Midwinter weather forced my flight to arrive late, leaving only enough time for a quick trip home to feed the cats and take a shower. Then it was time to ride my bike to work.
Halfway through my shift, I realized that I was itching for something. No, it wasn’t caffeine withdrawal. And it wasn’t a food craving either. I thought about impulsively buying a dress or a pair of shoes on my break, but I knew that wouldn’t satisfy me.
And so, despite my own impassioned declaration just one week earlier of “I will never call him again. It’s just not worth the trouble,” I found myself hitting the send button. As I was greeted by his outgoing voicemail message, I practiced my coyest voice. I needed to sound so disinterested, that it became “come hither” in the mind of the contrarian. Because this individual was intentionally disagreeable…the type that prides himself on challenging everyone. He was the ram thrusting his head against a brick wall.
As soon as it was time to speak, my mind stopped functioning. My face was hot and my mouth was dry. My attempts at charm were forgotten. I rambled away about just returning to town, feeling thirsty for liquor, maybe he would want to meet me after work? At least I hung up the phone before the automated time monitor cut me off.
I spent the rest of my shift consoling myself. It would be a blessing if he didn’t return my call, because I could clean my apartment and unpack my suitcases. Yes, a nice evening at home was necessary. And I had a movie that I could watch. Oh yes, the night was definitely filling up with pressing activities.
Miracle of miracles! He called just before it was time to close the store.
I was greeted with “Shouldn’t you be unpacking your suitcase tonight?”
I conceded that he was correct and added something stupid like, “But you know that I’m not the sort to do what I am supposed to do.” Tired. Fucking. Cliché.
That’s the thing about this guy: I hate that I have to step into this character when we interact. He hasn’t requested this, but somehow I know that this is the role I am expected to play. When he pictures me, the petulant teenage seductress is a large part of the image. Demanding. Pouty. Rebelling against unknown forces.
Argh. I hate it. Yes, I can be bossy. I tend to internalize my poutiness. I’m too fucking old to openly sulk. And rebellion is best left to individuals still living with parents. But for him, the auburn ram, I am the sum of my worst personality traits cubed. Maybe even to the fourth or fifth power. All good attributes disappear.
And so here I am on the phone, playing at being a stupid naughty girl. Except, when he’s a little tipsy, he always says something like, “I know you’re a genius. Maybe you should try using that brain for good.”
Oh, my mind is just overflowing with blueprints for evil.
Our conversations, in regards to planning a “date,” always follow the same outline:
I suggest we meet somewhere.
He will act uncertain. “Oh, I don’t know. I might be coming down with a cold/I have to clean my windows/I might be going to a dinner party.”
I will attempt to be persuasive.
Suddenly he changes course. “Oh, don’t you have lots of other boys waiting for you to call them?”
Here I remember this portion of the script. “Oh, yes….but you are my favorite today.” Something that I would never say to anyone else without the highest level of irony.
This always seems to satisfy him. We’ll squabble a bit about the location. “That’s too far/I hate that place/Don’t you have a lot of ex-boyfriends working there?” And so on.
Eventually plans are made. Times and locations are ironed out.
This particular evening requires some new underwear. Before I close out the last register, I ask one of the sales associates to ring me up. There is the usual snickering/elbowing/”someone has a hot date” nonsense.
I spend 15 minutes in the bathroom coaxing my hair into something that I imagine could be vaguely sexy. Lolita meets Bardot meets Kathleen Hanna. Or so I like to think. Copious amounts of eyeliner and mascara are applied. Perfume is dotted on key pulse points.
All of this preparation is mostly in vain, as I have a three mile bike ride ahead of me. However, it is necessary–a suit of armor for a seemingly major battle. It is best to approach impending romantic disasters as if actual blood will be shed.
Half the bike ride is downhill. Even the uphill portion is relatively painless, despite the icicles forming on the corners of my eyes. I am giddy with the idea of potential fun. I find myself singing as I cross the bridge.
And he’s oh so good. Pedal, pedal, pedal.
And he’s oh so fine. Coasting through a red light.
And he’s oh so healthy in his body and his mind. Smiling at a cat sitting on a porch.
And then I’m there.
As always, I’m five minutes late and he is nowhere to be found. I can count on this. I don’t doubt that he has left his house at the exact moment we are supposed to meet. Oh, the suspense.
I grab a table, order a Jameson’s on the rocks, and apply lipstick. I spend the next seven minutes trudging through an essay by Martin Amis.
He enters at stage left. Of course he acts surprised to see me. Something like, “I thought something better might have come up for you.” When I was leaving his house after the first night we spend together, he said, “Please promise you’ll call me.” I interpreted it as a boyish sense of humility. So charming! In actuality, it was an introduction to my new role as girl-child-cum-femme-fatale.
Other guys have cast me as the mommy. Or the unredeemable tramp. The little sister. The victim in need of rescuing. I can’t deny that all of these characters live within me, but none present the full picture.
He gestures to my book. “I’m reading something by him right now, too!”
I’m shouting to myself, “That’s because you and I belong together. See…this is another sign. And we’re both wearing red/white/blue outfits.” I mean, that’s what he’s thinking, right? Instead I say something dismissive like, “I think everyone is right now.” Meaningless. Our playwright is a fan of smug babble.
One night last summer, we drank $53 worth of liquor at a hipster bar downtown. Some awful mixture of watermelon liqueur, vodka, and pineapple juice. I guess we were being ironic. I know the exact amount of money we spent, because we emptied all of the cash our of wallets and tossed it into the center of the table. “We have to use all of this on booze!” And so we did. We spent a bit of time trying to convince a drunken European that we were cousins. We solved mathematical equations on napkins. Eventually we were broke and decidedly intoxicated. Wasted. Wrecked. Drunk.
Neither of us could ride our bikes, and so we found ourselves walking home. This was no short stroll. We made up stories about each person we passed. Only someone with a belly full of fruit-flavored liquor would have been entertained by them. I was virtually in hysterics. Tears ran down my face. I wondered if maybe we were the perfect match.
Just as we passed the halfway mark on our hike, he stopped and grabbed my hand.
“I just want you to know that I have been in love many more times than you. And my heart has been broken every time.”
I realize now, months and months later, that I should have dealt with this differently. This was some kind of pivotal romantic moment. Like, if I had handled it more sensitively, he might be my boyfriend now. There was probably a need for prolonged meaningful eye contact. I should have embraced him and whispered promises of devotion.
Instead, I pushed him on to someone’s lawn. I was ad-libbing, lost without a director. I jumped on top of him and started to kiss him. He did not object. My underwear was lost in the shrubbery and I never did get the grass stains out of my dress.
And now it is winter. In the interim, I have dated two of his acquaintances. I have had numerous quasi-confrontations with him at shows and parties. My friends constantly comment on the obvious chemistry between us. After three drinks, I will confess to anyone–co-workers, strangers, bartenders…it does not matter–that I am in love with this guy.
This night passes like any other with him–lots of back-and-forth witty banter. Imagine a remake of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? starring slightly younger, possibly-more-arrogant individuals.
I drink whiskey like it’s water. The script calls for me to drink too much when I am out with him.
I invite myself to spend the night with him. Of course, he protests. Something about “taking advantage” of him. Blah blah blah.
I weave and wobble my way to his house. As always, my bike is stowed in the garage.
Act Two begins.
I take my shoes off at the door. He takes my coat.
I make a beeline to his kitchen, pulling the usual bottle of gin out of the freezer. You see, I’ve been here before. The limes are in the bottom crisper drawer. The knives are next to the sink. I always use a cutting board.
He starts to squabble with me about the time I went to the movies with one of his friends. “Isn’t he your boyfriend now? You should call him.” Always needling.
My character squeezes a lime over his head.
His response is a bite on my neck.
The director tells me to throw salt at him.
He chases me out of the kitchen and down the hall. As planned, we end up in the sparsely furnished bedroom.
Of course, the next day, I will brag to my friends about this. I will sing in the shower and as I bike to work. I’ll replay the highlights on the back of my eyelids. I will feel giddy about the entire evening, until he doesn’t call me for a few days.
A week later, I’ll say I’m sick of him. “He’s not worth the effort required.” I’ll lament his refusal to see him as I really am. I’ll swear–with witnesses–that I will certainly never fuck him again.
The thing is, I’m in a contract–signed to play this character until the play’s run ends. A few more days? Months? Years? And then of course, there’s always a chance of a film adaptation.
Some have said I am born to play this part. The role of a lifetime.