Friday, November 16, 2012

No More Bungee Chords

He stares at his eyes in the mirror and wills them to go back to normal. He can’t stay in the bathroom forever. And he can’t leave it looking like this. Everyone in the office were close, and on some level they may even understand and have sympathy for him. But on another level if they could tell he was crying they would judge him and look down on him as weak. And what’s more, he would judge himself even more harshly for showing weakness in front of the employees. Maybe a few more minutes in the bathroom would do it.

He couldn’t believe the call had come. It had literally been one of those bolt out of the blue things. Well, maybe not completely out of the blue. After all he and Owen had been talking over the phone a lot lately. Some internal part of himself wanted to kick himself for not putting it all together sooner. And now Owen was moving up to the city and he would have no more excuses. He would have to face Owen. And talk to him.

He slipped out of the bathroom and made his way to his office, his eyes downcast at his phone as if reading an email. From the corner of his eye he saw one of the interns start a beeline towards him and he quickly slid the phone to his ear as if he had a call.

“Hello?” He waited a beat for the imaginary greeting from the imaginary caller, “Yes, I can get that to you by Tuesday, I think, let me check real quick.”

And then he ducked into his office and closed the door. And locked it. And slid along the grain of the wood until he was on the ground. At least the tears had stopped. Now it was just the pounding pain. He could call someone. Maybe Mick or Bane or Trevor. One of the guys. But he hadn’t seen any of them in a long time. And after the last time... well... maybe he wouldn’t call them after all.

“Rough day?” The familiar, gravely voice came from his chair faced out towards the window.

“Jesus! You nearly gave me a heart attack!” He gasped, quickly getting up and wiping his face.

Sal was the secretary for the whole office and had been since as long as anyone could remember. She was sitting there, looking up at him over the tops of her thick, black rimmed glasses. “Ha! You’re not even thirty yet! When you’re fifty we’ll talk about heart attacks.”

“Sorry, Sal. What do you want?” He straighten his tie.

“Well, I mean, I don’t want to bother you.” She rolled a pen up and down the desk with her flat palm, “Especially not if you’ve got stuff on your mind anyway.”

“I’m fine Sal.” He smoothed his hair and felt the mask settle in place again. Everything was fine. “What is it?”

“Well, you see.” And she began to tear up, “My cat died today. Mr. Tweedles. And I know I shouldn’t be crying about it... but it’s just been a rough week for me first with the car accident and the damages I have to pay and now this. I’m feeling overworked and overstressed and I think I might quit soon.”

He walked over and took her hand, “You’ll be fine. Just take it one step at a time and make it day by day.”

“You really think so?” She looked up at him with hopefull eyes. “Of course, a raise would make it all much easier for me. Especially with the payments.”

“Yes, well, we’d all like one, wouldn’t we. Now, better get going.” He motioned towards the door, “Phone’s aren’t going to answer themselves. But anytime you want to talk.”

“Thanks.” She said as she stepped out. “Even just talking made me feel better.”

He sat down at the desk and as she left she took the momentary distraction with her. And the pressure on his temples increased again, his skin on his skull feeling too tight. He massaged his head with his fingers. Options. He needed options.

He could tell Owen not to come. He could avoid the whole conversation. But Owen might come anyway. And then he’d be upset and even more likely to make a scene. Especially with Dahlia. And how would he even begin to explain Owen to Dahlia? Sorry, honey, remember when we took a break for six months? Well, while you were sleeping with that old rich guy I found someone else too. Meet Owen. That will go across well. Especially now that their relationship was finally back on track. He ran his fingers through his hair, wanting to pull it out by the roots.

“You’re way too nice.” It was McKenna, his intern, standing in the doorway, arms crossed, her lithe frame accented by the little black dress and high heels she was wearing.

“Oh, you mean about Sal?” He asked looked up as she sauntered in.

“I mean, for God’s sake, she’s a fifty-three year old woman. She should have her own life figured out enough by now not to have to come in here and complain about the small shit that we all have to deal with and waste your time.” McKenna may have been his unpaid intern but she was not the sort to be pushed around, and he liked that and let her speak her mind, most of the time. “I mean, look, do you honestly think you’re actually helping her?”

“No.” He said shaking his head, “But if I just let her crash and burn, you know how it all ends up. She has one of her fits and then we’re short a secretary for a week because she needs serious bedrest.”

“Right.” McKenna rolled her eyes, “Anyway, the boss sent a message. He wants you out at the upstate location tomorrow to oversee the new shipment personally.”

He groaned, “Thanks. Hey, you don’t wanna be Director for the day, do you?”

“Hmmm, only a day? Sounds fun.” She said winking as she walked out, making sure to swing her hips as much as she could, “Then again. There are lots of stuff that sound like fun.”

And again, as soon as she was out of the room the distraction was also gone and instantly he felt the quiver of fear at his core. He got out of his chair and walked over to the window, looking at his reflection in the glass. He remembered Lana. She always made fun of him for checking his hair in the glass. He had been thinking a lot about Lana lately. Which was not a good sign.

“I’m over you.” He whispered to himself and the ghost of their past.

They had been engaged. She had been his first love. And she had wanted to go to Australia. To live a wild and free life in the Outback as backpackers and migrant farm workers. And he kept telling her maybe, while secretly knowing that he would never. After she left he had told himself that it had been her fault. Her unrealistic comprehension of how the world worked. And maybe that was why it didn’t work with Dahlia either. Because while she was much more grounded she also had trouble dealing with how the real world worked. She had never even had a real job. And as he thought about it, the same was the problem with Owen. They had a one night stand and then Owen had started calling him. Saying he was in love with him. But Owen couldn’t tell the difference between love and lust. So really none of them had a firm grip on reality. He sighed as he leaned his forehead against the cool of the glass.

Did he just attract people like that? Was he just attracted to them? Was it that he was so grounded that they, with their wild and dreamer like personalities, were something refreshing and attractive? He groaned more, looking down at the cars zipping down the road below. Oblivious to the man groaning against the glass far above them. Maybe he was like those cars. Maybe he was oblivious. Maybe he was just as disconnected from reality as Lana and Dahlia and Owen were. He wouldn’t even be able to tell if he was, would he?

The phone rang. He caught his breath and held it. The caller ID was blocked. Which one of them would it be? Could he bare to talk to any of them? Maybe it would be Mick. That would be a godsend. He could really use someone to talk all of this out. But on the other hand it could be Dahlia. And he did not have the strength for another one of her mental breakdowns. She was ten times worse than Sal. He looked past the ringing phone at McKenna who leaned out of her cubicle and raised a manicured eyebrow at the ringing phone.

He nodded and walked over. His hand was above it. If it was Owen he would just tell him right now that there was nothing going to ever happen between them. That it had been a mistake. Not because he hadn’t enjoyed what they did, but because he wasn’t attracted to Owen as a person. Owen the person was a rat, always scurrying around for attention and sneaking things behind people’s backs because he didn’t trust them. Just describing Owen was exhausting. The phone kept ringing.

“PS Architects Incorporated.” Sal said in her answering voice. “Yes, the Director is in. One moment please.”

“Who is it?” He hissed at Sal, his hand over the receiver, ready to accept the transfer.

“Don’t know. Didn’t ask. Sorry.” She shrugged and hit the button.

“Hello––” Came the voice and he dropped the phone back into the cradle.

“Sal, if that person calls again, do me a favor and don’t answer it this time.” He seethed and then gave a pointed, “Please.”

Sal sniffed and turned back to her keyboard and tapped loudly on the keys with her four inch hot magenta fake nails. McKenna mimed typing behind Sal’s back, hacking at an invisible keyboard while pulling bored and snooty faces. He grinned at the two’s antics and stepped back into his office, shutting the door again.

He sat down in his chair and sighed. He felt like one of the drivers down on that road. One that had just looked up and realized there was a man staring down at him from the window in one of the buildings. He felt like he was looking into a mirror looking into a mirror and seeing the back of his head slowly emerge. A part of him he had someone never seen before even if he’d had it everyday and now it seemed so obvious. It wasn’t Owen or Dahlia or Lana. None of them were the problem. He was.

It had always been him. Because he wanted to change himself. Because he wanted be so rational. He fought himself into being rational. And being rational meant denying that wild and carefree side of himself. And that was what drove Lana away. And it had hurt so much, that he had retreated not only from irrationality but from love itself. And so when he and Dahlia had gone out he had not felt anything. And he had told himself it was because there was nothing. And so when they took their break it had all been fine to him. At least he had told himself that he was fine with it. But he hadn’t really been. He wanted people to like him. He wanted people to approve of him. That was why he had always changed himself. To be more rational. To be less emotional. But none of it seemed to work. And so when Owen had shown interest, there had been a part of him that had reacted to it. That wanted to be wanted. And so even though he hated Owen’s opinions and even though he hated Owen’s arrogance and even though he even hated Owen’s music, still he had spent that night with him. And was it Owen’s fault that he had shown interest? Was it Owen’s fault that he had stayed the night? Was it Owen’s fault that he had let Owen fall in love with him?

“So, what now?” He whispered and his breath fogged up the glass where his lips hovered inches above it, “How do I fix this?”

And as he spoke the words he felt the irony of it grip him. Because he wanted to change himself again. The very thing that had caused all of this. But then if he was not supposed to change himself  what then? Was he just supposed to be himself? But how? He’d changed himself time and time again and now he couldn’t tell what had been there originally and what hadn’t been there. So, would he just stay as he was right now? None of the answer seemed right to him. Because even if he just strove for the things that felt right, they may just feel right because they were familiar, not because they were actually right for him. And he had already proved that he had no compass for picking and choosing who he would be.

“What’s the use of having an epiphany about how much you suck as a person if you can’t do anything about it? What do I do now?” He sighed and as usual instead of thinking of some useful answer his brain thought about something random instead. About last summer.

Last summer when he still had his friends in his life. Last summer when they had gone bungee jumping. It had been the most thrilling and most frightening thing he had ever experienced. And after the first few jumps he had realized that he looked forward to the feeling of falling. Something Lana would have loved about him. There he was thinking of gaining her approval again. Did it never leave? But that feeling. That exhilarating feeling. Everything else fell away. And then there was just the sweet nothing of the free fall. He looked out at the cars passing below. He could do with letting everything fall away. He was about twelve stories up. He could really do with a solid, clean break. None of them. Leave Lana and Dahlia and Owen behind. Leave Sal and McKenna behind. No, McKenna was a smart one. She’d be leaving the firm soon. Leaving them all behind. And then he really wouldn’t have any reason left. Anything tying him down. No more bungee cord. As if reading his mind there was a knock on his door and McKenna peaked in.

“Hiya.” She stepped in and closed the door behind her, “So, yeah. I thought I’d let you know. Ben Johnson’s firm has offered me a position in junior management. I think I’m gonna take it.”

“Leaving us already.” He said with a smile that felt old and worn, “No surprise, though I don’t know what you’ll do without Sal to bother all day.”

She smiled, “So, did you want to grab dinner and maybe drinks after work? Since after five you officially won’t be my boss anymore.”

“Sure.” He smiled back at her and watched her figure slide out of the doorway.

No more bungee cord he thought to himself. He packed up his desk. Set all of his files for the night and left instructions for Sal for tomorrow morning. He undid his tie and felt a small breath squeeze past his collar and reach his lungs, the pounding in his head letting up.  And then he took a running start. The glass shattered around him, blossoming from the side of the building. The air was cold and sweet as it passed him. It was the thrill of the free fall. Everything else fell away. No more bungee cords.

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