I had known her for ten years. She was my best friend’s sister, a pretty redhead with a petite figure, probing blue eyes and an inviting smile.
I first met Patricia during my freshman year at Regis High School, a small Jesuit school on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. Her brother Eric was my classmate, and he endured a daily one-hour trek to school from Queens, while I was fortunate to reside a few short train stops away, near Times Square.
Because we lived in different counties, Patricia’s and my early years were spent in each other’s periphery, occasionally crossing paths at school events. Most of what I knew of her I learned through Eric, who regaled us with stories that highlighted her humor, wit and charm.
As time passed, we saw less of each other. I graduated high school and began my own daily commute to Fordham University in the Bronx, while Patricia traveled into the city to attend NYU. Eric had left New York for Georgetown, so Patricia and I rarely coincided.
After college, I moved straight to law school at NYU, while Patricia went abroad, spending a year as an au pair with a German family near Frankfurt. Years later, Patricia would tell me how alone she often felt during that year away from her family. Holidays were particularly difficult, with the knowledge that her parents and siblings were together celebrating the season, while she was alone with strangers thousands of miles away.
After graduating Georgetown, Eric moved back to New York, where he worked as an international banker on Wall Street. For the first time since high school we were both back in Manhattan, and we utilized the weekends to catch up on the past four years. Every Saturday Eric would gather a core group that would avail itself of the pleasures of the New York night life. I was part of that core group, as was Patricia, now back in the States and also working in the city.
My most vivid memory of those days involves a tennis match at Madison Square Garden. Eric had obtained four tickets to the finals, a highly anticipated bout between Jimmy Connors and John McEnroe. We sat near mid-court, Eric alongside a mutual friend, and I next to Patricia. None of us played tennis in those days but, being the sports junkie I have always been, I knew the rules and happily shared my knowledge with Patricia.
I explained the concept of games within sets, alternating service, and the tennis meaning of “love.” I find it curious that many who follow tennis do not know that the term originates from the French l’oeuf, or “the egg,” which describes the shape of the number zero.
Patricia was a quick study and immediately picked up the intricacies of the game. We were both rooting for Connors, largely due to McEnroe’s well-deserved reputation as a brat, a reputation he picked up on Long Island, a few short miles away from where Patricia grew up. Connors had a similar reputation in his early years, but had mellowed with time, or at least exhibited a sense of humor when engaged in his often outrageous behavior.
The match was long and grueling, reaching a final set that saw the participants make several unforced errors, a telling sign that they were both exhausted. In the end, Connors reached back and, in a manner reminiscent of his younger days, rushed the net and smashed key passing shots past McEnroe.
When the match ended and Connors dropped to his knees in celebration, Patricia and I celebrated with him, embracing briefly before stepping back and assessing each other. As I looked into her eyes, I saw a smile spread across her face, a smile that brightened everything and everyone around her.
We have been together for twenty five years, most of them spent in Miami, where we moved after I graduated law school. Our twins are now in college, our daughter at NYU, where Patricia and I spent several of our formative years, albeit at different times. Occasionally our daughter will travel to Penn Station and board a train to Virginia to visit her uncle Eric, unaware that, just above her head, within the hallowed grounds of Madison Square Garden, a couple not much older than she once partook in a magical moment of victory, euphoria, and the beginnings of love.