was the final nail. I thought I would win by doing confronting things the right way, not by plotting escape.But in the end, I lost respect from the only person that mattered. That was expecting me to save her, not help dig her deeper.

My mother was a proud woman, and said that she saw in Dijellza eyes her desire to start a new life with me. She told me to keep fighting for her. That when she was a young woman, she hoped that someone would have done the same for her.

"And they almost did. Almost."

My dad said to give it up. "Don't you know—only a woman's last love can satisfy a man's first?"

It made me think: are most family lines a Russian Doll of settled romances?

"Look,I know how you feel. No I won't tell you more than that but just know that I know. But now, you can become like me. Love everyone and everything freely. Or no one and nothing. It's all the same.” My brother offered.

We went off to different colleges and she broke it off in a letter on the third weekend. Six months later she sent me her last letter, telling me she was going to marry a family friend, a lawyer just like her father wanted.

I went that night alone to watch a public screening of Purple Noon in the park by my student housing. I thought about her and her obsession with Delon.

"You know why I adore him? He gives us so little when you can tell he has so much. I want to know why he holds back. I must know who hurt him. To see him on screen is to want to fix him. To wonder if you are enough."

VI.

"So tell me, why are you still in the US?"

"My son. He loves it here. He's due to start university at Stonybrook in two months."

"What is he studying?"

"Computer science. I talked him out of pre-med. I also talked him out of turning down his scholarship to go to Albany instead. Some girl he is in love with."

I nodded and stood up. "Thank you Didiet. I hope you have a good day."

He shook my hand and returned to look at his computer as I headed for the door.

"Take care. Be careful with that heart of yours."