White City

Before I met Lily, I lived at night. It was half a year since my whole big wedding had fallen through, and a few months after I'd graduated college and come to the city, and I worked at night, as a photographer's assistant.

The photographer had this idea that the models would be more relaxed if there was another girl right there in the studio, and more willing to do what he told them to if we took their pictures after midnight. But most of them were pretty desperate and would have been willing at any time of day.

The whole situation was full of low people in low circumstances, and I felt pretty low, so maybe I was in the right place. Most of the models didn't even have pretensions of being actresses; they were all hookers, or soon to be. They'd come to the studio, always late, in huge clouds of drugstore perfume, sign a fake name to the model's release, and then take off their clothes. We'd start with the more innocent shots, for covers, model holding Santa doll for December issues, model holding slightly deflated beach ball for July. Then, as I adjusted the reflectors and the radio dial, we'd move on the the shots that never stopped making me upset. I used to look at the wall or at the floor, listening to the horrible fake compliments that kept the girls smiling through it.

It was a strange, backwards life, nights of surreal busyness in a quiet city, and blank days I slept through. I never called anyone, and no one knew where I was. When I couldn't sleep I'd lie in bed and compose mental letters to everyone I hated, to my parents for planning such a stupid wedding, to my boyfriend for leaving me, to everyone who'd ever seen us together and believed we were in love. Or I'd get up and take a shower, where I'd inevitably start crying, turn off the water and hunch down in the corner sobbing, until at some point I would come to and find myself sitting naked on the tiles, my hair dried in snarls.

For so long, when I needed someone's arms to hold me, there was no one there at all.

Library of Congress Copyright TXU527095