I was in a nostalgic mood the other day, thinking about the meaningless encounters in my life that, had things gone differently, would have meant something. I wrote about a woman in an airport bar in Cincinnati. I’ve thought of her off and on for more than three years; I even occasionally tried to dig up an email address for her through her publisher. I didn’t try very hard, I admit, but for me she was always out there, a person I had hit it off with but had not had time to alienate. Even as I wrote that bit I wondered if she would stumble across it.
She died in 2002.
You may have read John’s comment to the previous piece informing me of the case, and you may have read my reply. I’m embarrassed by my reaction; I tried to make light of it and ended up making her early death to be about me. I knew the moment I posted the comment I would want to delete it, but in the interest of honesty I will let it stand. You’ve all read it by now anyway. I have not seen any other replies, as I am in Slovakia and Al Gore hasn’t been here yet. (George Bush is in the capital right now, but I think he still expects someone to hand him a sandwich when he says ‘Bratislava’.)
During the drive down here I thought of her. I wonder what ended her life. I wonder if the cancer came back or if she lost her long struggle with her own self-image. Probably neither of those things. Perhaps it was a car crash. Maybe she was struck by lightning. She was thirty-nine, give or take. My memory, not the best, had munged the name of her book; for the record, her name was Lucy Grealy and the name of her book is Autobiography of a Face.
In the end it doesn’t matter. For a few hours I sat on a barstool next to a bright light. I checked out her ass. We had a nice chat. Did she already know she was dying? As we sat there was she facing her own mortality and chasing the inevitable with Chivas and Beer? Could I have made a difference? What if she died of loneliness, while I was thinking of her all along? Then again, for all I know she was happily married, and I was just some guy in a bar during a particularly tedious layover. I’ll never know what that encounter meant to her, and she’ll never know what it meant to me.
I wish now she could know I still think of her, but I have no way to tell her. Her striking eyes are dust, her figure is lost, even her deformed jaw is just a playground for the worms. And I still sit alone in airport bars.