When I Knew You

It’s odd, that turn of phrase, “When I knew you…” That you can speak it of someone still living. Connoting that someone you once knew more intimately than the most specific birthmark on your body could fade into a stranger. But that’s how he phrased it to her: “When I knew you, you didn’t talk like that,” after she snapped curtly at a random passerby at the outset of their preplanned encounter. She supposed he was right, that the way she spoke now was much cruder than before. In part because she wasn’t trying to be something she wasn’t anymore now that they were no longer together. She could say and act just as she should like without worrying that he might abandon her as he had already felt perfectly free to do so and unremorseful in so doing. But then, maybe he felt some shred of remorse, otherwise why would he have invited her out to meet for coffee at a place where any number of their mutual friends might see them and therefore make the dangerous and unwanted assumption that they had decided (nay, he) had decided to get back together?

The Affogato, it was called. And it was the site of many of their daily communings that would eventually turn into something too routine for Sam to bear. Sam, who had been the one to initiate this whole damned thing in the first place, Eva thought, as she found herself in the uncomfortable position of being the first to arrive, grabbing a table outside after ordering her usual americano before taking a seat and contemplating whether or not to actually pull out the book she had brought along with her in case of such an emergency as this, or if it would come across as too contrived and overblown should Sam actually catch her “intently” reading from Virginia’ Woolf’s “On Being Ill,” a lesser studied work in that no one wants to examine too carefully an essay about the foibles of the human body, how easily it can break down and how much more cumbersome life can be (if one can even imagine that) when it does. In fact, Eva imagined that if Woolf had been permitted the luxury of being as sexual as a healthy body would’ve allowed, maybe she wouldn’t have been so suicidal. So sodding morose all the time. But then, maybe that was an overly L.A. thought in its shallowness. Maybe she ought to go back to Boston for a bit, regain some sense of her “pure” intellect, instead of embracing that quintessential L.A. need to vapidize everything, therefore, inevitably, carnalize it. And just when she was finally about to get up the courage to take the book out of her even more pretentious Skylight Books canvas bag, Sam walked up. With a French bulldog. That was new.

“His name is Bogart,” Sam declared as he sat down, beaming, it would seem over himself having become a domesticated animal in choosing to purchase one.

Eva sipped from her coffee from lack of being able to put forth any other sort of “appropriate” reaction. “Great. What prompted this?”

“Well,” Sam began nervously. It had only been two months since he had taken his things and moved out of their once shared apartment. The one that he didn’t always pay an equal portion for when sound editing gigs were scarce. Which seemed to be often enough to make Eva feel the part of surrogate caretaker when Sam wasn’t up in Chatsworth on Sundays visiting his mother, who, as far as Eva could tell, was more bothered than delighted by his visits–primarily because she wanted to be alone with whoever her most recent boy toy was. In her position as a casting agent, she had a knack for procuring more than her fair share of hard (as opposed to garden variety flaccid) dick through the tried and true means of dangling the potential for any amount of fame. For you could get people in L.A. to do just about anything for you if it meant they could have their chance at proving the Warhol aphorism.

“Let me get a cappuccino before I explain the dog.”

Cappuccino. This was the same person who refused to even drink soy milk when Eva had known him. Known, she reminded herself. A person can change just as quickly as the large hand on a clock face. Yet the change is spurred by a mechanism that has been propelling them along to become what they have always wanted. Or even what they did not… but it has now become a matter of surrender. Of embracing their “fate,” which, as is usually the case for most, to become utterly banal and predictable.

Bogart had stayed behind, ostensibly to keep Eva company, though he appeared more interested in barking at a passing blonde waif, who stopped to coo grossly at him as a means of unnecessary placation. It bothered Eva so much that she finally snapped, “Okay, we get it, you’ll be great at child-rearing because you can talk like a retard with a straight face.”

Several people around her visibly bristled at the word “retard,” just as Sam came back out to catch the tail end of her statement. She rolled her eyes as the girl scuttled away in horror at such “crassness.” Jesus, fucking California and its unabashed passive aggressiveness. Why couldn’t she just outright say she was offended instead of fleeing? At the same time, Eva was rather wondering the same thing about herself in this moment. Because Bogart was offensive to her. She knew he was a symbol of something Sam had decided to transform into, and that he was about to tell her the nature of what that transformation was.

Sighing over Eva’s “embarrassing” exchange, he got right to the point: “Eva I want to tell you something before you hear it from anyone else.”

Eva spat, “Wow. Let me guess. You’re seeing someone.”

Sam nodded in wonder, as though he could really be that surprised by her natural feminine ability to intuit.

“Since when?”

He looked down at Bogart, as though the dog in his pure whiteness, might radiate some sort of sage advice. “I don’t want to hurt you.”

She chortled. “It’s too late for that, asswipe.”

He bit his lip, going over the outcome of telling her the truth. Though she could see in his eyes he wanted to lie, he did not, and that made her annoyingly continue to love him all the more.

“I met her…started, um, seeing her a little bit…while we were still together. On that movie I was working on for about five months before the funding got pulled.”

That was only a year into their two-year relationship, she calculated in the space of a skipped heartbeat. Eva stared out toward the passing cars on Melrose, wondering if now might be just as good a time as any to walk right out into traffic, as she had so often fantasized about.

“What’s her name?”

“Katerina.”

“Oh Christ. She gets a Shakespeare name and she’s dumb as a brick right?”

Sam glared at her. “Were you really this hateful before? Or am I remembering you with a false image in my mind?”

“Don’t fucking do that. Don’t fucking condescend to me about my personality knowing full goddamn well that I’ve always been an embittered cunt–a Campari cunt, I’ve taken to calling it–and that’s exactly why you couldn’t be bothered to stick around.”

Sam fumbled with his cappuccino foam, which was getting rather soupy from his lack of interest in drinking from it. “Okay, Eva. I won’t pretend. So long as you don’t either.”

Eva recoiled, not expecting him to contradict her. “What are you talking about?”

“Admit that you get off on being abandoned and disappointed. That if people didn’t fulfill these expectations you have of them to not fulfill your expectations, you wouldn’t know what to do with yourself. You would have nothing to write about.”

“First of all, I resent your allusion to the fact that I’m so unoriginal a writer that I can’t imagine scenarios without needing to live through them. And second, if that’s what you want to tell yourself about me to clear your own guilty conscience, go ahead. But it’s not true Sam. I did not want to be disappointed by you. I did not want to find myself blasting ‘Habits’ by Tove Lo every night after downing a bottle of red wine ever since you left.”

Bogart yipped at this last statement. Sam pet him conciliatorily in response. “I’m not going to feel sorry for you.”

“Does Katerina even know who Humphrey Bogart is?”

“Of course, this is her dog. She picked out the name.”

“That doesn’t mean anything. People glom onto names and phrases now without having any idea whatsoever of their origins.”

“Give me some credit, Eva. Do you think I’m so insipid as to date a woman who doesn’t know her Hollywood history?”

“Yes.”

“Then I guess you have your answer for why I left you.”

“Which is?”

“You never really knew me. You never wanted to. All you cared about was constructing the false portrait of me that fit into your pre-made mold of how to be disillusioned.”

Eva, in a fit of anger, scooped the cappuccino foam out of Sam’s cup and flung it at his face.

Sam blinked in response as he wiped the beverage from his face. “It was so nice to see you again, Eva. Real glad we did this.”

He unraveled the dog’s leash from the base of the table and scurried away far more rapidly than he had showed up. So that was it. “Closure.” The unwanted corroboration that the person who once saw you at your worst–who truly “knew” you–did not want to remain to endure that worst for the long haul, ergo deciding to eradicate you almost completely from memory for the sake of going home to the type of wisp that would own a French bulldog for the sheer cachet of having it as an accessory.

Eva, not wanting to go back to her empty apartment just yet, opened the book after he left, deciding to order another coffee. Woolf pontificated, “Considering how common illness is, how tremendous the spiritual change that it brings, how astonishing, when the lights of health go down, the undiscovered countries that are then disclosed, what wastes and deserts of the soul a slight attack of influenza brings to light…it becomes strange indeed that illness has not taken its place with love, battle, and jealousy among the prime themes of literature. Novels, one would have thought, would have been devoted to influenza; epic poems to typhoid; odes to pneumonia, lyrics to toothache. But no; literature does its best to maintain that its concern is with the mind; that the body is a sheet of plain glass through which the soul looks straight and clear.”

About ten minutes later, she ran into the bathroom and began to throw up uncontrollably to the point where she could have sworn she saw one of her guts go down the toilet as well. This need to vomit at random would crop up again and again, primarily any time she ever caught the scent of coffee in her nostrils after that day of meeting with Sam.

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