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Camera Obscura
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He took me there on a date, to Santa Monica, a thirty-minute drive from my apartment in the valley. I was dating a lot then, often and indiscriminately with whoever asked. It was surprising to me how many men asked. Perhaps it was a posture I took, or a scent I put on the air. I certainly did not flirt any more than I had in the past. In fact, at that time I considered myself reclusive, inward. I had moved far from home with the intent of becoming someone new and had yet to figure out who that new someone might be. Perhaps it was that newness they were interested in, or the obvious fact that I was not fully formed, the blur at my edges suggesting change. I seemed to attract many men of a certain type, and I assumed it was because all men were of that type. They were the kind of men that my mother and girlfriends would have appreciated—employed, opinionated, handsome, most. That this type was particularly attracted to my shapelessness, my transition, makes sense to me now. I did sense their eagerness to shape me, to fit me into lives already established, but I was not resistant. It was an eventuality I expected, this gelling of self. That I did not become what any of them wanted was merely a function of their want.

He was not of this type, and I had a hard time then, and a hard time now, understanding what it was he saw in me, what, in fact, he wanted. He was smaller than most men, wiry and keen with a head both balding and shaven bald. He spoke little, both when I met him and on our date. Probably he should have brought me to the pier with the rides and games, or to one of the fancy restaurants along Ocean Drive. I had been to all before with various men, and that was what I expected when he drove us to Santa Monica, pulled into the parking garage, and began winding his way up.

I was a poor passenger, tense and silent, and often when I rode with men, they would look over and ask what was wrong, or pat my knee and tell me to relax. I did not enjoy riding in cars and could not pretend to. He neither looked over nor patted my knee, but continued to drive, around and up, past many open spots, some of which I was tempted to point out to him. I did not. We drove all the way up, to the top floor, the open roof of the garage. It was a place I had never been, though I had parked in this garage many times. And though it was nothing extraordinary, I felt something in its newness, a difference between this and all those other dates.

He got out before me and went directly to a concrete wall that reached his chest. I followed, and stood by his side, leaning against the cement and matching his gaze. There was the street below, and across from that a thin park that extended for blocks in each direction, with full-grown palm trees and winding paths. Past that was a cliff so sheer we could not even see the side of it, only the falling away. Beyond that was a beach, uninhabited except for sea gulls and empty lifeguard chairs. And then there was the ocean. I did not like to look beyond the ocean, because on most days it ended where the brown line of atmosphere pressed down, and I was forced to know that that same brown pressed down on me, on us, every day.

On that day it was no different, but somehow I didn’t think too much about it, and let myself instead wonder more about this date and its eventual outcome: Would I sleep with him tonight? Would it matter? These were the questions I chose to distract myself with when a new man went on about politics or his job. These were the questions I thought of now. The answers so far were yes, and maybe.

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