It sits there, emitting plumes of whispy grey exhaust while the windshield slowly starts to unfog, while one tiny patch at the base spreads out, allowing me to see inside little by little. I watch it from the dining room window and raise one corner of my mouth in wry acknowledgement of the metaphor that flashes through my head. I’ve just likened myself to an idling car – its insides becoming more apparent as heat softens the thick, cold misted glass. And it's insides are a mess.
I have an hour commute and most days I spend it listening to my favorite radio show, on autopilot as I turn the wheel, press the gas, and chuckle at their jokes. Today my brain is in overdrive and the only sound is the whoosh of tires. My thoughts are like a bag of unlabeled jelly beans in the hands of a compulsive eater – I pop one in and chew it for a minute, swallow, pop in another, grimace and spit it out, try another and another.
I think about how I’m changing. I’m starting to want things that I never did before and it makes me feel... ashamed. Like a fraud. Because though I’m starting to feel differently on the inside, I’m still clinging to my old habits, scared to death that new ones will only bring disappointment. One of my biggest fears, however silly it may seem, is becoming one of those women. You know...desperate.
I think about the fact that I haven’t heard from Sam at all since last Wednesday, and it was only a distracted text. I acknowledge the fact that I like the idea of him – the successful, intelligent, piano player who is good in bed. In reality he talks too much about himself and now only seems interested in what I have to say when it’s directly related to sex, which is partially my fault. I’ve been fooling myself into believing it might turn out to be more than a fun fling with an aging playboy. I don’t really want more from him, but I’m still offended that he doesn’t want more from me.
I think about my sister. She exasperates me, makes me feel much older than I am. Too often lately Mom and I sit on the couch discussing what should be done about her. She asks me for answers, asks me to make decisions that aren’t mine to make. I do it because I’m afraid of what will happen if I don’t. I’m walking in her shoes and they’re entirely too tight.
I think about the things I need to get done. Paperwork that needs to be filled out and turned in for health insurance, bills that need paying, a coat that needs dry cleaning. I flip through the mental to do list quickly then move on, before I become too overwhelmed.
I think about the book nestled in the handbag on my passenger seat. I wish I could bury my face in it and stop thinking. Right this instant.
I think about my plans for the weekend. How excited I’ve been to have real alone time and an opportunity to invite my friends over. Now I can’t decide which is worse – I don’t want to be alone, nor do I want to be with people.
I think about making an appointment with my doctor – getting more pills. But of course I won’t. That requires too much effort. I’d rather write a melancholic blog post instead. Besides, my mood will be up by tomorrow again anyway.
I arrive at work and wind my way up six flights of parking deck, taking each turn faster than I should. I always do. I walk across the rooftop and through the double glass doors. An elevator is going down, but the doors are closing. They take forever in the mornings and I know if I don’t catch it, I could be waiting another five minutes for it to come back, or forced to take the stairs. I hate the stairs.
I rush forward and throw my arm between the doors. But instead of springing apart like they’ve always done before, they slam into either side my arm. There’s a woman inside dressed in a black business suit. According to the badge around her neck she works here, but I’ve never seen her before. She screams, “Oh my god”, and backs away with her hands on her face. The doors don’t want to open and resist my attempts to push them back. It hurts, but not badly.
I finally manage to push them open and dive inside; the woman continues screaming while I examine my arm. Just a few red marks, nothing more. “Are you alright”, she asks loudly.
“Yes”, I say, not looking at her.
She lets out a nervous laugh. “I’m so glad you didn’t lose your arm!”
I raise my head and look at her, not in the least angry that she didn’t attempt to help me, just curious. “Are you really?”
“Yes! Thank goodness you can go on to work with it intact”, she says still laughing nervously, trying to keep the joke alive.
The doors open on my floor and I get out without another word. Any other day I would have been angry; I would have said something scathing and shown her how well my middle finger still worked. Today I can’t make myself care.
I put my things in my office, fix a cup of coffee and amble over to lean on my boss’s door frame – a routine I’d love to abandon, as I’m not a morning person anyway, but if I didn’t show up she’d just come to me. We say hello and she goes on about a few things, then looking at me more closely asks, “Are you alright?”
“Yes”, I lie. I reinforce it with, “The elevator closed on my arm.”
She bursts out laughing and I tell her the story.
“It was your right arm?”
“Ah well”, she says, “you’re left handed. You don’t need the other one anyway.”
“I do. I masturbate with that hand”, I reply flatly. I use the obnoxious laughter, when her head is thrown back, to make my escape.
I spend the rest of the day ensconced in my office, trying everything I can to avoid thinking without actually having to do any work or socializing. I butcher a humorous post I’ve been working on and I doubt I’ll ever be able to fix it, which sinks me further into my funk.
At 4:45, when I climb in my car, I’m exhausted. I feel like I’ve been running around in circles – and in a way I have. I merge onto the interstate and start the hour commute home, this time flicking on the radio. It doesn’t do any good. The same thoughts that have been plaguing me all day go marching back through my brain in quick succession. I grind my teeth and do my best to suck it up, stopping to collect the kid from daycare. I ask her about her day and put on my parent voice when she whines about having a sucker before dinner.
When I arrive home I take care of business – bath, dinner, homework, bedtime story, and tuck her away for the night. Then I grab my book, wrap myself in a robe, and nestle into a chair on the porch – it’s the first time I’ve felt good all day. I’m going to escape at last.
And I do. I read and read, losing myself in the pages. I’m relaxed and content. Safe from hurt and confusion, blame or acceptance. For a few precious hours, I’m in someone else’s world.
So what if it is a hooker’s?