Don (to Sylvia in a hotel room): “I’m flying upstate and when I come back, I want you ready for me.” (Picks up Sylvia’s novel.) “And I’m taking this.”
—Mad Men, Season 6: Episode 7
Our eyes locked in the elevator. I lived on the third floor with my husband and baby. Don lived above us with his young, beautiful wife, Megan. Or had, anyway. Even though she had won awards in advertising and saved the Heinz account and was now a famous actress who spoke fluent French and cooked coq au vin and greeted Don at the door every night holding a martini and wearing nothing but Saran Wrap, it wasn’t enough for Don. She hadn’t read Proust.
Don hadn’t either but he’d been briefed on the concept. So when he spotted me carrying Remembrance of Things Past, he followed me out of the building.
“Get rid of your kid and come eat madeleines with me now,” he said.
“OK,” I said. “Let me just interview this nanny first.”
I asked a teenager standing at a bus stop if she knew how to hold a baby. But she was busy necking with her boyfriend so Don threw some change at her. “Now I own you,” he said to the girl. “And you’re going to dump this guy and watch this child.”
Don ordered two scotches. “Put one of them in a bowl,” he said. Even though the pastry shop didn’t serve liquor, the waitress did as she was told.
Don placed the bowl on the floor and lit a cigarette. “You’re going to get down on all fours and lap it up.”
So I did.
“Now you’re going to tell me the entire plot of Proust.”
“Well, it’s about this guy in bed who—”
“Stop right there.” Don told me to crawl under the table and unzip his pants. Then he tossed his smoldering butt on the floor and told me to pick it up with my knees.
“I have to go to Florida now,” he said. “You’re going to wait for me under this table.” He picked up my Proust. “Something for the plane,” he said, and left.
It wasn’t Don’s fault he made women wait for him under cafe tables. It was his mother’s fault—for dying.
I’ve been under the table for months on end, staying out of the way of the mop and people’s feet. At last, I hear his booming voice: “I want you to get down on your—” I peek out to show Don that I’m already on my hands and knees. But he’s talking to a brunette!
Indignant, I crawl across the room to confront him. “Do you know how long I’ve been waiting?”
“Four years? It’s complicated, Jane…” He removes Remembrance of Things Past from his coat pocket and returns it to me. “Not to mention long and confusing and all in the narrator’s head.”
The brunette is holding a copy of Ulysses between her teeth, and I have this sudden epiphany: Don will never be satisfied. There’s a gaping hole inside him that no one—not even Proust—can fill.
“It’s over, Don Draper,” I say, crawling back to get my things. He grabs me by the hair and drags me under a different table. “What if I told you I’m not Don Draper?” It’s dark under there, lit only by the glowing tip of Don’s cigarette. He blows a smoke ring in my face. It floats upward, forming a halo over his head.
“I need you,” he says.
In the murky haze, it becomes crystal clear that Don isn’t at all who he’s always been. And never has been. Strangely, this new not-Don is even more mysterious than Don ever was when he was Don.
“What about her?” I point to the other woman.
“I need her, too. I need you on the third floor and Sylvia on the fifth. I need Betty to fantasize about me when she’s making love to Henry. And Anna to pine for me even though she’s dead. I need all of you—Midge, Rachel, Bobbie, Joy, Shelly, Suzanne, Candace, Bethany, Allison, and our waitress—Doris?—and I need Faye. God, why did I dump Faye?”
Curled up in the fetal position, Don starts babbling about his childhood and the nice whore who bought him chocolate bars. But the chocolate bars didn’t satisfy him, either, so he slept with her, too. It’s all pouring out of Don, stream-of-consciousness-like, and I can’t follow but I keep saying, Yes, yes, yes! And then I have another epiphany: It wasn’t Don’s fault he made women wait for him under cafe tables. It was his mother’s fault—for dying.
Don’s sobbing. Because Peggy no longer respects him. And his wife moved to California. Leaving Don all alone with just the female population of the New York City Metropolitan Area and only parts of New Jersey and Connecticut to comfort him. “But I don’t care about Peggy or Megan. Or you. It’s Sally I want,” he says, getting up.
“Don’t leave,” I say, pulling his Ulysses.
Don stuffs a madeleine in my mouth and runs off to find his daughter. Watching him go, it occurs to me that I have a child, too. Billy. Was he in kindergarten now? College? I’ll never know because I have to wait here for Don.
All over the city, women wait—under tables, under covers, in cabinets and hotel rooms—wherever Don’s left them. The brunette waits under the banquette. We see each other at night when we come out to eat madeleine crumbs off the floor. “It’s going to take Don decades to read Ulysses,” she says sadly. “And I have a two-year-old at home.”
“You think your toddler needs you,” I say. “But Don needs you more.”
To pass the long nights, we read aloud from Proust. Every morning, the aroma of petite spongy cakes coming out of the oven touches our nostrils and we’re able to recall in sweet, poignant detail our lost time with Don Draper.
Or whoever the hell he is.