The following is a semi-autobiographical story that has greatly influenced the writing of my novel series, “The Desert Road of Night.”
I bumped into my ex-girlfriend, Céline, as I was leaving a restaurant with a woman I had met through a dating app. My date had spent the entire evening talking about herself and how amazing of an artist she was, saying at one point, “Not that you would get it immediately because most people don’t. You have to have a high IQ to grasp the genius that is my art.”
Céline gave her a once-over before giving me that look that said, “Really? You’ve become that guy?” Before I could respond, setting to remind her of our age difference—Céline being older than me—my date began gushing over her, telling her how much she was a fan of her “art.” To this, Céline rolled her eyes and said, “It’s poetry, not art, but thanks anyway.”
Because I had been in a power dynamic with Céline decades before, where I was the “Big” to her “Little,” and because there never had been closure between us, her mood shifted from the reserved demeanor most introverts exhibit to one of a “Brat,” demanding that I ditch the “Square” and come with her instead.
Without giving Céline’s demand a second thought, I shifted from the demeanor I had to assume in the years since I was last with her, a demeanor that had made me a decent father and a barely tolerable husband to my now ex-wife, and became the man who welcomed the brattiness of his “Sub.” With as much consideration as my date had given to our waitress, which was horrible, so did I with her, grabbing Céline’s hand and leading her from the doorway of the restaurant and down the dark streets.
At first, Céline and I said nothing. I was nervous to see a woman with whom I had had a complex relationship that spanned over twenty years. We had become a living testament to the effectiveness of pushing and pulling a lover in and out of your life, with each round of this dynamic generating more longing and more desire in each other, to the point where we had become a literal drug to one another.
Céline’s hand shook in mine. It was as though she was fighting the feeling of relapsing through our entire walk. It seemed aimless—our wandering the back streets of Manhattan’s Meatpacking District—until I realized where we had suddenly stopped: in front of the entrance to what was once a BDSM club. It was where she and I used to go, where we started our dynamic. It had since closed down, with that entrance now leading into a boutique hotel that had been built upon the foundation of the old building.
By now, the initial flash of Brat energy Céline had given me was gone. It was replaced by an uncertainty in her body language. Her shoulders became hunched, not only from the cold of that night in January ten years ago but also from the gamble I knew she had taken in making herself vulnerable; she was expressing, non-verbally, her desire for a return to us. The way we were. The Dom, who was her mission commander for any time she needed to be launched into that beautiful, ecstatic Space that almost every Sub strives to enter when they find that “One” who gets it. Who gets that submission is the gift that, once given, can never be taken back because of the addiction that would’ve arisen for the transcendent as experienced through another person’s body.
By reading her body and the way she suddenly pushed her shoulders back, looking at me directly with her head held high, I understood that she wanted me to take her back to a home she had discovered in our dynamic. I led her into the hotel. In the past, we used to go down an elevator that would open up into a labyrinth filled with lovers moaning in the shadows; this time we went up, in the direction of the loud music blaring outside from the top floors.
Once there, the doors to the elevator opened. Céline and I stepped out with the crowd of young men and women who had been packed in with us. We went with their flow, dispersing onto the jam-packed dance floor ahead of us and finding ourselves in the middle of it. The arms and backs of others dancing around us pressed against our bodies, pushing Céline and me closer. In the dance, we stared deeply into each other’s eyes. We brought our faces as close as we could without kissing; our lips lingering; her eyes pulsing; her arms wrapped over my shoulder as though she were hanging on to life; my hands on the small of her back, and her heartbeat pulsing hard enough that I could feel it through her leather jacket and my peacoat.
It was then that I experienced what it means to be lost in time: what had felt like a minute in her arms turned out to be an hour. We would’ve remained lost had it not been for her wincing, then saying, “Nature calls.”
After asking around where the bathroom was and finding out it was on another floor below ours, rather than wait for an elevator, we took the steps down.
In the stairwell, we passed murals of cherubs and dominatrixes.
We entered a crowded foyer filled with furnishings created with aesthetics in mind rather than function. Céline excused herself and went into the bathroom, while I took the opportunity to do the same.
Once done, we met back in the foyer. We looked at each other, then at the men roaming the room in their packs, their scheming evident in their eyes. Women huddled together in theirs for their mutual safety. One of those young women who had been watching us as well broke away from her group to come up to her and say, “I know you… You were on TV.”
Céline chuckled. “Not anymore.”
“Can I have your autograph?”
“Only if you tell me my name. Do you know it, or are you asking because I was on TV?”
The young woman’s expression shifted from star-struck curiosity to confusion. “I don’t know your name—just give it to me.”
“Fine, you can have my autograph. Do you have something I can write on?”
The young woman pulled out a napkin from her purse and handed it to Céline.
She began to scribble on it before handing it back to the young woman, who looked at the signature and said, “You’re not ‘The Rock.’”
“How do you know that if you don’t know my name?”
“‘Cause The Rock is a seven-foot dude, and you’re a tiny old bitch who’s trying to fuck with me.”
“Next time, know who you’re talking to before interrupting them and asking them for a favor.”
The young woman’s body language suggested she was about to throw a drunken punch at her. I led Céline away, out of the foyer, before a fight that I realized, at that moment, she was too old to handle could break out. As we climbed the steps upstairs, I became lost in my feelings. It was dawning on me that I had met Céline when she was thirty, and I was barely in my twenties, and that time is cruel; I could never unsee the beauty that had me falling in love hard with her, but when that young woman called her old, and she flinched at the pain of that young woman’s words, I caught a glimpse of reality: how haggard and gaunt-looking she looked at being over fifty. Yet, somehow, this glimpse made Céline that much more beautiful to me. In that, she suddenly signified just how fragile all life is, and that as our days dwindle, Céline and I move closer and closer to death.
Headlong into oblivion.
The crystallization of how precious her being alive was to me began coming through as a hunger and a desire to experience as much as I could of Céline before the end comes. There was no better way to express my hunger and desire than to grab Céline’s hand and, once we were back upstairs, lead her out to the open-air patio—to the railing overlooking the streets below—just so that I could tell her that she was more beautiful now than ever. It appeared to surprise her.
“Really? I don’t feel it,” she said.
“You are,” I said.
“You’re just saying that because you have a thing for women who look like bag ladies.”
“Take the compliment,” I said, smiling.
She smiled back. “Alright... only because it’s coming from you; I know you’re not bullshitting me, trying to pick me up.”
“That’s because you’re already mine.”
She appeared taken aback by my statement. “Is that what you think?” she asked.
“It’s what I know,” I replied.
A moment of stillness settled between us in her silence to my response. We looked around us at groups and couples milling about the rooftop patio, their silhouettes making them appear like shadows.
The tension I had felt from her hand in mine tightened.
She looked at me with questioning eyes. “Are you still with ‘what’s her name?’”
“You caught me on a date,” I replied.
“You, of all people, should know that doesn’t mean anything; you were with ‘what’s her name’ when we had our ‘Round Two.’ Look at how that turned out.”
I sighed. “I’m still with her—”
“But I'm not with her. We’re divorced… But something happened that we had to put aside our hard feelings and deal with an illness that has my daughter freaking out, that her mother could die… I moved back in for her sake; I need my daughter to focus; she’s in her final year of high school. She’ll be off to college soon, and I’ll be free again.”
She became silent again; it was as though she was trying to figure out whether she should stay or walk away because I had made a choice to take that quality Céline loved about me—being the nurturing “Big”—and apply it to my conventional life. I was trying to do the right thing and not think about myself because I needed my ex-wife to recover. I needed her to survive because she is the mother of my daughter; she needs to be healthy for our child, and despite the bad blood, I will always love her, too.
If it was my tendency to be this way, I needed to remind Céline of hers. “Do you still have a roster?”
She chuckled. “I’ve never had a roster.”
“Bullshit; you’ve always had someone hanging around you, in the shadows, as though they were the backup, waiting to be promoted.”
“Jesus… You’ve become more cynical.”
“No… I’ve become more realistic. I always assume anyone beautiful will have someone in their life. Beautiful people are never single.”
“But I am single… I was with someone—a sweet guy—but that was also his problem; he was too sweet. Too forgiving. Too much in my face—up my ass, always asking what he could do to make me happy.”
“You don’t want to be happy.”
“Not in the way ‘Squares’ think happiness is. And my ex is a Square. He has no clue how to be with me. How it’s sometimes good to have conflict—not be so much of a fucking pussy.” Céline paused. “I had told him the story about how I tried running you over with your car.”
I laughed because that was a memory I treasured. A few years after our first breakup, we had a chance encounter similar to the one that brought us to the hotel, which led to the “Round Two” phase of our relationship. Despite knowing I was in that relationship, Céline wanted something, anything, so long as she felt like she had made a return to the one person she could trust to send her to Space without fear of injury. But just as Round Two had begun, it ended when, in the middle of the night, I made it known I needed to leave her apartment and go home. I had plans for the next day with my daughter and her mother, a woman I met shortly after our first breakup and who Celine still couldn’t say her name aloud. Céline had followed me outside, and after yelling at me while she was in a bra and panties, she made it known I couldn’t go anywhere because she had the keys to my car. And just as we wrestled in the street, next to my car, she grabbed me by the balls and began to twist just enough that I backed off, and she raced over to the driver’s door, opened it, got in, and tried to run me over.
Despite her trying to kill me, I needed to get my keys back, so I went back to her apartment. Céline and I ended up having the most intense, most passionate sex we’ve ever had, which left us trembling, legs shaking, and me understanding, at long last, the true source of genuine desire; it always comes at the tail end of anxiety.
I couldn’t help but laugh when Céline said, “My ex is someone who would never do anything that would make me want to run him over with a car, and it’s just… ugh—so boring. I’m like, get some balls and show me that you’re honest. Everyone gets mad, but not him, until he does, and that’s when he begins punching walls.” I stopped smiling when her face became serious. “Yeah, he needed to go; he needed to move out… He still has the keys to my apartment. He won’t give them back.”
“I know. And now, he drops by whenever he wants, even though I told him to stop and give me back my keys. Earlier today, he showed up, saying, ‘let me give you what you really want; let’s play, ‘cause that’s what you want… You want me to be him.’ He began calling me by some fucked-up names, trying to be something that he’s not… Yeah, I needed to get away. I needed to disappear. I drove down here, if for anything, to remember who I was. Who I used to be before I got old—”
Céline stopped talking when a couple walked up to the railing, to stand arm-in-arm next to us. She sighed when they kissed before walking away.
After a long moment of silence, Céline looked at me and said, “I’m too old to be dating. To have to teach someone new on how to be with me… I think I’m done.”
“Me too,” I said.
“Bullshit. You were out with that kid; how old is she?”
“And you’re, like, forty-four?”
“Yup, and I feel the difference. I tried connecting with her, but it was more of a monologue on her part. I knew she was trying to impress me with all these things that she said she creates, but to me, the more she talked about ‘art,’ the more I knew she was full of shit. So, I called her a ‘poser,’ and that’s when our date ended, and I ran into you.”
”Did you pick the spot?”
“No, she did.”
Céline smiled. “Interesting… We’ve had great times at our spot.”
“The menu’s changed.”
“Of course it did; everything changes.”
“Not everything. The way I feel about you hasn’t. Has it for you?”
She sighed. “No, although I wish it did. I wouldn’t be feeling all this regret I’m feeling now.”
“Regret is a motherfucker.”
“I know... But the great thing about becoming older is knowing we have the power to change things up. If the signs are there, we should go for it. We don’t have to live with regret.”
“Okay then… What are your plans for when your daughter moves away?”
“I don’t know; I was thinking of maybe taking my camera and going overseas, maybe to Syria, and doing some war photography.”
“Still angling to be a photojournalist?”
“Even if you end up dead?”
“No one lives forever, and to be honest, I’m tired. I’m so tired of life—the boredom, the sadness, the depression.”
“Me too…” Céline was quiet for a moment before a smile came to her face. “But it doesn’t have to be this way, not anymore… You don’t need to go to Syria to experience some excitement—some terror. You can get plenty of that here at home.”
“Sure. You can move in with me like we’d talked about doing.”
“That was then.”
“That can be now.” Céline paused. “I can trust that you know when to pay attention to me and when to give me space without me having to say anything… That’s the thing I miss the most. How you know. How we talk without words.”
“Are you sure?” I asked.
“I’m sure. I drove two hours from the Hamptons with the thought of going to that restaurant, all with the hope, however small, that I’d run into you, and there you were. It’s a sign. Don’t you think? That we’re meant for a final round?”
“Anything can be looked at as a sign, even coincidences, if we wish it to be.”
Céline playfully slapped me on the shoulder. “When did you stop being romantic?”
“The day I lost hope.”
“Then let’s get it back.”
Céline led me away from the railing of the outdoor patio back inside. We cut across the crowded dance floor for the elevator, then rushed on once the doors opened. It took us down and back to the main lobby, where we went to the front desk. We booked a room for the two of us. After handing over my credit card details and being given keycards, I led Céline to a separate elevator bank devoted to guests of the hotel, rode it up until it was our floor, and got off. We went to our room. Inside, we rushed to the window to look out again, down at the icy sidewalks and roads glowing a frosty blue.
We looked away and then back at each other. We pressed our bodies close and stared once more deeply into each other’s eyes. We brought our faces as close as we could without kissing; our lips lingering; her eyes pulsing.
She said, “I just want to be close to you. I want to do more than remember the way you felt. I want to feel ‘the real’ again, so let’s get real; I haven’t felt real in years.” Céline began to undress.
I followed her lead.
We were both naked. Her body looked more glorious with age than it ever had in the entire time I’ve known her.
Céline went to where she had dropped her large handbag by the door, reaching into it and pulling out a wooden brush before walking back over and handing it to me.
We climbed into bed together. Céline positioned herself between my legs while my back rested against the headboard. She moaned as I combed her hair, her head moving with the motion of the brush. Her head jerked back whenever the brush got snagged.
“Why so many knots?” I asked.
“I don’t have anyone to take care of me,” she replied.
“You do now.”
“Forever and ever?”
“Forever and ever.”
“Yes, pinkie swear.” I sealed my promise to her and then continued combing her hair.
Her soft moans told me she was feeling the pleasure of being back in the real: her Littlespace.
Being in a room with Céline like this was not about sex; it was about enjoying how her hair smelled like mint and the city and sweat. It was about paying attention to her moans, as if they became softer and softer until I knew she was about to fall asleep. I stopped brushing her hair and told her to lay back; I was tucking her in with me. I covered us in cool, white sheets. I savored the way her body bent as I spooned her from behind, rocking her body softly until she was fully asleep, and it was my turn to do the same.
When I woke up the next day, Céline was gone. For a moment, I panicked, thinking it had all been a dream, until I saw she had left a note on hotel stationery set on a desk by the window that had her address, new phone number, and the following that read:
“When the time comes and your daughter moves away, you know what to do; until then, we’re ‘no contact.’ I learned my lesson the hard way: to never be the other woman again.”
I couldn’t help but smile at how Céline still knew how to create the most desire in me: pulling me in before pushing me away, but only temporarily, until we were to meet again. This time, I had hoped for good, but a month later, as I was waiting for my ex-wife to finish her latest round of chemotherapy, I was reading the “New York Times,” and there it was: Céline’s obituary, noting her passing from a stroke while calling attention to her accomplishments as a poet and the influence she has had on others.
That was the day all hope died with her.
I haven’t been the same since.
Author’s note: The photographs in this semi-autobiographical story were taken on the same night as the events that inspired it.
To see how this event has also influenced the themes in my novel, The Beautiful World of the Alive, click on these links to Amazon and Barnes & Noble and find out, or subscribe (if you haven't already).
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