Only On the Outside

Last Friday I am standing in front of a hotel in Hollywood in a black dress and short boots with heels and a man that I’ve only met that morning at a conference tells me I look stunning. There’s a time when this, coming from a near stranger, would have only made me feel lonely. It is, after all, a kind of costume I am wearing. I don’t live here, haven’t learned this neighborhood, and I am here for work, to sit in rooms and at dinner tables with people I sometimes email but have never met, to stay in hotel rooms alone. Today I just say “thank you,” and walk down to meet a friend, to where she and I will follow the boulevard to a dimly lit bar inside The Roosevelt with its antler-clad walls and vintage style seats.

I haven’t seen her in person in years, and she tells me I don’t age. That I always look the same.

Only on the outside, I think.

The last time I am in this situation, states away from home, I am missing my child and so text the man because he travels more often, because he is divorced and even when at home doesn’t get to see his children every day, ask him if it ever gets any easier. It is the first time I have been away from my child for more than a night, before the weekend I borrow the cabin from the man, before everything that will happen happens.

This time I don’t need to text anyone. This time, in the earlier part of the evening, I walk into the conference’s cocktail reception like I belong there, like there had never been in me any doubt, and I think then that I would take it back if I could, that text, every moment of weakness I had shown the man, the times I had allowed myself to be vulnerable. Because I’d rather be this woman, the one sure of herself, all the time, not the one who once, when a man had said he would really like to kiss her, felt at first, more than anything, just fear. Who thought about the t-shirt she was wearing. The no make-up on her face. The tennis shoes. Thought about all the ways that other man had described beauty and how none of them had been me. Thought about how I had, even if briefly, believed him.

I look the same she says. I don’t age.

Only, I will think, on the outside.

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