Lunch again. 1:30 pm martinis. For her. My work day doesn’t end until the last word typed before my eyes close. A bit dramatic, yet still, lavender double shot espresso blended iced latte for me. Yeah, I’m needing something lavender. From decay grows the lotus.
“My fantasies were filled with faceless men. No, actually the same man, I think. He never had a face, like any man of your fantasy fill-in. He was the kind of addictive cruel, one part sadist, one part devourer–obsessive and possessive. You know?”
“Any way, I always used him to start me off…like my go-to Playboy centerfold. A pre-pubescent boy’s wrinkled up centerfold he hides under his mattress to jerk off to when the folks are gone. I embarrassed myself with such a cliche fantasy: the cruel lover who made me do things. You know?”
I didn’t want to know. Not on an iced latte. I’d have to switch to martinis. I nodded.
“A writer should be able to masturbate to something less classic, more creative than a faceless fantasy fascist.”
“In your defense, you write feature stories not erotica.”
“Yeah, well…Johnny Depp, even as jackass pirate shows a little more imagination–and taste…
But then after a few years with Vincent, it hit me. The faceless fascist disappeared. And you know what an obsessive-possessive nut job he turned out to be.”
“So, you’re saying you manifested Vincent? What’s the moral of the story here? Was he really that demanding? Or commanding? Or I should say, commandant. Did he totally control your mind and body, violently, if necessary? Maybe just a little bdsm?”
“Yes, all of it. He wasn’t violent. I wouldn’t have stayed. He just…just…I don’t know…owned me. Subtlety. In inches. He crept up on me, and before I knew it, I was not going out with friends, and cutting down my hours at my job, and worrying if someone stopped by to visit and stayed too long, when Vincent would come home and wince at the sight of anyone ‘intruding.’ Well, you know. You called it my ‘leave of absence from myself.’ And it was. But he’s gone, and so are the faceless fascist fantasies. Now I slap a face on my imaginary friends. Like that checker at the food mart. He’s adorable.”
I reflected a second in between chuckles. Some fantasies are fantasies so long as there’s little possibility that they become real. In fact, the more far-fetched, the sexier, more enticing. But when fantasy becomes reality, the thrill is gone. At least I doubt women (or men) slapped faces of Stalin, Mussolini, or Hitler on their fantasy men. But I can’t be sure.
I ignore it a full three seconds and then bite:
“Some people have more to worry about than themselves.”
To which he replies, “You’re full of shit.”
“Why do you have to push everything to the last minute? You know we had to get gas before we leave for the doctors…”
Just keep driving, eyes on the road, I insist to myself. I know he’s baiting.
I know how he deflects the dissatisfaction of an 82 year old man who needs to be driven to doctors now, and I pray for patience and composure to rise above my own self pity.
“I mean, it may be okay for you who always runs out of gas…”
“Dad, I haven’t run out of gas…oh maybe once, but…”
“Yeah, don’t give me bullshit; you run out of gas the way you put everything off.”
Fucking traffic at 7:00 in the morning…it’s my one day off before I work tonight…
“You like living like that but I don’t like ruining cars like you do…”
“The car did not need gas; it was not even below a quarter of a tank, and your fucking neurotic obsession about insignificant bullshit doesn’t change that fact!!!”
“Yeah, sure, you know best. I’m not as smart as you. We all can’t be as smart as you.”
Shaking my head in silence, the anger spat out of me like a solar flare, scarring its landing like the faint white stitched line just below my abdomen ever reminding me that we evolve, leaving behind ancestral appendages no longer useful to us as outgrown beginnings.
Baited, I bit. Again. Just waiting for the flip side…and three…two…one…
“But I appreciate everything you do for me. Really I do. I can’t thank you enough.”
And so it goes, we two relics, this dance we substitute for conversation underneath which lies halved relationships lost to time, decay, disorder and disease.
“This week, like I told you.”
“Do you know which day this week?”
“Can you give me break?!! I’m sick and you’re pressuring me for money!”
“I asked a reasonable question. You need to get a grip. Just say you don’t know if you don’t.”
Dialogues go like this sometimes in long-term relationships. And it is hard to imagine that the speakers still love each other. “What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate,” Strother Martin says in Cool Hand Luke.
Lurking behind this simple conversation lies fear, frustration and comfort. The backstory is the whole story because the front story makes little sense. One world colliding with another, each orbiting a separate sun.
HE awoke sick at a time far too stressful to be sick, the holidays. And SHE asked a simple question at the wrong time, when HE was off to work feeling like shit. SHE asks, unsuspecting of the pending attack awaiting a target, for what gives him a great deal of stress and frustration: not enough money earned from working a demanding job HE detests when so sick.
Her voice–after so many, many years–triggers both irritation and security, a safety net landing when all of the rest of it, everything else dissatisfies, falls down or short. SHE provides both acceptance and provocation. HE depends on her loving him warts and all. And so HE abuses with abandon with cutting words never sliced into another human being. And SHE abides, knowing that tests far greater than this one have passed, their history too deep. Until SHE turns tables on him.
She sits down next to me when there are so many other stools to occupy.
All dolled up, clearly she is waiting for someone special to occupy the stool to her right.
I am to her left.
Happy hour, bruschetta is half off as are select beers.
Of course, my selection costs its usual six and change. No discounts for the IPA’s–ever.
Some have accused me of having gout deluxe, but I say, “nah.” Simple woman.
My tastes range from pleb to elitist. Depends on the thing, the subject.
Food, wine and beer, yes, I enjoy top of the line. Clothes, functional.
Not a shopper, no interest. That’s why the guys say, “You’re like a guy.”
Other reasons, I prefer conversation about what matters: the world, the local and
all in between. My interests range the span of my experience, read, written and lived,
relationships only one among many. Frankly, I don’t care much for confession.
Keep the distance, please. Tell me about what matters to you as a member of the world.
Two beauties sitting on top of each other taking selfies. In another bar, that might be suspect.
But this is not that kind of bar. Affluent, beach, blonds.
And the texts on my phone: bad news about the revenge of cancer, someone out there, on my mind.
And the stranger narcissist filling my inbox with doings, wishes, manifestations.
“I can’t go out with someone I am not attracted to says the made up late fifty something with the silver shiny horizontal studded stripes in her blinged out black warm up jacket.
Ping…the cancer returned after five years. I thought I was done.
Ping…I love the way she feels…
Ping…but I am afraid to go through it, the chemicals, the time off…
Ping…Egyptian, her parents moved from Cairo…
“Everything doing okay here?” The bartender wants to know. “Yes.”
Happy hour at its edges now settles into its middle.
“The grass is always greener on the other side….she’s got to pay her dues,” says bling jacket. The babe next to me moves kitty corner with her guests, two other women fresh from work, twenty somethings, nearing thirty somethings. One curly blond, and two brunette: the Asian with the “whatever” bun and the white girl with the straight slung hair parted down the middle.
The time difference lets me off the hook. “Good night, sleep well. Dream healing dreams,” I genuinely wish and type.
There is a four year old behind the bar, and I watch her skim her hand over every glass and bottle she passes down the row on her way out of the bar well.
The device speaks: ring. “Yes, I am at a bar. Come meet me. We’ll eat. Want me to read you the menu? Braised beef ribs…bleu cheese sliders with Angus beef, poached halibut…okay, see you soon. Yes, chill a pinot or merlot, something interchangeable…feeling marinara or fish. Bye.”
Boys at the end of the bar closest to the television pin their eyes to football and the commercials that go with, men with pizza slices and desire written all over their orgasmic posed faces, Mercedes mini van advertised as affordability (right) and something computer and football combined, guys at desks and a football player fish out of water, Ameritrade. And then the Cardinals line up at the 40 yard line.
Honey, you don’t look as if you can handle the double IPA. Stick to your happy hour house wine. She just moved in and made it clear to the bartender that she was ordering for her boyfriend who was on his way. She is two barstools away: young, neat, attractive, twenties, trying to keep herself entertained, phone, looking around, the silk scarf around her neck shifting with each turn of her head from the wine cabinet to my left and the incoming guests. We are at the entrance. And he arrives. This is a new boyfriend. I can tell by the kiss they greet each other with–something between a peck and I-recognize-the-sink-into-the- thick-of-your-lips. They are still something stand-offishly, sweetly polite. He is soft and quiet, appetizers smartly waiting for him by her selection. He digs in with gusto, eats obediently, appreciatively, while she authoritatively introduces her informed choices. She will make a fine mistress of the house.
Isn’t this great?
“Who is training her? Their job is to come in, check in, go down the hall, check the laundry…” bling says to her patient hearer, the one who asked the bartender to turn down the lights, which bother her eyes. Bling speaks for the crowd to hear. “I’m not bashing her. I haven’t said nothing about her for weeks…”
The girl friend returns from the water closet with her hair bunned up. Why? What’s the projected look trying to achieve? I’ve never been good at style and signals. I do New York bag and that is the extent of my “style.” And that was a long time ago. Now I just dress whatever-is-clean-and-top-of-the-pile. It used to be important to dress with purpose. I am nearing golden, no need.
The symmetry of a wine cellar on display soothes, the circular slotted holders sprouting capped spouts or the buddy bottles snug lined up along a leisurely reclined shelf to feature chillin’ wine bottles, casual, seductive. I hope the temperature behind that glass is 58 degrees Fahrenheit. Nothing worse than room temperature wine, the myth of the uninitiated–says a pretender.
The beer has done its work. It only takes one, especially after a sleepless night of sacrifice: term papers and morning frolics in missed motel beds. The buzz combines exhaustion with hops, and I am content. School’s out. Time to eat: transition from bar denizen to restaurant patron.
Wait, the four year old swiper’s parent just came on shift. Maybe just a few more minutes….
I nod in agreement.
“I require so much space. Who is it that needs so much that is not there? Possibility is my lover, potential my partner. Otherwise, people bore as much as they excite. Those poles–like hot and cold, boredom and excitement–exist elsewhere too, you know, some other place and circumstance like thunder storms and endless sunny days, or the laughter and terror of loving daughters.”
I nod again and consider how I love my own.