She was my roommate in Spain way back in the summer of 1977. She was a beauty, except for the scar that ran across her cheek and down her nose, a result of going through a car windshield in a teen-aged accident. I didn’t know her well, since I was a year ahead of her in high school. I remember her in a cheerleading outfit.
She called me before the trip and asked to be roomies. Our two universities were sharing a summer studies abroad program in Burgos, Spain.. She was a Hawkeye. I was a Cyclone. I said yes, not knowing that she was doing her summer classes with her boyfriend, and that I would hardly ever see her.
One night, when she was mad at her boyfriend, she went to la discoteca with me. We drank and danced and had a lot of fun. Our apartment was far from the downtown section of Burgos, and we had to walk. There was no Uber back then, plus we were poor college students with no cab fare.
We walked home at 2:00 a.m., and I soon realized that she was much drunker than I was. When the car of guys pulled up beside us, she was happy for the attention and egged them on.
Had they been at the disco with us? One guy in the back was certainly interested in Linda. Linda means pretty in Spanish, so her name fit her well.
They followed us for a few blocks. I was not too happy about it, but they seemed harmless as they cat-called us.
As long as they stay in the car.
Then the back door opened and one guy was getting out. We were almost to the locked iron gate at the bottom of our stairwell. I put the key in the lock.
The guy was coming over to us, laughing. The other five guys waited in the car. The guy on the sidewalk put his hand around Linda’s wrist. She was laughing. Suddenly it didn’t so funny anymore to me.
I pulled on Linda’s other arm, but the guy’s grip was too strong. In my South American Spanish I told him to let go of her. I still hadn’t learned when to lisp and when not to.
He wasn’t letting go. I dug my fingernails into his arm.
“Ay, madre!” he said, or something like that.
He let go, and in one swoop, I pulled Linda to me and turned the key. Another push and we were inside the gate.
The guys were laughing at the one on the sidewalk as he massaged the red marks I’d left on him.
I helped Linda up the stairs and into the apartment.
The other students callled me Las Uñas after that – Fingernail Woman.
I hadn’t seen or heard about Linda since that summer was over, until last week when I learned from my Iowa Facebook friends that she had passed away this month. I found her online obit with a photo, that same beautiful face surrounded by silver hair.
It’s so surreal. It will be happening more and more now, people my age dying. My mortality is hitting home once again.
I am donating to Linda’s scholarship for Spanish studies. She was a natural. She knew when to lisp and not pronounce her s and soft c sounds (as Spaniards have done ever since the lisping king of Spain).
Back in 1977, the wife of the couple that boarded us that summer told her how good her Spanish was. Then she pointed at me. “I can’t understand her.”
Memories are good and bad of our brief time together that summer.
Rest in peace, Linda. I am thinking about you today.