Why you should care

Because it’s better to regret things you have done than things you haven’t done.

The crush was deep and abiding. Forget the 3,000 miles between us. Forget that she had slept with a friend of mine because my interest had remained unvoiced and I had a girlfriend at the time. Forget everything that would have made this pairing almost impossible to seriously consider. I was having dreams about her, for Chrissakes, so to say that Ingrid was on my mind was an understatement.

So I wrote her and laid it all out. In pre-Internet days this is how it worked. She lived in New York and I was living, somewhat uncomfortably, in California. After I laid it all out, she responded with a Polaroid, which is how sexting used to work, and an invite to meet her in New York “whenever the mood strikes.”

“Travel days?” the travel agent asked.

“Today,” I said. Which is to say that the mood struck as soon as I had read “whenever the mood strikes.”

“Can’t do that. But I can get you there —” she paused before making a sound of glee — “well, you’ll be there for Valentine’s Day!”

The room called for the only thing we could hear just then, and we fell onto the bed, still talking.

And yeah, it was cheese ball, and I almost wished all of the arrows hadn’t been pointing the way they were pointing since being there for Valentine’s Day seemed so … obvious. But in the face of what I was feeling, I could not have cared less.

Ingrid was brilliant and funny and attractive and probably the toughest Japanese woman I’d ever met. And when we hit the city, it was picture-perfect. Our chatter was easy and rapid fire, on everything from Meister Eckhart to Karen Black and the band that had been named after her.

We eventually wended our way back uptown to where she lived not far from Columbia, where she had graduated a few years before. It was an old apartment building — think gray stone and gargoyles — cooler on the inside than its outside would have intimated.

Shoeless, we padded across the dark wood floors until we reached her room. There were other things to sit on in the room than her bed, but the room called for the only thing we could hear just then, and we fell onto the bed, still talking. Talking and then rolling around in a deep embrace, anticipation unspooling.

And then I spied with my little eye two photos taped to the wall at the head of her bed.

I recognized the insignia. He was an SS officer. Handsome and with a scar on his face, he was central casting Nazi perfect.

The photos were of two men, one in a gray uniform, his face a little soft, the other in a jet-black uniform with a face that was absolutely not soft. I recognized the insignia on the latter man’s uniform. He was an SS officer. Handsome and with a scar on his face, he was central casting Nazi perfect.

“What’s the deal with the Nazis?” I asked.

“That’s my father —” Ingrid pressed the edges of the photo of the soft-faced man down — “and this is my uncle.” If you can imagine a needle scratching off a record now would be the time to imagine that.

“I … I thought you were Japanese.”

“My mother is Japanese,” she said.

“Wait, wait, wait,” I said, propping myself up on one elbow. “Where’d your parents meet?”

“I don’t know. It was something they never talked about.”

“But I thought you grew up here, in the city.”

“I did.”

“How’d your father get here?”

“I don’t know,” she said, and for the first time paranoia kicked in and I started weighing the likelihood that her parents’ meeting wouldn’t have been part of family lore. I mean, did she not really know or was she just not telling me? Ingrid could see this all working on my face and she spelled it out.

“I was born in this apartment and grew up here. With my mother and father. My father’s dead now,” she said quietly. “In fact, he died 10 years ago. To this day. In this apartment. In this room, actually. Funnily enough, right in this bed.”

And there it hung.

Dead Nazis vs. sex. Sex in a dead Nazi’s bed with dead Nazis watching. Dead Nazis rolling in their graves while watching a race crime being committed. Even outside of that, the idea of making love to a dead man’s daughter in the dead man’s bed was a little too much for me.

“Ha-ha-ha … funny story …,” I said, unconvincingly. “Um … I gotta go.” And I did.

On the flight home, I tried to twist it into ending any other way. As though by going through with it I’d have been driving a nail in the coffin of prodigious crimes against humanity. But I couldn’t, and I didn’t buy it anyway.

When I recounted the story for a bandmate he laughed in my face. “It’s not so much if you’re going to regret this, because you are, but how long it’s going to take you to regret it and for how long will you regret it?”

Last I heard of Ingrid, she was still in New York and working one of the most genius jobs ever. She had become a cop. But not just a cop, a mounted cop. Uniformed, gun on her hip, sitting astride a horse, busting heads, if needed.

Yeah. Regret is a funny/not funny thing sometimes. And happy Valentine’s Day to you too.

OZYTrue Story

Good stories from around the globe. Essays and immersion, into the harrowing, the sweet, the surprising — the human.