Monday, February 28, 2011

The lunch date

Our first date happened almost seven years ago and I wasn’t attracted to him then. I was young, bored and I liked the way he complimented me with a serious expression, refusing any protests, feeble or otherwise. I let him take me out, I let him kiss me, and I let him buy me things to the point of being ridiculous.

But eventually I got tired of trying to like him “that way”, of letting him touch me when I didn’t really want him to, and stopped returning his calls. I found someone else and conveniently forgot about him, until his name would show up randomly on my phone or I ran into him in town.

Most of the time I ignored his texts and calls, saying only the bare minimum to be polite. I would wave and hurry away when I saw him out. But every now and then, he would catch me in a rough patch. Whether it was due to boredom, loneliness or deflated ego, he’d happily step in and boost me back up. And with an attitude that said I was clearly doing him a favor, I’d let him.

When I didn’t need him, he irritated me. I hated that he always seemed to show up everywhere I went. I felt like he was stalking me at times, but really, if I’m going to be honest (and this is all going to be brutally honest), he wasn’t doing anything that I didn’t allow him to. I never would have admitted it to myself, or anyone else, back then...but I wanted him on the back burner, just in case. Telling him off might have meant alienating him completely. And too, he was so fucking nice that I just couldn’t bring myself to really be mean to him.

Except now I realize that I was cruel to him all along. I knew he was crazy about me, possibly even in love with me. And instead of calling time of death, I let him repeatedly shock our relationship back to life. Let him hopefully watch a bunch of feeble lines on a monitor and wait for them to get bigger, all the while knowing what he didn’t – my heart would never work properly for him.

Seven months ago I made a stab at behaving like a decent human being. I had feelings for someone and, no matter how at odds their words and actions sometimes were, I knew they didn’t feel quite the same way about me. Because they never came right out and said “I don’t want you”, I kept thinking “it could happen”. But it didn’t, it won’t, and I knew there was a distinct possibility they were doing to me what I’d done to him, whether they realized it or not.

So when I received a message asking me to hang out and, as usual, telling me how wonderful I was...I finally said what should have been said ages ago. I told him that he wanted to be more than friends, he always had, and I didn’t. I told him that I couldn’t hang out with him unless he was prepared to accept that. I was proud of myself for not dicking around, for saying it in what I thought was a decent, but clear way. He responded that he was sorry for making me uncomfortable, which made me feel like an ass, and then he promptly disappeared.

I thought about him for awhile after that. I wondered how he was doing and if he would come back around and try to be my friend, or if maybe that was something he’d never be able to do. I crawled even farther up my own ass, and wondered how long it would take him to get over me. How much time was I worth? But after a few months without a word or a glimpse of him, I forgot to wonder.

Then a few weeks ago I was driving home. I’d had one of the toughest, most emotionally charged days of my life. I don’t cry that often, but when I do it’s...volatile. I’d been blubbering for most of the hour it takes me to drive home when my phone went off. It was a message from him. He’d passed me, seen what a spectacle I was, and wanted to make sure I was alright.

Of course that set me off more, but I replied that I was okay. Then he said, after seven months of silence, “I always hoped it would work out between us. I’m still crazy about you.” Etcetera, I’m gorgeous, etcetera, he misses me.

And instead of saying “don’t” or “I’m sorry”, I latched onto those words like a life raft. I said “thank you” and sent a smiley face, knowing it wasn’t a good idea.

“Why didn’t it work out?”, he asked.

“I don’t know”, I said, all the while hating myself. I was feeling rotten and I wanted someone to make me feel better and I knew that, with a few noncommittal responses, he’d do just that.

He comforted me, asked me out to lunch, and I accepted. I was back on the vicious cycle, attempting to justify my behavior like I always had before – by telling myself that maybe this was it for me, maybe I was supposed to be with someone that loved me more than I loved them. He was a great guy, with a lot of qualities just screaming “settling down material”. Maybe I’d read too many romance novels and was overlooking what was supposed to be my chance, while I waited for a passion that didn’t exist. But I knew better – even though I was stepping back into the ring, this time I was completely aware of what I was doing. I was going to sucker punch him, and apparently no amount of self-loathing was going to change that. If I was cruel before, I was downright sadistic now.

Two days ago he showed up right on time for our lunch date. Everyone else was gone when I let him in the front door and he followed me back to my office. I was nervous, but it wasn’t the fluttery nervousness of a normal date. It was a nervousness born of knowing I was doing something wrong, and wondering if he’d call me out.

“You look nice”, he said.

I was surprised by how relaxed and casual he was and I forced myself to calm down too. He didn’t reach for my hand or my arm as we walked to the cafĂ©, like I thought he would. He didn’t touch me at all.

I’d made jokes about getting a free lunch out of him, because that’s what I do...make terrible jokes. But when we arrived I waved away his protests and paid. I couldn’t have that on my conscious too. And apparently, buying him a club sandwich was supposed to make me feel better.

We sat down at a table by the window and we talked – about our kids, our jobs, and all manner of things we’d missed out on in the months we hadn’t spoken. I found myself laughing with him and feeling comfortable. He didn’t question me or compliment me, he didn’t look at me like he wanted to peel my skin off and wear it like a wetsuit. It felt normal – like two friends having lunch.

On the walk back I looked at his face, relaxed and confident, and I wondered if he knew. I wondered if he thought he was “wearing me down” or if, like me, he simply couldn’t stop himself from gravitating to what he knew would never work, out of some unfulfilled need.

In the lobby of my building he hugged me goodbye and kissed me on the cheek. “That was nice”, he said. And I agreed, smiling and waving as he walked out the double doors and into the parking garage.

But my smile didn’t stick around very long. I’d no sooner sat down at my desk when I thought, “Wait...what just happened? Is he over me? He’s never that casual. What was wrong with him?” I knew I was being an egotistical asshole, but I couldn’t help wondering why he didn’t fawn all over me like he normally would.

Two hours later I received a text message that said, “Thanks for lunch, had a great time. You looked stunning, as always.”

That was more like what I’d come to expect. And because my vanity knows no bounds, I grinned like a Cheshire cat.

I’d be willing to wager that I’ll hear from him again soon, and I’m not really sure what will happen. After exploring every unflattering angle of my behavior, and branding myself with labels I hate, yet completely deserve (like needy and cruel), I know something has to give. I know that, no matter how many times I may try to pretend or convince myself otherwise, he isn’t what I’m looking for. Now I just have to figure out if I’m the kind of person that needs something so badly, they take what isn’t rightfully theirs. I hope not. I hope I can find the courage to push him away for good and learn how to be truly alone, because maybe that’s all fate, God, or whatever decides these matters, is waiting for.

Thursday, February 24, 2011


Last Friday, amid my sunshiny errands and trampoline jumping, I was dealing with family drama. It started around 9 that morning when I was sitting in my underwear in the living room, radio blasting, repainting my toenails blood red.

“I said what what in the butt”, sang my phone. Muting the radio, I picked up what I knew would be a long, repetitive call. It was my stepmom.

“Your dad has lost it”, she said immediately.

“I wasn’t aware he ever had it”, I replied. “What’s up?”

“I need advice. Tell me what to do.”

What followed was, as expected, a long winded account of all the things daddy dearest had been up to recently. Some of it I already knew, like the story about him throwing an empty bottle of Crown Royal at her on Valentine’s Day. Who needs candy and flowers when you can give your woman something really a concussion?

And some of it was breaking news, like the fact that he was, supposedly, on his way to get a U-Haul to start packing up his things. He was going to take the dog, the horses, and the Harley and there wasn’t a damn thing she could do about it, so there! Dad has a flare for the dramatic and it was apparent that she knew, as well as I did, that he was talking out of his ass and wouldn’t be packing anything.

She wanted to know if she should get a restraining order or if she should wait things out, see if she could get him to leave on a mini vacation to give them some time apart. See, they’re in the middle of a lawsuit with his insurance company and, according to the lawyer, if she filed a restraining order it could jeopardize that.

I heard about how much he’d been drinking and the nasty names he’d called her. I heard “your mother is a saint to have put up with that man for over 20 years” and all the other catch phrases she’s adopted since her knight in shining armor turned out to be exactly what we all tried to tell her he would. I mmmed and ahhhed, and said the same things I always say – that she should have left him when he swayed down the aisle to marry her holding a bottle in a brown paper bag, that he’s crazy, and that no matter what happens between them, she’ll still be my family.

“I’m on my way to work to tell my boss I’m taking the day off to deal with this shit”, she said. “Will you call and talk to him? See what he has to say? But don’t tell him you talked to me.”

I wasn’t the first time she’d asked me to do something like that. I’d tried to explain to her before that questioning dad is an exercise in futility – the man lies so much that he wouldn’t know the truth if it hit him upside the head with a Crown bottle. But I agreed to do it anyway.

He answered on the second ring. “Hey Al, what’s going on?” I could hear the suspicion in his voice already, and I hadn’t even spoken yet.

“Hey dad. Nothing, just enjoying my day off. What are you up to?”

“You been talking to that bitch, huh? She called you didn’t she?”

Ah, paranoia! Signature scent of the guilty.

“No, why would she be calling me? What have you done?”

“I’m leaving. I’m on my way now to get a U-Haul.”

“Ok...why? What are you going to put in the U-Haul, dad?”

“Because she’s a crazy fucking bitch. All my shit, that’s what!”

I was relatively sure that whatever belongings he had in the house wouldn’t fill a large suitcase, much less a truck. If he actually followed through with that threat, he’d probably rob her blind.

He went on to say that he tried to get her to go to counseling (lie), but she’d refused (lie). He was tired of supporting her (lie, the only thing he supports are his habits) and she was turning everyone against him (lie, everyone was already sick of him ages before she came along). And when I expressed my doubt at those statements, and he sensed that he was getting no sympathy from me, he rushed off the phone.

Yeah, I totally called that one.

I rang my stepmom back and relayed the conversation, then attempted to wash my hands of the matter. “I’ve got to get in the shower. I’ve got to get going...errands and stuff.”

Unfortunately it didn’t work that way. Though I didn’t speak to dad again, my stepmom called me with regular reports all day long. She was getting the restraining order, she wasn’t. She was filing for divorce, she wasn’t. She was going to have him removed from the house (because, surprise surprise, apparently he never did go get that U-Haul), she wasn’t. As usual, her indecision was giving me whiplash.

“I don’t understand you women”, I shouted at one point.

That night I passed on all Intel to mom and told her she could handle it from there. She and my stepmom have become quite the pair, gossiping and texting about all of dad’s indiscretions, united by the one thing that initially had them hating each other’s guts.

And so the weekend rolled on. I spent a lot of time doing nothing and every day I put off the phone call I should have made to my stepmom. I heard about the latest happenings from mom, so I knew she was alright. I just didn’t want to deal with the repetition of it all. I hate it when someone asks me the same question over and over. “What should I do?”

The buzz was that she’d spent Friday and Saturday night in a hotel, choosing to leave him in her house rather than deal with him. No one seemed to know what he was up to.

On Monday I was home alone in my pajamas, writing and drinking my weight in coffee. After spending the majority of the day on the porch with the laptop, I suddenly decided my room needed to be cleaned. And around 6:30 when everyone came home dragging the debris of their day, I was still going.

I was unloading the dishwasher, methodically drying cups and glaring at the pile of papers and purses they’d just stacked on my clean dining room table, when mom said quietly, so Leigha wouldn’t hear, “I need your advice.”

Surprised, I simply nodded and finished what I was doing. After I’d seated Hannah at the table with her dinner, I went to mom’s room. She was lying on her bed flipping through a Tupperware magazine.

“Please, tell me you aren’t going to buy more of that shit”, I said, flopping down beside her on my stomach and putting my chin in my hands. “We can’t shut the cabinet now.”

“I’m just looking”, she said, using the tone I call her “little girl voice”, a dead giveaway that she’s lying through her teeth.

I rolled my eyes. “Uh huh. So, what’s the issue?”

“Well...your father called me this morning.” She always says “your father”, like other people say “your asshole dog” or “your snot-nosed brat”. When she talks to me about him, its half gossiping with a girlfriend and half it’s my fault that she married him. Which I suppose it kind of was, if you go around blaming fetuses.

I sighed and waited on her to continue. Mom loves a bit of drama with her stories; she’s very good at pauses.

“He told me that he was on his way here from Oklahoma, in Tennessee somewhere, and wanted to make sure I wasn’t going to have him locked up for back child support. (Pause)But! Your stepmom called me and guess what?! (Pause. Pause.)That bastard left two days ago! He’s already here somewhere, hiding out!”

I wasn’t surprised. If he had a signature move, other than breaking shit, it was lying in relation to his whereabouts.

“So”, she continued, “he says that he’ll give me some money on Wednesday if I don’t have him picked up. But I’m fed up with the shit. What do you think I should do? Should I have him arrested anyway?”

I sighed again. She didn’t really want my advice, just like my stepmom hadn’t wanted it either. They wanted to vent, they wanted me to say all the asshole things they couldn’t, and then they wanted to go about business as usual.

“Fine”, I said sitting up. “Supposedly he is getting paid while he’s here, so, if I were you, I’d tell him to have me the money he promised by Wednesday. Then, after I got the money, I’d have him arrested anyway.”

She looked at me, clearly conflicted. “I just don’t know. He says he’ll roll into town early tomorrow morning and swing by to see you girls. He’s still pretending he isn’t here.”

I shook my head and got up. “Well, I suppose you ought to figure it out. But I’m willing to bet you that he’ll be at our door before we go to bed tonight.”

“No, he’s too busy partying.”

I raised my eyebrows, because I can’t do just the one, and shrugged. “Whatever.”

At 10 o’clock on the dot I was sitting on the porch, wrapped up in my robe, reading. I heard a rumble and looked up. A truck with a motorcycle trailer on the back was inching its way down our gravel road, ridiculously attempting to be stealthy. It paused by the garden fence, on the last stretch of road visible before it would disappear around the corner of our house, leading to the driveway. The headlights cut through the dark and I knew he was sitting in the cab, watching me sitting in the chair, the overhead lights making our porch stand out like a theatre stage.

He inched forward and disappeared around the curve. I leaned back in my chair, knocked on the glass door, lit a cigarette and went back to my book, knowing even as I did that it was pointless. I was about to be bothered.

Mom poked her head out the door, responding to my loud rap on the glass. “Told you so”, I said without looking up from my book. I didn’t need to explain. She heard the rumble of the truck, immediately backing up my words.

“You get him out of here before he wakes up Ray”, she said, pulling at her nightshirt.

“He’s here to see Leigha, let her deal with it.”

She made a noise of disgust and turned to stomp off, but Leigha blocked the door. “Alyson, dad says for you to come outside. He wants to see you.”

I glared at her. “You go.”

Come on”, she whined.

Both of them looked at me expectantly and I knew they weren’t going to leave me alone. In fact, if I didn’t go, he’d probably just come around and climb the porch steps. Resistance, as usual, was futile.

I got up and followed Leigha, defiantly carrying my lit cigarette with me through the house and out the other door. It was my last one.

And there he was, standing in the driveway in his Levi’s and a black pocket t-shirt covered by his signature button up denim, open at the neck and with the sleeves rolled up to his elbows, exposing his tattooed arms. His feet were planted so far apart that it looked comical. He’s rather short for a man and his stance and demeanor have always reminded me of a rooster. Work boots, ball cap, and a pair of black glasses with a lanyard wrapped around the back of his head completed the never changing ensemble.

“Hey Al”, he said, moving in to hug me. I gave him the sidearm hug, but it was more out of necessity than desire to stay away from him. We were both smoking, but of course he took it as a slight. “Oh, I see how it is”, he said, chuckling. I knew that chuckle and it wasn’t real. He told us that he’d be staying until after Papa’s wedding. On March 19th. A month. Fucking brilliant. I was happy that my poor stepmom was getting a break, but not if it meant a month at my own expense.

However, two days later (last night to be precise), things shifted again.

I was sitting at the patio table with Papa, dad, and my cousin Ashley. I’d come to pick up Hannah and ended up getting dragged into a discussion on my Aunt that ran away from home last week with thousands of dollars and ten cats in a bag. (It’s a long story.) That led into a discussion about vacations.

“I’m taking a vacation just for me, before I start school and get extra tied down for the next few years”, I said.

Dad looked at me in surprise. “You aren’t coming to Oklahoma this summer?”

I stared back at him like he’d lost his marbles. As far as I was concerned, the past week had been the beginning of the end of his marriage to my stepmom. It had never gotten so far as hotel stays and talk of restraining orders before.

“I was under the impression that ya’ll were done?”

He just looked baffled, like he had no idea what on earth I was talking about. Probably because he’d already managed to convince his self that none of it had ever happened. “We’re fine, she sent me a package of things I needed today. I’m going back to Oklahoma this weekend for a quick job.”

“I thought you were staying until the wedding?” I could barely keep the excitement out of my voice. If she was going to be dumb enough to take his ass back again, I wasn’t going to waste my time feeling sorry for her anymore. And I wouldn’t have to worry about him causing any drama here for the next month. Win/Win.

“I’ll be back before the wedding. She’s coming with me”, he said.

Later that night mom cornered me again. “It’s Wednesday and he still hasn’t given me the money. What do you think I should do?”

I’d had plenty of time to think about it by then and I’d decided that there was only one thing I could say to her, and to my stepmom, the next time they asked that question. I had my own vicious cycles to attend to and I was tired of being forced into theirs as well. The tentative relationship I have with him only works because I keep my distance, and I know better than to expect anything more than a load of trouble or a good laugh. I can’t make either one of them stop tiptoeing around him and grow a pair.

I grinned and shrugged. “I have no opinion about that.”

Monday, February 14, 2011

No glove, no love

There’s a burning feeling deep inside and it won’t go away. Your skin feels inflamed and raw, you can’t stop scratching. You’re worried that someone will find out your dirty little secret, you’re paranoid, and its making you lash out. You’re alternately angry and weepy – life just isn’t fair! And you think to yourself, “Maybe if I hadn’t given in so easily...things would be different.”

And of course by “you”, I mean “me”. And by all of the above I’m referring, in a possibly over-dramatized fashion, to Valentine’s Day. Though I can see how you might have been misled.

If venereal disease was a holiday, I’m pretty sure it would be Valentine’s Day - based on Wikipedia facts and those nasty little brochures they leave lying around in the vagina doctor’s waiting room. I’ve never actually had a venereal disease, but I have had a yeast infection. And if a yeast infection was a holiday, it would be the equally annoying, yet less shamefully soul sucking, Halloween. It puts on an ugly costume and tries to scare you, but you know it’s just kidding.

Where was I going with this?

Oh, right. Valentine’s Day is gross.

It’s largely a meaningless, consumer driven holiday, designed to make single people miserable – either because they’re sick and tired of watching couples be all nasty or because the loneliness has just become too much.

As a strong, independent woman (read: single and with no current prospects), I can’t just go around admitting that it sometimes “sucks to be alone” or that every time the bell rings for the back door of our office I start to break out in hives because I know it’s another motherfucking flower delivery. “No one by that name works here! Go away! Scratch scratch scratch.”

I can’t really pretend Valentine’s Day doesn’t exist, but damn it I can hate it. I can scoff at the idiots that waste their money on stuffed animals and lip-shaped balloons, say “It’s so stupid” to anyone that will listen, and then secretly watch the all-about-love marathon on Lifetime in my pajamas with a tub of ice cream. That’s the more socially acceptable route: You can hate the holiday, just don’t ruin it with your sad sack routine in front of all the happy people...loser.

And I play by the rules. I only get all wistful about not having someone once in awhile, like on Valentine’s Day, and I generally keep it to myself. And it’s never for the whole day because, let’s face it, I’m not really one for romantic hoo-ha.

It’s easy to want the things you don’t have, the grass is always greener and all that, but if I think about it objectively I probably wouldn’t like all that girly hearts and flowers shit anyway.

You know what I think is romantic? Not rose petals, silk, and champagne. Not love poems, watching the sunset, and whispered words of devotion. It’s simple:

Put your dick in a box.

Alright, so that’s not entirely accurate, but it would definitely trump a stuffed animal.

I have one romantic fantasy, and it’s pretty simple. There aren’t any props or gifts and it’s not in a specific location. I won’t go into a lot of details but basically it starts with a look in his eyes and a little leisurely touching, then a bit of clothes ripping, then ends with, well, a bang. Ba-da-bing, ba-da-boom: Romantico!

Mom says that I shoot myself in the foot where men are concerned, and that if I’d stop giving up the goods so soon they’d probably stick around and buy me stuff for Valentine’s Day.

There may be a grain of truth in that since I just heard that the last man I went out with is suddenly in love with someone else. Not that he was ever in love with me, there wasn’t any of that, but maybe if I’d played my cards right he would have been? I guess we’ll never know. Either way, I hope she loves him back because he’s an alright guy, and there’s nothing worse than loving someone that doesn’t love you in return. Except maybe VD.

Anyway, since I’m alone again this year, I wondered if I should do something different. Maybe start my own Valentine’s Day tradition that has nothing to do with romance, cheap presents, or venereal disease. It should be something healthy, something that keeps me away from the Lifetime movies and doesn’t cause my temper to flare up.

That immediately got rid of the “go out on the town with other single friends” idea. Inevitably, someone always ends up crying and blowing their nose on someone else’s sparkly tube top in the bathroom after they got groped on the dance floor by a guy that kind of looked like their ex, but seemed so much nicer at first. Or, as proof of our independence from all things love and male, we’d end up making out with each other, groping each other, taking pictures and then deeply regretting it the next day when they showed up on some bitch’s Facebook as revenge for when so-in-so just happened to mention that you made out with her boyfriend seven years ago. Nope, not a good idea.

Some other things that were quickly discarded were: going to the gym, making an “I’m not bitter” video blog, and hanging out with high school age children and making prank calls. In the end, though, I just decided to keep it simple:

Put on Phil Collins, take a muscle relaxer and masturbate. My hand won’t feel like it’s attached to my body, therefore, it’ll seem like it belongs to someone else.

“And I can feel it coming in the air tonight, Oh Lord...”

Saturday, February 12, 2011

I just haven't met you yet

I was sitting at my grandmother’s dining room table, relaxed and laughing. The little house was jam-packed full of family, ringing with the sounds of a dozen different conversations.

“We need to go out and do something together, all of us,” I said to my stepmom.

She smiled and showed me a sheaf of tickets, waved them out like a fan. “We’ve got plans for this afternoon. It’s a dance class.” What she meant, she further explained, was that it was a pole dancing class and we would each have our own room and our own instructor.

But before I really had a chance to process that, you called. You called and everything changed. We were going out instead.

I raced to the back bedroom to get ready, but there really wasn’t much to do. I was already dressed, already painted and straightened. I smiled at myself in the mirror a lot, lost in thoughts I no longer remember well.

Time must have sped up because my sister was suddenly at the door, saying you were already there, waiting on the living room couch. That’s when the nerves finally showed up, mixing with the excitement, and I could hear my heartbeat pulsing loudly over the din of my family, still everywhere, still talking. I had to force myself to walk slowly and, rather than turn right and go straight to the living room through the side entrance, go around the long way. I wanted to look at you straight on; I wanted you to see me coming toward you. I just wanted.

They were everywhere – spilling out of the kitchen and into the dining room, taking up so much space. Of course it would make sense that they would be in the living room too, scattered in the armchairs and sitting on the couch, bothering you and asking questions because that’s what they do. But when I turned the corner, I didn’t see anyone but you.

You sat in the exact middle of my grandmother’s faded old yellow couch. The tiny, many colored flowers dotting its cushions looked vivid against your jeans. There was a jacket covering your head and it made me grin and laugh. You were hiding, being funny, and I knew that underneath the folds, you were smiling too. I walked toward you and gently lifted it from your head, tossed it to the side.

Looking at you smiling at me, the nerves left as quickly as they’d come. You didn’t say a word, just held out your arms. It didn’t for a moment bother me that you hadn’t gotten up, that I’d have to climb onto your lap to get to those arms. I put one knee on either side of your body, straddling your lap, chest to chest, wrapping my arms around you at the same time you wrapped yours around me. And my god, it felt good.

For a long time we sat that way – my head nestled in the crook of your shoulder and your face buried in my neck. I could have stayed that way all afternoon, but you finally pulled away. I was a little surprised when you pressed your lips to mine. I wanted it, but I hadn’t expected it. The kiss was long and slow and soft, your facial hair tickling my skin.

When we drew apart again, the sounds of the house finally started to register. “I’ll just go get my coat”, I said, climbing from your lap and hurrying out of the room.

Everything seemed to speed up and everyone suddenly wanted to talk to me. I kept racing from room to room looking for things – my purse, my jacket, my lipstick. It was irritating, but typical. It’s what always happens when I’m trying to go somewhere; I’m unorganized.

Each time I hurried past, in search of one thing or another, I could see you standing impatiently by the door. I wanted to go to you, but I just had to do one more thing, and one more thing, and one more thing.

“Alyson”, you finally said, “let’s go already.”

“I can’t believe you’re skipping our family outing”, my stepmom said from behind me.

I was flustered, but I finally managed to take your hand and walk outside. We made it halfway to the car and I pulled you to a stop. “I forgot my jacket!”

You sighed and gave an exasperated little laugh while the dog jumped around our legs and faces peered out from windows. “Go start the car”, I said, “I’ll be right back.” I watched you get into a red car that looked vaguely like a station wagon before running back inside.

When I returned, you were parking some sort of recreational vehicle with a trailer attached to it down the street. I smiled as I watched you walk back up the sidewalk, getting closer. And then…

I came to, face down in a pile of pillows. Disoriented, it took me a moment to realize what was going on. It was all just a dream.

But somehow I could still feel the imprint of your arms around me and the press of your lips.

I smiled and turned over on my side, rubbing my eyes. I replayed all of the weird elements, of course: my stepfamily being in my grandmother’s house, the pole dancing class, the trailer, the crush of people and the impromptu moment of intimacy in front of them all. But what I kept coming back to, the part that was somehow, against all odds, more vivid than everything…was you. Your lips, your face, your arms, your presence. You were the most unlikely piece of the puzzle – “one of these things is not like the other” – yet you were the part that felt exactly right.

I looked at my bedside clock. It read 7:02am. I would normally never get out of the bed so early on a Saturday, but I was already pushing off the covers and throwing my legs over the side of the bed. I wanted to write it all down before I forgot, before even the silliest details became too fuzzy to remember. I wanted to write it all down so I would remember what it felt like to be wanted, to be with you. And in my head, I’d already picked out the title.

Monday, February 07, 2011

The personality test

She asks me another question that I’m not sure how to answer. “I don’t know” seems like a cop out and I don’t like saying it. She wants something definitive and lucid, but instead she gets a bunch of rambling that has to be sorted through, like a trash bag when you know you’ve thrown something important away.

I realize she has to think about what I’ve just said, but does she have to stare at me while she’s doing it? She examines me like a specimen under a microscope, and I wonder if she sees the pulse in my neck throbbing faster. The longer she stares in silence, the more anxious I feel. Should I say something else? Should I just wait for the next question?

“I feel like there’s something you aren’t telling me”, she finally says. Her brows are knit together and her head tilted to one side. I open and close my mouth like a fish. I’m not sure which something she means. There are a lot of things I’m not telling her. There are things I’m not telling her that I’m sure she wouldn’t deem relevant to the conversation, but that I want to say anyway. And there are things I’m not telling her because I can’t bear to part with them. I can’t have them shoved under the microscope. I don’t want them examined and pulled apart because I may never be able to piece them back together. I’m afraid to let go of the bits of myself that I think I understand, because there’s always the possibility that she’ll prove me wrong.

I shrug and give a half laugh. She scribbles something on her notepad and I wish I could snatch it from her. Not to read it, just to use it. To flip to a new page and jot it all down, just like this. To show her that I’m not as inarticulate as I appear to be…I don’t always ramble. Maybe we can just email each other instead.

“Do you want to remain in your current position”, she asks. “Is this what you want to do with your life?”

“No”, I say immediately, confidently. I smile because it's the easiest question she’s asked me today.

“What do you want to do?”

“Write”, I think just as immediately. But I don’t say it. Not yet. First I sigh and give her all the reasons I can’t do what I want. I tell her I need to go to school and pick a career that generates more money, as soon as possible, so that I can support my kid. I tell her that it’s not a question of what I want, but what needs to be done. I have a choice to make and, because I find it depressing, I haven’t yet made it. I’m in my current job, not making enough money, not going back to school, because I can’t bear to pursue something that may not pan out financially.

I overload her with information again. She’s got so many things to sift through that when I finally say, “I love to write. It’s all I’ve ever really wanted to do”, it’s weighed down and I know it doesn’t have the effect it should.

We touch on so many different things that I’m not sure what today’s objective was supposed to be. And I know it’s my fault. If I could just give her a straight answer, maybe she could form a valid opinion. Maybe she wouldn’t have parroted my own words back to me. “I don’t know.”

As the session draws to a close, I realize that I’m sweating. I can’t wait to get out of there and, maybe I’m projecting, but I feel as though she can’t wait to get me out of there too.

She says she’s going to give me a test to take home. Seventy questions to help her determine what sort of personality I have and in what occupation I’d fit best. I just barely manage to keep from rolling my eyes. Is this middle school? Is she going to tell me that I don’t work well with others and should be in a profession where I have limited contact with the general public? Will I fit into the “artistic circle” on the career wheel?

“Try not to analyze the questions”, she says. “Go with your gut instinct.”

I take the paper and note that it says “Temperament Sorter – different drums and different drummers” across the top, and I have the insane urge to laugh.

I’m wondering if I made the right decision, if she’s the right therapist for me. I’m wondering if I’ll be able to tell her all the things I’m afraid to. I’m wondering if this questionnaire is going to help. I’m wondering if she’s going to be able to sort through all the garbage I’ve given her and pull out the bits that need to be cleaned up and examined…or if that’s even her place. Maybe it’s mine. I feel more confused than I did before we began, and that worries me.

Then, in small letters off to the side, I see the words “please understand me”. They’re nearly hidden under the grey shadow of a hole-punch mark, from where they’ve been copied many times. I feel the sudden burn of welling tears behind my eyes and the suppressed laughter becomes a thick ball in my throat. The sudden change in my demeanor embarrasses me and I fight it back, hide it from her.

We schedule an appointment for the following Thursday and I leave quickly, walking through the hallway with my head down. Once I’m inside the elevator I breathe a little easier. I ride it up and up, out of the basement and past the next few floors. Once off, I make my way through the corridors, turning left and right, navigating the maze of the hospital on autopilot. And all the while I’m thinking.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Office pet

At ten minutes after seven I park on the first floor of the parking garage, as opposed to the sixth where everyone else gets shifted. I stroll past the guard booth, sunglasses covering the worst of a face devoid of makeup. The girl in the booth waves and smiles and I return her greeting, just like every other morning. She likes me, thinks I’m funny. “Girl, you are just too much”, she always says. And I am, of course, but not exactly in the way she means.

I unlock the backdoor, walk through the kitchen and around the corner. My office is the second door on the right; the first is a storage room full of gadgets I’m glad I know nothing about. I unlock it, flip the switch and throw my handbag on the desk. Light floods the tiny room from the single florescent panel and it looks exceptionally bright after the damp shadows of the parking garage.

Three walls are papered in pale blue and the back wall is papered in white with small blue flowers. It was a doctor’s exam room when this suite belonged to a medical practice years ago – the mirror and paper towel dispenser are still on the wall over where the sink used to be. I often wonder, when work is slow and concentration is slippery, exactly how many people have been naked in my office. It just so happens that work is often slow and concentration is, more often than not, slippery.

The desk is a hand-me-down from assistants past – an old, unattractive brown affair with chips missing from corners and pieces of sticky tape that would require too much effort to remove. When I returned here (after a two year absence) it was against a side wall, leaving the computer visible to whoever decided to stand in the doorway. The woman they’d joyously gotten rid of in order to have me back was denied the privilege of moving the furniture, told that it would take the IT department sending someone to redo wires and such.

After two weeks back in the saddle I’d said to my boss, “I want to move my office around.”

“Ok”, she’d replied, then immediately pitched in with the rearranging of furniture. The manager in the office across from mine bundled up wires and reattached lines for me in record time. Then, I decided my walls were far too empty and they requested that someone from engineering build me a large set of shelves to hang. And a few weeks later, just like that, there were two men in uniform attaching a beautiful set of off-while shelves high upon the wall behind my head. I’ve always had a “thing” for storage.

This morning I notice that the big plant on my pretty white shelves is flowering. I usually can’t manage to keep a cactus alive. Indeed, the current resident of the blue bowl isn’t the original. I killed it almost immediately.

“You’re not going to water it”, the boss had said, sounding simultaneously amused and exasperated, after I picked it up at a farmer’s market on one of our famously long lunch breaks.

But I was in love with the bowl and imagining how the spidery vines would trail attractively down the front of my barren new shelves, so of course I bought it anyway. And for awhile it was perfect. But as predicted it was never watered and soon died, the dirt clumping together and the dead leaves crinkling up and curling in on themselves. It stayed like that for months before a fairly new employee from up the hall offered to repot it for me.

“I’ve got a plant that will look just lovely in it. Would you like me to take it home and fix it up?”

“Sure”, I’d said with a shrug. “Why not?” She was the same woman that had left a coffee cup (with my initials on it) on my desk at Christmas, along with a candy cane and a pack of cocoa arranged inside with red tissue paper.

And so this morning, the tiny pink blooms sticking up in the air make me smile – because they’re pretty, because they were free, and most importantly...because they came with their own watering lady.

I head back toward the kitchen to pour myself a cup of coffee. There’s a cup, two packets of creamer, three packets of Splenda, and a stirrer already waiting for me by the pot.

I amble down the hall, stirring the contents of my cup long after the packets have dissolved. It’s habit; I’ll stir it continuously after each sip. Stopping in the boss’s doorway, I lean against the frame and cross my ankles. I’m wearing leggings, a long shirt, and flats – the sort of outfit she’s repeatedly told me she hates. She looks up from a stack of paperwork and frowns at me, but before she can complain about my tardiness or my attire I say, “So guess what”, and launch into a dramatic story about someone I know.

Most arguments or complaints can be avoided if I have a decent story to share. She gets distracted easily and once I’ve given her something “juicy”, she always feels the need to one up me. It works even better if I ask her for “advice”. And so begins our 30 minute to an hour morning “visit”. By the time it’s over, she’s forgotten to be angry and it’s time to get to work.

It’s 8 o’clock when I log into my computer and kick my shoes off under the desk. Plugging in my little space heater, generously donated by another employee because my little office gets chilly, I warm my toes while I check email. A steady stream of people, from the larger, all female department we share the suite with, keeps the walkway in front of my office ringing with noise. Dragging their bags and their lunches, removing their coats and saying good morning to each other and to me – but I wish they wouldn’t. I wish they’d go through the front door instead; it’s closer to their area anyway.

I grumble good morning in response to their chirps and they smile at me indulgently as if to say, “That Alyson. She’s not a morning person, but we just love her to bits anyway.” None of them ever get angry with me, no matter how rude I am. They treat me like a combination of court jester and adorable, destructive puppy.

When the big boss comes breezing by, it’s another matter entirely. “Good morning Sunshine”, he says to me, not pausing at all in his race for sanctuary. He always calls me Sunshine, never uses my real name, a fact the entire office never fails to find amusing. He likes people even less than I do and trying to catch him in the hallway is about as easy as nailing Jell-O to a tree. He’s always afraid he’ll get stuck talking to someone so he keeps his head down and his feet pumping like pistons. An enormous key ring jingles on his belt loop, alerting everyone that he’s on the move.

I am just the opposite. I pad through the corridors in my bare feet, scarlet toenails vivid in the florescent lighting, the four leaf clover tattoo on my left foot defiantly uncovered. Quietly I pull the stack of mail out of the slot by the front door and leaf through it as I walk. I’ve long thought that my stealthy hallway approach was more satisfactory than the big boss’s loud sprint – the cheek pinchers, as I like to call them, never even know I’m there.

I manage to avoid everyone until early afternoon when the boss pokes her head around my door. “Are you coming with us to lunch today”, she asks.

I tilt my head and pretend to consider it, though I really have no intention of going anywhere. “What are they having”, I reply. She quotes the menu and sighs when I make a sour face. “No”, I say, “I don’t think so.”

“Fine, be that way”, she says without heat. It’s the same thing she says every time I decline to join them and, for the past few months, that’s been quite often. I used to go every day, but the truth is that I usually desperately need the alone time. As long as I make an appearance once a week, she’s kept mostly happy.

When they return an hour later, she hands me a packet of chocolate chip cookies. “Here, you ungrateful little shit”, she says grinning. She’s forever bringing me things.

The afternoon drags by. Sometimes I think its worse, being on the bottom floor and on the side of the parking garage, because there aren’t any windows. I once had a nightmare about being locked in the suite, with the entire lot of them, and all the clocks had stopped working. I wandered around jerking on doors and screaming that it was time for me to be let out, while they stared at me with creepy smiles on their faces. It was very Girl Interrupted esque. Thank god I only had it the once – though now that I’ve mentioned it, it will probably happen again. That’s how those things work with me.

At four thirty the boss prepares to leave. Stopping in front of my office, she says the same thing she says every afternoon. “I’m glad you got to see me today.”

“So am I.”

“You’re such a liar”, she says, and we both laugh...just like we always do. But then a terrible thing happens. She deviates from the script.

“We’ve hired someone to fill that position I told you they might make. Some young girl. We might have to move offices.”

“Where would we move to”, I ask.

“I’m not sure yet, but there’s a possibility we could get cubicles or have to share an office.”

Her face is smooth, resigned. Mine, on the other hand, is incredulous – jaw hanging open and eyes wide. “Give up my office?! Move?!”

She shrugs. “We don’t know what’s going to happen yet.”

Immediately after she’s gone, I’m lost in thought:

If I lose my office, I lose my freedom. If we move suites, who will water my plant? For that matter, where would I put a plant? What about my lovely shelves? What about the...wait a minute. Did she say ‘young girl’? Surely not.

The possibility of another young woman being in the office doesn’t sit well with me. And I’m surprised by that because I’ve always moaned about being the youngest in a sea of old people, with no one to relate to. Now that it’s a certainty, that she’ll be here, I’m just not sure it’s in my best interests.

Right now I’m the only one that walks around barefoot, the only one that wears leggings, the only one that comes in looking like she’s just rolled out of bed, the only one allowed to make off color jokes at the department lunches. I’m the only one that leaves rude notes on the refrigerator and the only one that has to listen to my boss talk about her vagina. I’m the youngest, funniest, cutest, grumpiest...I’m lots of “ists”. And there’s a possibility that this new girl could knock things off balance.

The big boss walks by my door while I’m staring into space, imagining a bleak future sitting in a cubicle next to some perky girl that everyone likes more than me.

“Goodnight, Sunshine”, he says, pausing briefly. “Will you be here much longer?”

“No sir, I’m almost finished. Did you need anything else?”

“No, Sunshine. I’m fine. Have a go...”

“I heard ya’ll filled that new position”, I blurt out.

“Yeah...sure did.” He looks at me expectantly.

“Um, just out of old is she?”

“Oh”, he thinks for a moment, looking toward the ceiling, “I’d say she’s about 45, but I’m not exactly sure. Why?”

I narrow my eyes, then remember who I’m talking to, and smile. “Just wondering.”

“Ok”, he says, looking confused. That’s how he always looks when talking to me – confused or amused.

We say goodnight again, he walks away and I gather my things. I wonder if my boss told me she was “young” to scare me, knowing I wouldn’t like it, or if she really is young to her...because she’s in her 60’s.

Then, as I’m walking through the kitchen, intent on the back door, something on the counter catches my eye. And I smile because, obviously, I was being silly. It doesn’t matter if that woman is 25 or 45 – I’ve got this shit on lock.

There are two packets of creamer, three packets of Splenda, a stirrer, and a cup with a big note on it that says “HA HA HA” already sitting by the pot. Apparently she knows how to work me, just as well as I know how to work her.

*Unrelated note: The videos will be posted by Friday.