Sometimes when R. doesn’t get enough sleep, or when she drinks too much, she becomes another person. As in, a totally different person comes out from inside of R and takes over. A switch flips inside her brain and all the primitive energy and meanness she didn’t know she had — her id — comes surging to the surface. She talks to strangers, she goes with people to their houses, she makes critical comments she wouldn’t normally think to make. She gets mesmerized by the strangest things, like flickering streetlights and filthy bathrooms. And then she wakes up the next day in strange places and she’s horrified at herself. She is scared of this other person that lives inside her.
Last night it happened when she was talking with her lover, X. R met X when she moved to Paris a year ago and got a job bartending in the Avenue de Laumière. X was working there too, and he flirted with R, and teased her because she was shy. Eventually he left the job because he was making more money as a DJ, and R left because she was bored and she didn’t like the boss, who made her nervous. But she remained friendly with X, and she often went to X’s apartment to eat dinner and watch movies.
At first she was too shy to eat very much food in front of him, so she drank too much instead. After a while, though, she got more comfortable. X liked to smoke joints, and R didn’t always, but sometimes she did. One day they made love and afterwards they sat cross-legged on the bed, facing each other. They agreed that it had been astounding and unusually cerebral sex. They got in the habit of staying in the apartment for days, playing video games and lying around. Because X was a DJ he had a lot of electronics and high quality speakers in his room. He liked to turn the bass way up until the air seemed to vibrate, and they would make love on the floor for hours.
They almost never went out. R thought X’s friends were idiots and thugs, and she sometimes made fun of them in English. X understood English very well because he liked films and he watched a lot of movies, but his friends did not. R was glad she could speak freely in English with X, because she sometimes struggled with French, or found French to be inadequate for the exact sentiment she wanted to express. But she didn’t mind speaking French with his friends. Once, walking home from a party, X told her that her sense of humor in French was strange. Subtle and very strange, he said.
He also said he could sense R opening herself up to him, but that she shouldn’t do that. Because being too open was a dangerous thing. He said that he liked R a lot, and he enjoyed ordering in Chinese food and laughing at presidential candidates with her, but it was better not to fall in love. He had his life, and she had hers, and mixing certain elements was just too messy and complicated.
R has a history of falling in love with men who say things like this. For example, before moving to Paris she had been in love with B, who had been in love with women in general, and who thought of himself as something of a Casanova, although he’d also sometimes secretly despised himself, which R did not find as true about X. In any case, what X said dragged a lot of bad feelings into the air. R didn’t know how to be intimate but not too intimate. All she wanted was for things to keep on going the way they were, and X said yes exactly, that was what he wanted too. But then R thought about it, and she said she should probably go.
R didn’t talk to X for almost a month. By this time she was doing translation work for a small literary magazine and teaching English. An old friend of hers from college came to Paris and they had a good time. They took a trip to Barcelona and had a great time. They had a whole string of excellent adventures in Spain that would take too long to describe here, but suffice it to say their old state school would be proud of how they represented, and they were more or less drunk on sangria the entire time. Barcelona is a beautiful city, and R called X one night to tell him she was thinking about him and he seemed happy to hear from her.
The next day she regretted the phone call, but when she went back to Paris they slowly started to talk again. Facebook is a terrible instigator when it comes to unhealthy relationships, by the way. X kept “liking” all of R’s pictures and “inviting” her to events. They “chatted” about Barcelona, and his dad, and other trivial things. They talked about having dinner together, but then R hesitated and postponed it. She saw on X’s page that another girl was flirting with him, so R convinced herself that she didn’t want to see him after all.
R discovered another reason why facebook is cruel: it was always flashing pictures at her of this very pretty other girl. This girl looked funny and smart, but also sloppy and a little like she was drunk all the time. She looked very similar to R herself. This was only logical, R realized with morbid fascination. If she had a type, and she clearly did, then she must also be a type, and it didn’t take a very intelligent person to put two and two together here.
After several days of hesitating, R finally met X at a bar. They sat on the terrace side by side, facing the street. X was wearing sweatpants and baskets because he’d just come from the gym, where he was practicing boxing. He also had a black eye, because he wasn’t really a very good boxer yet. R said she was thinking of moving to a poor neighborhood at the edge of Paris because she didn’t have any money, and X said he was thinking of moving back in with his dad because he didn’t have any money. X had lived with his dad when R first met him, and she had been struck by how alike the two men were, both bachelors who sort of drifted from job to job, except X’s dad had bad teeth. They acted more like roommates than father and son, which R had found amusing.
She thought to herself about what it would be like to live with X, and instantly knew that it would be terrible. They had a good conversation anyway, and laughed a lot. R was only a little nervous and she drank only two glasses of wine. After a while they went to restaurant, but R was too nervous to eat in front of X, and she smoked cigarettes while her food got cold and she drank a gin fizz. They went to another bar, and then to his place, and that was when she went crazy.
It was incredible. All of a sudden that hidden switch in her brain flipped, and she went careening out of control. She launched into a lunatic rant against him, criticizing his lifestyle, his ego, his trash friends — and not the least incredible part was that she made the whole speech in French. She didn’t even know her French was so fluent, but at that moment it was like she’d forgotten English. So they fought in French, and he said she was only attacking him because she wanted attention, and that he never lied to her about anything. R was flapping around the apartment like a deranged ostrich, and they were both chain-smoking cigarettes. X said, “Why are you talking at me like this?” And R said, “I don’t know!”
Later, her memories of the argument would come back in rips and gashes, but she remembers distinctly a feeling of perverse exhilaration, like she was twisting a knife in both of them. She even threw a glass on the floor and stomped on it in her high heels. She tried to throw his expensive headphones out the window, but he stopped her. They wrestled and fell on the ground. Then they had what she would describe later as the weirdest sex of her life. The room became like a pulsing fish tank, and she thought she was drowning in music. Afterwards, X put his arm around her and pretended to miaou like a cat to make her happy again. But it only made her sad.
They slept until four in the afternoon the next day, and then she went home. She de-friended him on facebook, and was lost in a cloud of distraction all day. She kept bumping into people on the street. She wished that she could scream loud enough to make him love her back, but that didn’t make any sense. She was supposed to be smarter than this. She had been accepted to a good grad school in Paris, and she guessed she would move back to the United States one day and be a professor. Professors don’t fall in love with bartenders.
R was terrified of always playing the part of the miserable clown, of constantly embarrassing herself for the sake of other people’s amusement. And she was astonished at herself for having been so uninhibited and primitive. Men were often attracted to her for sex and for friendship, but never for mature companionship and maybe this was her own fault. Because secretly she hated herself so much she was probably mean to the people who did love her. She unknowingly invited attention from egoists, and married men, and men with girlfriends, and sadists. They could probably smell her self-loathing on her skin, like a sex pheromone.
So she lay on her bed and watched the late afternoon sun creep across the wall, waiting for some sort of revelation, because she felt a revelation was coming. Various other thoughts came but none of them seemed much like a revelation. She told herself that it was the larger doubts in her life that were disturbing her, not just X. Taking a break from drinking would help. She thought that she would probably come out okay in the end, and her life would not always be lonely. Then she looked at the cat, who had spread itself against the length of the windowsill, and she thought that no, this was not the revelation she was waiting for either.