Autumn eve -- please
turn to me. I,
too, am stranger
October 28, 2003. 11:39 p.m.
She opens the medicine cabinet to get her toothpaste and her eyes fall on a dark green tube she doesn't recognize. Hair gel for men, it claims, promising volumizing hold. A huff of laughter mixed with disbelief pushes past her lips, and she notices the raised eyebrows on her reflection in the mirror.
She doesn't remember John ever buying hair gel before.
Arming her toothbrush with a dollop of Crest, she runs it under water and then opens the door, bracing herself on its frame. "Hey, John?"
In the bedroom, his "Yeah?" comes out muffled.
"When did you start using hair gel?" With the tube still in her hand, she starts brushing.
There's a short silence, like he's having to think about it or he's distracted by something else. "I just-- I just bought some, Char. Why?"
She spits foam into the sink and runs her fingers under her mouth. "Just curious."
November 12, 2003. 5:13 a.m.
Wheeling her bag down the hall from their bedroom to the front door, she stops at the closet to grab her coat.
John blows past, puckering up in an airborne kiss for her on his way to the restroom. "I'll just be a minute."
She slips one arm after another into her coat and nods.
When he comes back out, she first wonders if she's imagining things, but she keeps looking at him while he puts on his own jacket, pats their plane tickets in his pocket, and pulls out his keys to lock the apartment door behind them.
"Did you put gel in your hair?"
Surprised by the question, he touches his hair and his eyes cut to her. "Yeah."
It forces a slow smile to her face.
She shoulders her backpack and grabs the handle to her other bag again. "We're going to be on a plane for at least twelve hours."
The look he gives her is pure puzzlement. "Right."
She shakes her head, but the skeptical smile stubbornly sticks to her face.
November 12, 2003. 2:23 p.m.
The world below is a thin layer of white cloud cotton candy spun over a sea of blue. With her headphones on and The Pretenders in her ears, she ignores the movie in favor of the view from her window. It almost makes her wish she hadn't turned her back on writing.
She never liked her nonfiction, and she doesn't think her fiction would be any better. She hasn't been able to bring herself to attempt it for months now.
That probably says enough right there.
She turns when John pulls his satchel from under the seat in front of him, watching as he opens it and takes out a copy of Rolling Stone. With eyes only for it, he flips through the pages, and she knows what he does: he always looks it over once for the pictures that accompany the articles, sometimes making comments to her about anything from the composition to the outfits to the subject, then goes back to the beginning to actually read it.
She knows what she knows about photography because of him, but most of the time she feels like he's noticing things she can't. It's like she's fifteen again and watching her cat stalk bugs so tiny she can barely see them in the air.
Something catches his eye; he laughs out loud.
November 13, 2003. 3:03 a.m.
Three in the morning comes quietly.
She should be tired; she didn't sleep on the plane. How John was able to just come in after dinner, unpack some things, make a few calls, and crash is something she can't understand.
She made the effort: she changed, brushed, got into bed with him. His body curled around hers obligingly and the bed's not uncomfortable, but as she feels his breath deepen, slow and easy, she tries everything that comes to mind.
She tries to clear her mind, tries to focus on relaxing one part of her body at a time, tries counting sheep, tries counting pillows, tries getting her own breath to sync up with the deep rhythm of John's chest. Nothing works: she feels like they're standing on opposite sides of a platform and when the sleep train comes he boards and waves at her before it leaves.
When he flips over, she leaves the bed in favor of the chair by the window and looks out on the lights of the city, watching the few people she can still see roaming the streets at this time of night.
The view is probably her favorite thing about the room. From up here, she can focus on one person below and follow that life for a few minutes until it disappears from sight.
Within minutes, John starts snoring.
November 13, 2003. 4:41 p.m.
This happens to people after they graduate, she tells herself on the subway, and it's a sentiment she's echoed ten times this month. People have to flounder for a while, have to find their bearings on their own.
Maybe she should've had a better game plan made out.
Maybe she should've majored in something more useful.
Maybe she should've waited to get married or even lived with John first, like a-- a test drive. A trial run. If she can't take care of herself can she possibly contribute to a marriage? There's love and that's important, but as much as she'd like to believe John, Paul, George, and Ringo, it's not actually all you need.
The hotel room is empty when she gets in, and she feels a little like crying. Without turning the light on, she puts her things down and perches by the window to look out. Like listening to chanting and trying ikebana, watching people cross the city streets doesn't make her feel any better.
November 14, 2003. 10:12 p.m.
The man at the bar almost strikes her as familiar. In a casually rumpled suit, he looks like he's wearing stage makeup: dark, accentuated eyes and too-smooth complexion.
He's older. He doesn't quite look her dad's age, but that could be the makeup. His eyes wander around the room as he nurses a glass of something dark amber, on the rocks, and he looks as out of place as she feels but there's something just casual enough about the way he holds himself that she thinks being out of place hangs on his shoulders better than it does on hers.
She falls under his gaze and she presses her lips together in a smile of friendly acknowledgement. He smiles back as though they've met before, as though she's caught him in the act. Of what? Not fitting in? Being bored?
She's not sure, but she feels herself grin, asks the approaching waitress to take some sake over to him, and watches while he receives it. His eyes shine with surprise, and he turns to toast her before he drinks it.
He leaves minutes later, but when she turns back to John and his friends, talking about their upcoming trip out of the city for a shoot, she does it with a renewed smile on her face and a hint of laughter in her voice.
November 15, 2003. 5:17 p.m.
The faucet in the tub drips cold water onto her toes even after she's turned the handles back to their off positions.
--ry soul has its path, but sometimes that path is not clear. The acorn theory is an example of each soul beginning with an impri--
Stuck in slow motion, like the particles in the air are so thick they're hard to move through, she slumps and leans her head back against the wall of the tub and closes her eyes. It seemed worth a try and John even supported her willingness to give it a shot when she bought this audiobook, but it feels like she was reaching to think that self-help would actually... help.
This acorn theory is described like it's something that should give her hope. Instead it makes her feel worse.
November 16, 2003. 12:49 a.m.
"I hope your Porsche works out."
It probably says a lot that this little conversation has been one of the better ones she's had since she got here. She raises her vodka and tonic in a subtle toast to her new friend Bob, then has a drink.
"Kanpai," he says into his whiskey.
It's nearly one o'clock in the morning. The only people left in the bar are a few frazzled businessmen and foreigners like them. "I wish I could sleep."
He meets her eyes. There's no eyeliner on him tonight, no heavy makeup, and for a second he looks like he feels every year of his age. "Me too."
It's the least out of place she's felt here.
It's the least out of place she's felt in weeks.
November 17, 2003. 12:17 a.m.
She couldn't find any signs about not smoking. If anybody has a problem with it they'll let her know, or so she assumes.
As it is, she sits in the hall for the sake of her friends still in the booth singing, perched on a stool and leaning back against the wall. It's a strange feeling, looking around and seeing curls of pink framing her face, but Charlie insisted the wig looked good on her -- Bob agreed -- and since he went ahead and bought it she figured she had to put it to good use.
The door to their booth opens, and she watches out of the corner of her eye as Bob comes out to join her. He sits beside her, a welcome warm presence, and she doesn't protest when he reaches for the cigarette between her fingers. He takes a long indulgent drag, exhales smoke into the stillness of the hallway, and hands it back to her.
It nearly makes her smile, and when she leans into him she discovers his shoulder is almost exactly the right height for resting her head.
November 18, 2003. 2:04 p.m.
She doesn't mean to fixate on the bride and groom as they walk into the temple. As she drifts out of their path, rapt, it takes her the space of several heartbeats to think that her staring is probably rude. It's just that they're beautiful, radiant in the day's sunshine. They touch and smile in this subtle way that makes her heart ache.
Did she and John do that when they got married? Did they have that tentative and excited air wrapped around them? She has pictures and they're good ones -- John wouldn't have had it any other way -- but she doesn't know if a complete stranger would step back and look at those photographs and think those two are so happy.
She wonders what this couple will be like in two years.
What about twenty-five years?
It seems too long to consider. It seems too long to contemplate even for her own marriage, but she finds herself wanting them happy.
November 19, 2003. 11:03 a.m.
Bob answers the door with his shirt off, and it doesn't seem like him, if she can get away with thinking that after only a few days. She almost teases him about it, but the sound of a woman's voice inside the room stills her, tongue and all.
She looks past him but not around him, looking but not wanting to see, and it takes her a second to say anything else. She forces a smile to her face, forces an "I guess you're busy" out of her mouth, forces her body to turn away, forces her feet to take her to the elevator.
It's either disappointment or betrayal stuck in her throat and inflaming her cheeks, but the fact that she's not sure which it is keeps her from meeting the eyes of her reflection in the elevator's mirrored walls for the entire trip down to the lobby.
November 20, 2003. 4:21 a.m.
The hotel's fire alarm is still going off when she sees Bob outside the lobby in his robe.
It's very early in the morning, and for better or for worse she's starting to associate these hours with him. She's sorry he's had the same trouble sleeping, but she's glad she hasn't been alone. After he spots her, he starts walking over, and all she can think of is watching him angrily from across their booth earlier today.
There's still a sting that accompanies the thought of showing up at his room in the morning and hearing the lounge singer bustling around inside, but it lessens with every hour that distances her from the moment. She's not his wife. She's not his girlfriend or his lover -- she's married, too -- and regardless of how he spent last night he was the one who called her and wanted to meet for lunch in the first place.
Even if it was the worst lunch she's ever had.
The only apology she offers is in her smile, but he gives her one right back.
November 20, 2003. 10:35 a.m.
The truth is she didn't know how to handle goodbye. She wasn't much better when John left, and that was knowing he'd be back in a few days.
Was she supposed to kiss Bob's cheek like she did last night? Should she have hugged him? Traded e-mail addresses? Told him where he can find her if he's ever bored in L.A.?
Admitted that she thinks she would've been miserable on this trip without his company?
Her second chance comes with a "hey you" and she whips around to see him. He steps right up to her, gets right in her face, and the next thing she knows she's in his arms, wrapped in a hug, and every emotion, every sentiment, she'd refused to acknowledge comes welling up in her eyes.
He pours a promise into her ear and kisses first her mouth and then the telltale tear under her eyelashes.
The grin on his face as he steps away from her is one she feels compelled to match.
Her own wavers, though, and even once she's turned around she can't resist glancing back over her shoulder. The look on his face makes him seem years younger.
It's funny: she feels lighter, too.