Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Last day

“I think I’m going to buy some of those diet chips”, Diane says.

I prop my bare feet on the edge of her desk and cross my ankles. “Make sure you read the bag carefully. Some of those diet and sugar free foods can cause anal leakage.”

She throws back her head and laughs, the sound echoing down the corridor. I smile and shake my head as she launches into a story about a woman that had to have her asshole reconstructed, due to her penchant for taking the dirt road. I’m going to miss these daily dicking-off fests more than I originally thought. And I’m going to miss her.

I remember the first time I sat in this chair, in her horribly messy office, wearing a brightly striped sweater, black skirt and black old lady pumps. I was a nineteen year old kid with a month old baby at home and I had no idea what I was doing. Diane sat me down, explained the job, spent a half hour gossiping and then showed me around the suite.

I immediately wanted to work here, not even considering the corporation as a whole...just this little area where the work space rang with laughter and the halls smelled of coffee and someone’s breakfast burrito. It was my first “real” job.

But though the woman who hired me is my supervisor, she’s never been just a boss. From the day I interviewed until this moment, this last day we get to sit here together as employee and employer, she’s also been my friend, mother and psychiatrist.

She cosigned for my first loan to help me establish credit, she made cakes on my birthdays and sat drinking wine with me all night on her living room floor. Just recently, when I had to go to the doctor for what was apparently vertigo, she came, without asking, in sweats and tennis shoes on her day off. Just in case I needed someone to hold my hand and drive me home.

She’s lectured me, made me listen to the same stories over and over again, occasionally irritated me so much that I wanted to scream...but I love her. She gave me a job, she gave me a chance and she’s continuously put up with all of my tardiness, grouchiness and immaturity.

And now, after weeks of wondering and waiting, the day has finally come. The transition from old job to new will be complete tomorrow, when I pack up the last box and they cart it two blocks away. I’ve been excited about taking a step up the career ladder, about more money and more opportunities to grow and learn. I’ve been excited about my new chair and my new title, about rubbing elbows with presidents and COO’s. Excited and a little terrified, but not sad. Not until now. Not until it really hit me that in order to grow up and move up, I’ll have to give up a few things too.

This is the last time I’ll sit around with no makeup on and a frizzy ponytail, barefoot and relaxed in the privacy of an office that’s more like home. The last time I’ll dance on tiptoe around her door and primp in front of her mirror to make her laugh. The last time I’ll drink coffee and shoot the shit for an hour in the mornings. The last time I’ll wear flip flops and leggings, play games when no one is looking and close my door for an hour with a current bestseller.

And perhaps the saddest thing of all, right up there with saying good bye to her and other coworkers I’ve come to think of as family - this is the last time I’ll sit at this desk and write.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The mature notch

We sit at opposite ends of his slippery leather couch, holding drinks neither of us need. I watch him bring the glass to his lips, mustache momentarily disappearing, and I wonder what on earth I’m doing here.

He’s telling me about his job, something to do with engineering. I’m interested and I’m not – I feel as though he’s filling the time according to some rule of sexual etiquette I’ve never learned. Set the scene, chat up your prey, seduce them slowly and deliberately. That’s not the way younger men do things. It’s not unwelcome exactly, just unfamiliar.

He leans over, lifts my feet and settles them in his lap. Still talking, he massages them, making slow deep circles. I haven’t had a pedicure in ages and normally I’d be embarrassed by my rough heels and chipped nail polish, but I find I don’t care. It feels nice, but the smile he gives me as his hands start to travel higher, stroking my ankles and calves, doesn’t have the effect I think he intends it to. It’s suggestive and rather cheesy. I’m more amused than aroused.

We only met hours ago, introduced by a mutual friend, yet already he knows more about me than any one night stand ever has. That’s partially her fault – telling him over dinner that I write a blog, encouraging me to tell him my crazy stories. And because I didn’t think it mattered, because I looked at him and saw nothing but a friend of a friend whom I’d likely never see again...I did. We shot pool and threw out statistics and sordid tales like playing cards.

“I’ll stay because I’m drunk, but I’m not having sex with you”, I’d said only a short while ago. The streetlights in the parking lot made him look like a pirate when he smiled – black hair, whiter than white teeth, deeply tan skin and that damn mustache. We both knew I was lying.

We stop speaking and he stares at me, the cheesy smile becoming a dirty leer. I can’t help but grin back because this feels rather ridiculous. I’m going to fuck him for sport, because he’s 20 years my senior, because I’m drunk and curious. I’m not sexually attracted to him at all, though he’s moderately good looking. I’m even more amused when I realize his reasons may be similar – he might fuck me for sport, because I’m 25 and I doubt women my age beat down his door on a regular basis.

He stands up and pulls me to my feet, leading me down one hallway then another. His room is open and spacious, shuttered windows cover two walls. The bed is tall, headboard cattycornered causing it to jut out into open space. Soon I’m sprawled across it naked and for once, not even a second of self-consciousness plagues me. Maybe I should stop sleeping with men I’m not initially attracted to more often.

I’m surprised by how good he is, how attentive and tireless, how kinky. For someone I’m sleeping with just because I can, he’s exceeding my expectations. But occasionally he looks at me in a really intense way, almost glaring, and with that mustache...I have to stop myself from laughing.

I fall asleep next to him, which is something I never do. Not the sort of cat napping I tend to do before sneaking out with my panties in my purse, ensuring they have no idea that I snore and occasionally drool, but hard sleep, only waking when he nudges me for more sometime near dawn. I scratch “low libido” off of my older man mental stereotype list.

*****

He asks me out to dinner and, before I really have time to think about it, I say yes. He’s been reading my blog and he likes it. It’s strange to know that a one night stand could read what I write, but even stranger still that I’m seeing him again. I’m not sure I can write about him, knowing he’ll read it.

There’s standing room only at the bar while we wait for our table and I suck down three Jack and Cokes before we’re seated. He has just as many, but I have a feeling that’s a regular occurrence. I want to have sex with him again because it was good, but I’m not sure I can do it sober. His age is no longer a novelty notch for my belt and more like some strange self-experiment I shouldn’t be doing.

He asks if I like wine and I say that I do. He asks if I like red or white and I say that I prefer white. He says he prefers red and orders that, assuring me I’ll like it.

The waitress pours a little in our glasses and though I consider it, I don’t do the pretentious swirling and sniffing. We both raise our glasses to our lips and he nods at the waitress. I nod too, even though I think it’s rather bitter, and she fills our glasses, leaving the bottle on the table.

“Do you like it”, he asks.

“Yes”, I say, to be nice.

The dynamic has changed with this dinner. I’m nervous for the first time and I think it’s because it feels like a date. I’m filled with mixed emotions about it – I’m amused, horrified, excited. Somehow just sleeping with him doesn’t seem as bad as going out with him.

We empty the bottle of wine and I feel infinitely more relaxed. I totter out the doors in my heels, pausing to pull a pair of sandals out of my purse – it’s a long walk back to the car and I doubt I can manage it in those death traps. It’s a nice night for it though and the conversation and laughter flows easily. His laugh is very high pitched and it makes me laugh harder, turning it all into a big vicious cycle.

When we get back he offers me a drink. I take it, shedding shoes and pants as I meander back through the hallways to his bedroom. I climb up on his bed and decide I’d like nothing more than to jump on it.

I haven’t jumped on a bed in years, but here I am in my lacey boyshorts and shirt, drunkenly bouncing around his mattress like it’s a trampoline. I have no idea what he makes of this, since I’m too busy laughing and enjoying myself, but when I stop, he’s right there at the edge, pulling me to him. I wonder if he thinks I’m finally acting my age.
*****

He invites me over to his place to watch the bowl game. I’m reluctant because I have my period and that means if I go, I’m going for the express purpose of hanging out and nothing else. Spending time with him without sex on the menu seems like a waste, and possibly another step in a direction I’m not sure I want to go, but I’m bored. I don’t care if he sees me looking bloated in a pair of leggings, with minimal makeup.

We drink beer and watch the game, playing beer pong at half time. When my team is still losing badly in the third, I make him turn it to something else. We get on his computer, look up YouTube videos that make us laugh and share them with each other. I sit on his lap and it feels a little awkward, but most likely just for me.

Moving to the couch, I watch some sort of criminal drama show he’s put on. When he returns from the kitchen with more beer, it’s to a commercial with a Star Wars reference. Laughing, he bends down in front of me, eye to eye, and says, “Aly, I am your father.”

I’m appalled and I know my mouth hangs open as proof. He is, indeed, almost exactly my father’s age. I internally shake myself and laugh to hide how much that goofy little sentence rattled my cage, but I doubt it’s convincing. I’m not sure which part bothers me more: The fact that he could be...or the fact that he said it, even jokingly.
*****

We go out for drinks and play pool at a bar around the corner. I’m having a good time and getting fantastically drunk until a group of young couples comes and sits in our empty area. They’re playing other games and apparently waiting to use the pool table I don’t want to give up.

He solves this problem by inviting a couple to play against the two of us. Soon we are laughing and chatting with them and he’s buying everyone rounds of shots. The girl playing opposite me is a hair stylist and we talk shop. She gives me a business card with her name on it and drunkenly mentions a discount. We are fast friends now, as only two drunken women who are strangers can be, and she rolls her eyes at me when her boyfriend admonishes her for not paying attention.

“So are you two dating”, she asks. Her face says she’s genuinely interested in the answer and when I look up at him, his expression mirrors hers.

“Um, ha ha.” I shrug and laugh, then decide to go the easy route. “I don’t know”, I say looking at him again, “are we dating?”

My knee jerk instinct was to reply “well, we’re fucking...”, but when I saw his face I wasn’t sure if I should.

“Yes, I guess we are”, he says.

A short time later, I see someone I know. It’s only Travis, my cousin’s old high school boyfriend, someone I only speak to out in public, but I’m suddenly very self conscious about my...date. He starts to come toward me to say hello and, rather than letting him come all the way over, I meet him halfway.

We hug, exchange pleasantries, cover the usual “who have you seen, who’s doing what” topics and he introduces me to his girlfriend. I see Travis glancing over at our pool table curiously, but I offer no explanation about my company.

“Who was that”, he asks when I return.

“Oh, that was just an old friend from high school. He dated my cousin for a long time.”

He makes a comment about me not introducing him and I feign surprise, apologize. I’m drunk after all – social niceties easily escape me. But I’m relatively sure he isn’t buying it.

The boyfriend of my new, drunk friend tells him how lucky he is to be taking me home. Maybe he thinks so too. Maybe that’s why he chooses to ignore my poorly concealed slight. Maybe we really are using each other equally.

He makes me breakfast the next morning and we sit at his dining room table. This is new.

I look at him and try to imagine introducing him to my friends and family as my boyfriend. Premature, yes, but all this time I’ve been spending with him makes me picture it and, in my head, it looks painfully awkward.
*****

We go to a Mexican restaurant near his house. I order a burrito and he laughs at my exaggeratedly Southern pronunciation. But this dinner feels different. I think we’re both losing what little bit of interest we’ve had in each other.

I’m not around often enough, I don’t contact him much, and I happen to know that he’s seeing other women, going out of town with them. I don’t mind, since I’ve been sleeping with someone else when the mood strikes me, but I have a strange feeling that he thinks I will.

Or, maybe I’ve had it all wrong from the beginning. Maybe he’s not my fuck buddy that I’m sort-of-but- not-really-dating because classifying it makes me feel weird. Maybe I’m his...and all these dinners, drinks and hangouts are just bonuses for sharing the fountain of youth.

*****

That was the last time we saw each other.

The next time we spoke was through text message, discussing plans to hangout. He was supposed to let me know what we were doing and after the original “let’s do something”, and my affirmative reply, he just never wrote back.

I didn’t even pursue it, didn’t bother to ask what the hell happened, because I already knew. He’d fallen in love with another woman he’d been seeing, someone closer to his age. Go figure.

I wasn’t hurt and when I look back on it, we had a good time together. You can’t really regret great sex and fun dates. I was, however, a bit angry about the invitation he never bothered to cancel – I found it extremely rude. But still, even after that slight, I couldn’t write about him.

He asked me once, after we’d seen each other a few times, why I hadn’t written about him yet. He was well aware that I generally don’t leave an interesting man, date, or sexual encounter untold.

At first it was because I thought he wouldn’t like it – no man I’d slept with or dated had ever had access to my blog before. I figured he wouldn’t want me to put all of his personal business out there. It’s certainly not for everyone. But no, he seemed to really want me to talk about him. Maybe it had something to do with ego.

When he told me to go for it, that he didn’t care, I was actually excited. I’d been a little disappointed that there was finally something I wasn’t technically allowed to write about.

But when I tried...the words wouldn’t come. Somehow, knowing he’d be reading it had me blocked. There was the tiniest part of me that didn’t want to offend him in any way, but the main problem was this: What if he disagreed about our time together? What if he said it didn’t happen quite that way? I didn’t want to be challenged.

That was last year and I’ve since realized a few things about writing and relationships.

Everyone sees things differently – writers especially. There are details that stand out in our minds that other people find so insignificant, they don’t even register. And more importantly, everyone feels things differently. Everything I’ve said about my time with him is true – it’s what I felt, it’s what I thought and if it differs from the way he remembers it, that doesn’t make it wrong. It just makes it mine.

I’ve wasted a lot of time these past few months trying to avoid things, people, emotions. It’s one of the reasons I’ve had such a hard time writing...because writing, for me, is the opposite of avoidance. This story is my way of giving fear and avoidance the middle finger, a step toward getting back some of what I feel I’ve been missing. And, of course, to finally give him the post he deserves.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Allergic reaction

I went to Dr. Kelly for help on someone else’s recommendation, when I was not only at the end of my rope again, but gnawing on it.

I was no longer seeing the Diane Lane look-a-like therapist. After months of sessions I found I couldn’t do it anymore. She seemed kind and she listened, but for some reason I didn’t completely trust her.

I put off finding a new therapist, because that’s what I do, and in the mean time things spiraled out of control. I spent almost an entire weekend in bed, in full melt down mode, and did something completely out of character. I talked to my mother.

Here was a woman that knew about curling up in a ball and checking out. All these years of living with this anal retentive, overly-emotional control freak that drove me nuts...and in the midst of my mess, I finally saw her. I felt ashamed of my inability to comfort her when that was probably all she’d ever wanted, ashamed that emotional displays make me uncomfortable and physical affection has a time limit.

She crawled into the bed and lay beside me while I cried. I didn’t want to talk, I didn’t want to be touched, but I didn’t want to be alone either. She’s never understood much about me at all – but this she knew how to deal with, this she could handle. When I had trouble breathing, she coached me right through it, calming me down.

I was too far gone to be embarrassed and when my sister crawled up and lay on the other side, sandwiching me between them, I just accepted it. Most days I feel as though they’re both vultures, waiting for me to show signs of weakness so they can swoop down and pick at my flesh. But that day I lay bleeding and they didn’t once take a bite. And when I finally told them what why and how, or at least as much of what why and how as I could spare, they told me not to worry and then they let me be.

Each day after that I got a little better – I got up, I cried less, I stopped staring into space and actually concentrated on something, anything else. I laughed, I went to dinner and I returned phone calls I’d been avoiding. Sometimes I’d get angry or disgusted with myself, for being what I call “melodramatic”, but generally I just “dealt with it”. And by that I mean I put it all back inside and locked it up.

I knew I needed to do something different, to seek out another therapist or take more than the occasional Xanax to numb the things that crept out of that locked place from time to time, but I didn’t. I took Dr. Kelly’s number and it joined the receipts and lipsticks at the bottom of my purse.

Until one day, not too long after my meltdown, I was sitting at work. I’d picked up my favorite fast food for lunch, brought it back to the office and ate every bite. Nothing was wrong at all on the surface, I felt fine. Except suddenly, I seemed to have something lodged in my throat.

I could still swallow, still breathe, but it was uncomfortable and I couldn’t seem to make the lump go away. I drank an entire bottle of water, even took out a mirror and examined the back of my throat just in case, but there was nothing. I got a fluttery feeling in my chest like my heart had grown wings and they were beating rapidly at my insides. My face grew hot and when I stood up I felt disoriented.

My boss walked by, glanced over and stopped. “What’s the matter? You’re very pale.”

“I don’t know. I feel strange...and like there’s something caught in my throat.” I explained all my symptoms and she told me to hold on, disappearing around the corner.

She brought back a nurse from the next department – one of the sorts that have a degree for paperwork purposes only and haven’t really practiced much medicine. I relayed my symptoms again and she nodded knowingly, perma-tanned fake boobs wobbling with every jerk of her head.

“It sounds like you’re having an allergic reaction. What have you eaten today?”

I looked at her, horrified. “Only Chick-fil-a...and I’m not allergic to anything!”

She nodded again. “Well, that’s what it sounds like. They use peanut oil, you know. Adults develop peanut allergies later in life all the time.”

“Oh no! No, no!” I had to take deep breaths at that point; the fluttering was making me supremely uncomfortable. Did people my age have heart attacks? What the fuck did Orange Boobs McGee know about it anyway? But the others immediately agreed with her and I couldn’t think of an alternate reason.

One of the other employees ran across the street and returned a few minutes later with a box of Benadryl allergy tablets, shoving two in my hand. I swallowed them and waited. For twenty minutes I paced back and forth between my office and my boss’s, sitting down and getting up over and over again, ranting.

“If I’m allergic to Chick-fil-a, you might as well go ahead and kill me now. Either that or I’ll eat it anyway and stab myself with an epi-pen every time!”

She laughed at me, but when I didn’t fall to the floor racked with convulsions she quickly lost interest. I decided I needed a second opinion.

“Mom”, I said with false calm after the receptionist connected us, “there’s something wrong with me.” I told her the problem, explaining how the feeling in my throat hadn’t gone away but got better and worse, better and worse. I told her the nurse’s theory about an allergic reaction and the Benadryl.

“But she’s got fake tanned fake boobs and I couldn’t real...”

“Alyson, do you have a Xanax in your purse?”

“Yes, why?”

“Because you’re not having an allergic reaction, you’re having a panic attack. You have no allergies, nor have you developed any. Take the pill, concentrate on breathing slowly in through your nose and out through your mouth and call me back in twenty minutes.”

“Oh”, I replied, stunned. “Ok...”

When I called her back and reported positive results, she sounded a bit smug. “What kind of nurse would tell you something like that?” But I didn’t really blame the Boobs MD up the hall – I hadn’t recognized the real problem either. I’d never had a panic attack out of nowhere before, not like that. I’d always been very upset to begin with, agitated or crying, before one presented itself. The seemingly random arrival of this one scared me and for it to happen at work, to cause me to lose an hour of my time, well that wasn’t acceptable.

“It’ll be alright”, she added after her rant.

“Thanks mom”, I said. And I really meant it.

I dug through the debris of my purse, pulled out the doctor’s number and took her next available appointment. I still had to wait a week and during that time I experienced several more attacks, including one in the car that was so bad I had to pull over. When I finally walked through her doors, I was doubling up on my precious, actually illegally procured Xanax.

Sitting in the exam room waiting on her, I wondered how much to say. Doctors can be funny about people admitting to taking drugs that don’t belong to them, but how else to explain how I’d been dealing with the problem thus far?

I was shocked when a woman that looked no older than me walked in and, truth be told, slightly miffed. I didn’t want a new doctor, I wanted someone more established. She looked more like a TV MD than the real thing.

But the minute we started speaking, I changed my mind. For an hour we talked – I answered all her professional questions and then, somehow, I was telling her about my dad and about therapist Diane Lane. And without divulging too much, she told me she’d been through some very similar experiences. My new doctor was young and optimistic – she seemed to “get it”, and she was only a family doctor. There was likely no couch in her office, in fact I didn’t even know if she had an actual office.

It wasn’t that I found someone to relate to, there were plenty of people that could say, “Yes, I know exactly how you feel and I’ve been there”. There was just something about her that put me at ease; I trusted her. I even told her about the pills. And I’d never once had that feeling with Diane Lane. With her, I’d laid out the things I thought she needed to know, resenting it and her, even if I wasn’t aware of it at the time. I wanted it to work, so I forced it until I couldn’t anymore, but gave just enough to get by and little else.

At the end of our appointment Dr. Kelly gave me two prescriptions – one for long term use and the other for more Xanax to use for panic attacks until the first had time to build up in my system. She said she thought therapy was something that I should continue with and she would call two of her colleagues for referrals, that I should keep trying until I found the right one, that it had taken her several tries too.

“It’s a shame”, I told her on my way out, “that you aren’t in that field.”

She smiled. “Don’t worry, you’ll find the right one. Call me anytime.” And I’m sure she really meant it.