Note: I thought I’d better stop with the Roman numeral chapter headings or we’d soon be heading into the big math challenge…. Elisabeth
Meeting Gabe (1993)
The first time Erin saw Gabe, she was looking up from a novel she was reading to see her boyfriend David opening the front door of their apartment and ushering in a very young looking man with stark blue eyes and a wild tangle of curls. David was always bringing home people for her to meet or taking her out somewhere to meet someone or eat something new or hear something impossible.
“Erin, meet Gabriel. He’s fresh in from Virginia, and we’ve been talking about Gimp all afternoon, so I invited him home for dinner soup.”
“I bought some bread and tomato sauce. I thought we might have pasta.”
“Uh, okay. No, wait! I want to make that soup I was thinking about the other day.” He was already up on a chair, rifling through the cupboards. “Ah, here it is. I thought I remembered getting this last fall.” He held up a murky jar.
Gabe grinned. “That looks suspiciously like gefilte fish.”
“Right you are, right you are. I want to mix and marry my traditions, and I know you’re Jewish, but I hope you won’t mind a little sacrilege.”
“Actually,” Gabe interjected, “My mom is a German Lutheran and my dad is Jewish, so I’m not technically a Jew. But I did go to Hebrew school, and I do have the Jew-fro.” He shook his curls.
Erin was feeling a bit at a loss, so she started setting the table. She’d been with David for a few months now, but she’d been raised with a very weak wash of Protestantism by parents whose religion had been the evening news with Walter Cronkite softened with a mix of Gallo Rhine wine and Fresca.
David countered, “Well my mom is Jewish, and my dad is Chinese and an academic, so you know what that makes me.”
“What?” Gabe asked, smiling.
“Neurotic as hell. Now let me get this soup started. I am going to make for the two of you my soon-to-be-famous tofu gefilte fish soup. A nod to both sides of the aisle. Gabe, can I get you to start chopping some fennel for me? I always say you need some fennel to make a great soup.”
“Do you need me to help?” Erin asked.
“Nah, we’ll let you do the dishes. I’ll call you when we’re ready, and we’ll just keep going here with the tech talk.”
Erin walked back into the living room and sank down into the bean bag chair in the corner. The sky was darkening slowly outside their large window that faced back toward the campus. She picked up her book from her theory class and tried to concentrate, but she kept fading in and out of their lively conversation.
David called in to her. “Why don’t you put on some music?”
She looked through his stack of albums and pulled out a couple that she liked more than the rest: Sinead O’Connor and Fleetwood Mac. He had a much more defined taste in music than she did, because he could listen to music while he worked and always had his headphones on, foot tapping, frequently air drumming, as he worked on some coding project in the largish walk-in closet he had established as his office before she moved in.
She decided to put some Pearl Jam on the record player and turned it up loud.
When she first started spending the night, only weeks after she’d met him, he was living with a first year Chemistry grad student in the one bedroom apartment. David was sleeping in the living room and coding until all hours, either in the closet or up on campus.
Erin had been divorced for a year at that point and was instantly attracted to David who was a combination of exactly her type (dark hair, dark eyes and very masculine) and something not as nice as she’d been brought up with. David didn’t always obey the rules, and that thrilled her. Her husband had been so unfailingly nice. She had come to the conclusion that her mistake had been in pairing up with someone so very kind to everyone.
So here she was, in one of those almost infinite number of 1930s-era apartments in Berkeley that had layers of cream paint over all the wooden cabinets and the old ice boxes, so thick that things wouldn’t really close anymore; all of them, too, with that same sort of old black and white linoleum in the bathroom, the kind that they probably don’t even make anymore. She’d lived in a bunch of these as she’d moved around the campus, sharing with different roommates.
David was, in fact, very different from anyone else she’d lived with. He made her soup for breakfast just about every day, which was nice, though she really didn’t like fennel. He also had no patience for her vegetarian inclinations. He wanted her to eat what he cooked, and he liked to be able to cook what he wanted. Erin felt glad not to have to cook after her ex-husband’s expectations that she would always cook, so she didn’t say much about the meat.
“Soup’s on!” David called from the kitchen, and Erin walked back in to find him pouring wine from the bottle they had bought a couple of days earlier.
“David, I shouldn’t have much. I still need to work tonight. I have a paper due tomorrow.”
“It’s one glass! It’ll help your thoughts age. Here, Gabe. To Gimp!”
“Well, I don’t usually drink mid-week, but what the hell!”
Gabe grinned, and Erin raised her glass too.
“So Erin, Gabe’s out here trying to get into grad school, but he doesn’t have a bachelor’s degree.”
She swallowed hard. “You can’t do that.” She was putting herself through her Ph.D. program in English by working part-time as an advisor in Engineering.
Gabe’s smile didn’t falter. “Sure I can. I wouldn’t be the first one. Barbara Simons got a Ph.D. from Berkeley without having a bachelor’s degree.”
David’s smile broadened. “Gabe was a child prodigy. He went to college when he was nine, but he never finished.”
Erin took a spoonful of the soup, avoiding the fish. It still tasted awful. She tried to avoid letting her opinion show on her face; David really disliked her critiques of his cooking.
“What was it like being at college when you were that young?” she said.
“My dad really wanted me to go, but I wasn’t all that invested in it. I was taking classes at a really small local school at first, and then I took some classes at University of Virginia. What I really enjoyed was studying on my own at home.”
“Gabe is from the way out back in the mountains of Virginia.”
Gabe put on an Appalachian accent, “I’m from where they all go when they want to grow the marijuana plants in peace.” He switched back to his own voice. “I grew up in a house that used to be the town saloon and gas station before we bought it. The town is really, really small, something like eighty people at last count.”
“What do your parents do in such a small place?” she asked.
“Well, my dad used to be a stock broker, but he’s been pretty much retired for quite a while. My mom was working for the Museum of Modern Art in New York when she met my dad. They had her working in the cataloging division, because she can read five languages. Now she works in the local library as a volunteer, and she gardens and takes care of whatever animals we have in the barn in the back yard. And of course she raised me and my brother.”
“Was your brother a prodigy too?”
“I think my brother is just as smart as I am, but he’s interested in painting, and my dad has no use for art or artists, so Ben’s gone to public school his whole career, and now he’s at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg. We’re pretty different.”
“So you’re thinking that you’ll send in your grades from college when you were nine and try to get into grad school?”
“Not exactly. I’m taking a couple of classes now through Extension, and I’m hoping to do well enough to get some good grades and letters for my application.”
“So far, he seems to be blowing them away.” David looked as proud as if Gabe were his latest discovery.
“Well, I do know a little bit about Computer Science.” Erin looked up and saw the smile in Gabe’s eyes.