His pounding footsteps came up the stairs that led to my rented bedroom in a Portuguese flat. In a matter of seconds he had unlocked the door and burst through, calling my name in his thick Portuguese accent. I came from around the corner and found Hugo panting in the doorway in his typical dirty, over-worn board shorts and tank top. His Raybans were still hiding his gorgeous blue green eyes and in both hands he held a brown paper package. In broken English that was peppered with way too much excited Portuguese and a lot of gestures he tried to explain his plans. After five minutes of mixing up pronouns and improper conjugation, I gave up trying to follow. The look of confusion on my face only grew when he started unwrapping the brown paper and thrust a giant, raw turkey leg into my hands.
I was used to Hugo’s antics by now; he was a washed-up journalist who was barely taller than my shoulder, and was desperately trying to break into the art scene with mirrors and frames that he decoupaged with macaroni and glitter. Eccentric would not even be close to a strong enough word to describe him.
The turkey leg was transferred into my hands before Hugo turned around and left the kitchen nearly as abruptly as he came. We had this agreement set up long ago where he would cook Portuguese dinners, while I baked him traditional and fattening American desserts. The turkey leg obviously broke that agreement and I was left angry and confused. What was I supposed to do with an entire turkey leg?
My anger and frustration grew as I ran out of options for the turkey. I tried pulling meat off the bone, I tried chopping through it with a knife, I even slammed it on the counter a couple times hoping it would just give way. As I slammed the turkey leg on the counter Hugo made his glorious reentry. He eyed me cautiously seeing as how I was still wielding the turkey leg and shook his head with a look on his face that spoke of his inability to comprehend how Americans do things. He looked at me incredulously then asked if I loved him. I could have taken him out with the turkey leg, but I lowered it, looked him in the eye, and in a sharp angry tone, told him that I loved him enough to cook him this god-forsaken turkey. He laughed off his nervousness before asking another question. He stood up to his full height making his eyes come squarely to my chin before asking, “do you love me enough to marry me?”
I had been in Portugal for two months and while images of green cards and permanent residency flashed across my mind there was no option for the response. There was no way I could share my life with this short little man who listened to Mariah Carey and Michael Jackson obsessively. I couldn’t make my sundresses or height fit into his classy art gallery openings and native country. I laughed before searching his eyes and realizing he was serious, dead serious. I scrambled for an answer, racking my brain, trying to figure out a way to let him down without breaking his heart.I opened my mouth after an awkwardly long period of silence and blurted out that I wanted tall children and that he couldn’t help me with that. It was the best excuse I could find. It crushed his soul. He left the kitchen depressed and heartbroken and retreated to his room to the solace of Mariah and Michael. I was left in the kitchen with the turkey leg. Not wanting to ruin his proposal gift, I wrapped the raw, beaten turkey leg back up and made room for it in the fridge. Just like I was hoping his next tenant could make room for him in her heart. Maybe she would be shorter. Maybe she would be able to put up with his eccentricities. And maybe for her, the draw of permanent residency would be a little stronger.