It was a dinner-in-front-of-the-TV night, and a sitcom came on that I had seen before. It wasn’t bad not exactly appointment TV, but it had a few things to recommend it, like this hot little Italian-looking actress who played this hot little Italian-looking waitress, a direct prime-time descendant of Pinky Tuscadero. In my previous scattered viewings of this show, she had not gone unnoticed, and I had thought, since the thought in these cases is often automatic, that I would like to have sex with her.
On the night in question, however, I was watching early enough to catch the opening credits, and I saw the waitress’ real name go sliding over her picture and off the screen, taking with it all her putative insignificance. The name told me what her face for some reason had not: I had had sex with this woman.
Technically a one-night stand nine years ago, she had always been more than that to me. In fact, I had always thought of her as the Best Sexual Experience of My Life, and as such, an inviolable fixture of memory. She was supposed to be the girl I could never forget.
I was nineteen and she was a few years older, the friend of a friend. She was visiting from L.A., where her career was just getting started, and on her last night in New York a group of us went out for an appropriate send-off.
Slightly zaftig, socially fearless, the actress intimidated me completely from the moment I met her. She was brash and self-confident and the first thing out of her mouth was a joke about never dating younger guys.
I decided from the beginning that I had no chance with her and shouldn’t even try, and the not-trying is probably the best effort I could have made. At the final stop of the evening, I stood at the bar catching up with a friend I’d run into, my back to my party at a table nearby. Suddenly, in mid-sentence, I was roughly spun around to find myself facing the actress. One of two things can happen when someone spins you around in a bar and both involve your face you either get punched or you get kissed. I got the latter, delivered with all the force and aggression of the former.
The aftermath of the kiss involved the four of us going to my friend’s high-rise a block from Carnegie Hall. Once there, my friend and his date retired to the bedroom, leaving the actress and me in the living room with its twenty-seventh-floor, 180-degree view of the city. We ended up on the pull-out couch, and once alone, her hard edge disappeared, replaced by a kind of tender condescension. And when, due to a mix of drunkenness and intimidation, I had trouble getting it up, she was sweetly understanding, coaxing me to a three-quarter hardness that would make do. The sex we finally had was hardly legendary in and of itself, but it became indelible for the chemistry and atmosphere that attended it, ending with the rising sun glinting off a thousand high-rise windows all around us.
To my mind, therefore, an unforgettable night. How then do I explain forgetting her? In the moment of revelation nine years after the fact, I was filled with a troubling, undefined sense of failure. I watched the ensuing show with an intensity TV doesn’t normally deserve, sliding down in front of the television to scrutinize my actress. She had changed, it was true but it seemed odd that she didn’t even activate that mental itch of “where have I seen this person before?” I pored over her face, examining every feature, but nothing, not even the mouth that had been pressed to mine, rang any bell of recognition. I stared at her breasts, confounded that a hopeless tit-man like myself could fail to find in them a madeleine.
It was useless. Despite an inch-by-inch examination, she inspired nothing greater in me than a guilty detachment, as if she were a foreign catastrophe, some distant mudslide you know you should feel strongly about but just don’t.
I was forced to face a disturbing truth: my memory of the Best Sexual Experience of My Life had somehow become separated from the woman who made it so. I’ve struggled to decide what that means, what that loss represents. It may have something to do with the guilt of sex that can no longer be construed as a close, if short-lived, connection. But if I’m honest, I suppose the worst feeling is the one my ego wants to resist: if she can be forgotten, then, of course, so can I.