As we enter the summer, I’m still thinking about the cold. This past winter left me with a significant stain. I met a Czech ballerina. We hit it off immediately. Perhaps too fast. Certainly, in retrospect, I’d go about the speed differently. But we hit it off and then, in the course of one elevator ride, the relationship ended. This is the story of that elevator ride.
Late morning on a frigid day, twenty or so degrees with a nasty windchill. I’m waiting on the elevator landing of the 13th floor. I’m going out for my daily run, wearing shorts, a running shirt, a turtleneck. I’m also wearing a bandanna on my head. I wear the bandanna because my wool skiing hat scratches my head. The bandanna acts as a liner.
The elevator door opens and I step in, grudgingly. Grudgingly because my Czech ballerina and her new boyfriend fill the small space.
For the purposes of this story, I’m going to call the new boyfriend Boris. Mainly because he’s Russian and also because he’s about as suave and sophisticated as Boris Yeltsin. He has big hands like Boris Yeltsin, too.
For the purposes of this story, I’m not going to name the Czech ballerina. She could have told me about Boris before these events. Days after, she sent me an e-mail. Boris was an old flame who’d reentered her life. There was unfinished business between them. There was an intense history that needed to be resolved, one way or another. Fine. But for not having the courage to tell me before these events, I’m not going to name her. How’s that for revenge?
In the elevator I immediately feel tense, sad. My relationship with the Czech ballerina started with a bang. We dated for a week. We slept together to celebrate one week of dating. The sex was graceful, as you might expect with a ballerina. I felt like we moved in a duet. That duet ended with Boris, her former (and future) boyfriend.
In the elevator I stare at my running shoes. I’m trying to concentrate on the scuff marks, on the thinning tread, on the holes poking through the toe box area.
I feel the ballerina’s silence, her awkwardness. It would have been better not to fall for someone one floor removed in the building. Will there be many elevator rides like this one?
Boris starts in on my running attire. He’s staring at my legs. “That’s what you’re wearing?” he says in a thick Russian accent. “It’s freezing outside. Don’t you have a pair of sweats?”
Does he know who I am? Does he know that a week ago I slept with his ballerina? Unknown. I say nothing. I stare at my shoes.
The elevator moves very slowly. Construction on my building began in 1927. The motor of the elevator was installed in 1929. That wasn’t a good year for America, building construction, or motor manufacturing. There was a little event called the Great Depression. The motor of the elevator probably hasn’t been adjusted since.
“You should wear a jacket,” Boris continues, in that thick accent. “Most of your body surface is in your chest.”
I say nothing. The elevator descends slowly.
“What’s up with the bandanna?” the Russian says, with sort of a hillbilly twang.
I glance at the Czech ballerina. I’m wondering what she’s thinking. I’m wondering how she can stand this guy, and this moment. I’m wondering how she can date a Russian. I want to take her back to the Prague Spring, 1968. Her country went through a liberalization period, and a spurning of the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union reacted by invading Czechoslovakia. How can a Czech date a Russian? Boris’s father probably marched on Prague.
I say nothing.
“It looks gay,” Boris says to me.
“What does?” I reply. These are my first words since entering the elevator. I know he’s talking about the bandanna but I simply can’t believe that here in the 21st century, here in liberal New York, that’s an acceptable descriptor.
“The bandanna,” he says.
I say nothing. I want to say, “Well, me and my bandanna just slept with your girlfriend.” I choose silence. The fact is, I can’t win this one. No matter what I say, no matter how shocking or aggressive or insightful, he’s already won. He has her. I have my sorrow. Plus, I’m tired, my energy is zapped from the elevator ride, and I’m wondering how in the world I’m going to make it through my run.
The elevator descends slowly.
Near the ground floor, Boris reaches out his big hand and taps me on the shoulder. “I hope you have a good run,” he says. Very sincere. Almost sweet.
I stare at his hand. I then move away, backing myself into the corner. The hand falls off. The elevator comes to a stop. The ballerina looks up at me. I don’t quite know how to interpret her look. Is that sorrow? Is that total discomfort? Or are those my projections?
Boris is the first to exit. This disgusts me. Where are his manners? What happened to courtesy, opening the door for a lady, letting her leave the elevator first? My disgust leads me back to the question. How can a Czech date a Russian? Boris’s father probably marched on Prague.
I follow behind the couple. Out on the street, I instantly step into a run. I feel terrible during the first mile. Used, empty, discarded. At some point, those feelings break and the run takes over. At some point, I realize that I’m sweating despite the freezing temperature.