I have a serious problem. I’m living in Bali, and when I talk to my girlfriend Cortney long-distance on Skype, I spend most of my time looking at that little one-inch by one-inch square in the bottom right corner to see what I look like while I’m talking.
I mess with my hair, pulling it up, out, back. I bug out my eyes or squint. I twist my lips into Jim Carrey-like distortions. I practice my ‘How are you feeling?’ poster faces — happy, sad, glad. And I swing my head from left to right like I’m watching a tennis match to remind myself which side is my best side. If you want to know, it’s my right, which better hides my crooked father-fixed nose and what might be a cancer splotch on my left cheek. Of course, instead of my eyes moving with my head, they rotate in their sockets to make sure I’m never out of sight, as if I’m filming my own YouTube video to Tupac’s “All Eyez on Me.”
It’s like getting a haircut and talking to the mirror, sometimes glancing at the reflection of the barber while seeing how you look most of the time. Or it’s like taking a group picture and instantly looking for yourself to make sure you look okay. Screw the others. And if you don’t look good, by golly, it’s time for a re-take. Am I the only one this self-centered? After all, I don’t get this opportunity, or rather I don’t take this opportunity, to sit and stare at myself in the mirror for extended periods of time. That would be vain, of course, and I certainly don’t want to be that guy.
I’m even more self-absorbed when I’m naked.
“Oh, shit! Damnit…oh, man…,” I said.
“What happened?” Cortney asked.
We had just started our Skype shower.
“I broke my keyboard,” I said, trying to snatch up the components. Like most showers in developing countries, the distance between the shower area and the toilet in my apartment was about two feet and without any boundary, barrier, or curtain. Basically, water just goes everywhere, which is why I had originally placed a kitchen towel over my now-busted and now-wet keyboard.
“What? How did that happen?” she asked, now with one foot out of her shower and leaning, head cocked and face pinched, towards her screen to hear me over the roar of her shower head.
“I propped up my iPad and keyboard on the back of the toilet, and it slid off and bounced on the seat and then the ground. I lost three keys: the ‘tab’ button, the ‘caps lock’, and the ‘Q’.”
“Oh, no, I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay,” I said, propping it up in the exact same place, attempting to act like I wasn’t pissed off, wondering if I’d be able to fix it. I returned to the task at hand, lathering up my frayed purple scrunchy and scrubbing myself while sometimes watching my girlfriend do the same. Meanwhile, I tried not to make a face as I tensed my abs, hoping that some definition still showed through on the grainy screen, which unfortunately, I could barely see from where I was standing.
This is just one of the problems with a long-distance relationship, trying to create some form of intimacy from 10,000 miles away. So it’s not just my own narcissism that’s an issue.
I had started seeing Cortney about ten days before I moved to Bali for five months, so I broke it off, not wanting to continue a relationship with so much distance, with so little personal contact at its foundation. We both struggled to let go at first but eventually we both went silent, which came at my insistence. Going home for Christmas, however, proved a greater challenge, and we couldn’t resist each other. Two weeks later, I was off to Bali again. But this time we decided to stay in touch since I was only going to be gone for a month and a half. Actually, we agreed to talk every two weeks, but we haven’t gone more than two days without talking to each other.
Our last Skype date was on Valentine’s Day. Well, it was the middle of the next day for me, February 15th, and I had to shut my curtains to act like it was dark enough to warrant lighting the owl candle that matched hers at home, where it was 9pm.
She was wearing the necklace I had sent to her classroom that day, a silver Anna Beck “Classic Double Floating ‘O’,” along with a dozen peach-colored roses.
“The necklace looks great on you,” I said.
“Oh, thank you,” she replied, reaching up to caress what I saw as my initials. “I love it. I really love it.”