I got an email from Loren at work complaining about Gilles, the fact he kept walking around Loren and Christine’s apartment in just his bath towel, that it was bumming Christine out as Loren put it — and I pictured how small their San Francisco flat must have felt with Gilles crashed on the couch there and too tall/long for it, trying to track down the girl who broke his heart in Berkeley (just showing up at her work unannounced), the fact Gilles must have been pretty proud of his body pushing 60, proud being French with his knowledge of wine, physics, fast cars — and I laughed out loud and forwarded the email to my mom saying I didn’t really want any part of this, Gilles was her friend not mine, even though it was my friend who’d agreed to put him up and whether or not any of us liked it, we were all connected now through Gilles.
There was even a time, perhaps a week or so, I thought Gilles could be good for my mom and even mentioned it after we’d had some wine and it was just the three of us, and it was intensely awkward, and I regretted saying anything.
He knew how to cook because he was French and when I asked him how he knew it he said he just did, and went on to demonstrate how to sauté vegetables and pour oil into a pan, how to use a fork to flip things as he was frying them, how you could tell when it was done. I was allowed to dice the shallots we added to the red wine vinegar for the raw oysters, but I didn’t seem to dice them right, it was never fine enough.
It was the first time we went to Germany on sabbatical in 2009, when the kids were terribly young (Charlotte turning 2, still in diapers) and it hadn’t even been a year yet since John died, and mom’s emotions were very raw, and Gilles had a pain of his own that seemed to run even deeper, hung to the outskirts of town like mom, didn’t fit in or want to but spoke German, English, French all perfectly — and for their love of food I thought it might be good for them to be together, until it seemed they were starting the wine a bit early in the day, and the nights were ending badly.
But Gilles had a key to the nearby athletic track in Besigheim and we could run barefoot around it like the African runners did even though it was August and I didn’t run, wasn’t even African, and my earbuds echoed each time my feet slapped the track and it was so hot I wondered if my soles would blister or thicken and just fall off.
The girl he was tracking down in Berkeley was the same one who rejected him for reasons he never got into, the same flowers that were now black and frozen in time in a vase in the center of his apartment gathering dust, the reason he’d probably tried suicide and failed, the bath water running over the rim through a light fixture in the neighbor’s ceiling a floor below, they arrived in time to save him whether he wanted them to or not.
And it was Karma I thought that he was staying with Loren and Christine now, since they’d just been to our place in Seattle when we got married and asked could they stay with us the night before our wedding which we thought was odd but we agreed to, and when we told our other friends their jaws dropped — but it didn’t seem weird with Loren because everything already was, and I needed him there because I was kind of freaking out, and he brought me down to earth in a way only old friends can.
Gilles didn’t have a phone at his place but had given my mom’s number to his mom in Paris and she started calling there looking for Gilles, only spoke French, and mom would put me on with her because I could understand her some, and she complimented me on my French to Gilles, and they talked so fast I couldn’t understand any of it but Gilles was always raising his voice and pacing and talking with his hands, and the conversations went on longer than any of us wanted them to.
And before I left that time in late October 2009, Gilles invited me to his apartment to open a good bottle of wine but spent most of the time trying to convince me I should leave Dawn, trying to really get inside me in a way that didn’t seem to be looking out for me as much as wanting me to be like him, so I could sit there with my dead flowers too, because he could see things I probably couldn’t, and what was true.
But they hugged when we ran into him this last time in Besigheim, Dawn and Gilles, and talked for a good long time on the street, so long I thought it would be rude if I didn’t get up — and he remembered I liked to write and asked if I was going to do that now, and said it’s like going to Las Vegas maybe, a gamble, you never know what you should do, there’s no such thing as perfect.
This post named after the Built to Spill album from 1997.