[Part 2 of a fictional blog serial, told in 7 installments. Only some of it really happened, but all of it is true.]
She is not too tall.
What she is, is lovely: lithe, luminous, prettier than her photo, with mischievous eyes and an alluring smile. And the moment we take one good look at each other, something goes ping! and it's only natural that from the three quick cheek busses that are the European greeting standard, we move right into a fourth, more intimate kiss right on the lips--
But this is not what happens.
What happens is no ping, no lip-to-lipping, but instead, the usual mundane chin music, from how was your flight? to what amazing weather (and it's true, the sky is a shockingly bright, cloudless blue, apparently an anomaly for Amsterdam) and we go on like this, getting into a cab that will take us to my hotel to drop off the bag, as if we're just a couple of just-becoming-chums. As Michelle and I weave together the meager, fairly ephemeral threads of our barely months-old relationship, My Romance is silenced, wary, though it keeps sneaking peeks at the strip of taut lean belly that gleams between her belt and blouse.
The bag is deposited. We walk. It's oddly quiet at this early hour, I have the impression of a city still in bed after a night of partying. We cross bridge after bridge over gleaming canal waters, flat-topped houseboats gliding underneath us, the rows of tall, thin 18th Century dream houses leaning into cobblestoned streets and we're both enchanted, My Romance and me, as Michelle the practiced guide points out points of interest, quick and droll. It's all a bit unreal, the hushed, flower-dotted courtyard of the Begijnhof almshouse, former nun home, tucked behind a busy square filled with cafe tables.
I can't help thinking I'm in some kind of Dutch themepark, groggy as I am, when we pause on a more commercial street by the window of an Asian massuesery, caught by the foot massage sign. "Let's have one," she suggests, and we go in. Upstairs, stretched out in deep armchairs with our feet wrapped and soaking in hot wooden buckets, my guide and I have our heads kneaded and rapped by two Koreans, a woman for her, man for me, and I'm reminded of the North Korean Buddhist chant I've recently adopted as my traveler's mantra, reciting it silently, eyes closed:
I have arrived
I am here
I am now
I am home
I am free...
In Austin, Shellie could never remember the third phrase, so blocked as she was from being in the now in her life, that when I prompted her with "Not later, but..." she guessed "I am early?" At the Amsterdam foot doctor's I get about as far as being here before My Romance snaps me out of spirituality, crouched by my ear, whispering you could reach out and touch her from here. And my massuese finishes his job by leaning close over me and delivering some long strokes up legs to inner thigh that are "hello!" inappropriate. I remember that we are in close proximity to the red light district.
Back on our feet, out on the street, I'm aware that Michelle is perfectly accomodating, though (and maybe it's paranoia but even so) giving me no indications of... well, interest. And so I'm not entirely shocked, albeit kind of shattered, when she makes mention (funny, how this didn't come up in the e-mails) of the woman she lives with, and I realize: canals, windmills, dikes--
But this is not what happens.
Instead, just as I would have, in New York, indulged a tourist with a Circle Line tour, she takes us into the harbor on a Canal Cruise boat. And we talk of the husband she lost and my wife who left, soon surrounded by sailboats, schooners, tankers, a collision of centuries that rivals the 405 in traffic-jam intensity. The sun blazes mercilessly on our glass-topped corner as beer-bellied yacht owners and pirate ghosts float by.
She wants to know why I moved from NY to L.A. and I try to turn the twisted trajectory of my life into a coherent, credible synopsis but it's suddenly upon me, that awful sick feeling of jet-lag attack, I'm reeling in and out of sleep from second to second, my beautiful canals become sun-fried rings of Hell and I confess it, croaking "I'm toast" to my hostess before collapsing in a sweat-soaked heap on my seat.
Back on land, it's as if the very life has been bleached out of us both. What connection there might have been seems to have evaporated, judging from her air of one step-removed reserve. The three-kiss cheek thing feels awkward and perfunctory, I'm handed off to a cab and she's gone without a glance back, striding coolly into Centraal Station. Once up the impossibly steep and narrow stairs of my hotel, I stagger in the doorway, literally, as I behold a room that looks like a windowed broom closet.
And I know it's the jet-lag, and the unfairness of expectation, and who knows what tomorrow will bring, et cetera, but I'm feeling the alone-ness now, with a dread seeping realization that nothing really... happened with Michelle, ma belle, and "What the fuck was that?!" My Romance is saying, seriously pissed.
[to be continued]