The most important thing that has ever happened to me was meeting Nancy. Nancy too had been a Togo volunteer several years after I left. She had lived in the same house as my closest neighbor, work colleague and good friend, Ed Porter. When Nancy returned, she reached out to Ed offering news of the village. Ed knew I’d be interested to catch up on local gossip so he cascaded the invitation down me.
I met Ed at the Department of Agriculture and we headed towards the bar where we’d agreed to meet. Before we left the building I noticed a woman bustling down a cavernous federal corridor. She walked with a fluid grace and a clacking of high heels. I pointed her out as she turned a corner in front of us. Although I had never seen Nancy before, I knew she didn’t work at Ag. Still, I said with absolute certainty, “That’s Nancy right there.” Ten minutes later when we caught up with her at the bar, it turned out I was right.
We sat at an outside table in the latter part of June. Nancy turned the pages of the thick photo album she had brought along. Ed got up to use the toilet after our umpteen pitcher of beer. I turned the page to see a photo of three gorgeous naked women. The photo showed them from behind as they held hands and lept into a quarry some thirty feet below. I was particularly taken by the figure Nancy pointed to when I asked her which was her.
The next thing I knew, I blurted, “I’m considered something of a sexual wizard.” The remark was not only a ridiculous lie, it was also an outrageously bad pick up line. Instead of laughing in my face and telling me to get a life, she surprised me with a drunken, dreamy smile. Then, with her elbow on the table, she rested her chin in her palm, cocked her head and whispered, “Oh yeah?”
Several hours later, Ed and I dropped Nancy at her apartment. As we left, he turned to me and said, “You realize you’re going to marry her, right?” While the thought couldn’t have been further from my mind, it turned out that he was right.
Nancy and I had our first date on Thursday evening before the Friday Fourth of July weekend in 1986. I took her to a popular rooftop Sushi place in trendy Adams-Morgan. I ordered a large Sapporo beer in a fancy can and I knocked the whole thing into my lap as soon as it arrived. Then, when the bill came, I went for a wallet only to discover I had left it home. I can’t think of a single time I have left home without my wallet before or since, but I did it on our first date. She graciously picked up the tab.
The evening on the town ended at a cowboy bar across from the Adams-Morgan police station. We struck up a conversation with the guy sitting beside us and at about 2:00 in the morning he told us he was a cop. He said he was killing time before a 3:00am heroin bust. Then he invited us to tag along. We both wanted to join him, but we were beat, so Nancy invited me back to her place instead.
Three days later we were tubing down the Shenandoah River. A small rock forced our tubes apart and we came back together in an eddy below it. Nancy said, “You know, that was the farthest we’ve been apart since this date started Thursday.” I didn’t know it at the time, but in her I had found my life long soulmate.