Diana realized that she’d had a one-night stand with Ben at the Chelsea Hotel twenty-five years ago.
When the realization hit, Ben and Diana were at a restaurant eating enchiladas, comfortably ensconced in a booth.
“I lived at the Chelsea,” he said.
“Why on earth did you move there? Most of the tenants are artists,” she replied. As it was, they both worked in technology.
“Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen and Janis Joplin lived there,” he explained. “I found a sublet.”
Once he said he lived there, she knew.
Diana had seen the graduation photo on the wall. It had to be Ben with brown hair and a mustache. Now he was clean shaven, and his dark hair had gone gray.
Back in the day, she was on her way to a painting class. In the elevator going up, she noticed a man wearing a beige trench coat. His attire was a bit corporate for the Chelsea, but he turned around and smiled. They said a few words. Before she got out, he gave her his apartment number and asked her to stop by after class.
The building had a red exterior punctuated by iron balconies. The artworks in the lobby were intriguing, including one by Arielle Tsinker, the woman whose class Diana was taking. There were enormous abstract works in brilliant colors, clever figures on canvas outlined in black, imposing sculptures in assorted shapes. Arielle had told Diana she’d donated the work in lieu of rent.
Ben and Diana had Chablis and cheddar cheese. He told her he’d been a jock in high school and that he had a master’s in computer science. Having no use for athletes, she would have preferred a painter or sculptor. But he was good-looking and laughed easily.
After he teased off their clothes, they floated into the bedroom, moving easily together. The sex was lovely and irresponsible. Her diaphragm was at home, and he didn’t use a condom.
The young woman Diana was, with her permed auburn hair and contact lenses, was distinct from who she was now. Back then, she’d been marginally employed as a proofreader, drinking too much and smoking opium. She was desperate for connection, but afraid of shadows. Ultimately, AA brought some relief.
At the Chelsea, Ben had seemed so different from Diana with his advanced degree in technology and his job at a bank. Not someone she wanted to be with, at least not long term. Better an artist.
Eventually, she found first one, and then another: her two husbands. The first painted hard-edged abstracts, and the second painted cartoony figures. Both had modest but solid reputations.
Loss of job and a near eviction motivated Diana to get a technology certificate at NYU. She’d given up her dream of painting. Sobriety cleared her head, and she found herself to be adept at coding. From time to time, she remembered Ben, but never ran into him at any of the technology jobs she had in New York City. She didn’t know that he had traveled up and down the Eastern seaboard for work and would only meet her twenty-five years later, on a dating site.
Diana’s first artist husband had heard of her second in a New York Post review and reacted with resentment. She had not met that second husband yet. (Both men would have envied any artist who lived at the Chelsea, and probably would not have paid their rent either.) When she finally met her second husband, she remembered the review and it seemed fated, even though the marriage did not ultimately work out.
So, it could be with this. When Diana left Ben’s apartment at the Chelsea the next morning, it was as if a voice whispered, “Not yet.”
In the restaurant now, Diana looked Ben straight in the eye. His clean-shaven face had a few wrinkles. “I met you at the Chelsea back in the day,” she offered. “Spent the night at your place.”
“No!” His eyes lit up.
“You lived on the seventh floor.”
“I could tell it was you from your photo: the hair, the mustache. That’s what you looked like.”
“Remember how the refrigerator was near the window?”
For a moment, Diana had a vision of an older refrigerator that curved slightly at the top, humming gently. It was next to a window filled with the twilight sky and lights from across the street.
“So, it was meant to be,” he said, grabbing her hand across the tablecloth.
Did the young woman she was then have a wisdom that had since been lost? She had run out the next morning without leaving a number, down the staircase at the Chelsea with its byzantine bannisters. Did she have a lapse in judgment? After all, she was pretty messed up and not even sober yet.
She thought of how compatible they were after meeting on the dating site, and how lucky. Working in the same field, being in AA, sharing political views and talking until all hours were such joys, as was running together in a park full of greenery. She had no problem with athletes now.
Still, she had to wonder. She thought of how he disliked her furniture and told her to change it so that would be more like his: blue couch, white chairs, tree stump coffee table. He also complained about her tortoise-shell framed eyeglasses.
She clasped his hand across the table, wanting to hope. But she couldn’t stop thinking of letting it all go, just as she had when she’d taken off down the stairs of the Chelsea.