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To be a Prince Again

On a bluish-turquoise afternoon, tucked behind an industrial area of Santa Fe (SF), New Mexico, during my first-ever group painting session at the back of a modest art supply store, I met Erika.

George, the instructor, finished making the rounds reviewing each of the eight students’ progress and said, “Great first class, everybody! Time to start wrapping up. Be sure to clean your brushes well, palettes, easels, etc. If your canvases are dry, take them home; otherwise, you can store them here until noon on Monday. Oh, and don’t forget my gallery opening on Canyon Road this Thursday!”

Moments later, while sorting painting supplies, the outline of a slender maiden twinkled in my periphery. Easing upward from tubes of paint and stiff bristles, my attention shifted and focused on her silky long brows and budding shape. In a breath, her ivory skin and cacao eyes held me in place, numb, dazed by her unearthly coquettish gait. Like a springtime breeze, she swayed pastures of Cyclamen into a Waltz. Such rouge and amorous cheeks inspired Renoir. Mysterious and magnetic, Modigliani sought such eyes, as did I. Her nectar and pollen buzzed my lungs as I uttered, “Um, hi, um.” Floating on the grace of serenity, her timid smile reflected the lake of her joy and the sea of my hope. “Hello, I am Erika”. How could my eyes not be as enchanted as Vermeer’s by the promise of such a fine pearl? The fragrance of fate anointed me with regal waves of bliss. In her, I could find majesty and be a Prince once more. “Hello, my name is Eric.”

Instantly, she returned, “Wow, really? That’s a coincidence!” I coupled my elated nod with a whisper, “Yes, it is.” Around the easel, she inched, studying my painting more closely, a green Anjou leaning on half of a red one. I added, “I don’t know any other Erikas.” Frisky as a Meerkat, “Now you do.” “Thump!” went my heart. As its echo toddled me, my eyes held on to her sure yet cotton skin. To my wooden stool, I recoiled. Her keen presence shook me from my nightmare. If only it would bathe me for eternity, I imagined. “European. Your accent. You’re from Europe,” I continued. She swiveled from gazing at the image to me and then back again. Proudly, “Yes, I speak German but I am from Budapest, in Hungary. Have you been? I like it very much.” I dared, “No, not yet, but if you come from there, I am sure it’s beautiful.” Erika tucked her chin but failed to hide the cherry of her grin. “A long time ago, I worked on a film in the Soviet Union,” I added. “No, I meant your painting, I very much like it.” Each of her syllables soothed me, and she knew it. Sheepishly, she confessed, “My proportions are not as good.” I denied my tongue and its impulse to blurt, “I am in love with your proportions!” Instead, after noticing that George was preoccupied with two other students, I asked her if I could see what she had been working on. The spark of her laugh caught the ears and looks of a few others, including the instructor — George.

As we moved to her painting station, across the room and diagonal from mine, Erika explained she was only a few weeks into her US visit. Thanks to a one-year study visa hinged on Native American research, Santa Fe, New Mexico, was a logical place for her to want to come. Its history, art, food, culture, cosmopolitan population, wildlife, and topography, which many Indian tribes and media moguls worship and exist on, promised to more than satisfy the desires of her foaming curiosity.

Could her youthful verve for the unknown infuse into my limp lungs, sending me above the cacti and tumbleweed in a rainbow-colored balloon? To see the world anew, could her virgin-like vim unshackle the thoughts that kept my vibe neutralized and my mind bogged down in muck, for two and a half years? Perhaps she would be the merciful Red-Tailed Hawk that would swoop me up from the searing sands of depression and unwittingly rescue me from the thought I had vanished.

In ten strides, she swooned Eric back into a wishful wonderland. Like a Desert Iguana, the timbre of her voice and spirit caused my old skin to quiver and start to shed. I asked myself if this was just the beginning. Would she become for me the coveted muse that the greats of paint have weened on so faithfully or the phantasmic ship that changes course and suddenly sails away in a storm, captained by some flashy pirate’s wily whim?

26-year-old Erika and I, 43-year-old Eric, gave transparency and the wisdom that maturity presumably affords a hearty test. Though we were tied by roots, art interests, and twin-like names, those weren’t our only links. For the next six months, our blank checks of wishful thinking and venturous loins kept us messy in paint in my Tesuque cabin. We had much to discover. We were virgins in many ways, except for one. Already, she was an Old Student of Vipassana Meditation.

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