An Essay by Kira Smith
We don’t get far into the meeting about our relationship when I get the sensation that the aura of the banal tea shop where we are meeting is more sinister that I had anticipated. Your demeanor does not flicker with warmth, instead you approach the table where I am sitting with the steeliness of a lead investor at a board meeting with some tough calls to make. My grasp of the situation flounders and the floor falls away. Your talking to me slowly, like I am a toddler, but the sound in my ears is crackling paper and I can’t hear what you’re saying.
I was raised on the types of empty dreams that can only be fostered in the children of immigrant households. My family is Irish, but not like the Kennedy’s. More like second hand clothing for four generations and chickens in the backyard of a suburban house shared by thirteen barely-related relatives.
When I first saw the film Pretty Woman in the late 90’s I clung to it because the character played by Julia Roberts, Vivian, had lavish red curls that looked a little like mine and all the girls at school wore their hair stick straight like Britney Spears. Hours of dragging brushes through my tangled mop seemed to only produce more volume and fluff.
My first crush was on Richard Gere’s character, Edward. His hair was grey all over, but instead of making him look old it made him timeless. Vivian is a young sex worker who is hired by Edward, a ruthless business man, to be his escort to business functions. It all goes awry when they fall in love unexpectedly. Edward insults Vivian by suggesting she be a kept woman instead of fostering her independence. Upon realizing his mistake, Edward rushes to Vivian as she is leaving LA and confesses his mistake. We can assume they are rich and happy after that.
By the time I’m in my late 20’s I’ve been through many disappointments that I was poorly prepared for and am feeling like Vivian at her lowest point scrambling for rent, except I’m seven years older than Julia Roberts was when Pretty Woman came out in theatres. Tempering my expectations to protect myself has become a second nature. I toss PHD program rejection letters aside as if I had written them myself. When there’s 11 dollars in my bank account I sigh and say, “one more than expected”.
But right now, I am outside of the tea shop in south east Portland. Thirty years of disappointments are being pushed to the wayside and my expectations are getting dangerously unruly. In hindsight, I can contribute these wild forays into fantasy to Richard Gere rushing to Julia Roberts’ shoddy apartment and waving flowers at her fire escape from the sunroof of his limo yelling “Princess Vivian!”
There is a film of hot tears that I was too embarrassed to shed in front of all the tea shop patrons covering my eyes and I walk two blocks in the wrong direction. You haven’t chased after me yet, but I am sure you are just working up the courage over your soy latte. I remember that I parked three blocks away and I make it the there positive that I did not hear you shout my name behind me. I sit in the driver’s seat and start the engine without interruption. I am moving sluggishly because the communication lines between my limbs and my brain are faulty and because you’ve always been a slow runner.
I walk into my house and drop my things on the floor. There is the sound of tires on gravel outside but when my legs carry my body to the cracked window, I see my neighbor climbing out of his work van. I lock the door and walk to the bathroom to run a bath because baths are soothing. But then I walk out of the bathroom and unlock the door because I don’t have a fire escape and you might want to barge in and declare how wrong you were about everything and sweep my prone naked body out of the bathtub.
I squirm in the almost unbearable heat of the water, unable to relax or calm the fluctuations in my pulmonary muscles. I dump bath salts in the water, and they grind under my body, increasing my discomfort instead of soothing it. I dump in more rosemary scented granules and then more until I can taste the salt in the bath.
When the door finally opens it’s my roommate Hayley. Even though we are best friends I sneak by her up the stairs to my room because I don’t want to blow things out of proportion by talking about them
I’m laying in my bed, intermittently crying when I start to wonder whether you are waiting for me to call you. Vivian never had to do anything so desperate, she just put her long red hair in a scrunchie, pulled on a blazer, and climbed boldly towards a new life down her fire escape. Women never get to grovel in movies. But It’s 2019 and people of all gender identities should be able to be as pathetic as Richard Gere if they want to. When you answer the phone the flatness of your voice makes me feel stupid because mine is coming out in stabbing sharps, like if I am Richard Gere climbing a flight of rusty stairs despite my fear of heights then you are Julia Roberts closing the window in my terror-stricken face. I remember that the reason it is so important to curb our expectations is because hopes make us vulnerable to moments like these, drab uncaring voices, counterfeit aphorisms of sympathy, tokens of “I really care about you” that resonate with distracted emptiness.