Ray’s hand shook as he reached for the doorknob. His eyes kept going back to the sign in the middle of the door: Madame Olga’s Matchmaking Services.
The voice in his head screamed that he was foolish to even consider this, that he should go back and try to “be a normal boy.” The voice sounded an awful lot like his mother’s voice when he told her that he and June had broken up and the reason why. She had screamed and flown into one of her temper tantrums.
The sound of laughter from the other side of the door brought Ray back to reality. Taking a deep breath, he gripped the doorknob and opened the door.
The waiting room looked normal; on the right side, there were blue chairs and a brown table. A coffeepot sat on top of a small black table in the corner, next to a water cooler. There was another door which had a sign that read Do Not Disturb. That must be Madame Olga’s office.
A young red headed girl, whom he assumed was the secretary sat at a desk on the left side of the room. She looked up and smiled as Ray came in.
“Good morning. Are you here for your appointment with Madame Olga?”
Ray nodded and handed the appointment card to her. She checked it and then said, “Okay, you can take a seat. Madame Olga should be with you any minute.”
Ray took a seat near the exit door just in case he wanted to escape. He was ten minutes early so he grabbed a home and garden magazine.
He had just picked up his third magazine, when the secretary said, “Ray, Madame Olga will see you now.”
Wiping his sweaty hands on his jeans, he rose and walked to the other door. His hand froze for a second. Just go in and try it. If you don’t like it, then you can go back home. With that thought, he turned the knob and walked into the room.
Madame Olga’s office also looked normal; there was a couch, easy chair, desk, and an office chair. A large filing cabinet stood in one corner and a bookcase in the other. Madame Olga herself sat behind the desk and looked up when he entered, smiling so that her crooked teeth showed. She had short blond hair, a long nose, and wore glasses. She wore a large black dress that swallowed up her tiny frame. She got up and moved around to the easy chair.
“Ray, come in and sit down.” She motioned to the couch.
Ray hesitantly took a seat, wiping his hands on his jeans. Madame Olga noticed this and said, “No need to be nervous, Ray. Think of me as your friend. A friend who is trying to help you find the perfect mate. Now, tell your friend Madame Olga what kind of man you’re looking for?” She grabbed a notepad from her desk.
Hearing the words out loud from someone other than his mother, who said the word man like it was a disease, felt strange. He wondered when he would get used to it.
He said the words he had been rehearsing for over two weeks now, since he found Madame Olga’s number in the phone book and saw that she specialized in matching up gay men. “Well, I want him to be blonde, blue eyes-”
Madame Olga held up a finger. “No, no, no my dear, I want you to describe his personality, not his looks. Looks can only get you so far, but the soul of a person is what really matters.”
Ray hadn’t really thought about that. “Well, to be honest Madame Olga, I’m just wondering if I should just forget about this and try and date a woman. My mother-”
“Ahh, mothers. They often think they have your best interest at heart in matters of love, but that’s sometimes quite the opposite. Don’t mold yourself to be something you are not, dear, just because your mother does not approve.”
Ray nodded, laughing bitterly. “That’s easier said than done. But maybe I’m just making a mistake. Maybe this is a feeling that will pass.”
Madame Olga shook her head. “No, you know who you are. And your mother should embrace that, embrace your desire to love and be loved, no matter who it is.” She placed her notepad on the desk.
“Let me tell you why I started my matchmaking business.” Madame Olga removed her glasses. “I grew up in a small town in Illinois, my six sisters and me. Our father had died when I was young in a mining accident, so that left the job of raising seven girls to my mother. And she did a fairly good job. We all completed school and of course, my six older sisters got married. Which you thought would make any mother proud. But not my mother.”
She stopped and stared off, her eyes distant. “My mother was afraid that once I got married, then she would be alone. So she set out to make that happen.”
“How?” Ray asked.
Madame Olga smiled, but it was tinged with some sadness. “There was a young man who lived in the same town. I always saw him when I went to the grocery store. He was handsome and so we started talking and found out we had a lot in common. Would you like something to drink, Ray?”
The question caught Ray off guard so that he didn’t know how to answer for a second. “No, I’m fine Madame Olga. Thank you.”
She nodded and continued, “Well, for some reason, I kept this from my mother. At the time, I didn’t know that she would do anything to keep me from marrying but my intuition said not to tell her. But that same intuition should have told me to tell that handsome boy the same thing, the strange feeling that drove me not to tell my mother. But I didn’t so I guess that’s why it happened.”
“What happened, Madame Olga?” Ray didn’t realize that he was on the edge of his seat, almost like he was watching one of those late night thrillers. He scooted back, trying to relax on the couch.
“Although I would still see this boy at the market, he would speak to me less and less. Then one day, he walked right past me, as if I were a ghost. I tried and tried to get him to speak to me, to understand what had happened. But he wouldn’t speak to me. At all. The next thing I knew he was married, had children, and then moved away. All without me ever realizing what had happened.”
Her eyes had started to mist over and she dabbed at them with a tissue.
Ray made as if to rise and said, “Madame Olga, if this upsets you then you don’t have to tell me the rest. I can just leave and reschedule. Besides, you have other clients.”
She shook her head and cleared her throat. “No, dear, I have to tell you this story to make you understand. To not make my mistake.”
Ray was unclear how this story related to his situation. He hadn’t met anyone yet and he didn’t have six sisters; just two brothers. But he continued to listen anyway.
“I was so heartbroken that I didn’t even try to pursue another man. I left the house less and less, only going out for the essentials. At first I took a job as a cleaning woman at a hotel, but then my mother began to get sick, so I became her full time nurse. My sisters would come and help occasionally, but I think deep down they were glad that it was me who was stuck with my mother and not them. The doctors said she had cancer and only gave her three months to live. She died almost to the day of the diagnosis.”
The phone rang, but Madame Olga ignored it. It stopped after two rings so Ray guessed that the red headed secretary answered it.
“My mother always seemed anxious when I would leave to get groceries or medicine or some other essential from the store and extremely relieved when I returned. Like she thought I was going to permanently leave her. She was extra pleasant to me, which I thought was strange at the time. From sunup to sundown, I took care of her; that became my life. I didn’t have friends and like I said, I was still heartbroken. So when she died, I was a little lost at first. It took me a few months to even start cleaning out the house and attending to other matters and that’s when I found them.”
Madame Olga got up and walked around to her desk. For a second, Ray didn’t know what was happening and then he saw her pull out a thick wad of yellowed envelopes. He could see that the writing was faded and the stamps were beginning to peel away.
She sat back in the easy chair, held the bundle of letters up to her nose and inhaled. A smile crept across her lips and stayed there for a few seconds. Then she opened her eyes and it was gone.
“I found these letters hidden in a box in the attic. They had all been addressed to me, from the handsome boy whom I met at the market. I wasn’t able to process what I was seeing; why were all these letters hidden away like this? Then it hit me: my mother. The boy had been writing to me, professing his love for me, hoping that I would write back. Each letter implored me to write back, to tell him that I felt the same way. The last letter said that if I returned his feelings to meet him at a bridge in town and then we could talk about our future together.”
She looked down at the bundle in her lap. “My mother hid all these letters from me. She knew that if I told him how I felt, then I would leave her. So she stole the one person from me who could have made my life happier, more complete. In her selfishness, she didn’t think about my happiness. Only hers.”
Madame Olga’s voice had started to crack. “This pain, this anger was deeper than the first time when the boy stopped talking to me. Because now I know why and I couldn’t go back to undo it. I thought about trying to find him and show him the letters, but what good would that have done? He had a family, a life, happiness. It was time that I found mine.”
She placed the letters on her desk and then back around to face Ray. “I packed up my things and decided to move. So that’s how I wound up here. All I knew how to do was cook, clean, and take care of sick people so I worked in a nursing home for a few years. Then one day I saw a want ad for a secretary for Madame Lisa’s Matchmaking Services. It sounded interesting, so I applied for the job and got it.”
“Working for Madame Lisa, I learned the ropes of the business and made a personal connection with the people. Madame Lisa always drove him the fact that our business was not to make money off people’s misery but to find a genuine way to improve their lives, find the right person for them, and to be with them throughout the process. It struck a chord with me so when Madame Lisa decided she was retiring, I took over the business and ten years later, here I am.”
“So, Ray, I hope you see the point of my story. Don’t let your mother decide who you’re going to love. That’s your decision; it’s your life. Long after she is gone, you still have to live. And I can tell you don’t want to be alone. And I’m here to make sure that doesn’t happen.” She reached over and patted his hand. He smiled and nodded.
“Now, let’s try again. What kind of man are you looking for? And don’t say a brunette this time.” She laughed a little and so did Ray.
Ray contemplated this for a moment, then said what he had always wanted to say, but just now found the words for it. “I want someone who will love me for me.”
Madame Olga’s eyes softened and her smile was wistful. “That’s a great start. Now let’s go from there.”