I was never a man with good luck in life. What, for others, was instinct and opportunity, was for me a difficult effort. This was, of course, most true in the area of romance. Somehow, while all those around me were falling for the girls next door, being asked out for the first time, and getting their first kisses, I was left wondering why God gave me a set of impulses and urges that never seemed to come to fruition. Because, yes, I had the same compulsions as every other man as I neared and passed my sexual prime, but they never seemed to help me get any women. Some magic coating around me always managed to let them slide on past without adhering to me in any way. And so my only relief was in fantasy.
Ah, fantasy, last refuge of the damned. If there was some force in real life that pushed the women away from me, then there was some equally strong force in my dreams that pushed them toward me. In my dreams I could walk into a store, see a beautiful woman, and meet her and charm her and love her. I didn't even have to bother figuring out how to charm, or what to say, I didn't even need courage, I didn't even need to bother meeting her. I could simply close my eyes and be in many interesting positions without bothering with all the difficulties of social interaction. And so I lived in fantasy, abetting the worst of my urges within the infinitely malleable realms of my mind. For a time, it worked.
But as time went by things only got worse. My situation in life didn't improve, but the call of my body got stronger. My desire for women increased, and my ability to get them decreased. And no matter how good my imagination, a pretended sensation was not a real sensation. I kept banging my head against the harsh barrier between reality and fantasy as I strove to satisfy the howling call of my limbic lobe. Soon, imagining was no good at all. Any woman I tried to pretend there in my arms would evaporate away into the cold emptiness of isolation. Any encounter I pictured in my mind would fade away into the black limbo of my thoughts.
Soon, imagining anything at all became impossible for me, as harsh reality came knocking at my brain. Television shows would just be people in ridiculous costumes saying things someone else made up and standing in front of cameras. Books would just be words describing things that had never happened, never would happen, and often never could happen. Fiction of any kind was false, lies, fake hopes. Just visions, dreams, puffs of smoke that could never stand up in the light of day, never get you what you really want. All that was real was reality, by definition, and fantasy was, by definition, fake.
And so it was, with no other avenues of escape and nowhere else to retreat to that I finally found myself forced to seek what I wanted through the real world, the one, true, real world, since I could imagine it no longer.
I was on my own for the first time when the limit was reached, staying in a hotel for a week for a convention, far away from everyone and everything I knew, surrounded by strangers with a similar business interest and nothing else in common. Despite my determination to make a human connection, the crowds around me remained crowds, refusing to yield individual persons to me for any sort of meaningful contact. It seemed that now my life had hit rock-bottom. I no longer could find relief in fantasy, and reality remained as cold and impersonal as ever.
And then, I met her. Late one night, returning from a day of floor-work at the convention, I entered the elevator to go to my floor and a young woman, about my age, entered with me. I reached out to push the button for the 8th floor. She reached out at the same time. Our hands brushed against one another, skin on skin, and I looked up at her, startled. She looked back. Out eyes met, and I saw that this was a beautiful woman.
For a moment, we were both frozen, awkwardly. Then, my mind clicked back into normal operations. "Oh, sorry," I said, and drew my hand back.
"Not at all," she said, and smiled.
The elevator doors closed, and the elevator slid silently upward, empty but for the two of us. At first, I just gazed nervously forward, feigning a deep interest in the floor indicator overhead as she did likewise. I glanced at her nervously and considered my situation. Here I was, by myself with a lovely woman, with an excuse to talk to her. She could be what I was looking for. And every second I spent sitting there, staring at the floor indicator lights brought us that much closer to the 8th floor, and that much closer to never seeing her again! Why shouldn't I talk to her? Why don't I talk to her?! Why don't I-
"So, are you in town for the convention, too?" I forced out of my throat, far too quiet.
"Hmm?" she said, looking over at me. "Oh, uh, yes. I'm here for the convention."
"Oh. Me too. Um, Henry Connor, nice to meet you," I said, and extended my hand to her.
"Anne-Marie Martin," she said, and took my hand into her own small, soft grip.
Her hand felt so good in mine that I didn't want to let it go. But I forced myself to release after an acceptably brief handshake, to avoid alienating her yet. "I'm from Las Vegas," I said, "Where are you from?"
She told me. I had relatives there. I told her so. I made a comment about the weather there. She laughed. She asked me about Vegas. I responded. We both laughed. Then the elevator doors opened. I walked out into the hall beside her, still conversing. And she, miracle of miracles, seemed to enjoy conversing back! By the time I reached my room in the hall I was horribly sad to have to see her go. "Good night," I said reluctantly, and stopped in the hall, fishing for my key.
"Good night," I heard her say, as I turned to my door. I opened it, and as I pulled it open my elbow bumped into her similarly drawn-back elbow. Startled, I turned to face Anne-Marie. She was opening the door immediately across the narrow hall from me. "Well," she said with a smile, "It looks like we're neighbors."
"I hope to see you again, soon, neighbor," I said, returning the smile. I turned, entered my room, shut the door, and lay down on the bed. I expected to be exhausted from the convention, but for some reason I couldn't sleep. I just lay there on my bed, staring at the ceiling, feeling restless inside. Television didn't help, neither did books. Nothing could abate that restlessness. In short order, I realized what that meant: my mind was once more calling me forth, to satisfy myself in real life. But now, for once, I knew what I had to do.
I sat up and picked up the phone from the night table, dialing for the room across the hall. After a few rings, it picked up. "Hello," said the familiar voice.
"Anne Marie?" I said, "Hi, this is Henry from across the hall."
"Oh, hi Henry," she said, her voice brightening. "How are you doing?"
"Oh, I'm fine," I said, "I was just calling because I discovered something very important that may affect our entire industry."
"What's that?" she asked.
"That convention nights are horribly boring when you're by yourself. Have you been discovering the same thing?"
She laughed through the phone. "Yes," she said, "I believe I can corroborate your research."
"Well then," I said, "Would you like to talk a bit about finding a solution to this industrial problem?"
"Sure," she said, "I find I've got lots of the phenomenon over here. Why don't you come on over?"
"Alright," I said, "I'll be right there." As I placed the phone on the cradle I realized that my heart was pounding and my hands were covered in sweat. But I had done it! I had talked to a woman, only moments before a complete stranger, and been charming and witty and gotten invited over to her place! Even if nothing happened over there or any time in the future, it was still a triumph, and the furthest I had ever gotten in reality before.
But, I thought, shaking my head, she's waiting for me over there! Quit day-dreaming and move!
I stood up, straightened my tie in the mirror, and headed out the door. I closed my door room behind me, turned around, and knocked on her door. A moment later, the door opened and there was Anne-Marie before, smiling and radiant in her beauty. I walked in.
I had intended to be the perfect gentleman, as I always had before, allowing self-discipline and outright fear to prevent me from taking any action towards romance. But my growing confidence in myself and her acceptance and apparent desire for me caused me to be more forward than usual. Soon, she produced a bottle of wine from somewhere, and I had alcohol to further remove my inhibitions. Just as I had always heard people say before, one thing led to another, and soon I found myself holding her, and then taking her into my arms and kissing her passionately and she kissing back. We fell back upon the bed and pressed our bodies against one another, skin on skin, flesh on flesh, clothing disappearing. Finally!, I thought, Finally!
And then, I remembered -- this wasn't real. Poof, the image of her and I, pressed together as one wavered, dimmed, and finally dissolved away in my mind, bringing me back into myself.
I was alone in my room, lying on my bed, daydreaming about a chance encounter with an attractive woman going further than such things really could. I sighed, tried to recall the images, and decided not to. It was too painful to think about such things, knowing that they were false. Sure, she'd been willing to make small-talk in an elevator, but drinking with me, and making out when she'd only known me for a few short hours? Such was the stuff of fiction, not reality.
And, yet, there was a beautiful woman across the hall from me, and she did seem to like me in the elevator. Maybe, I decided, calling her was not such a dumb idea.
More nervously than the imagined time before, I sat up, picked up the phone, and dialed for the room across the hall. It rang several times without picking up. I was about to give up, when finally, the call went through. After a few moments of silence and audible scraping, Anne-Marie's voice said groggily, "Hello? This is Anne-Marie, who is calling?"
My heart began beating wildly with fear, and my whole body began to shiver with embarrassment. I had woken her up! Of course, what kind of fool was I? Of course she'd be sleeping! It was late, normal people were exhausted after conventions. Sure, maybe she liked me, but she wasn't going to stay up all night in the school-girl hope that I would call.
Without saying a word, I hung up. I released my hand from the phone, and stared at the wall, feeling the full depths of my embarrassment. If she knew I had called her late at night just to talk to her then she would definitely think I was some sort of psychotic, and any small chance I had towards her would be definitely gone. I sighed heavily, got up, turned off the lights in my room, undressed, and got into bed. For a long, long time, I still couldn't sleep. But eventually, I did.
The next day was a blur, and soon I was back at the hotel, earlier this time, waiting for the elevator to convey me to the 8th floor. As I waited, Anne-Marie walked up beside me.
She looked over and saw me. "Henry, right?," she said with a smile, "How was your day?"
"You know," I said, "I can't for the life of me remember. Maybe it's better that way."
She laughed, and I laughed, and the elevator doors opened. We stepped in, and she held back while I pushed the button for the 8th floor. We smiled at each other. I made a bit more small-talk, and she returned it, and soon we were at our floor. We were walking down the hall, about to separate, when I built up all the courage I had and decided to give the real thing a shot. "Anne-Marie," I said, "It's still early, and I've got nothing to do all night. Would you like to go get a cup of coffee with me, or something?" Having said it, I felt a burst of achievement inside. It wasn't eloquent, but it was real!
She checked her watch. "Sure," she said, "I'll meet you back out here in, say, fifteen minutes. I've just got to change first."
I agreed, and when I entered my room a smile hit my face as wide as the Grand Canyon. Sure, I wasn't going to do anything like that I had imagined last night, but finally I was trying, finally I was getting somewhere in real life. Perhaps, with time and effort, this could turn into that romantic encounter I had always hoped for. Maybe even into love. Fifteen minutes later, trying to hide what my hopes of what might develop, I moved back out into the hall. Anne Marie was waiting, dressed in a T-shirt and jeans. Not very fantastic, I thought, but at least it's real.
And then, I remembered-this wasn't real. The image of me and Anne-Marie faded away, blurred into vagueness, and vanished. I opened my eyes and pulled myself back down, once more, from a lovely dream.
I was alone still, in my hotel room, in a strange city at a convention for an industry that I didn't really care about, and that didn't really need me. I felt an inner confusion and sense of loss, and then I realized what generated that feeling. I remembered that this was still only the second night here in this city, at this convention. I hadn't met anyone more than fleetingly yet, and all my elevator trips had been alone. Anne-Marie, sweet, beautiful Anne-Marie, did not exist. She was a dream, and nothing more. That explained the confusion, and that explained the loss.
But could it be?, I asked myself, She seemed so real. And so nice. And there she was, just across the hall.
But no, I remembered, there was a middle-aged business-man across the hall. I had seen him before, coming and going, paying no attention to me or any others there in the hotel. He certainly was not Anne-Marie.
I sat up on my bed and sunk my chin in my hands in depression. "Damn it!", I said, "Why can't anything real happen!" I sat and wallowed in my own loneliness for a few minutes, then remembered that I didn't have to be completely alone here. I had a friend in this city, from high school, and she had invited me to call her if I ever was in town. Willing to do anything to abate the isolation I felt after the loss of Anne-Marie in every possible way, I looked the old-time friend up in the phone number book in my wallet.
I looked at the clock on the night table. It was mid afternoon. With nothing to lose, I picked up the phone and called her.
She was there. She was glad to hear from me. I talked a while about nothing, then changed the subject to my dream of Anne-Marie, and from there my loneliness, and the emptiness I felt, and the frustration of my constant unsatisfied desire for women. She was highly sympathetic.
"You don't sound like you should be by yourself," she said, "Can I come over?"
Glad for the company, I heartily agreed. Some time later, I heard a knock and a familiar voice at my door. It was her! I got up to open the door.
She was there, and she was ravishing! I had known, from before, that she was pretty, but I had never dated her in high school for one reason or another. But now, she was wearing a small, red dress that revealed everything nice about her figure, and she was looking at me in a way no woman had ever looked at me before. She stepped into my room and shut the door.
"I think I know what you need, Henry," she said, and reached her arms up around my neck, kissing me passionately. I pulled her close and kissed her back. After a long moment, we disengaged. "Yes, I think I know what you want," she said.
Smiling, she pulled the straps on her dress over each shoulder, and slinked the garment down around her feet, then stepped out of it, clothed only in sleek red lingerie. She placed her hands on my chest and backed me to the bed, pushing me so I fell back on the mattress. Then, she unzipped my pants, and began to show me what she had in mind.
And, then I remembered-this wasn't real either. The scene disappeared like a wisp of fog, and I opened my eyes to the light above me. I was on my bed, at home, alone, with no love in my life and no friends to call and no convention to attend the next day.
I went downstairs, got in my car, and left to seek human companions.