When Nate called off the engagement, everyone told Annie how devastated, absolutely devastated she must be, and so she went along with it, if only so as to not let them down. Years later, over an impromptu coffee after a chance run-in on Bloor, she actually thanked him for his decision. We weren’t ready, she told him, neither of us, it would’ve been a disaster. He was relieved to hear her say so, and she was pleased with herself for letting him off the hook. But she knew it wasn’t true: they weren’t too young; they just didn’t really like each other all that much, at least, speaking for herself. They’d been together three years and gone through the motions and intertwined their friends and families and clearly at some point, earlier on, she must’ve fancied him — hadn’t she? there was nothing wrong with him, exactly, good hair, strong teeth — but as the wedding date had approached her anxieties blossomed. It’s normal, she tried telling herself; besides, this is what you do at this stage of your life, right? Her friends all seemed to do it with aplomb.
Something about him had begun to repulse her. The way he brushed his teeth. Parked a car. Even the sound of his name. Nate. Nayyyt. Neeeeight. Like a whiny horse. She’d begun to have trouble spitting it out when introducing him. And this is my fiancé, Nate. True, he kept the bed warm, but then so did a hot water bottle. Who was he, really? Sinews and blood, nerves and neurons. The sum began to seem less than its parts. Sometimes when she looked at him she couldn’t help picturing the skeleton within the flesh, behind his face the skull.
But she couldn’t imagine doing anything quite so drastic, so definitive (apart from getting married, of course, and she was fully aware of the irony, thank you very much), as calling the whole thing off. Invitations had been sent. The hall booked. She’d read somewhere that the First World War might’ve been averted if not for the fear of deviating from the transportation schedules, the movement of men and materiel. Once the trains had left their stations it became difficult, embarrassing, to call them back.
And so, like the generals of Europe in the summer of 1914, Annie was prepared to go to war rather than cancel the florist. A war against herself, to defeat an already metastasizing antipathy towards her soon-to-be husband. It would be a war of attrition, she knew, played out over years, decades even, as she battled to hold her tongue, check her fury, sublimate her many dissatisfactions. And in the interim there’d be a mortgage or two, children. Maybe an ineffective bout of therapy. Pills. A desultory affair.
There’s always divorce, a friend had once remarked, cheerfully and unseriously, about her own ball n’ chain. But Annie knew that if she couldn’t even call off a wedding, how could she possibly be expected to terminate a marriage? She couldn’t. Wouldn’t. No, this would run its course. Til death do us etcetera.
So middle of May, with a month to go, when Nate had sat her down on the lime green sofa in their cramped two-bedroom on Tichester, held her hand and tearfully confessed his misgivings, said how sorry he was, so sorry, she didn’t deserve this but he couldn’t go through with it, didn’t feel right for reasons he couldn’t properly articulate but which were real nonetheless… throughout his anguished monologue, Annie had to work very hard to suppress a smile. She felt like a castaway who’d just made land. The tears she cried were from relief, but let him think otherwise. She saw no need to hurt his feelings, to admit how little he meant to her. Let him think she was devastated, absolutely devastated, that she’d need time to recover, to get past this, over him. She shocked herself at how easily she took to the role of the jilted, wilting bride. It was a role she inhabited, to glowing reviews, for about six weeks, before it wore out her patience.
At the end of her run she booked a week for herself at the Four Seasons in Cozumel. Everyone said she deserved it. Sara and Jen offered to come, to keep her company. But company, or at least their company, wasn’t really what she had in mind. Besides, Sara had three under five and Jen had just started at Faskens. She told them thanks you guys, I really appreciate it but I really need this time alone, to sort things out, centre myself and all that, and they both said ok but if you change your mind and she said you’re the best I love you guys.
And so, on a crisp, clear blue morning in June, Annie was perfectly content to be on her own, staring out at the bright white tarmac from her seat near the window at Gate 39, and thinking of absolutely nothing.
The book recommended it. It was Step Three. Step One was to mentally and physically mark the start of the process: tell yourself you’re about to begin and put yourself in an environment where you can focus. Step Two was to think of everything. Set a timer. Five minute limit. Then think of everything that’s worrying you, distracting, upsetting you. Don’t judge yourself; just think it. See it. Then flatten each item into two-dimensions so it fits on a piece of paper in your mind. One issue per sheet, one sheet atop the next. Now, when your five minutes are up, take that stack of worries and put it in your mental filing cabinet. Close the drawer. You haven’t banished your worries; they’re there should you need them. But for now, you’re busy with Step Three: having thought of everything, you’re now prepared to think of nothing. Think a desert. A white floor receding into a white horizon. The tarmac at Terminal 1.
Then, once you’ve achieved mental nothingness, you can begin to manifest the somethingness of your dreams. Or something like that. Annie never really did get to the meat of it. But, as it turned out, she got far enough.
Sara had dropped her off at the airport and pressed the book into her hands as a pre-boarding gift. Perfect spa reading, she said. My therapist swears by it. Annie said thanks sweetie but I’m not into this spiritual stuff, you know me: Us Weekly, InStyle, maybe Vanity Fair is about as introspective as I get. Annie tried giving it back but Sara insisted, going so far as to shove it into Annie’s red leather Adidas carry-on. This is about to fall apart, Sara said, zipping the bag closed. Annie said I know I’ve had it since high-school if you can believe it. Sara said it was vintage then; now it’s practically historical.
But for Annie, the bag’s historicity was precisely the point. It was a chic totem of bygone days, college days, pre-Nate days. As Sara drove off, Annie hugged it just a bit tighter. I’ll never let you go, she thought. And yet, no sooner did she think it then her reflection, as it flashed in thin slashes of concourse mirror — in the gift shop, bookstore, between food court stalls — began to displease her. Something was off. It was the bag, she had to admit. It had seen better days, no question; there were superficial gashes in parts, the leather was getting ragged in patches, and some of its seams had begun to fray. Perhaps it was less charming than she’d imagined.
The rest of her look — grey pencil skirt, charcoal blazer over a tight lime green tee, black Prada wedges — was consistent with her image of her best, fiercest self. The ancient red leather Adidas? Maybe not so much. Maybe Sara had a point, maybe time to retire the old gal. Annie browsed a little longer than she might otherwise have in the luggage shop, and in the introductory advertising pages of the Vanity Fair she lingered awhile on a shot of a green-eyed girl not unlike herself, pale and sharply angled, astride a cobblestoned street in lower Manhattan, swinging a tan, calf-skin Bottega Veneta, a Sfumato Brera according to the copy, with “signature intrecciato weave on the zip pulls and brunito-finish hardware.”
She checked Instagram, hearting a couple of pics, then flipped through the rest of the magazine, slowing to read a longer piece on an ex-congresswoman’s transition to meth addiction and petty theft, finally busted pinching scarves from Bendel’s on Topanga Canyon Boulevard. Annie checked the time: awfully close to departure, no? Shouldn’t they be boarding by now? And then an announcement from the gate agent: due to a last-minute crew switch, the flight would be slightly delayed.
Annie sighed and flipped open Us Weekly and stars buying toilet paper, just like us. Who wore what when where & worst. An anchorwoman’s brush with breast cancer, and Kate Hudson’s newest brand of blush.
Texted Sara thanks again for the ride my flight’s delayed they’re not saying how long I’m bored.
She looked down at her bag. Stared at it a moment, then squinched her mouth ever so slightly to the left and thought ah what the hell. She reached down, opened the zipper, and pulled out the book that Sara had all but forced upon her, Sara, who’d commanded the ouija board in high-school and who, at Western, had dusted off her bat mitzvah-level Hebrew to became a militant neo-Kabbalist. Her metaphysics had mellowed with age, and now ran more to aromatherapy, spin classes and books like this.
Visual Lies, by Dr. William H. Chakrabarti. Move beyond your primary, visual sense of the world. That world is an illusion. Turn your gaze, your real gaze, inward. Go deep. See like you’ve never seen before, simply by shutting your eyes.
Annie didn’t shut her eyes but she did roll them mightily. Cheeseballs, she thought, before deciding to park her cynicism, at least for a chapter or two.
Which is how she came to be staring out at the bright white tarmac from her seat near the window at Gate 39, doing her best to think of nothing at all, which proved to be intensely difficult, even for someone who prided herself on her uncluttered, virtually antiseptic mind. But a steady focus on the horizon had begun to help, and the last of her thoughts were just now tiptoeing off-stage.
A still, quiet moment. A kiss of time, a second, two, maybe three, of bliss… before a voice, an obtuse, oblivious spell-breaker from two seats over said, you look familiar, have we met? Annie blinked, keeping her eyes closed a moment longer than necessary. Must we?, she thought, turning her head — slowly — to face the source. He was was tall-ish, around five ten, but compact, with blond Kennedy hair, tremendously tanned and fitted to a slim charcoal suit. No tie, crisp white shirt with the top two buttons undone.
She said I don’t think so without turning her body round to align with her gaze, but he didn’t pick up on her cue — or did but didn’t care. You in banking? he said, by way of mentioning his profession. You ever vacay in Mustique? No, she said. And no again. He said business or pleasure, and she said neither.
Sizing her up, he spied the book, then looked at her with a thin smile. No offence but you don’t really believe in that, do you, making stuff happen just by visualizing it? You don’t think starving kids in Africa visualize bananas or mangos or whatever they eat over there? They’re still starving, last I checked.
Annie came alive: something in what he’d just said, or how he said it. She turned to face him completely. Encouraged, he prattled on, but for Annie his words became sounds, his patter a drone, repetitious, meditative. Nothing and everything merged. And somewhere between describing the view from his Cumberland condo and partying with Drake at the Mamounia in Marrakesh, the transformation began. His arms and legs started shrinking into his torso. It was quick, but not sudden, and the process so smooth, as if it were the most natural thing in the world, that at first he didn’t even perceive it. By the time he realized that his skin had turned to leather and his nails to shiny bits of hardware, it was too late. He opened his mouth to scream but she zipped it shut. Then she unzipped it, transferred her stuff from the decrepit red Adidas (which she stuffed into the nearest trash can), and zipped it shut again.
They started boarding moments later. The stewardess, who greeted her at the plane and directed her to her seat, complimented her carry-on. Bottega? she asked, and Annie said you know it. After about fifteen minutes Annie asked her when they were going to start to taxi. The woman said we’re just doing a final boarding call for someone. But if he doesn’t show in the next minute or so we’ll be off.
He didn’t show.
As the plane began rumbling into position, and just before stowing her phone, Annie sent Sara a final text:
Btw loving the book