Emilia had been talking from time to time about visiting the village outside of Madrid up in “los pinares,” the piney woods, where she had gone to school with the nuns. Our relationship had been so pure I didn’t think much about it except I remembered my roommate’s experience of those piney woods where he and his chunky fiancée indulged in carnal delights.
One beautiful, clear, cool morning, Emilia and I were on the motorcycle and headed out of town. She was wearing a skirt and straddled the seat behind me. For the second time, two Guardia Civil police on motorcycles stopped me, asked for my passport, talked to Emilia over to the side, and then let us go. They wanted to make sure the purity of the Spanish woman was not being compromised by some, no doubt, non-Catholic foreigner without values. And, if she was going to ride on the motorcycle, it had to be sidesaddle not straddling the seat with some thigh showing.
They were not overbearing, just firm. In a way it both confused and impressed me. On one hand, why shouldn’t we be able to do whatever we wanted; on the other hand, why should we be able to do whatever we wanted? It sobered me up a little bit and shifted the locus of my energy from between my legs to between my ears. What were my responsibilities vis-à-vis this young woman who was taking me into the foothills of the Sierra to “los pinares”?
The city faded and the road climbed and wound around the hills. Dappled light bounced around the forest floor. Pockets of cool air hit our faces as we crossed streams in wooded glens. The approach to the village was on a dirt road and the village itself was tiny and dominated by the convent. It surprised me that no one took much notice as we parked the motorcycle and started walking on a trail into the woods. There were so many cultural and personal signs and unspoken understandings in what we were doing. I sensed all this but without really knowing. Emilia said, “Toma la manita, (Take the little hand),” and I did. We walked a little while and then I led us off the path into the woods. Climbing a little knoll and moving past it until we were safe from any eyes, we lay down on the soft pine needles in the summer woods.
In the café and on our outings, she was sharp and flirty and animated but here she was quiet, solemn and virginal. Her coal black eyes looked at me without fear, trusting. She had a white blouse on with some of that decorative fringe that made it a little special like what she would wear to church. And there was a silver crucifix around her neck. A beige skirt covered the rest of her to the knees. Her skin was so white in contrast to her black eyes and hair. Everything about her spoke of surrender and trust and sanctity of some kind. This was not about “fun.” This was not something to enter into lightly and I was not sure what to do. Slowly I moved over to kiss her lips and we did kiss, or, at least, I kissed. Nothing was coming back my way, nothing except total surrender. Again, I tried, this time with some of my best kisses practiced since the fifth grade. Nothing. I thought to myself, “Well, maybe a jump start is required.” So slowly, starting down by the ankle, and with great control for a teenager, I moved my hand up her leg toward the promised land. At about ten inches north of the knee and, with no response or resistance from Emilia other than some heightened breathing, I stopped. We got up, shook the pine needles off our clothes, and walked back to the village like the children we were, still innocent, maybe unsatisfied, but having done nothing to bring serious consequences upon us, so I thought.
Even today I don’t know the full significance of our relationship and what we did and didn’t do from her side. To go to “los pinares” with a foreigner, what could that mean? No one could know what we did or didn’t do there. But they would know that we went there; they would make assumptions. A poor Spanish girl, a rich American boy, what messages were Emilia getting at home? But what nobody knew but us was that we were too young to have a lot of guile and too young for any kind of mature love. We liked each other and appreciated each other. There was great sincerity in that even if we didn’t know what more to do about it. I wasn’t much longer in Spain. We promised to write and we did for a while but the distance made the differences stand out and communication faded as we got re-established in our separate lives.
Three years later I was in Spain again, this time as a photojournalist headed for Sevilla to photograph La Semana Santa, Holy Week. Naturally I spent a couple of days in Madrid and naturally I revisited the old familiar places. At the Café Principe I recognized no one until I saw Felipe, the waiter who had lived in the same apartment complex as Emilia on the outskirts of Madrid. He had been her protector, the one who saw her home when she was on the night shift. I went up to him and, as he slowly realized who I was, and as I asked again about Emilia, his face paled and he looked like he was seeing a ghost. He stammered, shook his head violently, and literally ran away from me. I thought about pursuing him and demanding to know but his manner made me frightened to know. In weakness or wisdom, I faded back into my own life and let it be.