Friday, April 29, 2016

Chapter 39: Justification

I was watching television this evening when caught I end of a cheesy romance on some cable station. The male lead proposed to the female, promising to make her life wonderful. The huge diamond he slid on her finger promised "happily ever after." I wondered then, at marriages where husbands and wives met with others, secretly and in the dark. I wondered if they were failing their marriage or if their marriage had failed them.

When I wonder, it's not about the marriages entered into lightly by those who had no intention of honoring those vows. I wonder, instead, of those who said "I do" with their souls but then found themselves having the audacity to change along the way. They are the ones who still love their spouses and cannot understand for the life of them why what was once enough isn't nearly. Or is it a failing on our part? For refusing to change along with them -- or did we refuse to not change?

When we're the ones in the dark, saying a very different "I do" to someone whose wedding band does not match ours, are we selfish or desperate? At what point does an affair -- either sexual or emotional -- becomes less an act of deception and more an act of survival?

What can I say that would, in most people's eyes, justify what I have done? I'm not going to try, to be honest. I just know that I've spent too much of my life being Little Miss Perfect. It never quite got me anywhere.

Somewhere along the way, I changed; I took a path quite different from the one anticipated. It's hard for me to view that as wrong. Liam, too, failed to remain who he was. We sat side-by-side in an office, sharing space for nine months before daring to acknowledge let alone touch. For nine months the others in the office pushed us together, dumping us into an un-official couple based on our mutual youth. Old enough to be our parents, they found him maddening and me mercurial.

And so the youngsters were sent off to play.

Most mornings I'd fix his collar after he tied his necktie. He dubbed me his "office wife." We learned how to read each other's expressions. We laughed until we were breathless. Secret notes were passed back and forth, much like two sixth graders. He listened to me. He didn't dismiss me.

How could nothing happen?

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Chapter 38: Quiet Intimacies

Have you ever considered the intimacy of writing? I have a pen, an expensive one given to me as a gift years ago by a man who cared for me. We became lovers for a brief time. I've used it almost constantly since.
Using his gift increased the intimacy, preserved it, even as we drifted apart and lost the other. The words I write are still tinged with his touch. Every stroke of the pen on paper is as soft as his hands on my body once were, covering the page with what can be said... covering my body with what words could not describe...
The intimacy of words is never been far from my mind. In many ways, reading what I write leaves my soul naked in a way that sex never has.  There's something more honest about it.  I think.

It's a cleaning-out day for me, sifting through the boxes claimed from Reed's house and jammed in my basement.  Still packed after all these months, still waiting for me to decide their fate.

I found box with nothing but my writing.  Page upon page of dot-matrix printing from my fifteenth summer when I sat down before the computer and didn't move for three months. I remember how I set up shop with my boom box and tape cassettes on a folding table next to me. Rain, shine, heat wave, it didn't matter. I sat and wrote. That was it. If it was exceptionally hot, I'd pull my hair into a granny knot and put on my bikini top with a pair of cut-offs. And I'd write. If my brother's friends came over to swim, I'm close the kitchen windows to keep the noise down. And I'd write. When my mother would shriek about whatever, I'd turn up the music and write. I played Fleetwood Mac until the cassette tape wore out.

I've never really finished a single book I've started.  Perhaps because I never had the need.  Perhaps I never knew the ending.

I think, though, now as I remember, that I might.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Chapter 37: Jimmy's Pub

"Excuse me?"
If her tone was any colder, he thought, he'd have frostbite.
"My name's Greyson."
"Mine is Meredith."
"I know."
She wasn't making this easy for him.  But he didn't expect anything less.  Save for her relationship with some former office mate at her former workplace she was rumored to not get along with anyone. But Greyson wasn't inclined to believe gossip, particularly given that no one could say anything for sure. It was only speculation. She was seen with some guy... no, it was him, the fellow who just left for Ohio...  she's single, no, she's living with someone... The only definite bit of gossip he could glean was that Meredith and someone named Liam were constantly fighting.
She'd joined the company a few months ago, after leaving her previous position abruptly, something to do with a love affair if the gossips were to be believed. Others said she knew that there was an ethics probe in the works and jumped ship before she went down with it.
Meredith, meanwhile, was openly studying him, taking in his dark eyes and golf course tan. She had no clue who this man was, but was guessing that he might be the new hire.
"And you're here because...?"
"Oh, yeah, Mr. Watson said you had a deadline to meet and thinks I can help you."
Great, she thought. Probably one of Watson's nephews.
Watson didn't talk to new employees unless there was DNA involved.

She shrugged and looked at her watch.  It was almost the end of the day.  Why not?  If he was related to the CEO, then this would be to her benefit.

Next door at Jimmy's Pub, Meredith ordered her usual and said nothing when he raised his eyebrows as she drank straight from the bottle.
"No ladylike glass?"
"You get right to the point."
"Yes, I do tend to do that."
"So I've heard."
"I'm sure you have."
He just laughed, but she didn't hear him, remembering instead sitting here with Liam.  Remembering being in their office before coming here.
"Roll up my sleeves."
"You're pushing it, Liam."
"I know."
But she obeyed, willingly cuffing the sleeves of his hunter green dress shirt -- the one she loved best on him.  
"Take off my tie." His low whisper had been so forceful that she had to smile as she did as he asked. It had sent a shiver through her, no man had ever ordered her around like this, but she loved it.
She started slightly, pulled back from her thoughts of Liam. "Meredith. Not Mer."
She rolled her eyes.

The rest of the meal went reasonably well, in Meredith's opinion, though Greyson was too open, too fast, for her tastes. He was convinced, and even said as much, that her cool facade must cover a very passionate woman. At that remark, she remarked on how he apparently studied his conversational skills "at the local watering hole."
He threw his head back and laughed so loudly that she wondered how he'd respond to something that was actually funny.

"I need to get home. How about you?"
"I suppose," she replied, getting her wallet out and feeling relief to be getting away from him. If she heard one more story of his career exploits, she would probably start feeding him lines and asking inane questions just to amuse herself.
"Husband waiting for you?"
"I live alone." Dear Lord, did she really admit that? Then again, could he be any more obvious? Two bad pick-up lines and now the bald statement-question regarding her status. Cut the guy some slack. I'm getting paranoid, she silently scolded herself.
"Put your money away," he ordered. "My treat."
She slapped a ten on the table. "I pay my way." Her tone reminded him of a schoolmarm. "Take it, Greyson," she said when he tried to slide it back.
"Of course, my lady."

"Can I drive you home?"
"I've a car."
"You've had a bit to drink."
"I'll see you tomorrow," she said, ignoring his remark and walking away.

Greyson watched her leave. A bit anticlimactic, given the rumors.  No matter.  He could wait. 

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Chapter 36: Last-name Basis

"I said that was fine!"

Despite being on the other end of the hallway, Beth could hear Liam shouting  No doubt Meredith was in his office again.

"Your version of fine and mine are two different things, Liam.  Quit trying to tank the project and give me the extension that my team needs!"

Yep.  It was Meredith.  Beth turned around and headed in the opposite direction.  She was not going near him until that was over.  He'd tear the head off of whatever unfortunate stepped into his office after Meredith left.

A moment later, his office door slammed open and Meredith stormed out.  Muttering to herself, she headed directly to the kitchen on eight.  "Stupid jackass, stubborn as a goat, jerk... who does he think he is...."  The litany continued up three flights of stairs, down the hallway, and into the kitchen itself.  By that time, she was in a lather, furious over his refusal to grant her team the extension required after learning about the client's changes just yesterday.  "How can I make their changes when I didn't even know about them... arrogant jackass.... thinks he knows..."

She was so deep into her rant that she didn't notice Beth or the gentleman sitting beside her.  She just grabbed a soda from the refrigerator and stalked out, still muttering to herself.

"Nice welcoming committee," he drawled, leaning back in his chair.
"You'll get used to it."
"So who's playing the role of Medusa?"
"Meredith Hagan."
Had he been eating, he would have choked.  "Did you say "Meredith Hagan?"
"The one and only.  Charming, wasn't she?"
He couldn't quite process the name yet.  "Hagan?"
"Niece of Geenie..."
"Hell, Beth, why didn't you warn me?"
She looked at him and smiled, just a little bit coldly.  "Who said I wanted to?"

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Chapter 35: Looking in from the Outside

They were in a meeting, again.  The client loved meetings.  Beth sat across from Liam.  Meredith sat two seats away from Beth.

When he could get away with it, Liam started at Meredith.

Beth wanted to gag.  How someone who was otherwise the epitome of professionalism and class could make such a fool out of himself was beyond her.  Then again, who knew what Meredith was doing.

CAN YOU SEE HER FACE?  She texted to Lydia.  There was no need to identify who her was.

A moment later, her phone buzzed with the reply.  SHE'S IGNORING HIM RIGHT NOW. SHE LOOKS WHEN HE DOESN'T.

Beth managed not to roll her eyes.  She liked Meredith.  She liked Liam.  But the two of them were a train wreck in the making.   Why they couldn't play nice with each other was a mystery.

Her phone buzzed again.  DID THEY EVER FIND THE MISSING FILES?

Beth glanced at Lydia and gave a slight shake of her head.  Last October, during the big shake up when Liam was transferred out -- then abruptly brought back -- files regarding an ethics breech disappeared.  More accurately, the thumb drive disappeared.  A tiny one-gig drive barely an inch long.  Some people thought that it had simply been lost and thrown away, which was actually quite likely, but those who knew exactly what was on the drive were less likely to be that optimistic.  In Beth's opinion, Liam knew exactly where they were, and whatever had happened between him and Meredeith -- she knew about Meredith's visits to his hotel room -- had something to do with them.  She just couldn't prove it.

WE'LL TALK LATER. She hit send and closed her phone.  No point in drawing further attention to herself.

Settling back in her seat, she studied Liam again.  Meredith was saying something to the client, and Liam's attention was wholly on her once more.  Get a freaking room, she thought, annoyed.  They should have sent him to wherever and left him there.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Chapter 34: A Simple Kiss

Amazing how one's life can change over a kiss. A simple kiss and everything I ever believed I would never do... I did.

"I'm going to kiss you."

Five basic words spoken while we sat in our office, insanely trying to rationalize the tension between us.

Is it wrong if we kiss? He wasn't looking at me when he asked this; he was feigning interest in his datebook.
I think so. My throat was so tight that I was surprised that the words even came out.
Do you want to kiss?
Is the Pope Catholic? Is the grass green? Is the sky blue? Haven't I been wanting this since the day we were first introduced? Didn't I look at him that day with a jolt of absolute awareness that I couldn't recall ever having felt before? Yes! Kiss me! Somehow I kept my voice steady: Yes.


A word as powerful as his. Bending, bowing, giving in to my wants as well as his.


Not ten minutes later, after a too-long period of silence and thought, after I began to reconcile myself to never knowing what he tasted like or what his arms would feel like around me... not ten minutes later my "yes" was accepted.

"I'm going to kiss you."

And feeling his mouth on mine... while I sat, submitting more then anything, and disbelieving. Unable to fully respond as I thought I would have. As I had intended to, should the opportunity ever arise.

Who would have thought that I'd be here? Eight months ago, I would have laughed. Liam? Want me? You have to be kidding.  I'm just a little nobody, someone who hangs out in his office now and then. That's all. I probably amuse him, nothing more.

Two days after, I found myself in a bookstore reading a slim little text on affairs and marriage. It's purpose was to talk about a relationship surviving adultery, but to me it was a primer of sorts. I read it with too-obvious interest, I suspect, but didn't particularly care. My mind was elsewhere, learning the differences and similarities between a serial affair and a fling, a romantic affair and a long-term one.

"I'm going to kiss you."

I didn't buy that book. Instead I picked up Kate Chopin's The Awakening, reading it cover to cover that same night. Reed came to me, making an attempt at intimacy, but failing. Somewhere in there he murmured something about "owning me," about my "being his little girl." For the first time ever, I (silently) disagreed and rebuffed him with a lie about it being that time of the month.

I had to turn him away. It wasn't because of Liam himself, it wasn't because I was feeling guilty or unworthy or even exultant. It was because of the fact that just a hours before I was in another man's arms, ready to give to him what I had always thought of as Reed's: me.

I'd been ready to welcome Liam, to let him make me his. It had been on my lips that night, that invitation: "Make me yours."

That was what had really stopped me -- the realization that I was simply going to transfer ownership from one man to another when, really, I needed to revoke all rights and revert them back to their rightful owner: me.

You can't give what you don't believe you own. My mother often said that no man ever owned her, that was why it was so easy for her to slip from bed to bed. In my own way, a fact I'm slowly awakening to, I believed -- still believe? -- that if I let a man stake his claim, I won't be like her. If I let him be the traditional controlling male, I'll be the well-behaved docile female and never cave to the same forces that ruled my mother.

"I'm going to kiss you."

So much for that theory.

Waiter, I would like another glass of wine. Pouring it myself, I stared out the back window.  So much easier to think with a little vino in hand.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Chapter 33: Tangling up

So what is the difference between a meaningful affair and a meaningless fling? Semantics? Does one reduce the actions in significance, thus making said actions more easily excused? If it's meaningful, will it hurt more when the inevitable end comes? Does meaningful imply love between the two parties; whereas meaningless is equated with loveless? Too, what is the difference between an affair and a fling?

That last question is possibly the easiest. Affairs are long-term, thought-out, and emotion-laden. Flings are quickies; get-togethers between two who need and want for the moment, but cannot sustain for the duration.

Can one have a meaningless affair, or is that an oxymoron?

If I have a fling, does it mean that I'm as expendable to him as he is to me, emotionally? He's certainly not expendable. Otherwise I wouldn't be sitting here, on-line, with my computer's chat mode enabled.

If I have an affair, am I committed to supporting and taking care of him much like a wife might? How very unattractive. Affairs, it seems to me, should be -- or are -- escapes. I want to compare them to the rabbit hole that Alice fell into, to a dark alley that one ducks into, or to a secret hiding place one can crawl into.

All of the comparisons involve going into something. How fitting for an affair, being that it's usually sexual in nature. He's going into me, literally and figuratively. I'm letting him come into me. We are into each other mentally. I'm into him, a teenage girl might say. Come into my office, my house, my life. Come into my emotions, needs, and wants. Come into my hang-ups and issues. Come tangle with me.

Tangle implies knots and confusions. An appropriate word, much like into. Fitting. Exact. Defining. We tangle our bodies, entwining until where one ends and the other begins is lost. We tangle our words, playing with them to hide truths without lying. We tangle our emotions, riding them as if they were ocean waves... and waiting for them to crest, throwing us into the water and tangling us up even more...

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Chapter 32: At What Price Peace?

One of the perks to being alone is time to think. Just me and little Cleo the Cat, hanging out at chez Meredith sans headaches.

I've been thinking about anger lately, what it makes us do and refrain from doing. My Aunt Geenie's anger kept her from being anything but nasty. Rory's propelled her to write. Mine? Well, I don't know. Once it kept me in bed, staring at the ceiling while I contemplated my various entanglements.  Reed, Liam...  Now, though, it's shoving me in new directions.

It would be easy to turn into another Geenie or Dakota. My own mother was certainly angry enough, don't doubt it. She turned on virtually everyone, indulging herself with the bottle and with men. My indulgence, I know, comes in pill form. Diet pills, to be exact.

Just today I popped another one. I had to. I looked too good yesterday to skip a dose. When I walk down the hall, I strut just a little bit.

Anger will make me make it a point to look good even on mornings when I hate life. It makes me curl my hair just so and bother with lipstick. I bought four-inch stilettos to wear with my conservative black slacks for the sake of contradiction.

But where does appearance get one in the end? A lot of places, to be sure - let's not deny the truth. But does it get me what I need? Can an angry woman find what she needs, or does her anger cloud everything?

My main question is whether or not I can afford to not be angry.

Not being angry often equal complacency, something that is painfully expensive. It turns me into a "good little girl" who does nothing but make sure that everyone else is comfortable. Turns me into a damned stewardess. Are you happy, sir? Can I get you anything, ma'am?

How wonderful it is to know when someone likes you for yourself. I don't, didn't, get a lot of that in my life. When I find it, I savor it. That's why I put up with Rory, and why she tolerates me. There are no pretenses with us.

When she talks about her husband, it's obvious that they also lack pretense. When she talks about her brother, it's apparent that he and his ex-wife were all about changing the other.

Like me, she has her own set of issues -- all of which were compounded for her by Paul and Richard. When I talk about men not wanting girls like me, I'm referring to those with background such as mine. When she talks about girls like me, she's referring to an amazing amount of self-doubt that she carries.

Her husband, she once said, could never really want a girl like her because she was neither beautiful nor smart. He just happened to like vulnerable little damsels in distress, she insisted. Girls like her tended to be the one that men like him would use for amusement and nothing more.

Just as she had no qualms about marching into my house and emptying my liquor cabinet, I had no qualms about telling her to just take a chance and see what happened and shut the hell up about being less-then-worthy.

"MEN like Cade want a WOMAN like you," I remember hollering. "WOMEN like you are what BOYS like him NEED!"

I was in her wedding a year later.

Her cousin, on the other hand, was reeling from a failed engagement and desperate for "proof" that he was lovable.

But how did I get here from my ruminations on anger? Change, I suppose. Anger induces change. But whether or not it can be permanant is another story. I've been mentally wandering lately, but you knew that.

It comes back to the question, though: can I afford not to be angry?

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Chapter 31: Need vs. Want, and a Convertible

Need versus want. I once needed to be with one sort of man; now I want to be with another. Fickle? No doubt.  

When I look at him, I realize that I don't need him. I want him. I want to be with him. I want to run jump play with him. I want to laugh and joke and make him smile.  But who one am I looking at?   The real man or the one of my creation?  The one I fantasized about for all these years?

Today we went to lunch, me and this fantasy, pretending that all was well.

At lunch, I ordered a dessert I can't spell, daring to try something new. It arrived, smothered in honey, ice cream, and cinnamon sugar. The presentation alone was incredible. Scooping it all up with a fried tortilla, I found myself thinking about the movie 9 1/2 Weeks and how I never quite understood the sensuality of "the food scene."

Abruptly, now, I did.

I was conscious of the coldness of the ice cream as well as the heat of the plate, of the honey's texture, and the spice of the sugar...  I picked with my fingers, getting them sticky in the process, and thoughtlessly popping my index finger into my mouth to lick off the honey. I don't know if he noticed. Don't, I told myself. Behave!

I tried.

My mind rebelled for a moment, reminding me that he was as interested as I. All I needed to do was put my knee to his or daringly put my foot on the seat next to him. Once in the car, if I wanted to, I could squeeze his thigh, my nails telling him that it was so much more then a friendly touch...

Need versus want. Want connotes choice; need denies it. Need demands that one act, while want offers a choice and the option to wait. Need comes from something missing, an absence.

Want comes from the recognition of desire, from the knowledge that having will possibly make life better. Different. In theory, anyway. Want can result in disaster, of course. What do I want? Need?  I once needed a man who would hold me at the right moments, let me cry and rant. I also needed someone who would, when I went too far into my spiral, tell me to get a grip. I escaped, grew up, and moved away. I found my confidence and my balance. My needs changed to wants.

Now I want a man to hold me at the right moments, to let me cry and rant. I want someone who will tell me to get my act together when my melodrama kicks in.  But, if no one is there, I can cry and keep myself together. When I feel like being a drama queen, I indulge.  I escaped, grew up, and moved away. My theme. I did those things because I wanted to, I decided that living in the middle of nowhere, where my mother was infamous, and my best friend disappeared but nobody talked about it, was not a life to condemn myself to. Want and need. Need and want. Thinking out loud on the electronic page. I wonder at the expressions that cross my face as I write this. Right now, I've a half-grin on my face, amused at the words I'm typing. Am I really saying this? Thinking this? And what will he think when he reads this? Perhaps such depth and curiosities are better saved for another day. It's been a long day and two glasses of wine are dulling my filter. Writing, rewriting, meetings, and clients... Tonight I'm home alone. I finally bought that convertible. Picked it up today.

I keep eyeing the keys.  

Friday, April 08, 2016

Chapter 30: Want and Need

Want does not imply need.  I don't need Liam to make my life whole or better.  I don't need him to take care of me.  I don't need him for anything.

So what's on the flip side?  The side of need?  What do I need?

Has "lonely" crossed your mind, readers?  Lonely for attention and affection?  I say little of what my life at home was like, of the not even to Rory.    Reed never knew that I found his account on the internet's innocuously named "friend finder."  Why should I have told him? There was, at the time, no way to "win" in this situation, no way to look like a woman who wasn't scorned and seeking revenge.

One morning, long ago, during the drive to work I almost confessed my loneliness to Reed.  The drive to work, though, left me cold, angry... wanting to retaliate.  I remember it too clearly.  All I wanted was to hold hands with him while we sat in traffic.  Just a squeeze of the hand.  Nothing more.  Half-asleep in the passenger seat, he didn't even indicate that he even noticed that I took his hand and squeezed.  When I did it twice, he moved his hand away.  I said nothing.  When I went to kiss him good-bye before going into work, he averted his eyes.

Why do I bother?
Liam was very easy to want. Shall I go on about his eyes and his hands? His arms? Should I tell you how I once spent my days trying not to look at him and let my emotions show? He wore jeans one day. Missed a belt loop in the back, though I didn't tell him. I liked it somehow; it made me think of his morning ritual and how rushed he always is because of his tendency to get up late.

We could have fit into each other's lives very easily under other circumstances, though I still think he would have gone into shock if he saw my version of home-maker.

Tomorrow morning, we have to work together. A client called, we need to meet with him. We'll go in early, do our job just like always.  But we won't steal a few minutes.  We won't take the longer route. We won't spend our private moments passionately necking.

Where was that going anyway?  Did he and I have a future?  Damned if I know.  Some days I think that I fled the room because there was noting else I could do.  I ran from him because I knew, unconsciously, that there was nothing more for us save for sex.

What happened since that night, you ask?  Nothing.  Nothing at all.

Wednesday, April 06, 2016

Chapter 29: Survival

What if I watched you watching me?  That's what you're doing, isn't it?  Watching me.  Waiting to see how the poorly drawn Meredith shapes her life.   Or perhaps you're waiting to see how I end it.  After all, I'm here, alone.  I'm adrift.  Aimless.

I can leave this room and return to my life.  I can leave it and move.  I'm good at running, you know.  Marvelous.  Do it all the time.  I ran from my childhood, from Reed, I ran from Liam.  Are you watching and thinking I'm a train wreck?  I don't mind.  I am, you know.  How could I be anything but a disaster in progress?  What if I told you this experiment in living is failing?  Would you laugh and say, "no kidding"?  It's true.  I'm failing.  I'm not the woman I'm creating on the page.  I'm a different Meredith, one who plays with time, stretching and folding it, twisting it to suit my own purposes.  If I was me, truly me, I'd be quite a different lead in my story.  The reasons I'm not me, though, as quite simple.  Actually, it's only one reason.  And, dear readers, I have no doubt that many of you can relate to this reason.

It's survival.

Nothing more.  Nothing less.  Survival.  Who doesn't know what it's like to swallow her words and say the scripted ones instead?  Who smiles when she would rather scream?  For that matter, who screams when she would rather not but knows it makes him feel good?

You're a liar if you say you don't know what I'm talking about.

Survival tonight comes in the form of one Mr. Daniels.  Jack, to be exact.  He and I have a lovely relationship, just a single shot and I'm much, much braver.  So brave that I'll even hit "publish" when I finish.  I'll return to work tomorrow, look Liam in the eye, and turn away.

Perhaps I'm not so much the train wreck as he is.  That would be a switch.  The man is unstable, not the woman.  The man makes the woman less certain, less sure.  Perhaps, without a man, I will be certain and sure and able.  Perhaps men are a socially constructed crutch, designed for us to lean on, designed to give us the illusion of being able to stand on our own...


Then again, perhaps I created that crutch myself, building it with blueprints drafted from years of watching Dakota ply her trade to pay the bills.  Men as so easy, she said to me.  A smile, a slight tilt of the head, a skirt hemmed just an inch shorter.  Let them think that they're protecting you from the big bad wolf.  Let them live the knight in shining armor complex, Merrie.  They get off on the fantasy, so why not give it to them?  You make out in the end, so what harm is there in playing the little girl lost and clinging to them in the bedroom?  Play to their egos, to their weaknesses, and you can have exactly what you want.

My mistake -- I think -- was wanting the wrong thing.  I wanted to be my own person, to prove that I was as good as not dependent upon.  Silly me.  No wonder my relationships failed.  I was trying to be a person.  Looking around this apartment, though, I have to wonder if perhaps there wasn't some mercenary wisdom in her words.  After all, they get what they want, and I get what I want.  Stripped down to the basic level of mutual trade, when one gets what she wants by giving what he wants, it would seem to be nothing more than an economic transaction.  A bartering of goods and services.

Three shots in.  My typing is still clean.  I can still walk without swaying.  Time for bed.  

Monday, April 04, 2016

Chapter 28: Dakota's Life Lessons

I remember watching my mother chat on the Internet. She kept a dozen men dangling after her, all of them hot for her and the promises she made. Some came to visit, most often others did not. Few stayed. She called it "auditioning." I called it "trolling." She would log on with some sexy little screen name and a profile guarenteed to bring the horny calling, then she'd chat with them... quizzing them on their interests and hobbies, sexual histories, and income.

"It makes dating so much easier, Merrie," she'd tell me on those rare occasions I merited notice. "I can weed out the losers much faster this way."

What I never understood was how cybersex helped her find men of virtue and large paychecks.
"If he's this needy now, imagine how easy it will be once I meet him." That was said one night as she prepared for her first date with a man I came to know as "Uncle" Walt, though by then I'd long-ago quit calling them "uncle."

"He's been on-line with me for the last three weeks, constantly talking about what we'll do when we finally meet. Dear Lord, Mer, if he's half as good in person as on-line, I might just marry him!"

She didn't. Not after she found out that he was exactly what he hadn't advertised in his profile. "I'll just have to be more careful," she said. "Perhaps hold out on the cyber-games until after I know they're really what they claim to be."

I pointed out that she was as dishonest as they were, which earned a crack across the face. I was only seventeen at the time, and slaps for "impertinence" weren't uncommon. It was the last time, however, that I bothered to point her duplicity out to her. What was the point? She'd been like this since she forced my father to leave.

"You can't trust men, Meredith. They do nothing but think with their cocks. All of them. Use them and leave. Don't get trapped like I did, married to that bastard you call a father. The son of a bitch doesn't even have the decency to send child support or try to see you." I'd heard that since I was eleven, since he walked out and -- for all intents and purposes -- vanished. She never knew, though, that I'd heard the argument that night, that I'd heard the obscene lies she concocted about him to make him leave so permanently.

She taught me a score of lessons, most of which I studiously ignored until now.

She knew how to tease and torment, how to keep them coming back for more. It's all I can do not to manipulate him with those same tricks. It would be easy, though... promise sexual acrobatics, tell him about what I want to do to him, talk about my fantasies at night when I'm alone in bed...

If I keep him panting for more, will I keep him? If I make promises, do I have to carry through right away?

The realization of my power, so much like my mother had, frightens me. Does this explain my life? My past decisions and relationships? Does this explain why men always seemed to be so determined to find their way into my bed? Am I really as much as she was in beauty or have I perfected illusion?

It's crossed my mind more then once, to send a racy e-mail or phone call, to drag him into the metaphorical water whether he wants to come or not. And, once he's in, can I pout and cry just so to make him believe that he jumped on his own will and not on my urging? Probably. He once said he's no desire to make me cry. Surely the right tears will work in my favor. Guilt and lust, tied together, are key... so claimed my mother.

Remember, Merrie, men want to believe that they're in charge. They want to believe that we're helpless little ornaments, depending on them for everything from a roof over our heads to the orgasms we have. If they think we need them, they can be made to believe they hurt us.

Don't ever need them. That way they can never hurt you. And, when you need to make them do what you want, use your body. If that fails, cry. God gave your those big green eyes, use them to your advantage. Quiver that lower lip and think about whatever you have to to bring tears to your eyes. Let them comfort you. It helps build the illusion that they're taking care of you.

Once upon a time, after that boy ruined the girl I was, I cried in his arms. In truth, I wanted to rail and scream, accuse and condemn, but at eighteen I was still too much my mother's daughter. If he comforted me, despite my being so unresponsive to his unwanted "affection," he wouldn't leave me. He didn't, you know. It took three months for the end to come; one brought about by me, not him.

That Christmas I went home alone, failing to bring him despite my mother's invitation. She was furious when she found out why I was alone. Girls like me did not break up with their boyfriends, particularly when the boyfriend was the best-looking man on campus. Girls like me were supposed to use boys like him to advantage, to attract older students -- or even professors. Girls like me, she screamed, worked their way up the social ladder... they didn't jump off into oblivion and let some other bitch have that rung, for God's sake.

Before school ended that May, I found a small apartment near the university and a job that paid most of the bills. I found that I could live without cable and that walking to work was healthy.

I never went home again.

Now, staring at my computer all of these nights, I often found myself thinking about what I could say to bring this good man to me, and how to make him think it his decision.

Saturday, April 02, 2016

Chapter 27: Family

Aunt Geenie married her own demon, a brutal man ten years her senior who believed in the stereotyped woman of the 1940s. Under his guiding hand, she learned how to mix a perfect martini within minutes and have it ready when he came through the front door. When he suffered a heart attack one morning after twenty-odd years of martinis and dinner on the table to five, she made up her mind.

"I knew if I called the ambulance right away, they'd be here in minutes," I heard her confide at his funeral. "So I decided to do my hair first. Harry would never have forgiven me for letting them in if I didn't look my best. He always did demand that I present the right image, given our station in life."

The relative tsk'd sympathetically and squeezed Geenie's hand. I was five at the time and small for my age, neither one saw me sitting behind the flowers that were heaped around his casket. I was pretending that I lived in a magical forest.

"It didn't take that long to finish my hair, but I guess it was too long for him. The paramedics said that he was gone by the time they arrived." Geenie sighed and the relative tsk'd again. "They asked if I wanted to go along in the ambulance, but I declined. He was dead, after all."

"What are you going to do now?"

"I'm going to go on, of course. Why, I bought my first pair of slacks yesterday. Harry never let me to wear them. He said that women's legs were made to be looked at. I tell you, Ethel, they are liberating. I'm going to wear them tomorrow to the burial!"

It wasn't until years later that I understood the full story.

What is it that makes some of us bounce while others shatter? What made her bitter and Rory resilient? And as my life moves toward some inevitable denouement, will I find that shattering is my only option? Or will I be stronger then that?

Will I again go home to my childhood this summer for some duty-riddled visit? Or will I make a new "home" with Rory and her family? She's invited me to spend time with her and husband and their new baby on Memorial Day weekend.  They're having a picnic with a few dozen friends and relatives.  Her newly-single cousin will be there, she hinted, as will other relatives that I know reasonably well. I don't have to seek out the Brooks or the McKenzie families to find "family."

We humans make our own family, I'm learning. We do not have to rely on blood connections. Who cares who beget whom, who married whom, and why people who hate each other insist on gathering together for the sake of "family."

Growing up, before my mother became the complete pariah that she did, the brood would gather at Geenie and Harry's for Christmas and Easter. We children knew nothing of the dynamics or undercurrents; we did nothing but play happily. We never noticed that Geenie would ignore my mother, that Harry would refuse to acknowledge his brother-in-law, and that various aunts and uncles would never be in the same room at the same time. Gifts were perfunctory, chosen to out-do the other. The more expensive and extensive the better. Never mind that they were unwanted and useless.

After Harry died, Geenie cancelled the parties.

That was the end of the gatherings, for no one took up where she left off. Why bother? No one liked anyone else. How could they, given various relatives' penchant for stirring up problems running gossip from one family member to the next?

I have cousins that I haven't seen in years, aunts and uncles who would not recognize me if we tripped on each other, and a myriad of relatives who remember me -- I'm sure -- only as Dakota's troublesome daughter.

My brother Stephen still can't figure out why I would want to be single. Silly me for confiding in him. He takes after our uncle in that respect: I should have a husband who pays the bills.  Worse, once I have him I should keep my mouth shut, have babies, and get an occasional screw.

I'm not sure where this post is going today, readers. It's a meandering one, it seems. Perhaps I'll figure it out later.