It turns out that this guy sitting next to us is from Detroit. He and Cheryl are planning that game of “Wait, do you know so-and-so? His brother went to school with me. “
I order a beer because I’m bored. It’s really the last thing I need right now, but I imagine that it will be indescribably refreshing. My mouth is dry. And either I’m too drunk to go on or I’m just not drunk enough to enjoy the act of social drinking.
Ryan and I have a fairly set schedule for hangout-time: Wednesday, Friday night (with our friends), Saturday night (alone together), Sunday during daylight. I find comfort in this. At least I never have to make myself crazy wondering when/if he will call/see me.
For him, it’s just a function of his need to have a well-defined strategy for all situations. Sometimes it’s a simple as how/where to acquire illegal substances. He finds great pleasure in proclaiming, “A solid plan will keep us out of handcuffs and in possession of our wallets/money.” Grocery shopping, social situations, and even the arrangement of the keys in his pocket are all carefully orchestrated.
Nightly phone calls are written into our relationship blueprint. Of course, I can’t just decide to call him at 7:57. No, all phone calls must occur from 8 to 8:30 each evening. Any dialing outside this window is only appropriate in the midst of an emergency.
So of course, when the phone started ringing at 8 pm, I dove for the receiver.
He was in a terrible mood. I could sense that immediately. The way he said “hello,” devoid of any enthusiasm.
Work was stupid. A parking ticket on his windshield. Sadie chewed up an envelope, leaving a mess all over the rug. Pearl was out of Liquitex in “Cadmium Red.” He should just give up painting, because the entire world is conspiring to break him down.
I made futile attempts at understanding. “Aww, that’s too bad” and “Do you want me to see if Utrecht has it? I can call right now.”
Some days are a waste of all energy expended and really I just should just forget about it and oh….wait…well, how was your day Amanda?
I should have just muttered something noncommittal. Something like “Oh, you know, the usual” or “Another day, another dollar.”
Instead I announced, “Pretty awesome! I got a raise today!”
Silence. No “wow, that’s great because I know you have been working so hard.”
I should have expected this.
“You know, it’s really lame of you to brag about how much money you make. Because I work way harder than you and I’m barely getting by. I know you think that your salary is some measure of your value, but you’re wrong.”
Here we go.
“And you know, you’re so caught up in yourself that you never think of me at all.”
“Specifically, I mean you never think about my physical needs.”
This was a new category of criticism. I forced myself to give all of my attention to his comments.
Maybe I really can’t handle any negative feedback, because most of his words just raced through the receiver into my left ear and then exploded out of my right ear.
But some of it stuck. Gems like “Basically, when we have sex, I just try to get you off as fast as possible and then take care of myself. Because, you know, it’s not like you really think about my needs.” And “Honestly, I enjoy jerking off more than fucking you.”
Well all right.
I took a deep breath, summoning the cheery voice. “Thanks for the constructive criticism. I’ll keep it in mind.”
The moment the words left my mouth, the angry Amanda, the one I have spent years suppressing, decided to make an appearance.
“And also, thanks for once again reminding me that I should hate you. Whew! There for a while I was actually happy to be with you. Security and self-esteem are bad things to have, don’t you think?”
“Are you being sarcastic, Amanda? Because that’s not very funny. You know, you should TELL me when you are planning to be sarcastic. I’m just trying to share my feelings with you, but you don’t even care. You seem to think everything about you is perfect, but you’re wrong.”
I envisioned myself biking over to his house, down North Avenue, past Damen and then Western and then eventually turning left on to Kedzie. Right on Crystal. And then I would jump off of my bike, run into his house, and slap him really hard. Really, really hard. I would relish the pink imprint of my hand on his cheek.
“Well, Ryan. I have to go now. Please don’t call me again for a long time.”
Every muscle and nerve in my arm was required to stop myself from slamming down the phone.
Slowly. Carefully. Unconcerned. Because sometimes the mere act of pretending that one feels nothing about a situation can lead to actual numbness.
And now it’s how many hours later? I don’t know. Maybe six. And after trying to trick myself into feeling nothing, I’ve unsuccessfully resorted to chemically induced deadness.
Anger. Hate. Regret. All poison.
I take a long sip of my drink, hoping to wash the bitter taste of shame and inadequacy from my mouth.