There is a picture frame on the wall in front of me. A pastel-colored painting of a street, probably somewhere in Paris given the iron fence, bustling street-side shops, and a bridge elevated above the water. I study the smooth, thick layers of paint, the pinks and light blues, the way the image looks fluid and calm, yet unrealistic.
I am in an apartment that is not mine. It belongs to a girl, twenty-six and blonde. The friend of a friend I have never met. Her apartment is fully furnished and beautiful, from the stainless steel refrigerator down to the iron candle holders next to the television.
I do not know this girl, but I’m reclined on her couch, legs sprawled out, freshly-showered hair pressed into the soft leather. In the last twenty-four hours, I have laid in her bed, washed my hair with her shampoo, and kissed the tiny pink nose of her kitten.
She is pretty. I can see that by the single picture of her on the fridge: thin, hair parted in the middle, white teeth. I do not know her, but I feel connected to her somehow. It is as if walking in her shoes for a day has suddenly meshed our lives together. She reminds me of myself somehow; there is some mysterious thread pulling us, tying us, knotting us together.
She is who I want to be: a one bedroom apartment with an outside patio, two TV’s, and an elevated dining table complete with a set of wine bottles with names I can hardly pronounce. I envy her for things only an apartment can tell me. She has money. She is happy. But is she?
I trace the edge of her bathroom counter top. A wooden crate holds her hair brushes—four or five of them, blonde hair interwoven between the bristles as if frozen in time. I feel like an imposter.
I begin to retrace my steps, looking for evidence of me in her life: a chip of orange nail polish, one of my brown hairs in the sink, my wedge sandals placed neatly by the door.
She does not know me, but I wonder if she thinks of me.
I am the other version of her—younger, freer, living on a post-graduation high, not yet burdened by jobs that don’t pay enough or one bedrooms that cost too much. Maybe we are both feeling lost, living in the twenty-three, twenty-six transition phase of our lives.
Perhaps as she dreams of her August wedding, I wish for a tiny black and white kitten. Or as she reads one of the labels on her wine bottles and longs to travel, I am reminded of the cobblestone streets in Venice where my bare feet have stepped.
I wonder what she would think, if she met me. Would I look the way I see myself in the mirror—brown doe eyes, thin nose, childish mouth? Would she scoff at my immaturity? Would she envy my notebook, my photo albums holding the memories and artifacts of the places I’ve traveled?
Maybe she would be scared of me, the same way I am scared of her, looking so put-together, so orderly, so sophisticated in her gorgeous apartment. But aren’t we all pretending one way or another?
I trace the stitches of her leather couch, imagine myself in her life. Would I be happy here?
But as much as I try to imagine myself in her life, I can’t. I can’t see myself sitting in a patio chair, sipping expensive wine alone. I can’t imagine merely wishing to travel and never leaving. I can’t picture living in an apartment where pastel paintings of France cover my walls, instead of photographs that remind me, continuously, of where I’m from, where I’ve been, and who I am.
Photographs where I’m standing next to the ones I love—doe eyes, thin nose, and my childish mouth spread in wide smile.