Excerpt: City of Light
I’m in Paris on a magazine assignment, which is exactly as great as it sounds. I eat dinner at a restaurant so fancy I have to keep resisting the urge to drop my fork just to see how fast someone will pick it up. I’m drinking cognac—the booze of kings and rap stars—and I love how the snifter sinks between the crooks of my fingers, amber liquid sloshing up the sides as I move it in a figure eight. Like swirling the ocean in the palm of my hand.
Somewhere near midnight, I tumble into a cab with my friend and the night starts to stutter and skip. She leans into me, the bundle of scarf around her face. It’s cold, and we are squished together on the vinyl seat, too lit to care about the intimacy of our limbs. The streets are a smear through the window. The taxi meter, a red blur. How did we get back so fast? A second ago, we were laughing in the cab. And now, I’m standing on the street alone.
I walk through the front door of my hotel, into the bright squint of the lobby. My heels clickety-clak across the whitestone. It’s that time of night when every floor has a banana peel, and if I’m not careful, I might find my face against the ground, my hands braced beside me, and I’ll have to explain to the concierge how clumsy and hilarious I am. So I walk with a vigilance I hope doesn’t show.
I exchange a few pleasantries with the concierge, a bit of theater to prove I’m not too drunk, and I’m proud of how steady my voice sounds. I don’t want him thinking I’m just another American girl wasted in Paris. The last thing I hear is my heels, steady as a metronome, echoing through the lobby. And then, there is nothing. Not a goddamn thing.
This happens to me sometimes. A curtain falling in the middle of the act, leaving minutes and sometimes hours in the dark. But anyone watching me wouldn’t notice. They’d simply see a woman on her way to somewhere else, with no idea her memory just snapped in half.
It’s possible you don’t know what I’m talking about. Maybe you’re a moderate drinker, who baby-sips two glasses of wine and leaves every party at a reasonable hour. Maybe you’re one of those lucky fellows who can slurp your whiskey all after- noon and never disappear into the drink. But if you’re like me, you know the thunderbolt of waking up to discover a blank space where pivotal scenes should be. My evenings come with trapdoors.
I don’t know how much time I lose in this darkness. Or what takes place. When the curtain lifts again, this is what I see.
There is a bed, and I’m on it. The lights are low. Sheets are wrapped around my ankles, soft and cool against my skin. I’m on top of a guy I’ve never seen before, and we’re having sex.
Hold on. Can this be right? I’m having sex with a man, and I’ve never seen him before. It’s like the universe dropped me into someone else’s body. Into someone else’s life. But I seem to be enjoying it. I’m making all the right sounds.
As the room comes into focus, my body completes its erotic pantomime. I collapse beside him and weave my legs through his. I wonder if I should be worried right now, but I’m not scared. I don’t mean to suggest I’m brave. I mean to suggest you could break a piece of plywood over my head, and I would smile, nod, and keep going.
The guy isn’t bad-looking. Slightly balding, but he has kind eyes. They glisten in the low light. And I think, whoever picked up this man, she did an OK job.
“You really know how to wear a guy out,” he says. I trace a knuckle down the side of his face. It seems unfair that he should know me, and I don’t know him, but I’m unsure of the etiquette. Excuse me, but who are you, and why are we fucking?
“I should go,” I tell him.
He gives an annoyed laugh. “You just said you wanted to stay.”
So I stay with the stranger in the shadows of a room I do not recognize, looking out onto a city that is not my home. The window stretches across the wall, and I stare at the twinkling lights. I smooth my hand along his chest. It seems like the polite thing to do. He strokes my hair, and brings my hand to his lips, and if anyone were watching us, we would look like two people in love.
A blackout is the untangling of a mystery. It’s detective work on your own life. A blackout is: What happened last night? Who are you, and why are we fucking?
As I lie in the crook of his arm, I have so many questions. But one is louder than the others. In literature, it’s the question that launches grand journeys, because heroes are often dropped into deep, dark jungles and forced to machete their way out. But for the blackout drinker, it’s the question that launches another shitty Saturday.
How did I get here?