Take Another Look











{May 12, 2010}   Tick Tock

Can’t possibly live up to the expectations. The rumors, going past closed doors and flapping in the wind. How will I return to working there? Doomed if I don’t, doomed if I do. I could go back to school, but it would be like starting over. Finish lines have never been my strong suit.

In January, Lana, my fiancée, stopped asking about my days. I suppose she’d never been somebody who asked. I always volunteered, but the volunteering slowed down to a crawl, which must have created a larceny. A larceny of what we’d built together. Maybe a silent alarm triggered. So, she sabotaged things quietly and efficiently. She was always the one to keep things private, not me. She was way below the radar while my friends joked about the way my name accidentally popped up on the internet where it was least expected. But then I felt like my job became an avoidance clause. I had no good scraps of information to give her. Maybe it was something she was familiar with, being the private one and all, but I had never gone there before. I did it for us. I didn’t question what the government asked of me- not much anyway- because I needed to have something, even if it wasn’t what I wanted. Even if it led me nowhere. When I had to, I filled in the blanks by coloring a picture using markers. I was so terrible at it. And I should have had a photograph to describe. Instead it felt like an invention I had to coordinate. I grasped at straws so we could be together. I attributed her lack of interest to self-involvement. I was grateful but angry that she appeared not to care much about how I spent my time when she wasn’t around, making the decisions.

She wound me up, wound me down. I was lathered like a yo-yo, like in those comics where the guys socks go up and down when the girl uses a certain tone of voice, or after weeks of acting cold, does something affectionate. Maybe I became a downer to be around. It felt like she was a lantern leading my way. And I hate sentimentality. Always!

“Bobbi, I was just about to call you!” she said once, in a soothing tone, even though she’d fallen asleep and was not about to call me. Not that day. Probably would have waited months.

I’d be tempted to tell Lana that “forgetting to call about when and how we’d hang out or not” was the dumbest excuse I’d ever heard, but I kept my mouth shut. But the lack of reciprocity was the focus in the end game. We’ll get there.

Now I just wish she had been more open. She was like a banana that was still green. I only wish I had been able to go to her with my problems, but she came from a certain background . Her parents would have talked her down. Even after what they put us through, they still talked her down. I had a bad feeling that she lied to them. That she wanted people to think badly about me. Projection or just another one of Lana’s many tests?

Never been good at tests. I always go outside the box.

After all I put on the line, I lost her to her own demons. She became more beautiful to me every day, but she closed herself off to me in a calculated way that later gave me goosebumps. In the beginning, I remember I never had to beg. For us, I said, we must have a ritual of our own, where we could discuss anything. In those days she was game. But her follow through was terrible. I might find it funny if it weren’t for the fact that my follow through in my job lacked all sense. Now I’m at risk because I keep flirting with the idea, getting calls from the office, then trying to hide from them. You aren’t allowed out in this game.

The times I left my office turned from weeks to months.

Lana and I got cut short- cuts were made everywhere, so no surprise- but I didn’t think it would feel like a cord that needed to be dispensed.

Now, since Lana’s been gone, I haven’t seen any reason to continue the job. Which is funny, because what if it was the job that mangled our engagement? I know we said it was all these other things, but I can’t help but wonder. In the end, all I’m left with are the memory of her beautiful, brown, undaunted eyes. So alert, never missing a beat. That last year, she wouldn’t let me look into them anymore. Or was it me who stopped making eye contact? That refreshing voice. The way she positioned herself in restaurants so she’d observe all that was going on behind us. Her pithy wit.

I feel like I am speaking at a funeral.

Maybe I didn’t keep her in line enough. She needed that, and that was me, until I became so underwhelmed by the challenges of work that I started to hyper-focus on random things. She constantly needed somebody who wasn’t afraid to stand up from time to time and tell her to stop being such a snot. To keep her whining in line. To make sure she channeled that tyrannical streak elsewhere. Like in bed. She was too afraid. One time she used it, such a beautiful thing, to see her using her control, to have it define what she wanted, for it to turn us on so much, I let her guide us with her restraint. Nobody could turn me like she did. I’d never known desire until I met Lana. I’d had so much experience and none of it counted. I know Lana had her issues with touch, her issues with intimacy, but they were nothing compared to the memories of when she let her guard down. Compromising with me instead of choosing to work against me. I know that she was so used to being on her own that she needed somebody to remind her that adjustments and negotiations were necessary when you involved another person in your life.

Maybe I let her get away with too much. I fell into patterns. Sure, I called her on her shit, but I was a little too sweet about it. I’m a fairly brash person, but the past has eaten away at that, taken advantage of it, if you may. Tell me if I’m playing the victim card, because I used to have more than a healthy amount of bravado and arrogance that accompanied my blue streak at all times.

I didn’t know what else to do but give in to her. I thought it would be the solution and that she’d even be grateful at me. Instead, I fear I let myself become the punt of another one of her Saturday night jokes. The butt of one of her cigarettes.

I let out my anger when she wasn’t there. I put it into everything but her. I don’t usually let the people I’m angry with become aware of my anger. Maybe they see it, but Lana and I went long periods not seeing each other. She became unavailable. No comment. No comment. And again, no comment. Voicemail.

The longer this little game went on, the more I felt like the victim to one of Lana’s jokes. Being hypersensitive to criticism in the first place, being paranoid of the advances other men made on Lana, being very aware of that one night she used sex as a weapon against me at my expense.

But I still thought we could make it work. It has to work, I thought. What else? To me, there were no other options. I loved her. Fuck everything else she thought was in the way, she was wrong.

The way we got along with each other, that was a one in a million shot. So we could get through anything as long as we remembered the other. But the way she communicated. It became so rushed, so grudging, and eventually, so blocked, I felt like I’d get more out of a brick wall. I looked elsewhere for my support. I hated going anywhere but to Lana for support, but I felt like she had once driven me to want to be better. Now her avoidance was making me return to bad habits for comfort- dare I say it- maybe even intimacy, the intimacy I felt she was begrudging me. It was nothing compared to the wreck I was when I didn’t even have her resentful permission. I didn’t have her whining, or her annoying blocking, and maybe I wanted that back. For her? Yes.

I had given up a lot so I could be with her. It was gradual. Some were sacrifices she didn’t know about, sacrifices I would never tell her, for they were parts of myself that I’d left behind me. However, there were other sacrifices. The ones that I vigorously let on about. As if she owed me. Yeah, fuck me too.

But my compromise had became greater and greater.I couldn’t stand on water.

We were both stubborn. And when she tied my hands behind my back, not only was I not getting anything from her, she made it so I couldn’t give anything to her without it being something she had to pay for. Like the time I gave her something, and she was upset because, well, she didn’t give me anything in return. What was I supposed to do? Say, “Well, Lana, I will return my gift, because I see it upsets you that you weren’t considerate enough to think about getting me anything. Because you never think about getting me anything. Even though there was that email, where I said I had a surprise for you, and it was three days before Christmas? What did you think I meant? A candy bar?”

I should have said it. Would have been better than watching a movie I’d already seen, swallowing, and pretending that I hadn’t seen it before, because she was really really tired of looking up movies. All my fault, said her reluctant posture, the arms crossed in front of her chest, the cigarette inside the room when she knew how much I hated secondhand smoke. I’d made the process tiring instead of fun, her downcast eyes warned me. Maybe she felt I’d done the same to our relationship. Turn our whole process inside out to search for firewalls and hackers with viruses, and in the process looked too closely, thus taking away the security that she could do no wrong. There are two mistakes people make- they ignore their relationship, or they inspect it too closely. We did both. It depended on the day. But eventually Lana stopped going back and forth on me. She malignantly ignored the relationship, as if it was a snake she was hoping would slither away.

My heart started to slip.

There was a glimmer of hope. That was the shard of light that really burned me. The last time I saw her, she showed me her glaring insights, and shocked me away with her vulnerability. I wanted back.

She chose when to reveal her insights. My guess is as good as anybody elses. But that incredibly empathy combined with her fine-tuned control. Turned on when she wanted, turned off when she wanted. We want what we can’t have, right? I am detached but emotional. And she- oh she was a contradiction in terms, too. But a contradiction I grew to love and respect.

She showed me desire. Who was she to take it away from me?

Let’s take a step back. Back to when I wasn’t getting anything back from her. Should I have really pulled the card I did? The one you can’t take back? Well, I did. Girls flocked to me. But I was ready to settle down. Then she had to fuck with me. Right when I was trying to get in line.

If you tell somebody you might kill them, you should do so very carefully. It’s the same with friendships, when you warn somebody you might not talk to them anymore. In the case with Lana I made threats I wasn’t sure I could uphold. She made promises she wasn’t sure she could finish. My threats turned into her actions, and I kept her promises for her. Switching places was not good. Had it ever been? Why didn’t we just set it straight! We needed to split the difference, make up, and hold hands. In the end, that’s what I thought would happen. I even imagined it did happen, in some foreign universe where we were close, close friends.

I was dead wrong, and I would pay dearly for my mistake.

Her parents would never completely approve, and her friends thought I was too different to ever fit in with her elite group of blue-collar friends and neighbors. (or white-collar? See, i don’t even know the term.) I didn’t really have a collar at all. I fit where I fit, and that was with the people I loved. It was enough for Lana. Then, it became another excuse for me to go. I don’t ever want go where I’m not wanted. It’s one of my biggest fears. That somebody will think of me as so needy I’d chase them down. But I didn’t see what other options I had. The only other option was to bail out.

Instead of appear unwanted, I immediately bailed. But if this were some kind of game, Lana won over and over again, because I couldn’t hold back the force of my will. From a distance I tried to win her back. I didn’t go over to see her, and there was no chance we would run into each other. Maybe if we had run into each other, she’d have remembered. I left messages, I wrote notes, I sent flowers. I felt like the fool. I hated myself for my so-called “weakness.” My weakness was that I continued to care for her, my weakness was that I continued to tell her so even if she wouldn’t pick up the phone. My male friends told me she was the bitch, the cunt, the self-serving piece of shit, but Lana already knew that in a juries eyes, she would not be seen as a friendly party. I didn’t care about the coldness, and even though I thought my friends were trying to be helpful when they weighed in, all I wanted was her. I wanted us back.

I never even saw her back again. I watched her back. But the distance became greater and greater. I don’t know if Lana knew how to make contact with me without committing some kind of social faux pas her elite friends would have to comment on. As the seasons passed, I wasn’t sure how well I knew her. Doubt crept in. And I felt like if I didn’t know, she did. So the sting of her control hurt but reassured.Why? Because maybe she could assuage my doubts, if I ever did get a hold of her. But it stung because I felt like I couldn’t move.

In my eyes, she chose to use something I used to treasure about her as a weapon against me. I felt very conflicted that I wasn’t using weapons against her. There was the truth, for one. There was power, number two. I threw them away. I wouldn’t use anything against Lana. Never. Lana might consider me a masochist for not treating her like an enemy, but I kept her words in a bag beside me. She had said she wanted my friendship. Her actions, as usual, contradicted her words as much as possible. I should have seen it coming. I usually do. I suppose I didn’t want to look forward ten moves. This time, I chose to walk in blind because of trust.

I trusted her…

even with eggs on my face.

Her fucking friends poisoned her. The took a beautiful girl, and they made her feel unworthy of herself. So she pretended she was someone else, someone she was not. This angered me so much. Unlike Lana, I didn’t turn to my friends with my anger. Nobody was better here. I was just filled with self-indignation, something I don’t usually fear.

I’d been warned, and I’d ignored the warning.

I wanted a new line of work but my work wouldn’t let me go. The past has a way of grabbing onto you when you turn away from it. I think because I didn’t see an end in sight, I didn’t know how I could go back there. And without Lana in my life, I didn’t know how I could deal with the baggage. Sure, I was really good at what I did. And if I tried, I could be the best. But I wanted to put everything on hold. In the end, I did. I watched the clock move onwards. I put one foot in front of the other and counted the days. Until I stopped counting how long it had been since I saw Lana. Until every Wednesday wasn’t characterized by the fact that it used to be our Wednesday.

Still, in the back of my mind I remembered. I’d get brutal cravings to send her text messages. Harmless? Not to me. Because for every message I sent, I wanted to kill my ability to reach out to anybody. I wanted to punish myself for being so brazen as to act on my impulses. And I had a record. Even if I deleted what I sent Lana, there was the record in my brain. How many times I called. It wouldn’t go away.

Finally, I felt like it was a lose lose situation. If I didn’t call her, I would lose her. If I did call her, she wouldn’t pick up, and I would squander what little belief I still had in my self-control.

To reach out, to yield as far as I could, to turn to water and let her float in my surrender. I’d fight these cravings by turning my stereo on, closing my eyes, pouring time and place into some meaningless Buddhist pool.

Sometimes my friend Dale from the army would call. He said I sounded really sketchy. He got me to talk about Lana. I ended up ranting to him about Lana, which was strange, since I now spoke of her to no one. I didn’t want to burden anyone. He was the exception. After I talked about her he said I sounded better now, less “shut off inside.” I trusted his judgment. Who else was I going to trust, myself? That was a laugh.

Lana had effectively proven her case- I would never be able to trust myself again. I was too prone to spontaneous gestures, to whims and impulses few people understood the meaning behind. All they could see was the desperation on my face. I was transparent. To make matters more complicated, I never saw shallowness in others. If anything, I took it to mean potential. Impressed by their presentation, something I never had, I took what they said as if it had a special meaning to them. I saw potential in everybody.

I wore the same clothes days in a row, or forgot to shave. Stumbled out of bed and didn’t bother to shower. I dressed like a gangster, with larger jeans and shirts with cigarette holes on them. Couldn’t bring myself to throw out my favorite sweatshirt. I got attached to everything, even the simplest possessions. I cleaned up real well. So well that Lana never understood why I dressed the way I did. Why didn’t I “grow up,” she wondered. My dress code didn’t sit so well with her friends and family. Never mind that I would have “cleaned up” if she’d taken the chance to formally introduce me to her relatives at a dinner. Fuck, I would have taken them all out and paid.

She said the rebellion wasn’t really me. Her presumption! As if she’d known me longer than I’d known myself. Yes, I admired her presumption, and for her, I might have worn a suit every day. I might have found a nine to five job. But we will never know now, will we.

I gave up… It might be the biggest mistake I’ll ever make.

But then there is tomorrow.

I don’t need to love again anymore. Nobody else. She was enough for me. But I wasn’t given enough time. And for that, I will remain angry.

So it ended badly, you are thinking.

But maybe, that’s all you need to know.

Maybe someday I will find somebody who shares my interests, and she will bear my children. I would like a son. Time is still clicking, but I’ve been ignoring the clock. I need to start paying attention. I plan on changing soon enough, but nothing is demanding it. In the meantime, I’ve stayed as far away from the recruit as possible. Teaching, paying bills late, and considering whether it’s worth it that every cent I make goes into my rent.

Rent has never made sense to me. I keep making money, it keeps getting funneled into this hole. If you took all the money I’ve paid for rent over the years, you’d have enough for a house. It’s sick the way people actually charge for rent these days. My idea for society is different, one that I’d like to bounce off somebody else somebody.

My time with Lana made me over-cautious. I wear latex gloves anytime I open any doors, in case somebody traces for prints. I’ve gone from being made of steel to being invisible. I’m not sure it’s worth it. Any of it. I’d ask for my money back, but I don’t want to ask. They should just give it to me, but I’m not stupid enough to believe they’ll ever do that. I want the old days back, and I miss the days from the army, when camaraderie was more than a word. It meant everything, and without it you were alone without anybody watching your back. Sure, you could become a sniper, but somebody could find your hiding position and take you out. Without anybody to protect you, you were AWOL. No benefits, no pay, no friends. This was a little like how Lana thinks she wants to live life. But like everything Lana says, her actions go against her words.

She reminds me a bit of a Dale, who can fill me with hot boiling anger. Hypocrisy is something I can live without. It makes my blood run fast, and suddenly I am working overtime just to stand still. Standing still in the same room with somebody who doesn’t know themselves is hard for me. I start yelling at them, showing them big pieces of a mirror. They keep repeating the same blackmail. I don’t like their argument, it breaks the mirror into slivers until I don’t have much of a case left. I can’t show them anything with that kind of high-pitched wrecking ball in the office. Well, you should have thought of that before, they tell me. No, you should have looked at a mirror dammit. I don’t like mirrors, they tell me. I don’t care what you do or not like, you make it a priority to see what you actually look like instead of what you think you should look like. They argue some more until I just nod and gesture. Face goes down, hands point at things. Motor skills. Second thing to lose in these arguments. They are such close friends, but they argue me to pieces. The adrenaline that was straining against my vessel walls starts to break down into something toxic. They understand toxins, they always do. Suddenly it’s me who needs them. Testify at the trial, I tell them. They refuse. Another example of your hypocrisy, I tell them, too warn down by the circumstance and the dialogue to watch my words. They don’t turn on me, but they take out their black book and draw a big black line for the times that I’ve become “unpredictable” or “unreasonable-” not to mention “unfathomable.” They tell me that they love me- except for this one percent of the time- and they show me the lines in their book. I continue to nod and gesture. They take this as a measure of agreement. Evidence for their pretrial motions. They can now say they don’t want things suppressed. Motion granted. This is a complex stature of limitations, after all. Time marches with them in the room. When they leave, I see it start to slide.

I go to my favorite diner. Who knew it still existed? Margie is there. I drink coffee sludge. Extra cream. as always.

“They are going extra hard on the felony convictions this year. I don’t like it Margie.”

I read my book. I turn the pages. The days pass. The bills pile up. The rent is due. I don’t like it.

I have no idea what I will do, where I will go, but that’s always how it is. Even as I know myself, as deeper and deeper I go, I can’t do a thing about the time.

PROBLEMS WITH THIS STORY- how do I solve them?

It needs work. What is Lana’s job? Is it so unimportant that it’s never mentioned? What about her point of view? Maybe she had good reasons for backing out, if that is what happened, it gets purposely ambiguous. Is there too much ambiguity in here? and wtf is Bobbi doing that he feels doomed by? that he feels subversively jeopardized his wedding? Is he some kind of assassin? Lana knows about some things, but what does he feel he has to hide? Do people need to know? And when does he start to hide? Since it doesn’t follow simple chronology, what can hold it together? There are a lot of sticky metaphors in there. The story needs more simple ties… to something. Maybe to a base of some sort.. descriptions. And the random diner… comes out of nowhere.
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