We had already walked for an hour and a half in a dusty and unseasonably hot winter day here in Santiago, so Dunreith’s primary goal in finding a green bench and sitting down for a few minutes in Parque Balmaceda was in having a quick rest before finishing the trek back to our apartment.
I, however, had another objective: I wanted to join the kissing couples.
They are everywhere in Santiago’s public spaces.
Some lie in the grass near the Mapocho River.
Others lay on top of each other in Parque Uruguay.
Still others intertwine their limbs in every conceivable way on the benches that are identical in design to the one on which we had just sat.
But whatever their differences may be in position and location, they share a fundamental similarity: they embrace each other with abandon.
Tender head holding and hair stroking. Soulful glances offered and received whenever the eyes are open. Quiet words issued inches from the partner’s lips.
At the same time, these couples exhibit a restraint that has within it a certain elegance. Clothes stay on at all times, and the awareness that they are indeed in a public setting can be seen by an occasional blush or raised eyebrow when one walks past them.
The vast majority of the couples appear to be on the young side.
I’m not an expert in discerning age, and my best guess is that many, if not most, are in the teenage to twentysomething range. Almost all of them are straight, and we have noticed a few lesbian and gay sets of partners, too.
I’ve not yet spoken to any of the couples locked in embrace, so don’t have much insight on the degree to which they are doing so because they don’t have anywhere else to go-many Chileans live at home until their 30s, I have read-or because they are simply expressing their inner emotions.
I just knew that I wanted to be one of them for a minute or two.
I turned to Dunreith, put my arm around her shoulder, swiveled suavely, placed my face inches from hers and declared, “Entiendo tu plan.” I understand your plan. (As part of my commitment to Spanish immersion, I often speak the language to Dunreith these days in our apartment and on the streets. )
“You’re a caricature,” she told me, even as her eyebrows arched and her eyes held just a hint of a smile.
I couldn’t imagine what she was talking about.
“How could you say this?” I asked in Spanish.
My question sparked a discussion for several minutes in which Dunreith asserted that I speak in exaggerated tones and gesture when I talk in Spanish with her, especially when I am seeking romance.
To be fair, I did do the bulk of my initial learning how to speak Spanish from the Mexican telenovela Destilando Amor, a story of a farm worker and tequila scion who fall in love with each other.
Thus, in the early stages of my use of the language, I was prone to issuing hyperbolic statements to Dunreith like, “Ti quiero con un amor tan limpio y puro como el mundo nunca ha visto.”
I love with you a love so pure and clean like the world has never seen.
I learned in ensuing interactions with actual Spanish speakers that, while they liked the story of how I had learned to speak their native tongue, it was in fact not necessary to use either such language or a tone that one could accurately characterize as well over the top.
I thought I had kicked that proverbial habit, and was hearing from my wife that indeed this was not the case.
Of course, her desire to rest may have affected how she heard and interpreted my request.
Dunreith and I first met 16 years ago this month at a Facing History follow up seminar at the organization’s Brookline headquarters.
We got together a year later and have been with each other since.
One of the qualities that most attracted me to Dunreith from the beginning of our relationship was our ability to talk.
We would do so for hours each evening on the phone-at the time, she was living in Western Massachusetts, while I was in Brighton-and even more during the weekends, when I would drive out to spend time with Aidan and her.
The other was her generosity.
Time and time again, particularly in moments of pain and disappointment, she would reach within herself and find a way to make a gesture that showed that she understood and valued me.
I moved in close and told Dunreith again in Spanish how I felt about her.
This time, instead of resisting, she smiled.
In that instant I saw the same smile she had given when I requested that she sit down in the grey striped Ottoman she owned for 20 years and asked her to spend her life with me.
Then she closed her eyes and moved her lips toward me.
The kiss was not of the same length or intensity as the Chilean couples we had seen, walked past or nearly stepped on-I’m not kidding when I say that they are everywhere-but it moved me into the club nevertheless.
A little later, we kissed again.
After that we sat on the bench for a while.
Although still high in the sky, the sun had begun its inexorable descent. The sounds of cars whizzing by on the afternoon commute on Andres Bello behind us were reinforced by an occasional horn and the whir of cars in front of us on Providencia.
A couple with a newborn baby chatted quietly as they walked by us, the father with the baby snugly against his chest while the mother carried a blue cloth bag with the word “Baby” stitched on the side in white letters.
So did a pair of adolescent girls still dressed in their school uniform of a pleated skirt and dark tights.
Bicycles with large tires crunched over the gravel.
A happiness filled me in a way that it rarely had before.
It was a joy that came from being fully in that moment of all five senses with my beloved, the woman with whom I have made a life and raised a son and nursed and buried parents and seen physical changes and known disappointment and traveled the earth and realized dreams.
We didn’t kiss as long as many of the Chilean couples.
But we were among them.
And it was perfect.