Astrid y Gastón, the crown jewel of Gastón Acurio's gastronomic empire in Lima, Peru. The year is 2006. The dress I'm wearing is red, the sky is clear –- the seasons are inverted in South America.
We’re greeted warmly at the door and are escorted to our table, in a private section removed from the main area of the Miraflores casona-turned-restaurant. Alfonso, the maitre d’, walks over and warmly greets Richard, my then-boyfriend, before introducing himself to me.
We're seated. Like magic, waiters materialize on both sides with an Americano for me and a Red Bull for Richard. I look at Richard with delight; he has a little smug smile on his face.
“Darling, did you set this up?”
“What did you think I was doing all day today?”
Before I can reply, the hors d'œuvres are on the table -- shots of chupe de concha y zapallo loche, sanguchínes de cochinillo Limeño, uñitas de cangrejo rellenas de almendras Nikkei, and tartaletas de huevo de codorniz y salchicha criolla.
“Tell me, where did you learn to seduce a woman?” I ask him, finishing off the crab.
“You bring it out of me,” he replies. “This isn’t about romancing you. You make me want to do everything and give you everything. I've never felt this way. Remember that time we were driving and you asked me whether I’d been in love before and I said yes and you said something like, ‘Love like you would kill and steal and do crazy things because you have no logic?’ I thought you were so dysfunctional, but I get it. I am crazy. I’m so crazy.”
"New Year's Eve Kiss" via Shutterstock.
We make our selections for the first course: foie gras anticuchos for me and shrimp in crujiente de Chancay for him.
“Foie gras is one of those acquired tastes I never acquired,” Richard says when I offer some to him. “It tastes like…”
“How do you -- no, I’m not even going to ask.” He laughs.
I giggle, “Well, it’s just as well you don’t like it. It’s inappropriate to crave the ultimate delicacy of despair in California.”
“There’s a lot about California you don’t like, isn’t there?”
“Well, there’s also a lot I do like.”
“I really was looking forward to having you there with me.”
“I want to be with you. But I feel that at this time, it is very important to discover this side of me I’ve been denying all my life. You know, I used to think of myself as an American. That was who I was and it didn’t really fit, but it fit better than anything else. Now, I’ve found this other half of me, and when balanced with the American aspect, it makes sense to me. I make sense to me. That’s a huge deal. I know you think of home as California, but you know that you have a little bit of Peru in there, too. You knew this, though, you always understood that about yourself. I didn’t.”
“I realize how important it is to you, that’s why I came. I don’t expect to whisk you away. I want you to come to California when you want, on your terms. I want it to be your choice because I know that otherwise, you will never be happy.”
The waiters retrieve our dishes, and Alfonso saunters over. “And how is it?”
“Perfect,” I reply. “Exactly like I want it.”
“Good! Have you considered your entrées?”
Richard orders the lobster en jugo de sudado Mancoreño, and I get the fish in a glaze of maíz morado.
“Your happiness is the only thing that matters to me, so no, I am not going to ask you to come. But what I need to know is whether you have any intention of ever coming.”
“I do. I do not just say this because of you; realistically, I could never have a career doing what I love here. I don’t know the Peruvian system enough to be a journalist. My grip on Spanish is nothing compared to my ability with English. So, yes, I see myself going back and flourishing there.”
The waiters come around us, setting the dishes down. Alfonso’s right behind them; “It’s getting closer and closer!” he says, a finger lightly tapping his watch. “Enjoy, enjoy!”
“I’ll wait however long I have to in order to be with you,” Richard starts again. “I don’t like the long-distance thing, but I need you in my life. And I need to know whether that’s something you want. Do you want to be with me? Do you want to be with me always?”
“I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t.” I put down my fork and look at him.
“In that case,” he says, getting up and getting on one knee beside me, “Anastasia, will you marry me?”
The glow from the little box eclipses the sound of chairs scratching across wooden floors as people get up and start counting.
“Diez!” it’s a vague chorus all around us.
I look at Richard.
He has tears in his eyes.
I have no words.
I slide down from my chair in front of him.
I pull his face to mine and kiss him.
He wraps an arm around my waist and pulls me to him tight.
“You are the best thing that’s ever happened to me,” he says.
He kisses me, softly and then pulls away and takes my hand.
He slides the ring over my finger.
“Oh my god, Richard.”
“Is that a yes?”
“Uno! FELIZ AÑO NUEVO!”
And in the rain of confetti and balloons all around us, under the noise of people cheering and clapping, comes my whisper, “yes!” And then louder, “Yes! Of course I will marry you!”
When we get up, we realize people are clapping not because it’s a new year, but because they’ve been watching.
Fast forward a couple of years. The dress is black and long. The night is cold. I'm alone outside, staring at the Pacific off the Santa Monica coast. Inside, people I don't know are counting down the new year. My husband is at his office. In a couple of months, he and I will be divorced.
I won't remember, at that moment, anything he and I shared just a few years before on the same date. I won't remember the excitement of joy of that moment; I'll simply sit there, smoking, shivering in the cold of Los Angeles, the city that promised so much and delivered nothing.
Just a year later, I'd be alone again, in another red dress, stretched out in my red sheets in my apartment in the West Side, waiting for a cab that would never arrive to take me to a party I didn't want to attend to begin with.
Instead, I would spend the evening in a video chat room, counting down with misfits and geeks around the country as the new year stumbled on each of our time zones until the man I loved joined the chat. Tristan and I couldn't be together -– not then, not ever. But we managed to spend the first few hours of 2010 together, without saying a word, just staring at one another on the screen.
I saw him once again after that, when we said goodbye.
My timeline of new years read rather a bit like the Taoist story the horse that ran away.
Once upon a time, there was a farmer who had only one horse, and one day the horse ran away. The neighbors came to offer their condolences on the grave loss, to which the farmer simply said: “What makes you think it's so terrible?”
Indeed, a month later, the horse came home -– this time bringing with two other wild horses along with it. The neighbors were overjoyed at the farmer's good fortune and came to congratulate him. The farmer said, “What makes you think this is good fortune?”
Soon after, the farmer's son was thrown from one of the wild horses while breaking it and broke his leg. Again the neighbors came to offer condolences, and again, the farmer asked them, “What makes you think this is bad?”
Not long after, war shook the country and every able-bodied man was conscripted and sent into battle. Only the farmer's son, because he had a broken leg, remained.
And so on, and so forth.
So you see, whether you spend the new year with someone you love or alone, the story is never set. We love and we lose. We are in good company and we are alone. It is a cycle, and you never really know whether the sequence of events is good or not good –- not until you get to the end of the story.
And we're quite a ways away.
AV Flox is the editor of Sex and the 405 -- what your newspaper would look like if it had a sex section.