Celia was the most beautiful woman I ever got close to. She grew up in Cambodia and loved to wear elegant clothes. She was always exquisitely put together — way overdressed for the bank job we both had.
I also never heard Celia laugh. Not once — she just wasn’t a mirthful person. Think of how unusual that is: to not know the sound of your partner’s laugh.
Even when Celia and I started hanging out together, we only got to spend brief interludes together. We saw each other on occasional nights after work — usually Fridays. Weekend meetups were extremely rare: Maybe if I happened to be out at work already for some reason, she might come by the office. (Celia lived close to work in the western San Fernando Valley; I commuted out from Hollywood.)
There were a few reasons why I couldn’t spend more time with Celia. One was her son, aged five, who of course monopolized huge amounts of her time. I met Jimmy once, at the office; and of course I couldn’t hope to compete with a kid that cute.
The other reason was Jimmy’s father Sovann, a Cambodian dude down in Long Beach whom Celia wanted little to do with. But Celia still didn’t want her family in Canoga Park to know much about me — for whose sake, I’m still not sure. So she always had to return home at an extremely early hour even on our most enjoyable Friday nights.
On one occasion Sovann called my home number and left an ominous message on my answering machine, promising to “knock on my door” if I didn’t stop doing whatever I was doing. My roommates heard the message, and I tried to get them to laugh it off; I contended that even Celia didn’t know my address, and no Cambodian gangsters from Long Beach were going to drive around Hollywood knocking on random doors in indistinguishable stucco apartment buildings looking for little old me. But my roommates weren’t persuaded, and suggested that I conduct my social life not only outside our apartment but outside Hollywood too. Which I continued to do.
Soon after the phone call incident, I was dithering late one Saturday morning trying to think of some reason not to go into work…when the phone rang again, and this time it was Celia. She invited me out to the Valley and promised to spend the whole day with me. I was on my motorcycle and zipping up the 170 freeway within about five minutes.
Celia had a private plan for our day together, but at first she wouldn’t tell me what it was. Which was fine: I love surprises. So I piled into a car that I’d never seen Celia drive before — a Lexus, hmmm — and we started driving up Interstate 5, out of the Valley and into the hills.
It transpired that Celia was taking me to the Six Flags amusement park in Valencia. Which was great: I love rollercoasters. And we proceeded to have a thrilling day together. Leaning into hairpin turns at dizzying speeds with a beautiful woman by my side — the day when this experience fails to get my blood pumping is the day I start shopping for a burial plot.
But I knew something was up too. I’d never gotten to spend this much time with Celia before. And no one pays full price to get into Magic Mountain at noon and have just a half-day there. Even the Lexus that Celia was driving seemed unusual to me, a special accommodation.
So when we left the park and merged onto I-5 to drive back to Los Angeles, Celia gave it to me straight: She couldn’t see me anymore.
Aw, curses. I was probably never going to be this close to a woman as beautiful as Celia ever again. Dammit.
But I was still flushed from the rollercoaster rides, and basically still grinning from ear-to-ear. So here’s what I said in response: “Aw, that’s too bad, Celia. I’ll miss you!”
And that was that. I didn’t ask Celia about her son or her babydaddy or why she was doing this at all. I just accepted her decision without a word, got dropped off at my motorcycle still grinning, and went on with my life.
A few years later I traveled to Cambodia and, armed only with a scrap of paper scribbled by Celia in Khmer, found her brother working in the Central Market in Phnom Penh. Later at his home he offered me a Tiger beer, which I declined because I don’t drink — even though to refuse a host’s hospitality in this situation was somewhat rude. He gave me a couple of wrapped packages to bring back to Celia, and on my return I had a few weak moments at US Customs wondering if Celia’s brother had turned me into an unwitting opium mule. But the Customs agents I encountered were so baffled by the crate of art I was bringing back from Vietnam (for another ex-girlfriend, actually), that they completely forgot to ask me about the paper-wrapped packages in my flimsy plastic bag. Celia told me later that the packages just contained Cambodian dried fish products — which were still a barred agricultural product, but whatever.
These days neither Celia nor I lives in southern California anymore — but we’re still Facebook friends. I occasionally receive requests from her to play Candy Crush Saga. I never respond — but I still like to receive the requests. And she still snaps some absolutely magnificent photos, too.