MODELED BY ARIANNA THOMAS
STYLED BY EMMA COGAN
WORDS BY ERICA PEPLIN
PHOTO BY ALLISON BARR
I once dated a celebrity. She spoke to her staff like friends and not staff. “I’m so sorry,” she said, before asking them to do anything. “Do you think you could do me a huge favor?” She made it seem like their job was an endless series of favors. I decided they all were in love with her and that’s why they never complained. Love is why we do things for people. We love them and hope they will love us back.
On our first date we walked in the park. It was a boring date but I would find out later the celebrity loved to do boring things. We were at the reservoir, looking at the geese, when two girls ran up to the celebrity and told her she was their hero. The celebrity crouched down on her knees and put her hand over her heart. The moms took pictures. A man with a goatee came barreling towards us. He stopped a few feet away from the celebrity, panting and wiping his forehead. “Thank you,” he said. “You changed my life.” He gave me his phone as if it belonged to me and put his arm around her. I noticed the way the celebrity smiled.It was a fan-smile, static and perfectly reproducible, and I vowed to never be swayed by it, to never fall for her placating ways.
She had freckles and moles all over her body but you would never know by looking at her photos. We were lying in her bed when I found them. She told me they were digitally erased from all of her publicity. I asked her how she felt about having her body edited on a computer and she said she was fine with it except for one time when her personal photographer and close friend took an important dimple off her face. She fan-smiled and pointed at the crevice in her cheek. “This,” she said. “This one stays.” I leaned in closer to see and she put her arms around me. She told me how much she liked my room and I assumed she was lying. The ceilings were stained with rainwater, the bed wobbled and the rug was too big for the floor so it bunched up along the walls. “I love it,” she said. “It’s so cozy.”
I thought dating a celebrity would mean following them wherever they went but the celebrity started following me. She walked me to the train in the morning and lingered at the top of the steps as if wishing she could work in an office too. When I got off at six, she met me outside the revolving doors. We kissed in front of the commuters and when I asked about her day, she never had a good answer. “I didn’t do much,” she said. “I walked for a while. I went to a store. I bought a candle.” Her days were as unremarkable as mine. It made me realize that celebrities were just people with nowhere to go.
“I just wanted to say,” a woman said, stopping us in the middle of the sidewalk, “I love what you do.” The celebrity shook her head like she didn’t deserve the praise, like she was a lowly urchin who woke up one day and happened to exist in a realm of infinite fame. “You’re too kind,” she said, and waited until the woman was gone to go back to holding my hand. I asked if she didn’t want people to know she was gay. “I want my private life to be private,” she said, and I watched the eyes of strangers around us, waiting for the moment she would let go of me and start pretending.
She signed everything with a flourish because she didn’t have a normal signature. She had an autograph and she was proud of it. People handed her whatever they had on hand and she signed it with a scribble and a heart. The name itself was illegible. It was definitely an autograph because no one could read it.
I might have left the celebrity sooner but I was curious about her life. Like how she always ate for free. I’ll never forget the first time it happened. We walked into a fancy place in Union Square and got seated right away. The waiter brought us cocktails and spinach croquettes. He lingered to explain the glory of each dish and the celebrity pretended to listen. When we were done, the celebrity got up and pushed in her chair. I told her we still had to pay. She zipped her coat and said, “Nicole does that.” I looked for Nicole, the celebrity’s assistant, as we walked out but I didn’t see her. She must have been hiding in the bathroom.
The celebrity opened her door slowly. It was because of the boxes luxury companies sent her: boxes of perfumes, lotions, and shampoos that they piled up in front of her door. They wanted her to use their products and endorse them but she never even opened the boxes. She piled them in an old shopping bag and gave them to me. “Here,” she said, “You want some garbage?”
The celebrity could have dated anyone but she wanted to date me. She said she cared about me and I made her happy but I never thought it was true. I thought she wanted to date me because I was the only thing that didn’t come easily in her life. When she told me she adored me I said, “You do?” like it was some big surprise. I made it seem like we were a short-term thing and we would probably break-up any day now. In that way, I was the bad-doer and it was my job to periodically challenge her world of infinite good.
The celebrity had social media profiles on six different platforms with thousands of followers, hearts and likes. She posted photos, comments, suggestions and inspirational quotes. When I asked if it felt good to be so liked she said she didn’t care. “I hate social media. It’s the worst part of my job.”
The celebrity posted a cute picture of herself eating a slice of ham and pineapple pizza it got thousands of likes in a matter of seconds. I didn’t like it on principle. When she met me after work, she asked if I’d seen the picture.
“Which picture?” I said. “I didn’t see any picture.”
“The one with the pizza. I took it for you.”
The celebrity told me she was shy around new people but when I took her to my friend’s party, she was charming and everyone loved her. People kept coming up to us with wine and guacamole and thoughtful questions about fame. When the celebrity finally excused herself to go to the bathroom, my friends gave me a look like, ‘Who knew you could date someone so much better than you?’ while I guarded her cup of rosé with a fierce sense of duty.
A few days later, when I was back at work and feeling lonely at my desk, I wrote to the celebrity and asked what she was doing. She responded with a picture of herself eating ice cream with my friend Dana. They were smiling and wearing sunglasses and holding matching sprinkled cones.
The celebrity was waiting for me outside the revolving doors. I asked where her friends were and why she wasn’t hanging out with them. She said she couldn’t hang out with them because they were gone. “Doon is in Bern. Grane is in Somm school and Phoena is in Reykjavik.” I got what she meant, her friends were busy, but it was hard to separate the people from the places. Rich people speak a language of their own and if you find this dazzling, I feel sorry for you. Their delusions bored me. I wished she had friends of her own and would quit taking mine.
The celebrity sounds terrible but in truth, there were many times when I forgot she was famous. One night we carried a mattress to her roof and looked at the stars. We just laid on our backs and said nothing, watching the dark that seemed to float. Everything felt right in that moment and all the people on earth were basically good. That’s when I asked her what it felt like to be a celebrity and to wake up every day with no place to be.
“It feels like floating,” she said.
“That must be nice.” I said. “I imagine you drifting in the ocean with your hair in the water and the sun in your eyes.”
“No,” she said. Her voice was serious and almost angry. “It’s not like that at all. It’s like I’m floating in space and there’s nothing to hold onto.”
The next morning I woke up first and went into the living room. Looking around at her things, I felt alone and almost like a living dead person but I couldn’t say why. Sometimes it just felt like my life was falling apart, like I was small and I had no reason to live.
The door opened and I heard the sound of swishing plastic bags. It was a deliveryman dropping off the celebrity’s breakfast. She went into the kitchen and said, “Goddammit.” Her swears were followed by the sound of a large liquid getting poured down the sink. “They put a shit ton of cream in my coffee.”
A few days later the celebrity took a vacation. From what? I don’t know. She wanted me to go with her but I couldn’t because I had work. While she was away, the pain of missing her became so intense that I made a point of not missing her at all. When she posted photos of herself in cathedrals and churches and making peace signs on rocky cliffs, I ignored them. When she sent me a message that said, “What are you up to?” I said “nothing much.” When she left me voicemails saying, “I miss you. I smell you in the air. I hear you in the wind.” I ignored those too.
She came home from her trip and we met in the city. We walked late into the night past empty playgrounds and bright pawnshops and Chinese takeout places with faded menus. We held hands as we stepped over the garbage and it felt like we were the only people with eyes to see the world. She tucked my hair behind my ears and said, “I can’t believe I met you,” and for once I didn’t question her. I wasn’t the bad-doer in her life. She wasn’t going to leave me and I wasn’t going to leave her.
“It’s unreal,” I said, “I can’t believe I spent so many years of my life not knowing you.”
She leaned in to kiss me and I saw her little teeth, crooked on the bottom. When we finally pulled away from one another, she pointed at an old-fashioned diner with a horseshoe counter and linoleum booths.
“Let’s go in,” she said, tugging my arm. “It’s the most perfect place in the world.”
I wanted to sit beside her and order toast and look at her face until the sun came up but I couldn’t. “I have to be at work in a few hours,” I said. “Go without me.”
She looked sad but also relieved, like she liked that I had a boring job and was a normal person while she got to be a celebrity. “It’s okay,” she said. “I’ll order fries and think of you.” She leaned in to kiss me and I pulled back.
“I thought about what I told you,” I said. “I didn’t mean it.”
“Which part?” Her mouth was gently twisted. Car headlights shined in our faces.
“All of it,” I said. “I’m sure if we didn’t meet I would be fine without you.”
I rode the train home that night and lay awake in bed thinking about the celebrity. How happy she must feel knowing she was special and she had a nice and normal woman to call her own.
The next day I went into an empty conference room and called the celebrity.
“I don’t think we should see each other anymore,” I said.
“Why are you doing this?” she said. “I don’t understand.”
I told HR my grandmother died and spent the next few days in bed. When I got back to work, my desk was covered in flowers. I almost cried when I saw their drooping petals and my coworker came up to me and patted my back. “I bet you miss her,” she said, and I went to the bathroom to hide.
The celebrity is nothing but a bunch of photos now. I look at them late at night and zoom in to find the dimple. It really is beautiful, that little dent of nothing.
back to bad faith
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