As preamble, I need to mention that our female horseback riding guide in Belize, the podiatrist’s tie-dyed wife, complained at length about her ex for the five days we spent together. She described her former husband as detestable, having lost a bitter child-custody struggle with him. A furniture maker, the man made the comfortable, native-styled chairs that were scattered about our hotel. We learned that our tie-dyed guide and her new husband were planning to sell their riding business when, on the last day, the buyer accompanied us to learn the ropes.
Twenty-some years later, my husband and I were at an outdoor jazz concert in Havana, Cuba and happened to strike up a conversation with the friendly, gregarious man seated next to us. Where was he from? Belize? What was his line of work? Furniture making. Who was he? None other than the much maligned ex-husband! Hearing that we’d met his ex, the man related the sequel to his family’s personal soap. The ex-wife, along with the podiatrist, who he claimed had something of a criminal history, had left Belize for Florida and taken the children from the country illegally. It took the man several years and tens of thousands of dollars to track down and regain custody of his children.
Perhaps meeting a family from our neighborhood at a small, remote riding facility was not so extraordinary. The similarities in our choices of where to live and the coincidence of our children’s ages no doubt predisposed us to choosing the same holiday destination. But what are the odds of sitting next to a man we’d only heard of 20 years earlier, at a concert to which we’d each had to travel from very different and distant places?
I can only conclude that these sorts of coincidences happen all the time–we just never have the chance to know about them. With lives so rich in varied experience, the opportunities for odd-ball interconnections must be incalculably numerous. Every day, we may pass in the street the sister of a childhood friend or our lawyer’s husband or a woman who once nursed us after surgery. We just have no reason to discover the connections.
I recently had another even more bizarre, serendipitous experience. Just before leaving on a trip to London, an email arrived out of the blue from someone I had met on a Greek cruise 57 years ago, when he and I were both 15. Hearing from him was pleasantly shocking, and it occurred to me that I might like to search out other early romantic objects when I returned from London, in particular my 10th grade boyfriend.
That evening my husband and I flew to England, arriving mid-morning. We checked into our hotel, left our luggage, and took a taxi to a photo fair, the focus of our trip. After a few hours, my husband left briefly to run an errand, and I wandered alone into the booth of a gallery I frequent in NYC. The owner was talking to a dapper looking man, and I walked into their conversation. After a minute, the man turned to me, told me my maiden name, the names of my parents and the address of their apartment. It was my 10th grade boyfriend, whom I had failed to recognize.