My relationship with Yves starts to unravel on a Sunday morning while we sit on blankets in Central Park enjoying Brie on French baguettes and sharing a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon. The sun hangs on the sky like a ripe apricot, a perfect complement to our lunch but an incongruous backdrop to the news I’m about to hear.

“I’ve met someone in Zurich, and we’ re going to move in together,” he says. The words twist my inside in anguish. However, I don’ t cry. He’ s never promised anything differently from the reality he presents me now. So, though heartbroken, I offer a soft smile.

“I’ m sad for me, but happy for you. You deserve all the happiness in the world,” I say.

He leans over and kisses me gently on the lips. “We will always be friends.” And he’ s right. Our friendship continues. When he’ s in town, we still go to concerts, or dinner. Occasionally, we go back to Victor’ s Café for a Cuban sandwich.

At one point, I go to Switzerland on vacation and stay with him and his partner, Pierre, a tall, soft spoken young man with a swimmer’ s physique I imagine is the envy of other swimmers, even non-swimmers. I personally feel a tinge of jealousy at such a perfectly sculpted body. Pierre’ s background is French–to be Swiss means to be either of French or German descent. Although a small Italian group claims a Swiss heritage as well.

On my first night in Zurich, Yves makes a fondue dinner I’ ve tried to replicate many times without success. Perhaps the key is to make the dish in someone’ s home in Switzerland, with local cheeses, and special meats to dip in the fondue followed by a good pear brandy.

Earlier that day we go for a drive in the countryside, where we encounter pear trees with the fruits growing inside bottles. The sight reminds me of a woman’s hair in curlers. Hasn’t your mother told you not to go out in public looking like that?

After he leaves Swissair, a year or so later, Yves works for Angel Records in the publicity department. At one point, he’s assigned to represent Pavarotti and has the privilege of joining the mega star for lunch in Zurich–an encounter that does not ingratiate the singer to Yves. “All he did throughout his lunch was look in the mirror at himself.”

When Pavarotti joins Joan Sutherland and Marilyn Horne at Avery Fisher Hall for a much talked-about concert, Yves is in town representing the record label. The performance is sold out, but through Yves not only do we get free tickets—by then, Thom and I are a couple– but also the privilege of meeting the artists afterwards. For me, the most memorable part is attending the singers’ afternoon rehearsal, which is closed to the public and enjoyed by only a handful of invited guests. Pavarotti is having problems with his part in the trio from the Act I finale of Norma—his entrances are late and sound shaky. No such insecurities, however, are present at the performance. Later I learn Pavarotti doesn’t read music. How can that be? How has he managed all these years? Well, I guess having bad rehearsals followed by performances with standing ovations at the end is key.

Of the three mage stars, Sutherland is the only one I’ ve met in person before.

Years earlier when she made her debut with the Seattle Opera in Lakme, I was there. After the performance I went to her dressing room. When I entered, a stylist was fussing over Sutherland’ s long auburn hair and yet, the singer graciously gave one autograph after another while talking about Bel Canto operas, which she and her husband planned to do in the future.

At the Lincoln Center concert, she pairs with Horne in the famous “Mira o Norma” duet from Bellini’ s Norma. I’ m transported back to the first time I heard them at the Met in that opera. As then, Sutherland’ s powerful coloratura and Horne’ s rich timber soar up and down the scale like birds in a perfectly synchronized flight. The heavens part, and the audience erupts into frenzied applause.

When the nature of my relationship with Yves first shifted, I felt lost. I recall sitting at the piano, staring at the music in a half-daze. In front of me I would see a conglomerate of sharps and flats, which looked more like a foreign language I couldn’t decipher than a music score. Maybe I should have moved to Switzerland after all.

But as he promised, we remained good friends. When Pierre was one of the first victims of the AIDS pandemic, Yves and I shared tears over the phone. And when my older sister passed unexpectedly, he allowed me to rant and rave, offering consolatory words that made my pain more tolerable.

There were happy moments in my life without Yves. Two years after my romantic affair with him ended, I met someone who became my husband when same-sex marriages became legal in New Jersey where I lived at the time. Yves was the first to congratulate me. “I’m not an old maid anymore,” I joked.  “He’s a lucky fellow,” he replied. “Will you get a ring?” “Of course…No ring, no hanky-panky.” “What’s hanky-panky?” he asked. After I explained, he said, “Next time I’m in New York I’ll bring yellow roses for the happy couple. I know they’re your favorite. Mine, too. And, of course, chocolates.”

Houston, Texas, October 2020

I attend an all-Bach piano concert in a private home where because of the Covid-19 pandemic we observe social distancing.  This is a privilege a small non-profit I’m associated with has extended to its donors. Although I’m overjoyed at the opportunity, I can’t help but be concerned at the number of people connected to this group who have lost their jobs: stagehands, lighting designers, administrative staff.

When the music starts my gloom disappears.

The first half of the program features Bach Partita No. 2, the piece I never did practice on the morning of my chance encounter with Yves in Central Park. After intermission, the pianist performs “The Goldberg Variations.”

Even before the actual performance begins, I feel the doors to the temple of my heart opening. Emerging from it is bliss, pure and unadulterated!

In the partita, the dotted rhythm of the opening gives way to a playful counterpoint in two voices reminiscent of Bach’s two-part inventions. The pianist plays the opening with elegant conviction and infuses the remaining movements with the right amount of lyricism, clarity, and spirit.

The Goldberg consists of an aria, followed by thirty variations, which don’t follow the melody of the aria but rather adhere to its base line and harmonic progression.  Bach had made a note that after the last variation the performer should repeat the aria. In this case the pianist does not; however, his interpretation is majestic and saturated with  a religious reverence that moves me.

At the end of the concert when a tropical storm blurs the road ahead, one thing becomes clear. Bach will always remind me of a Saturday morning when Yves and I met, and of our friendship, which like a perfect Swiss watch, will always run with joyful precision.

The storm is but a glitch in my joy; I recall when first moving to Houston, someone telling me that the weather in this city is schizophrenic. “One never knows what to expect.”

When I get home, the land line rings, which reminds me my cell is still in my pocket. I had it on mute during the concert and had forgotten to turn it back on. Who could be calling? No one uses the land line except salespeople. “No, I don’t need a magazine subscription,” I’m ready to say.

“Hello,” the person on the line says. The accent is familiar. The voice is not. “I’m a friend of Yves. He gave me a list of persons to contact, and your name and number was there. Yves has passed from Covid. He wanted to make sure all his friends knew he loved them.”

I’m speechless for a second. I didn’t know Yves had been infected with the virus. Somehow, I managed to say, “Here we’ve been so careless, the number of cases increases every day, but Switzerland…”

“He got it in Italy.”

After I hang up, I put on my Glenn Gould CD of the Goldberg Variations. While tears stream down my face, I replay in my mind my first interaction with Yves. “Are you going to ride?”

No, not today. I want to remember you and the chance encounter that started a friendship underscored by our love of music. Tomorrow I’ll buy the finest Swiss chocolates and a dozen yellow roses in your honor.

When the CD ends, I say to myself, “as perfect as a Swiss watch.” Yes, that’s what Yves was and will always be.

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