Sticks and Bones

The first part of a chronicle of a crush-turned-obsession. I'm sorry, Julie.

To experience this in natural reading order go to A Bright, Ironic Hell: The Straight Read .

Also, try Satellite Dance and Crystal Delusions--Parts 2 and 3, respectively--complete.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Damned Lucky Cat! (7/25/08 Friday)

A few days from the pen and paper. I felt it was making me too expectant of "results," news to relate. I’ve had enough stress about this whole thing without straining further just to have something to write about. That said. ...

Wednesday night, on my way, home, I rose from the handlebars, placed my palms together and supplicated the stars, "Please let me have an hour on the desk with Julie!" and chuckled. But there it was on the schedule the next day, the last hour of the night. I spent most of that day from the point of the schedule discovery alternately plotting my conversation points for that hour and throwing the plans away with the admonishment, "Chill out. Don’t force anything." I finally compromised a couple hours before the "date" with one question I knew would get her talking. The hour before I went out there my stomach was a boiling knot. I felt like I hadn’t eaten all day. I got out there first to stake a claim to the second seat, from which I could both watch the incoming patrons and steal glances at Julie under that pretext.

When Julie came out I stifled a comment noting how long it had been since we’d been out there together, and let her settle in a few minutes. At a quiet point with no approaching patrons I said, "So, how is Nigel doing?" From under a knitted brow and squinted eyes, she echoed, but with heavy stress on her cat’s name, "How is Nigel doing?" with probably much the same puzzlement she elicited from me a few weeks earlier when she came out of left field with Joe’s magazine comment. I was slightly abashed at her reaction, having struggled with the appropriateness of the question, though deciding that it was little different than asking about one’s children, and that decision overrode my trepidation and kept my face from registering the former reaction.

It was the right question, though I had to follow it quickly with a more specific question when I could tell she didn’t know quite where to start with the first one. "Is he still terrorizing his housemate?" I’d remembered her telling me months ago about how Nigel occasionally badgered her mom’s cat. "Oh, yeah," she answered, and expounded on his character–a mischievous but loving "lap kitty"–and even attempted to recreate his "squeak." I listened, enraptured not with her words but with her being, marveling at the smoothness of her face, the smallness of her nose, the slimness of her lips, and the slender lengths of her fingers. Oh, I heard every word. I found out quite a bit about Julie’s cat, and just a little about Julie. It was a glorious hour.

But it was not my only shining moment that day. Julie’s shirt was predominantly red. I said to her, "I’ve noticed that you’ve worn hot colors all week." "Have I?" she replied, and stood in thought, trying to recall her attire of the previous three days. I helped her with one, having to describe the turned up cuffs. She finally had them straight and had to defer Tuesday, when she wore maroon–-"But close," she said. I said, "I thought you might have been in sympathy with the weather." "Oh, no," she said, "just whatever was available." Was she flattered by my noticing what she’d worn all week? I could at least tell she wasn’t creeped out. Will she think of me tomorrow when she dresses for work? Which way will she go? and should I let her know I notice? For once, the questions don’t burn with serious possibilities, but bubble with playful speculation.

At Least Not Before I Draw a Moustache on the Mona Lisa (7/21/08 Monday)

I wasn’t sure what kind of attitude I’d have at work today toward Julie, and that was how I wanted it. No strategy. I decided (yes, a strategy) early in the weekend not to fash myself over it too much and try as best I could to just take it as it came, so Sunday was more than bearable. I decided, also, that I wouldn’t write Sunday, give the neurosis a break.

On my desk this morning was a large gift bag full of Cadfael paperbacks, I laughed and sought out Julie. I found her packing mail, on the floor with the Gayton bin. "Thank you for the Cadfael," I told her bowed head. She looked up and smiled, but looked slightly disoriented. Her mouth opened, but it was a moment before words came out. "Oh. Well, it turned out they weren’t so hard to find. And I thought, ‘I’ll show him.’" "Oh, no," I said, with genuine, guilt, "I didn’t mean to goad you into it," but I was flattered, too, though not so much as amused with her declaration. She then spoke of her need to cull her collection and the difficulty of getting over-attached to her books, but she stopped herself, embarrassed, perhaps, for thinking she was boring me. As I left her she called, "Now, you know I want those books back. I’m just lending them to you." "Oh, I know. The pretty gift bag didn’t fool me." She laughed. What a nice start to the day.

I packed the mail later and looked at the Gayton bin Julie’d been packing. It was as tight and flat as a sealed box. First chance I got I told her, "That Gayton bin is a work of art." I never saw a bigger smile on her face, and I swear her eyes actually twinkled. I continued, "I started to put another book in there, but I just couldn’t. It’s what I hope to attain every time I pack the mail." It wasn’t so thick; I meant every word. She said, slightly abashed, "I’m pretty anal, especially about packing the bins. You’ve probably noticed that by now." I had, but I let it ride. That was the third time I’d heard her refer to herself that way, and it hurt a little to know she thought of herself that way. She may have joked, but it was not something she liked being reminded of.

I’ve not really had a conversation with Julie, when I think about it. I haven’t followed her comments with much more than quips, not built upon them with insight or clarifying questions. I’m still scripting myself, trying to elicit a rise and being satisfied with that small success. I need to listen with not myself in mind, but with the speaker’s words (for this is not a problem limited to my talk with Julie). When Julie trailed off talking about her books, I knew how she felt–boring, lacking confidence in both the content of her speech and the attention of her audience. I’ve been there, go there every day.

Patton, Rommel, Burn (7/20/08 Sunday)

Weekends are the worst. I have two days to reflect on my interaction with Julie, and as I’m my own worst critic, I don’t come out smelling very good. Thursday, my strategy was to not have a strategy; yesterday was quite the opposite, with the planned question. I’ve been depressed about that since, because I’m more convinced than ever that I’ve become transparent, and not in the manner in which I wanted my affections exposed. I’m trying too hard, I know. I over-think everything.

There was a time when this was fun, but I’ve become desperate for some sign from Julie. I try to remember that this isn’t about winning Julie, but to do that I need to focus on what this actually is about. I haven’t, yet, a clue. I need some perspective beyond myself. The secret must be spread. I’ll ask Stacey how I can tell Gay-Lynn and how discreet she thinks Chris can be. Gay-Lynn, especially, I expect to be a very strong, active advocate. It would thrill her no end, I’m sure, and I actually think it would charge her creatively. Without doubt, with my permission she would take this on as a mission and would perform it with great discretion. So, it appears that my best strategy is to leave the strategy to someone else. I’m feeling better. If only I could get Friday off my mind.

Population: Me (7/19/08 Saturday)

Not what I’d call a Good Julie Day today. No desk time together, not even in the workroom together at any hour. And the "pointed" question seemed to have not just fallen flat but backfired. "Shortly after you left last night," I said, leaning "casually" against a book cart "I got to wondering why you bothered looking up that book." She took a few steps toward me, stopped, and said, looking away to the right, "I just couldn’t believe we didn’t have it, that’s all." Her tone, I inferred, was that of one appeasing a paranoid. I didn’t help, probably, when I explained about the missing subtitle. I felt, and must have seemed, defensive. She moved past me to look at the schedule, saying behind her, "It wasn’t that I didn’t trust you or anything like that." "Oh, I know," I said, and in an attempt to prove it continued with, "I just thought you were trying to save yourself some work this weekend." Feigning (I hope) hurt, she said, "Oh, thanks a lot," and left for the front desk. I felt the fool, of course, and during that hour vowed to apologize for "impugning her character," though I hadn’t truly felt I had, but was clutching at character redemption. I knew she would say it was "nothing," at which I would say, "I know, but I need to salve my conscience." Even if I could have made that sound like a joke, though, I probably could not have helped but reveal my insecurity. I had to let it go. Not that I have. I just didn’t let on to Julie. Believe me, it’s still grinding my gears. I think today I may have crossed into Creepy Guy Country.

I hit the liquor store after work. I felt like a bottle of whisky. My birthday whisky didn’t make it halfway to the next one. With trepidation I bought a small one– a little sampler–of The Glenlivet for Julie. I thought, then, of sneaking it into her desk drawer on Monday. A calmer head has already prevailed. Tell me that wouldn’t have blown my cover! Apparently, I’m still apologizing. I got myself a bottle of Scapa. I’m still thinking I’ll give the little bottle to her, but on her birthday, and in the guise of Robert Carlyle ("Bobby C."), with a Gaelic salutation of "Slainte mhor!" I have time to find out "Happy Birthday" in Gaelic.

Two Wheels Good (7/18/08 Friday)

Today was a short day with Julie, but I made the most of it, engaging her in conversation within seconds of seeing her. Some well-minded soul had checked out our only book on bike commuting, and returned the 25-year-old paperback in pieces, the glue having turned to dust. This is the kind of thing that lands on my desk for repair, but I’m often simply the agent of refuse, and this was, without doubt, my role with this book. I flipped through it to see just how pathetically archaic it was and landed on a photograph of an "adequate safety helmet" that was in fact none of the above–more of an open-topped, padded hat. Julie was on backup, a few feet from my desk, discharging mail. I walked over and showed her the picture, which appeared to amuse her to the same extent it did me. (There was my day made already!) She remarked on the paucity of such information in our system with a lament of her own regarding cycling-trail books. "Oh," she added, "I got my bike back. I can finally ride it." "Yay!" I said. Agee’s was the third shop she’d taken it to just to tune up the gears. Joe did me right in that respect, anyway, if he couldn’t put in a good word for me with Julie. Maybe my recommendation put a few points on my side of the board.

I didn’t see much more of Julie before five, when she was to leave, but just before then, while I was at backup, she stood over the neighboring terminal to do a search. "Hey, Dion?" she called. "Yes?" I stood and came over. She said, "I thought you’d said we didn’t have this in the system, that you’d have to get it from Richmond." I looked at the screen: One Corpse Too Many, the second Cadfael book. "I thought we hadn’t." I’d checked the catalog the day before, but not knowing the title I looked it up under Ellis Peters and was dependent upon the subtitle designating its ordinal number in the series. This title had no such designation. Thinking I’d have to go into town to get it, I asked Julie if I could borrow it from her library, instead. She had no qualms in lending it to me; however, she had to find it in still-packed boxes from her move-in with her mom. "Give me a few days," she said, "and if I don’t find it by then, go ahead and get it from Richmond." That was Monday. Wednesday, at lunch, I sit across from her at the table and pulled out a book, The Acid House by Irvine Welsh. "Before I start this book, Julie: Do you have a book for me?" "No, I don’t," she replied, in a voice sagging with apology. "You know, I started to look for it last night–-I thought I knew where it was. Now I’m not so sure. That’s going to be my Saturday project."

It wasn’t until she left, with that smile and a wiggle-fingered wave, that I began to wonder why she was looking the book up, especially as she was about to leave. I will ask her pointedly tomorrow. I hope we get some time together on the desk. It seems a very long time since the last.

Still Perfect on the No-Point Shot (7/17 Thursday)

I was wrong about Julie’s schedule, though not for being misinformed. Tammy forgot Julie was switching to Thursday nights and put her down for Wednesday. So I had a full day with Julie. I may even have scored a point or two. Puzzled, I asked Julie about her schedule. She explained about the mix-up and offered, unbidden, the reason she was switching: to take class. "What class?" I asked. "Oh, the one I’ve been trying to take for ever." Before she told me what that was, I said, "Web design?" "Yeah," she said, though with a disappointing absence of appreciation for my memory of a months-old detail. In February, I think it was, we had to attend a circ meeting at Dumbarton. Julie and I were scheduled to go at the same time, essentially to assure me a ride there. She told me on the way–-I’m not sure now why-–about her career plans, which included learning web design and working for an online music publication (a specific one, but the name didn’t stick). I remember being disappointed that she wanted to leave the library, but that came from a kind of envy of her ambition and my feelings of inadequacy–-that the job I was doing, though I liked it, was only good enough for me; that others found it wanting. I was not feeling a loss of a friend, much less of a companion.

What happened in the meantime?

Double Threat (7/16/08 Wednesday)

I feel much better this morning, with a longer sleep, but not wholly reconciled to yesterday’s mood. I have a better feeling about today. I woke and went immediately to washing the dishes, something I would normally have left on a Wednesday morning till I come back from dropping the clothes in the washer across the street. Shortly thereafter a knock sounded on my back door. A maintenance man informed me that my water heater and the floor underneath it were to be replaced very shortly. I asked him if I had time for a shower. With his foot he closed a cock on a pipe and said, "Yeah, a short, quick one." Five minutes later I was out of the shower I wouldn’t have taken for another two hours. So, I’m well ahead on my day, which will now not press on me so hard as it nears time to get to work.

But what of the day with Julie? It will be a short one, she working early and I late, but I must use it to what advantage I can find–-without creeping her out. My best strategy, I realize, is no strategy. My head has proven no match for my heart in territory in which it interlopes. If only they would talk to each other, these brothers in me. ... If only Head didn’t cow Heart with rationale and strategy and Heart kindly and dumbly acquiesce to every idea simply because it hasn’t one of its own. ... Head suffers from the burden as heart suffers its own unrequited needs because of its timid inaction. How to level this playing field? Not with an imbalance on the other end (not that I could do that without too much of the Fool’s help). In the balance is my self.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

SAG (7/15/08 Tuesday)

An angry, angry day. Five hours of sleep is a good starting point for one of those, but that was not the entire problem. I don't know what I dreamt, but by the time I woke I had all but confirmed that Julie had no feelings for me, so--poof! Sullen Aloof Guy--emphasis on the Sullen. I was contentious with patrons, in a low-level, snobbish way, looking for a fight. The result, to my surprise, was submission. I guess a jerk who knows his job is an authority to listen to. I grudged everyone a smile today, except Julie, though I essentially ignored her when I could. It felt good to be angry, though, as if it focused me, on what I don't know. I wanted a fight, a catharsis, but by four o'clock I hadn't gotten either one and was angrier than ever. All day I was daring people to ask me what's wrong, but my anger seemed to distance me even from people with whom I normally converse. Mike didn't speak to me at all during our hour together on the front desk, and Bethany only ventured to ask if I needed time at our shared workroom desk. I responded only with a shake of my head.

What am I angry about? My ineffectuality? The frustration of all this happening in the last place I can allow it to? I'm thrashing to get out of these binds, but they just get tighter. If I were less sensitive I'd tell Julie how I feel about her and suffer the consequences, good or bad. But how could I do that as who I am?

Julion (7/14/08 Monday)

I'm killing myself. Julie's not doing it, I am. I just can't do this. Everybody I saw and spoke with--co-workers, the clerk at the grocery store, even patrons!--I wanted desperately to tell about this crush, this PROBLEM! I want help with it, advice, an advocate to talk to Julie--I don't know. The Fool doesn't give a damn for the Wise Man's words; he'll just beat him till he can't talk anymore. What a fool I feel already, staring at Julie, grinning whenever she looks at me. I'm becoming the Creepy Guy! And tomorrow, because I was that guy today, I'll be Sullen Aloof Guy. When the hell am I going to be me? Somebody else has to be told. Gay-Lynn. She's always been a cheerleader, and can be trusted to be discreet. Maybe I'll get Stacey to tell her. I don't know what will come of this; for once, I'm not thinking ahead, pondering the variables, concocting scenarios--I simply feel it has to be done. I will feel better for it, is all I know. I'll at least have a support group. I feel better already, having a plan, of sorts. That still doesn't help me with my daily behavior, but Gay-Lynn can likely be counted on for some meaningful advice or philosophy.

Humor--hah! The joke's on me. Reading what Julie reads, watching what she watches, listening to music she likes--am I trying to get to know her or to be her? I want to know what she wants; I want to know her failures, her sadness, her triumphs, what makes her happy--all those things I will never find out reading Cadfael and listening to Trashcan Sinatras. My empathy might be misdirected, but I feel she's in pain. I don't know her age (though I could easily find out) and don't want to know before she tells me herself, but she's not far off my own, maybe a little younger. I don't know if she's been married. I find it very hard to believe she hasn't. She may be somewhat shy, but she's no wallflower. I can't be the first guy she's struck dumb, though maybe also not the first to be cowed by her slate-blue eyes and her blazing smile. (Maybe I'm not even the first guy to strain to express her unique beauty.) Julie fascinates me, and something tells me that that's the bottom line, the origin of my feelings of her.

Well, look: Here I am, at eleven p.m., having just had some coffee, knowing full well how sensitive I am to caffeine, not caring how late I might yet be up, because I can't stop thinking about Julie, and I have to try to express it, let it out, or I'll just dream fitfully about her. Besides, the less sleep, the less dreaming.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

The Toaster Gag'll Have 'Em Rolling (7/13/08 Sunday)

As hard as I think I'm trying, I probably am not very subtle.  C'mon, someone has to see it, this crush.  Someone's bound to notice my vanity, anyway.  Boy, when I feel attractive I can't help but swagger, drag myself around loose-limbed, chest out, swinging my legs from the hips, landing more heavily on the right foot than the left (what in high school we referred to as a "pimp").  Geez, I don't want to come off arrogant.  What has Julie noticed?  If I've expressed nothing else to her, I've made my confusion pretty clear.  What have my actions told her?  The mixed signals continue apace as I alternate between full-throttle and full-stop, between solicitousness and ignore-ance.  I want her to know me.  How can she, when I make each move only after a complex rationalization based on its specualtive efficacy?  I'm afraid to be wholly genuine.  How could she like the real me?  But how could I be anything else but honest and still have a meaningful, lasting relationship?  I keep telling myself this will all look very funny from the wrong end of the telescope of time, but that's only if it works.

I have to keep my humor; that's all there is to it.  All my convoluted psychological machinations--aren't they all just one huge ironic joke?  I have a crush on a girl, I can't tell her; I want her to know, but I don't; I want her to have a crush on me, but not just yet.  If I'm not playing to my own sense of humor, I'm just torturing myself--and I already know I'm doing that, so why not loosen up and laugh at myself, instead of agonizing over the prospect of doing or saying the "wrong thing"?  I'm madly infatuated with a beautiful, fascinating woman with whom I have much in common.  What could be more natural?  Or maddening?

The Ears Have It (7/12/08 Saturday)

Ah! Let me just get that out of the way.

I'm finding myself more comfortable with Julie every day, and I think she feels the same with me. Nearly every time she hoves into speaking range I find something to say to her, about the littlest things--the pick list, this book or that patron--and no longer in such a premeditated, rehearsed way, but in a more natural, spontaneous way than I do with most anyone else.

Today's mission started as the search for her earlobes: I couldn't recall if I'd ever seen earrings on her and was determined to notice today. Julie adorns herself sparely--a silver ring she doesn't always wear--and her makeup seems to consist only of black pencil around the eye and mascara. Her ears, it turned out (or at least the one I saw) were accoutred accordingly with the thinnest and smallest of metal hoops--whether gold or silver I couldn't determine in the shadow her hair.

That mission accomplished, the importance of the day turned to simply making the most of the time I'd get with Julie. That started off strangely enough with the first thing she said to me: "So, Dion, I hear you liked to read magazines in ninth-grade English class." My brain instantaneously transformed into a knot. A cupped hand to my temple, massaging, I sputtered, "Wha-huh-what?" until my lips froze puckered, about to say "What?" again but feeling desperately close to stroking out from the incomputable input. "Where is that coming from?" finally issued intelligibly from my lips. Julie said, "Joe Kauffmann told me you used to read magazines in English class in the ninth grade." I'd recommended Joe to her to fix her bike. On the way into work I'd seen the bike rack on the back of the car. Everything fit together now--my brain no longer hurt--but that was a cruel thing to do to a guy first thing in the morning. Also not the most flattering memory he could have recounted to the woman I'm so desperate to impress.

But it sparked two more conversations, if they could be called that, brief as they were. When Julie returned from lunch I said, "Julie, I have to know: Is that the best thing Joe could say of me?" "Well, he just said you two go back a long way." "But that. ... I don't remember that myself." "Maybe you need to talk to him." "I do."

At the end of the day, as we filed out the back door, I asked her if Joe had given her an idea when her bike would be ready. She said he told her he was a little backed up, but she wasn't concerned, as she couldn't get it before Thursday, anyway. "I've gotta talk to him," I said as I fumbled for my sunglasses. "He's really done my legacy a disservice." She seemed quite amused by that, or at least by the cumulative harping on the subject.

"Hey, Dion! Over here." Maddux, with whom I'd ridden in. I'd strolled past the car with Julie toward her car. I hastily said goodbye to Julie and immediately began to wonder if I was getting obvious. Somebody's bound to be able to tell by now. Not Tammy; she didn't schedule me and Julie anywhere near each other all day. But I did manage to eat all my lunch.

Vanity, First Name Dion (7/11/08 Friday)

Ironed a t-shirt for work tomorrow.  I'll be sure to coordinate my underwear with it in the morning.  Oh, and I soaked my feet and sanded my calluses to make them worthy of display from my new sandals.