Monday, July 11, 2016

Triggered

I have a terrific fondness for a certain retail chain that sells colorful, eclectic wares. Things from all over the world, the store implies, although I suspect the majority of it is straight out of China. Most of what they sell is expensive and unnecessary, and once I get it home, I find it has lost its magical glow, so I rarely buy anything. I go there semi-regularly, though, and either window shop, or buy something small and edible.

However, for the last few years, I approach my favorite dealer of useless crap with a great deal of trepidation. Connie* might be there.

Connie is a woman with a lovely speaking voice and a sweet manner who works at the shop. I want nothing to do with Connie.

"Why?" you may ask yourself. "Why would you feel the need to avoid a nice lady like Connie? Are you a bitter old curmudgeon who hates everyone?"

It's possible.

I don't want to see Connie ever again, and here's why.

Connie likes to approach me and ask me if I've remembered my coupons.

Once upon a time, I told myself it wasn't personal. She asks everyone that. It's her job. But here's the thing - it is personal. She will see me across a crowded store and walk past everyone else, just to make sure I, Erin, have remembered to bring my coupons. I have never, and will never, remember any such thing. I could tell you my trips there are usually spontaneous, that this is why I don't remember. It's the truth, but not the whole truth. The whole truth is, even if I'd left the house expressly to go there, I would still have forgotten my coupons.

It bothers me because she seems too invested in my answer. She'll steer me over to the store's laptop so that I can go through a long, multi-step process that usually involves recovering my password, checking the email on my phone, and changing it, with Connie hovering over me all the while. I do it to appease her, not because I care about saving money. Because she needs me to save 5% on my $1.50 bottle of coffee-flavored soda. I may, in the end, save 7.5 cents, but I'd have gladly paid double for the privilege of not being asked about my coupons. Triple, if it meant not having to talk to Connie at all. Quadruple, if it meant not having to see her.

Does she think this is our thing, a little private joke we share? Does she think I find it as amusing as she does?

"Look, there's that woman I see from time to time! Yay, we get to do our little routine, the one where I remind her of what an irresponsible, careless loser she is, she stares at me like a deer in the headlights, and we both just laugh and laugh!"

Does she find it amusing? She doesn't seem to. Either she is a master of deadpan delivery, or she really is that desperate for me to save 5%. It doesn't matter. I don't care if it's a joke or not, I just don't want to be asked about coupons.

I've considered the likelihood that it's part of her job, but other employees don't do it. They may ask if I have coupons when I'm checking out, but if I say no, they seem to accept my answer. I don't feel like I've let them down.

There's something about Connie that makes me feel like I've forgotten my homework. Again.

The reality is, I suspect Connie has problems of her own. I sense she may have a compulsion of some sort, that she knows she's upsetting me and isn't happy about it, but can't stop herself. It seems likely I'm not the only customer who is bothered by her. I have no intention of complaining to her employer about her asking a benign question that just happens to trigger my deepest insecurities, but a part of me secretly hopes someone else will. Maybe a few someones. Maybe enough someones that she'll be asked not to work there anymore.

When I didn't see her for a while, I thought she may have moved on to more satisfying work. If I hope she found a better job, I can still be a good person, right?

I'd almost let my guard down when one day, while I was perusing the chocolate, she came up behind me.

"Are you shopping with your coupons today?"

Her voice felt like a gentle but greatly unwelcome hand on the back of my shoulder, and I instinctively tried to shrug it off. Unfortunately, this doesn't work when the person in question isn't physically touching you.

No, I didn't remember my coupons. I also chronically neglected to do my homework in school, or didn't to turn it in. I didn't forget - I'm not lucky enough to be able to escape the reality that I'm failing at something for even a minute - I was just too overwhelmed to do it, or thought it wasn't good enough to claim. I didn't know where to start. There has never been a time in my life when I haven't been constantly nagged by someone, or multiple someones, and I know I deserve it. I also know it doesn't help. I can't keep my paperwork straight. I can't sort my mail. Bills go unpaid even though I have the money, because neither my husband or I can get it together. When someone hands me a calendar or asks about scheduling something, I am literally paralyzed by how overwhelming it is. Like, I cannot speak. I have fines at the library so steep I might as well have just bought the books. My kids miss out on things because I get so behind on my email. I schedule them for their yearly checkups months too late. I'm terrified of my voicemail. No, I didn't remember to [insert whatever you want me to do here]. I let down people I genuinely care about and thing that are important to me all the time. I am a major disappointment to all, yourself included. 

So no, I didn't remember my fucking coupons. If your emails weren't going straight to my "promotions" folder, I'd have to unsubscribe, because every such email I get ensures that I won't get to two that actually matter. It's all I can do to be punctual most of the time. That's it. If I had any more brain power, I'd use it on one of the things I just told you about. I don't have the will to give a FUCK about coupons, okay?

None of that is her problem, and I know better than to take it out on her. I may be a flake, but I'm not an asshole. Still, I had to let her know she was stepping on my toes, so I came up with an answer. The rudest, coldest one I could think of while still maintaining a shred of human decency. Something that would hopefully send her the message that I was done playing games.

"No."

I was careful to speak with a definitive period at the end, not apologetic ellipses. I couldn't pretend to feel guilty anymore. I tried to sound firm, but not mean.

"You could save at least ten percent."

I hate you. 

I know it's not Connie's fault. There's absolutely no way she could know how deep all this runs for me. Perhaps something in me triggers something in her, or in you, and I have no way of knowing that.

I suppose I'd better find a new favorite store not to shop at.



*I can't promise Connie isn't her real name, but if it is, it's purely coincidental. 

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Because Fuck You, That's Why

The warnings came in June or July, portending a catastrophic earthquake that would destroy the entire Seattle area. I remembered sitting in my fifth grade classroom and being told exactly this, verbatim, right down to the preachy, sanctimonious tone. “Look at you, going about your life, failing to hold up the sky by constantly keeping the possibility of a 9.0 earthquake on your mind at all times! I know you brain dead morons won't listen, but I'm here to tell you about it anyway. At least I'll have done my job.” 

So an earthquake might wipe us all out any minute. What do you suppose I should be doing about it? 

I scoff because I can't conceive of such a disaster. I scoff because suddenly, out of nowhere, I'm once again being admonished for not living in constant fear of something I've always known. But mostly, I scoff because it doesn't matter. I love this place. I don't want to die, but if it goes down, it would be best for me to go down with it. What would I do without it? So I don't worry. 

Meanwhile, I’d been gaining weight at an alarming rate. It had been happening for the past three months or so. No, the past year or two. No, since I’d had kids. Actually, no, it started when I was 19 and got a car. But no, it went back further, to when I was born. Wait, no, it started around March of 1976, when I was presumably conceived. Yes, I spent nearly the entirety of 1976 gaining weight like crazy. That’s my final answer. 

But it had really picked up lately.

I consulted my doctor, who didn’t seem to believe it was inexplicable. Nevertheless, he offered me medication to help me lose weight. I’d really wanted to get to the root of the problem, but I’m an American woman. Offer me a means of losing weight, and I’ll take it. If you’re a medical professional telling me to take diet pills, which is what I secretly want to do anyway, all the better. He wrote me a prescription for Topamax, which I filled and started taking the next day, no questions asked, no googled search conducted. If there was some reason I shouldn’t be taking it, I didn’t want to know.

In August, I headed to New York to meet my husband, who was on a business trip. His boss had paid for me to fly out for the weekend. He'd even sprung for first class tickets. I should have been excited. I was excited. But when the time came, I didn't want to leave my kids, or my favorite little corner of the world. Suddenly, I was afraid the earthquake would come while I was gone, taking virtually everyone and everything I cared about except my husband away. My home. My parents. My brother. My kids. If I lost my parents, brother and children, would I still get to miss my home? 

I'm easily distracted. I have a hard time disciplining myself to stay off my phone. I read, I write, I stare into screens. But one promise I've made to myself and kept is to always look out the window while the plane takes off. People have longed to fly since the beginning of time, and it may be the one miracle I don’t take for granted.

I'm impressed with any take off, but this one far exceeded any other I can remember. Soon, we were flying through a perfect blue sky. Mt. Rainier rose through the blanket of clouds, but that isn't unusual. I was awestruck because I could also see Mt. Adams. Two majestic mountains. What else have humans longed for since the beginning of time? Heaven. Here it was. Was this a secret perk of flying first class? 

Naturally, I was miserable, fighting back the tears that come more easily with every passing year. I've become more comfortable with this, but was aware that perhaps the stranger next to me had not, so I tried hard to keep a lid on it. 

I'm not a fearful flyer, per se – no crushing dread, no panic attacks, no Xanax. But I'm not indifferent to turbulence, either. It does make me think the plane might crash, a possibility I normally find upsetting. This time, though, when the plane started shaking, I calmly wondered if it was for the best. I'd had a decent run, done some of the things I wanted to do. Not all, but that's not going to happen, no matter how long I live. I could die right now and be spared a lot of pain. I'd never know of the earthquake that would shortly be taking out everything that mattered to me. I could leave this world never having lost a parent, sibling, spouse or child (listed in the order they were received). None of them would be able to say the same, but what are you going to do? It's a plane crash.

I love the Pacific Northwest, but it isn't my ancestral home. It's not where any of my parents or grandparents come from. When my maternal grandmother remarried and moved here, my young adult mother followed. My father and his friends got the call in their early 20s – go (north)west, young man. Climb that mountain. The one I was now looking at from my first class window seat. 

In fact, if I have an ancestral home, that's where I was going. New York, where my great-grandparents died, and my mother grew up. That's what I'd call two generations, all in one place. I do feel a connection to it, just as I do to my father's Chicago (fireflies, and the flat landscape impresses me as much as Mt. Rainier does my midwestern relatives).

Once in Manhattan, I did what I almost always do once I've arrived somewhere – immediately decided I wanted to move there. I'd done the same thing when I'd visited my dad's family in the Chicago suburbs a couple of months before. I love the the New York accent, like all my mom's relatives had, affection baked into every word. I love the instant gratification; anything anyone could want, immediately, at any time of the day or night. The art, the restaurants, the infinite possibilities. I hadn’t been here since I was nine years old, and I wanted more. 

Unfortunately for me, I was going on two or three days of the insomnia marathon that often hits me in August. Every exhausted pore in my body hurt, and it stood to reason that sleep deprivation may have accounted for the wild mood swings I was experiencing, too. In the morning, I planned no fewer than three sleep-related tourist activities for myself while Jeremy worked, but was too tired to make any of them happen. I poked around a bit, but mostly wasted half my time, paradoxically making myself sadder, sleepier, and less able to sleep than ever. 

More than anything, I wanted to see St. Patrick's Cathedral, the church my grandmother, devoutly Catholic before I met her, had attended. I dragged my husband there the next day and looked around, enthralled. It’s beautiful, of course, like many Catholic churches are, but also a connection to my beloved and long gone grandma. This is where she’d come when she was young, so much younger than I was now. Before she’d been widowed twice before the age of 30, and left with a child from each marriage. Before she took her eighth grade education and rose, Peggy Olsen-style, from secretary to upper-management at the company where she worked for more than 20 years. Before she’d retired, married for a third time, moved across country, rebranded herself as the ideal, traditional grandma, and ultimately died. 

It is not unusual for me to get teary-eyed when I remember her, but crying all the time, from morning to night, is not a part of my regular routine. Typically, I spend the majority of my time not crying. Something was wrong. I lit a candle, threw a few dollars into a donation bin, and prayed silently to St. Anthony. 

“St. Anthony, St. Anthony, won’t you please look around? Something has been lost that must be found.” I repeated this in my head a few times before I realized I was talking to St….Patrick!?!?! 

For once, I felt none of the Catholic guilt that must be programmed directly into my DNA, just anger at that St. Patrick for having the gall not to be St. Anthony. But I had no choice but to let it go. Off to the gift shop, where I bought a laminated St. Anthony prayer card, and a St. Patrick one, too. No matter how dismayed I may have been upon realizing he wasn’t St. Anthony, he was the one who was there when I needed someone. 

Exhausted and edgy, my husband and I spent the next two days exploring Manhattan and meeting a friend for lunch in Jackson Heights, Queens, where my mom grew up. We saw Taye Diggs play Hedwig, observed a cockroach on the floor of the Museum of Modern Art that easily could have been part of an exhibit, but, we concluded, wasn’t, and got Italian ices that weren’t quite as magical as the ones I remembered from when I was nine. 

I cried, picked fights, and hated myself for not enjoying it all more. 

On the plane on the way home, I settled into my first class window seat with my husband at my side. There is no doubt first class is comfortable. I was grateful to my husband’s boss for paying for it, and I’d choose it every time if I could. However, I was mortified to see people - my people - the ones who fly coach - stuck waiting behind the flight attendant while she asked me if I wanted a glass (an actual glass!) of wine. The plane was still boarding. 

“No, thank you,” I answered, sinking down in my enormous seat. I stopped short of attempting to make eye contact with the flight attendant to communicate how much she was embarrassing me in front of Coach. 

I wanted to shout at them as they walked by, “This isn’t me! I’m one of you!” 

I probably should have just accepted the wine, because as it was, the flight attendants kept offering. But I couldn’t be seen doing any such thing. I was dying. 

I attempted to watch the movie Still Alice, but can’t recommend you do the same. If you’re not in the best of spirits, it will make things worse. If you’re happy, happiness is fleeting - why drive it away? Besides, while the movie is technically “good,” Alec Baldwin is not believable as a loving husband. If you haven't seen it, imagine Jack Donaghy saying "I wish I'd known your mother and sister." It was like that. I didn’t finish. 

I chose another movie, one about James Franco murdering his children, then lying to a journalist about it. It was a true story, and there was nothing cheerful about it, but perhaps because Still Alice seems more relatable to my own life, it didn’t bring me down quite as hard. 


When I returned home, I finally googled Topamax. 


Topamax is an anticonvulsant drug used for treating epilepsy and migraines. Although it is prescribed off label for weight loss, that is only a temporary side-effect. It can storm into your brain and cause depression and major personality changes. That’s what it did to me. And, although I did lose my appetite, and I did stop gaining weight while I was on it, I did not lose any. Which brought me back full circle to my doctor. I’d told him I was gaining weight inexplicably, he hadn’t believed me, and my mind had already been groomed to doubt what I knew to be true and submit to him. 

I made an appointment and tried to explain it all. 

“Yes, it’s true, I don’t eat anymore, but only because I walk around feeling like my mom just died. All the time. I look at my kids and feel no love. I also haven’t lost any weight.” 

Was that a gleam I saw in his eye? 

“Do you want me to up your dosage?” 

“You don’t care if I die,” I thought. “You think I don’t care if I die. You think I’d rather be nearly suicidal than fat. You’re wrong.” 

As a last ditch effort, I pulled out the pedometer on my phone, hard proof that I was above-average active. 

“You just keep at it!” he told me as he exited the room.

Some might look at my weight gain and say, “Welcome to middle-age!” But I suspect my doctor’s condescending tone might be every bit as indicative. 

Having politely declined his offer of a stronger prescription for Dementors, I left with the same one as before in my hand. But I’d already decided I wouldn’t fill it. As for my doctor, who I’d seen and trusted for years, I thought, “I will never see you again.” And I haven’t. 

I set to work trying to find a feminist doctor, but doctors do not advertise themselves as such, so I settled on a young, tattooed woman with the same first name as myself. The problem with people named Erin is, I instinctively like them, unless they do something to displease me. At that point, I turn on them hard. Erin was no feminist, but she did send me for a psyche evaluation with a nurse practitioner who turned out to be a brilliant therapist. 

I’d have followed her anywhere, but she only did evaluations. She refused to give me my Adderall, because reasons, and I accepted this, because she did a good job of explaining these reasons. She directed me to a fantastic, ninja-warrior type naturopath, who continues to help me get my game back. Maybe someday, I’ll even get there. 

A couple of weeks ago, the earthquake warnings came again. This time, I told the part of me that would rather just die to shut up for a second. I am now the proud owner of a backpack full of survival gear. It’s hard for me to imagine it will make much of a difference if the time comes, but stranger things can happen. 

One time, a tiny little white pill stole my brain. 

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Pondering the Big Questions

I was wandering around the book store, and, perhaps inspired by the books, asking myself all the big questions. Are accurate records kept of all our deeds, and if so, how are these records used? Will I ever find out what happens when you die, or will I never get an answer, because I'll be dead? Is this why so many people are either religious or Atheists? So they won't have to confront the possibility of never knowing? Is there such a thing as an unselfish good deed?

Most importantly, I asked myself, what even is perfect skin, and can it ever be attained? What if science figured it out earlier today, and I haven't heard yet? When will I hear, if at all? Maybe the movie stars are keeping it from us. When the terrible problem of imperfect skin has finally been solved, will it be too late for me? If so, will I be able to appreciate it anyway? Once again, I asked myself, is there such a thing as an unselfish good deed, like appreciating a scientific advancement from which you yourself cannot benefit? 

I'm not apologizing for my focus on the external. I will, however, point out that I am the victim of a massive and pointed marketing campaign designed expressly to make me hate everything about my appearance, and also that I'm obviously channeling my fear of death into an obsession with my skin. We in the mental health field call that transference. To tell you the truth, I'm surprised you didn't already know that. With that out of the way, I'll continue. 

At that very moment, a woman walked by me. She was at least 20 years my senior, but her skin looked better than mine has in...ever. As someone who developed frown lines at 19 from being such a thinka, a 60-year-old woman with nary a wrinkle stood out. How did I know her age, when it was so at odds with her skin? That's another question I can't answer. I just knew. 

Here was an opportunity to answer the very question I'd been pondering! This must be fate, but I'd already spent too much time considering how to approach her, and she was gone. 

I should find her, I thought. She's somewhere here in the store. It will be a compliment to her, and who knows? She might be able to give me the ageless skin I so long for. We'd both benefit. 

But I knew - I knew - I would bungle it. Occasionally, I have been able to pull off saying wildly inappropriate things to people with the grace and charm of the klutzy main character in a romantic comedy. But I could feel it in my bones, that wasn't going to happen here. I would make an enormous fool of myself, and make her terribly uncomfortable in the process. 

When I saw she had gotten in line, I grabbed a Calvin and Hobbs book for my kids so I'd have an excuse to stand behind her. I was hoping she'd turn around, start up a conversation, and I could say something like, "You probably noticed I was looking at you. Well, it's because I'd been thinking about perfect skin. Can it ever really exist???? And then there you were, perfect skin and all. What's your secret?" 

Instead, she looked straight ahead, the way you do when it's clear you've somehow caught the attention of a crazy person. 

It's just as well, for in my heart, I know exactly what the secret to perfect skin is. 

Genetics. 

Monday, December 28, 2015

Mother Nature Is Kind of a Jerk, but Lemons are Delicious

If you could talk to mother nature, what would you say? 

My first instinct was a genuine, heartfelt apology. But when I got to thinking about it, I thought, you know what? You can be a real dick. Always could, even before we destroyed you. You're very capricious, and any parenting book will tell you that kind of extreme inconsistency is terribly damaging. You created us, not the other way around. In fact, many of the human innovations messing you up were created expressly to defend ourselves against how harsh you are. You lull us into submission with temperate, sunny days, and then, from out of nowhere, catastrophic earthquake! You're all dead! Ha ha!

As is so often the case, our coping mechanisms, which once served us so well, have become deeply engrained, self-destructive habits. Maybe it's time you sat down and thought about your own part in all this. As per usual, when it's all said and done, you'll be fine, and we'll be extinct.

Now you act like you're the victim here. It's the classic cycle of abuse. You're like a violent, manipulative, alcoholic parent or spouse. When your family band together and kill you, you get to look like a saint, because you're dead and they're murderers. I'm not saying we're right, but perhaps this is what Malcolm X might have called the chickens coming home to roost.

Finish this sentence: "When life gives you lemons..."

When life gives you lemons, understand they're a metaphor. You can't make lemonade, you can't start a lemonade stand and you can't harvest the seeds, plant a bunch of lemon trees, and become one of those lemon billionaires the money people can't stop talking about. Nor can you squeeze the citric acid in life's eyes and run, because the lemons aren't real, and life doesn't have eyes. I mean, think about it. Who exactly is this "life," why is it giving you lemons, and why would anyone take it badly if it did? When some unseen force gives you free lemons, what is there to say but, great! Free lemons! You would probably instinctively make lemonade, or do something equally appealing to you with them. A self-righteous saying masquerading itself as positivity isn't really necessary.

This cliche' is not actually referring to lemons. The lemons symbolize bad fortune, which is subjective and comes in infinite different forms. You may be able to up your game, as the saying implies you should. You may not. Maybe you need some time to process, recover, and integrate said lemons into the sour but refreshing person you're going to become. Maybe you're can't just get over it, and who am I to judge? I haven't been in your shoes.

In conclusion, my grandma's favorite poem. It's served me well all my life.

Pray don't find fault with the man who limps
or stumbles along the road, 
unless you have worn the shoes he wears
or struggled beneath his load.
There may be tacks in his shoes that hurt, 
though hidden away from view, 
or the burden he bears, placed on your back
might cause you to stumble too. 
Don't sneer at the man who's down today
unless you have felt the blow
that caused his fall or felt the shame
that only the fallen know.
You may be strong, but still the blows
that were his if dealt to you, 
in the selfsame way, at the selfsame time, 
might cause you to stagger too. 
Don't be too harsh with the man who sins
or pelt him with word or stone, 
unless you are sure, yea, doubly sure, 
that you have no sins of your own
for you know perhaps if the tempter's voice
should whisper as softly to you
as it did to him when he went astray, 
it might cause you to stumble too. 

Rama Muthukrishnan

Am I sure, yae, doubly sure, that I have no sins of my own? Heck no! Have your particular lemons been thrown at me? Absolutely not - I know, because you're you, and I'm me. So I can't very well tell you what you should do with them, can I?

Monday, December 7, 2015

Message in a Bottle

I'm wallowing in discouragement over abandoning yet another novel, and putting blogs where I rant about stuff I think on hold, because why do I think anyone cares what I think, and how 2008 is blogging? So, I'm not going to go running my mouth off until I decide, fuck it, I feel like writing another one, and people can either read it or not, it's up to them. I'm just going to shut up, until I lose interest in shutting up.

In the mean time, I'm doing writing prompts, and publishing them here because it generally provides me with at least a little bit of instant gratification, unlike novel writing, which provides the exact opposite.

While at the beach you decide to write a message in a bottle. What would it say? Who would you like to find it? 

Dear Bottle Finder,

Jealous! Like most people, I've always wanted to find a message in a bottle, but I never have. Probably never will, because while people love throwing garbage in the ocean, they don't want to actually put any effort into it. Effort stands in opposition to the whole point of throwing things in the ocean. So there are hardly any messages in bottles. It's a pretty inefficient means of communication, too. However, if I want more messages in bottles floating around in the ocean, it starts with me. Be the change you want to see.

You probably don't speak English, or know anyone who does. If you're a person at all, which you probably aren't. More than likely, this bottle full of now water-damaged paper will migrate toward one of those massive conglomerates of garbage that litter our oceans. I hear these are now starting to mix with natural materials and form a new kind of rock thingie. So, whether you don't speak English, or you're a pile of inanimate objects, I'm not going to give you any advice. What do I know of your life? Even my most fundamentally held beliefs might not be of any use to you.

Assuming you're a person and you speak English, you're probably me when I'm really old. That should merit a one page human interest story in People magazine. I've enclosed some pictures. That should be interesting, whether you don't speak English, or you're old me.

Other than that, I'd only put a message in a bottle if I were stranded on a desert island. Where I probably wouldn't have a bottle with a lid, but you never know. In that case, I'm not so much trying to communicate a profound message to humanity as I am trying to get off this island. So, help! I don't know where I am, but you're smart - I bet you can figure it out.

Either way, no doubt you're a lovely person with beautiful hair, and, I am sure, many stories to tell. Now you have another one. You once found a bottle with some foreign text in it! Just like I sometimes tell people I was once supposed to be on a plane that crashed and everyone died, or that my dad and brother have both been struck by lightening. I hope you're a kid, because this would be so much more exciting for a kid. Let your imagination run wild. Not being able to read this should help. I've also enclosed a fraudulent treasure map. I'm not being cruel, I just think it might be fun for you.

Maybe next time you find a message in a bottle, there will be some candy in it.

Sincerely,

Erin

It's funny that pirates were always going around searching for treasure, and they never realized that the real treasure was the fond memories they were creating. 
-Jack Handey


Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Midlife Ignorance

So, I'm almost 39, and I've only learned three things.

1. People have good reasons for being who they are.

2. Never promise identical twins this is the last time you'll be mixing them up.

3. If someone offers you a mint, just assume it's a hint and accept it.

My life is half over, and those are the only things I know. I don't even really know #2, because I can't promise I'll never do it again, because I only ever say it because of how much I wish it were true.

I feel like I should know five things. 

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Not Tempted

It was the culmination of a dream my brother Rob had had a few years earlier, in which he and I had been trying to find each other in DC. One of those dreams where you keep trying to get somewhere, and things keep getting in your way. This gave him the idea that we should visit there together, and I had to agree. So, last year, we finally did.

We have a good time together, but there's no denying we'd probably score differently on a Myers-Briggs test, I, an INFP, and he, I'd guess, an ENFP. He has friends all over the world, due in part to his job (which involves an almost super-human amount of travel), but mostly to his outgoing nature. Rob is a social butterfly in the extreme. 

I'd enjoyed meeting several of his friends, but that night, I decided to sit it out. He went to a birthday party, while I settled in for a quiet night in our hotel room. Sound-proof rooms surrounded by anonymous strangers from all over the world aren't exactly my idea of paradise - they're one of the few places I don't care for being alone (I can't remember if it started with this guy, or if he just aggravated it. Or perhaps I had never stayed alone in a hotel before I saw him, but did, for the first time, shortly thereafter. At any rate, I find his very existence vexing, to say the least). On the other hand, it was only for a few hours, and I do like being alone. 

However, I'd seen that Hershey had a brand of ice cream I'd never seen before, and become overly attached to the idea of it. Why? I can't say. It's not as though I think Hershey's chocolate is anything special. Still, how often did I come to DC? Never. The prospect of not being alone in a hotel room for a while also held a certain appeal. So I headed out to obtain some. 

I hadn't gotten 20 feet when a man approached me, asking for a closer look at my tattoo. This isn't unusual, and I do not, as a rule, take it as sexual harassment. The truth is, I can't blame the curious. My tattoo is fantastic. 

The man was in his late 30s, average-looking, on the short side. He introduced himself as a philosophy professor from Paris, half French, half Tunisian (yes, that was part of the introduction), in town to teach some sort of workshop. He was, he explained, fascinated by tattoos, and what motivates people to get them.

"You're a beautiful lady, but when I look at you, the first thing I see if your tattoo. Is that what you want?" 

I explained, not unkindly, that whatever he or anyone else saw when they first laid eyes on me was no concern of mine. 

"Can I buy you a drink?" he asked. 

I looked in the direction I'd been headed. Deserted. Whether or not I got a drink with this guy, I'd have to turn back. Oh, well. He was a philosophy professor, or claimed to be. The conversation might be interesting. If nothing else, I suspected I'd have a story to tell later on. I place a high value on ice cream, but a higher one on stories. 

"We can get a drink at my hotel," I said. Telling him where I was staying didn't seem like the wisest course of action, but I'd done the math, and was confident the benefits outweighed the risks.  He'd probably seen me coming out of there, anyway. 

We got a table in the bar, and each ordered a beer. I made it clear I was married. The waitress seemed to know him well, and was happy to see him. Odd, since he'd claimed to be from Paris. He said he visited DC often, but I ask you - even if you visited a city, say, four times a year, would that be enough for a waitress at a hotel you're not staying at to recognize you? 

Briefly, we discussed philosophy. He expressed surprise that I'd heard of Michel Foucault. I was the only American he'd ever met who had. Considering I'd learned about him as a college sophomore, in a room full of other 18, 19 and 20-year-olds, I was skeptical, but let it go. With philosophy out of the way, he got down to business. 

"How long have you been married?" he asked.

"We've been together for fourteen years, married for nine," I answered. 

"Fourteen years! Have you been faithful all that time?" 

"Yes, I have," I told him. 

He confided that he found fidelity quite challenging. He'd cheated on several girlfriends, and more than one wife.

Something I'd said had made him think I was in an open marriage, which wasn't exactly the case. In theory in theory, sure. In theory, not really. In practice, practically not at all. My understanding with my husband would have required me to call home and ask for permission to sleep with a man I'd just met and had no desire whatsoever to sleep with. It hardly seemed appropriate.

"I think the better question is, why aren't you in an open marriage?" I asked.

Liar! Or, at best, highly disingenuous of me. I knew goddamn well why he wasn't a good candidate for an open marriage.

Since I was a psychotherapist, he asked, would I mind telling him if he was crazy? 

I can only imagine he was looking for a yes, you're crazy, the craziest, most unique special snowflake I've ever met! Crazy, crazy, crazy! Failing that, he might have liked a no, you're not crazy, the world is crazy - you're its one oasis of sanity! But dude, I'm a professional. I don't go around confirming or denying that people I met five minutes ago are "crazy." I told him as much, but helpfully suggested he might do well to stop getting married so much all the time. 

As a matter of fact, I was not the only one at our table who was currently married. He had a wife and child back in France. I asked about them, and he assumed a tortured, far-away look. 

"It's too sad, too sad," he said. I have since read that saying everything twice is the mark of a true French man. 

Clearly he was fishing for me to ask him about it, but I didn't bother. Within a minute, he regaled me with the harrowing tale of a beautiful wife and healthy newborn daughter, waiting for him in his apartment in Paris, France. Tragic. Still, it was best to listen to him talk about himself. It made it easy for me to avoid divulging any information about myself, a decision that was seeming wiser by the minute. 

"It took me years to get my wife. I had to beat out a lot of other men. But I finally got her." 

He got out his phone to show me a picture, but first opened it to a conversation with a woman he'd been texting with earlier than night, making sure to linger for a few seconds so I could see. 

"I was going to sleep with her, but...." something was said about her being young, or drunk, or both, but the reason he wasn't with her at the moment wasn't made entirely clear. Young women, though, were not his preference. He preferred someone a bit older, like me. 

The picture showed a racially ambiguous woman, not conventionally beautiful by any stretch of the imagination. She was on par with me - we aren't exactly frightening children, and we have our fans, our demographic, but nobody is going to be offering either of us a modeling contract any time soon. Let's face it - if your modeling career hasn't taken off by your late 30s, it probably never will. Not that I'm complaining. Somehow, she and I get by, carving out lives for ourselves despite never having taken the world of fashion by storm.

"Look at her, she knows what I'm doing. She knows," he said. She held a baby, and, it was true, was giving the camera some considerable side-eye. 

About his daughter, he said, "That's me. That's me." 

This just kept getting weirder.  

"Give me your hand," he said. 

"Why?" 

"Just give me your hand," he pleaded. 

"Um....no." 

"You're one of very few women in my life to reject me. I'm taking it easy on you, because I can see you value your marriage." 

Ha! 

In case he, or you, are missing what I'm saying, I'll lay it out for you. 

I'm not the first woman who has ever rejected you. I'm not even the first woman who has rejected you tonight

I am not the most beautiful woman you've ever seen. Not even close. I'm not fishing for compliments, it's just a fact. It makes no difference, you still want to have sex with me, reason being, I'm the first woman you've seen with a physical feature you could use to start up a conversation since things fell through with the last one, and now I'm here and I don't actively repulse you. That's all. 

I am not the only American you've ever met who has heard of Michel Foucault, unless you only recently heard of him. 

You don't prefer women your own age, or if you do, it's because you think we're desperate losers who will swoon if you pay us the slightest attention. You said that because you think your attraction to younger women bothers me, and you're right. It does. Because I'm concerned for their safety.

I think about how I would have handled this as a teenager or a young adult. Luckily for me, I would probably have been protected by my healthy aversion to old men - I simply wouldn't have gone anywhere with him, not even for the rather cynical reasons I chose to at age 37. But if I'd ended up in the same conversation, maybe on a bus, I would have been more polite, worked much harder to be sensitive to him. I would have tried to tell him what he wanted to hear - that he was crazy, or that he wasn't. When baited, I would have asked the questions he wanted me to ask. I very likely would have given him my hand, so as not to hurt his feelings, because what harm will it do, really? 

"Don't tell your husband about this," he told me.

"I'm...going to tell my husband about this." 

He must have been rather intuitive, because telling my husband about this was the very next item on my to-do list. I was also going to tell my brother, and some of my friends. I might even blog about it, someday. He liked obedience from women, but he was flexible, willing to alter his orders to get it. 

"Okay, you can tell your husband. Tell him...I know! Tell him, 'There was a man who wanted to sleep with me, but I decided to remain faithful to you.' Maybe it will make your marriage stronger." 

No, my friend, this will have no influence on my marriage whatsoever.

When I was younger, I would have lied, told him I wasn't going to tell my husband, even if I fully intended to. I wouldn't have made sure to communicate the subtext I intended when I told him the truth.

"Listen here, you drunken, predatory psychopath. You and I have no relationship, there's nothing even a little bit romantic or sexual between us, we're not friends or co-conspirators, and we aren't going in on any secrets together."

He paid for the beers, and a few minutes later, the waitress returned with his change. 

"You want change for this?" she asked. There was a slight emphasis on the word "this," a very subtle hint that he could just give her all of it for her tip. It was a bit forward, the kind of thing that might leave a person taken aback. But no big deal. 

They'd started out friendly and familiar, but now he was furious, agitated. He ranted and raved about her. Up until now, I'd been playing it pretty cool, if I do say so myself. But I didn't now how to respond to this. Besides, a woman over 25 cannot be seen talking a man down from anger in public. It makes you look married. To each other.

I began to wonder if the waitress was in real danger.

Having finally accepted that this was going nowhere, he decided to let me in on a little secret. 

"Men are sexually dominant. Equality is fine out here, but once you're alone, it's the man who decides what happens." 

I'd been well aware of this. It was part of the reason I'd carefully orchestrated our encounter so that we were never, for one minute, alone. Because you hate me. You hated me before we said a word to each other. I know it's nothing personal. You also hate your wife, the waitress, and, quite possibly, your daughter.

Still, I was surprised to hear him say it. It's not every day a man comes right out and tells you he's a rapist. Or, I shouldn't make assumptions. Maybe this happens to you every day, but to me it does not. 

We said our goodbyes, and I went back to my room. The whole thing had been rather unsettling, and I locked the extra lock on top of the door. I wanted to get a bucket of ice, but although I knew Whatever His Name Was couldn't get up to where I was, I was too afraid to get it. 

Instead, I messaged my husband and told him what had happened. 

"You're not mad at me, are you?" I asked. 

"No, I'm just sorry you got scared." 

Maybe I should marry him. 

Over the next couple of days, I grew more disturbed. Not so much for myself - if anything, since he'd been so honest with me, I was just a little bit safer in the world - I just worried he was a serial rapist, hanging around hotels and preying on tourists. He was creepy as fuck. Maybe he's even working his way up to murder. I was afraid for all the women in the world, but specifically the waitress. He'd gotten so disproportionately angry with her. 

I looked for her, to warn her, but didn't see her again. I finally decided that, in addition to my husband, brother, friends and readers, I was going to tell my story to the concierge. I tried to explain my concerns, but it was impossible to convey to her. It works in writing, but in conversation, relating these events doesn't get the point across. Point being, "I'm fairly certain a dangerous individual is hanging around your establishment and targeting your clientele, and I have reason to believe he's zeroed in on a member of your staff."

How do you say that verbally?

"Some guy bought me a beer, and he gave me the creeps and got irritated with the waitress." 

She didn't see the problem. I probably stood a better chance of getting the waitress in trouble for being rude to a guest than anything. I guess what I'm trying to say is, I still worry for her.