Those impossible-to-imagine encounters when they actually happen, they feel like destiny. No one will believe you when you tell the story. Also, no one will care, because in the scheme of things, it’s a tiny, insignificant moment to the rest of the world, but to you, to you it makes your heart explode.
There was sweet Becky who loved me, but was bad at loving, worse even than me. She had no feel for it. She was an awkward — awkward was her favorite word — woman whose boldest expression came at age 19 on a bench in some Israeli town where she made out with an Arab boy she had just met. Otherwise, diffident, insecure, passive. She laughed easily but with a lot of sadness. Social events required sweaty work; they exhausted her. We hacked at it for two years before she had enough of my vacillating and called it quits. It was only then — when she left me — that I thought I might love her.
“It’s too late for that,” she said. But I still called until she stopped answering the phone. I carried around a memory of Becky smiling proudly when I told her about my friend who had commented on her “nice rack.”
Years later, there was a Katie, a 6‑foot‑1 Nigerian goddess. How she became a Katie, I don’t know. She went after me on an online dating site for a reason I couldn’t fathom. She thought Jerry Seinfeld was cute, so maybe she had a thing for Jewboys. On our first date she dragged me all over town. Fancy Asian lounges, dive bars, Irish pubs. At a quiet martini lounge, we were seated next to a fireplace.
“It’s so boring here. So quiet. Let’s go somewhere else.”
An aneurysm in her twenties had left her blind in one eye after a neurosurgeon got to work on it.
A cab. A long trip uptown. A lounge called Diamond. I had never heard of it. Katie thought there might be dancing there. But there wasn’t any dancing there. The crowd looked young, though, but it was hard to tell because it was so dark.
“Let’s sit at the bar,” she commanded.
But there was little room. We saw free seats on either side of a woman sitting by herself. Katie — brassy, forward– tapped the woman on the shoulder.
“Can you move so we can have two seats together?”
The woman turned, already nodding, acquiescing. Katie had her way with people; it was difficult to say no to her. I hadn’t said no all night; I didn’t know how. And what was I doing all the way up here? This was near my mother’s country. Tall buildings, glass, and hard angles. The west sixties. The bedroom community of Midtown and Wall Street.
“Sure,” said the woman, fully turned around now. “I’m just leaving.”
Her face, it looked familiar. Something. The smile that was a frown. The automated resignation. The nice rack.
Not since before my surgeries had I seen Becky. That’s how things were now. There was everything that came before surgery and everything that came after. Becky was before the first one. The Croatian came after it, and Clarissa after the second surgery, the one in Minnesota.
Becky and I had never strayed above 14th street when we went out. We both were too lazy to abandon the precincts of our downtown hovels and simply had no business beyond that border. Once, though, Becky had come uptown to my mom’s for dinner. My mother was taken by Becky. She had called Becky’s neck “aristocratic.” After that I saw it as aristocratic, too.
“What are you doing up here?” I asked a little too quickly, with a kind of sharp probe that could be mistaken for hostility. And I wasn’t even sure yet whether to be hostile or not.
“Oh, I just had an online date here, that’s all.”
Katie wasn’t liking this. “I have to go tinkle.” Sometimes she said “tinkle,” sometimes she said “loo.”
“I’m leaving now,” Becky said when Katie was gone. “She’s beautiful.”
Becky was standing. She moved in the direction of the door but now stopped and faced me. I had little time before Katie came back. I had things to say, things I had carried around for years now.
“Where were you?” I said. I was too loud. “When I was in the hospital, where were you?”
“We weren’t dating then,” she said.
“So what? I would have been there for you. You weren’t there for me. I called you.”
“But we weren’t dating any more.”
Here it was again. My Achilles heal. Loss. Someone told me once that women were much better at loss than men.
“You look good,” I said desperately. “You seem good. You seem happy.”
“You just called me too much.”
“I needed you there.”
“It wasn’t realistic.”
“I would be there for you no matter what. That’s what happens when you’re with someone for two years. It’s that important.”
My friend had explained it to me. “For us, we pull off the band-aid. We move on. We never look back. It’s like it never happened. We don’t even like you anymore. Men? Men can’t deal with loss. That’s why you’re so violent.”
“So when I’m dead,” I said to Becky in a gambit whose point I wasn’t even sure of, “you’re not going to come to my funeral, either? Because we’re not ‘dating’?”
Katie came back. Becky made a move for the door.
“Bye,” I said to Becky. “You should call me, maybe. I might be having another surgery.”
One day I will learn to forget, learn to move on. My past holds me in place like an anchor.
“Surgery?” asked Katie when we sat down. “What surgery?”