Month: July 2017

Andreas in Paris

Quite an extensive excerpt from the next book.

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Andreas, Paris

August 2006

My son went home to school at the end of July because he was still wait-listed for our school of choice in Hong Kong. It was less than ideal, and I made the more than 15-hour journey monthly to see him, but I was divorced and by far the major bread winner in our family, so doing just that took priority, and especially when paid at the level I was. Having been born myself into the most supportive family on earth, I knew quite well that he was as loved and safe and coddled and adored in my parents’ care as any one child could ever be, and in fact probably better off there in any case, at least for now. 

Andreas and I had arranged to meet in Paris the day before my birthday, and spend three nights together there. In the same room. For most women on their 36th, this might not have been a stretch, but for me, it was a knowing leap into an unknown abyss. It’s not just the pall that hangs over the entire event, e.g. the inevitability of sex, but also the immediate familiarity of showering, toilet habits, changing – like the express train to knowing far too much about someone you’d very possibly prefer to just adore from a distance.

We were staying at Le Meurice, my Paris habit that somewhat parallels my London one, though not to the same extent of frequency or familiarity, and when there I often arranged a special pedicure that is anathema elsewhere in the world. Andreas wasn’t due to arrive until that evening after work, so I did some light shopping, had the pedicure, took a long, hot bath and settled in for the wait. And wait. I do not remember exactly what time it was, except that it was about ten minutes after his flight was meant to have departed from Munich when he called. He had arrived at the Air France counter to be told that though his ticket had been purchased, an e-ticket had never been issued. As such, they had to call the ticketing center in France to manually issue it. From what he said – and from the near outraged tone of his voice – he truly lost his temper. They dawdled about for long enough that he had missed the last flight to Paris that evening. He had texted me when he arrived at the airport, so I knew he had arrived there in plenty of time and had wondered why I never heard back before the scheduled departure. Now I knew.

He toyed with the notion of renting a car and driving, but I told him that I would stay awake worrying as it would be the well into the wee hours of the morning before he would arrive. He retorted that he did not want me to wake up alone on my birthday. In the end, instead of going back into town, he checked into an airport hotel in Munich and took the first flight out the next morning.

By the time he arrived, I was understandably more anxious than I might otherwise have been, but when I opened the door to our opulent room, all I could see was a gigantic bouquet of flowers consuming my view. I giggled aloud and he moved them to one side so I could see his face, which was looking me up and down in an intentionally mischievous, almost mock-seductive manner. He kissed me on both cheeks and came inside. Never one to rest on his laurels, he immediately announced, after putting his bags in the dressing room, that he had berated the staff for not sending a bottle of champagne on my birthday, and that it was on its way up along with plastic cups, a satchel, and other goodies. It arrived far more quickly than I anticipated, leaving me with the notion that he had arranged this prior to his arrival, and within minutes we were making our way across the Rue de Rivoli, past the Tuileries and down towards the Seine.

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Lonely or Alone

And if the night runs over
And if the day won’t last
And if your way should falter
Along the stony pass it’s just a moment
This time will pass

~ U2, Stuck in a Moment

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Bono has been quoted as saying that he wrote the song Stuck in a Moment about an imaginary argument with his late friend Michael Hutchence, an argument in which Bono would have been trying to cajole him or “slap him around the head a bit,” to talk him out of committing suicide.  I wonder how many people know how it feels to wish they had said or done something – or even known – about someone close to them contemplating the most final of actions.

I have never spoken about the suicide of my friend earlier this year. I was standing at baggage claim at DC’s Reagan National Airport texting back and forth with my very best friend of more than forty years, talking nonsense, really, interspersed with tidbits about my godkids or when I would next be home to visit when out of the blue one of the texts popped up unceremoniously and like every other before it except that it said, “Oh my God, Wagner killed himself.” I didn’t skip a beat. I closed the text window and called my friend and said, “Why are you just now telling me this?” To which she replied, “I literally just found out the second I told you. I’m sorry. I’ll find out what I can and let you know. Are you coming home?”

No. I wasn’t going home.

In retrospect I suppose what I was experiencing was shock of some variant; I didn’t feel anything. I got into the Uber as I always did – almost every week in the same spot – and road in silence to The Jefferson, was handed the key, made my way up to the suite to which I’d been upgraded – my favorite, they know –  threw my things on the floor and went about my evening as though nothing had happened. Except that it had. I changed into my running clothes and left the hotel taking a right heading down toward the White House and the mall beyond. When I returned I retraced my footsteps back to my room, went directly into the bathroom, disrobed, stepped into the oversized shower and as soon as the water hit me, I came undone. I cried so convulsively I could not stand and instead ended up sitting on the floor of the shower for what seemed like an hour, but I had and have no concept of the time that passed. When the water began to run cold and the well of my tears had seemingly run dry, I stood, turned off the water, wrapped myself in a towel and then a robe, took my usual place on the large, stuffed-mattress bed, ordered my dinner and went back to work.

My emotional fallout from his death and from the utter wrongness of it by virtue of it having been choice remained in that shower, in that cube, washed down the drain with the sweat of my run and collective grunge of my travel as though it never happened.

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The Shedding

Do you have a $12,000 dollar sofa? I did. I don’t know why, but I did. I also used to have two Cartier watches, two Bulgaris and an extra little Hermes that I threw on for more casual occasions.

Actually, I do know why I had those things; because I hated my life. More specifically, I hated my job which consumed my life and made me into someone I never wanted to be. I have heard numerous times over the years people whom I would deem as hippies say things about how we are slaves to our possessions and that the only true freedom is owning nothing. Of course in their version, there was also usually some added on mini-diatribe about being watched by, and slaves to “the man.” Discount or derive whatever you wish from any part of that, but it took me until the age of forty-seven to figure out that what they really mean is that ridding yourself of possessions allows you to be owned by nothing; and no one.

It took me to forty-seven to figure out that the reason I worked so hard to make ever-increasing amounts of money is because I craved the freedom that can be bought with large sums of money, except that along the way, I would become so unhappy with the daily toil of my life that I would buy myself treats. Mini-motivators, congratulatory concessions, feel good pick me ups, to get me through the hellish day/week/month/meeting and back to my apartment/hotel room/flight. All the while, my expensive tastes in mood-elevating materialism consumed ever larger portions of the money I made driving the need to earn even more, acquire larger clients, take on new roles and do even more things that I despised, resented or which made me feel like a soul for rent. I could tell myself whatever I wanted to, but I wasn’t working to buy my ultimate freedom; I was working to pay off the monthly limitless Amex. I had been captured by capitalism in the most gilded of cages and extricating myself from its grasps would become a dance of mutually abusive agony.

I suppose I should be thankful that I figured it out at all, let alone while still at an age where I could stop, take stock and make the serious changes required to keep me from dying in regret of never having truly lived.

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