It started because he touched my heart, simple as that. He touched a lot of female hearts that year because he’d starred in a movie configured for that express purpose. I’d gone to see it by myself, though I can’t remember now if I went because I was drawn to him, or if I was drawn to him because I went. What I do recall is sitting in the theater, still as a statue, as I watched him kiss his leading lady while tracing his thumb – ever so gently – along her perfectly rounded cheek. I remember thinking that, for all his machismo, his salient aspect was a quality usually associated with women, one that e. e. cummings described as “intense fragility.”
Entering the theater that day, I was a thirtysomething writer who’d long been obsessed with mastering self-control while maintaining forward motion. In the name of those sometimes dichotomous goals, I learned a new word each day, wrote in a journal every night, jogged three miles by 7 a. m., and finished Christmas shopping in September.
By the time the movie ended, I was simply obsessed, ensnared by images viewed in the sequestering dark on an outsize screen, dreamlike images of unfettered romance and male vulnerability that had claimed me as surely and inexorably as a black hole absorbs a galaxy. For weeks after, those images came to mind unbidden, insistent freeze-frames proffering glimpses of his smile, his tears, his inquiring eyes, his tapering fingers. The movie had accomplished what movies generally set out to achieve: It had presented a star wholly distant from me and left me with the delusion that I knew him.
I discussed this with no one. I would never admit that my waking hours were spent lost in fantasies about a man who was unaware of my existence, a man handsome enough and famous enough and rich enough to have any woman he wanted, and who, if only half the rumors I’d heard were true, had already amassed a run of conquests that read like
a list of who got the best tables at Spago. Determined to be sensible, I vowed not to think about him – which was an exercise akin to attempting to lift a board on which I was standing. Finally, it struck me that the only way to right this bizarre and troublesome imbalance was to find a way to make him aware of me.
It would be a long time before I could admit to myself that this particular mission left me not even one degree of separation from midriff-baring girls who wait in hotel lobbies and at stage doors armed with too much mascara and a stash of condoms, the girls for whom life’s promise is temporarily fulfilled by announcing to some burly bouncer, “I’m with the band.”
But unlike them, I could dignify myself with a purpose that went beyond the merely sexual. For the amazing fact was that I had a perfectly valid way to meet him, to speak with him, to ask him questions, to command his attention, if only temporarily: I could set up an interview and write about him. I thought, with a certain wryness, about the dictate of my college professors who’d exhorted students to write about “what you’re interested in.” Mine was hardly the sort of interest they’d encouraged, but this didn’t deter me from making calls to his agent and publicist that set me on a path to confront the inadmissible question: Could he be interested in me?
For a week before the interview, I tried on everything in my closet. The issue was not simply what to wear but how to masquerade as the supremely confident person I was not and never had been.