When I was first living in New York City (in my mid-twenties), I worked as an assistant to a renown artist. He was married and had one young child, a girl. The wife was also successful and well-known in her own career. She traveled a lot to far away places for business. When I would do work at their home--a cinematic loft in lower Manhattan--for the husband, I would watch his daughter play dress up with her mom's Manolo Blahnik heels, Bergdorf Goodman cashmere sweaters and silk dresses from Henri Bendel. The clothing labels--luxurious, sophisticated and so New York--were something that I aspired to. I remember thinking how perfect and wonderful their life seemed. I envied his talent and coveted her style. It was quintessentially New York, so romantic and the kind of thing you see in magazines.
I worked late with him one evening. The daughter had fallen asleep in her tutu on the all-white, Four Seasons resorts-quality bedding. Remember, it was a loft, one huge open space. The communal building's elevator opened to the living room. I bid him goodnight, quietly so as not to wake the little girl, and called for the elevator. As the doors opened, he cracked a funny joke and walked toward me so that I backed into the elevator and was up against its back wall. He then leaned in and kissed me. He'd been drinking, you know, for inspiration because I think he thought art is better created when your high on something. I don't know. But liquid courage or ideas often fuel an artist's ways.
He was a bit of a swashbuckler, rugged and conventionally handsome, and somewhat famous. My twenty-something-year-old self was impressed by this and kissed him back--for no more than two seconds--until I thought about the little girl sleeping on the bed outside of the elevator and his beautiful wife in her far away place. I remembered that they were bigger and more important than my desire to feel desired. And I knew that he didn't so much desire me as he wanted to escape his perfect, stylish life. I was a temporary evasion, and probably one of many. So I pushed him away and said I had to go. He persisted a little, but eventually gave up and let the elevator doors close. I descended to the ground floor, ran out to the street and caught a cab back to my lower-east-side apartment, where rats ran around inside the walls; where my clothes hung from the ceiling because there was only room for a mattress on the floor; where my neighbors yelled at each other in Spanish; and where needles were discarded on doorsteps.
The artist called the next day and apologized. I felt like throwing up when I answered the phone and heard his voice. I told him I couldn't work for him anymore.
It happened fourteen years ago, but I've felt horrible and guilty about the occurrence all this time. On one hand, I figured his wife had to know that this was probably regular behavior for him (and maybe it was regular behavior for her, too). On the other hand, it wasn't and isn't regular behavior for me. I felt wanted and part of some movie scene for two seconds, but my character in that movie never fairs well. And my real-life character, even though I wasn't married or in a relationship at the time, believes that you don't cheat on your wife or husband, and you don't help someone cheat on their wife or husband either. Not even for two seconds.