Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Why don't you whine about it some more?

Blink. Blink. Blink-a-blink-a-blink-a-blink. Is my cursor on a blank blog post that I have stared at for blink hours blink blink today. Blink. Time marches on, the sun rises and sets, and the damn cursor keeps blinking.

Monday was the start of a new semester at the college, which you would think would be a handy symbol for new beginnings and fresh pages and blank slates and all that bullshit, except that it's not really feeling that way at all. I am teaching the same course to what might as well be the same students, and my textbook is dog-eared and I already have my lesson plans from last semester, so why change? As opposed to this time last semester, I now find myself with three jobs, each a more puny and miserable waste of my time than the last, and yet somehow I have no more money in my pocket or in the bank, and the days are no less empty. Blink. Blink-a-blink. And as I bumble and totter around the empty house, gazing stupidly out windows and at computer screens, I think, Isn't there something I should be doing? I rack my brain and come up with nothing. But surely there must be something I should be doing? There is not. I check the job listings again. There is nothing. I check Okcupid. (Or, as I call it, Ok-if-you-like-your-men-at-shoulder-level.) There are 5'8" baby daddies, and then, nothing.

Though I know it can't be true, it feels like nothing is ever going to change. Though the last few weeks and months have brought new jobs, new people, and a new roommate, I still feel stagnant, moldy, mired down, stuck. I have tried part-time employment, online dating, volunteering, team trivia, book club, yoga, and still, in the end, it all boils down to nothing. It doesn't change the fact that my phone never rings, or that my married friend and former workout partner ditched me in favor of chatting up some blond on the elliptical, and exchanged information with her right in front of me, I mean god.

It's just me and the damn cursor again. Blink. And yet through it all there's the feeling that I have lost something that I can't quite put my finger on. Like I've packed for a trip and left something terribly vital at home. And so I implore the universe, or the Internet with its wise and all-seeing eye:

What. THE FUCK. Should I be doing?

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Why it's a slippery slope, and I'm falling fast

The band-aid is off, and I haven't even had time to feel the pain. Oh, sure, I moped for a day or two, but it's been nothing compared to my usual ability to fixate. I have effectively replaced one James with another, it seems; one whose wife has been conveniently out of town for the last two weeks. I was in his living room, in fact, when I gave my final, floundering break-up speech, as he and his friend S. waited in the kitchen, pretending not to listen. The last thing Jimmy said to me: "Are you on your period?"

With that, and his not-so-subtle implication that I was acting irrationally, something inside of me snapped. So, rather than accept any responsibility for his part in our falling apart, he gets to blame it on my hormones, just by virtue of being a man? Well, fuck that, I decided. "Maybe," I fumed. "Anyway... shut up!" Like the wordsmith I am.

"Do you want to call me tomorrow?" he said.

"Sure," I said. "I guess. Whatever." But then I didn't. And it was finally over.

After that my phone still rang, still said James, but it wasn't him, anymore. Now it was my friend James, my married friend James, and we went to pub trivia together, yoga together, movies together. He made dinner at his house for me and his friend S., S. falling asleep in a chair after. There was the night he brought out the guitars and he and S. played and I sang, pulling up guitar tab on the laptop, looking up the Beatles, Dylan. That night we stayed until two in the morning, and every time a beer bottle emptied a new one appeared, as if by magic, when I wasn't looking. S. fell asleep again, but for us sleep wasn't even a question, and we huddled by the laptop watching Pulp videos, our heads bent close together. We looked up at S. as his eyelids fluttered and he breathed a deep sigh, and then we looked at each other. "I feel like he's the dad," he whispered, and I giggled, and for a second we both imagined ourselves as teenagers, and wondered what we could get away with under S.'s drowsy, paternal eye. What we could get away with being nothing, of course. Of course it was nothing. He was married, and I went home.

Then S. went to visit his sister for the weekend, and James and I met again in his living room, just the two of us this time. There had to be a line, I knew, but where was it? I started a mental list. Things That Are Not Crossing the Line: both of us hanging out at his house alone. And then, back massages also apparently were not considered to be crossing the line. I closed my eyes and gave in to it. "Isn't it uncomfortable to not wear underwear with jeans?" he asked.

"I am wearing underwear," I said. "It's low rise." But where must his hands have been to come to that conclusion?

I wanted to kiss him, imagined the possibility of it, but then thought, What if that's crossing the line? But, maybe there is no line, I almost convinced myself. Maybe the line is an illusion. I finally talked myself out of it by imagining how I would feel the next day if I did (like a fool) and if I didn't (relieved.) I decided to go with relief. He gave me a hug, and I went home.

Last night seemed to be a safe enough situation: a group of us at the bar playing trivia. Three guys drinking and talking and all the bawdiness that goes with it, and me. "But Rachel," S. said as I rolled my eyes, "it's a compliment. It just means we're comfortable with you!"

"Lucky me," I groaned, and then smiled. We all joked and laughed, and James and I teased each other and flirted as only a guy and a girl who have never had sex can do. He walked me to my car, we said goodnight, hugged, and my lips pressed into his cheek because they couldn't not. I got home, thought we were safe, but then, he called me.

"Do you think it would ruin our friendship if we had sex?" he said.

I paused. I couldn't say I was stunned by the question, but its timing, at 1:00 in the morning, threw me. "If I was worried about ruining something," I said carefully, "the first thing I would be concerned about wouldn't be our friendship."

"Right," he said. "My marriage."

"Right," I said.

"I do love my wife," he said. "I really do."

"I know," I said.

"But honestly, I'm more concerned about you," he said. "You deserve someone who's not attached. I know that."

"I know," I said.

"It's just, I've been having such a good time hanging out with you..."

"I know. But I can't stop thinking about what happens when your wife gets back. We're not going to be able to hang out like this anymore; I won't be able to come to your house. Yeah, I'll still see you at trivia once a week, but...this sucks."

"I can't pretend it's going to be the same," he said. "It's not."


I remembered how it felt, wanting to kiss him so badly, I remembered him touching my hair, once, twice, briefly, and pulling his hand away.

"If you didn't have to get up early tomorrow..." he said.

"I do have to get up early tomorrow," I said.

"Well, goodnight," he said.


I didn't know if I should post this. It's too personal, too private, too much, and I know this. I guess I'm still learning my boundaries. Still looking for that elusive line, and hoping not to trip over it along the way. But. Just don't crucify him. Don't crucify me. We are just two fucked up people, though certainly not the only two in the world. Nothing is done, and yet everything is; what we've done already is far too much. But, ultimately I am selfish, and cannot bring myself to give up one of the only friends I have here. And so I find myself sliding further and further into this morass, and I don't understand how something can be wrong and feel so right. (And you know it must be bad when I slip into such nauseating clich├ęs.)

I might turn off comments; I don't know. Just, please, please, be kind.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Why I dream of spring (or, Of snow and sacrilege)

Snow is a white blanket 
It covers trees and fields 
And when I step into it 
It comes up to my heels 
-by Rachel, age 5

When I was five, growing up in Maryland, I didn't know how good I had it. In Maryland, snow is heavy, dense, packable. Good for throwing, sculpting, and making into snowballs, snowmen, snow forts, snow angels. If in Maryland snow is a thin, white blanket, then in Mythaca it's a fluffy, down comforter. It's five down comforters all piled on top of each other, and then it's six, and seven, and eight of them, and still it falls. When you open your car door, it whirls up in a cloud, finding its way into every fold of your clothing, and settling in a fine dust over the front seat. It's goose down, a handful of blown dandelion fluff, and it shimmers on the road at night like cut glass. It's been coming down for over a week now. While in Maryland snow falls in a linear and predictable manner, here it swirls around and around like a snow globe shaken. The air is constantly shifting in front of your eyes like visual white noise, and it's equal parts soothing and twitch-inducing. It swirls and churns, and for as many flakes descending in a downward trajectory, there are just as many floating upwards, outwards, and sideways. What if, instead of melting, snow was sucked right back up into the sky, like a nature film in reverse? Would you believe in God? What if all your mistakes could be undone with the touch of a button, and you could see them all rushing past you, like so many snowflakes, skyward? If Jesus really loved us, instead of washing our sins as white as snow, he would have given us a rewind button. Like Tivo for your immortal soul.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Why break-ups are like band-aids

I've been in limbo for the last two weeks. It was over, I knew it was over, I think he knew it was over, but I had to see him again. I had to see if there was anything left, if there was anything to salvage. I needed to feel him, to breathe him in, to let our bodies fill in the gaps where where our minds and our resolve failed. Our chaste, fully-clothed bodies, holding each other under the glare of a 100-watt bulb, and even then, I knew. I knew as he held me, as I softly scratched his back, as he kissed me and then just as suddenly pulled away. "How was your date the other night?" he asked, again, because I had told him I couldn't see him Saturday night, because I was seeing "a friend." Originally I had stubbornly stuck to my story: "A friend, I'm seeing a friend," no gender, no names. But when he kept asking, ribbing me as if it gave him a perverse delight, I finally said, "Fine. It was fine."

"Why do you keep asking me that?" I said when he asked me this time, and burrowed further into his neck. Our words and our actions almost always at odds; the further apart we grow, the closer I cling.

"It's ok," he said, chuckling, "you can see who you want. You're not tied to me."

"I know," I murmured coyly, trying to match his playful tone. But though he had said you, his statement had more than an air of reciprocity, and so I said, "Have you been going on any dates?"

"No," he said after half a second of hesitation. He's lying, I thought. But I was too. No one willing to concede, both of us still playing our roles. The ultimate farce.

He brought up sex again, because talking about it is all we can do. As if by force of repetition I will eventually be convinced by his argument. The same reasons: it changes things, he's not ready, if anything were to happen... Then he says, "Well let me ask you something. Have you ever had casual sex?"

At first I'm frozen, shocked by the question. But we are both adults here. Surely he has to know? I blink once, twice. "Yes," I say. My tone implies an of course, and I fight to keep my shoulders from creeping upwards in a shrug.

"Really?" he says, and I am surprised that he is so surprised, though I suppose after all this I shouldn't be. "I never would have thought..." he says. "I mean...you're so reserved and shy." When he says this it hits me viscerally, and I realize: he doesn't know me at all. He doesn't have the least idea who I am. And worse: he doesn't even care enough to find out. "Reserved and shy" is a snap judgment made in the first few minutes of meeting someone. It's a shortcut; a way for extroverts to classify something they don't understand. It's not a person. It's not me. And it has absolutely nothing at all to do with sex. He might as well have said, You're so tall, I never would have expected you to like sushi. I am baffled. He is baffled. "Huh," he says to himself thoughtfully. "Huh."

I knew it was over, too, at the bar, as we sat debating politics, his purported opinions so extreme, so illogical that I wondered if he was baiting me. We argued, talked loudly, interrupted each other, and I thought, reserved and shy? But I like a good debate, like being forced to present my thoughts in a logical way, and so I was having fun. Any guy that's right for me would like this, I thought, would like that I have my own opinions and can argue them logically and convincingly, but he just seemed frustrated. "But how can you even think that?" he said incredulously. "Well, let me try to explain it to you," I said, but he wouldn't listen, or didn't care. After that, our faces flushed, our pulses racing, we should have gone home and torn each other's clothes off, but of course we didn't. Instead he said, "I'll start your car for you," which is really just a nicer way of saying, Don't let the door hit you on the way out.

The next day I didn't hear anything from him; not a word, not a text. The first time we had gone a whole day without talking since we had met, and I knew it was really over. I knew that it had to be, that it was for the best, that it just wasn't working, but knowing that still couldn't stop the awful, dull pain in my chest. I went to work, went home, hung out with friends, but all I could think was, if I knew I only had fifteen minutes left to live, I would have no one to call. Those melodramatic, imagined scenarios: your plane is going down, a meteor is crashing to Earth, you're being held hostage. That one last phone call. Who do you call? They would find my hand a shriveled claw clutching my cell phone, frozen in the act of scrolling again and again through my contacts list, because there is no one person I would want to talk to during my last few minutes on Earth. I am not anyone's someone, and no one is mine. That makes me the saddest of all. I imagine an apocalyptic phone tree for the lonely and unloved: everyone should be able to call someone, even if it is just a stranger's voice on the other end. An end of the world hotline? (Note to self: look into this.)

I woke up today knowing that we would have to talk eventually. Say it out loud, rip off that band-aid. I would send him a text. So, I would say. Or, Well. Or, Well?

When I was little I was absolutely incapable of removing a band-aid in one try, instead spending hours sucking air through my teeth as I loosened it bit by painful bit. Now, as an adult, I routinely rip strips of hot wax from intimate areas, knowing that if I hesitate even a little, the results will be much more painful, and ultimately unsuccessful. If you do it right, it hurts, but it's over quickly. It's for your own good. It's what they always tell you, but I didn't realize when I was little they might actually be right. The easy way, the hard way, and the stubborn way. "They" can tell you all they want which is best, but sometimes you just have to figure it out for yourself.

After I had all but given up hope, but before I could decide on my approach, my phone beeped. Hey u, he said. Four little letters. Hey u.

Hey, I responded, and though I should know better, suddenly I'm five years old, tugging on that damn band-aid again.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Why my life is an open book, apparently

I know the Christmas season is over, and all, but humor me here for a minute: What is the lamest Christmas present you can think of? Socks? A gift certificate for a store you never go to? A piece of paper stating ownership rights to your very own star? How about nothing at all?

"So, I know I sort of implied I had a Christmas present for you," he said as we sat in front of the fireplace, ("Not implied, stated," I responded), "but as it turns out...I couldn't find anything. I mean, I don't know what you like."

Isn't that lame, Internet? Don't you wish you could tell him how lame that is, and how in the future he should probably tell a girl before she slaves for hours over a hot stove making him delicious fudge? (Because, while in the grand scheme of things we may not know each other that well, figuring out what someone might like is not always a feat of rocket science.) Well as it turns out, you can tell him, Internet; you can tell him all this and more, because, hello, he is already here. In fact, he is probably reading these words at this very moment. Aren't you? Pete?

I tell you, there is nothing worse than confessing your deepest, darkest secrets to a guy, only to have him respond, "I know. I already read all about it." I am still not sure whether it was intended more in the spirit of confession or frustration on his part (as in, Good lord, woman, stop repeating yourself.)

It's not that I haven't been found out before, because I have, several times. (See Internet date #1, Internet date #2, and friendly French hotel owner.) My saving grace in those cases was that I had never actually written about the guy, whereas here, of course, I decided to wax poetic with a string of ego-swelling adjectives. (So much for playing it cool.) I think the moral of the story is that I should never get involved with any nefarious characters, because I wouldn't last a week in witness protection. I leave a bread crumb-ier trail than Hansel and Gretel.

So, anyone else out there I should know about? Ex-boyfriends, co-workers, family members, former elementary school teachers, Girl Scout leaders, "best friend" who made me cry in the fourth grade? Grandma? 'Tis the season to be honest, so if you're out there, it's time to 'fess up. Let's do it quick like a band-aid. For my sanity or lack thereof. Please?