Stalking the Quarry
"Stalking the Quarry"
I didn’t mean to stop for so long, but I couldn’t help it. It was like everything that I had ever wanted just suddenly materialized right in front of me. Except it wasn’t “like” that. It was that.
You look taller than I remember, if that’s even possible. And your hair has grown back more so to its normal style, the one you donned when we were together, but I could still tell it had been cut recently in the fall. You wear a long coat too heavy to allow itself to sway in the quiet force of the breeze, and I wonder how big a coat like that would look on me.
I shouldn’t have stopped here at this dessert truck in the cold, the late afternoon preparing for the night, but I did. And now, because of my indecision to leave when I had the chance, to meet back up with my father to enjoy the night-time tour of the cathedral we made reservations for days in advance, you’ve seen me. I can tell. It’s that kind of feeling you get when someone’s watching you. You can’t see it, not even in your eyes’ peripheries, but you can feel an observer on your tail, feel yourself morph into becoming the center of somebody else’s world. I had quickly glanced before to ensure that it was, truly, you, to make sure I was correct in my initial suspicions, but I don’t dare to look your way now, instead intent on giving the server my full attention as I say thank you. I make an effort to speak perfect French to him; he’s not too surprised someone here would know the language and so doesn’t give me an exaggeratedly enthusiastic response, but I think he is glad an American knows his native tongue. I can sense a certain patriotic pride in his subtle smile.
When somebody’s eyes are upon you, your life becomes infinitely more difficult. You don’t dare to look in his direction because, then, you can’t continue in your charade, pretending you are blissfully ignorant to his presence. And it wouldn’t be believable if you were to simply say you didn’t recognize him; your eyesight isn’t bad enough to blame it on that. And so, you force yourself to walk in the direction where your eyes don’t need to grace over that corner of the square. You decide to fixate your eyes upon the statue directly ahead and make it the target of your promenade. It looks historic enough to receive all your attentions, a sufficient alibi.
As your steps start to imply a destination, you can feel him follow you, quietly excuse himself to his friends, leaving just enough detail in order to not make them worry or inquire about his later whereabouts. He continues his position a safe distance away, only inching forward every now and then to gradually decrease the space apart. Fortunately, he’s still far enough away where it’s too hard to tell with completely certainty whether you are you, and so he can’t, in all his polite, professional, and academic manners, approach with such confidence just yet. Instead, he just waits, suspended between sporadic convictions that it’s surely you and that it might not be. But you know it’s him; after all, you planned all of this.
You told your father you needed to come here. Something about how global travels are like cures for your “mental health issues.” You couldn’t tell if he couldn’t see through the bullshit, that your spontaneous 19-year-old self simply wanted to rid yourself of the mundanity of my life, or if he just chose to disregard it because, in his mind, the opportunity to spend any time with you warrants no need for qualification. And why here exactly? I mean, it’s popular enough to be a destination for American tourists such as yourselves, but it’s not necessarily that grand as to be proposed with such utter, unwavering confidence, a stubborn inability to compromise with any other place in the world. And thus, to preemptively offer your reasons before questions were raised, you told him that it’s the city of your favorite musical, the one that’s kept you sane during these numbing yet chaotic times. Plus, restaurants are the most open in Europe—as are drive-in movie theatres, something you’ve just recently discovered the splendor of. And, most importantly, as you’ve remarked countless times, the boys in this country are, by far, the most gorgeous. Luckily, in the mind of your father, that last piece of evidence is a reason for, and not a reason against, going. Though obviously protective of his first child, he never was one of those dads who wore those “DADD” shirts, the “Dads Against Daughters Dating” shirts which often left daughters to turn red with embarrassment as their friends pointed and laughed at the choice of garment when warming up for AYSO soccer practice. No, he was similar to you in his days. Crushing on every type of girl just as you crush on and fall in love with boys, easily and obsessively. He appreciates your liveliness in these endeavors, the fact that you are seemingly the only one in his family to actually share about your romantic interests. And not just share. Overshare. Confess so much in group texts and Facetime calls and over family dinners. Stick your iPhone in front of the faces of your family members as they work on their computers at the kitchen table, a picture album dedicated to him displayed on the screen. And so, your dad is content with your choice of destination, even if it is a little on the “boring” side.
But forget all those counterfeit reasons; you know you only picked this place because of him. Those rationales, though not necessarily “untrue” and, purely objectively, able to hold themselves up in court, are meaningless in the perspective of your teenage-girl brain, the subjective decision-making epicenter that it is. You knew that he wasn’t going back to work until the end of January, instead spending his extended Christmas break with his uncle in the mansion of a house his family has owned for over 200 years. While you were stuck in the throes of final essay writing, you clicked on the location tag he so obliviously placed upon his picture of the fancy wine restaurant he just went to. He wouldn’t have guessed you’d do that--take advantage of his momentary boasting--but, in the middle of all the frustration of studying, you needed something to hold onto, some sort of ending holy grail that actually made you want to finish. If you created no light at the end of the tunnel for yourself, what motivation would there be at all? The loyal person you are, you held onto these dreams and plans that you promised yourself would eventually actually come into fruition. You know he likes to stop by this square--specifically, this truck--even if he does harbor some nationalistic resentment towards the French, something you often used to tease him about, pretending to be attacked as, though fully a Los Angeleno, you are, in fact, ¼ French. You know so much more than he thinks you do, and it’s strange to be aware of this great chasm of difference between what he knows about you and what you know about him.
Despite this breadth of knowledge, it’s weird to finally see him like this, a person you were never supposed to see again. A one-time thing that you actually followed up on. And that thought immediately makes your brain start to assume the worst: that he might figure out all of your secretive plans, that this “coincidence” will look a lot weirder than the cute and harmless happenstance you initially thought it would play itself out to be. Traveling around the world for someone you got to know in two days. Actually—two nights. And maybe that’s the final string, the main impetus behind this decision to walk—almost run--away. You never once consider stopping, hoping that you won’t have to face him and that you can start over again tomorrow morning and do this the regular way, the right way. Things look so much worse, so much more ill-thought-out, when you’re forced to bear the consequences then and there than when you simply play with fire in your mind, allowing your desires to fester and get out of hand, reaching the point where they become impossible to extinguish. Where you end up finding yourself on a plane and then on a boat, with your luggage hanging onto the watercraft by loose ropes as the tipsy driver steers towards the mainland. Where you end up finding yourself in those same plazas and restaurants you imagined you’d go, wearing that gaudy, newly bought blue Cinderella dress. Places once only visited on the screen spring to life, and you try your hardest to make it all worth it. But the close proximity to him makes it all the more restricting.
Now, instead of simply feeling him follow you, you start to acquire auditory evidence of his decision to stalk. His boot? I think it’s his boot, can more easily be heard on the cobblestone the path now begins to consist of.
And finally, despite my continued turned position, leaving him only the back of my head to face, he calls my name.
It’s not loud enough to interrupt a stranger but loud enough for the one who’s heard her name to have to turn around.
And in this moment, I have a choice to make—either stop and risk all the potential backlash that comes from the awareness of obsession or ignore him completely, walk out of that square and, later, when he sends you a confused text out of the blue, convince him that, of course, you’re still in Los Angeles.
But he decides for me. He shouts my name again—louder, like he’s convinced it’s me. Fuck. A disregard now would just be mean, make me out to be a malicious bitch who, for some reason, *accidentally* runs into a person she used to date in his native country and doesn’t even bother to say hi. I am left with no other option--no pathway to feign indifference--as he shouts at a volume even a passerby would turn around for.
And so I do.