The Vice President’s Daughter

Constructed Indentities 1 and 3
Alix Smith, Constructed Indentities 1, 2003 and Constructed Identities 3, 2004. Courtesy of the artist.

It was just at the point when things were finally cracking up for me that I saw Lauren and her father on Madison Avenue. Jillian, my fiancée, was visiting her family in California and I—I had raced down from Boston to see Arielle, my ex-girlfriend. My life, or the life I had then, was slipping away, and in my unhappiness, my frenzy, my sense of injury, I had developed the notion that if I could have just one night with Arielle, some piece that had been dislodged from the order of the universe might fall back into place, and the track upon which I’d been moving with such dazzling speed would correct itself, and I would make it. I would hold onto Jillian, and I would last until the next election, and then we’d see. On this night I had no backup sleeping arrangements, I had burned my sleeping-over ships, so that if we got drunk and Arielle decided against taking me home, I’d have to sleep in the car. But not yet.

We were walking west along Sixty-sixth toward the park and about to cross Madison when I first recognized Lauren and then, without bodyguards and without ceremony, her father. I had seen him at campaign stops, I had written and thought about him almost without interruption for an entire year of my life, but I’d never been this close, and he’d never been so alone. Lauren looked happy, flushed, a walking advertisement for so many of the good things, while he wore his beard, his infamous beard, and I was surprised by how substantial he looked, how physically powerful. I wanted to say to Lauren, “I’m sorry,” though she didn’t look like she needed it, and “I wish you were President,” to her father, who looked like he did. I saw him flinch from us a little—from the way I froze on the sidewalk he must have thought I was another ill-wisher, another nut—but soon it was all over: Lauren looked at Arielle, I looked at the former Vice President, and we all paused for a moment while I kissed the Vice President’s daughter on the cheek, she assured me they were in a terrible hurry though it was nice to see me, and they crossed northward while we waited for the light.

“Someone you know?” Arielle asked in her teasing Arielle way, as if she were mock impressed and mock resentful that walking down the street of a city in which I didn’t even live, I could still kiss well-dressed women on the cheek.

“Wait,” I said. “Did you not see who that was?”

“Who was it?”

I told her and she laughed.

“Figures,” she said.

“No, no, it was Ferdinand,” I said. “My roommate. “

“Ferdinand? Why not you?”

“Because it was Ferdinand. It was pretty serious for a while. We had—” I stopped. We were on Sixty-sixth Street, on the interminable block between Madison and the park, the windows on the long, long apartment building across the street shut and dark against us, and something moved me then. I was touched. On Sixty-sixth and Madison I was touched by sorrow. “We had big plans for them,” I said. “Or I did, anyway.”

Arielle, blithe Arielle, my high school girlfriend with, still, her long soft hair—nothing in my tone had registered with her. “I’ll bet,” was all she said. And then: “Come on. It’s getting dark. We don’t want to get murdered in the Central Park Zoo.”

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