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 French Panties

 

“No!” she yelled from the toilet in the other room, “The answer is no!  I will not marry you!”  I marched toward her voice emanating from the bathroom to find her pulling up her underwear.  I grabbed her around the waist, hoisted her flailing body over my shoulder, kicked open the hotel room door and tossed her into the hallway, yanking the door shut behind her.

Immediately snapping back to consciousness from my reactive robotic behavior, I flung open the door to reverse the damage, but it was too late.  Cleo had disappeared in a pair of French panties barely covering her tiny ass, half a tank top, and no bra.  Where does a woman go, with no friends or money, practically naked and all alone in Paris?  The answer came quickly.  Anywhere she wanted.

I paced the room, recounting my actions over the past three-months that led to this climactic and passionate moment derivative of French cinema.  Obviously, Parisian ghosts inhabited our hotel room, determined to reenact their fiercest moments through the possession of two unsuspecting lovers.  That was why our actions felt pre-ordained.  The first two nights in the room we stayed awake all night, fucking as if we would never get another chance, the third night I asked her to marry me.  It’s not as random as it sounds.

As a child, I was never that girl who fantasized endlessly about marriage to the perfect person.  I never imagined walking down the aisle in a dress, much less a tux.  My parents divorced when I was nine carving a negative groove deep in my relational neural-pathways and eroding any possible interest I might have developed for the institution.  I grew up believing it was a societal construct that created more expectations than solutions.  Not only did I envision it leaving a trail of broken promises, households, hearts and savings accounts, I couldn’t help picturing myself meeting the fate of Miss Havisham, subsisting entirely on cobwebs and cake fumes for all eternity.

It appeared as if my lack of belief in marriage would never change.  Until one day, a simple thought entered my mind.  “What if I got married?”  For one brief instant, I allowed myself to actually believe that something as flimsy as a marriage certificate would finally and eternally solidify a mate-for-life scenario for me.  My relationship with Cleo had softened me to indulging in the fantasy of marriage.  I’d see a flower arrangement and imagine it swinging from a giant copper dish in the middle of a dramatically lit gothic space primed for my own wedding.  I started attaching her first name to mine, mine to hers, our middles, everything attached.  I was having, what I imagined as a mid-life lesbian wedding crisis.

I’m old fashioned.  At age five when I moved in on a girl for my first kiss, I held her tightly in my arms, dipped her backward and kissed her sweetly on the lips.  Surprised by the emptiness of the experience I repeated the kiss two more times with slight variations.  I concluded that either I wasn’t yet old enough to feel the kiss deeply in my loins as I had wished, or the kiss fell flat simply because the girl was the easy neighbor with bad hair who lived across the street, and not the perfectly quaffed unattainable girl I was hopelessly pining for who lived next door.

A ring, I thought.  If I were to marry this woman possessing the fairy dust remnants of the ‘unattainable-girl-next-door’ qualities, I would need a proper ring, and the perfect backdrop to accompany the experience.  Everything began to revolve around the ring.  I wanted to get three rings that would fit together, yet could also function individually.  I looked at stackable rings for weeks but each time I couldn’t find a grouping of three that would layer in natural unison.  On one peculiarly overcast day in July, I found the stacking rings that fit as if they’d been born to join.  I had no intension of giving her the rings anytime soon.  I am methodical and relish the meticulous and intricate planning of romantic events.  I would hide the rings and wait.

Cleo, in her predictable psychic paranoia texted me instantaneously, requesting I meet her for lunch a few blocks away.  Flying on ring electricity, I agreed.

When I arrived at the counter of Axe, Cleo was seated and reading the restaurant menu.  As I approached she looked up and said, “What’s going on?”

“What do you mean?”  I responded, unsure of how to hide what was so obviously different about me.

“You look guilty.  What’s up?”  She pulled out my seat, instructing me to sit like a kid caught running by the pool.

“Nothing.”  I said, trying to be casual, “I’m starving.  Let’s eat.”

We managed to order some food when the server came, but Cleo wouldn’t stop examining me.  Apparently I had changed.  I was a real-boy now but with a wooden nose growing longer by the second.  She squinted, tilting her head sideways to get a better glance at my soul.  I’m a terrible liar, and when I’m telling the truth people think I’m lying anyway.

“Can we go outside?”  I asked Cleo, having reached my breaking point.

“Yes.”  She said, sensing urgency.

She followed me outside to Axe’s garden area.  I scanned the perimeter, a lone woman sat in a prime spot by some fruit trees reading a book.  The only other private area was a coarsely graveled pathway hidden by rosemary bushes and a herb garden.  Perfect, I thought, grasping Cleo ’s hand and leading her to the center of the path.  I dropped to one knee on the chunky decomposed granite, sending chards of gravel into my skin.

This was not a stage performance, but it felt like opening night without any rehearsal.  There was an awkward dichotomy between the formality of my actions and my fitness attire.  I held my hand aloft as I offered up the magnetically locking box.  In my haste I forgot to open it so she could view the contents.  “Cleo Harwood,” I stated her name flatly, “Will you marry me?”

Cleo stood frozen, yet drifting through space like an untethered astronaut.  It was as if she had waited her whole life for that moment, but never imagined it would be orated by a woman.  She floated in front of me, fumbling with the box, grasping at how to proceed.  I stayed crouched on my knee, now conscious of the foreign granules lacerating my kneecaps.  A puddle of blood welled up on the ground beneath me.  She removed the three rings and slid them on her wedding ring finger while stammering, “ . . . I wasn’t expecting, . . . wow.  They’re really beautiful.”

I could Intuit that she was completely miffed on how to respond.  I had to rescue us both from the awkwardness, the indecision, and the demonstrative homosexual marriage proposal in an open patio.

“You don’t have to answer now,” I offered.  “Maybe we should eat instead.”  I said, channeling a Woody Allen monologue.

“Where did you get them?”  Cleo asked, trying miserably to shift the mood to a safer subject.  “Are you for real?”

I got off my knee and tried to brush the blood away so she wouldn’t notice and it wouldn’t hurt.  I took her by the arm and we walked back to our counter seats inside.  We sat down, cheeks doused in embarrassment.  Cleo twisted the rings on her finger as we ate lunch.

“So, now we can digest our food,” I imagined Woody Allen’s voice saying in Annie Hall.

Over the course of the next few weeks, Cleo would drop hints that I should ask her again, that she was taken off guard and could improve her performance.  She even insinuated she would give me back the rings and the super cool magnet box so that I could ask her again, as if I hadn’t yet.

I planned on asking her again from the moment she didn’t answer me the first time.  Next time, I imagined could be the culmination of all the date nights that had come before, but with a depth and sensitivity that would allude to a deeper future, not just a night of sex.

I looked for another ring.  I couldn’t give her those same stackable rings.  I found an even better ring.  If the stackable rings said, “We are many things, but we can pull it together.”  This new simple reclaimed gold ring with five diamonds said, “We’ve pulled it together.  We’re solid.”  I placed the ring in an identical magnetic box that would fool her when the time came.

I called our favorite restaurant and spoke to the owner about letting me use their adjoining restaurant for the quintessential proposal spot.  Cora’s consists primarily of an outdoor patio surrounded by trellis vines, heat lamps and decorative hanging lights.  I knew it would require minimal preparation to transform it into an enchanted space lacking only violins and butterflies.

After closing at Cora’s, I whirled through the venue, giddily tossing handfuls of white rose petals, placing candles, and dangling strings of lights throughout.  I positioned a bouquet of long stem red roses in a vase along side tall candles at a tiny table.  I set a small cluster of speakers plugged into my Ipod next to the flowers with “our song” cued up.

I picked Cleo up with in a Town-car.  She was dressed impeccably for a semi-formal occasion as instructed.  I rarely tell her where we’re going.  So much of life feels anticipated, forced or obligatory.  Creating a mystery can, temporarily at least, stave off the mundane and welcome the magical.

I asked her if she wouldn’t mind being blindfolded.  She agreed after making me swear her body would not end up in a ravine wrapped in plastic and secured with zip ties.  I assured her that was the furthest thing from my mind.  As we drove to Capo I couldn’t help running my fingers up her bare legs almost to her skirt.  As soon as I would arrive at her upper thighs she would gently swat my hand away as if she had full use of her sight.  It was a game that kept us busy until we reached the front of the restaurant.  I let her remove the blindfold once we were safely inside of Capo’s doors.  I didn’t want her to catch a glimpse of the candle light glow emanating from the trellised garden next-door.

As soon as she realized we were in our favorite restaurant she threw her arms around my neck and collared me awkwardly until I could gently pry her loose.  We were greeted by the Martre’ D, usually serious and dour, he now hid an awkward smirk that hinted all was in order for the surprise.  At our regular seats at the bar sat a bottle of Krug, chilled and awaiting our arrival.  I knew I could depend on the perpetually grumpy bartender not to break character and I was not disappointed.  He hugged us with his usual warmth and aplomb, his demeanor still reading disgruntled.

Cleo gushed with excitement suspecting this was not just any other epic date night.  The blind-fold, the chilled champagne, and the electricity in the air alerted her to the special evening afoot.  Brian poured bubbles and we toasted to our deep and lasting love.  Cleo could always interpret my nervousness as a clue, and though I made a strong effort to take my time with the velvety smooth champagne, I was transparent.  I’m not a sipper.

“Would you join me outside for a moment? We can take our drinks.”  I offered.  She gazed at me sideways like the RCA dog.  We were let out the side door where I walked her to the illuminated Bougainvillea encased patio.

Cleo was noticeably floored at the newly transformed space prepped for the proposal sequence, rather than the cafe where we ate breakfast every weekend.  I led her across the patio littered with rose petals and stopped at the table with the vase of reds.  My music was already cued up and playing.  We set down our drinks and steadied ourselves.

With calculated intent, I reached down and retrieved a large object from the chair.  It was a lone kneepad I strapped to my left knee.  Her laughter broke the tension and helped me to drop to the hard pavement below without consequence.   “Cleo Harwood,” I said, whilst raising the magnetically locking box aloft in her direction.  “Will you marry me?”  I wondered what exactly in the world I was asking.  Those words were almost rendered meaningless from too much focus placed in their direction.  Cleo must have had the same reaction because once again she looked as if I had asked her an algebraic equation.  She stuttered, opening with a negative subject, rounding into a positive Predicate.  “No… Really?”  She asked,  “I mean, I couldn’t imagine myself marrying anyone else.”

I kneeled there on one knee as she opened the box probably imagining she’d find the stackable rings I had already given her.  “Oh my God.  Where’d did you get this?”  She exclaimed as if I’d stolen someone else’s ring.  “Is this for me?”  She asked again certain it was merely a rental.

“It’s for you.  It’s yours, to keep,” I said, embarrassingly.  “I mean, even if you don’t marry me, it’s a gift.”  I added.

“It’s beautiful.”  She said as she slid it on for a perfect fit.  I got off the ground, shed my kneepad and pulled her closely for a long kiss. We finished our champagne, swaying to the last of our song.  Then an awkward feeling descended.  It was either too adult or childish for either of us to understand.  We raced back inside for more alcohol and food.

The whole restaurant was aware of my proposal.  Servers, patrons and even the host came by to congratulate us, assuming we had tackled a major rites de passage and were indeed to be married.  Neither Cleo, nor myself had any clear intention in our heads.  We ate to fill the void of not knowing.  We drank to dull the anxiety of indecision.

I didn’t actually know what Cleo was feeling until we arrived home that night and she unloaded crates of marriage baggage she had been lugging since childhood.  Her most intense angst derived from the GAY issue.  She was not OUT to her father yet, and how could she possibly tell him she was marrying a woman before she mentioned that the girl she’s been carting to every family gathering for two years is actually her lover.  How do gay people even marry?  She wondered aloud.  Is it legal?  What does it mean?  Why would we do it?  Would it mean we would be suddenly moving in together?  Will we start planning a wedding?  She was understandably spun.

“Look,” I said, trying to depressurize the cabin, “there is nothing that needs to be done.  I was just trying to show you how deeply I love you.  I never considered marriage until I met you.”  This tactic appeared to be smoothing her out.

It was a whim that got carried away.  Isn’t that how marriages begin?  It’s the ultimate whim.  It’s easy to agree to marriage.  Staying married is the tough part.

Cleo and I didn’t discuss the Cora’s proposal much after that night.  We went on with our lives as a professionally dating couple.  But it became harder for me to top myself on the romance escalator.  Romantic surprises, like sexuality, hinge on newness, and imagination.  That’s when I booked our flight to Europe.

 

Near the end of our third day in Paris, we finally found a Velib rack to return our rented bicycles.  It was lucky that out hotel was nearby because running on adrenaline, espresso, and half a crepe with no sleep was taking its toll.  All we wanted, all we could imagine at that moment was crawling into our newly cleaned hotel sheets and having our first taste of Parisian sleep for the two free hours we had before our dinner reservations at the three star Michelin rated, Guy Savoy.

Just as we staggered to the front door of the hotel a car roared up to the curb and screeched to a halt.  Two men jumped from car feverishly unloading giant speakers they assembled on top of the vehicle.  It struck me as curious but I was too tired to care.  Inside the room we stripped off our clothes and climbed under the covers without uttering a word to one another.  I hadn’t even closed my eyes when a deafening mixture of feed-back and techno music came blasting through the windows and walls.  Then a megaphone altered French voice jumped on top of the music making demands of some nature I wasn’t able to understand.  Were we under attack?  Were these French terrorists with a penchant for house music?  I immediately called the front desk to inquire about the danger level.  No Danger, I was calmly informed, just a protest against the hotel that would last exactly two hours.

How could they know it would be exactly two hours?  Apparently, Paris is so civilized, that whenever a group wishes to form a protest, which I understand to be often, the radical group pulls permits for the protest time, location, protest style and estimated group size.  That way the city can assign the proper police presence to handle any incident.  It’s all expedited with efficiency and respect. Just to ensure no one became too comfortable with the bone throttling bass traveling the molecules of the ground and building, the orator continued to expound what I imagined to be denouncement against our hotel in French.  There was no way to escape the sonic rape to our senses.  We were trapped in a political exhibition in our own hotel room.

I’m taking a bath, I announced, thinking perhaps if I sunk far enough under water I wouldn’t be able to feel or hear what I imagined a Nazi Procession set to dissonant music would feel like.  The vibrations and sounds penetrated all matter.  I could see ripples throbbing through the bath water.  Nowhere was safe.  Cleo and I would take turns screaming in frustration, then bursting into an equally psychotic fit of laughter.  Two hours later the torture ended as abruptly as it began, but not without leaving tremors of frenetic discomfort coursing through our molecular world.

While Cleo finished her bath I dressed for dinner.  I opened the room safe to gather funds for the evening’s events and couldn’t help staring at the third magnetic ring box I cleverly smuggled to Paris without Cleo ’s knowledge.  In it contained a new ring.  A month before our trip I was zipping around Venice Beach on my bicycle when I heard the faint whisper of mermaids or some such non-sense, beckoning me into the shop where I’d purchased the rings for Cleo .  The owner tried to shoo me away, insisting no good could come of the acquisition of more engagement paraphernalia.  I plowed on, determined to seek out the source of this intuitive calling.  Almost dancing in it’s own light source, hovered ‘the ring.’  It was made of reclaimed gold (hopefully not extracted fillings from victims of genocide) and ethically mined diamonds.  It was essentially a guilt-free engagement ring.  It already belonged to me.  It merely needed liberation from the locked case.

Would tonight be the night I would propose?  It is Paris, after all.  The city of Love, romance, lights, sleepless, yet sex filled nights.  But tomorrow we would leave for Rome, Venice after that, and on to the Amalfi Coast.  What if we discovered a more perfect proposal moment in the cities ahead?  How many nights must I smuggle this bulky box, measuring every moment against another, wondering if now was the perfect place to drop and profess my love.  In my frazzled state of food and sleep deprivation, I grabbed the box and stuffed it in my pants.

Before dinner I was determined to show Cleo the dining and lounge area of the hotel Pershing hall.  I booked this hotel primarily based on their gardened courtyard that dominated the center of the hotel, transforming the experience into an indoor/outdoor living space.  Over three hundred varieties of plants populated the three-storied terraced walls and café on the lowest floor.  The guest rooms, lounge, and restaurant all benefited from the open-air breeze and fresh herb proliferation.  The bar hosted a club that drew hip and trendy fashionista’s from across the city.  This particular night the club was hosting a production party that had drawn a giant protest for unfair labor practices.

I ordered a bottle of Krug Champagne and we sat overlooking the fragrant gardens.  The lighting was exquisite, sending delicate floods of purples and magenta over red and orange tones.  The music was lightly flowing French lounge.  This moment was perfect.  We were madly in love and everything in our environment mirrored the experience.  But the twitching power of the “Lord of the rings” magnetic box yanked my attention from the present.  I felt compelled to act on impulse.

I took Cleo ’s hand in mine and found the floor with my left knee.  ‘Oh no, not this again,’ our bodies telegraphed through trembling.  “Cleo,” I said, deciding on first name familiarity, “Marry me.”  Short, and sweet.  I offered her the running-joke-box.  She snatched it exuberantly without yet answering.  Perhaps she wanted to see the goods before making a decision.  This ring was obviously such a perfect match for her I thought she might disappear, Bilbo Baggins style, as she glided it on her finger.  She sat in silence, which may have been an improvement to the previous responses.

She wiggled her finger, playing with the diamond reflections against the lights.  “Oh…sorry,” she said finally, partially drawing focus away from the ring.  “I love it.  I want to spend the rest of my life with it.”

I was pleased with her reply.  We were both aware of our tendency toward a response defined by psychologists as denial.  I hadn’t received a standard, “yes,” but at least it wasn’t the negative alternative.  We enjoyed drinking our champagne as we watched the club fill up with a fascinating mix of Parisian trend setters.  Cleo wisely refrained from finishing her glass, but in my hunger, nervousness, (and perhaps an unconscious fear of commitment,) I downed my glass without considering the consequences.

The car arrived to take us to dinner.  We were ecstatic assuming every night in Paris would be better than the last.  At Guy Savoy, the dining transcended to Theater.  The server’s whimsically glided to our table like marionettes.  It felt as if we were the only patrons there, but not in an awkward vacant restaurant way.  The place was full and abuzz with energy, yet all the staff managed to focus only on our every desire.  It was a Cirque Du Soleil performance of the dining world combining service ballet, a bread cart opera, a cheese trolley musical, and a desert caravan finale with sparklers and surprises.

Guy Savoy!

How did I go from eating the best dinner of my life at Guy Savoy, to suddenly standing next to my fully packed luggage in the hallway of the fourth floor of our hotel, furiously searching for a flight to Los Angeles at five-thirty in the morning?  I would have been there for hours, had Cleo not come out of the room in her robe and instructed me to come back to bed.  Why not?  We were both obviously delirious.  We didn’t say another word to each other and fell deeply to sleep for our first time in three nights.  I bolted upright in bed six hours later.  “Holy Fuck!” I said, “It’s noon, an hour passed check out.”

I felt terrible.  An ominous cloud of melancholy hung over us.  We had broken up the night before, we had a flight booked for Rome that afternoon and chances were more likely we’d be flying back to the states instead although Cleo already said she might fly to Rome by herself.  Regardless of how we would handle all that, I knew I had to tend to the problem at hand.  We were late for check out.  I called the front desk and spoke to Sebastian, explaining that we awakened late, begging for an extended check out.

‘No problem, you are in Paris!’ seemed to be his formula answer.  Cleo and I sat in bed mutely pondering our misery.  The phone rang almost immediately.  I grabbed it.  “Ms. Hoffman,” Sebastian said, “I’m sorry for the confusion but you are not due to check out until tomorrow.  Let me know if you wish to leave early.”

“We’re not due to leave for Rome until Monday.  Somehow we misplaced a day, and we just got it back.”  I said, relaying the information to Cleo.  We considered each other for a beat.  “Another day in Paris!”  We burst out in unison.  We reunited on a technicality.  Paris had rescued our relationship.

I couldn’t help recounting what had transpired after we left Guy Savoy.  My food-to-alcohol ratio, was poorly calculated by my nerve-racked sleep deficient lizard brain.  Thinking wine was water, and operating from a perceived state of dehydration, I drank too much.  By the time we left dinner I was in a space-y buzzed place that was teetering uncomfortably on the precipice of being hammered.  I stumbled, stammered, slurred, or spaced out for a second and Cleo berated me all the way back to the hotel.

“How dare you ask me to marry you and then proceed to get trashed.  What am I supposed to do with that?”  It was a pejorative question, I assumed, because there was so much more chiding to follow.  I sobered quickly, pounding water while apologizing with every possible word combination I could concoct.  Nothing seemed to appease her, and speaking only exasperated her.

Cleo is a natural method actor, once she has chosen her character mood and motivation, there isn’t a director in the world who can melt her decision.  Beaten, I continued to grovel, acquiesce, and remain upbeat in spite of her disagreeable temperament.  I lay down on the bed, hopeful that sleep would soon have me in its’ knapsack.  But Cleo wasn’t done with her tirade.

This is when Cleo finally gave me her first definitive answer, and the answer was a resounding “No,” spoken from the toilet while she urinated.  That was the catalyst that unconsciously provoked me enough to lob her into the hallway.  As soon as I shut the door, I knew I was fucked.  It didn’t matter that I opened the door ‘immédiatement’.  She probably disappeared before she hit the floor.  Poof, she dematerialized.

I wasn’t sure of my next move besides getting dressed.  This was too cliché, even for us.  Two girls, naked and brawling, screaming through the halls of a Parisian Hotel.  I considered calling the lobby, but was too mortified to explain the situation to Sebastian.  And what if the Gendarmerie had already been alerted?  Would I be taken to French prison, coerced to play bitch to some bull dyke with ass-tats?  I gathered my courage, forcing myself to leave the room and search for Cleo.

She wasn’t anywhere on our floor which housed it’s own lobby.  I pressed on into the elevator and down to lobby level.  As the doors opened, there in front of me, silently meditating with closed eyes on a small couch area, sat half-naked Cleo.  Her eyes opened slowly, peacefully observing me in the elevator.  I sheepishly motioned her to come with me.  She rose off the couch like she was exiting a yoga class and followed me back to the room.

Once inside the room I was naïvely certain that we could laugh it all off, climb in bed and make love.  This was not remotely what followed.  ‘No one puts Cleo in the hallway.’  She took me through a series of torturous mind games that made me envy the leniency of water boarding.  Whenever I stopped listening to her rants by trying to sleep, she’d kick me off the bed.  I set up a nest for myself on the floor and she took my only blanket.  Neither of us were functioning rationally, and all I wanted to do was sleep.  I packed everything I owned while Cleo ’s furiousness escalated with her heightened anticipation of abandonment.  The more she belittled me, the more entrenched I became in my choice to leave.

I considered asking for another room in the hotel, but they were already fully booked for fashion week.  I wheeled my luggage out into the hall lobby and looked for the next flight to LAX.  Eventually, I lay down on the couches feeling the warm pull of sleep draping my cerebrum.  Without warning, Cleo materialized next to me, asking me what I was doing and confidently instructing me back to the room.  In my delirium, I interpreted this as the whitest flag I would see that night.

I wish I could say that our childish bickering ended with our discovery of our seemingly extra night in Paris, but we managed to pick at each other’s flesh vulture-style, even as we walked to the Eifel tower the following morning.  It wasn’t until we reached the top of the monument that we were able to fling our resentments off the edge, praying no one below would inherit our discontent.  Paris has obviously taken it in stride.  While we were in Paris we acted surprisingly French.  The next day we moved on to Italy where things got truly romantic, and Felliniesque.living-hall-sevva-hong-kong