The astrologer told me I’m in the waiting room. It’s the place you stay when one cycle ends, but the next has yet to begin. It’s an astrological dead zone where the past has passed and the future is down the hall, doing something behind a closed door.
The room is as you’d imagine. Bright lights, impossibly clean industrial carpeting, white pleather seats, and a glass top coffee table with out of date fashion magazines spread across the top. The magazines have little stickers in their corners that read “Property of the Waiting Room,” as if I’d have impulse to steal one of the rags or rip out the pages to read later.
There’s another person in the room. The receptionist. She is pretending I’m not there. She looks like the receptionist at the Invisalign Dentist, with a bird-like features and bony hands. She’s too cool for pants or a dress. Instead, she wears a leotard with a sheer wrap-around ballerina rehearsal skirt and combat boots, as if she practices her barre routine when she’s alone.
The magazines don’t interest me and I’ve forgotten my book. I have the impulse to fill the quietude with confessions of how I dyed my plastic teeth yellow with a turmeric and milk concoction. But, I doubt she cares.
The walls in the waiting room are blank. There’s a window that looks onto the sky, clear, blue, and infinite, and a red exit sign lit above the elevator doors. The walls make a perfect screen for me to project pictures and movies of my life. Now stuck on loop is “The Soulmates,” a rousing, bittersweet, and inspiring collage of a story stuck in the middle.
The movie starts and ends with me and my friend Nikki drinking dirty martinis that are more ice and olive juice than vodka at a bar with ceramic antlers covering the ceiling, fake logs standing like trees, and a fire raging on a television screen.
We’re talking about soulmates. It is my belief that soulmates show up like wanderers seeking the truth, and disappear once the lessons are learned. You can spot a soulmate by the way you feel when you look into their eyes. Without meaning to, you find yourself tumbling through the hallways of their minds.
I tell her, given my experience, I’m not certain that soulmates are the best people to have relationships with. To paraphrase Edgar Cayce, it’s really nice to meet and love a super cool person with whom you share no pre-life baggage. Clean slate and all that. Soulmates tend to be messy. Very messy.
She insists that the world needs to know the truth. Hollywood has it wrong again. Handsome strangers who send twelve dozen roses to your work place are not romantics. They are potential stalkers with credit cards. We all time travel. Portals aren’t “out there” in rips and tears of the atmosphere, They’re “in here,” in stories and conversations, artifacts, and art. And love, the way Hollywood defines it, doesn’t conquer all. It’s sloppy and uneven. There’s like and there’s love. They can exist without each other. But if you’re planning to spend the rest of your life with someone, you sure as hell better cultivate both.
Next, on screen, on the wall of the waiting room, is a montage of my soulmates. How every time I left Anthony, it felt like my soul was being ripped from my body. How I knew for years after we lost touch every time he was in the hospital. How Rich saw me glowing from a table at Starbucks and found a way to talk to me. And when he did, he told me things I needed to hear. And how, after that conversation, I never expected to see him again, but two years later, amidst a series of strange synchronicities, I meet him on the other side of the country. How we came together. And how we split. I taught him everything I could, and learned everything I needed to learn. From him, anyway.
After the montage, Nikki and I continue our fruitless effort to get drunk from olive juice and melted ice.
“Soulmates are like celebrities,” I tell her before the fade out, “best admired from afar. Plus which, their timing is terrible.”
“You need write this down. Right now.”
I am stuck in my rocks glass, trying to decide whether the olives are worth me taking out my plastic teeth in public, too distracted to agree.
On the screen flashes “one week later.” I’m looking out the window of a coffee shop, Nashville, Tennessee. Wistful. I’m thinking about that conversation, stirring my coffee, watching the weather change its mind. I have no answers.
And then, I flashback even farther. I’m visiting an actor from long ago, a clownish, grumpy old character. I knock on his dressing room door, he invites me in. The previous day, I confessed to him that I wanted to be an actress.
“Sit down,” he says. I do. “When I was your age, I came to New York with a letter of introduction from a college professor to give to Anthony Quinn. Mr. Quinn invited me in to his living room and this is what he said: ‘sit down. I can’t help you, except to give you two pieces of advice. First: be too stupid to take no for an answer. Second: It’s all about being at the right bus stop at the right time and getting on the bus.'”
He stuffs a 1915 Charlie Chaplin jitney coin in my hand and shoves me back out the door so he can prepare for the show. Maybe he was a soulmate, too.
Some people ask “what happens if you find The One,” when I tell them about my project. I often answer their question with a question, “while I’m deep under-cover behaving like a pathological liar while traveling around the country on a sociological dating adventure?” They swallow and nod, no longer sure that love is a good idea under these circumstances. Sometimes I wink and answer, “who says that hasn’t already happened,” or offer the more practical response, “I don’t know.”
In the waiting room, the receptionist sits behind her computer, kittenish, her legs tucked under her on the seat. The astrologer said I’d be here until November 16, which seems far away. It’s quiet, except for the light breath of the receptionist and the occasional clicking of her computer keys. I’m not worried. I’m not even bored.
I am curious about what’s behind the closed door.
But, it’s not time to know yet. So I turn back to the blank wall to see what movie’s playing next.