I don’t know how exactly I first became a writer but I know how it felt the first time I was praised for it. Like cool watermelon juice down your chin in the summertime but everywhere, not just on your chin. It felt like wriggly puppies that didn’t know how to stop moving or trying to lick your face. It felt like I had taken a giant step, had jumped, had leaped from standing alone on a ledge to my dream tower bedroom surrounded by friends who got every single one of my jokes and never took offense to anything. It felt like the emptiness was driven away.
In elementary school, in my gifted and talented class, I told Mrs. Woodard I was going to be a writer. I would write the best stories anyone ever read and no one would even know who I was. That was exciting too, hiding behind my books and stories, never having to become too social or worry about what it meant to be well liked. That was the gift I had been given by writing. But, some well-meaning, good intentioned teacher along the way pointed out to many just how many of us, writers like her, never got published, never got read, never survived off their writing. “You’re a good writer,” she told me, “but so are lots of people.”
I am a senior in college. I work nights and weekends at a new restaurant and lounge frequented by the local NFL players . I don’t serve, or bartend, even though I took classes and have experience and recently acquired the ability to pretend I like people, despite mostly feeling the opposite. I am not socially awkward as it turns out. Genetics gave me a few hundred more chances to be liked, beginning with a dramatic and heart-wrenching relationship with my first love, one of the most well-known guys on campus and most sought after. I have long hair and lightly brown skin and pronounced curves in the rear, so I don’t have to be afraid of people discovering that I am weird and distant and strange. I learned that none of those things matter if you’re beautiful. People will forgive you anything if you’re beautiful.
I get paid to be there. To eat the decadently expensive meals and drink whatever I want and smile and dance and be there. I get paid more to do this than for helping my professor with transcriptions of African radio, more than I made bartending, more than I made as a file clerk for a law firm. I get paid to be present, but more accurately, for me to absent, and a reflection of me to be there. I am a dancing monkey. I can move my hips better than the other skinnier girls who do the same job and somehow, I seem to be better liked than them, or this part of me does, that doesn’t think or talk, just smiles and gets too drunk and has someone else drive her home and takes the bus back in the morning for my beat up Taurus that has already been dragged over 200,000 miles and is going to crap out any day.
I don’t hate it here. I don’t hate it, because I am not present to see the video they take of me dancing drunkenly, smiling a smile that isn’t mine at people I don’t know or even like. But, I don’t hate it.
Tonight, some man, some vaguely famous actor person is coming. I already know before he arrives that he will talk to me too much. I know that he will think I want to ride back with him to his hotel because I smile too much and laugh like a hyena at everything he says even though, I know, he won’t be funny. He will be short and muscular and entitled and he will use outdated slang and call me pet names that I will pretend are adorable. He will take my phone and force himself into my world, even if just for a night and I know this, even before he is in front of me, smiling, and even before I understand exactly who he is and why his name and face seem familiar.
We, us girls who get paid to exist, do not sit at the same table as this man, but we are seated right in his view. We didn’t decide this ourselves but certainly one of the other girls would have had it been up to us. There are words not being said at our table. There are glances being exchanged. I resolve to get drunk. The other girls are drinking something fruity but I need the hard stuff, whiskey, something to dull my mind and my intuition; I must be in the moment, not ten steps ahead. The photographer comes over and asks us to blow a kiss to the camera, something I have never been asked to do, and am nervous about. I swallow more whiskey, and this man looks right at me, and my eyes don’t catch the camera at all. I have found my way into the moment.
I get up to go to the restroom, and even though it is only five steps away from me, I catch a waiter, entwining our legs and we spin around as if we are in a ballet and I am the sugar plum fairy and he is some unknown prince whisking me away from the table, towards the restroom for a moment of emptiness. I apologize and he tells me that my leg is bleeding. I am bleeding from this moment of magic and I realize I am drunker than I thought and already thinking of my bed and my pillows. The waiter runs back into the kitchen and with an antibacterial spray and napkin wipes off the blood. With precision, he applies a band aid to what we both now realize is more than a cut, it is a gash.
We have to take a picture with the man. He smiles a big smile, but it is empty. He tries to hug me, but the other girls are in the way and he tells me his name is Eric and asks for mine and I give it to him, pretending to believe he will remember me. The honey skinned girl among us wants him. She has been going out of her way to be standing next to him all night. He leans over her to talk to me, to smile my way.
We get upstairs. The lounge is nice, everything is so high class here as always. The servers dance when they bring the bottles of champagne over with sparklers sending little white flares of light into the air from the sides of them as if to say, “drink and be merry.” So I do. Whiskey mixes well with champagne, right?
Honey tells Eric her iphone has changed her life.( Only tomorrow will I realize I am the only person left in the world with a blackberry, but this won’t matter then. ) He nods, he looks her in the eyes when he talks to her, which somehow impresses me. He is attractive and he seems smart. For a moment, he and Honey talk about twitter and I use my blackberry to find him, to browse through his timeline and see how he doesn’t misspell anything, or use incorrect grammar and I am turned on.
He has a blackberry too and when Honey takes a break, he grabs mine and does that barcode scanning thing on bbm that was so cool and hip when I got the phone. Now we are sharing information, we can talk outside of the almost yelling we have been doing. He talks about me seeming like girlfriend material and this is all I want to hear in the world from any guy in the world because I fell in love with a man who didn’t love me back, and besides the loneliness, I have been feeling inadequate. He asks me, over and over to come to his hotel. Please, he says, I just want to spend some time with you, I’m only here until the morning. And it’s true but it’s not convincing and I am obsessive about keeping my legs closed and paranoid about the HIV status of everyone around me, even drunk.
At some point, both he and I are sitting down, on our phones, messaging each other, shooting words back and forth about what exactly will happen if I do decide to follow him back to his hotel room that my bosses paid for. I have all the power here and I know it. I have already decided to go because I would like to sleep next to someone now that the memory of my heartbreak has been made fresh in my mind by the whiskey and champagne and Honey’s face as she realizes she will not be invited where I’m going. He leaves. He hugs only me goodbye, and he disappears. I wait until the end of the night and I drive home. I change into leggings, put on boots and get prepared for the snow.
He continues to message me until I am on the elevator, headed to his room. I’m beginning to sober up and regret this decision, but I’m already here and I am afraid if I tell him I changed my mind he will chase after me and I will be too afraid to say no to someone so attractive that actually wants me. I knock and he is there, his boxers fit too snugly and I feel indecent looking at him. He leaves the light off, and timidly, I sit on a chaise instead of the bed, as if letting him know I am drawing a line.
“Will you come here?” he asks. I do, stripping off my boots and climbing up onto the bed. I wriggle under the covers, into his open arms. They wrap around me innocently and I finally breathe. I forgot somehow, how good that felt, breathing with someone else, closing your eyes when you talk to them.
His whole body sighs but he doesn’t make a move, he just talks. My hair is in his face and I apologize, but he says he likes it. I laugh. It isn’t funny but I don’t know what to say. We talk, he asks me about this job I have and somehow I am telling him the truth.
“Last week,” I tell him, “my boss asked me to sleep with him.” Eric nods, listens, doesn’t seem to make any conclusions. I stop there, hoping he’ll get that I didn’t sleep with my married boss, even though he promised to pay my way in life if I did. To get me a place in LA, where I decided I wanted to live, and a personal trainer and a maid and expensive clothes like he did for that other girl, the one that lives in South Beach in a condo on the beach on a teacher’s salary.
I didn’t sleep with my married boss because more than anything, the idea that I could even consider doing so made me want to cry.
Eric listens, but he doesn’t speak, as if he doesn’t want to share anything about himself, who he is. He is skeptical of me too, the drunk girl who laughed at everything he said, that actually came to his hotel room, that let him put his arms around her so easily.
I remember being young, when my father was my everything. He would lift me up onto his shoulders and let me be big. He would run in circles with me until we were exhausted and he would hold me when I was scared, in his big arms that felt safe, so I could fall asleep. I miss that feeling.
I remember that first love and how it felt in his bed. It was always too hot in his room, a place that no longer exists. The last time I was there, lying there, he had cuts all over his face, and I had thought he had died the night before. I lay down there, even though he was sitting up, and uncomfortable, and closed my eyes. I pictured the time when he held me so tightly I thought I was going to suffocate in his arms. The bed still smelled like then, even though nothing was the same, and I can still smell it sometimes when I climb into my bed, a place he has never been.
I remember how real he feels still, years later, the emptiness of absence, because he is not here.
Eric is silent, as if reflecting like me, looking back on his most recent emptiness in this room that is neither of ours, that smells like neither of us, and holds no wishes between us two.
He kisses me, and I think I kiss him back but the pace is wrong, he moves too fast and I tell him I bite in hopes he won’t do it again, but he does and I bite him, nibble on his bottom lip, hoping he will stop, stop stop. Stop. The pace of the kiss is too fast, too urgent.
But he doesn’t stop and he is on top of me kissing my neck, and squeezing my thighs. He feels unfocused, chasing a new place to kiss just as he finds a previous one with his tongue. It strikes with no force, as if out of duty because he begged me to come here, to be here, to lie here with him in the world’s emptiest, loneliest room. I finally understand that he is desperate and I am not the same as him.
I let him kiss me, over and over, lifelessly, and I don’t move or touch him. I am his doll, his play toy. He needs this, I tell myself. I stop him before he takes anything off of me. I tell him it all felt so good, and we can’t, remember? You promised I could be here and we could not have sex.
He goes over there, the other side, and waits. He thinks I will change my mind. He tries again, and again. I don’t change my mind and he accepts it, wrapping me back up in him. I am there, thinking about the emptiness in me, happy I am not desperate anymore.
Later, I will be fired, under suspicion of this act. I will continue to talk to Eric for a few weeks, he will offer to fly me to see him and I will agree but he will never do it. My encounter with him will change me, but I do not know if it makes me better or worse. At least, I can abandon the shadow of myself I have been showing. I can remember desperation again, and loneliness, even though I am empty, the beach after a tsunami. I can write. I hadn’t been able to, my life had been feeling empty and meaningless. I haven’t found meaning. I haven’t overcome anything. I am only breathing, I am only here. I am not getting paid for it anymore.