There is a sitcom scene in my life that features your appearance:
My work friends – all women – and I are headed out of the office and toward our weekend, the long, gray hallway from our lobby to the elevator a gaggle of laughter and freedom and what-are-you-doing-tonights. At the end of the hallway, right at the glass doors that divide your main office entrance from the elevator vestibule, are you and a gigantic television camera hoisted on your broad shoulder.
Oh, shit. Is that thing on?
We each do what we normally do. One poses, the other catwalks, a few of us duck and hide behind the palm of our hands. (I am in that last category.)
Without coming out from behind the contraption, your deep, delicious voice confirms that of course, the camera is not on, and then you ask for permission to test it with us. The crowd is amenable. We move into the wider space on the other side of the glass doors, you press your buttons, and one of the less self-conscious, more-flirtatious ladies steps into the spotlight.
You ask a series random questions as you roll. It is clear to me that you are not engaged in anything in addition to testing your camera, even though my friend is giddy with your attention. With still no clear view of your face, we know that you’re roughly 6’2, have brown wavey hair, and can easily bear the weight of heavy machinery on your rather spectacular shoulder.
Someone has pushed the elevator button. But while we wait, you’re all business.
“What’s your name?”
“Where are you from?”
“Where do you work?”
My girlfriend’s eyes are positively sparkling. She cannot stop smiling her pretty smile. And she cannot help asking,
“What’s your name?”
And you respond, your mouth suddenly French, “My name is Jean Paul.”
The elevator arrives, but none of us move. Because French.
Did you notice the hormonal paralysis that day?
The moment set the stage for future encounters. Over and over, the girls would bump into you, try to engage you in conversation, in an occasional hello, and over and over, they would walk away with only polite, monosyllabic responses.
I don’t know what cliché I fall under when I say that your detachment, the fact that a group of beautiful, funny, smart women could not seem to move you one way or another, made you infinitely more appealing to me.
So imagine my surprise when one day, you’d run into me alone, and you’d actually stop for me. Imagine the thrill when you’d stepped away from your own front door to stroll down the hall alone with me, walk me to my front office door, and then make your lovely self comfortable against a wall for an extended chat with me.
It’s no small miracle that I managed any verbal coherence. In fact, I had to feign the need to go back to work, as my knees started to give my nervousness away.
G, Lord, The gray-blue eyes – weren’t they green that first time? – and that black turtleneck…
Do you remember what we chatted about? That our offices would soon be moving? Our little stroll had encouraged me, and I hoped for the spine to say something a little more, do something a little more, but all I could muster in that moment was to tell you that I hoped our new space would be a Manhattan miracle…a place with working windows.
Our paths crossed precious few more times, and I only barely managed to smile and keep moving. My courage slipped through my fingers each time I saw you. And then, before I knew it, time for more ran out and we were packing our file cabinets and heading for Madison Avenue. I figured it was done, my chances of seeing you had dwindled down to those New York City odds of one in four million.
The thought of you never left me, though. So months later, when I learned that your entire department was headed for a late meeting in our office conference room, I’d already gotten a card for you. I hadn’t planned on it. I didn’t even know where you were or how I would get it to you. But it had popped up during a visit to the stationary store. Blank on the inside, and on the outside, a dreamy shot of an open window, a curtain flowing in some unknown breeze.
Thinking of you and wishing you worlds of luck in your new office space.
I miss your handsome face in the hallways.
Of course, we have no windows.
It was a message that made a hundred assumptions. That you’d remembered me. That you’d remembered our conversation. That you knew my name at all, once you’d read my signature. But I didn’t feel compelled to explain myself. And now that an actual opportunity to give it to you had come up, I sealed it well, wrote your name on it, and then asked an office co-conspirator, one of the loveliest women I’ve known, to tuck it under the closed conference room door, where you’d see it once your meeting was over.
And then I hustled to get out of the office.
Had I had my way, you wouldn’t have seen me that evening. I was moving as fast as I could to avoid you, but my after-work walking buddy caught wind of the fact that you were there, and she proceeded slow me down.
“Wait! I have to go to the bathroom!”
“Wait! I have to change my shoes!”
And when we finally got down to the lobby, my heart in my throat, it was, “Wait! I left my wallet upstairs!”
And sure as hell, when she reappeared in the lobby, she’d ridden the elevator down with you.
I’m so sorry that I wanted to run. It’s what I do.
I was thunderstruck when you called my name out. That you’d connected my name with my face. And I held my breath as you reached me, leaned into my face for a kiss, and asked for permission to talk to me.
Thank you for that.
For asking my friend for some privacy as you walked with me.
For shushing me when I said you didn’t have to explain.
For holding your hand up, not allowing me to undermine my gesture, and for saying, “It was important, what you did, and I want you to know why I can’t reciprocate.”
For honoring my courage with your honesty, for explaining that you were engaged to someone, so that I wouldn’t have to wonder.
For stepping off the curb at the corner to face me, stand close, and deliver your words from a place that kept us at eye-to-now-honey-colored-eye level.
For walking with me some more, softening the edges around rejection with a short chat, before leaving.
And for that final French gesture, a pair of sweet kisses on either cheek.
The crossover was breathtaking. I can still feel the summer breeze of it.
It took blocks and blocks, days and days, to shake off the disappointment. To speak of it at all. The gallantry of it seemed singular to me. I’ve never known the likes of it since and maybe never will again. But to have known it once was magical.
Tu es en prince parmi les hommes, cher.
Leave a Reply