“These violent delights have violent ends.”
–Romeo and Juliet
A year after I left her city I saw her again. She was on television at three in the morning. I was pining for some artsy channel with artsy foreign women to cure my insomnia. Then my search was interrupted.
First just a slim, ballerina-like stomach. Then the stomach was finger-painted with canary yellow paint. The word written was illegible. The dating-show scenario irritated me even before I knew to whom the stomach belonged. It took me a couple more seconds to take in the lines of her ribcage, her symmetry, remember the texture of her skin brailed with goose-bumps. Mostly I remembered her by the way she breathed. When the camera pulled back to reveal her face I wasn’t surprised anymore to see her, even this younger version. My version was 23. This girl might have been 20. The camera pulled back further and showed the man she was with as she painted her name across his chest. We’d sent dozens of letters to each other but I’d never seen her handwriting before. Just two weeks of letters in all–one magical week leading up to seeing her, the other feebly trying to convince her ever to speak to me again. Two sets of tracks left behind from the encounter. Timid footprints followed by a blood trail.
A year earlier, I’d flown across the continent to meet her. She laid out her offer, “If I like you, you’ll sleep in my bed. If I don’t, there’s a Holiday Inn three blocks down the street. That’s the best parachute I can offer.” I wasn’t sure what good a parachute would do.
Ten minutes before I left for the airport to meet her we were on the phone. I was nervous. She was scared.
“Are you expecting me to kiss you right when I see you?” I asked.
“Everything starts over when we meet.”
“Everything. Maybe I won’t even like you.”
“I know. It’s scaring the hell out of me. And you won’t feel disappointed, you’ll feel betrayed.”
“Maybe you won’t like me.”
“Hopefully. Hopefully you’re some 400-pound trough-feeding, shit-hog. But I know it’s even worse. I know you’re you and it will just be the same conversation––on the page, over the phone, in a café, in your bed. It’s the same fucking conversation isn’t it?”
“Nope. We lose the fantasy. We don’t have conversations anyway. We argue. We’re too much alike. Even if it works it can’t work. Besides, I can’t do long distance. I have a life here and you have a life there. This is doomed.”
“So what happens when we meet?” I asked her.
“We could try shaking hands,” she sighed.
“And what happens if I can’t let go?”
“Then you don’t have to.”
She hung up.
I arrived in her city at two and took a taxi to the address given. At three-thirty in the morning I was across a street staring up at her building with my back against a brick wall, trying to pick out her window. They all had the same strange intensity about them. I was looking for a window that I might be looking out of from inside her apartment.
I saw her shuffling up the sidewalk across the street in ballerina slippers. She stopped in front of her building just as a cab pulled up and a man exited with a bouquet of roses in his hand. He shouted, “Hey!” in her direction, raising the flowers. She glared at him. I walked over to the curb to have a better view. He shouted again and this time she looked around and noticed a woman in her building behind her who held the door open and the man ran over. As the cab rolled away from the curb she saw me and without even a pause crossed the street.
“Are you bored yet?” she asked.
“You look different.”
“I look different and you’re surprised. This is very flattering.”
Actresses shouldn’t look better than their headshots. She didn’t have any right looking better than that photo. I couldn’t make eye contact with her. I looked down the street for the Holiday Inn and found the sign. Despite considerable competition, this was going to be the worst mistake of my life.
I leaned in and kissed her.
I tried again.
This time she kissed back.
“Are you bored?” she asked after a moment.
“What? What the hell did you just ask?”
“I’m nervous. I’m very fucking nervous. And I don’t even know how long I’ve been waiting here.”
“Are you bored?”
“Of standing here?”
She lit a cigarette and gave me the Medusa glare.
“You’re asking me if I’m bored of standing here and wanna go up to your apartment?”
She turned toward the street and nudged her head. I followed her into a building, past a doorman, down a hallway, into an elevator, around a corner, through her door, past a roommate who, despite gracing the cover of Playboy’s Lingerie issue five months later, made no impression on me, entered her room, and finally leaned against her window looking out over the street to see where I’d sat against the brick wall. She took down her hair on the edge of the bed. She was a little over five feet tall and 98 pounds—and I’d never been more scared of somebody in my life. Punching your weight is a good rule.
Girls in ivory towers with impenetrable castles have intercoms. They have email addresses too. And Myspace accounts. That’s how I’d connected with her. First I’d seen her portrait and then I’d read her profile, which included my bookshelf as a reading list and, more importantly, answered the question of who she was looking for with, “Someone to write to.”
I asked if she’d read any of the books she had listed. She wrote back that I could go fuck myself. I asked which Salinger story was her favorite and she told me to go fuck myself again. I gave up and offered an apology. The next day she added me as a friend. I asked what gives.
“Wish you could see me laugh. I had a list of losers like you going after me and I had the delete page set up with all of them—including you, Romeo—when my computer froze. I slammed my fist into my keyboard and it added them and, unfortunately, you. I guess we’re gonna be friends.”
“Never doubt my resourcefulness or means. Irretrievable online seduction assured.”
A week later we fell asleep to each other on the phone three nights in a row. With the time difference she’d fall asleep before me. But I’d lie there listening to her breathing for a couple hours. Occasionally she’d wake up and see if I was still there.
Throughout the day she’d write me little notes: “STOP thinking about me.”
And, even worse, she was always right.
Then we missed a night talking on the phone. She sent me another note, “You’re really going to make me fall asleep alone?”
I called her.
“Why aren’t you here?” she pleaded.
“That’s a dumb question.” My heart started racing.
“Because I’ll get a plane ticket tomorrow.”
“You’re in love with me.”
“I’ll crush you, you pig-fucker.”
“If I was drunk I might let you blow me.”
“I know, but my hands are shaking.”
“Because I want to know if you meant what you said.”
“You’ll come anyway, so what does it matter?”
“I won’t come without being invited.”
“Yeah you will.”
“No Space Invader action. We roll fifty-fifty on this, especially if a broke-ass writer is picking up the tab.”
“I didn’t tell you that your book arrived and that I brought you with me to the park today.”
“Don’t tell me that.”
“I know you love me.”
She entered a massive walk-in closet and deposited her ballerina slippers. Books were all over the place in her apartment. Good books. No shelves. She went to school studying math and literature at one of the top schools in the country.
“What are you reading?” I asked.
“Of Human Bondage.”
“Let’s just sleep tonight.”
I smiled. I wasn’t sure if I was being preemptively rejected or if she’d been pleased with the results of meeting me. I was too scared to ask.
“I’m exhausted. You’re here for five days. There’s plenty of time for other activities. Hmmm… I usually sleep naked. This is a little strange.”
So we shifted into various shapes over the sheets but none fit together. The breeze tickled the blinds and made them tap against the window. I watched this for a while with her hair against my face. Tap, tap, tap––like some junkie with a syringe back home.
Early the next morning I got up to pack my stuff and leave but she grabbed my hand and I followed her into the living room where she climbed into the frame of a huge window overlooking the sunrise. She smoked in a bathrobe. I came over and she kissed my arm and slid her hand down the side of my back. It startled me.
“You built your body up like a boxer for armor didn’t you?”
I looked at her and nodded.
“Do you want an espresso?”
“What are you doing?”
“I don’t belong here. I think I should go.”
I went back to her room to get my stuff. She followed me.
“I couldn’t sleep last night. I shouldn’t be here.”
“Listen. I’m not used to sleeping with somebody in my bed. It’s been a while for me. Okay? I wasn’t trying to be cold.”
“I still felt like an intruder.”
“Well, I’m going to take a shower. Am I going to do that alone?”
When she dropped the bathrobe my glance discreetly followed it to the ground. My mind’s kinda G-rated with certain things. I saw bare feet at first, ankles. Nakedness wasn’t all that important to her. In the shower she stopped me with a strong, silent hand.
“Would you like me to wash you?” she asked.
“What is that thing?”
“Just shut up.”
“Would I like you to wash me?”
Which she proceeded to do, side-stepping any genital contact.
“What the hell are you doing?” I asked her.
“What does it look like? I’m washing your ankle.”
Drying off after. Her head back, very far back, and the hair shaken and hanging free from her neck, then hurled forward with a massive hairdryer attacking every strand, changing it, her eyes closed. There was nothing womanly about her. Years of ballet had annulled even the faintest attempt to change her. Even womanhood couldn’t have her. She was a self-portrait.
She got dressed. Maybe dropped something in the process. A bra. She reached over and took a breast with one hand, protected it almost. Even her peach fuzz looked like a thousand little fuses. While she ignored me and stared at her face in the mirror, looking at it felt like looking at a candy store window. I wasn’t sure if it was seeing my reflection or what was inside the window that I wanted to steal that made me want to smash the glass.
“Do you have to stare?”
“Yeah, I do.”
We were on the bed and I was inside her, barely.
“Admit it. You’re in love with me.”
“I came here to see you didn’t I?”
“Just say it.”
“Admit that you’re in love with me.”
“Of course I’m in love with you.”
“Do you have any idea how much pressure that puts on me?”
“Are you kidding right now?”
“Is this your idea of intimacy? Breaking into my life like some cat-burglar, liking what you find, and wanting to move in?”
I spent the first three nights in her bed and the last two at the Holiday Inn. They had a lousy movie she’d co-starred in on pay-per-view. I rented it two nights in a row before I flew home.