on the occasion of my 33rd birthday, a man asked me to continue his line.
this man is the expert on an author. we'd only met once but he'd gotten me the podcasting gig. he'd written recommendation letters. i considered him a mentor. and then he suggested i have his child.
it was my 33rd birthday.
i was in paris. alone, in polka dot pajamas, eating all of the pasta and all of the cake, drinking champagne, taking baths, and watching the group. and then, amid the standard slew of birthday texts from beloved friends, just after i got off the phone with steven, i received a facebook message from the expert.
we'd had no prior facebook communication. now, he asked if i wanted to have children. he asked, he told me, because one of his kids had died and he was estranged from the other and, he wrote, "i do not want my line to die with me."
this made me want to take a hundred thousand baths plus a hundred thousand more.
because he was married. because he was in his sixties. because he was someone i considered a mentor. because, for all of those reasons and common decency, i should never have been compelled to think about continuing his line. much less in terms of my self.
it was a message to which i did not reply because i could find no way to frame a reply without apologizing.
i am sorry about your son.
i am sorry about your daughter.
i am sorry about your life.
i am sorry but please do not imply that you want my womb.
i refused to apologize and so sent no reply.
a year passed.
it seemed obvious enough what he was asking, but it was hard not to give him the benefit of the doubt. because it seemed a horrible thing to get wrong and because i so seldom trust myself as a narrator.
i imagined i might have misunderstood.
imagining this didn't make it better. it maybe made it just slightly more bearable.
when the author on whom he was the expert published a somewhat controversial book a year later, the expert was suddenly everywhere: talking about the author, hawking his own book on the author, vindicated by the existence of an unpublished manuscript whose existence he'd discovered years before.
in literary circles, it was a big deal. it was something N wanted to discuss. and i would brush her off and say i didn't have time to read all the articles about it, didn't have time to think about it, didn't particularly find it interesting. only later did i tell her why.
because it seemed such a small thing, really. and it felt like, in feeling violated by it, i was making it bigger than it was. (still, it feels i am making it bigger than it is.)
i told N and she said, holy shit.
he was the expert. he was everywhere. this is, i would argue, a reason for not befriending experts, particularly experts whose subjects are still alive. when your friendship goes awry, when it devolves into sexual harassment, they'll be all over creation talking about their subject and be totally unavoidable, try as you might.
debo would see him on tv. she wouldn't tell me she saw him. for all my efforts of avoidance, i'd see him in some article i'd accidentally glanced at and i'd tell her. i'd say i was trying to avoid all the controversy around the book because he was all over it and i'd rather not think about him because it made me think of that one time he asked to borrow my body. i'd say that and only then would debo tell me she saw him on tv.
debo doesn't get angry. but when she said his name, there was a knife-sharp edge to her voice.
maybe it was his vindication, his televised glory, his return to media prominence, maybe he was drunk on his newfound renown, i don't know. but, for some reason, he realized he'd never heard back from me and he felt he owed me an explanation and so he wrote.
abandoning facebook, he chose to explain himself in an email, through what i would characterize as a "celebrity apology." meaning it wasn't so much an "i'm sorry" as an "i'm sorry if you were..." which really isn't an apology at all.
he worried i was confused or upset. he was sorry if i felt surprised or frightened. he was sorry if i had misunderstood.
in this email, entitled "an explanation," he explained: "I was thinking about giving a child to someone who might let it carry on my name— or at least the memory of me."
because this is a memory i would want?
there had been a part of me that truly did believe i had misunderstood. that i had read his initial message wrong. that i had jumped to conclusions and assumed i'd been propositioned when really he'd been saying something altogether else, something more nuanced, and just communicated it very badly.
why i would make so many excuses of poor communication for a writer, i have no idea. but i did.
but it seems i was wrong to do so. it seems i had not misunderstood. at all. his explanation made that clear.
again, i did not reply.
later that year, the author on whom he is an expert died and, again, there was media coverage galore.
again, debo saw him on tv.
again, N saw him in articles and the pair of us sat together at lunch shaking our heads, trying to fathom the disconnect.
i told jmills this story and she said, my god, oline, but he's fucking everywhere!
but time rolls on, the story passes, and he recedes again. and, again, i wonder if i've made it up, made it bigger than it was, because the possibility always exists that maybe it was nothing. it is always possible that, somehow, the responsibility lies with me. i am sorry if you...
a few weeks ago, after a glorious dinner party with much wine, i walked home in sequins and turned on my phone, only to discover a facebook message from this man. a message with a link to a jackie article and no other comment.
no apology for his repeated entreaties regarding my reproductive system.
no further explanations.
no i'm sorry for having sexually harassed you.
just a link to an article on jackie's style. just under the last facebook message he sent me: the one where he asked me to continue his line.
immediately, i replied, told him to never contact me again, and blocked him from contacting me on the internet in every possible way i could find.
and i thought, there. now we're done here.
except not really, because the internet and the media and life don't work that way.
the expert's updated book on the author is being released today.