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.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Well, Okay--Maybe a Sticky Note (10/31/08 Friday)

I transcribed a clean copy of the latest draft to hear again the words in my head and get a running start at the next paragraph. Then I stared out the window with slitted eyes and beetled brow for the better part of half an hour. I looked again at the last paragraph. Slowly, a grin both humble and smug stretched my face. I turned back to the first page and wrote at the top "The Work of Art and the Piece of Work." Then I had a good laugh, and I'm still having it. There it is in a nutshell, the definition of this entire endeavor--the attitude, the ridiculous futility, the irrational hope. The title was all of my original output of nearly three hours, yet I felt as productive afterwards as if I'd filled a book.

And If I Weren't Trying to Assemble It in the Dark (10/30/08 Thursday)

I may not be convinced of the letter's power to flush these emotional toxins, but I feel a more dire need than ever to complete it and give it a chance. Just when I think the torture can't get worse, I show up for work. I can't talk to Julie, I can barely look at her. Every day I determine to change that, but I look at her and can't believe that she's become yet more radiant than the day before, and that's all I want to say to her, so I'm struck dumb. If I ever had a grip, it's a flea sneeze from slipping clean off. I feel stupid on a gargantuan scale for being so overwrought over someone who feels nothing for me. I told Stacey tonight that I wished this was a real breakup, so I'd know the emotional investment hadn't been entirely mine. She said, "Unrequited love is always harder to deal with than breaking up from true love. Don't you think?" "I wouldn't know. I've never been in love." That saddened her terribly, which deepened my woe, but touched me, grasped me, pulled me from deeper despair. Sometimes I wonder how I still have friends, as taxing as I can be and so deeply in debt to them that I can't imagine repayment.

But the letter. Though it seems to be taking solid, cohesive shape, I feel I'm beginning to lose my voice to sentimentality and hope for what I know can never be mine.

Here are your books. If you asked why I was returning them, I probably only responded with a practical truth: that I felt I'd had them long enough and thought you might like them back--something like that. Another truth is that it allowed me to drop this letter on your doorstep, ring the bell and walk away.

I'm not writing to plead my case. I'm just talking to you, perhaps the way I'd hoped to at the coffee shop, only, this time, don't feel compelled to talk back. I'll still likely ask a lot of questions, but I'm only planting seeds; whatever grows will grow. Neither am I trying to dissuade you from your position. If anything, I'm trying to dissuade me from mine. That will take some doing. Just as I must accept your lack of reciprocation for my feelings for you, please appreciate that getting over you might take me a while. Seeing you five days out of the week doesn't help, but neither does being a one-choice man: I take my time making up my mind, but when I've determined what
I want I'm sure of it and am resistant to so much as consider an alternative, much less settle for it. But I could be wrong this time.

Do you remember me telling you that the trip to the coffee shop had been much longer than the literal miles and time? I also said I might tell you about it if you ever changed your mind. Well, that likelihood seems but a dim gleam in the eye of hope, so we'll stick a thumb out at the point where I asked you to meet me for tea. That should get us a ride to the first time you said, "I wondered why you asked me to meet you here." What I've been wondering since is how you addressed that wondering. Did "Julie, you fascinate me, and I'd like to get to know you better in a way I can't at work" take you entirely by surprise? If so, I hadn't been quite the Tom Sawyer to your Becky Thatcher that I thought I'd been.

When you said, "If I change my mind you'll be the first to know," I responded, "You know, I don't think you would." I'm sorry. That was unfair. It came from a bitter place. I'm sorry, too, for the stress I caused you that day. When you wouldn't lower your drawbridge, I tried to batter it down. But I only wanted in to look at your garden. How does the sun reach it?

What I won't apologize for is embarrassing you--not that I intended to do that (the first time). I was trying to strike a spark, and the fire in your cheeks proved me successful. (You can't take that from me!) But nothing I've ever said to you was flattery. Every word was how I felt (even about your bin-packing). I am truly fascinated with you--your beauty, your mystery, the depths you conceal, the Julie you hide and protect. I can, in time and in the ever-growing, obscuring face of reality, give up the idea of "us," but I'll never stop wondering about the Julie I'll never know. Be assured, though, that I will never again blow on your fire. I cannot assure you, however that I will not steal glances your way or outright stare at you. But it will be as at a work of art, something to appreciate, marvel at, ponder the meaning of. If it discomfits you, would you let me know?

I seem to be reaching, almost pleading, by the end, as if I really were talking to her, looking in her eyes for a sign of emotional life. I'm beginning to think it's not a bad thing. It's coming from a passion and genuine feeling. I have to let her know my feelings, as long as I don't ask for the same back--as long as I don't actually ask for anything at all of her that I truly expect her to answer. I'm feeling very far from finished, but much closer to having all the pieces laid out in front of me. Putting them together would be easy enough if I could just see them all and be sure none were missing.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Probably, If I Get It at Least as Drunk (10/29/08 Tuesday)

The latest draft has come much more easily, naturally and more confidently. I've found the voice; now I'm waiting for the words. The letter could almost end where it is, at about five hundred words, I've so sharply expressed myself; but I know there's more to say, and I want to give it time to surface in my mind. Confidence of purpose should aid my patience.

I have not been living in the minutiae of a Julie-day. Though I'm still hopeful of impressing her, as Tom Sawyer to Becky Thatcher, it's become more of a vestigial reflex than a conscious effort. When I discover the reflex I grimace and slap it away. My last conscious effort to elicit anything from Julie was made last Thurday, the night I lost my desk hour with Julie: I checked out a DVD to Inhouse for Julie to fix, and on the bottom of the slip, the part concealed in the case, I wrote "Fascinating!" Of course, there was no reaction. The letter will be the last of that sort of thing, and though I would hope it made some impression on her, I wouldn't expect to ever know what that was. Will knowing that I did what I had to do and did it thoroughly be enough to convince my heart that I'm over Julie?

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

With a Declaration of Undying Love, No Doubt (10/28/08 Tuesday)

The letter's coming very slowly. Here's about as far as I got with the first try:

It's funny, Julie: I almost have to agree with you. I wasn't attracted to you when I followed you outside at lunch our first day at Twin Hickory. I thought you were too young! (And you call yourself old!) No, I wanted to talk about Scotland. It was the first and last time you heard me babble. But I came to know you, at work, and the more I did the more attractive you became. How much more can I know you there? How much more attractive can you be to me?

Just as I must accept your lack of reciprocation, I believe you have little choice but to accept that getting over you will take me awhile--not the least because I don't really want to. Seeing you five days out of the week doesn't help, either. My fascination with you did not end during those first ten minutes at the coffee shop; it grew. You wondered aloud what I could find fascinating about you. I wish I could have expressed it. It's difficult even now, after so much reflection upon it. You fascinate me with your mystery, the depths of your concealment, the Julie you hide and protect. At the coffee shop I'd hoped you'd lower you drawbridge. I'm sorry I tried to batter it down. I didn't mean to try to storm your fortress; I just wanted to scale the wall and look at your garden. How does the sun reach it? I wondered. Another reason giving you up will not be easy is that I'm a one-choice man. I take my time making up my mind, but when I've decided what I want I'm sure of it and am resistant to so much as consider an alternative, much less settle for it. But I could be wrong this time.

Jumbled and pathetic, barely restrained from accusation. The second attempt is, so far, more naturally restrained and rational. It very nearly has a structure. Notecard, marginal scribbles, even recorded "notes to self" litter the sofa when I'm home, and the breakroom table at lunch at work. I'm impatient to get it done (I have a dread she'll ask for the books before I can give them to her), but determined to do it right. Those are only two of the warring factions. Hinckley says he's written one of these and it wasn't till he stopped trying--around the eighth draft--that he was able to pour it out exactly how he wanted it. We were interrupted before I could ask him how the recipient responded.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Now with Moebius Loop-de-Loops! (10/26/08 Sunday)

There is a new resolve, a fairer and more final resolve, not a cry-wolf resolve. Not a cute, passive, ironically hopeful resolve.

Julie will get her books back. Julie will not be grilled at the desk. The books will have no cards in them. There will be a letter of sorts, a long statement, actually, at the bottom of the "pretty gift bag". The tone of this statement will be unenmotional but not passive; not accusatory or defensive; respectful, not hopeful. Resigned? No, but not expectant. Questions, but no obligation to answer. The basket will be placed on her doorstep and I will turn my back and walk away, if with great reluctance and with a monumental force of will suppressing my urge to turn around. My statement will be that force, so it must be strong and complete, as strong as Julie's fortress, only not a defense. I will not push an agenda nor ever after do so. There will be no pity, for either of us, only respect.

But (here we go again), what do I hope to accomplish? I want to give Julie the basket and let her do whatever she likes with it; relieve the stress for her on the desk wondering how I'll embarrass her next. What will it do for me?--that is, that no other strategy has done for me. Can I really expect it to help me place some emotional distance between us a work? Or, rather, since she's achieved that already--indeed, never had to--can I hope to work with her without anxiety, look at her without longing, hear her voice without the knife in my gut? It's a giant order, even if I say eveything I need to say the way I want to say it and ask all the questions it's fair to ask, because Julie, I'm fairly certain, will not respond--to me. I will dangle. What will knowing she's read this letter do for--or to--me? Leave me suspended in hope, likely; not at all satisfied with having cleanly expressed myself. Here come the expectations!

I felt good when I began writing today. The roller coaster rides are getting faster.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

And Who Knows What the Hell the Name of the Game Is! (10/22/08)

I've never felt more desperately alone. I'm staring into that chasm, and I'm ready to step into the void. There's bound to be peace there. I don't want to give up on Julie. I can't admit what I know--that she'll never feel anything for me. Dammit, why do I have to feel anything for her? Why does she make it seem so goddamned easy? Why can't I take this like a fucking man? Because I'm not a man. I'm just a person out of his mind with frustration and bitterness because he can't have what he deserves and has no control over getting it. Women hold all the cards and the rule book, too. Nobody tell me about fairness!

No, That's Just the Flames of Hell (10/22/08 Wednesday)

Purpose. Resolution. Full circle. How far I've come. How far I've yet to go. Is that, actually, a light I see? Funny: To get what I want now is to lose what I really wanted. Irony--what could be crueler? Or could this resolution bring about the preferred resolution? Even the cynic in me doesn't want to see me hurt by that kind of hopefulness. Besides, it's irony in control of my life; irony decides what I'm to have. It would not give me what does not satisfy itself, only what will elicit from me a smirk of perverse appreciation for its power over me. It's my God, and I'm stuck with it. How quickly I move from resolve to resignation! They cannot be that far removed from one another. To resolve to do something is to be confident of its outcome. That confidence sees the outcome and is satisfied, becomes happily complacent. Resigned.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

If It Doesn't Fit, Force It (10/21/08 Tuesday)

I must insert my life between myself and Julie. What is that life? Where did it go? How can I again feel good about the thought of reading, something at which I've spent all of twenty minutes in the past week? What else do I have every day? Music has become a co-conspirator (enabler?) in this obsession; I can't listen to what doesn't remind me of Julie. The kids, even, can hardly distract me when they're over. And I think this has been good for me? If I could see personal growth along this way, I'd feel this was worth it; but I've read this journal over at least twice and seen the same questions in September that I asked in June. And the answers? Where are they? Are they in here? They are hidden well if they are here at all. I'm creating a puzzle I can't begin to solve.

One thing I've learned from the re-reading is to take a cue. After eating lunch today I stayed in the breakroom writing while waiting for Julie's arrival. I greeted her warmly, noted that she was on time and asked if she'd tutored. She said she had. She's usually late when she tutors. "You must have made record time," I said. She told me how the room had no clock and that the teacher--they teach as a group--usually does not inform them of the time. That was pretty much that, but it's a (re)start.

And I know where I'll go from there. If I'm to have any resolution I have to plow right in and ask for what I need to know, and that can only happen at the desk. I have to ask, say, "When you asked youself why I would ask to meet you at the coffee shop, what did you answer?" I also want to know if she had any foreshadowing of my intentions. If this is stepping on toes, she's going to have to keep dancing, because the music's not stopping. To make the emotional break from her I have to be unemotional, be dogged in pursuit of what will make the break for me. I don't see the possibility of hurting her as long as I harbor no bitterness, and to ensure that I have to have a plan. The plan is to have an agenda for every hour on the desk with Julie--a question, a theme of conversation--and pray for time to implement it. I'm confident Julie won't close me out. Though I am sure she'll continue guarding herself, I think that guard protects her emotionally when dealing with a candor such as I intend to implement. She will answer my questions, and I will slacken the line a bit but not let her off the hook. That will be the tricky part, following up her responses, hearing them from the viewpoint of logic and responding in kind. But no attacks, no forced retreats into the fortress. There has to be a meeting place, where chitchat and bald-faced candor can become a conversation, an engagement, a dialogue. I have to bring her there. God, what a thrill that would be! That would be a discovery!

But opportunity. When do I get that? The Library Card Challenge is on again this Thursday, so if the schedule hasn't changed we will be just as swamped and unable to interact. I'll have to bide my time, but it's those intervals that will be the most troublesome; I still have a great difficulty with the incidental moments of working with her. Every interaction is fraught with meaning--all mine, I'm sure--because all I want to talk about is her, yet she is safely insulated with coworkers, and I can barely look her in the eye, anyway. Another reason to get things out in the open. I won't say time is on my side, not till it and my patience kiss and make up, and their differences seem irreconcilable. But there's time for that, too, I suppose.

Whyne (10/20/08 Monday)

If this is good for me, why am I so angry? Why do I sleep worse than ever? Why do I dread seeing Julie? Because I'm not satisfied. There is no resolution. Did she really think I could be satisfied with being a "great guy," with being allowed to "hang out" with her, with getting to "know" her only at work? What should I expect? What am I due? What does she owe me? Nothing, on all counts. Yet I can't accept it. Why? My emotional investment? I can't step back. I can't find my life. Nothing is mine anymore. Every action, word and thought is given to Julie--all to no more effect than what feels like madness. I want to run away. But I won't. I can't. I can't do this to myself. And I can't not. Every day I want to call in sick. Every day at work I go crazy. Should it have been easy accepting her verdict? Should I have been able to flick that switch off and shut the door? How could those illogical words she spoke that Saturday help me do that and walk away? But would logic have helped?

Sunday, October 19, 2008

A Cannonball into the Kiddy Pool or a Pebble in the Ocean? (10/19/08 Sunday)

Hinckley brought up a point yesterday that might help me right my ship. He's been re-reading the blog, and he noticed a two-week period from the end of June in which I exhibited a strong confidence in my efforts and the likelihood of their desired results. He said I have to find a way to get back to that. The difference, though, I told him, is that I had a goal then; that now there wasn't a rainbow and pot or a tunnel to find the light at the end of. I tracked down the entries of which he spoke and was amazed at the confidence exuded. After reading them, though, I told him, "I figured it would come down to an irony." "How so?" "All the time I spent trying not to strategize, and what was I doing then but strategizing? I hate scripting my actions." "What you need to find is a happy medium." A recent self-admonishment, of course, but it always seems wiser when coming from a voice on the outside of my head. The question remains, though: What is my goal now? I've said I want to get to know Julie and for her to get to know me, but I'm finding that more than difficult. I think of her "two places to get to know a person" and I feel resentment at having to play that game--her game. I can't play it. I can't believe I'm getting anywhere with small talk, and that's all the talk there is. She has the ball and won't send it back. No, it's my game I have to play if anything's to get done, and I've already started playing it. The no-pussyfooting challenge is not going unheeded. You remember me saying way back when that what I really wanted was for everyone to know? Well, I've already taken steps. There was Tammy the other day; yesterday, it was Bethany.

On the desk I asked Bethany if she remembered me telling her about my "big crush." She did. "Well, " I said, "it's on someone here. She doesn't feel the same way, but she knows how I feel." I didn't tell her who it was, and she didn't ask, if not because she didn't have to, at least in deference to my privacy.

Another effort has been a somewhat indifferent discretion toward exposure of the blog, bringing it up at my desk during my lunch or on the circ desk. Yesterday, I "forgot" to clear the history before I was relieved at the desk. It was Julie who relieved me, though. It's not her who I want to find out that way. She didn't. (Or did she? Would even that be enough to get her to talk to me?) I'm sure a few people have seen the screen over my shoulder, the title there readable at a glance. There is probably no one else I could tell outright who would both care and not tell the world. This has to be subtle, a groundswell.

So, the goal? I'm still not sure, except to have fun finding out. I'm even developing a side project: I'm putting Brother Cadfael to a surreptitious task. Eventually, Julie will get her books back. But inside each one will be a three-by-five notecard with a question or comment on it--for example, "I want to climb your walls, not tear them down" or "You fascinate me with your mystery, the depths of your concealment, the Julie you hide and protect." Twenty of them--not all written yet--for twenty books. The thickness of the card will ensure its discovery.

Honestly, whatever I'm ultimately trying to do, I don't want it to end--not, anyway, without a friendly resolution. Hurt as I feel, it's my hurt. Julie didn't inflict it. The greater hurt for me would be to hurt Julie. This has been good for me. Julie has been the inspiration for every word, every personal discovery, pleasurable or painful--but all indispensable--along this bumpy, curvy, hilly, inky road, and I hate to think of trying to follow it without her light.

Friday, October 17, 2008

The Unleavenedth Hour (10/17/08 Friday)

The relief lasted until I came in yesterday--or, rather, until I saw Julie's car in the lot as Stacey pulled in with me and Hinckley. I'd always rather get in before Julie; I don't want to see her before I can at least pretend I'm immersed in work--checking email, repairing books, sorting carts--so I can pretend I didn't notice her arrival. Pathetic, eh?

So I was already besieged by neuroses armed to the teeth when I turned the corner of my desk and reflexively glanced down the row to the last desk. Every day Julie is more entrancingly beautiful than the day before. It seems almost a taunt. She was wearing a sleeveless, black-print dress. I was lost. The schedule said shelving at the top of the hour. The carts were all nearly empty. A discharge cart needed emptying. I started toward it, but its proximity to Julie, a desk away, might as well have been my head in the lion's mouth. I backed away, my mind a riot, and fled the workroom with the heels of my hands against my temples. A tour of the hallway was no relief. I resolved to grab a cart and escape into the stacks pronto.

I took the fiction. It was the heaviest cart, but still not half-full. And though not half-sorted, either, it didn't take long (enough) to empty. With blinders on, I returned, sat at my desk to repair a small stack of books. The end of the day seemed impossibly far away. I took off my glasses, squeezed the bridge of my nose. It occurred to me then that if I couldn't see I couldn't see Julie. Three of the books were goners; I took them to the second discharge counter to send them on their way, leaving my glasses behind. Mike was at the first station. "Did you get a ride in?" he asked. "Yeah. But I wish I'd come in on my own. I already feel like leaving." "You don't look like you're feeling well." "Oh, it's not physical; it's emotional." "Well, let me know if you want to talk about it." "Sure. Thanks."

Last in my stack was a book/CD Julie had given me the day before. "A present for you," she'd said, handing it to me. "But it's not my birthday yet," I'd replied, stinging myself with the lame response. The block and front board were separated, but I noticed a piece of tape across the back of the CD inset in the board. I replaced my glasses (I didn't want her to ask; I would've told her) and strolled to her desk. "Julie." "Yes?" She removed her headphones. "Did you notice this when you gave it to me yesterday?" I handed it to her. "It wasn't like this when I saw it," she said. Hating to contradict her, I said, "Well, it was like that when I got it." "Huh," she said, head pointed at her crosslegged lap, where she was scraping at the tape with a short fingernail. I gazed at her bare knees. She repeated her claim. I, yet more painfully reluctant, repeated mine. "Huh, well," she said, "you know what?" Julie held up a round plastic cover. The CD still lay in the other half. Embarrassed but not mortified, I managed a good laugh at myself and took everything back from her and to my desk. She followed to show me the damage she had meant for me to repair. The damage was obvious; I didn't have to be shown, but she wasn't Mary Lou. I didn't shout her away.

I felt better--sometimes I think that all I really want is for her to talk to me--but the glasses still came off again and remained so till after lunch.

As last Thursday, Julie and I were on the desk at six. Knowing since a peek at the schedule the night before, I pondered strategy. I wanted desperately to get another rise out of her somehow, if only by ironically, letting her know I wouldn't be bothering her that hour. But part of me also wanted to passively spite her by not talking to her at all. Of course, that wouldn't work. It's probably what she would want. She never seems craven for conversation. But the "Library Card Challenge" took the strategy out my hands. The line to the circ desk reached nearly to Children's the entire hour as we registered one kid after another for cards. I was angry the entire time for having my decision made moot on, likely, my only shot of the week.

Talked with Stacey at her place after work. She confirmed that she had needed a break from my obsession. I'm glad she was truthful with me about it. I hope I wasn't taxing last night and that I was a good listener. I told her something Tammy had told me about my desk rescue of Julie back in June: that it clued a few people in on my feelings for Julie. (Really, how could it not have?) Stacey told me Megan came to her afterwards and recounted the scene, amused and surprised that I could be so loud and demonstrative. The picture is gaining a deeper focus.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

One Hammer Handle, One Toothless Saw (No Anaesthetic) (10/15/08 Wednesday)

Got a glimpse in the toolbox yesterday. The inventory was obvious.

My early day and Julie's late, I knew already I'd try to avoid her. It worked until she showed up. The desk was my duty after lunch, and I went straight there from the computers upstairs. For half an hour I was fine. Then a patron couldn't find her hold. I double-checked the hold shelves, hoping to find it misshelved and avoid a trip to the back. It wasn't there. I'd keep blinders on, not look for or see Julie, if I could help it. I open the door to the workroom and guess who crosses my path, returing from mail-packing with a small cart? I saw her glance at me and couldn't smile: That big-eyed smileless face scared me lifeless. I mumbled, "Hi, Julie," got no reaction. Perhaps she hadn't heard me, but that's not what my mind made of it. I was sunk, a well-cast pebble capsizing my battleship. I looked on the sorting carts, then made the mistake that fatally challenged my equipage: I asked Mary Lou if she had any holds. She didn't have any, but had to bounce from her desk to follow me out. "It's not out here!" I all but belllowed at her as I opened the door. Her bad hearing selectively ignored me, and again at the holds shelf, when after she checked where I just had and declared, "It's not there," I replied loudly, in front of the patron, "We know that, already!" and turned to check the stacks. I found it there, but that didn't rid me of Mary Lou. She was in front of my monitor when I got back. I inserted myself in between and inflated like a mad toad to block the screen from her view. Mary Lou asked, "Is that the one we should've trapped?" "I don't know," I curtly replied. "It doesn't matter. Just go away." She did. My behavior in front of the patron disgusted me, but I wasn't feeling apologetic toward Mary Lou, and at first intended to elaborate on my displeasure when I got off the desk. But good as that might have made me feel immediately, it wouldn't have stood me well with my other coworkers, though it might have served notice to Mary Lou to just not "help" me in the future.

I couldn't sit the rest of the hour. I knew it was time to talk to Tammy; this was not work-related. My first intention upon getting her ear was to get the rest of the day off--flee--but we were short-handed and I didn't want to make matters worse. I was at the window the next hour. I listened for the sound of her keyboard and approached her in her office. "Will you be here, in your office, next hour?" Slowly, she answered, "Yeah," almost with a question mark. I said, "I need to talk with you." "Oh, no," she said, dripping dread and sympathy. We settled on the next hour, though she'd have to leave at a quarter after. I got back to my post, feeling better already. Just a few minutes later, though, she found me and told me she'd gotten Becky to cover the window for me, and I followed her into her office.

I closed the door behind me. "Uh-oh," said Tammy. "Closed door meeting. I don't think we've had one of these with you before."

"I don't think it's that bad."

"Oh, good."

"I don't think it's that bad."

"Oh." Her lips froze around the word.

I took a deep breath and stared at the wall a moment before turning back to her. "I'm having trouble," I said, "working with someone here." I hadn't really known what I was going to say, so I was being careful. I knew I could trust her, but.... "It's not about their attitude or their work habits, or anything like that." Tammy was leaning toward me across her desk. "I guess I should tell you who it is."

"You better," she laughed, "now that you've built up the suspense."

"It's Julie."

"Julie?" More than incredulity was written across her face. The reaction unsettled me slightly, but relieved me somehow, too.

"A couple weeks ago," I started--"no, a few weeks ago, I asked Julie out for tea, and I , uh, expressed myself." I was pleased with the expression; Tammy's laugh confirmed her understanding. "But I got the 'nice guy' line."

"Oh, no!" She seemed almost to take it personally. "Oh, that's so sad!"

"Well, so, since then it's been very difficult working around her. I've been very...erratic, for lack of a better word." I hesitated to, but concisely detailed Julie's stated philosophy on getting to know someone. Tammy's puzzlement equalled mine of the time--and that of everyone else I've told.

Besides offering to schedule Julie and me away from each other--"Or would that make it worse?" "Much worse"--Tammy had no solutions, but I wasn't expecting or wanting that. She offered a sympathetic ear, and that was what I needed.

Tammy told me she'd noticed "something, some"--she pointed her fingers at each other and wiggled them--"spark."

"Oh, really." I shouldn't have been surprised, nor even at my lack of notice. I'd thought that "feminine intuition" had failed the test in the workplace, but it was only my powers of observation as I was absorbed in my mission; though maybe my fear of discovery was well-founded.

"And I wasn't the only one." I wanted names but thought that indiscreet. "With the puzzles, you two bent over the together. And other things." Again, I didn't let myself ask for elaboration.

We talked for the better part of the hour. As usual, I wished I'd done this long ago. How could I doubt anymore that someone would be rooting for me? I went back to the window, just a few feet from Julie at her desk, feeling nearly buoyant from the lifted weight. I never did ask to leave early.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Zoo or Lab? (10/13/08 Monday)

I'm not the least bit equipped to deal with this, yet I can't let go--or it won't let go of me. Distraction is impossible, even at home. Is it, indeed, gripping me, caging me? I'm trapped. I can't get to my life, I can't get away from Julie in any way. If not for Julie I wouldn't be writing again, though suddenly I wonder if that's a good thing. Is this a passion or an obsession? Is there a difference? A practical difference? I see no way out but to bring it out in the open. Not to spite Julie, but to stop hiding, stop pretending I'm able to deal with this on my own. The advice of the people I've trusted with the problem would be stacked against that strategy, but when did I ever really listen, except when Hinckley told me to "go for it"? I've certainly been desperate along this trail, but I've never felt more so than now. But desperate for what? I don't want to force Julie into any action against me. I don't want to put any more stress on her than I already have, but I just can't pussyfoot around the way I feel, and I can't turn it off. I try to find things about her to build up a debit against her, but if they're there I can't see them.

I am caged. I have no room to discuss this with Julie, who is the only person with whom this needs discussing, and that enrages me! "Great guy"! "Great guy"! What's so fucking great?! How can that change anything? It doesn't break that clot of stress that builds up in my right shoulder at the thought of her or the sound of her voice. It doesn't let me sleep all night. It doesn't do anything but listen to me shriek and watch me roll violently around the cage walls tearing my hair out and shredding white knuckles on the bars.

I tried not to write after Saturday, but my mind began to eat itself. I've had no one to talk to anywhere. Stacey seems tired of hearing me talk about it, Mike doesn't mention it, and I've barely had a word with Hinckley in over a week. I've become tiresome. Nobody will tell me to give Julie up, but they can't indulge me any longer, either. Dammit, won't someone be honest with me?

Saturday, October 11, 2008

10/11/08 Saturday

I have no life of my own, and I'm scared.

Friday, October 10, 2008

I Don't Think I'll Ever Get That Thirty-Day Chip (10/10/08 Friday)

I tried to build on yesterday, but I just didn't know how. I was friendly toward Julie, but I couldn't find the balance between "knowing" and indifference, and Julie, if anything, seemed a bit more aloof. But there I go seeing things. If that blush last night wasn't good enough for my confidence, what will be? I'm tempted to blame it on Julie's shell, but that would be grossly unfair. Where's the compassion? Where's the actual interest in getting to know her? I'm trying to validate my feelings for her through her. What the hell have I learned in five months? That I have all the answers and don't know what to do with them. There's an organic problem that goes deeper than any neatly boxed rationale. I don't need a self-help book full of mental tricks. It's not a New Year's resolution. It's not deciding to be a certain way and doing certain things toward that end. It's me looking where I don't want to look to find what I don't want to find and doing the work I don't want to do. And the irony is, these are just words.

Here's a revelation: I'm obsessed. Care to dispute that? I deny myself any bit of life that distracts me from Julie. Everything I do is for her approval or notice. How can I expect that of someone or subject myself to it? Is this something I didn't know? No, just something I hadn't admitted. Is this an addiction? I think I've just taken the first step. "Hello, my name is Dion, and I'm addicted to Julie." What comes next? Apology? Who have I hurt, and how, with this addiction? Don't tell me.

And my support group and sponsor is me. Not much help there. Hinckley, Stacey, and Mike have been great helping do what I've told them I wanted to do, but when is one of them going to tell me what I've just told myself? When I'm with them, how much do I care about anything but the one person I'm not with? As happens with nearly everyone in my life, I've come to take them for granted, taking what I need, giving little, and ignoring them when they've outlived their usefulness. How much have I really grown? How much do I really appreciate anyone?

And what do I do about any of these discoveries besides beat myself up over them? Where's the compasion for myself? Not the self-pity--that's been done to death (sadly, not it's own). When am I going to stop accepting these things and do something about them? These are not among those acceptable flaws. I wasn't born this way; I was made this way; and I can be unmade and put back together the right way. Can't I?

Tiptoeing Elephant (10/09/08 Thursday)

When I told Julie on that long-ago Saturday that I was done pussyfooting I was challenging myself, forcing a resolve that I hadn't fully acquired. And when I think of that I feel the resolve and know that it's the most important thing I can grasp, that from it comes all the strength and truth of my mission. Which is...? Eyes narrowed, brow furrowed, jaw set, I stare out the window, don't see the answer. Part of me--I'm afraid to know which, the neurotic or the realist--doesn't believe there is an answer--at least one that doesn't expose the whole endeavor as a tilting at windmills. As it may very well be. Will I know it when I see it? Can I even possibly see it? But that is a long way off. I have a lot of work to do.

Sometimes it feels as if the work is the thing, a challenge for the sake of challenge. Not only am I willing to believe that, but I'm willing to embrace it as likely the best way to focus. But I could focus better if I could bring the challenge into sharper definition, break it into manageable chunks for incremental goal-setting. If I can see progress I will be encouraged. Doubt is the ultimate regressor, taking the sunlight from the path ahead for a spotlight on the road already traveled. For this journey I need only know the way ahead. Where is the light?


Crack! Or, more accurately, Chip!

As with asking Julie out, knowing the time and place of my latest, next-important endeavor hardened my resolve. I started right off the bat with a small confidence, telling her that I had "Hallelujah" by Prefab Sprout running through my head, and had had for the better part of these two days. "Been listening to Prefab Sprout, have you?" "Well, I hadn't been, but I played it today because the snippet I had in my head yesterday wasn't long enough to give me the title." We each had a patron or two to deal with, then I brought some leasebooks out of the workroom to shelve. I didn't want to attack her straightaway and perhaps reveal a desperate agenda, but the ticking clock and the closing window preyed on my diligence. I finished the shelving in time for a sudden flurry of activity at the desk. The clock was ticking louder and the window creaking down the sash when a man with a straining plastic bag approached from Children's. Without parting teeth or moving lips, I quietly hissed, "Use the self-check, use the self-check." He didn't, and I despatched him as quickly as courtesy allowed. Julie worked on a registration. The rush might have lasted all of ten minutes, but it seemed as if no air were getting through that window by the time it ended. A trio of chatters lingered near the desk and my teeth tried to make dust of one another, when Julie said, "Poor Mike." He was trying to shelve the fiction DVD's, whose stock woefully dwarfs the allotted space for their display. I stood and moved toward the higher counter between us. "Poor anybody who has to shelve DVD's, " I said. "I've shifted them all twice this week." Ensuing was a short discussion about the problem, then a lull. I slid away from the partition. The trio was still there, but I knew this to be the time and beat back a nervous hesitation before sliding back toward her.

"For the record, Julie," I said, "and then I'll shut up..." I paused while she turned to me. Adrenaline surged. I never felt more confident. As I spoke the next words, the volume of my voice descended to less than a whisper. I couldn't hear the last word, only feel my lips form it and my breath push it through..."you still fascinate me."

Instantly, she turned away (but not before I caught the bloom on her cheeks), dropping her head, her hair falling over her face, and I heard the most delightful, most charming, most endearing murmur issue from the mask: "You've embarrassed me."

And from me, spontaneously, came the upraised hand and the turned-away head. "I just had to say that," I said, and sat down heart thudding, imaginary fist pumping.

Neither of us ventured a glance at the other for a moment till I noticed, peripherally, Julie throw her hair off her face. She then reached up to the counter and straightened bookmarks that didn't need straightening (because I'd just done it). Looked like victory to me. Soon, she left her seat for the magazine area, ostensibly to tidy them and pick up the strays, but possibly to pick up a few of her own pieces. She returned visibly recomposed. The rest of the hour was business as usual, even with a little chat, though of course not about That.

I have since, of course, analyzed the event and my actions therein, and found the usual cast of missed opportunities and regrets, but I have cast them adrift like whiny mutineers. I behaved in accord with my nature; to have done otherwise would have been a regret impossible to throw overboard. After all, I am not just trying to know Julie, but myself as well. I was myself in that moment, and that just might have been as great a triumph as the moment itself.

So, what now? I asked myself that on a Saturday almost two weeks ago, and I'm still waiting on that reply. I don't believe I have an advantage, per se. This is not a game or competition. What I have is an opportunity. What I have is a heightened understanding. What I have is a deeper appreciation and respect for Julie and higher value for our friendship.

What do I do with what I have? It may be too late at night to ponder that one efficiently, but I don't mind a sloppy go at it. If I want, as I've claimed, to get to know Julie first and foremost, then I have to give myself, come out of my self and my self-conscious cares, to find out who she is. Yes, I want her. Did I ever deny that? But though I also want to have fun, I have to stop treating this as a game. This is not for my amusement, or even for my gain. Purely and simply, I have to remove my self. (Well, purely, anyway.) If this is not for my gain, then I should not seek gain, but accept it as a consequence of compassion. That gain will be the understanding I seek. I feel that. I know that. I believe that. How do I do that?

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Next, We'll Try the Drunken Advice (10/08/08 Wednesday)

I told Gay-Lynn yesterday. She had gone about the library a few weeks ago with a camera, taking casual head shots of us all. First thing, I walked into her office, closed the door, and asked her to send me Julie's picture. "You aren't going to do anything mean with it, are you?" she asked. "No, no, no, no, no," I said, a tad surprised she felt a need to ask me. "This is purely for my own enjoyment." "She is beautiful." I murmured reverent assent then said, "I had tea with her, outside work, not this past Saturday but the one before." Gay-Lynn clasped her hands in front of her mouth and squeaked, "Ooh!" I hated to disappoint her, but added, "I got the 'nice guy' line." She sank. "Well," she said, "give it time. Things can change; the longer you work together, the better she'll get to know you."

I left her office with one more ally and cheerleader, someone else who will look at both Julie and me differently, puzzling over Julie as I do, meanwhile sympathizing with me, wondering why she's passed me up. Or, perhaps, wondering what could be wrong with me that would put her off. Whimsical confidence fantasizes such a groundswell of indignance over Julie's rejection of me that she, at worst, caves in and gives me a second chance; or, at best, admits to herself the error of her philosophy and welcomes me back with renewed appreciation. This seems not so far removed from that fanciful hope of having everyone know about my crush except Julie, at whom it finally jumps out, as at a surprise party when the lights go up. All fantasy, I know, especially with that thick-shelled nut breaking all my tools.


Tomorrow night at six: My latest D-Hour. It's going to happen; I just have to avoid working myself into a knot of dread. There seem all kinds of reasons not to do this, but I'll make no attempt to identify them; consequently, undefined, they gain no existence. I rode with Mike tonight and told him of the mutual desk hour and that I was going to "work on" Julie, but I didn't clue him in on the precise strategy, knowing how he felt about my previous one. I was afraid he might dampen it with caution. He's on my side; he just doesn't indulge my fancy as much as Stacey or Hinckley would. He said tonight, "You said she told you she had a good time at the coffee shop, but maybe she didn't." I had to ask him to repeat it. It was too sober. Maybe not what I really want right now. All I want is to not talk myself down from the throne of resolve. That and a change in my attitude at work from the serious regression I've suffered this week. I've hardly been able to say hello, and she looks right through me. But I'm psyching myself out.

In the workroom today Angie showed me a movie she likes. It had Sharon Stone in it, whom I told Angie I didn't like. Angie was disbelieving and asked me about this actress and that actress, of all of whom I emphatically denied any appreciation. "Well, who do you like?" she said. I pointed to the picture on the storage cabinet over my desk. "Who's that?" "Gillian Anderson." "Oh, she's alright." "Alright?" "She's cute, I guess." She tried a few more on me, and when she got to Angelina Jolie I exclaimed stridently, "No!" "Well, you know what you like, and you can look at her any time you like." "I do," said, looking at Julie's profile at the discharge counter. "I look at her every day."

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

A Puppy, Not a Baby (10/07/08 Tuesday)

Woke this morning to the realization that only one work week had passed since tea with Julie, and many times during the day--and even now, at ten p.m.--I counted back the days for verification, and each time came up incredulous. Certainly, the first three days of last week were difficult and long, but the fourth was, if not a triumph in but the most optimistic spin of the word, at least headway--some insight into her darkness and decided candor of my own. Still, it was not a long way to have come over the course of the week.

The distance, this perceived temporal elongation, has, I believe been induced by Julie's thorough displacement of the event. I searched in vain all week for a sign of acknowledgement of something that by the beginning of this week I had allowed her to make me believe was only a distant memory quickly fading into doubt, as confusing as this sentence.

Yet, in a way, there has been an acknowledgement from her of my proclaimed affections--or I'm grasping at straws. I'm hesitant even to acknowledge that myself, to somehow make it true by writing it. So I won't, without substantial corroborating evidence. (I believe that that is at least proof that my heart is in the driver's seat here: Despite the sober caution, I did not allow the head to rationalize a chimera into existence. The Wise Man and the Fool both are spectators at this event.)

In looking for that sign from Julie, patience will not likely win out, but I'm counting on just enough to force the issue, if subtly and only an inch or two. Just as in asking her out, there are two essential elements involved in the success of my next task--knowing what that task is, of course, and knowing when to perform it. I have had the task in mind for most of a week now, since shortly after the failure of "How was your weekend?" and I'm simply waiting for that most opportune of scheduled work moments to implement it: On our next mutual hour on the desk together I will tell her, in effect or verbatim--depending on my nerve--"Julie, for the record, I still find you fascinating." I may even raise my hand and turn my head afterwards as if to both deflect comment from her and defer elaboration from myself; but that gesture is wholly dependent upon my confidence in the strength of my statement. I think I have a lot of capital to bank on, given Julie's virtual detachment, but it might be only just enough. I'm only looking for a rise. I don't want to send her scuttling back across the drawbridge. A smile would do, and would do for quite a while--or, rather, would have to do for quite a while, for I want her to remain aware of my affections without feeling any threat from them. I would like to simply set them on her doorstep without a note and walk away. I'm not asking for more than she can give, nor even more than she thinks she can give. At the very least, I want her to know that I could never do her any kind of harm. At the most.... Well, I'm just not sure about that yet.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Puzzles (10/03/08 Friday)

Mike's reaction to my Saturday experience was of respectful dismay--to the outcome and my strategy. He knew beforehand what the strategy would be, but it was only after its result that he ventured an opinion: I should have taken a much more casual approach to the discourse, been more patient. I could see his point, and told him so, but I also told him that at that level the discourse might never rise to the realm of ideas and emotions. "That might work for anyone else," I told him, "but not for me." Or with Julie, I said to myself. I did the right thing; Julie knows how I feel about her and hasn't pushed me away. How could chat have accomplished that?

Yesterday evening at work I strolled to the breakroom to fix my second cup of tea. Julie was already there, on the same mission. The silence outside the burbling pot quickly discomfited me. Then Julie said, "I thought you were working on that puzzle." The table on which we'd together assembled three jigsaws was bare of the puzzle I'd started on it last week in hopes of eliciting her participation. She'd never joined me.

"I was."

"Did you put it away?"

"Yes, I did."


It was a question I'd been pondering since Monday, when I swept the pieces back into the box and replaced it on the top of the fridge. My lips parted, closed again. I took in and let out a deep breath before turning to her. "I lost interest," I told her, thinking as I held her gaze, "because it's no fun alone."

The water roiled. She said to it, "I have to get that card table out of my storage unit." She'd mentioned bringing it in for us to build our puzzles on.

"What else is in your storage unit?" I asked with a bit of bitter mischief before I recognized it as such and had a chance to stop it.

Instead of giving me the usual motive-seeking stare, she said to the pot, "Oh, boxes. My housewares."

I was suddenly glad I hadn't simply microwaved a mug of water. Still without a discreet editor, I asked, "So, was it the plan all along that when your mom moved up here you would live with her?"

"Not really," she said to me. "When I moved up here my mother didn't really want to live there alone."

I sent her a puzzled squint. She poured our water. "But," I said, "don't you have a brother down there?"

She looked away, hesitated. I looked at my mug, started to mutter an apology for what I'd perceived as an infliction of pain.

Slowly, with calculated restraint, she said, "They...probably...wouldn't help her as often as she would like."

My editor put a finger to his lips. I obeyed.

Who's Here to Relieve Me? (10/02/08 Thursday)

What if Julie just isn't as deep as I've imagined her? What does fascinate me about her? What has ever fascinated me about her? Surely more than her availability and proximity. It took most of a year for this crush to blossom. I was not attracted to her when I first saw her. Something grew from working with her. It may simply have sprung from the common interests discovered along the way. Was the fascination grown from the possibilities planted in this common ground? Is that enough?

It's been a difficult week for me. Yesterday, I started by trying to avoid her, but stepped right into her parlor. When I got in she was shelving, according to the schedule, and I was to do the same. The non-fiction cart was missing, so, assuming that to be her location, I took out the easies. But there she was. She had loaded a smaller cart with easies. I didn't greet her as I pulled up a row down from her. She didn't look up as I approached--at least, we didn't make eye contact. Feeling stupid for my (non) action, I seethed at myself as I hid among the lower shelves, where it seemed most of my books belonged.

"Here, hot off the presses." Julie stretched out a book to me. A page protruded above the rest. A scant glance from the book, a "Shrek 2" tie-in, saw a smile. I said, "I hope I can't fix it," and quickly inspected it. "Oh, it looks like I can." Got a little, maybe indulgent, chuckle out her. It was no icebreaker, though. Eventually, I asked her head, bowed over the books in the top bins, "How's it been today?" Without looking up, she said, "Oh, not bad. A little slow." That went no further, either. Much later in the day I remembered telling her Saturday that I had difficulty around her. It seemed now a good hedge against this most recent behavior, as well as such future behavior. By five, when I relieved her from the desk, I was nearly cheerful. "Are you here to relieve me?" she smiled up at me. "Yes, I am," I said to her eyes. He started past me then turned her head across her shoulder to look at me with a "Thank you" on her lips. The evening passed quickly.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

It Couldn't Be That Hump on My Back, Could It? (10/01/08 Wednesday)

The questions don't stop, and the answers don't come. Of course, the most persistent is still, What ruled me out? My left-handedness? Not always covering my mouth when I sneeze? Glasses? Height? What? It isn't the most most important question, though it starts that muscle in my upper right shoulder tightening.

Is there any degree of artlessness to her behavior? And, if so, what degree of calculation is there? If there is artlessness to any degree, I believe it was cultivated by an intense practice of its converse: Practice made perfect, a kind of psychological muscle memory. It's something we all do, anyway; some of us must do it to a greater extent than others. I think of Julie's seeming obliviousness to my feelings toward her all this time, and I can't simply write it off as naivete. She's seeing what she wants to see, and she has an acutely atuned defense mechanism that can block anything from her consciousness with deft efficiency. Perhaps it seems a cruel attribution, and I admit a lingering bitterness has likely accelerated my logic to that extreme, but it's simply speculation, a gurgitation of possibilities. What else do I have to go on when I haven't keys to the castle?

But the bitterness is a factor. It blocks my compassion, the key to understanding any person, and isn't understanding Julie what I set out to do on this second go-round? It's only my intellect that isn't satisfied with what Julie told me Saturday. My heart understands that it wasn't a personal attack--only my pride thinks that. My heart knows Julie is only trying to protect herself. What part of me is it that wants to know why? I feel a sadness for her, but I don't want to pity her. I can't deny that I hope to gain by this endeavor, but I also know that her affection is, by a significant margin, the lesser of the gains I hope to make. I want to know Julie.

Am I being realistic? What's realistic in this case? The result and the possibility of attainment? Then realisticness isn't even a consideration yet, because though of course I want to succeed, I'm not pursuing success. This is not a hunt; there is no prey I want to kill.