Have you ever fought a sentence? Rolled with over in your mind? Screamed for it to say ‘uncle?’ All because you didn’t want it to be true, to allow its natural progression point. You thought you could send it away or veer it in another direction. But it returns. It haunts you because the words are no longer in your control, rather creating themselves and hoping to be captured.
She reminded me of a girl I grew up with back in Glenwood. She had a slight overbite and her mouth hung half open even while relaxing. Tall and skinny, she pushed her pelvis forward and slouched her shoulders. Her breasts sagged and she spoke with her hands: long, slender fingers that had an awkward quality to them, unnaturally flexing and tightening along with the words.
She couldn’t have been much older than me, and she flashed a big diamond ring every time she wrapped her arms around her new husband. She hugged him around the middle, clinged to his side, feared he might step away for just a few moments and forget her name. They were newlyweds because they were young and insecure. Her gazes met his with a hint of overwhelming fear as he chatted up the woman behind the register. The woman would let out a big belly laugh, and the new wife would hide her scowl. She’d probably make him guess what was on her mind as he would undoubtedly follow her stomps from room to room in their small apartment where the insecurities hatch and become raging fears that are temporarily fixed with sex and pitiful reassurances.
While they loaded their cart with trash cans and ice tea dispensers, I was in the middle of negotiations with a man in Lincoln. We had been texting one another the last few hours about his desire to sleep with me and my history of declining those requests. However, this evening I was in no such hurry to close doors. He proposed that he would come to me, trek some 60 miles just to get in my pants only to be pushed out the door in the morning to make that same journey home. I saw no problem with this.
“Shit when” … His response was predictable to my terms and I texted him to be at my door around 10 that evening. I shoved the phone into my front pocket and began loading my groceries onto the conveyer while the new wife waited for the clerk to ring up their total charges. Her husband was cracking jokes about his inability to make decisions without his wife’s permission, and she sighed before adjusting her feet to display a more relaxed stance. It didn’t fit her naturally awkward frame. She rattled her long fingers on the credit card machine indicating her annoyance. The laughing woman noticed, too.
I typically shopped alone, crossing off items on my list while humming RHCP songs and resisting the urge to show off embarrassing dance moves. I found mixed company annoying during such trips. I shop for food late at night after I’ve worked 8 hours and fought the urge to pull into a McDonald’s drive-thru. I don’t have to deal with idealistic dreamers who throw a half dozen boxes of cereal into my cart or beg for Gushers and Fruit Roll-ups. I also don’t have to engage in winded debates with rigid shoppers who discuss quality differences between bacon and prosciutto or the benefits of soy milk. Conversations are limited and I never have to justify purchasing an exorbitant amount of Banquet meals or boxed wine.
While arranging my groceries on the conveyer, I noticed my purchases projected a certain statement about my living situation: single woman. Amid the boxes of tampons and scented soaps were frozen dinners for one and more ice cream and alcohol than necessary for one human being to consume. I threw in a couple of gossip magazines to complete my displayed life in case anyone else was actually paying attention.
The newlyweds differed greatly from me. They had purchased trinkets and knick knacks for their new home. They smiled and bragged about new towels and linens. Things came in pairs like their matching coffee mugs in case they forgot they were a couple while drinking their coffee. They were annoyingly cute. Fresh out of college, they still wore football tees and apologized in baby voices. Her mousey brown hair and doe eyes matched her worried voice as she dictated how their bags should be arranged in the cart. He did as he we was told, even looked satisfied that he had someone to guide him through such endeavors. Perhaps, for the new husband, the world was scarier without her.
My phone vibrated in my pocket, no doubt confirming my specified time.
“Hmm shit can u come get from da bus station tonight baby then lol” … I shook my head and put the phone back into my pocket. While the laughing clerk scanned my items I tried to figure out if I was more annoyed with his request, his designated pet name for me, or his lack of effort with the English language. The latter two carry their own weight in any situation, and I lingered on a late night drive down to the bus station in which I’d pick up a man for an evening of casual sex only to have to return him to that same bus stop in the morning. He’d probably call me baby the entire time, too.
I felt sick, my stomach turning at the notion of being touched. And there it was: that creeping feeling that I was somehow not witty, not alluring, and not profoundly different. These negotiations were too often a biting stalemate: moves, one after the other, being made with similar results, ends which served no purpose and had no meaning. What was the point in sleeping with this man? To feel better? To feel worthy of my own womanhood?
Another body to keep me warm, another man to feign interest in as he pursues, another night and I’m tired once again, my mind wasted and the questions continue rolling out of my mouth – another vibration in my pocket and I reach inside to quiet it.
“Catch that!” The laughing clerk became serious and angry as the yogurt carton tumbled to the ground and cracked open. It had slipped from her grasp when she had reached over to scan it and now it lay broken in a splattered mess on the linoleum. Slowly I lowered my legs down to the ground and carefully gathered up the broken plastic in my hands. I handed the carton to the clerk and offered to clean up the mess with the roll of paper towels she already had waiting. She sharply declined my offer and instructed me to wait right where I was.
She was angry with me for not making a move, for holding up the line that was full of people who also looked angry. I felt my body stiffen as I tried to relax, as awkward as the new wife who stood in this spot before me. I tried folding my arms before placing my hands on my hips. They, too, became awkward under this pressure to remain in this spot, to wait. The phone vibrated again in my pocket and I pretended no such phone existed as I watched the woman clean up the spilled yogurt, her hands angrily ripping the paper from its roll, thrusting forward, pounding on the linoleum. I wondered if her hands would be bruised later.
I also wondered if married couples had to deal with these incidents while grocery shopping. When the clerk yelled, “Catch that!” would the husband have bounded past the cart and leapt through the air to catch the falling yogurt, like a wide receiver diving for that perfect spiral? Would the other shoppers have cheered in unison at such a feat while his wife gave him a big congratulatory kiss and butt slap? Or would she have scowled because he listened to the clerk and not her? Would she have added this incident to the list of reasons to stomp around their apartment while he tried to read her mind?
The vibrating would not stop as I quickly paid the clerk and avoided eye contact, leaving the scene as fast as my short legs would carry me. Even a simple “thank you” may have been enough words for her to swear vengeance upon my lack of obedience or punch me in the nose. As I rolled my cart through the parking lot toward my car, I checked my noisy phone. He had left short messages indicating his lack of patience toward my silence, but showing an even stronger interest in wanting to see me that night.
I didn’t want to drive to the bus station late that evening just for sex. He may be willing to travel several miles for it, but I won’t even go across town for a morning I would dread. I was tired of the same prey, the draw no longer plausible, and before I loaded my groceries into my car I texted him with short directness, “Actually, I change my mind. I don’t want to do this.” I closed the phone and threw it into my purse, hoping the next time I searched for it I would only find emptiness. The vibrations would cease.
Maybe the newlyweds wouldn’t argue tonight as well. Instead, he’ll crack jokes about when they first started dating and how awkward yet charming she was. Maybe she had spilled something on her blouse, upsetting her at the time, but he found it all the more endearing. He’ll reminisce and she’ll grow calm, realizing that an argument is unnecessary. The man married her after all. I thought of this as I drove back to my house. It was already dark, and the headlights multiplied as I continued westward. It was going to be a busy Friday night in the city, like any other Friday night in any part of the world, I imagine.
My decision carried no weight in my gut as I pretended my phone no longer existed. It wasn’t like those mornings when I would worry that this was the life I had wanted, yet slowly began to hate. I didn’t wonder if I had made a wrong turn somewhere along the way, got lost amid the lights and the glowing advertising and the empty promises. There was no fear behind my choices, not like before. Maybe, for the newlyweds, life was less scary because they have one another. I don’t have a husband or a boyfriend or even a friend with benefits to make life less scary. Venturing into the night alone with my hands firm on the wheel, it was just me.
What happened to the days where a young lady could get drunk in peace on her stoop on a lovely Sunday evening? Hello, Senor Crackhead, wandering in my alleyway gabbing away on a cell phone about how you need $25 to turn on your cell phone… that you’re talking into… please don’t stab me.
Today, while quoting a hot shot for a customer, he decided to make a Star Trek reference saying, “Beam me up, Scotty.” He also thought my name was Scotty. At this I decide to open my mouth for argument because it’s just so much fun.
Me: Did you know that in the series and the movies, Kirk actually never says, “Beam me up, Scotty.” He says, “Beam us up, Scotty,” and “Beam them out of there, Scotty,” but never refers to himself needing a solo beam up from Scotty.
Customer: That can’t be right. How do you know that?
Me: It was actually made popular by a bumper sticker.
Customer: You sound way too cool to be a trekkie.
Me: Actually, Star Trek fans hate being referred to as “trekkies.” They are “trekkers.” But, yes, I am pretty cool.
Customer: … I like John Wayne.
Later, when my night was just about wrapped up, a fellow coworker decides to give me a death stare, childishly believing I would back down. Instead, I raised my right arm and commenced a Darth Vader death grip, choking him into unconsciousness with my mind before heading out into the evening for some dinner and TBBT Season 3.