It’s a confession, this conversation. That’s what it has become. She doesn’t know when it turned into that, into exactly what she needed. She doesn’t know how she got to the point where she needs to confess. Like the state of the conversation, suddenly it is upon her—this undeniable truth.
Contradefinition. The life she has been living, against her grain in so many ways. She felt it being off—like a pebble in her shoe—but ignored it, played it off, took the easy way out, until she needed a new shoe.
Thing is, it seemed like everything she did, every job, every city, every life she has led—these have all been “off” in some way. Why would this one be any less tolerable? Contradefinition—how can she know how “off” something is if there hasn’t been a thing that’s really “on”?
It was the searching. The exhausting search. The constant looking for the “on”, the right way, her “nature”—whatever the fuck that means. She had kind of given up on the search—found something comfortable enough she thought she could live with, at least for now. She needed a break.
But now she needs a new shoe. She confesses to Julian, who seems to be taking off the ruined shoe. She is being dramatic—it’s not him, she knows, but the confession. The confession he has unwittingly begotten, and is sitting here listening to her, absolving her, God love him.
She’d run into him at the coffeeshop. She hadn’t seen him in a while—never saw him much anyway; he was a friend of a friend who moved away. So there was no real thread. She liked him, what she knew of him, this Julian—if she were totally honest she liked him better than her now-gone friend. But she didn’t know how to make him her friend, her very own friend, not a one-degree-removed friend. But this city is small and she has run into him. But even now she was too shy to approach him—thankfully he approached her. She was almost surprised he remembered her name.
They got past the formalities and small-talk surprisingly quickly and before she knew it the conversation was flowing, fluid, and she noticed with delight—a surprised delight, this encounter was now officially full of surprises—she noticed it was not the forced fluidity she had gotten so good at, a forced fluidity which had become so second-nature she was barely aware of the strain and the tension and the wasted energy until just now, now that she can let down that guard and not force anything, and just talk, and just listen, and not keep herself in check indefinitely.
That’s probably how it became a confession. Her guard down for the first time in months, all the things that built the guard, the things she’s been ignoring, if she was even aware of them on any conscious level, all these things rushing to the surface.
Or maybe it’s the music the coffeeshop’s playing. What kind of coffeeshop plays blues music, anyway? Maybe she’s imagining it.
She apologizes at one point. He tells her not to worry about it.
“Are you sure?”
“Well, here I am, dumping all this onto you, I barely know you.” Now I can see the draw of priests and therapists, she wants to say—someone whose job it is to listen; she wouldn’t have to apologize to them.
“I wouldn’t say you were ‘dumping’ on me. And anyway what’s that line from that movie—‘You don’t confess your sins to your husband or your father; you confess them to a stranger, because he’ll absolve you.’”
“I like that. What movie is that from?”
“‘Apartment Zero.’” Before she can respond he says, “No one’s ever heard of it. It’s this weird British-Argentinian collaborative from the 80s.”
“You know a lot about movies, eh?”
He shrugs, modest. “Only obscure, random ones. Ones that ‘real’ film snobs wouldn’t know about or like, ones that are all over the place, and couldn’t really be categorized together. So when people ask me what kind of movies I like I don’t know how to answer so they think I couldn’t care less about film…”
“I’m the same way with music.”
He nods. He understands. It’s kind of weird.
“Well anyway. I feel like I’m kind of wasting your time.”
“Oh, no. Hey, I feel like I’m doing a good deed or something, you know? You obviously needed someone to talk to. I don’t mind, really—I feel like I’m getting to know you.”
“None of the good bits though.”
“You know what they say. ‘One’s challenges are the best indicators of one’s character.’”
“What movie is that from?”
He giggles—he actually giggles. It seems like he’s having a private memory. “No movie—I think it might have been Oscar Wilde.”
“Probably not. I don’t know. I think I made it up.” Her turn to giggle. “Anyway what I mean is, I’d rather know the real you and not what you’d put in a personal ad.”
What an odd thing to say.
They sit in silence for a bit; at first she’s uncomfortable with it, keeps wanting to say something. But by this time she has run out of steam; she is relaxed, no longer frantic to rant or to prove herself. Eventually, anything she may have done to salvage the dialogue has passed its prime, and she lets it go, and concedes to the sit in silence, looking firmly at her lukewarm coffee. Their “comfortable silence” makes her think of “Pulp Fiction”, and she wonders if that’s a film he likes, but is embarrassed to ask—Quentin Tarantino has become so cliche. She still likes the soundtrack.
She thinks about their conversation, about the hope he has given her. It makes her want to try harder, try to be a better person, live to her ideals more and all that, to prove herself—to herself as much as to him. She’s not sure what it is about him that compels this. Maybe it’s because he’s like how she’d like to be, closer to nature, closer to his nature perhaps—but, she warns herself, that might just be an act, she knows how well-adjusted extraverts and social norms can appear, when below the surface is a chaos and an insanity that rivals her own, only it’s worse because they don’t even know that it’s there, let alone why…
She doesn’t think that’s the case though. She doesn’t know. It doesn’t matter—he inspires something in her, and it makes her want to resume her search—and it’s at that moment she realizes that the search is the only thing that’s ever felt right to her—the striving for something better, the constant learning—that feels “on”. And this life that is “off”, it is only “off” because she has given into it—given into something that she’s not supposed to be satisfied with. Her life can feel as “off” as it wants but as long as she keeps searching—even if it’s exhausting, it means that at least she cares enough. Besides, what would a life be that didn’t keep getting—or at least trying to get—better? Student of life and all that. How can she know there’s a better way for her to be if she doesn’t look for it?
She is fucking sick of complacency, of her own complacency.
Soon he has to go to work—it’s her day off. She thanks him, maybe too much, and he says they’ll see each other again, but not in a way to just pacify her, and he is not in a rush to leave her.
She wonders will she see him again. She doesn’t have his number or anything but she knows where he works. She doesn’t think about it too much. She’d rather think about him, sitting across from her, listening to her, hearing her. Those eyes, that are so familiar, so like her own. That should keep her going for a while.