Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Young, Foolish and Willing

When I was young and foolish and living the life of an eternally hopeful yet poor actor in New York City, I did an independent film in which I played the best friend, the snarky bitch.  Go figure.  The experience was exciting and I enjoyed every moment of it the way you enjoy riding your bike before you learn how to drive.  That our crew consisted of three and a half people didn't faze me a bit.  The cinematographer was a recovering drunk who would never recover memories of the dozens of 'Dead shows he followed.  There was a PA I don't remember much about, save for his severe case of dandruff and habit of running outside at every chance to grab a smoke.   The half crew member was a makeup artist who appeared on set the first day, never to be seen again.  But the director/actor/writer/composer/producer was a fella who'd go on to bigger, better things after the film wrapped... me.

It started so sweetly... doesn't everything, when you're young and foolish and enjoying the intoxication of summer?  We'd meet in Central Park and sit watching the eclectic mix go by.  We talked about everything those days.  Will was a staunch conservative in the soul of an artist.  I was smart, Will was brilliant.  I was creative, Will was a creative genius.  I wore red thong panties - Will was both repulsed and drawn in by that.  I think my liberal, creative sloppiness came so easily to me that Will was in awe of it.  He came from a wealthy, conservative family holding more shares of the New York Stock Exchange than I had socks in my drawer.  (And trust me, I never did laundry back then.  An abundance of undergarments was compulsory.)

One night a couple of months into our friendship we were hanging out at his apartment late, laying on opposite ends of the couch while Will did the one thing more certain to cause me to drop my pants than a four-course meal at a five-star restaurant: he rubbed my feet within an inch of reason.  Thoroughly relaxed and not wanting to tangle with the MTA at that hour of the night for my trek home, I happily accepted his offer to crash at his place.

The freedoms of singlehood.  Ahh...

So to bed we went, chatting and laughing and laughing some more.  At this point the scene took on a cinematic quality:

Scene: Interior, bedroom.  Man and woman lay together in bed, lit only by street light creeping in through the shudders.  Woman rolls her head back in laughter.  Man strokes her cheek gently, and unexpectedly leans in and...

...and he kissed me.  I couldn't have been more surprised if Hillary Rodham Clinton had jumped out of the closet at that moment and told us she was going to run for president.  I was so surprised; I had become such good friends with him that I didn't stop and think about being more.  And then it happened.

The rest of that evening is a blur, though I remember Will taking great pleasure over the years in reminding me that my talents as a flautist that night [Editor's note: January was not playing the flute] caused him to cry out for Jesus, something that hadn't happened before or since.  What followed that night were several weeks of dating and deep feelings on my end... and then he left.  Will had been planning all along to move out of New York, and as the summer rolled to an end, so did our affair.  A promised visit planned for a few months later disappeared and in time it was clear Will had moved on, both literally and figuratively.

The years that followed held several Will reunions, usually when he was back in the city tending to business; the once creative dreamer had now grown into the man destined to chair the board at his father's company.  Gone were the stories we'd share about hockey and jazz and theater and Ireland.  Now when he visited I noticed an uneasiness about him, a forced seriousness.  His business suits expressed it best: they were ill fitting, hanging too long at the wrists and loose at the waist.  For all the money he had, you'd think he'd have found a good tailor.  And his kisses, something I once adored and melted into, had become sterile and boring.  He was no longer the cheeky free spirit I had brought to the Lord that night those years before and our relationship began a descent that hit bottom almost five years ago.  Newly transplanted in Los Angeles, I was making a trip back to NYC and we planned to rendezvous in the city for a few days.  He bailed out on me at the last minute, offering no apology or explanation.  I never saw him again.  I did hear from him for several more years...  He liked to keep me abreast of his successes from afar.  I got an invitation to an event (3,000 miles away) at which he was being honored.  Then one day a package arrived, inside which I found an autographed copy of the book he'd just published.  "To January, with whom I had the deepest religious experience of my life.  Forever yours, Will."

Forever mine?  Really, Will?  When were you ever mine?  Oh please, William, get on with it.  Must you really keep bringing up that night?  For the record, I distinctly remember you sounding like the little boy soloist in Lloyd Webber's Pie Jesu.  Every time you bring up the specifics you minimize what the experience was for me: magical.  I fell into you hard, deep and fast.  You may have been not have been but I, I was willing.

So it's been years since I've been in touch with Will.  I moved from the address he used to have.  I haven't heard from him... but still, I think of him from time to time.  And I might admit to the occasional cyber-stalk.  Just a little.  I mean, he's easy to find.  He's now a regular on political talk shows and also writes a viewpoint column for a major newspaper.  He still looks like he's wearing his father's suit.  But today I had the grand idea to search on Twitter, and lo and behold - there he was.  He has both a regular account and a fictionalized one for the book he wrote those years ago.  And in the latter I found... my Will.  He posts pictures of himself with his dogs... in his home... smiling, relaxed, in his bathrobe for God's sake.  It's almost enough to make me want to reach out to him.

Almost.  Really, really I don't want to hear about Jesus anymore.  I'm no longer willing.

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