INTO THE FOLD by Laura Hitt
MOVE FROM NEW MEXICO to New York City. You leave Albuquerque in December when the weather there is chilly but pleasant. The ice-breaking cold of New York City is shocking, to your baby as well as yourself. There is something about the city, the way sunlight rarely reaches the streets, the way that people avoid eye contact and jaywalk to evade acquaintances, that lends itself to self-reflection. That and the gum on the sidewalks. You have never seen so many pieces of pink, aqua, turquoise gum smashed into concrete. Most pieces are old and gray, crisscrossed with tread marks, and have lost their stickiness. The fresh pieces, however, end up on the soles of your black boots, and then on the carpet.
River is almost a year now. The hair that is beginning to grow on his sweet-smelling head is downy and blonde, and tiny curls are emerging. People say he looks like you. You can tell that he has your mouth. He looks like you except for a shade darker in skin and irises.
Your relationship with his father, Harvey, is unraveling; you know this because he is needy and you are protective of River and wholly uninterested in Harvey’s tantrums.
You have become one of those frumpy moms, he says.
You try to imagine what your friends would say if they could hear Harvey right now. They would be outraged. They would be righteous. They would lose all faith in Harvey, who had once charmed them with his effete mannerisms, his innocuous tone of voice.
In New York, you and Harvey find a tiny apartment and buy tiny furniture to match. This arrangement lasts two weeks before Harvey drunkenly hooks up with a former flame, a man. And though you think you would be more upset if it had been a woman, you still move out.
You go to live with your mom, who has moved to Connecticut. Life there is calm and bucolic. You drink raw milk from local dairies, picking it up from a refrigerator by the gate and leaving your five dollars. Your mom buys loose leaf tea, which you steep in a metal strainer and drink with raw honey. River plays on the clean floor with clever wooden toys designed to stimulate mental and emotional creativity. There are no cigarette butts or empty vodka bottles in the yard. You breathe a sigh of relief and relax. Your dreams are full of prickly pear cactus, the round pads staring at you like clocks. And rattlesnakes. When you were little you called them “rattle snacks,” and your mom invented the food for you: celery sticks filled with cream cheese with a cluster of raisins for a tail. They were delicious.
You become restless. Living in your mom’s house doesn’t feel like real life. It feels like cheating, like a return to childhood with your own kid in tow. It makes you uncomfortable, especially since your routine here has become so easy.
The thought of your mom raising your son makes you itch. It is impossible to be the mother you want to be in her territory.
You decide to return to New York, to get your own apartment in Brooklyn. Harvey is simultaneously distraught at your absence, angry, and using his freedom to party without restraint. You want him to be part of River’s life, but only in small doses. Hours, not days.
When Harvey is watching River one Wednesday, you show up to your first casting in years. Your agency has skeptically allowed you back into the fold, though they aren’t sure how you will be received with your short brown hair, stretch marks, and wider hips. It has been a year and a half since your last modeling job, which you did while four months pregnant without anyone guessing the truth behind your minimal weight gain.
You sit in a room lined with other models. Some wear lots of makeup, others none, though all the girls are dressed deliberately. Everyone wears heels, all over three inches.
You are not as skinny as these girls anymore. Perhaps five pounds heavier. You will have to lose that. It is a simple prerequisite, like College Algebra or English 101.
The girls disappear into the room one by one, expressionless with handbags swaying over their shoulders. A beautiful girl with auburn hair emerges. She must be nineteen. You have never been jealous of a girl’s age before; this feeling is new.
Your hands are sweating. You place them discreetly, palms up, on your thighs. Finally it is too much. You wipe them on your skirt, and in the midst of this your name is called.
The interviewers watch you closely. They consult your book, asking about the bold move to chop your long blonde hair. You speak about wanting a more modern look. You make this up on the spot. Actually, you cut your hair out of spite for the industry when you got pregnant, left, and could finally have a say in your hair length and style.
Modern, yes, they say. You picked a good catchphrase, you can tell. You run with the modern theme, saying long hair suddenly struck you as provincial, and that city life suits short, face-hugging angles.
And the color, they ask. What made you choose brown?
You used a spritz-on hydrogen peroxide type lightener in your previous modeling days. Your fair hair began to darken in high school, and you have been dying it since then. You knew how much high school boys appreciated blonde hair, and had no reason to believe the modeling industry would be any different. Men want you, women want to be you, your agent had once told you when you were first starting out, perched on the verge of the industry, looking into the yawning maw of selling people what they didn’t know they wanted.
My choice was largely influenced by the greater cultural arena, you say. Dark of all kinds is in vogue. In literal terms, we have a black president. In political terms, Americans are disenchanted by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that appear interminable and unwinnable. Economically, people have lost a great deal and are interested in saving rather than luxury. Climate change is finally gaining credibility in the U.S. and, although we aren’t making any real changes to combat it….
You pause and look around, coming back to this room and these circumstances. You quickly wrap it up: So, I think my coiffure reflects the attitude of the collective American psyche.
There is a stunned silence in the room. Then someone says, Quite and Thank you, we’ll be in touch.
Outside on the sidewalk, you want to laugh, but feel like the moment has passed. Instead you sigh, fairly certain you have blown it. You have been “cheeky,” as your mother would say.
You stop in a coffee shop and order a peppermint tea, sit at the bar overlooking the street. A woman in a bright blue dress with feather designs walks by, and suddenly images from the surreal dreams you had last night flash before you. In one you looked up to see a huge blimp obscuring the sun. It was patterned like peacock feathers in reflective purple, royal blue, and emerald. As it sailed past, you announced to the people around you, your mom in particular, that it was the most beautiful thing you had ever seen. Even in the dream, this unequivocal statement had struck you as remarkable since you are not given to absolutes. But as soon as your dream self said it, you knew it was true. You watched the blimp closely as it sailed above, weightless and gyrating gently. Inside, you saw a circular bar made of crystal and a handsome dark-haired bartender in a tuxedo, hands clasped professionally behind his back. No one was at the bar, though.
You sip the minty tea and wonder why the most beautiful thing in the world to you was a blimp with a massive bar. That cannot, you decide, be a good sign.
In another dream, you were walking toward a giant tower of water that was shooting out of the ocean. It was a spire of rock that waves crashed against and climbed in a dazzling flume. You were making your way toward it by crawling over a coral reef that was exposed by the falling tide.
Indeed, in the next few months you visit many such shocking and beautiful locales. Instead of looking at the wonderful sights yourself, however, you pose for the camera with your back to them. You are hired by the clients you ranted at. They thought you were mature, intelligent, independent. They pay you thousands of dollars an hour so you do not mock them, even to your friends. You fly to Antigua for the shoot, leaving River with your mother. You have never been away from him for this long. After four days of tropical warmth, you go back to Connecticut for a few days before leaving for Paris on another job, then Moscow. You call River every day so he can hear your voice on the phone, but mostly he just cries. You have weaned him, inadvertently, long before you had planned to, and feel terrible. You decide to look for a nanny who can travel with you and watch River while you work. At least then you can see him at the end of the day. You feel something akin to homesickness without him.
You meet legendary Vogue editor Anna Wintour, and she loves you; she dubs you the next unforgettable yet malleable face. After this stellar pronouncement, accompanied by a ten-page spread of you in the Mojave desert, Vogue China, Vogue Russia, Vogue Paris, Vogue Italy all want you.
You fly all over the world, staying for three days at most. You fly first-class, not because it is fun or exciting, but because you need quiet and comfort to sleep. Your life becomes a perpetual fog of jet lag, of jumping through time zones from one surreal photo shoot to the next. On each set you become a different person. You are an androgynous boy, hair slicked back, dressed in slacks; a seductress, red-lipped; an ingénue, with ringlets and a high-necked dress.
You begin to drink more, as the first dream portended. You drink wine—Argentinian Malbec becomes a favorite—in exclusive bars at the top of skyscrapers all over the world. Drinking lends your life a comic slant that you appreciate. It prevents you from moping for River in lonely hotel rooms when you get off work.
Harvey is thrilled by your fame. He starts a blog about you. He has not tried to see River in a few months, which is just as well because you wouldn’t have let him. The last time you saw him, to meet for coffee one morning, he was still drunk from the night before. He had also just gotten Botox in his lips and couldn’t drink from his cup without dribbling. Straws, he said, were even worse. Collagen wouldn’t have had this unfortunate side effect, but it was more expensive. His blatant narcissism used to be funny, but now it is repulsive. Why were you with him for so long? Or in the first place?
Fashion Week is the second week of February, and you do runway shows for Prada, Dior, Balenciaga. The first week is in New York, the next in London, then Milan and Paris. You will model the fall collections for these designers. Prada makes you look hideous, although to be fair you are losing your sense of what is or is not ugly. Prada has you in boxy dresses with broad horizontal stripes, complemented by fur stoles and capes, your hair slicked wetly to your head in sculpted waves, and metallic eye shadow streaked from tear ducts to temples.
One day in Milan, you sit with the other models getting your makeup done at four in the morning before the show. They talk about buying huge ranches in desolate landscapes with no one around for miles. You interject: It must be someplace warm. You are always cold these days.
I will buy a huge ranch in America somewhere, one Danish model is saying. It will be in Wyoming or Colorado, and if anyone tries to enter without permission I’ll shoot them! You watch her smile toothily, her deep dimples flirtatious and commanding. Between her high forehead and square jaw are big lips and small brown eyes. You can’t remember her name, something out of Norse mythology, like Frigg or Idunn. You have seen her campaigns, seen her plastered all over magazines. She is doing something right, everything right. You remember her smile in an ad for diamond rings, dimples glittering, eyes faceted. She holds her bedecked left hand close to her face, a finger on her lower lip, laughing as if she can’t believe her good fortune. It almost made you want to marry Harvey, just so you could wear that look of delight for a few minutes.
At the end of the day, you emerge from the fashion show with the other models, trying to dodge paparazzi. You think of La Dolce Vita, the Italian film that coined the term. You are in the land of Fellini, but you are not sightseeing. You are working. This means you have no time. You think of the protagonist Marcello, with his sweet face and philandering ways. You see the Danish model getting into a car, and you head over to her. You grab the door-frame as she is pulling it shut, and she looks up, surprised, or what should be surprised, you think, but is an expression more akin to acceptance of the unknown.
You ask where she is headed, if she has plans tonight. She says that she’s meeting some of the other girls for drinks. You’re not sure what you are doing, why you’re holding the car door open in this way, like a demanding paparazzo yourself, or why you have invited yourself to drinks. But she seems unperturbed and scoots over, telling you to get in. She jokes in the car ride there. You decide you like her accent.
You order a glass of Malbec at the bar with the two models from Brazil, the Swede and three Italians. The Danish model rests a casual hand on your arm and says, Oh, let’s get the bottle.
A couple glasses later she excuses herself to go to the Little Girl’s Room, which she says with great humor and expectation, as though she holds this American euphemism in very high regard. You watch her disappear, wait a few seconds, then follow her.
You sit on the elegant loveseat in the antechamber and flip through a magazine. And incredibly, there she is, a whole page of her face with her dimples and that huge diamond. It is like a sign.
When she comes out, you stand up and lay your hand on her shoulder. You have never been a touchy type before. This is new territory. How long can it rest there before it gets sweaty or she shrugs it off?
You say, I have a proposal for you.
Oh yes? Her long mouth curves up, her eyes darting back and forth.
I have heard about you. How you date models.
She smiles then in earnest. You drop your hand from her shoulder.
Have you ever been with a woman before? she asks.
When you admit that no, you never have, she moves to the sink to wash her hands. She regards you in the mirror. Her face looks so different reflected. You have always thought this bizarre, seeing how other people see themselves. Some people look better in the mirror, some uglier.
But you can’t tell if she is better looking or not in her reflection. All you can see are dimples.
Maybe you should think about this for a while, she says, looking slightly condescending as she dries her hands and studies you in the mirror. You do not look at your face in the mirror, sure you’ll lose your nerve. Which would be a shame now that you know, without a doubt, what it is you want. It makes so much sense: why you were attracted to Harvey—a very gay man—in the first place, why you have never liked dating men, why you have always chosen effeminate guys.
I know what I want, you say. With that, you open the door, break eye contact with her in the mirror, and head back to the table in shock.
Halfway across the room, a hand slips into yours, and you walk, euphoric, heels clicking, across the marble floor.
LAURA HITT is a recent graduate of Prescott College. She lives in the high desert of northern New Mexico and spends much of her time trying to casually run into Cormac McCarthy.