This morning my husband came into the bedroom and asked if I had seen his blue jacket.
The one on the bench? I asked, procrastinating the next question.
Yes, there were two.
Those two blue jackets, on the bench by the door—?
Yes, he said, a little nervous.
I took them to the dry-cleaner yesterday.
One of them, he said, had my wallet in its pocket. With a lot of money in it. Did you get the money?
And here, reader, I stand at a crossroads. There are 15 directions I could proceed with the narrative. Do you laugh, or get a divorce? Are we in this together, or will this be the thing that tears us apart? It’s Saturday morning, 10am. I was lying in bed when he came into the room with the slightly-nervous tone in his voice. I was gazing out the window, thinking about all the hours in my life I have spent gazing out a bedroom window. My childhood bedroom window that framed elm branches that drew the shapes of sharks against grey winter sky. The Nairobi bedroom window with the crazy-ass flame tree on the other side of the fence, and how it always reminded me—every day for four years—of a time years before in Nairobi, in another part of town, in another life, with a different man, no children; of the cigarettes and safaris. The bedroom window of the New York landscape—hours and hours and hours gazing out that window, wondering what the hundreds of other people in their windows were doing, and how. And now, 10am Saturday morning—-this bedroom window in Dakar. It’s cooler now, not unbearable at all. There are so many birds! They land on the security grill of the window and peek in. None of them stay for long—on the window grill, or in the yard—they are migrants too, passing through. A birder friend tells me that birds have been tracked in the swamps of Dakar who have come and gone to Europe and back five times. Give me break that’s amazing.
Lately, with the cooler weather, I have had ideas on how to enrich the landscape of our bedroom, and for a moment I imagine the Moroccan theme. My eyes wander over to that chair I hate—would it bring joy to have it reupholstered? Would it bring completion to my life? That corner of the room would become something else again. We’ve had that bad bad chair for 15 years now, is that possible? Why did we even bring it to Dakar, I wondered, and recognized at once that it earns its keep as the resting place for worn-but-not-ready-for-the-laundry clothes. I turn back to the window, the neighbor’s water tank, the doves always perch on the tip of their roof. Has anyone I know, I wondered, spent this much of their life looking out the window? I thought of my friend, an artist in L.A., who has. We talk about it. Sometimes we fear that we might be wasting our lives but we’re pretty smart and funny, so what the hell. I bet Hillary Clinton doesn’t gaze out her window on a Saturday morning though, not on a Saturday or ever. That’s the difference between her and I.
A few years ago I was looking for a friend at Bemmelman’s Bar in the Carlisle Hotel. We were to meet there, I was early. I entered from a side lobby through a side door, a modest entry into the bar, no hostess—and looked around the dimly-lit bar, the little lights on each table, the famous, fading murals. No friend. As I stepped back into the lobby through the nondescript door—almost a speak-easy type door—-a woman passed me. We both turned sidewise to slide past each other. It was not rude; an efficient New Yorker’s management of limited space. We both smelled good as we brushed against each other, no waiting, no harm done. I was wearing an elaborate muff that night, made of soft grey feathers that reached out like delicate tentacles in the static dry-heat of winter. Instinctively, I put my hands on the feathers to hold them so as to not tickle the passing woman’s. It was just a gesture. Pardon, I whispered as we passed, and I received a mutual, though silent, response.
With another step I was back in the empty side lobby. Bill Clinton was standing there, alone. We nodded to each other, I pretended not to know him to be polite. A moment later, Hillary stepped out through the speak-easy bar door—whoosh rose up the mingle-y warm chatter and music of the bar, shush it went as the door closed behind her. It had been Hillary who I had passed a moment earlier, who had brushed against my soft feathers. She said, “They’re setting up a table in the restaurant. We can wait here a few minutes.” And she started working on her Blackberry.
Sure. Ok, Bill said. And went back to his standing there and his smile, his hands in his coat pockets.
The three of us remained in the lobby for several long quiet minutes. I couldn’t measure time, I was frozen in a bottomless pit of potential. I felt, oddly, that I was suddenly in a parallel life: I felt in the presence of gentle Mid-western parents. Hillary’s get-it-done attitude. Bill’s ease. Me. I looked out the window at the black cars and the men in the black suits and the little radios in the ears. I leaned my face against the glass, to see if my friend was coming. It would be hilarious if she arrived and found me with the Clintons, but more so, if she arrived it would justify my waiting there. I didn’t want Former President Clinton to think I was lurking. He was still standing there, gazing. See, he was gazing. Hillary was texting Sarajevo and China. I was waiting. He was gazing out the window. Then the secret door from the bar opened and a pack of little Lily-clad ladies came out, breathless, arms outreached in a way that reminded me a little of Caravaggio paintings of desperate people pulling at each other to see Jesus, or maybe like children rushing out to recess, pulling each other back. Word had spread about the Clintons. The women rushed toward Bill Clinton to whom they wonderfully professed their love, and he clicked on.
Other people who gaze out windows, let’s see. Let’s see let’s see.
I was thinking of all this—thinking about my friend and that wonderful winter night, just after Christmas in 2010. My friend did arrive. We got a table and against the piano music in the bar, the hush of warm voices, the strands of pearls and the breath on the bar windows, we drank three martinis and neither of us remember the rest of the night. We still laugh. I was so young then.
And now too, gazing out the window in Dakar. It was time to get up—past time to get up—the day was wasting. The birds were singing. The sun was shining. Africa, Bemmelmans, the bare trees against winter sky. Does life not keep offering its glorious self? Does it not? Get up and enter the day, babes. And that was when my husband arrived with the issue of the blue jacket, and the wallet, the dry-cleaners and the rest.
The way one’s mood will sway—like water sloshing up against the harbor’s wall, the gentle swell of panic, the retreating wave of dread. The turn of the stomach, the bruise of the soul. I brought it to the dry cleaners yesterday, I said. No, I didn’t check the pockets. Calmly I said, Let’s drive over there now and I roused myself from bed.
(to be continued)