Transcript

122:

Valentine's Day '99
Transcript

Originally aired 02.12.1999

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Full audio: http://tal.fm/122

Act One. Meet The Ball And Chain.

Ira Glass

When Anne met Charles, they were not supposed to fall in love. It was forbidden that they fall in love. Capulets and Montagues, Jets and Sharks, David Addison and Mattie Hayes on Moonlighting, Scully and Mulder, Anna Karenina, you know the story. The day they met, she was a nurse in the Texas prisons. He was a prisoner, support service inmate. First day on her new assignment, working in the infirmary.

Anne Staggs

They're called SSIs, which is a janitor service there. And there was four new ones came in that day. And they come bebopping down through the hall and started to the back of the infirmary. And I ask them just where they thought they were going. He says, "Honey, you did take my head off a time or two that day." So that was the first time I'd ever seen him.

Ira Glass

Was this the kind of thing where the first time you looked at him, you thought, "Huh, wonder who that is."

Anne Staggs

No, no.

Ira Glass

She'd see him around, mopping, clearing out trash. And then, as always happens in these kinds of stories, fate threw them together, together in a situation where it was the two of them against the world.

Anne Staggs

We worked together for a couple of months and then got into a situation that involved some real sticky stuff that I'd really rather not get real specific about. But he told me some information about some stuff that had taken place while I was out of the infirmary one evening. By the time I got through facing off people, it brought a lot of heat on both of us.

Ira Glass

And did the two of you actually blow the whistle on somebody in a way that officers got disciplined and punished?

Anne Staggs

We blew the whistle, yes. The officer got a promotion instead of getting disciplined. They basically totally isolated us both, because I took the word of an inmate over that of an officer. And they don't like that.

Ira Glass

And nobody talked to the two of you? And so did that mean that you ended up having a lot of time alone with each other?

Anne Staggs

Well, it ended up being we were the only two to talk to. We talked to each other. And I really got to know what kind of a person that he was, and that he will stand up for truth when other people will skirt around it. But he will face what's coming down, just so that the truth comes out, at great personal risk to him.

Ira Glass

Still, his crime?

Anne Staggs

He was in for murder. He killed a man that raped his niece. And he's been given 25 years for that.

It's drilled in our head all the time. Anyone that works there, it's drilled in your head that these people are out to con you. They're going to pull something on you. They're going to blackmail you into doing something. This is the prison system's way of looking at things.

But not everyone that's inside the prison system is that way. That was one of my major problems, is I could not understand, and I could not treat them like they were animals. I just couldn't do it.

Ira Glass

Well, from WBEZ Chicago and Public Radio International, it's This American Life. I'm Ira Glass. Today in our program, for Valentine's Day, stories of forbidden love.

Act One, Meet the Ball and Chain. What happens when you fall in love with somebody who you're supposed to treat like an animal? Act Two, Mucho Corazon. What happens when you fall for somebody that your country, your entire country, does not want you to live with? Act Three, a story of impossible love to end all stories of impossible love, or 1,001 one of them, anyway. Stay with us.

Act Two. Mucho Corazon.

Ira Glass

Act One, Meet the Ball and Chain. When Anne Staggs started to fall for an inmate named Charles in the Texas prison system, she was up against odds as daunting as they ever get for two people. It was against the rules, possibly dangerous. Certainly, it could put her job on the line.

They were never alone. They could never say anything in front of other people. And he was, not to put too fine a point on this, a convicted murderer.

Ira Glass

You know, in any relationship, there's some moment where somebody says to the other person, "I'm having these feelings." When was that moment between the two of you, and where did it happen?

Anne Staggs

In the infirmary. I had been putting my medications on the computer, charting. And he came in. We'd been talking quite a bit that day.

Anyway, he came in and said something to me. And I turned around and looked at him. And I said, "I love you." And he looked me right square in the eye. And he says, "No, you don't."

And I told him, I said, "Don't you ever, ever tell me I don't love you." I said, "I didn't say I was in love with you. I said I loved you."

And it took him a while to accept that, because he was of the opinion at that time that he didn't think he was worthy of being loved. And about two days later, he came back and told me that he loved me, too. I was sitting in the nurse's station with my head down, charting, when he walked in there.

And I looked up and said, "Hi." And he looked at me. He said, "Hello." And I went back to charting. And he said, "I love you." And I said, "Thank you."

Ira Glass

Wow. How very businesslike.

Anne Staggs

Well, under the circumstances, with other people all around, it kind of had to be.

Ira Glass

How much time was it between him saying that he loved you and you actually kissing?

Anne Staggs

About a month.

Ira Glass

And if you're willing, I mean, I don't mean to pry too much if you don't want to talk about this. But what were the circumstances of you actually kissing the first time?

Anne Staggs

At 5 o'clock every day, we give the insulin to the diabetics.

Ira Glass

How romantic.

Anne Staggs

No, that's not romantic. And someone had stuck their size 14 foot right in the middle of the sheet on the gurney. And I mean there was a big footprint right there. And I hollered at him and asked him to come change the sheet on the gurney. And while he was changing the sheet on the gurney is when I took the opportunity to kiss him. And I was the one that instigated it.

Ira Glass

Was he surprised?

Anne Staggs

Yes. He seemed very surprised.

Ira Glass

So how'd it go?

Anne Staggs

Wonderful. Very, very, very sweet. I would love to be able to put my arms around him right now.

It progressed from there. Other than the hugs and the kisses, there was never any other sexual activity, period. There just couldn't be. That's just absolutely the way it was. It just couldn't be.

Ira Glass

It sounds like you were in a situation where there's no possibility of privacy at all.

Anne Staggs

If we got a minute to talk by ourselves, that was unusual.

Ira Glass

When was the next turning point in your feelings? When did you understand that things had gone to another level?

Anne Staggs

It was about the 1st of February. We were standing in the exam room, talking about something. He was cleaning and I was doing something else. And this blond guard walked in, who had never been in the infirmary unless she had to be, come in and asked for a cup of coffee. He always kept a big pot of coffee going in the back.

And when he left the room with her to get her a cup of coffee, I could have just easily pulled her head off and told God she died. And that's when I realized I was in way over my head, and there was no denying the fact that I was in love with him. It had gotten to the point that I knew that we would eventually be discovered, simply because I really had a problem staying away from him. And the security staff watches you like hawks. So it was inevitable.

Ira Glass

Do you think it makes it more intense, the fact that your feelings were forbidden for each other?

Anne Staggs

Oh, definitely. You can talk to any woman or any inmate that has developed a relationship under the circumstances that ours was developed. And they will tell you beyond belief that the intensity of the relationship and the intensity of the feelings is far beyond anything that we've ever experienced before. I know several of the women that are married to inmates, and they'll tell you the same thing.

Ira Glass

Now you've been married before too, yeah?

Anne Staggs

Yes. I was married for 26 years.

Ira Glass

And this is more intense than--

Anne Staggs

Oh, yes. I have discovered that I never knew what being in love was.

Ira Glass

Do you worry that your feelings are still idealized because you just haven't had the time to spend with each other alone?

Anne Staggs

To a point, yes. There's going to be a lot of adjustments to be done whenever we finally get to be together.

Ira Glass

And so what happened next?

Anne Staggs

On February 23, a guard came in. And he and I were standing back by the refrigerator fussing. He was getting ready to go back to his cell. And it was a few minutes until I got off work. And we were talking and cutting up.

And she reported that she had caught us kissing, which she did not. That don't mean I hadn't kissed him. At that point, she did not catch us kissing, OK?

And a little while later, after he went to his cell, the lieutenant brought him back to the infirmary to do his PHD physical, which was a Pre-Hearing Detention physical. Which means he's in big trouble. And I asked him what they were bringing him down there for, and they said that he was under investigation.

And I did his physical. And I kept telling him, I'm sorry. I knew whenever she came in and looked at us the way she did that she was going to report us. And I kept telling him I was very sorry that it was coming down, because I knew that it was really going to be bad on him.

Ira Glass

Wait a second. Let me be sure I've got this right. So he's about to get punished for kissing you and being close to you. And the first part of the punishment is that he's sent to you to be physically examined?

Anne Staggs

Yes.

Ira Glass

Does this not strike you as being kind of an odd thing, that he's about to be punished essentially for the two of you touching, and the first moment of the punishment is he's sent to you alone for you to--

Anne Staggs

Oh, he wasn't alone. The lieutenant was with him and sneering the whole time.

Ira Glass

Oh, OK. Understood.

Anne Staggs

I was allowed to leave the unit that night. Then I was called back onto the unit about 10 o'clock the next morning. And I spent a couple hours in interrogation with the internal affairs people.

Ira Glass

What'd they ask and what'd you tell them?

Anne Staggs

There was a lot of questions. They ask about the sexual activity, which there was none. They ask if I had been bringing contraband in to him, which there was none. They wanted me to tell them every sordid detail. And I was not real cooperative in that area.

Ira Glass

Do they even ask you about your feelings for him in that situation?

Anne Staggs

Yes, they did.

Ira Glass

They do. How exactly do they ask? Do they actually ask the question, "Do you love him?"

Anne Staggs

Yes.

Ira Glass

And did you admit to loving him?

Anne Staggs

Yes. Yes, and then they insisted that I write my resignation.

Ira Glass

Did you get a chance to say goodbye to him?

Anne Staggs

No.

They gave him a year on medium custody. And they put him in the fields to work.

Now when they were talking to him and interrogating him, internal affairs had told him that after it was all over with, and after everything calmed down, that he would be able to put me on his visiting list and I would be able to see him. He put me on his visiting list in September. And my birthday's in October, so he wrote and told me that I could come see him the week after my birthday. When I went in to see him, they would not let me see him at all. One of the officers there recognized me and told me that I could not visit with him. They stopped him, gave him a major case. And he started his one year over again in medium custody. So he was actually on medium custody for 19 months.

Ira Glass

So you didn't even see him for a moment?

Anne Staggs

No. No, they never let him out of the building to come to the visitation area.

Ira Glass

What rule was he violating at that point? You were no longer a prison employee.

Anne Staggs

One of the officers lied and said that they had given him a direct order for him not to put me on his visiting list. They wrote him a major case on disobeying a direct order. And my husband had never gotten a case before, had never been in any problems, no disciplinary problems before. And it still hurts my pride.

The next letter that I got from him, of course, he was really upset because they had stopped the visit. And then in the very next letter, he asked me to marry him. He said he had wanted to do that at visitation. But since they are not going to let us visit, that he wanted me to marry him right then.

Ira Glass

And were you surprised?

Anne Staggs

Yes. The fact is when I was reading the letter, I went to crying. I was very, very happy at that point. And a girlfriend of mine who was already married to an inmate was there with me. And she kind of got upset, because she thought there was something else desperately wrong. Whenever I told her that he had asked me to marry him, she says, "Well, are you going on?" I said "Well, of course."

Ira Glass

How does it work? Does he basically just sign something, and you sign something, and then you're married?

Anne Staggs

No. He sent me what is called a proxy paper out, saying that he intentionally asked me to marry him, that he wants to marry me. And there's some other stuff on it. And then I have to take that and his identification papers and obtain the marriage license.

And you know that we got married right here on the radio station. And my deal about doing it that way is I wanted my husband present at our wedding. And that was the only way that that was going to happen.

Ira Glass

So then the marriage takes place on the Prison Show on KPFT in Houston. And the host of the show, Ray Hill, stands in as proxy for Charles, who's still in his cell somewhere.

M. O. Johnson

My name is [? M. O. Johnson. ?] I'm pastor at Rose of Sharon Baptist Church. And I am glad to be on this program to do this wedding. I told Sister Anne that this is the right thing to do.

Anne Staggs

It was fantastic. At that point in my life, you could not have told me that this was not the most beautiful cathedral in the city of Houston.

M. O. Johnson

Well, now, let us start the ceremony. Brother Stagg, this is for you. Wilt thou have this woman to thy wedded wife, to live together after God's holy ordinance, in the holy state of matrimony? Wilt thou love her, comfort her, honor her, and keep her, in sickness and in health, for as long as ye both shall live?

Ray Hill

For Charles, by proxy, I do.

M. O. Johnson

Amen.

Ira Glass

And what did you hear from your husband? He wrote you and told you that he heard the wedding show.

Anne Staggs

Oh, yes.

Ira Glass

What did he say about it?

Anne Staggs

He repeated his vows right along with Ray.

Ira Glass

That's what he did when he was listening?

Anne Staggs

Yes. And he was as thrilled with it as I was.

M. O. Johnson

Now, Sister Anne, wilt thou have this man to thy wedded husband in the holy state of matrimony for as long as ye both shall live?

Anne Staggs

I do.

M. O. Johnson

Amen. We will ask my brother to place this ring on Sister Anne's hand. And, my brother, you repeat this. As a pledge--

Ray Hill

As a pledge--

M. O. Johnson

--and in token of these vows--

Ray Hill

--and in token of these vows--

M. O. Johnson

--between us made--

Ray Hill

--between us made--

Ira Glass

It's such a strange thing to listen to, him taking the vow in proxy.

Anne Staggs

It was.

M. O. Johnson

--the Holy Ghost. Amen.

Ray Hill

Amen.

M. O. Johnson

Amen. Those whom God hath joined together, let no man put asunder. Let us pray.

[CHEERING]

Ira Glass

It's also strange to hear a wedding ceremony where there's nobody there to kiss at the end.

Anne Staggs

That part kind of got me. But I'm going to make up for it when he comes home. I promise you.

I just have a message for Charles. Sweetheart, I love you very much. I can't promise you that I'll be around for the rest of your life. But I can promise you that I will love you for the rest of mine. And I just thank God that he brought us together. Thank you.

Ray Hill

Thank you, Anne.

Ira Glass

Are you worried that it's going to be different when he's out, and when you actually get a chance to be together?

Anne Staggs

Sometimes, the fear of the unknown. But I know that our love will overcome all of it.

Ira Glass

It's so strange. It's a fear of the unknown with somebody who now you've been married to for quite a while.

Anne Staggs

Yeah, we've been married a year now.

Ira Glass

That's right. You've had an anniversary.

Anne Staggs

The 5th of December, we were married one year. And that's been one of the happiest years of my life.

Ira Glass

Even though they're married, Anne and Charles are still not allowed to see each other or speak on the telephone, because he's not been allowed to put her, still, on his official visitors list. At the time of our interview, he still had to serve between one and five years of his sentence.

[MUSIC - "CONCRETE AND BARBED WIRE" BY LUCINDA WILLIAMS]

Coming up, other stories to hopefully break your heart for this Valentine's Day, in a minute from Public Radio International, when our program continues.

Act Three. Who Deserves What.

Ira Glass

It's This American Life. I'm Ira Glass. Each week on our program, of course, we choose a theme, invite a variety of writers and performers to tackle that theme. Today's program, for Valentine's Day, impossible loves. Stories of people kept apart who think that they should be together. We have arrived at act two of our program. Act Two, Mucho Corazon.

In any love story, there always has to be some thing, some moment, some device to bring the two people together. And this next story begins with a man in Amsterdam, Leon Perlee, and a woman in Cuba named Milades Sosa. And what brings them together from such different worlds is an instrument, a musical instrument. That's all it takes, my friend.

The instrument in this particular case is a street organ, an antique street organ, big and made of wood. It doesn't have a keyboard or anything. You crank a handle and it works like a player piano, blowing air through holes in these long cardboard sheets. Leon has a small workshop in Amsterdam where he restores these. It's how he makes a living.

Leon Perlee

It has to be punched with holes in a certain pattern. When a hole in the book passes over one of the keys, the key will jump up in the hole. And the note in the organ, which is connected with this particular key, will start to sound. And then the pipes will start to speak. OK, let's start the organ.

[MUSIC PLAYING - STREET ORGAN]

Ira Glass

In Europe today, these hand-cranked organs are ancient history. But as it turns out, a century ago, these European machines crossed the Atlantic. And these days, in Cuba, a street organ factory is still in operation, a factory caught in a bubble in time, still turning out these instruments. Naturally, Leon had to go see it for himself three years ago.

Leon Perlee

So I was standing at Guarda la Vaca beach, white sands, blue sea, blue sky, people in swimming suits and bikinis. Yeah, it's very nice. And there was a big open-air tent. And there was an organ with a battery of percussions next to it, five people playing conga, bongo, timbales. And people were so impressed by it because it was just like a real orchestra which was playing. And it was marvelous.

Milades Sosa

Well, my uncle, the one who works in the organ factory, told me that there was a group from Holland that was going to be at the factory. They were interested in organs. And they were going to have a party for those persons. He invited me to go there, but I was a little afraid. I didn't dare to talk to any foreigner.

And then I think he said I could help translate. And he insisted. And I didn't want to be unpolite. And I went with him to the factory.

I am sitting on a table with my uncle, having fun, drinking. And then all of a sudden, I see a big man, white skin. Ah, that look in his face, like a child. I felt my heart start to beat faster.

Leon Perlee

There came a man towards me. And he tried to start a conversation. But he found out that my Spanish was just as good as his English. He asked me to wait. And he came back with a young lady with sunglasses on, and it came out that she was his niece.

Milades Sosa

I took my glasses off. So I'm looking into his eyes. Something was happening in him. It's the same that is happening inside me. I could see it in his eyes.

Leon Perlee

From the first moment she took off her glasses, I felt like coming home. Everything fell in its place. My soul was complete.

Milades Sosa

It was just love at first sight.

Leon Perlee

I just knew I was in love.

Milades Sosa

We were talking. It was so nice talking. It was like if I had known him my whole life. It was great.

Leon Perlee

I was forced to leave there, because we had to be on time at the airport. So I tried to extend the time of leaving as long as possible, but they were calling me [INAUDIBLE]. "Come on, Perlee, we have to go. The airplane is waiting."

"Yeah, yeah, yeah. It's okay. I'm coming."

Five minutes later, "Perlee, come on, now. We have to go."

Milades Sosa

I saw the car leaving, and he was looking back and saying, "Goodbye."

Leon Perlee

I hoped she would write me. But it was still unexpected. And I was happy about it. Because I hoped it was not just something which lasted one day, at least not from my feelings. I was sure about my case, but of course, you never can look into the soul of another person.

"Cuba, August 31, 1995. Dear Perlee, first of all, my most sincere greetings for you and my wishes of prosperity. Before beginning this letter, I will tell you that I have missed you as if I would have met you since my childhood. Referring to me, I am 21 years old. I study at the training teachers college. So I will be a teacher soon. I enjoy dancing, reading, having new friends, traveling here in Cuba.

It will be very nice to hear about you and your country. I know that in spite of being a small country, it's nice. Besides that, there is produced a delicious butter.

My friend, you are not going to believe that I keep the postcard you gave me in a place where I can take a glance at it every time. It really brings good memories. Take care of yourself and write soon. Kisses, sincerely, Milades."

So I hoped for it, and well-- this is something which you can touch. You can read it again. That was one of the best moments in my life.

Milades Sosa

"Dear Milades, thanks for the nice letter. I received your letter the 10th of October. There is something on its way for you. Hope you like it. Love and kisses, Leon."

And when he said there is something on its way for you, he meant Mucho Corazon. This is a music book he arranged with love for me. And the first page, you can see how he dedicated, wrote for me, that is, "From Leon, with love." It was in September, '95. [UNINTELLIGIBLE]

The rest is just a piece of cardboard full of holes. He can't really take it. And I didn't know what to do with it. I don't have an organ. I have to go to the factory. This is the tune.

[MUSIC - "MUCHO CORAZON" ON STREET ORGAN]

Milades Sosa

These are the words to "Mucho Corazon."

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Milades Sosa

"I don't need a reason to love you, because my heart is so big."

[MUSIC - "MUCHO CORAZON" ON STREET ORGAN]

Leon Perlee

"September 23, 1995. Dear Leon, it was so nice to learn that you have not forgotten me. In fact, I was afraid about it."

Milades Sosa

"Amsterdam, 20 September, 1995. Dear Milades, before opening your letter, I had to calm down myself because my heart was beating like crazy. And as I read it, it gave me a very warm and good feeling inside."

Leon Perlee

"To be sincere, I have read it more than six times today. And now I decided to write back to you. Believing that you think of me, too, was one of the best things that could have happened to me."

Milades Sosa

"Dear, dear, Milades, would you believe me as I told you that every night before I go to sleep, and in the mornings when I arise, I kiss your name on the letter? So you have to write back very soon, because it's wearing out very rapidly."

Leon Perlee

"Can you imagine how I would feel if you came here again? Please, if possible, do it as soon as you can. It'll be great. Kisses, Milades."

Milades Sosa

"A thousand kisses."

[MUSIC - "MUCHO CORAZON" ON STREET ORGAN]

Leon Perlee

The second time I went to [INAUDIBLE] was December 1995.

Milades Sosa

I was scared because I didn't know what to expect from a man who lives in a developed country. I didn't know what he could expect from a girl from a small city in a poor country.

Leon Perlee

I was really nervous.

Milades Sosa

We didn't know anything about each other. It was just some letters.

Leon Perlee

It sounds stupid. But I was really nervous to meet her again.

Milades Sosa

I went to the airport. I saw him.

Leon Perlee

I walked towards them. And Milades, she laid her hands on the window. And I put my hands also against the window. And I was laughing, because I have quite big hands, and her hands are rather small. It looked as if there was a baby hand laying in my hand.

Milades Sosa

He was taken. Oh, his body was taken. I could feel it when he took me in his arms.

Leon Perlee

I tried to give her a kiss in the taxi. But even that didn't work. She was just like a shy bird.

Milades Sosa

I was voiceless. I couldn't say a word. He tried, but he was also nervous.

They took me to my house. And I told my mother, "Oh, mama, I'm dying. I don't know what's happening." It was something completely new. What I was feeling, since I met him, I couldn't explain it.

I couldn't sleep that night. And I was afraid also, because many girls were going out with foreigners for money. That was not my case, but I was afraid he and the rest of the people could think that.

Leon Perlee

At one particular night, we went out together, I think some drinks at some bars.

Milades Sosa

We were going hand by hand, talking. We had had a nice night. There was a couple behind us. And it was a young man with a girl. And he said, "Tu [BLEEP] [BLEEP] conmigo? Yo compro." It's, have sex with him, and he will buy it.

Leon Perlee

I got quite angry about it. And I wanted to go after them. But Milades was keeping me from doing that.

Milades Sosa

It's a problem of policy in the country. Every person thinks, when they see a girl with a foreigner, that she's a prostitute.

Leon Perlee

The effect of the United States embargo in Cuba on people's daily life, it's hard at the moment. It's very hard. Of course, income is very low. And sometimes, people don't have to eat for one or more days.

Milades Sosa

Girls, young girls, there are many who already have kids. And they don't have anything to give them for dinner. They use their body to earn money.

At the university, when I started my relation with Leon, everybody knew about it. My classmates were saying that I shouldn't keep that relation, because people were saying that I was a prostitute, just because I had a relation with a foreigner. And then they changed towards me. It was like if I became someone else. It was like if I was betraying my country.

Leon Perlee

I stayed there 'til the 29th of December. I was there two weeks. I still have the flight ticket. And as the plane left, I had problems to keep my eyes dry.

Milades Sosa

These are words to the song, "Don't Leave Me Alone Again."

"If you knew how I suffer when you go away from me, if you knew how I only live thinking of you, you'd come back to me, my dear love, mi amor querida."

Leon Perlee

At that time, there was no light. It was a very dark period of my life. And I couldn't stand to my promises that I would be there in February. Then I extended the promise to, I think, May. And every time, yeah, I will be there. But every time, I had to excuse again because income was not that way that I could leave just like that.

Most tourists who will go to Cuba are quite well-to-do, or have steady jobs with a steady income. And it's hard to explain that you can have many troubles. You have to take care about your company to save it from going under.

Incomes were quite low. But I didn't know how to explain it to her. And I felt actually ashamed about it.

Milades Sosa

I thought many things. I thought maybe he was just a tourist who came here to have fun. I regret what I thought, but I thought that. I didn't have any idea about his life or anything. What I had in mind was a European saying that he couldn't come.

For me, they didn't have that kind of problems. For me, it was like another world. And I thought, perhaps I am not what he needs.

Leon Perlee

But at a certain moment, I felt so miserable. And I didn't know what to write down anymore in my letters excusing myself about not being able to come over to Cuba and to be with her. I was so depressed and so-- I don't know if it's self-pitying or whatever. But I wasn't able to cope completely with the situation. And I didn't want to tell her about that, because I didn't want to make a bad impression. And I felt so miserable that, stupidly enough, I didn't write to her for about three months.

Milades Sosa

I said in my house, I don't want to listen to his name again. I don't want anything that has to do with him. I'm too young to suffer this way. I want to forget him.

Leon Perlee

"December 19, 1996. Dear Leon, hearing from you was a big surprise for me. To tell you the truth, I thought you would never write again. Indeed, there have been no change in my feelings, although I had decided not to write to you again and to forget about our relation, because I have already cried too much because you do not write.

Milades Sosa

"I, too, have tried not to think too much of you. But I fail because my heart was stronger and would ride over my soul."

Leon Perlee

"Do you think you are the only one who have problems? I have people saying whatever they want about me. I have even to stand them saying that I am a stupid bitch because I still think of you."

Milades Sosa

"I have not been able to sleep yet because of a painful, guilty conscience. What a terrible time you have had because of me."

Leon Perlee

"Remember that love is like a plant that needs to be watered every day. Lots of luck and happiness, and I suggest you to cheer up. This is not the end of life. Milades. If you think of coming before April, let me know it beforehand."

Milades Sosa

"My dearest, dearest [UNINTELLIGIBLE]." He's so sweet.

Leon Perlee

"I miss so much your mouth, your words, your kisses, your big hands. And in effect, I miss you all."

Milades Sosa

It's crazy. He even wrote from the plane.

Leon Perlee

"Honey, you can tell to your mother that I'm loving you more than before."

Milades Sosa

"I'll kiss you in [UNINTELLIGIBLE] hours. I'll love you forever."

Leon Perlee

I already decided to ask Milades to become my wife the first time I saw her. But I didn't do so until I thought time was right for it.

Milades Sosa

We were walking around the city. It was afternoon. We decided to sit down in Parque San Jose. We were drinking Bavaria, a Dutch beer.

Leon Perlee

And we were just talking. At a certain moment, I said to her, "What would you think about the idea to be my wife?" And she said--

Milades Sosa

Of course. I want to marry you. And I asked him, "Can you say it again? Can you ask again?"

Leon Perlee

And so I repeated my question. I said, "Do you want to become my wife and live with me?" After she got back her breath, she said yes and started crying. So I had to wait again for the rest of the answer. But I can tell that it was very encouraging what happened.

Milades Sosa

And we kissed. I was living in a cloud. We were both, together, living in a cloud.

Woman 1

That is impossible. Holland is not an immigration country.

Leon Perlee

I invited her to come here in March last year.

Woman 1

That is impossible.

Man 1

70%--

Man 2

If you don't have enough income--

Leon Perlee

The request was denied by the authorities. With the Cuban government, it's no problem. She has the permissions which she needs to leave the country. But here in Holland-- in fact, in Europe-- it's getting harder and harder every day to have permits for strangers who want to come in to the fortress of Europe.

Woman 2

My name is [UNINTELLIGIBLE]. I am second secretary in the Netherlands embassy here in Havana, Cuba.

Man 3

I am [UNINTELLIGIBLE]. And I am working at the Dutch Immigration Board. Well, in the Netherlands we have a restrictive admittance policy because we are just a small country. We don't have a lot of space and not enough jobs. And that's why we are carrying out a restrictive policy. So we just look at the rules, and whether they are in love is not really a criterion.

Woman 2

Anyway, you can invite a Cuban person to the Netherlands if you comply with the requirements of the Dutch authorities. It only costs you a lot of money.

Leon Perlee

The problem which I have to ask the authorities is that I can't show them on paper that I have a basic income. When you are in love, you don't think about politics. You think just like humans, without any borders, without authorities, because actually, every political system means a prison for people. And for Milades in Cuba, she had a lot of problems because she couldn't get any job. And, well, she has been feeling quite miserable.

Milades Sosa

Here, there are rules. To work in certain places, you cannot have any kind of relation with foreigners. I would like to work at the airport, for example, guide in foreigners. And that's something I applied to do.

And I could do it. I have many classmates who have gone to the airport to work. And they are there. But if they find out I am with a foreigner, I cannot be there. It as if we become something dangerous.

This was a present from him. He brought it in December, when he came. It's a music box with the shape of an organ. It's a nice present. I keep it with love. And the tune, it's "Tulips from Amsterdam."

[MUSIC - "TULIPS FROM AMSTERDAM" ON MUSIC BOX]

Milades Sosa

I love him. He is everything to me. And I know he loves me. I miss him a lot, every day, every minute, every second.

And I will be patient now. We will wait. And we will be together. I hope it's soon.

[MUSIC - "I'LL BE HOME" BY THE FLAMINGOS]

Act 3.

Ira Glass

Act Three, Who Deserves What. The story of The Arabian Nights is actually 350 or 400 stories, depending on how you count them. Many of the stories are stories of impossible love, including the very last story in the whole epic tale, the story of Jasmine and Almond. Mary Zimmerman is the Chicago director who adapted The Arabian Nights for the stage.

Mary Zimmerman

There are two lovers who meet in a dream, actually. The girl has a dream of someone. And at the same time, a prince in a faraway place-- he gives some milk to a dervish who asks him for some milk from a cow he's tending. And in gratitude for this, he describes this beautiful woman who's perfect for him, who happens to be the woman who had a dream of him.

So he goes to the other kingdom. He wanders around. He's sort of in disguise. He sort of looks like a shepherd, because he's actually out of his mind with grief, because he can't find her. He's afraid he won't find her.

She similarly has fallen ill. And all the doctors in the kingdom are coming in, trying to cure her. But nothing will help, and she won't say what the matter is.

And then one day, her maid comes to her and says, "There's a shepherd outside at our gates, and he looks like--" and he proceeds to describe him, which is exactly as how he appeared in her dream. And so she runs to her father, who she's never asked anything from before, and begs him to hire this particular shepherd. And he does. And so things come about, they go about.

Ira Glass

Now so far, it seems like we're heading on our way to a very happy story.

Mary Zimmerman

Yeah, but things get in the way. For one thing, he's disguised as a shepherd. And she's a princess. So there's a conflict already there.

She's supposed to stay behind the curtain of the harem, which she doesn't do. And so one day, she decides to take lunch to him. She pretends she's just taking lunch to all the shepherds, but she serves it on silver dishes.

And her uncle sees this, her calamitous uncle, who's so full of hatred of the world that all he wants to do is ruin everyone's happiness. And he always stops musicians from playing and stops people from being together, whatever else he can do, because he's so miserable himself. So he runs straight away to his brother, the father, and tells him about this.

And the girl gets into a world of trouble. And she's sent behind the curtain of the harem again. And so they're going to actually marry her off to the son of the calamitous uncle, actually. So I will read it.

"The desolate Almond, who had been clothed against her will in splendid robes and the gold ornaments of marriage, sat on an elegant couch of gold brocade, a flower upon a bed of flowers, silent as a lily, motionless as an idol. She seemed as one dead among the living. But Jasmine, who had come with the other servants to the bridal of his mistress, gave her hope to drink from a single glance of his eyes. Surely the looks of lovers can say 20 things.

When night came, and the princess had been led to the marriage chamber, destiny turned a fortunate face to the lovers. Taking advantage of the little moment before her bridegroom should come to her, Almond glided from the chamber in her gold robes and fled to Jasmine. These two delightful children took hands and vanished, more lightly than the dew-wet breeze of morning.

Nothing has since been heard of them or their abiding place. There are few upon this earth worthy of happiness, worthy to take the road which leads to happiness, worthy to draw near the house of happiness.

Ira Glass

Mary, what do you make of the fact that there's this long, long plot that goes for pages and pages and pages, and then suddenly, they get to this moment. And rather than invent something to happen, the narrator just has them vanish, just suddenly, poof, you know?

Mary Zimmerman

I guess it maybe demonstrates a kind of faith in the possibility of miracle, or the possibility that there is, in fact, destiny in who you love. And that that place that we're always torn between-- is this a random event that I've met this person? Or this is actually the person where it's written somewhere or told somewhere, in this case, is the other part of myself? The ending of this story really manifests that longing that it is divine and that there is destiny.

Ira Glass

Mary Zimmerman teaches at Northwestern University. And let's close out this program with a moment from another story in The Arabian Nights, Aziz and Aziza, another story of impossible love. He stands her up on their wedding day. After that, in her love for him, she helps him scheme to get another woman. And then she dies for her love, dying with a poem.

Mary Zimmerman

She says things like, "Your careless head upon my heart lay nesting and dreamed another woman while I wept. So dig my grave deep, and put these words above-- she fears not death, for she has known love."

Credits.

Ira Glass

Well, our program was produced today by Alix Spiegel, Julie Snyder, Nancy Updike, and me. Contributing editors, Paul Tough, Jack Hitt, Margy Rochlin, and consigliere Sarah Vowell. Production help from Jorge Just, Sylvia Lemus, and Todd Bachmann.

[ACKNOWLEDGMENTS]

Our story, Mucho Corazon, was produced by Chris Brookes and Michelle Ernsting for the World Views series of first-person narratives from Homeland Productions. The editor was Sandy Tolan. It was produced with funds from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and Radio Netherlands.

If you'd like to buy a cassette of this program, call us here at WBEZ in Chicago, 312-832-3380. Or you can listen to most of our programs for free on the internet at our website, www.thislife.org. This American Life is distributed by Public Radio International.

[FUNDING CREDITS]

WBEZ management oversight by Torey Malatia, who describes managing our show this way.

Anne Staggs

The intensity of the relationship and the intensity of the feelings is far beyond anything that we've ever experienced before.

Ira Glass

I'm Ira Glass.

Anne Staggs

They never let him out of the building to come to the visitation area.

Ira Glass

Back next week with more stories of This American Life.

Announcer

PRI, Public Radio International.