She wasn’t like that when you were alone with her, but how often was I ever alone with her? At certain moments, maybe, when we were making love, for instance, that mask would slip and I would see behind to the frightened little girl, but these moments were so brief and before you knew it she’d be sighing and posing and pouting–in bed with you– but making love to the whole world.
I don’t exaggerate. It often felt that way, even in the bedroom, as though we had an audience, a camera and lighting man, a grip. An audience of men in suits who knew just how to light her, smoking and disinterestedly watching our love scene. Studying our technique for mistakes, no need to get excited, after all, they’d been with her too, long before I met her. Some of them claimed they had “discovered” her, whatever that means. She discovered herself, secret was she let you think you were discovering her.
So whatever I say you should take with a shovelful of salt because I knew her no better than she knew herself. And that was the problem. She really didn’t know how to behave in a way that did not give others pleasure. I’d see her, fallen asleep over a script, laying on the sofa, but it wasn’t the way you or I rest, tongues out, drool, and the lot. No, she was always perfect. I keep thinking it must have been very difficult to be that aware of oneself all the time. How do you sleep, how do you dream, when you are always aware of the impression you are making?
She said it’s what she wanted more than anything, the honest love of one man, but even then she wasn’t telling the whole truth. She could no more live for one person than she could ever be alone. And so a crowd followed us, even when it was just us alone in the house, kissing. I saw the circle of photographers around us, waiting for her to flash a smile, give them the money shot. Even when she was cooking, eggs for breakfast, as she liked to do, the only recipe she knew. I felt the pressure of eyes outside our window, gawking, waiting, wanting proof that she was human, just like them. Even if there was nobody outside our window because we had a gate that no one could get beyond, it never felt we were alone.
And this is nice for a while, for a man to feel that he is kissing the woman they all want to kiss, that he is making love to the one they all desire, but after a while it becomes really unsexy being an extra in your own life, the one they push past as you walk through the airport. “What’s she doing with him?” you hear them say, elbowing you out of the way, the nobody who is lost in the crush. And when you see the sexy, vulnerable, private smile that you thought was reserved for you, flashed for everyone, for strangers not even present but watching on the other side of the world. And you feel you might as well be on the other side of the world with them, for all you can’t get close to what she really thinks, what she really needs.
She would trade you for a half-filled auditorium in Duluth any day and not think twice about it because that’s the air she breathes now, the only way she knows how to be. You know and when you finally admit it to yourself, that’s when you file for divorce. And she’s shocked, but not really, because her star is going up and up, into the branches and you’re down there in the dirt, the roots that kept her grounded, but whom she doesn’t need anymore.
“Some people can live like that, flying from branch to branch, their feet never needing to touch the ground. Never realizing that their wings are tired until the wind is taken out from under them.”
That’s what she said the last time we spoke. She was calling from an airport shortly before boarding the plane, and I could hear her entourage around her. She was whispering because she was looking for some private place to talk but there was none.
I could hear she was trying to get back together, not by the words she used, by her pauses.
It was a bad signal, so I could hear her, but she could not hear me. But this was what, two, three weeks before she died? She never did sign the divorce papers so, in a way, I guess we will always be married.