One of my goals this week was to write a page of my Beijing Memoir. Just one single, innocuous page to get things started. Well, it turned into about 1000 words.
And to prove I did it, here it is, with only one blitzkrieg revision from its original rough Morning Pages appearance. This bit, at least, is safe.
Experiences like this don’t really happen. In movies, yes, or perhaps in a novel. They happen in view of an audience seeking escapist adventure and a few thrills. But they don’t happen in real life, not to real people. Except they apparently do.
It started off simply enough. A friend was throwing a party, and the guest list was truly global: Brazilians in football jerseys, long-limbed blondes from Scandanavia, angular Germans with postmodern glasses. Not a single other American, which was both refreshing and intimidating. Near midnight, just as I was beginning to consider my goodbyes, she called me over. “Another American has arrived,” she said. That was all she said; that was all it took.
At the beginning, we talked about the simple things two twenty-somethings of the opposite sex talk about when they are introduced. Where we were from, what brought us to Beijing, hobbies. It turned out that he loved rock-climbing, and had already been in China for a year. We talked for the next few hours, and when the party ended a group walked out together that included the two of us. As I turned to head off in the direction of sleep, he said, “You’re leaving? Oh - too bad,” or something similarly unmemorable. But I do remember the look in his eyes, a phosphorescent spark that lashed out and shocked us both with its silent intensity. That is how it began, with a chemical reaction. A gut feeling too powerful to ignore. A few hours spent connecting over the inanely unfascinating details of our lives. In other words, it began the same way as any other new relationship does: lustfully.
A few days later, while on a trip Shanghai, an e-mail came through. “It was really cozy getting to know you,” he wrote. “There is a black-tie ball coming up next weekend, and I wonder if you would go as my date.” I craved it - the glamour, the drama. On my third weekend in Beijing, there I would be in a long black one-shouldered dress with sparkly chandelier earrings and sky-high satin sandals, attending a formal event with a diplomat who carried his own car, his own tux, and his own climbing rope when he traveled. “I have a boyfriend, you know. As long as you don’t mind…”
It didn’t matter. He picked me up an hour before the ball, handing me a bouquet of stargazer lilies as soon as I stepped up into the jeep he drove. He hadn’t tied his tie yet - hadn’t even chosen it, given the options of a perky Chinese-made bow tie that looked like shrimp dumpling for all its myriad folds, and a regular black silk number. “I always think a man’s tie should point towards his genitals, not towards his ears,” he drawled, and the choice was made. He tossed the little cloth dumpling into the backseat, forgotten until months later when I would go searching through the car for a lost earring and rediscover it together with an -----------------.
Even in flats I was slightly taller than he was, so we made a striking contrast as we strolled through the glitzy mall to the hotel lobby. He was short, stocky, unsmiling, and utterly commanding and charismatic. I was tall, elegant, cool to the touch but burning up inside with the thrill of it all. As we moved through the crowded lobby, I hesitated for a moment, searching for a path through the throngs of people in black jackets, embroidered silk, flowing satin. He placed his hand on the small of my back and propelled me forward possessively toward our table. With just that one touch, I was a lost cause.
The dinner was forgettable, the company around the table largely the same. But the end of the ball was not. Most of the guests had already left, and only a few remained in the seats and on the dancefloor as all the Chinese ballroom staff staff began to line the walls after midnight, waiting and watching, anxious for the final partygoers to leave so they could clean up and head home themselves. Two by two the others gathered up their crumpled programs and goody bags and drifted out, leaving us alone on the dancefloor with three hundred pairs of Chinese eyes shining at us from the walls of the ballroom.
The colored lights spun overhead, blue, pink and silver, spotting the floor with opals and sprinkling our shoulders with fireworks. We pressed against each other and revolved slowly at the center of the dancefloor, becoming the center of a fountain of colored sparks as the lights moved above us. It was, to use the cliché, magical. It was just like in a movie, which probably should have been my first clue that things were not the same in reality.
We went out afterward to some salsa club, buzzed on the lust in each others’ sweat. I could tell you that the chemistry was intense, because it was, and that the pulsating music plus the fact that this was a guy who actually danced completed the seduction. But we didn’t sleep together that night, didn’t even kiss.
That is how it began.