I didn't think anything was capable of distracting me from a third row center court view of Maria Sharapova’s legs. So it was much to my surprise when I found myself paying little attention to her match against Serena Williams, who I also don't mind watching run about. What mesmerized me instead for the near three hours their contest took up were the gams and everything northward on the woman seated beside me. She possessed the tranquil beauty one usually associates with women who accompany middle aged celebrities to televised award shows to make them even more enviable. Her skin was the color a brand new penny, but worth considerably more to my appreciative eyes. Her attire subtly hinted at the extravagance of what she had to offer. She had a regal bearing, remindful of a tanner Princess Di as she watched the green ball whiz back and forth.
We played the game that people play, sneaking peeks when the other wasn't supposed to notice, graduating to eye contact of increasing duration, eventually accompanied by a smile, a hi, small talk about the match, then about anything that would keep the conversation going. By mid-third set I was bold enough to inquire what her plans were after the match. Her schedule was tied up by her companion one seat over, an absolutely hideous woman who greeted me upon introduction as if meeting a leper. They had probably been friends since high school, for my recollection of that period is of the prettiest girl's best friend always being among the ugliest, and having the worst attitude problems to boot. What caused this I never did figure out, though I do have a few theories which I won't bore you with.
I had to settle for exchanging phone numbers. Raven's business card informed me that she was a lawyer, and her aura suggested she was a high profile one. My friend Jamal would have termed her a first class lay, but I know from experience that bank accounts and social status neither improve nor detract from the quality of sex.
It was a bit tricky arranging to get together. Raven seemed to have prior obligations for every minute of her life. After two and a half weeks of phone tag and tentative engagements which never panned out, we managed to meet one Thursday night for a late dinner. The period of anticipation had heightened my already substantial interest in her, as well as given me time to rehearse my intended spiel. I suspected that she may be more expert at detecting bullshit than the average woman, so prepared to be at the top of my game. Time was obviously a valuable commodity to her, so it was imperative that I make what little I had count.
I entertained her with anecdotes about my life as a Navy pilot who braved the dangers of Desert Storm, went on to be a real live cowboy on a cattle ranch in Montana, and then secured a life lasting fortune by patenting a software program later sold to Bill Gates. It's amazing what you can convince a person of due simply to having varied acquaintances, being a good listener, spending a few hours reading, and possessing the ability to lie with absolutely no compunction. Give enough obscure details and they'll take you at your word every time. It wouldn't require much probing to expose my fabrications. But no one ever calls me on this stuff. You can only sell folks what they want to buy, whether they are aware of the desire or not.
Raven told me about her experiences as a corporate lawyer, of which I took note so as to include the profession in my cast of characters. This is what I do. I use the lives of others to create ones for myself. What would you prefer, that I tell the truth? Why subject others to the tedious facts of my existence? I want to entertain and be entertained. Truth would only spoil things.
But it would make me a better person, is that what you're thinking? Better than what? What crime am I committing? Who's getting hurt? Some feelings and egos may suffer damage on account of my actions, but neither are made of glass. Your problem is that you have a preconceived notion of what to expect from a confession. “Where's the remorse?” you ask. And where is the Freudian interpretation of my actions? You want me to proclaim that I do what I do because I miss my father or want to fuck my mother. I recall some childhood trauma and everything is neatly explained and justified. There has to be a rational explanation for how the monster was created, so you won't have to fear becoming one yourself.
Who gave you the right to judge me? The only difference between us is that you merely wish, I do. You stubbornly persist that love is the answer but have no idea what the question is. You're so smug about knowing who you are, but what does that accomplish other than keeping you from seeking a better self? Why be grateful for being fairly certain what tomorrow will bring? That’s only because you plan to live it exactly as you did yesterday and today. Not exactly a great accomplishment, merely re-treading what you have mastered rather than venturing to explore new territories. And what's so tragic about dying alone? Is there really any other way?
Stop looking for deeper truths. Sometimes people take or give simply because they want to gain or lose something. That's it. The big mystery has been solved. I'm not suppressing any inner demons. I am sampling life. I do not run away because there is something I don't want others to know. My feet stay in motion because if I stop in one place I will take on a definition, and once I'm defined, that's all I can be. Love means selecting a decorative prison. I prefer to be out in the cold, with the option of changing my scenery at will. If that makes me an asshole in your opinion, I can live with the label. But if I'm missing out on something, I at least know what it is. Can you say the same? Can you live with that?
As the evening progressed, Raven went from telling me what she is to who she is. She had been married, but it only lasted eight months. The marriage had been one ongoing argument which started shortly after the honeymoon. Its cause was Raven's dedication to work, which her husband felt took precedence over everything, including him. He longed for a more traditional wife, one who would make him the center of her world. Not that he ever admitted this. He just came up with one thing after another to complain about, until he found something big enough to create an ultimatum from.
"We had barely discussed having children before we got married. Now suddenly it was his number one priority. I was just beginning to make my mark at the firm, I was finally being assigned to the bigger cases. It was the absolute worst time to put my career on hold to have a baby. Richard wanted to know exactly when the right time would be. A fair question, I suppose. He didn't want to have his first kid when he was in his forties. He thought I was being selfish. I couldn't deny what he claimed and I didn't have any definite answers. None he wanted to hear anyway."
I looked sympathetic and held her hand. This was pretty heavy stuff for a first date. Usually it took a person considerably more time or alcohol to reach such a high level of intimacy. But Raven had less time to budget than most.
"My parents raised me to always strive for the best, and that's what I've done. But they didn't tell me how much I would have to sacrifice. At first it was just trivial things. I didn't get to go to parties and goof around with friends as much as other people. There was always something more important to take care of. But the things I’m missing out on have been getting a lot bigger lately. Richard and I could've had a good life together. I would love to be a mother someday. It seems I'm screwed no matter what. I can't be happy unless I'm the best, but to be the best I have to forfeit happiness."
"You just need to find a man who understands that you have things to take care of other than his ego. That might be harder than it should be, but not impossible. You may even have already met him."
You're probably thinking that I'm going in for the kill at this point, and you're right. But I was being honest as well. Raven and I really would have been good for each other. She was looking for someone with enough flexibility to fit into her consuming and unpredictable schedule without taking the lack of quality time personally. My perfect match would be a woman with enough going on of her own not to crowd me. Neither of us would have been the most important thing to the other, so the odds of either of us hurting the other were greatly diminished.
So why didn't I pursue a relationship with Raven? For the reason you'd least suspect. Because when all is said and done, I'm as much of a romantic as anyone else. I want to be the center of a woman's world, and I want a woman who can be the center of mine. The rub was that such a woman I had never encountered, and was not sure actually existed. I had thrown away many a good thing, but would never discard greatness. I've always known that if I ever managed to begin a masterpiece, I would give everything I had to complete it. Along with this knowledge comes the realization that I'll likely be buried in a coffin filled with first chapters, my death mourned by many, but no one particularly significant.
Raven had no discernible flaws. For a million dollars I couldn't tell you what ingredient was missing, or what was present that I didn't want. I only knew what I always know. I wanted Raven as much as I could want anything. And once my passion was spent, I would yearn to an equal degree for her to be gone.
I told Raven she was an incredible woman who must have married a fool, for as much as I understood wanting all of her attention, it made no sense to opt for none of it. Then I said that I had been to exotic places and seen many beautiful things, but none more lovely than her. In her eyes I saw belief that perhaps I was the one she could finally balance love and being the best with. Shortly thereafter, her body echoed the sentiments.
Raven wanted to meet for lunch the next day, but I already had plans. I told her I was meeting a literary agent for lunch who was interested in representing the autobiography I was working on. In fact I was having lunch with Antoinette, a breathtaking French woman I had met the week before. She spoke little English and I even less of her language, but no matter, for a great deal of conversing wasn't what I had in mind, and most of the words I had to say to her were too naughty to be found in the French-English dictionary I was carrying around. As I was reaching over to nibble on Antoinette's ear lobe, I noticed a woman staring at and then heading towards me. A woman who looked real pissed off. A woman I hoped was Raven's twin sister, but knew I wasn't lucky enough to be getting off that easy.
"You son of a bitch," she hissed.
"It looks like you're a fucking asshole," Raven said, no longer bothering to keep her voice down. Since she obviously had no intention of being civilized about this, I chose to follow suit.
"Then I guess it is what it looks like." My cavalier wit was not appreciated. A sweep of Raven's hand later, I was wearing my meal.
"Nobody treats me like a whore or a fool." She was with business associates but far too angry to be discreet. "You're a worthless piece of shit, Michael. Was anything you said true? Was any of it real? Did it mean a damn thing to you?"
I know the point of no return when it's reached, so gave not a second's thought to returning. I simply shook my head to indicate a negative response to her query. An apology was deserved, but the way I saw it, my dry cleaning bill and public embarrassment equaled her wounded pride.
Raven finally remembered who she was with, where she was at, and why she was there. She uttered regrets to her colleagues, who seemed as embarrassed for her as she was for herself, then herded them out of the restaurant at a brisk pace. At the door she stopped to deliver one last evil eye, accompanied by an extended middle finger. I noticed this as I was rubbing Antoinette's thigh and looking up the words to apologize for the rude interruption.