When I approached her last night at the booth in the quiet Italian restaurant on the fourth floor of a new Kimpton hotel in Rosslyn overlooking Georgetown she said, “I feel like we should hug.”
I was meeting M. for the first time. She and her husband, who’s retired in Florida, graduated from Kalamazoo College with my parents in 1972. My parents saw them at their 35-year class reunion at homecoming in Kalamazoo, Mich. in October and my mom rightly surmised she would be someone I would want to meet. M. is a diplomat and has seen the world from Sweden to Slovakia to Surinam.
We hugged and then we settled into the red booth for Pinot Noir, salads, sushi-grade tuna, bream with artichokes and finally tiramisu and frothy cappuccinos in big white mugs. It was the first snowfall of the winter and the snow whirled outside, white specks against the black sky.
M. wore a black suit, funky plastic glasses and white smile. She told me stories like the time she was alone in the embassy in Surinam during a coup and she was checking in with Marines on a walkie-talkie. She said she was so psyched out because she expected the rebels to march down the street shooting wildly that she thought she heard gunfire. She had been crawling on the ground toward the window when she realized it was the static from the radio and she rolled over and laughed. Years later, after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, M. said she and her husband had four body guards with them at all times in Amsterdam for two full years. She said it felt unreal having that kind of constant shadowing and protection. She also told me about how she toured Bratislava with the man who delivered news to the Slovakians for 20 years via Voice of America and everyone they ran across were enraptured with him. During a scary and uncertain time, he was their hope and comfort.
As she told her stories about her 25 years as a foreign service officer, I was enraptured by her independence and confidence and storytelling ability. And I envied her first-hand experience as a witness to world events.
When we wrapped up at 8:30 pm, I was meeting R. at the Verizon Center to catch the end of the Washington Wizards and Cleveland Cavaliers basketball game. I gave M. a big hug goodbye and we agreed I’d see her in the New Year and meet her husband. I rode the metro to Gallery Place. When I emerged, there were flurries falling softly. I called R. and walked down 7th street NW with my light blue hat pulled over my ears, excited to see him, excited about the snow and change of seasons and most of all, excited about the possibilities.