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.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Date? What Date? (9/29/08 Monday)

Rolled out of bed, into Stacey's car, and off to work on just a couple hours sleep--no time to eat breakfast or make lunch. Julie was in her car when we pulled in beside her. I looked over, took a deep breath. Stacey said, "It'll be okay." It helped, but I still felt as if I'd slipped back a few months. I was afraid to see her, to have to talk to her, my resolve to start again on a different footing dissolving. I was getting angry with myself. But I turned and offered "Good morning," and we three walked in together, Stacey in the middle engaging Julie in conversation about their next possible hike. At the coffee shop Julie had invited me hiking with them, as a friendly gesture. I'd told Stacey such that evening. I think now she was bringing up hiking for my benefit, to contrive to get Julie and me together again.

Julie showed no signs of awkwardness toward me during the day, and no sign at all that she had been even the least affected by our get-together Saturday, if she, indeed, even remembered it. We shared the desk at eleven, and I thought I'd playfully remind her. I said, "So, how was your weekend?" She didn't turn when she said, "Oh, it was good. My new great-niece was born Saturday, so that made it pretty nice."

Did I hear crickets? Did she just pass right over our two hours together? Who is this? How many of her are there? Wow. Not even an ironic nod to my intimation. And the conversation continued in the usual Julie fashion, wherein I prompt her with a question or two, and she talks about herself. No thought of me, not even token reciprocation. Not a complaint, mind--that's just how she is; that is, no different than if we had only ever conversed at work. That's my complaint. This woman seems to have compartments within compartments. The complexity of her emotional defenses is beginning to frighten me. What is the pain that requires such partitioning? The task I've set before myself is now even more daunting.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Soundtrack to a Train Wreck (9/28/08 Sunday)

Well, it happened.

The day began an hour or so before daylight, when I awoke gently chiding myself for negative thoughts. I no longer had to beat down those thoughts; I had tamed them and could amuse myself with their occasional presence, like pets. But there seemed nothing to do about the giddiness of anticipation. Breakfast disappeared from my stomach the moment it disappeared from my bowl. A banana and yogurt did the same. As I ate I listened to music:

Beating of Hearts
Love on a Farmboy's Wages
Great Fire
When You're Near Me I Have Difficulty
Mayor of Simpleton
I Don't Mind
Everybody's Happy Nowadays
Why Can't I Touch It?

I went to the grocery store. I ate. I went to Agee's for a part, bought some bike shoes, too. Ate. Showered. Still that hole in my gut. Listened to more music:

The Thrill of It All
All I Want Is You
Out of the Blue
A Really Good Time
No Matter What
Burning with Optimism's Flames
Sgt. Rock (Is Going to Help Me)

Packed the change of clothes and left, later than I had wanted to, a mile up the road before realizing I'd forgotten the belt. Did not turn around.

Adrenaline pushed me hard for a while, and my mind's monologue distracted me from the effort. After I turned onto MacArthur I released the handlebars and tried to relax my arms and shoulders. But as I rolled onto the sidewalk in front of the shop I saw Julie's car in the lot. I tried to shrug it off. The physical action was a lie to the emotional. She was at the counter when I walked in, dressed very casually, in jeans and blue-gray t-shirt with off-white collar. A pang of alarm twisted my gut over the inference to her attitude toward this meeting. Still, I had a line: As I came aside her I leaned over close and said, low, "Pretend you didn't see me." I heard a chuckle as I continued to the restroom.

I muttered as I dressed, my humor ebbing as I staunched the ride's sweat with paper towels. Because I was hot I forewent the t-shirt, but even with the shirt I felt ridiculously overdressed. Who was there to impress at this point, but with the pathetic transparency of my effort to impress? When I emerged Julie was still at the counter. I said, "What are you getting?"

"Oh, I've paid for it already." I was irked by her inference, but didn't try to clear up the misunderstanding. She was handed two cups and walked away. I ordered an iced spiced chai and walked to the table she'd chosen, at the end of the counter. She sat facing me, back to the wall. I hung my satchel full of sweaty bike clothes on the back of the facing chair and said, "Are you early or am I late?"

"I think I got here a few minutes early."

"That wasn't part of the plan," I said with mock (I hope) ruefulness. She asked how long it had taken me, how far I'd come. I estimated nine miles and forty-five minutes. It was already the kind of conversation I didn't want. I paid for my chai and overtipped. I never put money in a tip jar; thirty percent makes up for a least a couple omissions.

Julie had gotten the same drink (the other cup was ice water), and that sustained the chitchat for a couple seconds. The first few minutes were spent dancing against the silence. Julie contributed more than I did, as I was girding for my proclamation. I stroked the condensation on my clear plastic cup with pincers of the thumb and middle finger of my left hand.

"Julie," I said, watching those fingers reach the table. I raised my gaze to her eyes. "At the risk of embarrassing at least one of us, I have to tell you that, the reason I asked you out is because you fascinate me, and I want to get to know you better, in a way that I can't at work."

Julie blushed deeply, but for a moment--an endless, ominous moment--the expectant smile did not waver, the eyes did not blink, the head did not turn. I was seeing the shadow of the hammer over my head. Finally, she turned to her left and dipped her head. Her smile widened, her eyes nearly disappearing behind the still-red cheeks. I grasped for uplift from that image but saw in it the sand under the icing.

"Gosh, Dion,I don't know what to say." But then she looked at me. Her tongue darted to moisten her lips. She said, "Dion, you're a really great guy"--Oh, please! Not the "great guy" line!--"but I really don't think this can go any farther than this." She may have added "I'm sorry," but she needn't have, given the look of pity on her face. I don't know what she may have said because I was reeling. I never took my eyes from hers, but the thudding of my heart was shaking my vision.

I said, "Okay." I pursed my lips, shrugged shoulders and eyebrows, and looked away. Water welled on the far side of my left eye. What was that? I didn't feel like crying, though in a fleeting welter of self-pity I gazed into and across a black chasm of loneliness stretching to the end of my days. But I wasn't going to jump in just yet. I looked out the plate-glass window at nothing.

Julie said, "I hate having to say that."

"It's how you feel," I said, without conviction or eye contact, staring now at the ziploc bags of loose tea hanging from the slat stand beside us.

Quietly, as if to herself, or to the stand in line with her vision, with a flattered wonder she said, "I don't know what you could find so fascinating about me."

If I'd ever actually tried to pinpoint that for my own edification, I couldn't have expressed it now to the least degree. Instead, my mind did what my face didn't dare, and smirked--a cruel, self-pitying smirk--thinking, "Would it do me any good to tell you?" I looked at her.

She said, "It's just that I believe that there are two ways of getting to know someone: by working with them or by living with them. That doesn't mean we can't still hang out."

"But I'm not me at work," I protested, "especially around you." I'd looked away, but I heard a sound of amusement. I threw a hand past my face to dismiss my attitude. This was not a healthy direction. I looked briefly her way before resting on my cup. "Well," I said to her, "now that I've made everything awkward..." and laughed with an insincere self-deprecation.

But those five minutes stretched to nearly two hours, despite my taking every opportunity to break down this belief of hers. The logic just didn't work. I was becoming more determined to bring down her walls than to plead my case. Yet Julie seemed just as determined to keep the battlements intact, and she seemed much better drilled in her defensive maneuvers than I in my attack. Her prowess at deflection bordered on sleight of hand. I can't even give an example, it was so subtle. But I never let small talk get too good a hold on the proceedings. She came back from the restroom and told me there was a private room for reserve back there.

"Hm," I said. "About this theory of yours--not that I'm challenging you--"

"Yes, you are."

"Yes, I am," I admitted immediately, quietly thrilled that she would call me out on that. But I continued. This was becoming something of a chase through a maze: I'd lose her if her voice didn't betray her bearing. I had to keep her talking on this point; she'd have to lead me to her self eventually. "But how can you really get to know someone at work? It's such a contrived setting."

"True, but you see how people work together, their interaction with one another."

"But that's such a small part of anyone. No one is the same at work as they are outside it. Seems like a lot of extrapolating going on."

"Well, here's an example: Marion."

"What about her?"

"She was a control freak. Couldn't you tell?"

"Of course. From day one."

"You learned that from working with her."

"Sure, but that's easy. How does one get to know you at work?"

(Activate deflector.)

Later, I tried, "You strike me as very guarded."

She stared an instant before saying, "Guarded? I am guarded."

"How do I get past that? Do you ever let it down?"

"I don't know. There are things about me even my mother doesn't know."

Here I slipped, not asking for an example--not that she'd have given me one, but I might just have gotten a glimpse into the courtyard of the fortress. Instead, I said, "Well, there's plenty my parents don't know about me, too."

"I guess that's just who I am."

"Well, I accept that there are some things about ourselves that we have to accept, but is that really something you have to accept about yourself? Do you like being that way?"

"Well, not always." She turned her head and was quiet. I backed off, a little ashamed at having pushed in, then twisted the dagger.

During another challenge she said, regarding her previously stated affections toward me, "If I change my mind, I'll let you be the first to know."

"You know," I said, "I don't believe you would tell anyone, even me, if you changed your mind." I didn't smile. She didn't reply.

The time to part came. When Julie reached behind her for the purse slung over her chair and said, "Well," I said, "Oh, no," and she laughed. It was an awkward parting. I walked her to her car. She said, "See you bright and early Monday morning," and I inwardly lamented the speed at which she'd reverted to polite detachment. She'd started to slip into the car when she stopped and straightened. "Oh," she said, "I had a really good time." "I did, too," I replied,"except for a few details." It was meant as a playful dig to show I was okay with the "rejection," but I think it came off sounding like the first cork popped at my pity party. An exchange of good-byes and a "Have a safe ride home" from Julie and I went back to the restroom.

Initially, the ride home was marked with a pronounced absence of that gut-twisting stew of regret and self-doubt. I felt I'd done all I could, laid it all out on the table. But then I began seeing the missed opportunities to chip at her walls with a bigger chisel and heavier hammer. Then I reallized that this had very likely been my only shot at this, the only intense one-on-one that I might ever have with Julie. I didn't kid myself that she would even want to do this again, given the grilling and the likelihood of more of the same. I didn't miss her kneading her shoulder.

But the real sand in my craw was the implication of her statement about getting to know someone: What was it about me at work that she used to rule me out of her affections? It's a question I could never ask, not the least because I didn't want to know the answer. There is no pleading a case without loss of dignity, especially a case that can't be won, and if I can't retain respect I'll never get a second day in court.

So I was very angry when I got home. The rest of the weekend (it's now Monday morning) has seen a fluctuation of moods from that anger to acceptance to resolve. I'm not angry with Julie--I find myself incapable of that--in fact, maybe I'm no longer angry at all. I respect and accept Julie's feelings as her own and valid--to a point. My resolve is to continue challenging her theory, but in much subtler ways. You see, my fascination with Julie grew at least ten-fold Saturday afternoon, and I'm more determined than ever to get to know her, to swim that moat and smote those thick walls of hers to dust. Perhaps this is not fair to my heart, this new tortuous pursuit taken up on the heels of the last. Perhaps it's less my heart than my head that wants this. Most likely I don't care which is the case. Delusion or not, I want to believe it's my heart leading the way, and maybe by believing that I can learn to believe in my heart's ability to guide me safely to success. It's what I want.

Prep Talk (9/26/08 Friday)

So, it's going to happen. Of course I'm excited and nervous, but I'm not psyching myself out of this. I won't dwell on the parting this evening that buried my head in my hands for the duration of the trip back, but on "Yes, I would!" I don't care that it's likely to rain tomorrow. What's to care about at this point but showing up on time? And, believe me, I'll beat her there by at least twenty minutes--time enough to change and primp in the coffe shop bathroom. It's happening!

I took out Hinckley and Stacey tonight to show my appreciation and get one last pep talk. Stacey set up my outfit, which I really was stuck on, though it was Hinckley who asked what I'd be wearing. Stacey said I had to wear what she called my "ass pants," a particular pair of jeans, and my new red shirt that was a hit last Thursday at work. (I just this moment had to jump to my closet to confirm that it was here and not in my work locker. Phew!) She also suggested I wear a brown t-shirt underneath. (I'll try to refrain from telling Julie Stacey dressed me.) So I'm feeling great about that.

I walked Hinckley home after dinner--Stacey was going to watch the debate with Chris--and he likened himself to a coach as he pumped me up. But no empty platitudes here; everything he said was heart-felt, relevant, and spot-on. Before dinner I had been dreading the end of the evening, when I would be home alone, brooding, trying not to scheme; but I'm buoyant, almost ready to go--not quite ready to scream, "Bring it on!" but maybe a good night's sleep will get me the rest of the way.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Out with the Cat, In with the Elephant (9/23/08 Tuesday)

Today was hardly better, just shorter due to the contrasting shifts. She said, "Hi, Dion," and I said, "Hi, Julie," and that was the extent of our conversation over the four-and-a-half hours of our mutual presence in the building. (Tomorrow may be the same, for the same reason, in reverse.)

I began to think about things to talk about Saturday after we'd set it up, but the strategizing seemed as pointless as ever. I decided, then, that I would simply be honest: "Julie, you fascinate me, and I'd like to get to know you better." That is all I'm sure I'll say, and it's enough. If that doesn't lower her guard, well, I can say I gave it my best shot. But I'm not going to walk away without her knowing how I feel. I've pussyfooted long enough. For a few days yet, anyway.

Om Mane Padme Dolt (9/22/08 Monday)

The interminable week ends, the interminable week begins. It was a horrible, spastic dance of avoidance most of the day, and I was angry for the duration. I simply didn't know how to face her or what to say to her. I greet her sheepishly from behind in the morning and get a "Hi. Welcome back" in return, and suddenly I'm nearly furious. What did I expect? a leap into my arms? I got better than I gave, I guess. What the hell kind of greeting did I give her? No confidence. There was no confidence at all in my manner. But, dammit, she said yes. Did I expect her to change her mind in the meantime? So this is neurosis! Give me strength--and confidence, and common sense. Oh, to "burn with optimism's flame"!

But the day did finally end and we did set a day and time. The last hour of the day Julie had the pick list and my hour was open. I was at such loose ends waiting for her to get to the quiet and secluded upstairs that I fixed a Captain Underpants book, which is normally shortlisted for the trashcan. At a quarter to five I just couldn't wait any longer for her to get upstairs. I found her cart in children's amid a cauldron of kids. I spun around looking for Julie. On my second rotation I spotted her approaching, books in arms, pencil in teeth. I somehow understood her to say "Who are you looking for?" but made her say it again, to stall for time and to hear it again from her pencil-barred mouth. "You," I said. "Oh?" she said. "What about?" Slowly, holding her gaze, I said, "About a bit of non-work-related business." She smiled. "Oh. Can you wait till five?" "Yep," I said as casually as I could, considering I suddenly felt very stupid for interrupting her while she was so busy, and immediately turned away and walked off.

I went straight to Hinckley, on his dinner break upstairs with a newspaper in the back of the non-fiction. It was my second visit of the hour. The first was to let him know of my intent and my ill confidence toward it. Essentially, he reminded me that she had agreed to go out with me. Somehow it made much more difference than the few thousand times I've told myself. Did I say I lacked confidence? This time up I told him about my encounter, and he gave me another boost. Am I the boxer to his trainer? or the Tom Hanks to his Rob Reiner in Sleepless in Seattle?

Five o'clock finally came--and then five after, then ten after before Julie found me sitting in front of the lockers by the back door. I expected her to be on her way out when she was ready to talk to me. She wasn't. Suddenly, again I was feeling indulged. I stood, but my six-inch advantage didn't make me feel any more in control. Luckily, I had formulated an apology to open with, and actually got it said: "I'm sorry I accosted you, but my patience and resolve were skating together on thin ice." She appreciated that with a laugh, but didn't speak. "So," I said, "how full is your dance card this weekend?" "Well, I'm pretty much free the whole weekend. I have homework, but that's a given." Here is where I should have made a suggestion for her approval, instead of, "Well, what would work best for you?" "Saturday, I guess. Is Saturday okay?" Dammit! My line! "Yeah, that works for me." "Okay!" She seemed to think we were done, but I didn't return her smile, but raised my eyebrows expectantly. "And..." I said. "What about...." "The time," she finished. I didn't help her out this time, and I could tell it was another mistake. She thought a moment. "One o'clock?" That was disappointingly late, but I accepted it with at least the satisfaction of finality.

So the date is set. Hardly the red-letter day the 12th was, but a lot closer to really happening. Now I just have to hold it together one day at a time, to remember that looseness I felt the rest of the day after "Yes, I would." This is nothing to be tense about. See if that stops me. Where's my mantra now?

That's "At", Not "With" (9/20/08 Saturday)

Now is the need to stay cool Monday and not attack Julie to firm up plans for our first date. (Yes, I'm calling it that, and unironically, too. Isn't that what I've always meant it to be?) Not that I've a clue as to how to accomplish that, but the Gang is creeping in again. If I ever needed meditation, this would be the time. I'm of the mind that what I need most of all is to laugh at myself and the absurdity of what I've been putting myself through. That could probably be accomplished reading this journal. Hmm.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Cloud One (9/18/08 Friday)

It was gelato night, as usual. I walked up early to make sure the shop wouldn't close before Stacey got there from work. The only other company would be Chris; Hinckley bowed out. For that reason I wasn't very excited. I wanted someone else there along with Stacey who was in on the Julie thing. Stacey said yesterday she'd ask Julie, but Julie had never come, though asked, before, and today's refusal was hardly surprising. It was hard to talk about dating, a subject high on Chris' mind, when he included me in his circle of trolling singles. Stacey and I both dropped a stack of hints in his lap, but he never picked them up. My neck is a knot.

Stacey says she's been dying to talk to Julie about my asking her out but doesn't know how to broach the subject. It would seem natural enough that I would tell Stacey about it; there's no secret she's my friend. I wonder if Julie has told anyone. I came home depressed.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Next Birthday, a Centerfold (9/09/08 Tuesday)

I just barely survived Julie’s birthday with my mind, stomach, and dignity intact. Sleep the night preceding could hardly have been called that if not for the dreaming of sitting naked beside a path in a park that seemed to become more urban as I sat there, tour buses passing behind me so close I could hear a lady complaining (at me? I wondered) about an appalling sight. I woke with head and neck aches, likely from endless thrashing and general restiveness. By the time Julie came in that afternoon I’d overcome the aches and the concomitant sour mood to be the first to wish her a happy birthday, to which she responded with cheery gratitude. That was where my day peaked. The Roxy Music quote on her card apparently fell flat–or she didn’t actually read it–and so I was just someone who didn’t sign her card.

I tried looking ahead on the schedule, but Tammy apparently decided that this would be the first week ever in which she doled out the schedules a day at a time. The only sure thing about tomorrow is that Julie and I will work opposite shifts again, making it unlikely–wait, impossible–that we’ll have a mutual desk hour. I just remembered that she’ll be leaving for Gayton at two and stay till four, after which she’s not likely to come back for an hour’s work. I get in at twelve-thirty, she goes to lunch at one, and I don’t see her the rest of the day.

Hinckley asked me if my "resolve was still strong." I didn’t hesitate to answer in the affirmative, though my less-than-emphatic delivery could not have been but so convincing.

And I'm Left Holding It (8/22/08 Friday)

I have considerably scaled back my hopes for Julie, if not entirely conceded defeat. I’m not on her radar, and couldn’t be. And here I am with a bag of Cadfael.

I decided first to just be friendly. It’s where a good relationship starts, anyway, right? Last night we spent the last hour on the desk. I didn’t ask her anything or make any personal observations aimed at eliciting conversation. It was an experiment in a way, and a resolve. Julie’s not averse to starting a conversation, except, I’ve noticed, with introverts. Put Tyger or Ahmed, Tammy or Becky in front of her, and she’s not unlikely to be the first to speak. She had nothing to say to me that hour, but when we left work she chatted up Tyger from her car as he geared up for his motorcycle. Angry tension wells in me now, my jaw clenching, muscles bunching in my neck. I’m sick with jealously and self-hatred.

And Just a Wee Dram More (9/17/08 Thursday)

A decent sleep last night--all the more so considering the task ahead of me. Tammy posted today's schedule last night, and I had a peek--several peeks--at it. None of those peeks revealed an advantageous time to ask Julie the big question--no desk together, and, generally, nowhere near each other all day. Yesterday I never saw her. Tomorrow? I can't count on the schedule being any kinder, any more than I can count on getting a preview of it.

I'm grateful for the night's sleep, because I could hardly be more nervous. Hell, I'm drinking whisky before ten in the morning. I'm obsessing over what to wear. And what to do till I leave for work--besides drink. I feel I should be amusing myself or physically working off the tension. Imagine if I'd been going this alone, without Mike or Stacey or Hinckley. I wouldn't be doing this at all but probably looking for another job just to get away from the whole situation. I'll never take another friend for granted. But "Everybody's Happy Nowadays" runs through my head, and I don't want to wallow in that. I don't want to think about love and life fulfillment--nothing so loftily hopeful, however positive. Hell, I don't want this situation, but here it is, and it's not a bad one but for what my cowardice has imbued it with. How do I laugh at that, the cowardice? How do I remove its power, lower its self-importance? Whisky, whisky, and more whisky. That was a joke, but having to tell myself so is more than a little disconcerting.

Polishing the Sky (9/16/08 Tuesday)

So, I suppose I'm on Cloud Eight, but not for the sake of rhyme and affinity to the The Temptations' song will I say I'm feeling great. Great is better than fine, and I'm almost feeling fine, so I'm almost on Cloud Nine. I'm decidedly glad not to be at work--of course, not-working is great, but I'm glad not to be around Julie. Just let me bask in Friday's glow for a week, recall the gleaming face and glittering eyes saying, "Yes, I would," over and over. Let me not obsess over imagined ramifications of this word or that look. Let me stare out the window with an open book in my lap--but don't let me imagine too vividly our meeting-to-come. Just let me grin and sigh expansively.

Or Maybe It Means She's Got Me By the Short Hairs (9/15/08 Monday)

I recall a snippet of dream I had last night: Julie and I were walking toward a tall, black chain-link fence, on the other side of which was our destination. A gate at the end of a cinder path would be our entrance. Upon approach I noticed that a padlocked chain prevented our passage through that gate, which I noted out loud in mild lament. But Julie continued past me and through a break in the fence to the left of the gate. I hesitated, both pleased with her discovery and chagrined that I hadn't seen it. I'm sure this is significant. I believe it's telling me to follow her lead, but without hesitation or prideful questioning. And I do believe she is asking me to do that. When she said, "Think about it," I was frightened by her apparent nonchalance, but I've since interpreted it as a trust with the responsibility of keeping up with this ball I've started down the hill. It's a role ("roll") I will cherish and relish. It means getting out of, and staying out of, myself in order to stay attuned to her. It's an exciting challenge, the thought of which brings a smile to my face, and the execution of which I can already envision doing the same. This an outstanding opportunity to shed the obsessive thought and behavior that has been a hallmark of this endeavor.

D-Hour (9/13/08 Saturday)

It didn't happen Thursday. There just wasn't a natural chance. Hinckley pointed out to me that Julie and I shared a shelving hour at six, so I set my sights on that. It wasn't my ideal, stalking her in the stacks (Hinckley likened it to chasing down an ice cream truck), but I prepared myself with a negativity-chasing line from Gang of Four's "Guns Before Butter": "Just keep quiet, no room for doubt." I consciously triggered it whenever my imagination presented my mind's eye with, uh, less-than-optimum-case scenarios. The line played almost incessantly.

But by six Tammy had posted Friday's schedule, and there it was:
An hour on the desk with Julie! This was the hour!

I didn't sleep well, of course. I fitfully overslept the alarm and still found myself on the sofa ready to go with a half-hour to kill after breakfast before I set out for Hinckley's for the ride in. I watched an episode of Black Adder and trod off, nervous but happy and strong of resolve. It would happen today, before lunch (which I might not be able to eat). On the way in Hinckley pumped me up with his own ebullient confidence. After I walked in the door I don't know what I did before eleven, besides chant my mantra, which, by now, was able to trigger itself.

Julie was close on my heels as I made for the desk. Upon her offer of my choice of seats, I took the far one, for the aforementioned advantages. She immediately brought up her work email to check. I decided to wait until she would no longer be distracted. Between that and a few patrons, it was nearly half-past before I saw my chance, and I didn't hesitate. Turning to her, I said, "Julie?" My voice, to my own ears, sounded smooth and low. I was pleased with its timbre. "Yes," she replied before looking up at me. She was still sitting, I standing, leaning against the narrow counter between our stations. Her eyes grabbed me, held me softly in their expectation, as if knowing what I was about to say. I nearly forgot the only words I'd scripted for the moment, but I pushed through, ignoring all doubt--without the help of the mantra. "Would you...consider...meeting me...somewhere, sometime...for a cup of tea, say?" Briefly, as I struggled to recall the right words, I lost eye contact, but regained it as I finished the last word. Without hesitation, she replied, "Yes, I would." "Oh, good," I said, as if fireworks hadn't just exploded in my chest. "Mmm," she murmured, "tea." "I have a favorite place," I told her, straightening bookmarks on the ledge between us and grinding a shoe-toe into the carpet. "Stir Crazy on MacArthur." She knew where it was, but when I asked her if she could do it the next day, she cited a family visit and homework. "Give me a couple hours," she said, "to think about it."

Hinckley was our backup. The moment Julie became occupied with a patron I stole to his station. Making sure only he could see me, I pumped a fist and mouthed "Yes!" and turned back to the desk. I felt no nerves whatsoever around Julie, and she seemed a bit less reserved herself, even asking me a couple questions on the desk. But it wasn't until we had left the building at the end of the day that we were alone together again. Hinckley discreetly continued to the car as I hung back to hold the door for Julie, the last one out. "So," I said, "is it going to happen tomorrow?" "No," she replied, reiterating her obligations. I didn't conceal my disappointment. "We could do it Sunday," she offered. "No," I said, "we can't. I'll have the kids." "Do you have them every weekend?" "Yeah. Saturday evening to Sunday evening." "Oh." By the time we got to her car, we'd established that the next work week was out. "What about Friday? You're off then, " I said. She replied, "I'm going out of town." I threw my head back and puffed a great sigh. Julie offered consolation to the effect of "It'll happen." "I know, but it took me so long--both fists pumping with each word--"just to get up the nerve to do this!" and I laughed at the sky. Julie had a laugh, too. "Well," she said, "think about it," and slid toward the car door. "Okay," I said. "See ya." "See ya."

So, here I am, two weekends and a work week from Julie, and at least another week from a "date." I suppose I'm glad I'm off next week: It might seem a cruel tease to work with her all week knowing there was no pot of gold at the end of it. But I did it, didn't I? Finally, after nearly four months of self-imposed torment. And, you know what? It was worth it!

And to the Academy, God, and My Mother (9/07/08 Sunday)

Tomorrow brings Julie back, as well as my anxiety, which, given my mission for the week, just might reach a new apex. I’m still chanting the mantra, but I can’t do that in my sleep, where my anxiety runs free and gleeful. I rarely look at the next day’s schedule (it’s hard enough to remember two hours in a row), but I don’t know that I can stop myself from peeking at tomorrow. I’d better not, though; that would smell of planning. Frankly, I just want to go out to the desk on my turn and find Julie as my company, and let me ask her what I need to ask her. I suppose I can make my own opportunity–but there’s that smell again. What if the natural opportunity doesn’t arise? After all, I’m not giving myself a very big window to get through, waiting till the last two days. Maybe I won’t wait that long. I need to be open to the chance all week–without actively looking for it. Will I recognize it? Will I disguise it with an excuse? Ah, but I obsess.

Hinckley has expressed great confidence in my ultimate resolve. I don’t know how genuinely he feels that way, but I’ll take it as cheerleading at least. He says he’s really excited for me, and that I believe. I told him of my intention for the week before I told Stacey. In fact he joined me and Stacey for gelato after work to make sure I told her and that he would be there for it. His enthusiasm is touching and inspiring. I feel almost as if I were doing this for him. Maybe that’s not a bad way to think about it: If I felt I were doing this for someone else, then I would feel better about doing it, as if I were coming out of myself to get something done for someone else, putting my own needs on the back burner. Sure: I’ll dedicate this effort to Hinckley.

No Toasters or Guns, Either (9/04/08 Thursday)

Julie’s absence has not been so hard as I expected. For the sake of drama, I muster an occasional heavy sigh at work, but besides the pining I'm mostly free of tension but for thoughts of what I must do when she gets back.

Hinckley has brought me to my senses. He sees no obstacle to my asking Julie out, and, when forced by that opinion to spin ‘round to his perspective, neither can I. Any obstacles there ever were were fabricated from cowardice. All this stratagem, all these inky words have been ladders against a wall of cloud. It makes no sense not to ask Julie out; it’s only wanting opportunity, in the path of which I must be assiduous in not building any obscurantive obstacles. I’d like to do it as near to the end of next week as possible, in order to more easily make my escape into my vacation–to lick the wounds of rejection more privately, should that dread contingency win out. But I haven’t planned for that. In fact, I’m doing my best to not plan at all, right down to openly admonishing myself with "No planning, no scenarios, no scripts" as a mantra against those imaginings that will creep in.

Romeo's Void (8/28/08 Thursday)

Julie’s last day before her vacation of more than a week, and I didn’t get an hour on the desk with her. I’ve known for nearly a month that this was coming up, and I’d wondered how I’d feel. I’d thought I might be relieved of the pressure to be "on" around her, but, right now, I feel very alone. Perhaps that will change over the course of the week, but I’m making no predictions. Added to the hurt is Stacey’s leaving for half of the next week. We’ve become closer since she moved over this way, and her friendship has become very important to me. Friends like her are very hard to find. I’ve never had a friend who would call me up, say, "I’m bored. You wanna watch a movie or play a game?" And we’d talk, about anything–growing up, relationships, our emotional pains and fears–all those things I want to talk about, want to trust someone with and be likewise trusted. She’s there, and I’m glad; and I’m sad she’ll be away, especially now.

Which One of You Two Is the Mirage? (8/04/08 Monday)

Stacey and Julie never went hiking, but I didn’t find that out till Stacey came into work at twelve-thirty. However, I did give Julie the whisky, in a mod little gift bag tufted with purple paper. I got it on her desk before she arrived–I can always count on Maddox to get us there early–then shakily changed out of my cycling togs in the bathroom. Changed, I checked the schedule: Julie on the desk, I with the pick list. So Julie was out of the workroom, and if I could get the pick list printed and get out there.... I wasn’t eager to see Julie; I was sure I’d done a stupid, inappropriate thing, and I didn’t want to be confronted with "What the hell is this about?" But I was still at my desk when Julie strode up to it and effused, "Thank you so much!" her eyes sparkling. "You didn’t have to do that. That was so nice of you!" I don’t think I managed to stammer a word, but just grinned, and probably blushed . "I’ll have to save this for a special occasion." I chuckled meekly. She’d reacted as I’d only dreamed she would, and I couldn’t have been more embarrassed about it. It was an excruciating day from that point on. I was trapped. I couldn’t speak to her, could barely look her in the eye. The jig is up, I told myself. The Fool has trumped the Wise Man.

Why I was believing this, I don’t know. Shouldn’t I have been high on that face she presented me? I went away with the pick list and cart glad that I hadn’t said something stupid, but each following minute brought a new charming rejoinder to Julie’s gratitude and a new regret for leaving it unspoken. I saw myself in her eyes as an awkward, developmentally arrested dolt that she couldn’t possibly love. For most of the day I beat myself up like this.

Hallmarks of My Obsession (8/03/08 Sunday)

But then what? I prepared the card. The handwriting was sloppy. I hope it conveys casualness and not the truth–nervousness. What the hell am I doing? And what do I say when she confronts me with it? Hell, what is she going to say? I hope she doesn’t read as much into it as I’ve written into it. This seems a big step, but if I stopped seeing it that way, maybe she won’t see it that way. Whatever she says, or whatever I think she’s going to say, I’ll try not to script a list of responses. But, dammit, I can’t hide a blush, and that’s going to happen. I’ve already turned tomorrow into a nightmare.

Julie and Stacey are out together right now, hiking. Stacey promised me she’d be discreet and very low-key, that information-gathering would not be the point of the hike. Stacey and I were supposed to go pay rent together sometime this weekend. She didn’t call yesterday or Friday, so maybe it’ll happen tonight. I’m having trouble occupying my time since I read the last 120 pages of One Corpse Too Many. I did laundry this morning (something I never do on a Sunday) and took a route that took me in view of Stacey’s car, ostensibly to take advantage of the shade on the eastern sidewalk. Her car was there from eight to at least nine-thirty. I don’t know if Stacey was going to Julie’s or vice versa. It doesn’t matter, except to this obsessive, love-sick puppy. I could probably see her parking lot from here if I stepped out the back door.


I went back to the Hallmark and bought another card. Much better job, this time.

And Goodbye, Wise Man! (8/02/08 Saturday)

I told Mike after work Wednesday as he was dropping me off at my bike. My fears were unwarranted. Not only does he have no feelings for Julie, he’d been thinking that she and I might make a good match. He’s even eager to help me, though neither of us know in what form that assistance might take. He was touched that I would confide in him, and that touched me in turn.

The little bottle of Glenlivet will be on Julie’s desk Monday. No, the Fool has not beaten down the Wise Man, but maybe he has wised him up a touch. A conversation last week combined with one yesterday has given me all the incentive–and cover–I require to pull this off without setting off Julie’s alarms. During the first of these conversations Julie mentioned liking to buy those little bottles. This week I stepped into a conversation between her and Hinckley about liquor. He drew me into it as "the man to talk to about scotch." I told them both about the Scapa I’d bought; Julie bemoaned the selection at her nearest ABC store, and I told her where I got mine. At the end of the day I asked her if she was going to have a "wee dram tonight." "I would," she replied, "if I had some." Hello, Opportunity! Today I bought an inexpensive gift bag at the Hallmark, and as I was agonizing over which color paper to wrap the bottle in and stuff in the bag, I thought of asking for help, then began wondering how I would describe this gift: "More special to me than to her"; "Special, but I don’t want her to think that"; "For someone special to me who doesn’t know it and who I don’t want to know it, yet." Perhaps the act will decide, but what it decides will be more definitive than those options, make them moot or obsolete. On the card I’ll write, "Ye maun hae yer wee dram lass! Slainte mhór!" I won’t sign it; there’ll be no need.

Not Just LIKE Like Me (7/29/08 Tuesday)

I have to consider divesting myself of the Julie obsession. Regardless of whatever "signs" there are or aren’t pointing to her interest in me, I’ve been feeling such a fool that whatever impression I’m making can’t be good. What does she think of me?–and I don’t mean "Does she like me?" I mean, what am I like in her mind’s eye? As a person, as a coworker. Then, maybe, as a man. I used to be satisfied that, professionally, I’m about all I ever will be, but knowing that Julie strives for more is a disquieting consideration. For myself, I’m still satisfied, but for Julie, I fear, I’m not enough.

Julie and Stacey are going hiking Sunday. Stacey knows it’s something of a fact-finding mission, but I don’t want her to be burdened by it; nor do I want her to betray Julie’s confidence to me. Stacey and I will have to talk about it before the weekend.

Still I ache to tell someone else about the crush. I missed my chance at Gay-Lynn for two weeks. Chris would be fine to tell, but he’s just turned thirty, still too young, really, to fully empathize with my predicament; and I most need someone who can offer real advice and sympathy, and possibly even some active help. I judge everyone now by those standards, and nobody else seems to reach them. If I thought that to even the smallest degree it was safe to confide with anyone in my own department, I would tell Mike. For a long while today I considered Tammy. I even considered Julie herself for one insane moment, but decided I should keep the awkwardness to myself.

If Only I Had at Least Uno (7/26/08 Saturday)

Another weekend and–guess what?–another regret to stew over.

My lunches at work are pretty bland, and for a long time now they’ve begun with three boiled eggs. Julie entered the breakroom for water as I sat for lunch, the eggs on a paper towel before me. "Dion," she said, "I have a new nickname for you." "Oh, no," I said, knowing the eggs were somehow involved. "What’s that?" "Tres huevos." "Ugh," I groaned. "I knew it!" I was amused, though at the connotation she obviously hadn’t thought of, but before I could convey that, Judy, the only other person in the room, jumped in with an irrelevant and many-times-told anecdote that followed Julie out of the room. I vowed to have my say before we parted for the weekend, and I finally got my chance in the parking lot after work. "About that new nickname of mine...." "You mean," and she brandished it with a flourish. "Yes," I said, but instead of "You must be discreet with the company in which you use it," I continued haltingly, "You should be careful with it." "Be careful with it?" I could tell by her tone that she took me seriously. I was sunk. The scripted reply, "I can explain it away as a birth defect, but people might wonder how you could know" became "Yeah. Huevos is slang for cojones." She paused and said, "Yeah, you’re right." No laugh. We parted to separate vehicles. Can you believe the last word I spoke to her was "cojones"? Now if that isn’t worth denting the wall with my head....