Daphne, the detached


knoxShanghai. The early 00s. I got an offer to help start a media company with an old colleague. It fell through right after my visa was approved. I guess contracts written in Chinese are a little less firm than those here in the states. I decided to move to Shanghai anyway. It’d been a couple of years since I’d lived abroad and my relationship with Paloma had been hanging over my time in Los Angeles, so getting out of country seemed like the right thing to do. I could survive off savings and try to pick up some freelance magazine writing in the meantime.Daphne

The city was as alive as any place I’d ever lived in and among the expat community, there was the feeling that we were all witnessing something ‘once in a lifetime.’ I met Daphne my fourth night, introduced by a mutual friend in The States who suggested we link up. She was a scout for a bleeding-edge gallery in New York, whose knowledge of contemporary art and Mandarin helped land her the gig and I was excited to meet her, thinking maybe there was an easy article about her to be had. Daphne, however, just wanted to talk about her ex back in Brooklyn.

When I showed up at the bar, there were already three empty martini glasses on the table. “He’s seeing someone. I just know it. That fucking bastard. Fuck him. I go to China for six months and he can’t keep it together.” She looked down at the table in front of her. “I’m sorry, Knox. I’m being bad. Tell me, how do you know Manuel?”

“We used to shoot guns together, back in Memphis,” I said, bored. I had my own problems and even though Daphne seemed like she me might be game for a rebound-rendezvous, I was disappointed by her bourgeois pedigree. After getting near-blackout drunk, we each got in separate cabs and went back to our respective flats.

I got an email from Daphne a couple days later:

Knox, darling. I wanted to apologize for my behavior the other night. I’m in that phase right now where I’m feeling savagely broken and it makes me selfish. Manuel suggested you might be a good person to share my difficulties with, but I’m afraid I went overboard. I want to make it up to you. Dinner? -D

She took me to, supposedly, the best French restaurant in Shanghai, and was far more alluring this time. Our conversation traveled across disciplines, from the ridiculousness of the artwork to the strangeness of Shanghai’s present cultural revolution, to our own, shattered romantic lives. Midway through, feeling assertive, I asked her if this dinner was, in fact, a date.

Daphne smiled. “Oh, I don’t know, Knox. Let’s say no, but if we wind up kissing later, we can do a little revisionist history.”

The next morning, when I woke up back at her place, I commented on how we’d have to go back in time and call the night before a proper date.

Groggy, she looked at me and said, “Hmm, it’s still too soon, I think. Let’s get some coffee.”

As we walked to the nearest Starbucks, I thought about how I had been so repulsed by Daphne our first meeting, but had somehow understood where she was coming from.  Then, when she had proven to be so charming and witty, I felt an uncanny connection with her. Daphne, for her part, didn’t return my calls or emails for three weeks, a rejection amplified by my isolation in that strange city, which seemed to be sprouting a new skyscraper on a daily basis.

She finally took me out for a drink, right as she was preparing to leave China, maybe a month after we first met. She explained that she was still in love with her ex and wanted to try and make things right, so she was headed back to New York. At this point, it was my turn to be drunk and selfish.

“So I was just, like, a quick dose of reality, huh? I don’t mean to get self-righteous, but when I use people, I try to be upfront and detached about it. What gave you the right to be so, god-damned, I don’t know, charming?”

I don’t know if she thought I had the right to be so disappointed or not, but I could tell she just didn’t want to deal with me. She sighed and gave me this hard luck grimace, like she could tell there was something wrong with me, but she just didn’t want to dig in and help me.

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