Seduced by Confession
April 16, 2012
At the Times Square W Hotel five years ago, I sat in the lobby bar, alone, sipping the dregs from a glass of Scotch. The bar was crowded that night. I watched as a woman in a black dress took one of the last seats. Who knows why I did what I did next at the bar? I went up to the woman, excused myself, and dug through my pockets.
“The hotel gave me two drink vouchers.” I held them up in front of her, a magician working his deck. “Think you could help me use them?”
“Why did the hotel give you drink vouchers?”
“Room wasn’t ready at check-in. They made me wait an hour.”
“Was it worth it?”
“It will be if you say yes.”
Once we had gotten our drinks the woman and I went to a table near the back of the bar. That way we could talk. Over our first round of martinis she told me she was in town apartment-sitting for her sister, and over our second round of martinis I told her I wanted to do something that might be drastic. There at the crowded bar, I kissed a complete stranger.
Her pulse was detectable through her lips. Afterwards the woman let just enough of a smile curl across her face to allow me to break character. She spoke first.
“How long were you waiting on me?”
“Half an hour.”
“Took me forever to find a cab.”
Tatum and I had been dating for almost a year. She had a thing about having sex in front of windows visible to the public. I had a thing about picking up strange women in the lobby bars of expensive hotels. Both of us had things about being other people.
Back then, if someone had told me that five years later I would write a personal essay about that night, I would not have believed them. Tatum was the nonfiction writer in our relationship. I wrote fiction. That I loved the mechanics of narrative so much as to engineer a fake scenario for meeting her at some bar, however, seems to explain why I have now written over a dozen essays about incidents similar to that night. Crafting my past into a story allows me either to impose meaning or to find meaning, which are the same thing, through both the compression and the expansion necessary to make the story engaging. Otherwise it’s just an anecdote.
What complicated my decision to write those essays was how the other people involved would react to them. To whom does a story belong? At the lobby bar that night, I was already asking myself that question when, during the few minutes Tatum was away in the bathroom, I responded to a friend’s text about grabbing a drink. “Can’t tonight. Role playing sex stuff with Tatum. Talk later!” The smidgen of guilt I felt when sending the text was tempered by the kick I got out of being provocative. Of course I did not mention it to Tatum when she returned. She most likely would have reacted the same way she reacted to my first few essays involving her. Although I considered them to be about me more than anyone else—one essay concerns my experience with panic attacks, another concerns my alleged encounter with pubic lice—Tatum’s response to the most recent one made it clear she thought differently.
“PLEASE STOP WRITING ABOUT ME.”
The vehemence of those words has provided a possible explanation of my reasons for writing the essays. Did I write them simply and solely to evoke emotion? Since childhood my worst fear has been that people feel nothing about me. I’m not particularly handsome, and I’m not particularly ugly. I’m not particularly smart, and I’m not particularly stupid. I’m not particularly charming, and I’m not particularly dull. What if those characteristics keep people from feeling one way or the other about me? Gray begets gray. It is shameful to admit that Tatum’s reaction might have goaded me. I’d rather make someone feel anger than make them feel nothing. I’d rather make someone feel hatred than make them feel nothing. Some people claim their need to love is greater than their need to be loved. My overabundance of the former has always made the latter more of a necessity.
Throughout our relationship my fear of apathy had often stirred contention—not once did Tatum say she loved me—but that night at the hotel I could only think of staying in character. We ordered one last drink from the bar. During the few minutes it took for the vodka to be measured, shaken, and poured, my hand inched down the small of Tatum’s back, where I felt the flush surface of nothing underneath. My question pretty much asked itself.
“Are you going commandette?”
“Are you wearing any knickers?”
The lift of her eyebrow was all it took. Even though on the inside I was rapturous with the news, I focused on acting the role of Mysterious Guy at Lobby Bar, remaining quiet behind the veneer of a knowing smile. My body was overcome by a lust so ribald any decent person would refrain from putting it into words. I wanted to wear her crotch on my face like a feedbag.
In the elevator we were surrounded by mirrors from every side, our front and our back, our left and our right, so the image of us kissing became a palimpsest of ourselves to infinity. I could taste those last martinis we had not stayed to finish. By the time we reached the room both of us were half undressed.
We had to move the desk from in front of the window. There with Tatum in a high-rise overlooking Times Square, our palms leaving their prints on the glass and our toes curling into fists on the carpet, my thoughts split, one half focusing on sensations, the tang of her neck, the huff of her breath, the damp of her thigh, while the other half dwelled on how, starting the night as strangers, we had gotten to this double-occupancy room in Midtown Manhattan. I rebuilt the story in my mind, piece by piece, as though it were a video clip, played in reverse, of someone losing at Jenga. Retroactively I was giving the framework of a plan to what even then I knew was falling apart. That means of underwriting my future grief would eventually become an aid in writing about my past love.
The next morning I woke up before her. I ate some cashews from the honor bar and watched a superhero movie on HBO. Close to checkout time, waiting as Tatum got dressed, I asked her, “So how’s the book going?” She was writing a memoir.
“What chapter are you working on?”
“The hard one.”
Never did it occur to me during the entire time we were together to ask Tatum if she had gotten permission from the people depicted in her book. Wouldn’t everyone assume she would write about them with an absolute lack of malice? I suppose that was naive of me.
On our way out of the room I was the only one carrying a bag. We reached the elevator. Back inside those mirrored walls I found myself flanked by two men. To one side of me stood a man who did not yet realize he and his girlfriend would soon break up, and to the other side of me stood a man who did not yet believe his life was worthy of an essay. The elevator started to go down, one story after another, until it reached the ground floor.
Snowden Wright is a writer based in New York City. Recently he has contributed to The Atlantic, Salon, Nerve, and the New York Daily News. More of his work can be found here.