February 1964, Brooklyn New York. Rudy was home after 3 months exiled in Puerto Rico. It was a bitter-sweet return, not at all what he had expected, his girlfriend, Dora, had called to say she would be over soon to return the ring he had given her. She had hooked up with a new crowd while he was gone and she was ready to move on. On the other hand, he still had his core group of friends. The Sinners were still together and overjoyed to have him back. Ralph invited Rudy to the Friday dance at the local Catholic church. All he had to do was sit thru a youth service and then he could enjoy the dance for a couple of hours. “Who knows,” said Ralph, “maybe you will meet someone new. I can’t say for sure, since I always go with Eileen so I don’t pay any mind to other girls.” On the home front, things were not so good. Rudy’s dad and mom had separated with the women folk staying with an old family friend in Jamaica NY. Rudy had been signed out of school before his exile so he now had the days to himself. He had fallen into the daily routine of commuting into Manhattan for work at a store. It was boring work, but it gave him pocket-money Rudy was no stranger to Catholic churches, although he had been brought up a Baptist, he thought it would be fun to piss his mother off by attending mass from time to time. However, this was the first time he had attended a Youth sermon and he found it incredibly boring. The boys and girls had been segregated to separate sides of the church making it difficult to size up the local talent. Finally, it was over and we were released to go to the recreation room and the main event we were all here for. As Ralph collected his girlfriend Eileen. who was of the Jewish persuasion and exemplified the Jewish American Princess (JAP) in her every attitude, Rudy could not help but wonder how many Catholics there actually were in attendance. As far as Rudy knew Ralph, Bobby and he were the only Latinos in the group. He wondered how the evening would turn out. It was starting out rather slowly. Not that he could not find dance partners, just nothing that looked promising. This was how it went for the first two weeks. On the third outing, Rudy was thinking about collecting Ralph and company in order to blow this joint when he suddenly saw her.
On the other side of the recreation room sat the most beautiful girl he had seen in a very long time. She was a slim petite, olive-skinned vision in white. Dressed in a white dress with a pleated skirt, she sat with her eyes downcast. What the hell is she doing sitting there alone? wondered Rudy. Suddenly she looked up and met his eyes. Rudy was just a little embarrassed to be caught staring, but now that he saw her face full on, he was pulled into her eyes and across the room. As he crossed the floor and walked towards her, he grew more excited at the prospect of speaking to her. Amazingly he realized that she was also moving across the floor to meet him. They moved seamlessly into each others arms and started dancing. After a few moments she smiled at him and said ““Hi, I’m Gypsy and I am enchanted to make your acquaintance.” Rudy was uncharacteristically tongue-tied as he blurted I’m Rudy, and you are most beautiful girl I have ever met!” Rudy suddenly noticed the white scarf she wore which did indeed make her look like a Gypsy. He also noticed that she was also of Latin descent. Rudy had never been attracted to girls of his own race before. Gypsy thanked him for the dance and headed back to her bench seat. No way missy thought Rudy I am not letting you get away from me so easily. Gladys took off and folded her scarf, placing it on the seat next to her where a young Latin boy was sitting. “Rudy,” she said “may I introduce my bother Joey? And please sit for a moment.” As Rudy sat next to her Ralph came by with Eileen and he introduced them. For the next few minutes, Rudy and Gladys got to know each other. She told him that her name was Gladys Perez. He discovered that like he, she was second generation Puerto Rican with very strict parents. This was her first trip to the weekly dances and she did not know very many people here. She was a student at Erasmus Hall High School and she lived only a few blocks away. As they sat there talking, “you’ll Never Walk Alone” by Patti LaBelle began playing, so Rudy stood up and held his hand out to Gladys. She smiled and took his hand and allowed him to lead her out to the dance floor again. Rudy took Gladys in his arms and led her in a slow dance. He was enchanted by her scent which reminded him of a mixture of spices. She felt like she belonged in his arms. Rudy had not felt this happy since the days when he and Mary had danced in Lansing Michigan. All too soon, the song ended and it was announced that the evening was over. Rudy thanked Gladys for the dance and told her he would like to see her again. Gladys agreed that she would like to get together again as well. They exchanged phone numbers and then Gladys surprised him by kissing him on the cheek. As Ralph joined him he grinned at Rudy who was touching his cheek where he had received Gypsy’s kiss. “I take it the evening was not a total loss” grinned Ralph. “Do you know her?” Rudy asked “Gypsy? I have seen her around from time to time. Always with her brother.” “so, she is not attached?” Asked Rudy with a smile. “Not that I know of dude.” Ralph replied. They left the church and walked the one block to Ralph’s house. Rudy invited Gypsy to join his group at Jahn’s Ice
Cream Parlor on Flatbush Avenue for their weekly get together. She was readily accepted by the group and even knew a few of them from school. As Ralph recounted their meeting on the dance floor the previous night, he told the group that our meeting reminded him of the dance at the gym from West Side Story when Tony met Maria. Before long, it became obvious that Rudy and Gypsy were an item. It as not long before the group began meeting at the rec room in her Apartment building where her father was the Superintendent. Rudy spent all of his spare time after work with Gypsy. Gypsy confided in Rudy that she suffered from Epilepsy. This made no difference to him and she suffered no ill effects in all of their time together. She joined his friends for the celebration of his 17th Birthday, where Rudy asked Gypsy if she would be his steady girl and presented her with his ring. She gifted him with a copy of The Crystals LP “He*s A Rebel on which she wrote both their names. (He still has it.)
He could not remember a happier birthday celebration. Rudy and Gypsy were so happy, it was as if they were living in a fairy tale. By day he would go to work and she would attend school. In the evening they would interact with their intimate group of friends with frequent time-out to bask solely in each others company. Then came that fateful Tuesday in April when The Truant Officer destroyed our lives. (These events have already been chronicled in Chapter 7 and shall not be rehashed here.)
The events of that day led to Rudy’s enlistment in the Army as an escape from a situation that he found intolerable. During his first leave from the Army three months later, he paid a visit to Ralph at his home. Rudy asked if there was any new of Gladys. to which Ralph replied “We’ll discuss that later. So what has been happening with you?” Shortly there was a knock at the door. Ralph’s mother opened the door and came into the room with the visitor. “Rudy,”she said “someone is here to see you.” To Rudy’s surprise, Gladys walked into the room and gave him a timid smile. “Hola Querido.”she said and gave him a kiss on the cheek. The moment reminded Rudy of the first time Gypsy had kissed him. But rather than joy, the action filled him with dread. Rudy could see the hurt in Gladys’s eyes shining with unshod tears. She explained to Rudy that she was visiting him this last time in defiance of her parents edict that she was never to interact with him again. As she prepared to leave him for the last time, she whispered into his ear “Rudy, although I can never see you again, I will keep your ring on my finger until the day I stop loving you.” With her eyes full of tears, she tenderly brushed her lips against his in a last tender kiss. Rudy was never to see Gladys Perez again. Although he tried again and again to contact her, she never replied to any of his letters. While their love shone brightly for a few brief months which felt like forever, like Tony and Maria it ended in tragedy. Though both survived the end of their love affair, both would forever regret the loss. To this day, Rudy thinks fondly of the time when he basked under the glow of the Gypsy enchantment that was Gladys Perez.
Originally published Jan 31, 2017, 7:17 PM as “Rudy and the Gypsy”
a related Spotify playlist can be found at https://open.spotify.com/playlist/1icZyaUZM4dECVoX87vUFt?si=uxeUc81uSS-o5cyLHiLBHg