The text said: "Had an emergency, I'm in the hospital."
My first thought was that she had probably taken someone to a hospital. I'd hear from her later. After all, we had a date that night.
We'd met nine days earlier during a party at a friend's restaurant. I'd seen her walking toward me and she looked familiar.
"Hi, how are you?" I asked
"Good, she replied, adding: "Do I know you?"
"I think so. We've met before."
We were blocking the aisle, so we sat at a nearby table and introduced ourselves. Her unusual name rang a bell.
A few years ago, as the renovation of my house in Venice was nearing its end, I needed some hardware for the finishing touches. My architect and I headed for a store in Santa Monica where I looked at house numbers. I zeroed in on a set, but, as the numbers lay on the counter, the "zero" looked bigger in relation to the others.
As I vacillated, the architect and the salesman grew impatient. Then I heard a "What's up, guys?" from behind the counter and looked up to see a cheerful, inquiring face. As I explained my "zero" issue, she studied the numbers. She then proceeded to space them farther apart, and, like magic, the numbers looked as if they belonged together.
We thanked her, and as she walked away, her hair and crisp white shirt caught my attention. There was an elegance and flow in that moment, and, as fate would have it, it remained stored in the depths of my brain.
Sitting across the table from her at the party, I smiled.
"You're the hardware woman." I said
"I can't remember the shop's name, but it was on Main Street in Santa Monica."
For a minute her eyes darted from side to side, as she did an internal fact-check.
"That was years ago," she said, finally. "I worked there for a year, after my divorce."
I recounted our five-minute exchange, and she laughed at my ability to remember the details.
The next day I called, and we agreed to go out that night.
At dinner, we chatted freely about our past and current lives. We compared notes about living in L.A. and laughed at anecdotes about our world travels. We quickly realized that we shared similar interests and had navigated peripheral social circles.
After dinner, I asked, "When was the last time you took a walk along the Venice canals?"
It was a beautiful night illuminated by a full moon. At the top of a bridge, we stopped to admire the architecture around us. Then I turned, and we kissed for what seemed like forever.
It was, she said, like being in high school again.
We managed to make time for a couple of dates that same week. Each time we discovered something new and compelling about each other, and we made a date for the following Tuesday.
On Tuesday afternoon, my mobile rang. It was her number.
"Is this Leo?" a male voice asked.
"Hi, my mom had a stroke this morning."
"Is she OK?"
"I think so. They're running tests."
"Please keep me in the loop. And, if it's appropriate I'd like to visit."
I was numb. We had become reacquainted nine days earlier, had been out on three delicious dates and now a stroke. How could this happen? She was the poster woman of health: happy, fit, a dancer.
And what was my role? I was a total stranger in her world. A side of me wanted to call back to wish her well and then take my leave.
But she'd found the strength to reach out to me, so I decided to let fate take its course.
Hours later, she called me. "Hi! Sorry, I missed our date."
"How dare you have a stroke … today!" I said, attempting to be funny.
"I know … I'm feeling OK but tired. The doctors are still running tests."
"Let's chat tomorrow. But call if anything changes."
On Wednesday, I received an early-morning text: "It's a beautiful day for brain surgery. LOL"
But it was no joke. A few hours later, she had emergency surgery to repair an aneurysm. Although the stroke had only a mild affect on her speech and cognitive abilities, it had severely compromised her motor skills. I couldn't help but wonder: Could she ever be the partner I imagined, the woman with whom I could travel the world?
She returned home a week later determined to overcome her physical limitations.
Now, seven months later, she has regained control of 95% of her left side with a combination of physical and occupational therapies, yoga, acupuncture and walks on the beach. A few weeks ago she started tap dancing, and last week we hiked on Mt. San Jacinto.
This improbable calamity slowed our trajectory and gave us time for intimacy and long conversations. It offered the rare opportunity for love to grow deeper and to be appreciative of the small things of everyday life.
Del Aguila is an audio engineer who lives in Los Angeles.