It was all supposed to be done, finished, the last time we met, nine months ago. But there's been talk. Phone calls. Now we're meeting to decide whether we want to get back together. So there's just a little bit of pressure.
I arrive first, stiff, jetlagged and surprised to be here. I haven't been in London in five years and I'm not crazy about it?as far as cities go nothing compares to New York. Straight off the plane I light a cigarette. At least you can't do that at home.
I lug my overpacked bag from Victoria Station to the hotel he booked for us that, honestly, is a dump. Peeling wallpaper and water stains on the ceiling, a dirty tub. A long hair curling on the pillow. The place is more than 100 bucks a night and it's a prepaid reservation. Must be the only way they can get people to stay here.
In my first hours I wander around and sleep; watch the BBC while drinking stolen airplane wine in bed. I feel decadent and dazed. Sleep part of the night but am wide awake at 6 a.m., alternately trying to sleep and shit while anxiously awaiting him. I seem to have spent a lot of my time waiting for him.
When he knocks lightly on the room's door at 6:30 I am shocked, as though I'd thought there was a chance he wouldn't show. Distance has a way of making nothing seem solid. He's in the hallway, his bags at his feet. He's thin and gorgeous. I hug him and he hugs me back. He's smaller than I remembered, a little tense. Nine months suddenly seems like nine lives.
I'm wearing a black silk slip. Usually I sleep naked, but I knew I wasn't ready to be naked with him. I hop into bed to keep warm and get out of his way while he settles in and goes to the bathroom. I listen to him pee as if it can tell me something about what had happened since we'd last seen each other. Some people read tea leaves, I listen to piss. I wouldn't recommend it.
He slips carefully into bed a few minutes later. Taking my cue, he keeps his boxers and t-shirt on. We hold each other. I think to myself, This will never work, but I keep quiet. I'm going to be an adult about this and just see what happens and how I feel.
His shirt smells strongly of corn chips. It makes me giggle. "No, really," I say, "it smells like Fritos, it's really strange."
He's defensive. "Odd, it's a brand-new shirt, first time I've worn it, and I just put it on at Heathrow." It is a heather-gray t-shirt from the Gap. He takes it off. His skin is smooth and beautiful, it is still his skin.
I suppose I could just ask him to get undressed and submit to a physical inspection. I want to see if he is the same. He is, but it is as if the molecules got changed around, as if they're not in the shape they're supposed to be in when he's around me.
Are you who you used to be? Am I? Do you love me? Do I love you? Do I want to be with you? I question him, but not out loud. Do I even want to have sex with you?
Yes, my body takes over, but the questions still linger. I am surprised by his length and hardness. I'd forgotten the fit. His face shows me nothing.
Hi you're inside of me now. Hello? Hi? Give me some sort of sign that this is a bit of a momentous occasion, please! Wait, I'm still trying to figure out who you are, what you are. Okay, I remember this, this is good... Oh fuck, I'm supposed to decide whether you are "the one" during this visit... Wow this feels great but... I don't think you are ...
I didn't come. He did.
We cuddle and talk. He presents me with Chanel No. 5 Parfum?a last-minute gift from the duty-free? I don't wear perfume. The decanter is three times the size of the tiny bottle my mother carefully doled out drop by drop. I took it with me, empty, when I moved to New York. Mac's gift makes me feel wasteful, guilty, undeserving. It's not his fault.
We can't really sleep, so we get breakfast and shower and walk to the Tate to see the Turner collection. It is a strange sensation to arrive just as a museum opens. The gallery is cool and we wander through it, finding our stride together and taking in the British landscapes. Our steps fall into place, our hands find the resting spots on each other they once occupied casually. It's good, no pressure to talk a lot. The paintings start out trivial and Victorian and fussy, then eventually explode into broad washes of passionate color that I love.
After some lunch and a walk around Soho, we return to the hotel, ostensibly to take a nap. We have leisurely getting-to-know-you-again sex, and I'm looking forward to a mind-blowing I-haven't-seen-you-in-nine-months orgasm, but instead it is kind of a fizzle. You know, the kind where it fizzles out before it really gets going. I'm feeling disappointed and sad and childish because I'm feeling disappointed and sad.
We go to see Vanessa Redgrave in a mediocre production of Noel Coward's A Song at Twilight. She's amazing. Mac says he would watch her read the phone book. It makes me feel terribly inadequate as an actor. I should never step on a stage again, especially after the nightmare production I performed in right before I left. I got on that plane humiliated and beaten.
So I'm depressed and I figure we may as well start talking about "us" since it may take all week, and in my mood I have nothing to lose. We stop in a little Spanish place and over a dinner of fish and wine I tell him all the reasons our relationship doesn't work, can't work, won't work. I tell him that I've been angry at him for almost two years because I can't get over being mad at him for not taking me away on a weekend we had once planned. That I used to think that as long as I had him to come home to I was sure everything would be okay, but I didn't think I felt that way anymore. That I have a lover in New York who wants me to be his girlfriend, but that I can't because I'm waiting, waiting, waiting...
He doesn't say much. My fish gets cold. I feel better for the talk. Ashamed, too, for my talent at hiding so much. We had been operating on the "Don't ask, don't tell" policy. It doesn't work in a relationship either. I feel guilty because the day I left home my Italian Stallion Vince in New York spent all of the morning and most of the afternoon eating me out. I didn't have time to change the sheets. I am aware that no matter what happens, I will go home to sheets stained by someone other than Mac. Okay, so I have my transgressions. But I can't put it out of my head that Mac had a live-in girlfriend in our interim. I'm jealous and hurt.
The night of his book launch we go out to dinner with his publisher and some intellectuals and writers and I feel young and American. But not like the David Bowie song; I'm made to feel American more like that way Europeans act around Americans, like they don't really respect you simply because you're American. I'm introduced as Mac's partner, an actor and writer. Mac doesn't mention the book we're working on together. The residencies and fellowships I've won. The attention I command is the young, pretty American kind.
At dinner I have to sit catty-corner from him so the priggish Professor Tweed, University of London department head, who virtually ignores my presence, can sit closer to a Famous Author friend of Mac visiting from Cambridge. At least Famous Author flatters me by flirting.
I don't have the energy to jockey for position. After a few too many glasses of wine I start to cry. I'm trapped on the banquette with lively, erudite conversation happening on either side of me, and I'm feeling suddenly so alone and I just want to touch Mac. I shove salt shakers and wine glasses aside and grab his hand. The politician to my left gives me a look as glasses shift and water sloshes on his cuff. I get Mac's touch, but not his attention. He's in the middle of an intense discussion about monarchy. This is business for him and I don't want to ruin it.
I go out into the damp Bloomsbury air. Smoke a cigarette and feel sorry for myself.
Our last day together we check out of the hotel and go to see Romance, the French intellectual soft-porn film. I had put off seeing it in New York with my Italian Stallion. I wanted to see it with Mac. The theater is small and a little seedy. I get really turned on and fondle Mac, hoping no one behind us can see. The film makes perfect sense to me. I understand the heroine's promiscuity, her jealousy and doubt and rage. Her need to be seen?and violated. To be an active participant in it. Her masochism. As if the only way she can understand herself and the world around her is to take it in, literally take it in. To experience everything through her body.
By the end, after seeing this gorgeous French girl get fucked and tied up for two hours, I don't care that the director says it's not supposed to be an arousing movie. There are closeups of dicks and cunts, and that's inherently arousing to me. We stand and kiss and the credits are playing and I feel very cinematic. We stumble to a little hallway leading to the bathrooms and the exit. I pin him against the wall as best I can. I am soaking and I lose myself and am only dimly aware of people passing us. He leads me into the men's room just as I'd been hoping; into a stall and our zippers and buttons come undone and the next thing I know I'm on my knees with my skirt hiked up and my hose pulled down in a toilet giving him a blowjob and I am so happy and I love him and will do anything for him maybe even move to Australia like he wants. Then he does the hand jive on my clitoris and I am feeling dirty and good and I belong to him and I come fast and hard.
And when we walk into the late afternoon chilly London sunlight my makeup is smeared and my hair a mess and I don't care. I let him lead me through the streets, down cobblestone alleyways and when he asks me not much later if he can come to New York to stay with me at Easter I say, "Yes." But I immediately think, Holy fuck what have I done? Am I really going to change my life because we had sex in the bathroom of the ABC Panton near Piccadilly Circus?