Hot Wheels, part 2
A few weeks into my new job, everything explodes. The administrative assistant finds my boss collapsed in his office. He has to take a temporary medical leave of absence, and step down permanently from his managerial position. I knew I was potentially stepping into a toxic work environment by taking this job, but at least my boss seemed like a rational person who would keep a lid on the bad actors. Now that he’s gone, essentially driven to a breakdown by the crazy people in the department, they start bullying me with impunity, telling me I’ll never last here, I can’t do my job properly and should never have been hired. The admin purposely withholds information I need as a form of hazing. When I try to call her on it, she says sarcastically, “You didn’t think things would be easy here, did you?” When I complain to senior staff about her treatment of me, I get a lecture on treating admin staff with respect.
The few people I thought of as allies in my department finally open up about all the bullshit that has been going on for years: multiple sexual harassment lawsuits swept under the rug, an Asian manager sued for racial discrimination against white people because he tried to make someone do actual work rather than just slacking off, endless petty backbiting, one-upmanship, and revenge. Things are so much worse than I ever imagined, and I’m angry at my former boss for hiding all this from me. It’s sickening and terrifying to have to see these horrible people every day.
As I’m freaking out over this, I call up Hot Wheels, hoping for some emotional support.
“That sucks!” he says when I pour out my tale of woe. “I understand why you’re a little pissed off at the old boss for not keeping you up to date on what the fuck is going on.”
“More than a little,” I grumble.
“My advice is to get a bottle of wine and have some. Try not to think about it. Stuff like this has a way of working itself out.”
I try to explain why I’m so frantic about this, why I don’t think it will just work out. “You don’t understand. The new boss already told me she’s changing my entire job description. I feel like I was lied to when they hired me.”
Hot Wheels makes a dismissive noise. “Whatever! Besides, worrying about it won't change a thing. Heeeey, forget about it. You won't, though, will you?”
I hang up the phone feeling worse than before. That last line pricks me like a needle. He thinks the problem is that I’m neurotic, not that I’m working with crazy people who have told me they’re trying to get me fired. My messy emotions are stressing him out and he wants me to stop bothering him.
One of the senior women in my department invites me to a dinner party at her house, as a friendly overture to win me over to her side in the ongoing power struggle. The only other people there are her much older husband (she’s the second, trophy wife) and a thirty-ish couple who both work elsewhere in the company. The wife is tall and super cool, while the husband is quiet and nebbishy.
From the moment I’m introduced to Cool Career Lady, I’m dying of jealousy. We’re the same age, but she’s way more self-assured than I am, much more advanced in her career. And she’s married, and expecting her first child. Essentially she’s living the ideal life I want but still have not attained. I have the job, but the husband and children feel even further out of reach than ever.
As if that’s not bad enough, the way the hostess has set up the dining room table makes me feel even more like the kid at the grown-ups’ table. There are matching place settings for four people, that is, one each for the two married couples—all four have the same placemats, napkins, dishes, and glasses, each seated on one side of the table. My place setting is the odd one out, a mismatched service awkwardly squeezed in beside the nebbishy husband, who ignores me.
Now this might seem like a minor thing, but I can’t help but feel like it’s on purpose. The hostess is one of the horrible, petty people in my department. When I arrived at her house, she greeted me at the door, looking me up and down judgmentally.
“Wow,” she sniffed. “Your dress is very…green.”
“Thanks.” I decided to pretend it’s a compliment rather than risk a confrontation with her.
“I could never wear something like that. But good for you!”
This is a brand new dress in a retro 1930s style and I had been very pleased with it until that moment. Now I’m humiliated and self-conscious.
I hang my head over my mismatched place setting, trying hard not to start crying. It’s clear the message is that I’m the odd one out because I’m not married. I barely take part in the conversation over dinner.
After dinner, we all go to sit in the living room. Cool Career Lady plops herself down next to me on the couch. I’m still hoping maybe she could be a new friend, but that’s not what she has in mind. She leans conspiratorially towards me and says in a stage whisper,
“I have a message from L---,” naming one of the women who left after her sexual harassment complaint was dismissed for lack of evidence.
“She was a good friend of mine, and she made me promise to pass along this message to whoever got hired after her,” Cool Career Lady continues. “‘Your department is psychotic and no one at this company will protect you.’ Ok, there, I delivered the message.” She sits back, making a dusting-off motion with her hands, like she’s literally washing her hands of me. Everyone laughs awkwardly and the hostess changes the subject.
I sit there, too stunned to reply. What is wrong with these people? What makes them think this kind of behavior is ok?
It’s not just my co-workers, everyone in this town seems deranged. My next door neighbors on either side are single men. On the left hand side is a fire fighter divorced dad of two teenaged boys. He seems like a nice enough guy. He’s bland and pudgy, rather plain looking, with kind of buggy eyes.
Our houses share a driveway, so he or his sons shovel the drive in winter and mow my lawn in the summer. He has a girlfriend, although she doesn’t live with him. I meet her very briefly when she’s visiting him, and she shakes my hand stiffly, giving me a death glare, like she’s certain that my nefarious plan is to steal her boyfriend away.
I’ve noticed this happening a lot: whenever I’m introduced to a couple, the wife starts acting all weird and possessive, as if my singledom is a threat to her marriage. Whatever, you skanky bitch. What makes you think I’m interested in your loser husband or boyfriend? And what kind of 1950s Stepford Wife behavior is this?
One night I come home late from work to find my neighbor in a tux trying to scale the fence to his backyard. As I unlock my back door, he explains that he went out to a fancy dress fundraiser at the firehouse, then realized after he got home that he lost his keys and he’s locked out. I notice as he’s talking that he’s pretty drunk.
I hesitate for a minute. If this had happened to any of my friends in Raser City, I would offer to let them sleep on my couch until morning, and it would have been no big deal, even with my guy friends. But something tells me that if I invite this guy in, he’ll take it as a sign that I want to have sex with him, and I absolutely, positively do not.
As I’m hesitating, he says, “It’s ok, I think I can get one of the windows in the back open.”
“Ok!” I say cheerfully as I go in my house. “Good luck!” I shut the door and lock it. His sexist ass can spend the night in the yard.
The next day as I’m chatting on the phone with Hot Wheels, I tell what happened.
“You did the right thing,” he says. “That guy would totally have taken it as an invitation.” Somehow it’s even more depressing to hear it confirmed from another guy.
My neighbor on the right hand side never introduces himself, never says hello even when I wave to him. He’s a fortyish guy with a fussy little goatee and two yappy little dogs. He lets the dogs into the yard at seven am every day, where they bark loudly directly outside my bedroom window. I hate him and his horrible dogs. He doesn’t seem to have a job, or at least, he never leaves the house at regular work hours. In the backyard, he has set up a child’s metal swingset even though he has no children, and regularly sits on it as the yappy dogs prance about. Also the light in his basement is always on.
I tell all this to Hot Wheels on the phone.
“What the hell! Is he a serial killer or what?” Hot Wheels says.
“I don’t know, but there’s something creepy about seeing that light on every night until two or three in the morning. What is he doing down there?” We both laugh about it.
Late one night, I’m sitting on the living room couch talking on the phone with Hot Wheels, even though it’s past midnight. As we’re talking, I see a black SUV pull up in front of that neighbor’s house.
“Who is visiting him at this hour?” I wonder out loud. I’ve never seen him with any friends or family.
“A hooker,” says Hot Wheels flatly. Just as he says this, I see a young, slender woman step out of the passenger side, while the driver stays in the car. She walks up the steps and rings the bell.
“Oh my god, it is!” I exclaim. “She’s gotta be an escort. She’s got a big duffel bag on her shoulder. What do you think could be in it?”
The door opens and she goes inside, while the driver stays in the car.
We joke around about what outrageous fetish items might be in the bag, but in the end I can’t blame him for it. If he wants to pay for kinky sex, I just hope he tips her well. Still, it feels weird that I lived in the sinful big city for years and never witnessed anything like this.
I’m also befriended by a thirty-ish couple across the street who invite me to their board game nights. It feels like hanging out with the Flanders. Their best friend who often joins us is a closeted gay man who manufactures candles decorated with Peanuts and Disney characters to sell at Hobby Lobby. All their friends except me are from their church, and I get the strong impression they are taking me on as a charity case. Who are these people? I’ve live in the Midwest before, but College Town was nothing like this. I truly feel like I have landed on an alien planet. I never felt this disoriented even when I was living overseas.
I get an email from The Mantis, which always makes me happy. He writes:
Nice to see you assimilating with the mid-westerners so easily. I on the other hand just got back from the Fetish Fair, where, I'm sure most of your neighbors there would recoil in sheer horror if they were somehow teleported to Raser City on such a glorious day. I shall share a story with you.
Titania and I were walking around the Fair taking in the sights and we both kinda noticed a group of people most of whom were saying out loud, "Oh my god..." A few minutes later we were behind a couple of gay men and realized that every once in a while someone would look at them and say, "Oh my god..." That's when Titania said, "those guys were over by that group earlier..." Now, of course, we're both curious so we hurried up a little to try and get in front of them and see what the fuck. Well, we caught up and "Oh my god..." that's the biggest fucking cock I've ever seen in my whole life. It was actually under a see through shirt, but there it was, all 300 inches of it or however big it was (fucking huge, was how big it was) Oh my god!!! Hey, let me know when your local Fetish Fair is and maybe we'll come out there for it.
Yeah, right! People out here only know two things: God and football, and not really in that order either.
With all of this madness going on, it feels like Hot Wheels is the only normal person I know, and our developing relationship is the only positive in my life right now. We go to see the Jet Li movie Fearless, and it’s awesome. He comes over again, and gives me a bunch of potted plants to brighten up my still rather bare house. The plants used to be kept outside so they’re filled with bugs, but it’s still a nice gesture.
He also brings over a plastic shower chair. My house may not be the most accessible but at least the bathroom is big enough that he can get inside. He leaves the shower chair behind, saying it’s a spare anyway. I play it cool outwardly, but inside I’m jumping for joy. Leaving an extra shower chair here, is that the dev version of leaving a toothbrush or what?
We’re still emailing multiple times every day. He’s switched to working daytime shifts, so at least now we’re more nearly on the same schedule. Even when things are horrible at work, it’s so nice to get a “hey beautiful” from him every morning.
Hot Wheels: Good morning beautiful. How did you sleep last night? Bet you were cold and lonely. Just wanted to tell you again that I had a really good time with you this weekend, and that I'm still smiling. Hope you have a great day and I'll talk to you later.
Devo Girl: Good morning! Hope you're less tired than yesterday. Do you have hockey practice tonight? Have a great day :)
HW: Yes on the hockey practice. I think tonight we should have at least five guys on the ice. Hopefully we can get a little game of two on three. I can't wait to hit Hector, that will make my week. Chat with you later. Have a great day.
DG: Yeah, smack him down!
HW: Ok I'm bored already and it's only five o'clock. I worked out yesterday and then went to the chiro. I woke up this morning and I could feel that my legs were sore. It wasn't as good as a sensation as I would have in my arms or upper body but I could tell that they were sore all the same. They burn a little and feel a little warmer than usual, not sure if that means anything or if I am making it all up in my head kinda like the placebo effect. Guess we’ll see only time will tell, I keep dreaming that I am running and when I wake up I swear that this has all been a dream and that I am fine, then I see the chair and I know that the running was the dream and the rest is reality. Anyway I hope you have a great day chat with you later.
DG: Hi there, don't worry if it's the placebo effect, if it makes you feel better that's a good thing, right? I'm sorry to hear about the frustrating dreams :( Be strong, you know you have it in you.
I had a very annoying day at work yesterday, nothing was going right. Bleah.
Oh by the way, I watered the plants you gave me last night. I knew there might be bugs on them because they were outside, but when I put the smallest one in the sink, a HUGE centipede crawled out, it was so gross. Who knows how many more there are--it's like the gift that keeps on giving, ha ha ha. Thanks!
Ok, I know my problems are trivial, I just wanted to share. At least the work day is almost over, right?
Meanwhile, I’m getting to be friends with Roopa and Karl. Even though she’s my age, Roopa has some very old-fashioned manners. Like if we’re at a restaurant together, just before we start to eat she says, “I wish you a good appetite.” It must be a habit she picked up when she lived in Europe, but I find it charming.
I tell Roopa about my relationship with Hot Wheels, my doubts and worries about him.
“Take it slow,” she counsels me, not knowing how many wheelers I have dated before him. “When I first met Karl, he was also very hesitant about a relationship. It took him some time to get used to the idea.”
I nod, not saying that I can tell Karl is far better adjusted than Hot Wheels, and also further along in his recovery. I feel horribly guilty when Hot Wheels tells me about his dreams of walking, and how much he hates the wheelchair. I feel even more guilty that when I first met him I wondered if he was too able bodied for me. He talks as if he’s about to go into remission again but the physical evidence seems to suggest otherwise. I try to encourage him, but he doesn’t seem to want to hear it. I still haven’t told him that I’m a dev, and I feel guilty for that too.
I can’t tell any of this to Roopa.
Instead, I change the subject. I mention to her that I still have no furniture for my new house, and she offers to take me shopping and give me decorating advice. I clearly need help, since up until now my decorating skills only extended as far as buying the cheapest furniture at Ikea and shoving it up against the walls in rather cramped apartments. Now it's time to live in a real house, finally. Even though I’m just renting, I want to decorate my new house like a grown-up, and lately I’ve become obsessed with Arts and Crafts style. She knows just the place.
I meet them at a furniture showroom at the edge of town. I would never have found this place on my own. It’s exactly what I wanted, all real wood and flowing Art Nouveau lines. With Roopa’s advice, I pick out a magnificent sofa upholstered with a William Morris print, and a matching coffee table. She also convinces me to get a matching rocking chair, to complete the theme she says. I also get a dining room set, making sure to pick the table with the most open space underneath, to accommodate a wheelchair. It’s crazy how many tables have bulky, awkwardly placed legs.
The showroom is huge, and there is a big staircase down to a lower level with even more furniture. Karl seems just as interested in looking at everything as his wife. After he peruses the entire first floor, he parks his chair in front of the staircase and announces that he wants to see the lower level.
“And now for the miracle,” Roopa says, giving me a mischievous wink.
Karl scoots his butt to the edge of his chair, then grabs the handrail along the side of the staircase and slowly stands up. Very slowly, he goes down the stairs step by step, while Roopa carries his chair down for him.
Aha, I think, an incomplete injury. Roopa mentioned that Karl was injured in a car accident fifteen years ago, before she met him, but didn’t say anything more detailed, and I didn’t ask. I don’t say anything, because I don’t want to reveal how much I know about SCI.
When they’re done looking around downstairs, they repeat the performance again going up. I pretend to be surprised, although I do mention that Hot Wheels can also go up and down stairs. They say, not for the first time, that they’d like to meet him.
Yes, my dev heart says. Make it happen.
The next time Hot Wheels comes to visit me, we meet Karl and Roopa at the Coffee Co. This is a big, popular café, one of the few places downtown that’s still doing well. The food is mediocre but at least it has a big, open seating area that’s easy to negotiate with two wheelchairs.
So this is my life now, chatting in a café with two wheeler guys. And to think I was worried my dev life would be over when I moved here. I feel so lucky. But neither of them know I’m a dev, so I keep my thoughts to myself and do my best to let them guide the conversation.
Lucky for me, they both talk at length about their injuries, because Karl and Roopa just moved to the US less than a year ago and they still have lots of questions about what kinds of accommodations and support is available here. Karl asks Hot Wheels where he did his rehab, and Hot Wheels goes into great detail about the clinic in Central City that he went to, although he’s stopped going in the past few months. Still, he has nothing but good things to say about the PTs there.
When Karl mentions that he also has an incomplete injury, Hot Wheels gets very excited.
“You should go to that same clinic,” he says, giving the full name and all the contact details. “They would be so happy to work on you!”
“Sure, I’ll think about it,” Karl says politely, although perhaps a bit distantly.
“You really should. Oh man, they could do so much with you,” Hot Wheels enthuses.
I don’t say anything, but this feels to me like such a strange way of thinking about it. For the PTs, it’s just a job. I mean, I’m sure they’re very dedicated and emotionally involved in helping their patients, but it’s not like they’re sitting around hoping for an incomplete para to work on. Anyway Karl doesn’t seem like he needs more rehab; he seems pretty competent and satisfied. Maybe Hot Wheels has projected this enthusiasm onto the PTs to motivate himself.
Actually, I’m worried about Hot Wheels’s mental well-being. It seems like he’s assuming that he will start walking again soon, or rather, he had assumed that but then things got worse and he hasn’t really come to terms with it yet. All this talk of the wonders of rehab makes me nervous, especially since he’s stopped going, and is seeing a chiropractor instead. It’s not that I don’t want him to get better, but that I’m worried he has unrealistic expectations and is sliding into hopelessness.
Once again I feel guilty for not telling Hot Wheels yet that I’m a dev. Soon, I promise myself. I’ll tell him soon. Maybe in a month. If we’re still together.
It’s Hot Wheels’s turn to come to my place. But then on the phone he says he just wants some time off to “relax.” Ok, whatever, I don’t say anything to make a big deal out of it but after I hang up, I’m really upset. Something tells me this is the beginning of the end. I mean, if he was really into me, he'd come over even though it's a two hour drive, right? I try to keep busy other things this weekend, trying not to let it bother me, but sheesh I really hate this half-assery. Either you're interested or you’re not. God, dating sucks so much!
Impulsively, I decide to attend another social event at work. It’s a “cocktail hour” in the late afternoon at which there is no alcohol, but there is free food, so I figure why not. I’m still trying to make friends here. Especially if Hot Wheels is blowing me off, I need to develop more of a social life that doesn’t involve him.
The event is sparsely attended, because of the odd hour and lack of alcohol. I gravitate towards a small group of people who are trading sarcastic complaints and generally griping about the company and the town. I have a few gripes of my own to add, and we all get along great. Finally, I feel like I’m meeting some normal people.
I fall into a deep conversation with a woman named Bebe who moved here from Philadelphia with her husband Mike. Mike is the one with the job, although Bebe also got hired as a part time admin. Bebe absolutely hates it here: the lack of good restaurants, clubs or bars, the terrible weather, the regressive politics, all of it. It’s like a breath of fresh air to meet someone who likes to complain as much as I do.
Bebe is even shorter than I am, under five feet, with springy black curls and a curvy figure. I like her style, kind of retro, like me. Mike is her opposite—tall and thin, blondish hair but starting to lose it on top, and black rimmed glasses. He seems blander and less fun than her, but I take it for granted that they come as a set. Bebe is just as interested as I am in living a glamourous life here, going out to art house movies, plays and fancy restaurants. Finally, someone here who gets me.
We make plans to meet for dinner next weekend.
Just when I had nearly given up on Hot Wheels, he sends me this email:
Ok I have been neglecting you and I apologize. I have just been wrecked from the weekend. I fell asleep last night at about five. Woke up today and I'm still tired. The party was fun, I spent most of the night in the pool, with a beer in my hand. We played a little water volleyball, and my team won of course. I didn't go to sleep that night till about four o'clock, then woke up at about nine, because my nieces were playing in the front hall. Some skip rope game. I could have killed them. So are you the proud owner of a new couch? What did you do all weekend?
I’m happy to hear from him. I write,
Oh, thanks, I was wondering where you were. I am the future owner of a new couch; it won't be here for 8-10 weeks. I went out to dinner with some new friends on Saturday then we all came over here and drank vodka and watched TV. They were very excited that I have cable. So do we have plans this weekend? My friends in College Town were asking me if they could visit, but I can always see them later in November.
Remember I mentioned that I'm going out of town the following weekend.
Hot Wheels assures me on the phone that he will come over, barring any major disaster, which I try to tell him is an automatic jinx, but too late. Saturday afternoon he calls to say that he was getting ready to go, but just as he was getting out of the shower, the back of his wheelchair broke off. D'oh! One of the screws that holds the bracket in place snapped in half, and he can't get it out. He called everyplace he could think of, but because it’s a weekend no one is around to help. I offer to go visit at his house instead, but he decides it’ll be easier to make the two hour drive rather than clean up his room.
I’m so touched that he comes over even when his chair is broken. He could have easily used the broken chair as an excuse not to visit, but he makes the trip anyway. I was so worried that he was losing interest, but now here is evidence that he really does want to see me.
“Sorry I’m so late,” he says as he opens the car door and wrestles his chair out of the back seat. He pops the wheel on his chair, which looks more like a rolling platform with the back completely off. Luckily he has the ab muscles to sit upright without a backrest, but it’s rather awkward and funny-looking. Like most wheelchairs, the seat is not flat like a regular chair, but tipped back to keep your ass wedged in place--without a back it makes you feel like you are going right over backwards.
I watch him balancing precariously around the driveway.
“Is it really ok to sit in it like that?”
“Sure, it’ll be fine,” he says carelessly. “It’s not like we’re going out offroading or anything. I figured we’d be staying in most of the time.”
I give him a lascivious grin. “Oh yes, I plan to keep you inside.”
His eyes light up and he gives me the cutest smile. “Oh, hey, I brought you some chocolate cake. It’s in the back seat.”
“A man after my own heart!”
A hot wheeler overcoming adversity to come see me, and he brings chocolate cake. What could be better? My little dev heart is bursting with happiness.
We stay in the whole weekend but we didn't have anything planned anyway, except to eat dinner and watch TV. I make tonkatsu, which he likes--who doesn't like deep fried pork chops? I was sure our relationship was over but now I allow myself to feel tentatively hopeful.
The next weekend, I drive out of town on a trip for work on a Friday, but coincidentally, it’s where my old friend Phil lives, so I make some time after the work thing to visit him. It’s far enough away that I could have taken a plane, but I would have had to take two or three connecting flights to get there. In the end I realize it’s faster to drive, even though it will take at least six hours each way. This is another thing I hate about the Midwest, all the driving.
Phil is my friend from grad school who saw the large gardening shovel I kept by the door and asked if I hit guys on the back of the head with it as a form of BDSM play. He’s also the one I went to the SM club with when we were both living in Taipei. So yes, he’s always been a bit curious about BDSM but also clueless. I always sort of liked him, and I had a strong feeling he liked me too, but he never asked me out, and instead slept around with every other woman in our group of friends. He’s the kind of guy who was very sincere and a good friend when it was just the two of us, but rude and dismissive to me whenever we were in a group with other friends, especially guys. Once I realized this, I decided it was just as well I never acted on my crush.
Despite this, we’ve kept in touch, and he invites me to stay over at his house from Saturday night to Sunday, after my work is finished. He’s married now, and they just bought a house together. The house is adorable.
But the whole time, I’m also consumed by jealousy. Even though he’s a few years younger than I am, Phil finished his degree years before I did, landed a really good job in his first interview, got married a few years ago, bought a house, and now he and his wife are expecting their first kid. We’ve been on similar career tracks, but he’s been far more successful than I am, including the personal life stuff.
When we were in Taipei, we were both living a kind of crazy bohemian life. Some of the things I did were because he egged me on, living vicariously through me. He was sleeping around too, but after he returned to the US, he immediately settled down and found someone to marry him. Me, on the other hand, well, I feel like my dating life went even more off the rails, got even crazier and stupider after I got back.
So how is it that he was able to pull it together so quickly? Simple, I think it’s because he’s at heart 100% vanilla, despite his brief flirtation with BDSM, and as soon as he was ready to settle down there was a woman ready to snap him up. His wife basically says as much herself when they tell me how they met. As for me, I’m way kinkier than he knows, and that makes things more complicated.
I can’t tell him any of this. Not just because I don’t want to tell him about me being a dev. It’s even more than that. I feel like I’ve become a cliché: the mid-thirties career woman who wants a husband and kids. “Having it all.” Such a stupid, insulting phrase, as if a woman wanting what men take for granted, a career and family, is pathetic and laughable. I hate inhabiting that stereotype. It’s too embarrassing to even say out loud.
Phil’s wife is tough and no nonsense. I notice right away that she walks with a limp, a pretty severe one. I’m dying to ask why—is it CP? Or an injury? No one ever mentions it and it seems rude to ask, "Hey I noticed your wife is pretty gimpy, what's up with that?" So I don’t say anything. She has a huge surgery scar on her knee but she doesn’t use any brace or crutch. And she talks about running marathons. So yeah, tougher than I am.
I remember what Kara always says to me whenever I complain about how hard it is to find the right wheeler: “Can’t you just date someone with, like, a limp?”
Not really! Or I don’t know, maybe? But I have never met those guys either. Anyway I’m sure Phil is not a dev.
I was looking forward to catching up with Phil, but he’s surprisingly distant, especially given that he invited me to stay over. On Saturday, without saying anything he just gives up on all the plans we made to basically sat on the sofa from the afternoon until late at night, even though we had already made dinner plans. He makes it clear he doesn't want me hanging around bugging him. What the fuck? Was he just tired? Or did I do something to annoy him? Maybe this is just one more example of him acting weird around me. I’m so sick of it.
When it’s clear he doesn’t want to see me despite inviting me over, I excuse myself to go shopping and see the town on my own.
Anyway, compared to where I live, Phil lives in a booming metropolis. I go to Whole Foods and load up the trunk of my car with all the organic, natural, gourmet foods I can't buy there. And because the weather is so cold, I can even buy milk, butter and cheese and leave it in the trunk until I got home. On the way home, I stop at the Chinese shopping center in Central City and buy even more food.
Also on the way back I stop to see Hot Wheels for a few hours in the afternoon, rather than wait another week to see him. When I mentioned this plan to him on the phone before I left, he was a little lukewarm about it, but I assumed it was just because I wasn’t sure exactly what time I would arrive. But it makes sense to me since I have to drive through Central City to get home anyway, and I’m dying to see him.
For once the traffic is not too bad. I call Hot Wheels from the road and let him know I’m on the way. He says ok.
I arrive at his house in the mid-afternoon. I can’t stay long, since I have to drive home so I can go to work on Monday morning. But I’m just so happy to see him again, even for only a few hours. When I arrive, he’s stretched out on his bed watching tv. He doesn’t get up.
I snuggle up next to him, kissing and cuddling him. It takes me a long time to realize that he’s not responding at all, but just lying there like a log. Ok, whatever. I don’t say anything. Maybe he’s just tired.
When it’s time for me to go, I ask him when we can see each other again. He says that he's busy for the next three weekends with family stuff and hockey games.
"Don't worry," he says, "I'll fit you in."
I ask for more details on how he plans to do this as I suspect what he really means is "I'll see you when I see you, whatever."
We get into a fight. Ugh, it sucks.
I'm sure he thinks I'm being naggy and demanding, but from my perspective, it seems like he's pushing me away every time we start to get close, and doesn't care if he sees me or not. Bleah, I'm sick of obsessing over it. Whatever happens, happens.
I email him the next morning, trying hard to be casual and not demanding.
Devo Girl: Hey sexy! Good morning! How are you? Last night I pulled into the driveway at exactly 10 pm--you were right. I feel like I spent the entire day driving, bleah. But I'm glad I got to see you for a little bit.
Hot Wheels: Ya it was nice to see you also. How was the traffic? I could not fall asleep last night for anything. I wrote like five pages in my journal and then I was out. Guess I had some shit on the brain.
DG: Sorry to hear you were so worked up last night, maybe you just needed a little more, ah, tension relief ;P Traffic SUCKED again it took an hour just to get to the freeway. But after that it was ok. I'm just so glad it didn't rain or snow at all when I was driving.
HW: What a slow work day. There is nothing to do. This is going to be a long day I can just feel it.
A few days go by while we email back and forth like this. I hold off on bugging him about the weekend, but he did say he would fit me in, and I want to know if he meant it or not. Finally on Friday, I ask:
DG: So what's your plan for this weekend? Is there time for us to see each other at all?
HW: Well this weekend is pretty full and next weekend I have that hockey tourney and the weekend after that I have my sisters 40th b-day party. The hockey tourney might get canceled, so maybe next weekend. With nationals coming up my schedule is going to be really full of hockey. Will you be able to cope? I hope so, but knowing you, you're already getting angry. Well on a lighter note I just got my order of Girl Scout cookies and I have finished a box of Do-si-dos, mmm mmm good.
DG: Well that's a hostile email.
DG: You said you were interested in making some time to get together, but in that email it feels like you're blowing me off.
HW: Just busy that's all. Can't make time that I don't have.
HW: Classic angry woman response.
Why is he being like this? What did I do to make him so angry with me? My heart is pounding and my hands are shaking as I sit in front of the computer, but I’m at work, trying to keep it together and get things done. I hate how he keeps turning my emotions back on me, like I’m the unreasonable one for wanting to see him, for wanting any kind of definite plan. But I’m still not ready to let go yet, and I want to prove to him that I’m not a crazy bitch. I take a few hours to calm down, then reply,
DG: I really don't want to fight, and I get that you're busy. I just want a little reassurance, that's all.
He doesn’t reply that day.
HW: Sorry about not responding yesterday I was at home playing hooky. Listen I want to apologize for being so distant here lately, I have been in some kind of funk. Haven't been sleeping very well and have just been depressed, not a very pretty picture. Not really sure what's going on with me, but I know I need to figure it out because I can't keep feeling this way. Just wanted to say thank you for being so patient and understanding I promise I will make it up to you.
DG: Thanks for the apology, I couldn't figure out what was up--I was afraid I had pissed you off or something?? I'm sorry to hear you've been unhappy :( Are you feeling any better yet? And what's up with the hockey tournament in Arizona? Are you leaving today?
HW: No, Arizona was canceled.
DG: Hey, it's snowing here! Sorry to hear about Arizona. So you have practice, but are you busy the whole weekend?
HW: Pretty much.
What the fuck is this! Even when his plans are canceled, he still has other plans that don’t involve seeing me? How far down on his list of priorities am I? And what’s up with this vague “pretty much” bullshit? Now he can’t even be bothered to make up concrete excuses. It occurs to me, not for the first time, that he might be seeing someone else.
DG: And we're back where we started. I'm willing to be patient but my patience is not unlimited. I'm getting very frustrated with this "I like you but I won't ever see you or talk to you" kind of relationship. I understand that you're busy and feeling depressed, but this email communication which is incomplete and open to misinterpretation is making me crazy. We need to have a real talk.
Not surprisingly, he doesn’t call or email. A week goes by.
DG: Hey, how much longer do you plan on ignoring me?
HW: I will call you tonight!
DG: Liar! Seriously, what the hell is your problem and why are you avoiding me?
So it's totally over with me and Hot Wheels, which I suppose comes as a surprise to no one, but it's still irksome. He says he’s depressed, to the point where he’s taking days off work, but somehow he still finds the energy to be super busy every weekend, although the reasons become increasingly vague. It drives me crazy the way he’s always anticipating my negative feelings: I bet you’ll hate that, I know you’ll be angry but just deal, etc. etc. His fear of my emotions makes me feel like I’m the one who has to manage his emotions so he doesn’t get upset. He knows he’s pissing me off; commenting on it like that just makes it seem more intentional. When I try to talk about how I’m feeling in a real way, he’s always like just ignore it, let it go, why are you so upset, just forget about it. I can’t pretend I don’t have feelings just to prevent him from having a big sad about it.
I figure there are two possibilities: either he has been secretly seeing someone else and is too chickenshit to tell me, or he really has fallen into a severe depression and is cutting off all social contacts. Whatever, in either case it's hopeless, and I’m angry at him for jerking me around, acting all sweet one minute and distant the next. I try calling once or twice just to have the satisfaction of telling him off and making it clear that I’m breaking up with him and not the other way around, but he doesn’t pick up. Then even that seems rather pointless.
Finally I have a revelation that it doesn't matter; if I decide in my own mind that I’m through with him, that’s enough, and suddenly weeks of low-level tension and anxiety just fall away. But it’s still depressing to have to go through all that bullshit, on top of all the bullshit at work.
And he left his damn shower chair here! It's a huge ugly plastic thing. I hide it away in a corner of the basement so I don't have to look at it. Maybe I can donate it to a home for the aged or something but I don't think it will even fit in my car. It’s a good thing it’s just a spare because there’s no way I’m driving all the way back to his house just to give it back to him.
That fucking shower chair stays in my basement until I move out of that house, when I finally get around to donating it to charity.
I thought I had a boyfriend, that things were starting to get serious, but here I am single again. Fuck! Now what am I going to do? My prospects of meeting anyone at all in Craptown are dismal indeed. But whatever, for the moment I'm enjoying being single and not worrying about anyone but myself. I rearrange my living room with the new furniture according to the plan laid out by Roopa, and the house feels new all over again. I know it's just objects, but I feel sinfully pleased with how lovely it all is.
The next weekend I drive up to College Town to visit Kara and Nam, and other friends. It’s great to see them all and to be in a real town with a cultural life. I’m filled with longing to live there instead of Craptown.
Even though I’ve already told her a lot on the phone, I pour out my heart to Kara about my shitty co-workers, my break-up with Hot Wheels, my dev frustrations, all of it.
“You’ve been having a really hard time,” she says sympathetically. It feels so good to finally talk with someone who really knows me, knows everything about me.
“I mean, I’m actually relieved it’s over with Hot Wheels,” I say. “It’s not like I want to get back together with him. But I just feel like I’m never going to get married and have kids.”
“Well, if you really wanted that, you would have made it happen by now,” Kara says cryptically.
I love Kara but sometimes her Buddhist calm acceptance drives me crazy.
“What do you mean by that?” I ask defensively.
“So should I have stayed with Mark?” I say, naming my first college boyfriend, who I dated before I met K. Mark dumped me for someone else when I went on study abroad, but when I came back he changed his mind and tried to get back together with me. By then, I had met K and had not the slightest interest in Mark any longer. I introduced Mark to a friend of mine and they got married a few months after we graduated. Now they have two kids.
“Well, you would have gotten married and had kids if you had,” Kara says.
“Ugh! If I had never met K, I might have, but we’d probably be divorced by now,” I admit.
“See?” Kara prods me. “You’ve chosen the life you really want.”
But her way of thinking still bothers me. Even after getting a real job and a real house, I’m still dating like before and I don’t know how to make it stop, how to move on to the next stage of my life, which despite what Kara says, I really do want.
I’m back to the depressing fear that I will never meet anyone in this small town, and I’ll be single for the rest of my life. I’m thirty-four years old, and I think I still look pretty good, but for how much longer?
Kara and Nam have four cats, and playing with the cats is relaxing and therapeutic.
“So how much longer until you get a cat?” Nam asks. He would adopt more but Kara always puts her foot down.
“I can’t,” I sigh. At the farmer’s market near my house, someone is always giving away adorable kittens. Every weekend, I have to avert my eyes as I walk past the corner where people hang out with cardboard boxes and pet carriers filled with adorable kittens, lest I be entranced. They actually thrust them at you, inviting you to hold one.
“I already feel like such a stereotype,” I tell Nam and Kara, explaining why I must resist the allure of the adorable kittens. “I’m this close to becoming a crazy cat lady. You know how it is, one cat becomes two, then three, then a dozen. Then when I drop dead at home alone, the cats will eat me.”
“It’s a possibility,” Kara deadpans.
I know she thinks I’m being silly, but I’ve decided even though I want a cat, I can’t get one while I’m still single.
Kara then delivers a long Buddhist lecture on how people who get too wrapped up in their careers and buying things and don't believe in anything spiritual are doomed to unhappiness. But whatever, I just can't go for that non-attachment crap. You can be involved in the world and still spiritual.
I see Kara again two weeks later when she very kindly invites me to join her at her parents’ house for Thanksgiving. It’s a nice, relaxing weekend. Her parents are very nice and her mom is an excellent cook. They are also into Arts & Crafts (the 1920s home decorating movement, not the lame wallets you made at summer camp), which is my current obsession. Kara can give away all the things in her house if she wants too, but I am determined to fill mine up. She gives me some lovely antique china, an extra set from her grandmother that she didn’t want.
As I’m driving home from Thanksgiving, I listen to the local classical radio station. They play the entire opera La Traviata. From the very first notes of the overture, I’m overcome with such a strong sense memory of standing onstage with the Raser City Lyric Opera in my costume and makeup, the hot stage lights, the orchestra and the audience, only dimly seen. I’m filled with such longing that I nearly start crying in the car. What am I doing here? I remind myself that even if I could go back, most of my friends have also moved on and are not performing with that company anymore.
I sing along to the entire opera as I drive home.