I have longed to be the title character in the film La Femme Nikita. She decides one day that from that minute forward, she has no past. She refuses to discuss it. Ever again.
One afternoon, she stops at a local grocery store. The man at the check-out counter makes a shy attempt to engage her in conversation. She can see a genuine kindness in him, a fundamental openness. She invites him to her apartment and they prepare dinner together. He never leaves. They love one another passionately and devotedly. He yearns to know more about her, about her past. The yearning shows as an expression of worried expectation on his face when she is not looking. But he knows he can never ask her, that she will never tell him.
This seems like the best possible solution to me, every part of it. I go to five different grocery stores in the area, including two supermarkets, a warehouse club and two small neighborhood stores, at all hours of the day and night, needing only one or two things at a time but full of hopeful possibility. If ever the line between reality and fiction were clear, believe me, it’s in the difference between Nikita’s paramour and the real people manning the check-out lines in suburban American grocery stores.
Nikita resolves to start a whole new life, and she does. A life with no past.
There’s a man on my block, around my age. He moved in to an apartment down the street when he left his wife of nearly thirty years. He has a whole new life. A younger, long-legged, smiling inamorata whom I see driving his car around, or I see the two of them getting out of the car with bags of groceries for the evening’s meal. Just like Nikita. They are always smiling at one another, and though there is somewhat of the tentativeness and gentleness of a new love, there is also the ease.
“Is it really so easy? Is it as easy as you make it look? This business of having a whole new life?” I am dying to ask him this. But I don’t.
Sometimes I study him. The way he bounds out of his apartment when he is running late. The way he balances his brief case, gripping it confidently and tightly in one hand while swinging the other arm briskly back and forth, back and forth. I study his movements, his gestures, as if I am a student of method acting. As if I believe that perfectly adopting every nuance of his behavior will hold the secret, will open up my own doorway to a whole new life.
That the next time those glass and silver doors at one of the five grocery stores whooshes open to welcome me, and I stroll in, confidently gripping my purse in one hand while the other arms swings briskly back and forth, that it will happen. There he will be at the check-out. He will make a shy attempt at conversation, and I will see his kindness. We will make dinner with the fresh groceries I have just purchased, and he will never leave.
This is what I am thinking: that maybe one day I can be Nikita. Maybe if I go back once more, just once more. If I can put it all in order. This is what I need you for, to go there with me, to be my witness.
I read something recently. It said that the hardest part, the most arduous hurdle, is not learning how to trust a man again. It is learning how to trust yourself. And I thought: yes, that’s it. That’s exactly it. How can I be sure there was not something that I missed. Something that I failed to see, failed to understand. Maybe early on, maybe even right from the beginning. Maybe not even from the beginning of my marriage, but from the beginning of my very life.
2 Replies to ““Nikita,” an excerpt from my novel “You, in Your Green Shirt””
Barbara – this is really powerful. The past is always close behind.
Thanks a bunch, Bruce!