(Excerpt from Raking the Dust)
I see you decided to join me.
I didn’t want you to drink alone.
We sat at an empty table flanking the wall. The band was now playing a mournful ballad. Something about two lovers separated by war. I wondered how many lovers had been separated by war, and how many more would be.
D.J. had unzipped her sweat-jacket. She was wearing a T-shirt that bore the image of Audrey Hepburn as Holly Golightly.
You a fan, I pointed at the image.
D.J. lowered her eyes to where I had pointed.
Yes, she’s one of my heroes.
Audrey Hepburn or Holly Golightly?
D.J. considered my question. Then—Both I guess. But especially Holly Golightly.
Who are some of your other heroes?
D.J. reeled off a bunch of names, as if she had been waiting for someone to ask that exact question.
Nina Simone, Billie Holiday, Bert Williams, Louis Armstrong, Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, Martin Luther King, Jr., Adah Isaacs Menken, Louise Brooks, Mae West.
I recognized all the names except for Adah Isaacs Menken and asked D.J. who she was.
She was a 19th century actress, sex symbol, and poet who was . . . well she was modern before it became modern, if you know what I mean.
I think I do.
Also she was Creole. Same as me.
That comment paved the way for a crash course in D.J.’s history. She seemed to want to reveal as much as she could about herself in the shortest amount of time possible. It reminded me of someone spilling the contents of their handbag onto the table and saying—Here it is, everything I’m carrying.
Yet for every burst of information concerning herself, she made sure to pose a question, which allowed me to counter with personal information of my own. There was a ping-pong rhythm or tit-for-tat balance to the whole thing.
Over the next couple of hours we compressed our lives into annotated and selective biographies that we laid on the table, right next to our drinks.
That’s how D.J. came to know that I was: Thirty-three, recently divorced, father of a five-year-old daughter, presently unemployed, and had moved to Taos from New York seven years earlier.
And how I came to know that D.J. was: Twenty-five, born in Lafayette, Louisiana, had moved from Baton Rouge to Taos six months ago—was French, Haitian, and Antiguan on her mother’s side; Welsh and English on her father’s—and had two jobs: one as a cashier at a gas station, the other as a personal care attendant.
Yet what I found most intriguing were not the facts themselves that constituted D.J.’s stories, but the manner in which she had presented them. Her tone remained breezy and off-hand no matter what she was revealing: My favorite color is blue, my father shot and killed my mother when I was seven, I love to sing but have terrible stage fright.
I knew this sort of detachment well, and the illegitimate things to which it gives birth. An illusion of intimacy, without genuine feeling. A candor engineered to hide more than it revealed. Red herrings and Chinese whispers.
What I also knew: I was a sucker for other people’s absences. The less of D.J. there was, the deeper I could fall into her. And I sensed lots of falling-in room.