HEY STRANGER

June 8th, 2015

by Kyla Jamieson

 

I am not supposed to write this. For years I didn’t eat in restaurants, had my family bring Japanese takeout home for me on my birthdays, because I feared not eating properly, making a fool of myself in public. It was once so important to me that I master the correct way of doing things—putting food in my mouth, putting a penis in my mouth. If a woman cannot be powerful at least she can be proper.

 

It is not proper to go a married actor’s hotel room, but it is done. It is not proper to go to a married actor’s hotel room and then write about it later, but that is what I am doing here. Trying to be proper feels like self-oppression and sounds like silence—it is what Mary Wollstonecraft called “a glittering poison.” I understand how it serves married men, but what purpose does it serve the mistress? Is she able to maintain the reputation of having played her role well, like Nelly Ternan, Dickens’ secret lover? Better to be Sophie Calle, who turned the breakup email she received into art, who visited the people listed in an address book she found on a Parisian street, whose work violates privacy and propriety.

 

Your hotel room smelled like lilies. Not much happened. We sat at opposite ends of a long couch backed by a wall of windows, our legs stretching to touch, and you said that we’d end up falling asleep in those positions. I said, “Worse things have happened in the world,” and meant it. I meant most everything I told you. Like when you asked what the most interesting thing I’d found out when I Googled you was and I said, “You have a wife.” You rubbed at your cheek with a crooked finger, in the way only you do.

 

I did not know the proper way to be an actor’s mistress, so I guess it’s for the best that I never became one. After that night in your hotel room, you texted me from a bar asking what I was doing. I was in bed bloody and aching with my period but I didn’t tell you that; instead I pretended to be coy and clean, and by erasing the reality of my body was complicit in my own dehumanization. We texted halfheartedly for weeks, but I never saw you again.

 

You are a terrible texter. I understand that it’s new technology, and you can’t be expected to perform in every aspect of your life. But besides having apparently little grasp of how to text, you seemed not to try. It made me wonder: If we’d had sex, would I have had to ride you all night? Would you have expected me to suck your dick? Would you have wanted to put it in my ass? Do my questions offend you? There are men in this world who think everything and every orifice is theirs for the taking, and I imagined you might be one of them. Of course it’s possible that you’re both tender and strong, passionate and kind—in truth there is almost no role or possibility I cannot imagine for you, though I doubt you’d say the same about me.

 

Leaving your hotel that night, I experienced the dissipation of anxiety that comes with escaping something. The man at the front desk called me a taxi. He’d seen us return, with your personal assistant, from drinks. He’d seen the three of us ride the elevator to your room, and I assume he must have seen your assistant leave the building alone an hour or so later. He looked at me like he wasn’t placing me in a narrative, defining me in relation to you, but how could he not? This is something we all do to each other.

 

I thought about your wife a lot. I was sitting near a fountain on campus, in the midst of finishing a semester, when you texted me that you wouldn’t be partying for a week—your family was visiting. Did you mean your wife, or just your daughters? Was I supposed to keep texting you, or cease for the duration of their stay? Like I said, I didn’t know how to be a proper mistress. I read that you met your wife when the two of you were cast as lovers in a Shakespearean romance. You’d thought you made meaningful eye contact on stage, but really she’d hardly been able to make out your face, having forgone her glasses for the performance.

 

Do you see why this mattered to me? Nearsightedness is something I share with your wife—in this sense at least we are similar women. I couldn’t make out your features the night we met, in that backroom bar. I felt your eyes on me and let mine linger on yours, but it was dark and I wasn’t wearing my glasses, so while I exchanged glances with a tall, middle-aged man who carried himself well, a murmur started to go around that a famous actor was sitting at the bar. “Doppelgänger,” I said, glancing back at you again.

 

In your hotel room, you told me about the glasses you’d acquired for the film you were shooting, and how difficult it was to find ones that didn’t overwhelm your face on screen. My glasses dominate my face—you told me this. You also told me my mouth was just like Keira Knightley’s, that you could say this with authority because you know her. I was astride you on the couch by that point and you covered my eyes and nose with your palm to illustrate your point to yourself.

 

You laughed at things I said. I don’t remember what, but you seemed to find me outrageous. At the bar where we met, I’d been calculating a tip and signing my Visa slip when you came and stood next to me, asked if I was writing my number down. I said it hadn’t occurred to me and suggested that you give me yours instead. You didn’t know it, said you’d been given the phone recently—it reminded me of what I’d done as a model working abroad, acquiring new phones in each country and saving my number under my own name in the address book. I sarcastically feigned sympathy and you laughed, asked how old I was.

 

You seem to like them young. I heard that sometime after our night at your hotel you started dating a girl who works as a hostess at a trendy restaurant. She’s a friend of one of my ex’s and a friend of friends in this city where everyone seems to know each other. I’m told she doesn’t work because she needs the money; people call her a Trust Fund Princess. I can’t really say, having only met her once, in passing. She said she couldn’t afford to go to a concert because she’d just had to buy a new computer, and the person who’d introduced us told me, “She’s not actually broke, she just doesn’t feel like going.” Maybe the Trust Fund Princess knew how to be a proper mistress, or maybe there’s no such thing.

 

I was more broke than I’d ever been that spring, the spring I met you. I’d spent the last of my modeling savings and had been making minimum wage for almost a year—spending three days a week at work and another three in class. The shoes I slipped off when we entered your suite were ones I borrowed from a roommate because mine were embarrassingly worn—suitable for shifts in a kitchen but not a date with a celebrity. You asked why I’d quit modeling and I said, “Why does anyone stop doing anything? They don’t want to do it anymore.” The money people associate with modeling is supposed to facilitate other accomplishments, but staying thin and looking pretty—commodifying myself—had been so consumptive that I’d become incapable of doing anything else, being anything other than a model. You offered me cab money when I left your room. I didn’t take it.

 

I never saw you again, but in a way I did—I don’t always wear my glasses, and I’d go out to dinner or walk through the city and mistake tall, middle-aged men for you. Maybe I did see you, maybe I didn’t. The point is, I couldn’t tell you from any other stranger. You called me stranger when you texted me: Hey stranger. Your messages were full of ellipses and spaces between words, everywhere they needn’t be. You kissed this way too: kiss … pause … kiss … pause.

 

Writing about your texts—is that an invasion of privacy? I wonder, though it hardly matters. This is already a story where I do nothing right. I’m invading your privacy just by writing this, aren’t I? I’m not allowed to write about you because you’re in films, is that it? Because you have a wife? Children? Most of me is certain that your entire family is aware of your penchant for young things. The Trust Fund Princess and I cannot be singular cases.

 

Maybe you have an agreement with your wife about women like us—though you must think of us as girls, not women, mustn’t you? “Beautiful girl,” you said, holding my face in your hands, “Beautiful girl.” You make me think marriage mustn’t be about fidelity but security, at least in your world. But what do I know about the world you live in? All I know is that you revealed little of yourself, and though I mimicked you in this sense, it was not because I had to. There is a certain freedom that comes with not being cared about by the world, the media, the press.

 

You asked me about my days and I asked you about yours. You had to get up early to be on set—but your assistant, a nice man who carried the conversation the entire time he was with us in your hotel room, picked you up, and when you arrived on set it was to your own trailer. The makeup woman didn’t annoy you—she was someone you’d selected yourself, worked with for years—and this seemed to be what you prized most about her. When you weren’t on set, you told me you spent a lot of time learning your lines. You put away a binder full of highlighter-streaked script before we sat down on the couch, and told me you still memorize lines the way you did in theatre school.

 

I can’t imagine that anyone would enjoy a life such as yours unless they loved their work, I’ll give you that. I wouldn’t want to spend so much time memorizing someone else’s words, living out stories I didn’t write. But you’re a tall, handsome, middle-aged man, and I’m a pretty young girl. I guess that’s the point, isn’t it? You’ll always get the better role, the more interesting script. All I can do is be the bad not-quite mistress, and this story’s still about you.

 

ABOUT

Kyla Jamieson lives and works on the unceded traditional territories of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations, and is an MFA candidate at the University of British Columbia. She is a member of the Three Sisters Collective, as well as the Sad Mag editorial team. Find her here and on Instagram, where she posts quotes.

Illustration by Dana Kearly

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