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November 17, 2008

Strange Bedfellows

A chance encounter between old lovers reveals the fleeting nature of connection.

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unhappy couple in bed

Photo Credit: G Studio/iStock Images

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When I saw Michelle coming up the street, I knew I needed to move quickly. But just as I started to turn toward one of those giant walk-in newsstands to bury my head in a magazine, I heard, “Oh, my God!” and I knew I was doomed to seven or eight minutes of “reconnecting.” I decided to speak first. “Hey, Michelle! Wow, this is weird.” “Is it?” she asked, with a slightly arched eyebrow, hinting at deeper, perhaps even mystical reasons for our running into each other. This was what kept me from appreciating Michelle’s countless other charms when we’d dated briefly eight years before, while we were acting in a play together — a kind of patchouli-scented, unblinking stare that said, “Resisting me is resisting the gods and will be dealt with accordingly.” So I stopped to chat, but I kept my body in a position that implied I was fighting a strong wind to do so. Then she started schmoozing me. “So things are going well for you, huh?” She was smiling warmly. “I am so happy for you!” she said, and I remembered that I kinda liked Michelle. I nodded. Yes, things were good.

She said, “You’ve really taken off!” Now, I like flattery as much as the next guy, but this seemed a bit much. Taken off? I had done plenty of television guest spots since moving to Los Angeles, but I wasn’t exactly in danger of stepping in Grauman’s Chinese cement. I had pretty much quit acting and was spending most of my time writing. I guess Michelle could have read one of my magazine pieces or been one of the 400 people who had seen the play I had written. Hey, those were good things, and maybe Michelle was right — maybe I did deserve to be spoken about in italics. She said, “I mean, I’m not surprised! You just have that — that spark in your eyes that creates success. It’s just so amazing how that works.” “I don’t know,” I said. “I guess so.” She snorted. “You guess so? C’mon — you’re like the next George Lucas!” Wha? The next George Lucas? I tried to give her the benefit of the doubt. I kept nodding. She said, “I mean, Dean, you’re one of the biggest things in town now.” Dean.

As in Dean Devlin, a movie producer who I’ve been told I look a little like. He made Independence Day. He is not at all me.

I was suddenly clammy with both fear that Michelle would discover her mistake and an almost vertigolike recognition of how our lives can be so full of incident but empty of connection. Michelle and I had only gone on a few dates, but we’d slept together, and now we were almost strangers. I knew that the scarf around her neck was there to cover a small J-shaped scar she got in a car accident when she was 12. I had fallen asleep with my hand on that scar. It is deeply weird to go from being naked with someone to being strangers.

The idea that there are people out there with the most intimate memories of us, who might not recognize our faces? We just don’t like to think about that stuff. I remember a few women who would have definitely enjoyed watching me run into someone I’d slept with then realize it hadn’t meant anything at all. I could almost hear them snorting with karmic laughter. And then one of those insanely loud car horns that play entire songs blared right next to me, shaking me out of my contemplation and returning me to the task at hand, which was keeping Michelle from recognizing the real me. I knew that the implosion of her embarrassment would, if it came, destroy everything around us, like the death ray that incinerated the White House in a certain summer blockbuster I didn’t produce.

But I’ll admit, there was also something kind of voyeuristic — in a good way — about it. I was getting the chance to watch an acquaintance, up close, without her being able to “see” me. I could see little laugh lines around Michelle’s eyes and a definition to her face that she hadn’t had eight years before. It made me miss some friends I hadn’t kept in touch with. I kept nodding, and just as I was wondering how I could manage to get away, a voice from half a block behind me called out, “Michelle!”

She froze.

Through clenched teeth, she said, “Oh, God, I really don’t want to see this guy,” and she sighed. Then she looked up at me, gave me a “But I guess I’ll go talk to him” look, and I made the right sort of “I have to get going” gestures, and then all of a sudden she kissed me. Or Dean. We — or they — said heartfelt good-byes and squeezed each other’s hands, then walked off in opposite directions. And, thankfully, Dean Devlin has grown a mustache since then.


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