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Posted on 2004-05-04 10:58:55 by Denver

Despair


Last fall a friend took me to see a play in the East Village; it was the familiar theatrical portrait of despair amongst the have-nots of American society. The setting was a dive bar on the outskirts of Las Vegas. The story line was minimal-an evening of white trash characters drinking, arguing, and playing video slot machines. One of the characters, Michelle, a woman with a gambling addiction and a naive perception of men, was played by a statuesque blond with exceptional intensity and precision. I enjoyed the play, but I especially liked her. Afterwards, I dawdled in the theater with my friend so that I could pay her a compliment.

"I really enjoyed your work. I thought you were really vulnerable," I told her.
"Gosh. Thanks a lot. Um . . . I'm April," she said.
"I know. . . You were so good."
"Thanks," she said, and looked down at the floor.

I said goodbye. And that, I thought, was the end of that.

A few weeks before Thanksgiving I attended another one of the company's productions. this time she had been given a very difficult and well-written monologue that she performed with a tremulous emotional fragility. After the curtain closed a friend of mine in the audience turned to me and commented on April's performance. We both agreed she had done something remarkable. Through the grapevine, someone in the company had heard that I had theater management experience, and they thought I might be helpful incorporating their group as a non-profit organization. Later that evening I had drinks with her and the cast, ostensibly to discuss business. April brought her boyfriend, and although I wanted to talk to her, I felt nervous and unable to hide my attraction. I didn't want to make her uncomfortable, so I sat apart from her during the evening's conversations. We exchanged phone numbers at the end of the night under the pretense that I would be a consultant on her theater company's further efforts to reorganize themselves. I did not expect to hear from her again.

Several months later, in late January, while I was visiting an ex-girlfriend in Los Angeles, April called me on my cell. I walked outside to take the call. She wanted to say hello, she said, and to tell me about a show that I could, unfortunately, not attend. It was difficult to make small talk with her. I felt pressure to keep the conversation dancing-better to keep it short than to suffer through any awkward silences. I was nervous when we spoke, the kind of nervous anxiousness that I rarely feel. I had little idea how she really felt about me and her voice beguiled me. She had a faint Long Island accent and a high baby-doll intonation like a boogie-woogie singer from the forties. There was a playfulness and succulence in her phrasing and her tone, and I felt a very specific physical response when I heard it: bubbles rose inside my brain.

During the next few months, she would occasionally call and leave a message. Sometimes, listening to her voice, I felt like something I had done, or something that had just happened to her, had made her laugh and think to call me. Even if she was just calling to say goodnight I could hear a subversive message in the patterns of her speech: as if we both shared a tremendous secret.

She moved to Los Angeles in February for pilot season and I tried to put her out of my mind. Even though we never had a real conversation in each other's presence, and had only brief phone conversations a half dozen or so times in six months of acquaintance, I had become deeply attracted to her. And then, one spring night, as I lay sleeping, she left a message on my voice mail:

"Hi Denver. It's April. I'm in New York. I'm downtown. It's eleven thirty I think. Kind of late. I thought maybe if you were up, you might want to come down here. Well, I hope you're having a good night. Give me a call sometime. I'll be here all week, doing a staged reading at MTC. Okay [a little hiccup of a laugh]. Good night. Bye."

I called her the next day. We met Saturday night at a bar on St. Marks Place. As we strolled to an Italian restaurant on Avenue C she grasped my hand. For perhaps a full city block our hands were clasped together, an act of intimacy that I have avoided with almost every woman in my life during my thirty-five years of existence. Suddenly feelings of savage pleasure were oozing forth, strafed with surprise, concern, paranoia - she still had a boyfriend, after all.

"I'm kind of drunk," she said with a giggle.

"Really?" I asked.

"Not really."

I let go of her hand. I was awed, surprised and confused at how she could be so physically impulsive.

The restaurant was packed and we were sat at a table in the back right by an open doorway. A freezing spring gale forced us to change tables mid-course. We couldn't escape it altogether. Our waiter barely showed up during the entire meal. I forked a piece of the mozzarella, tomato, and basil appetizer and she spread her lips and let me slip it in her mouth. Her leg touched mine. We talked about how we felt the first night we met. We took a cab to the upper east side. On the boardwalk along the east river we tried to stroll leisurely but were battered by the same freezing wind. Inside her apartment in the East nineties, on the thirty-fifth floor, we looked south out her living room window at the Manhattan skyline. The top of the Empire State Building was dark. This was odd, I thought. I couldn't remember ever not seeing its crown illuminated by seasonal or patriotic blues, reds, purples and yellows.

"That's a bad omen for us." I said with mock solemnity.

Later, on the doorstep of her apartment on the upper east side, I felt the frustration of not being able to kiss her on the lips while every other part of our bodies was in full contact.

It was far past midnight when I got off the subway in Union Square near my apartment. There was a message on my voice mail:

Hey Denver, it's April. Um . . . I just wanted to say good night and . . . I don't know . . . I just wanted to say good night, I guess. Um . . . so I hope you got home safe. Call me anytime, and thanks for taking me out [giggle]. Good night. Bye.

We were supposed to meet the following night at Junno's in the west village. I got to the bar an hour early and started bragging about her to Junno and a couple of acquaintances sitting next to me. Two hours passed and I got drunk on a beer and a couple of martinis. Just wait until you meet her, I said to Junno. At a quarter past eleven she called and said she wasn't coming. Her flight was early the next day, and she didn't think she could control herself if we met. She didn't want to cheat on her boyfriend. She said we'd talk later.

Weeks passed, then a month. I erased her number from my cell phone.


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