Lisa has been publishing essays for fourteen years on the writing life, sex and relationships, and her love for horses, dogs and cowboy country. One of her essays appeared in the IPPY-award-winning anthology Unmasked: Women Write About Sex and Intimacy After Fifty, published in 2017. She is thrilled to be pitching her
memoir Calamity Becomes Her to agents who represent memoir writers she admires and whose stories deeply resonate with her own life experiences (e.g. Pam Houston, Gretel Ehrlink, Cheryl Strayed, Glynnis MacNicol, Robyn Davidson). Lisa lives near Boston, where she ride horses and commutes by bike to her job writing and editing technology blogs for Dell Technologies.
Lisa Mae DiMasi
Tonight, I am not wearing my pencil skirt and stiletto heels. No revealing blouse. I have on a light lipstick, two shades of khaki and flats, and sit fretting high up in the lecture hall. That’s where courses such as Statistical Methods in Active Risk Management land me. Far and away and hoping someone will manifest to partner with me; some kind-faced person exuding openness amid the young, shark-eyed MBA stock. Me, the 29-year-old rogue, who got into this school with well-timed cleavage and a fast tongue, not stellar GREs. I’ve completed the electives and I’m now at the threshold of the rigorous core intensives. Ten down, ten to go.
The students file in, this first evening class of Stats, zippers and buckles from backpacks clank against chairs and tables. Cell phone talk: “holdings,” “organic,” “funnel.” Our professor, an affluent entrepreneur of a nearby think tank and founder of a mega startup, enters and unloads the contents of his briefcase on a mahogany table. He’s not old school or frumpy; he dons crisp white shirtsleeves, slacks and loafers. He reminds me of my dad, one of great mechanical engineering mind, who incidentally, could not cut the MBA curriculum at Cornell.
The minute hand on the wall clock is nearing 6:30. Students toggle cell phones off, pipe down. The professor stands in between a podium and the desk table, hands casually sunk in his pockets, jingling change. I’m perspiring. How could I have this much anxiety over a twelve-week course, an insignificant foothill compared to climbing the mountain of my life? At break, when I stand bug-eyed in panic, asking if he’ll repeat reviewing the exercise to assimilate the quantitative approach to outliers, he’ll ignore my inquiry by saying, “Statistics is straightforward and intuitive.”
I’ll half-laugh, half-cry, “Oh, well, thank God for that,”and if it isn’t for the sight of her, entering stage left, I’d have imploded into a heap of bone, tissue and blood right there.
She’s striking, my age. Equal to her peers here, radiating smarts, but doesn’t blend in. Wears being late as if she’s right on time; walks with her chin up, eyes forward, shoulders square. Her imperfectly perfect tousled hair is a spicy reddish brown; complexion, ivory; lips, wine-stained; eyes that are kohl-lined into something that’s a bit more edgy than the classic cat eye. Bell-sleeved plissé top, skirt, satin pointed-toe knee-high boots. She should be browsing shops on Avenue Montaigne in Paris, a teacup poodle perched in her arms.
The professor stands at the podium, shaking hands with a kid talking about his seed funding for a search tool that’ll crawl the web by query. I am awed—by her. There’s complexity to her, finesse, layers. Mystery beckoning investigation. What’s the probability she’d partner with me on projects? 50-50? Less? What do I have to lose in asking?
When the hour and second hands crawl to 9 p.m., I chase after her down the corridor and through the chaotic traffic of the stairway. I secure hold of her arm. The high-tech and entrepreneurial-minded in class had acted immune to her presence as she listened astutely in the second row, the top of her pen pressed against her lips.
“Hey,” I say. “Do you have a minute?”
Students and professors bumble into us, we’re battered by their backpacks and briefcases. Manners are foregone—they’re eager to eat, suck down a beer, get online, see their kids, sleep. “Over here,” I say and guide her by the arm down the remainder of the stairs and into the MBA student lounge. She smells floral and citrusy. We stand beside a table where four undergraduates are tooting off Value Prop Design and Business Model Gen vocabulary that’s not quite convincing and out of context. Security will soon be along to boot them out; their tuition isn’t nearly as great as ours.
She’s gazing at me, clutching her books, folders and handouts, all seamlessly aligned to her chest, the puckered fabric of her blouse. My materials are slung over my shoulder in my backpack where I shoved them in a hurry, crunched and mishmashed, to get at her before she disappeared. I gaze back into the whole of her face. We must appear odd, standing there, out of steam, at this Celestial Seasonings Sleepytime of the day, her being courteous to me—me, well, taken with her. The pen pressed to her lips during class wore away her lipstick, but the cat-eyed lining has held up on her lids. Those eyes. “I’m Lisa,” I finally say. “Wondering if you’d like to collaborate on projects.”
She furrows her brow. Just when I think I should claim forgetting my car keys in the classroom and make off hell-bent for leather to save face, she softens. She smiles. A white-toothed grin, accented by a charming gap between her front teeth orthodontists most likely pleaded with her to close, aching to remove an imperfectly perfect feature. My heart flips in my chest. She thrusts out her hand to shake mine. “Sure, I’m Alexandra—Lexi.”
Her hand is warm and soft. I smile dumbly. In the cogs of my mind, it’s echoing: she said sure. She cocks her head slightly, changing the vibe, as if to say, you are going to let go of my hand, aren’t you? I release it; it disappears into an apple jelly Kate Spade bag, digs around a bit. Comes up with a scrap of paper; a pen, the top lipstick-stained. She scribbles and says, “How about meeting here before class to review the homework?,” and hands me the back of a Bloomie’s receipt for two tubes of MAC lipstick: “Power Driven” and “Boyfriend Stealer.” I gawk at her handwriting, the wide space between the words and the lines. A graphologist would say she is gregarious and needs to meet many people. Not my first impression.
“See you at six on Thursday.” The tone of her voice suggests closure; she’s onto the next thing—a boyfriend’s house? Her fingers were studded by jewelry, vintage rings, sapphire and cameos, but no engagement ring. I watch her whisk up the stairs, clutching her school materials to her chest, the air moving through her copper tousled hair, her Kate Spade bag thumping against her hip. Those satin high-heeled boots carrying her up a level, out the door and into the dark night.
The timing in which I meet Lexi is uncanny and ripe. Maybe I manifested it. My husband, Tom, and I had just sold our home and amicably divorced. We shared little passion between us, even from the beginning. Eventually we shared nothing but simple fondness. He had come down with a baby fever, the kind that infects some women and can’t be cured. Not me. I wanted to excel in a career, fast-track-it to management. More than that I was thirsty, hungry for something thrilling that I couldn’t imagine. Until I laid eyes on Lexi.
She takes to me. Lexi doesn’t have any plans for kids, no boyfriend. She is already a business analyst and climbing the rungs of the corporate ladder in a workforce where men still earn more and are afforded greater opportunity. She’s got the hubris thing going too.
Outside of the classroom, I’m high-spirited and exude a sense of unbridled freedom, away and out of the marriage. Lexi likes this and I love to make her laugh. My humor is lightly ribald. One night, after our fourth glass of wine, I grin at her. “Did you get those slacks at Nordstrom on sale?”
She smiles in expectation. “Why?”
“Because at my place they’d be 100-percent off.”
Her laugh? It’s lethal. A stream of squeals and hums and giggles and ooo’s.
Together we become insufferable. She won’t let me sit beside her in class and banishes me to a spot out of her periphery, where I can’t make her laugh. But I’m still close enough to examine every hair on her head for the two-and-a-half-hour duration of class.
The semester gets on. We study on Saturdays. Come evening, we go into town and bar hop—visit The Cotton Club on Tremont, Sonsie on Newbury, Avalon on Landowne—our arms entwined, one lighting the other’s cigarette, brushing a lock of hair from the other’s cheek and attract swarms—hifalutin men, staying the weekend in Boston after a visit to their latest venture, married men who dress in Italian business suits and order 30-year-old scotch. She and I smoke Eves at the bar, the smoke from her cigarette wafting before her in a tenuous cloud, a noir dame. Men buy our wine, their eyes bugging out over the intimacy we share. It’s a game for Lexi, a thrill for me.
She and I share a great deal. Those tough core intensives. A love of high-end New Zealand Sav Blanc, and having one too many. An affinity for clothes. I have a sense for clothes, accessories, hair, flair; but her art of maquillage, her haute style and refinement, make me feel deliciously inferior, an infatuated apprentice. She knows this. She catches me scrutinizing her when she’s preoccupied with studying. Her face softens when she sees me drinking her in; she gestures with a pucker of her lips, a demure smile. She doesn’t invite or encourage my being besotted with her; she doesn’t dissuade it either.
Could she be thinking what I am? The sticky sweetness of exploring an unfounded frontier, a ravenous feast depicting tongue to tongue, fingers to flesh, tongue to flesh, a sweet grind? Whispers and moans, exquisite and feminine? Her laughter—squeals and hums and giggles and ooo’s—emitted as I give her pleasure a man has ventured but hadn’t achieved because he doesn’t understand the depth and core of her, like I do? Does her ambition leave her longing? A want for novelty, fun, tenderness, exploration of my parts and curves? How can I address this gorgeous longing without offending her?
I panic that we could be together now and my worries are only delaying that intimacy. What if I lose the chance to try? What’s the probability she’d sleep with me? 25-75? 50-50?
I have to bust a move. But when?
Call it another manifestation. In the spring, Lexi enrolls in a summer exchange program in France. We make plans to fly to London and sightsee for four days, then cross the Channel where I’ll share her bed for a fortnight in a Victorian rooming house in the City of Lights.
Paris. Her bed. No better place to execute on intimacy, materialize the fantasy that preoccupies me at work, during class, when my head hits the pillow at night—vivid images of my tongue subtly probing her lips, her gums, the taste and coolness of the tip of her tongue. The floral fragrance about her hair and delicate neck. My hands warm and careful in parting her slender thighs, my eyes wanting to see, touch her labyrinth of folds, taste the core of her that’s hidden away from the world.
In this bed, she will be my apprentice. My student. A tenuous ownership that will keep a hold on her, a longing for me, when we’re apart forever—the weeks that she remains in France.
Morning sun douses my view of London as I exit Heathrow. It’s 7:20 a.m. local time. The pale light infiltrates spaces between edifices and lifts the long shadows cast from the night, making the place appear untainted and new, despite its ancient history. Why hadn’t I taken advantage of an exchange program in the 80s? Sought out and caught a glimpse of Duran Duran, The Smiths, Depeche Mode? I gaze at my feet propelling my body forward on the sidewalk — am I really here?—smiling to myself despite wrestling with sleep all night on the plane — I am wired and tired —wishing Lexi and I were together as planned — you feel my heat I'm just a moment behind—.
She called me the day before to say she delayed her flight due to a work conflict. My phone rang, her number showed up on the display. At first I figured she was reaching out, ecstatic — can’t wait! — but the tone of her voice was swift and flat. Delayed my flight, dropped from her mouth. My mind hiccupped; the receiver fell away from my ear. Is she stalling, onto my game? Or is the work thing the truth?
I placed the receiver back up to my ear. Things are always hectic at work for her, I reasoned to myself. “Lexi,” I choked. “The champagne. Our being silly. On the flight, together.”
She slapped a Band-Aid on my disappointment. “I’ll pay a musher double to get me to the hotel lickety-split.” She was being cute. It wasn’t any good.
“I’ll change my flight to yours,” I told her.
“Flight’s sold out,” she said, rifling through paperwork. “I’ll see you tomorrow night at the hotel.” The line went dead.
Now, London, alone. Raven’s Thorn and The Rose Inn on Tothill Street. I walk and walk on Chiswick High Road. Two hours later, fatigue hits me like a hard rain and I hail a cab to the Inn.
Raven’s Thorn and the Rose is a stylish Victorian pub with the added benefit of accommodations. I suppose in the old days if you went on the piss, you could pay a wee bit and stagger up the stairs and hit the hay on a bed that had been slept on numerous times by someone just as rat-arsed as you.
Our room, The Rose Room, nonetheless is charming, clean and done in linen white with accents of pinks and reds and sprays of small-budded blossoms. Twin beds are spaced three feet apart. I push them together. We’re fortunate to possess our own private bathroom, which is touted as an exclusive amenity.
Just after 7:30 p.m., I confirm with the airline that Lexi made her flight and the plane touched down. I dress and make myself up. The modest lobby is bustling when I come down. The vibe is a good one, filled with the excitement of tourists, some of whom have already indulged in a pint or cocktail or two, speaking louder than necessary and standing, a wee bit off-balance. I snag a velvet chair where I can see the entrance. I sit there, a filly with a belly full of bedsprings, waiting for her imperfect perfectness to arrive. I wait until after ten. She doesn’t show. Plagued by worry and fatigue, I retire to the room.
Where could she be?
I slip between the sheets and lie there, trying to keep my eyes open in wait for the phone’s ring or a subtle knock on the door, until I succumb to a deep sleep.
The reverberation of the door against the doorstop wakes me. I’m disoriented. There’s a figure, dark and shapely against the pale-lit corridor, casting an exaggerated shadow onto the carpet, the beds, the far wall. Lexi? Her greeting, not a decibel short of bellowing comes next. “Cheersshh, mate!”
I’m drawn to her fingers frantically feeling the wall up for the light switch. So, she’s okay, I come to realize. But in a pub, for hours? Without me?
She snaps the overhead light on and attempts to grab hold of the door jamb. I’m seeing spots. “Cheersshh,” she says again, raising her hand, grasping an imaginary pint. She’s intending to salute to me, but she addresses the middle of the room. I sit up, exposing my bare breasts, 36D-worth, and think this summer abroad has really knocked her off course. She was so gung-ho about Bayesian Inference and now she’s fighting it.
A male figure stands behind her.
Lexi picked someone up?
My statistical and quantitative mind does some fast deduction. “Lexi, turn off the overhead.”
She doesn’t. She pas de courus to my bedside, grapples for the top of the sheet and pins it to my shoulders, and plops down beside me. Looks deeply into my eyes, pleadingly. My sweet lamb. Something’s wrong. The signs are numerous, big in the bloke, minute in the details. She’s blown out her hair and is wearing a baseball cap. She’s put on so much mascara, it clumps on her lashes, and she’s lined the inner rim of her lower eyelid black. I switch on the bedside lamp. The bloke turns off the overhead, hangs at the threshold, observing. I gaze back into her eyes, fish my right hand out from the sheet, peel off her cap, rest my hand on her cheek. She’s cried a bit, there’s charcoal-colored tracks on the side of her face. “Lexi,” I say tenderly, “I haven’t seen eyeliner like that since 1982.”
She half-laughs, half-cries, a loaded expression. “Women,” the guy huffs. “For God’s sake, why do I bother getting involved.” The tosser’s accent is not in any way British. It’s sounds Midwestern Cornatopia.
Lexi is aiming to speak into my ear. She’s no longer holding the sheet up to my front and talks to my shoulder. “I met him on the flight. He’s from Nebraska.” She’s disgusted with herself.
“Why?” I ask, as if he’s not in listening distance. “Why did you bring him back here?”
She shrugs, remiss, as if meeting him is a distant memory. Like, she had been someone else at the time, incognito. This hair, the makeup, the smell of beer mucking up her Hermes 24 Faubourg—a Patriot’s cap and windbreaker. Sneakers.
“Lexi.” I begin and it occurs to me I’m the one she’s flying to. She didn’t dress this way to turn on some guy; she dressed this way to turn me off. “What’s with your getup?”
She snorts, an unintended form of a response, places her hands on my shoulders and gazes into my eyes—they’ve got to be bloodshot. I gaze back into hers—they’re swimming in Pale Ale. Nebraska, who has moved closer to get a better view, mutters, “hot shit.” Lexi is not daunted by his presence; she’s seeking solace at my threshold of wanting her, this intimacy in the dim, shadowy room. The unforeseen and titillating thrill in Nebraska standing in the wings is more than I could have ever asked for.
Can she go through with it? Us as lovers?
I wait. Pray she doesn’t break the sweet tension that has potential to blossom into a fevered frenzy of breasts, limbs and orifices. Her head tips forward, bumps into my forehead. I want to kiss her, plant my lips on her lips. Tenderly. Kiss. The lamb. I tug the sheet away giving my breasts full clearance, press her hand over my heart and hold it there. A flame ignites in my core. Nebraska sidesteps closer, suppresses a moan. Lexi shakes her head no. “Don’t resist it, honey.” It’s me talking, not Nebraska.
My lips are there. Hers are so very close. I make contact. It could hardly be called a kiss, more like a light brushstroke from palette to canvas. My student, my apprentice. My lamb. I smile to myself, take her hand pressed to my heart and move it to the swell of my breast. Close the door, Nebraska. Lexi’s forefingers touch my nipple; her grasp around my breast is slight. How many times have I envisioned this? Fondled myself thinking about her?
I wait for her to respond, my lips hovering before hers. Even with her head swimming in ale, I know there’s figuring going on in that skull of hers. The fears I suspected, the what-ifs. “Lexi,” I say at last. “Forget London, let’s go to Paris. Tomorrow. I’ll stay with you all summer long.”
Her forehead bumps back onto mine. It’s a gesture of commiseration. I know it, can feel it. She stammers, “I’m going to Brussels tomorrow. With him. A wedding.”
I’m thunderstruck. Thunderstruck to the most distant galaxy in the observable universe, thirty billion light years from the Milky Way. That’s where I find myself with the flame within my core gone out.
The last things I remember of that night? The warmth of her hand leaving my breast. The pale light leaching into the room from the corridor being squeezed out. My head falling hard to the pillow, pulling the bedclothes tight and knuckling them to my shoulders. The sliver of tears rolling down the inside of my nose, one after another.
Surrendering to the deep sleep which she found me.
“Lisa.” I’m being nudged. “Wake up. It’s nearly eight”
Sometime around 5 a.m., I had dragged myself out of bed, unable to resist the urge to pee any longer. As I closed the bathroom door, I saw two bodies slumbering on the twin bed that had been moved to its original location. I peed out the 1.5L bottle of Evian I slugged down the night before. Recall was slow: the lobby, the waiting, the Evian (sip, where is she, sip, why doesn’t she call), the succumbing to sleep. The awakening. Lexi and Nebraska.
“Brussels,” Lexi is saying. “We want you to come too.”
My head hurts. Who is this girl? She’s sober and she still wants to go to Brussels with a complete stranger? What happened to us? Her and me?
I keep my eyes closed, can’t bear to see her in Pat’s gear. “Seriously, Lexi, you realize you’re going through some kind of crisis here, don’t you?”
She doesn’t say anything. Nebraska is in the bathroom carrying a mean tune of flatulence and the associated odor wafts from beneath the door. I open my eyes. Lexi’s hair is towel dried and she’s dressed in her normal apparel. There are dark circles under her eyes and a light application of mascara on her lashes; she’s biting her lip and staring into her lap. Her luggage is assembled behind her along the dresser, like masonry. I gesture towards the bathroom, “You want to go to Brussels with him? What about last night? You and me, I mean.”
She’s still gazing into her lap, scraping off her weekend lipstick, MAC’s Strip Me Down, a matte deep-toned beige, with her bottom incisors. She’s numb. I whisper, caress the back of her hand. “You do remember, don’t you?”
Nebraska opens the bathroom door. He stands there puffed up and manly; he’s done what men do, with gusto. I stare at him. He’s tall, has a good build, dark hair. He’s got a look about him, though, a mean-spirited one. Nastiness around the corners of his mouth, his eyes. Like, his daddy used to beat the living tar out of him. With a switch or a belt. Or a draper head.
Lexi bounces her fine tush off the bed. Nebraska’s ready to make heed to Heathrow. She doesn’t give me a playful jab, flick at my forearm or throw a hip in my direction. That’s something she would have done before. I’ve wagered and lost. I smother the bleach-infused pillow over my face sparing myself from Nebraska’s self-made methane as long as I can stand the oxygen deprivation. Then, I cast the pillow aside. That’s all the time I have to consider the trip to Brussels.
Nebraska and Lexi vacated the room to check out. In their wake, the place looks as if a hurricane has passed through. Two unmade beds, a rogue coverlet, towels strewn about the bathroom floor, the desk stationary askew, one flower upended out of a pinched glass vase.
Brussels. It actually doesn’t sound like a bad detour. Belgium is home to three admirable qualities: the “Liz,” Stella Artois, and decadent chocolate. Bike, beer, Barú. I gather my few things and race down the stairs. Think, Lexi and I will see the sites after feeling completely out of place at this dumb wedding, then ditch Nebraska for Paris. But there’s a problem when I get downstairs. They’re nowhere to be seen.
I check out, begin wandering about when I happen to catch sight of the two frantically jumping up and down in front of the inn amid Lexi’s baggage, attempting to hail a cab. I watch them. If the cab arrives, will she speed off with him without me?
I can’t bear it. I push through the door, call out, “Weren’t you going to wait for me, Lex?” She shrugs, gestures towards Nebraska. He’s pacing the length of the curb swearing, his hands on his hips. “You girls take forever to get it together,” he says.
My person is cast beyond thirty billion light years from the Milky Way again. Why is she, this beautiful, intelligent and independent girl, following this asshole of a stranger around? I squeeze my eyes closed, my heart thumps, the blood courses through my ears. He’s ruining everything. No. She’s ruining everything. A gnawing sensation beckons from my stomach, a scratching at the bottom of a well. I’m starving. The emptiness, however, is gratuitous. The voice of discernment comes through loud and clear: he’s a catalyst.
A cab pulls up. “It’s about time,” Nebraska grumbles, flinging baggage into the trunk. Lexi stands beneath a lamp post, doe-eyed, as if to say, I’m sorry, two very small words that can’t possibly compensate for layers of complication. Nebraska instructs her to get in the cab. He says, “You too, Linda.”
I don’t hold back. “It’s Lisa, you moron.”
The three of us cram into the backseat. Nebraska barks at the driver. “Step on it, man, flight’s leaving in an hour.” Lexi peers out the window. I look wistfully at my gym bag and envision the way it was supposed to be: Lexi and I sitting down to a rustic table, a spray of primrose and poppies and peculiar condiments between us. The innkeeper setting down coffee and two plates of soldiers and egg.
We arrive at Heathrow with less than thirty minutes to departure. Nebraska throws money at the cabbie and engages a porter to manage the baggage in an act of efficiency that surprises me. I stand there, holding my gym bag to my belly, a pacifier of sorts, pleading silently at Lexi. Eye contact, Lex, make eye contact with me. She doesn’t. Nebraska takes hold of her arm and whisks her through the retracting doors and into the terminal. I watch them, a good-looking couple, scurry and break through the pockets of people — Michael Cole and Peggy Lipton of the Mod Squad. The porter trots after them. I follow in their wake.
A boarding call for the flight penetrates the PA system. Nebraska and Lexi stand before a pre-ticketed counter. They’re changing her flights. She is reaching into her purse, the two of them conversing to one another and an agent, then she starts back to where I’m standing in the midst of the foot traffic, being bumped and fumbled about in a state of befuddlement. Once before me, everything around her blurs into gray, chaos goes underwater. I gaze into her face wide-eyed, imploring, Lexi, let’s go back to the inn. “His name is Lane,” she says.
“You keep calling him Nebraska.” Her expression is dead serious. “His name is Lane.”
She just said Lane two times. Her processor is defunct. “Lexi–”
“Here’s some cash.” She stuffs a wad of green into my hand. “Lane has invited us to a small family wedding in the Botanic Garden in Meise.” I already know this. She points to a ticketing counter with a queue that zigzags around four times.
“Lexi, you don’t even know ‘Lame’ and have no business attending the wedding. Where’s your head? What about our plans?”
Her eyes well-up. I’ve never seen anyone look so much like they’re going to cry but the tear doesn’t swell over their lower eyelid. I tell her, “He’s short-tempered and an asshole.” Football players saunter by and I’m clobbered on both sides by equipment bags—balls and cleats. I elbow away the last of it. “What if he hurts you?”
Lane appears. The tear at last makes the leap over Lexi’s lower eyelid and tracks down her face. He takes her arm, pulls her away, as if we’re not in mid-conversation, as if we didn’t share profound intimacy the night before. Lexi knew my true intentions all along, and she created Nebraska, Brussels, and the trashy getup to sabotage my own manifestation.
The two of them dash toward the departing gate. “Lexi, don’t go.” I say it in sotto voce, it’s all I got.
I watch them until they become smaller and smaller and finally disappear. Lexi didn’t look back.