I'll never forget that night she held onto me and wouldn't let go. Emma was on her way to Hong Kong with a new boyfriend, Amar. It was going to be an all-night flight and the first time the new couple were traveling together. She was nervous. A jittery kind of nerves, and not the butterfly kind one gets at the anticipation of globe trotting halfway around the world to Hong Kong, Bangkok and exotic Phuket. She was simply scared to go on the trip with Amar.
Emma insisted we go out that night in the West Village and belt back a few Johnny Walker Blacks on the rocks. It's her scotch of choice, and that night she wanted to be able to pass out quickly on the first leg of the trip in order to not have to deal with her mysterious Moroccan boyfriend. Finally buzzed, she mustered the strength to leave and go home to ready herself for this romantic getaway. Letting go of my embrace curbside, Emma stumbled to safety in the backseat of a cab and left me with a knot in my stomach.
We had met at work almost 10 years ago, here in New York. In that time, always a free spirit, Emma had moved from New York to Paris to Chicago and then back again. Always the faithful friend, I was there to comfort her after other dangerous liaisons she had had with macho, controlling men.
Before Amar, there was Henry. An affable chap until the night I was out with Emma, all of us drinking, and they began to fight. She grabbed my hand and insisted we leave the bar in the middle of Times Square. We quickly jumped in a cab but got stuck in traffic. Henry hunted us down and forced his way into the locked cab. Emma -- frantic -- tried to calm the situation. She could not. I coaxed her out of the cab but not before Henry, completely enraged, spat on her face and followed us out of the cab. We ran up to two uniformed police officers demanding assistance. Henry finally backed off. There was nothing the police officers could do. A homeless man who had witnessed the entire brouhaha approached my friend and offered her a $100 dollar bill to find a safe place to stay for the night -- a bizarre New York moment I could never have imagined. Emma came home with me that night, and I never saw Henry again.
Emma moved on to Paris briefly before returning to her hometown of Chicago, although she yearned to be back in New York. Single, she was eager to date, if not desperate to do so. Emma had difficulty finding her place back in Chicago. She hadn't lived there since graduation and felt lost among what were now hometown strangers. In that time, Emma came to visit New York often to reconnect with her friends here. We'd all go out together, mostly to bars and single clubs, and Emma did well, much better than in Chicago with meeting guys. When she first met Amar, they both saw it as a fling. Weekends went by and they would continue seeing one another whenever Emma was in town. Emma told her friends she was thinking of moving back to the city and making it clear to Amar that she was interested in more than an occasional weekend shag.
Having apparently fallen in love together on that trip to Asia, Emma did move back and began going steady with Amar. There were issues from the start. Not happy with the way her boyfriend was treating her, Emma began seeing a therapist for the first time in her life. She would talk about how she celebrated their cultural differences -- was drawn to them actually -- and most of the macho nuances that manifested in Amar's personality and the way he physically handled her. Yet, as they got to know one another, Amar's charming machismo turned more manipulative and controlling. Emma persuaded Amar to join her in therapy. Insights garnered, the relationship seemingly strengthened over time with several trips back to Chicago with Amar to meet her family and a few trips to Rabat, Morocco, to meet his. On paper it appeared to read like a Harlequin novel, but, in fact, it felt more like a time bomb waiting to tick off.
It was the night that Gay Rights passed in New York State. Sheridan Square, near the Stonewall Inn, was packed with celebratory activists. I remember having to work my way through the crowd on my way from dinner with Emma and Amar at the Little Mermaid on MacDougal Street. At happy hour there, the half-priced martinis provided a lively mood for us. Emma and I had met up first and Amar joined for a cocktail later with his best friend, Said. They had grown up together in their hometown of Rabat and had been on the same soccer team together. They were good friends. Our spirits were high as the food was served and the drinks poured. I left my friend with Amar and Said shortly after dinner to head home. About an hour later, I was startled out of bed by the doorbell buzzing. It was Emma, in hysterics. Amar and she had had a fight and he struck her face. Said had witnessed it all and brought her to my home pleading with Emma to break up with Amar, his best friend.
Emma and I sat together on my living room sofa. She told me what happened, and she told me she must leave Amar. But she also told me how much she loved him. She understood her own behavior and the draw to violent men, reminiscent of the household she grew up in. I had related completely and thought of my own upbringing of constant dysfunction. We both began to cry. Emma cried for herself and for the love of her man. I cried for Emma and prayed for her happiness... and for her safety. Exhausted, Emma fell asleep on the sofa and I went to bed.
She did leave that next morning -- back to him -- and we never discussed the incident again. They became engaged shortly after and soon planned a destination wedding to Morocco. Most of our friends were excited, but I was worried. A year later, this weekend in fact, my dear friend and her fiancé are headed off first to Casablanca, then to Marrakech and finally to Rabat for a small wedding ceremony with family.
I was invited to their wedding, but declined and instead offered to watch their cat. An odd gesture, I know, but in a way, my connection and lifeline to Emma. I went over to their apartment this past week for instructions on how to care for the cat while they'll be away. I hugged my friend closely goodbye and wished them both the best. Emma had begged me not to leave. It was an unsettling moment reminiscent of the night she was flying to Hong Kong. I hugged her again and I left the two of them alone together. And, like that night before Hong Kong, I felt that very same knot deep inside the pit of my stomach.
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