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.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Rust Bucket and the Lyart Are Out of My League--Forget About the New Car and the Young Blonde (5/31/09 Sunday)

Emma brought over the David Archuleta CD last night, and I figured I should hear it before I judged it. The girls told me the first song, "Crush," was a hit. (I hadn't heard it.) I told them "This is what A Bright, Ironic Hell is about." No reaction. Ah, well, I gave it a shot. I won't push it. Let's just call it a bug in the ear. Actually, anymore, it's not so much the girls I'm concerned about reading the blog as about Ann. I would never tell the kids to keep a secret, and I can surmise by what they tell me of their home life that they woulld be equally candid at home about mine. Come to think of it, they might have already told Ann about my blogs. That in itself would be no red flag to her as long as they gassured her they hadn't read it. Not that I'd care for Ann to read either BIH or Book Monkey Says--I'd rather have her judge me as a man than as a father--but the thought makes me all the more hesitant to give the girls the go-ahead to read BIH. (Book Monkey's a bit further down the road.)

Now there's a third blog, and I might never let them know about this one. It's actually my first one. I'd forgotten about it until I stumbled upon it a few days ago when I pulled up a bookmark portal I rarely use. There it was, at the top of the list. It has lain fallow for nearly three years, having last been posted upon in July or 2006, only three months and twenty-two posts into its life. Well, it's going to live again, though I'm a little embarrassed about it. See, it's, uh, not about love. Its' about sex. which makes it a fantasy, but a fantasy still featuring myself. The real people in it have new names, so let's call it fiction. (Me? Sex? What else could it be?) Anyway, I never promoted it, so it may never have been seen except for the click-throughs from the (pseudonymous) profile page, and there have been only twenty hits on that. I have a bit of tweaking to do on it before re-launching it--refresh myself with the pseudonyms and get myself back into character to write fresh material. Someone got the name Julie, more than a year before I'd met my heaven and hell, so that's gotta change; and one of the men is now a woman, but I think I'll stick with the original model. The cast, as well as the library, has grown much larger, but I don't think that will have a meaningful effect. But there are only two main things I need to do: Tweak the posting dates to bring them "current," and write a new post to kick-start the story. I'm looking forward to expressing another aspect of my personality and exercising another muscle of my imagination.

(I might have said the same about Book Monkey. Poor Book Monkey. He became difficult for me to handle with such a restrictive perspective. He may be dead.)

Looking at the cover of the David Archuleta album, I remarked, "I'd like his shirt without the picture on it." Emma said, "Then it's just a shirt." "No," I said, "it would be a ringer tee. Ringer tees are my new favorite thing. They make me feel like a little boy." Emma faked a cough into her fist and barked, "Midlifecrisis!" "Well," I said, "some guys get the red sports car, some guys get the ringer tees." I decided at that moment to refer to Julie as "my mid-life crisis." I wrote it on the back of her picture today.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Fourteen's a Good Place to Stop (5/30/09 Saturday)

I've only read fourteen books this year. I'm about two months behind my usual pace. In try to reclaim my life from preoccupation with Julie, I've started back into things I'd all but given up in pursuit of her. I still can't listen to XTC or Trashcan Sinatras again, but as there's no chance I'll go back to Ellis Peters, I can always read without that awful pang of association better not made. That lasted until about twenty pages into Phoebe, Junior, when Clarence becomes "fascinated" with Phoebe, falls "a hopeless victim to her fascinations." Apparently, the charge of that word was strong even in the mid-Victorian era. I hope Clarence never actually speaks the word to Phoebe. I don't suppose pre-rejection flattery back then started, "You're a great guy, but..."--that probably got its start in the 1920's--still long enough ago to have since been embedded in the human female DNA. I tried reading this morning, but the entire brief and futile endeavor was clouded by "fascinated." There are words, too, that I can't hear or read--much less use. "Hope" and any form of "fascinate" top the list. The associations turn me cold and bitter and threaten to ossify my heart. Now I see "love" floating upward from the depth of verbal practicality to the heights of psychological malevolence, where sits the temple of irony. I don't want to go there, I don't want to see it. Have I lost those words there? Better to not use them, if I can help it.

One more day of this freedom, and it's back to work. I feel no more fortified against Julie's proximity than I ever did. Every morning I've awaken thinking of her, even when she hasn't appeared in that night's dreams. I've regressed. Even "she knows" has lost meaning, if only for the lack of context. I badly need that context, and not just to resuscitate a specious mantra. Why otherwise, I'm really not sure, but I suspect it's for the challenge. I think that's why I miss Julie when I'm not around her: I have to prove--to her and myself--that I can--what? that I can what? Be in love with her and still work with her? Get over her? I don't think that what I'm trying to prove is what I really want. I don't want to get over her, and if I don't get over her, I can't work with her. So my challenge, really, is to not go stark, raving bonkers over an untenable situation--i.e., I need to live a pretense to sanity. Fake it till I make it? Can you hear me laughing? Good, because I'm not. I don't want to say that I'll enter work Monday as trepidatious as ever to encounter Julie, because it's easily self-fulfilled. I may believe it, but I won't indulge it. Is that faking it? Absolutely--as much so as trying to read Phoebe, Junior.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

I Hope (5/28/09 Thursday)

The girls have known about the blog since they googled me. They haven't read it. I haven't told them not to; I think the title frightens them. They don't ask me about it. They'll be thirteen in a month. I would like to talk to them about it. I would like them to know this part of me. I would like them to know what I've been through. I want them to know that a man--and a man my age--can be in love, can want love, deserves love. I at least want them to know the father they see only twice a week. And yet when they finally read this will they wonder why there is scant mention of them while countless words have been devoted to someone who doesn't depend on me for guidance, love and support? who, indeed, depends on me for nothing at all? Could my passion have been better spent?

What will the girls think of me when they read all of this? Caring about that jeopardizes the candor of my writing, but it's a candid concern. Having no older siblings to corrupt them and being nurtured more by responsible grownups than by the media, they will, I hope have thoughts of their own beyond the easily taken for granted lies of tradition, and will not, by the time they read this already believe, say, that a man's emotional strength is his ability to suppress his emotions. Perhaps I can flatter myself to think that their reading this will positively solidify their thoughts on the subject, arming them against popular opinion. I can only hope, and I do. But I hope, first, that they do not judge me. If I have not been a great father it is not because of my preoccupation with Julie but because of my preoccupation with myself. In the process of getting in touch with myself and trying to become whole and learn to love myself without judgement, I have lost touch with the only beings who love me without judgment. (I am aware of the irony, but I don't embrace it.) They likely will be bewildered at first, then frightened, then aghast. After that? What connections will they make between my words and my actions? Consistent and integral ones, I hope; ones that solidify my dimensions, root me deeply and positively into the context of their lives. At the very least, what they read should shed enough light on their perceived shortcomings of me to illuminate a compassionate understanding.

A Guy Can Dream--Whether He Likes It or Not (5/27/09 Wednesday)

Another dream of work, another appearance of Julie, as fleeting as the last. I was inside the library this time. It looked like a bookstore--one vast, bright room. I got only a glimpse of Julie--no eye contact. Her hair seemed darker than natural. I felt disappointed that she would color her hair. I remember little else about the dream, except the feeling of playing out a light comedy.

Shouldn't I be glad to be away from work and Julie? I can't need the tension. I have almost never dreamt of work or Julie. I don't want to be at work, and I can always live outside of Julie's presence. Or can I? Sometimes I think I need Julie just to remember I'm alive. I hate this love. I'd say it was unfair if I thought fairness was even in it. What is it good for? Am I supposed to learn from this? Patience, tolerance--are those my lessons? The patience to let love work for me, the tolerance to harbor unwanted feelings?

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Know Way, Knowhere, Know How (5/26/09 Tuesday)

The curls were happening yesterday, but nothing else was, really, at the cookout. I did manage to recapture some of my newfound conversational skills--drawing people out despite my actual relative disinterest in them--but there was no flirting to be done, no women I felt that kind of interest in or attraction to. To be back in Bellevue, though, was to be in an old comfort zone, the proximity to Stir Crazy (two blocks) notwithstanding. A place you lived for ten years, where you lived with a lot of other people your age for that long, is not easily gotten out of your system. I've lived in this apartment in the West End (surburbia) for seven years but I don't know anyone here and certainly haven't grown up with anyone here. Michelle upstairs was here when I moved in. I don't know her last name or what she does. I know that she leaves for work at twenty of eight, that she likes her gospel radio loud and that she's had sex over my head a few times in the past couple months. I lived in the Carytown area for the twelve years between Bellevue and here and made no friends or even connections. Though I'm drawn down there frequently, my nostalgic fondness for the place is drawn solely from familiarity of the streets and alleys I covered on foot and bike every day. There is no one there to recognize me. There was at least that at the cookout.

I have been dreaming about work at night and have been spending the days feeling guilty. The dreams, as nearly all my dreams do, have taken place in a gray half-darkness, but an element of stormy weather has been added. Julie was only in the first dream, in which I roll up through mud on my bike to the back door of work, though its not the library but, seemingly, a fast-food restaurant. I'm fumbling with my keys, trying one after another in the bike lock, when Julie comes out of the door on my left, fights through a throng, and brushes my back with her arm to come to the polite aid of a coworker. Presently, she brushes me again on her way back inside. I consider (in my dream) the contact significant, though not in a positive way, seeing as she didn't acknowledge me in any way. In actuality, we have only made physical contact twice, lightly and accidentally. In another dream, I was attempting, against the advice of other coworkers, to get to work. Though it was not raining, the river to my left was in angry, muddy spate, and though it had washed away much of the bank, the sidewalk was still intact, and I figured it would stay so. But a sudden rush of water, as if from a broken dike, poured across the path from my right and behind me. I looked ahead and upon seeing the way similarly blocked, attempted to return, but the rushing water swept my feet from the sidewalk, at which I clawed for new purchase. I did not panic but gave in to my certain death without fear or regret, and was swept into another dream.

I don't know where the guilt comes from or is about, and I'm not even convinced it's guilt. It feels like something I've always called "guilt," but what I think it is is a feeling that I'm not doing enough for myself to get where I think I belong. What am I doing toward getting that book written? What am I doing, even, toward getting this apartment clean? I walked out of work Thursday night intent only on getting down to Carytown and finishing Miss Marjoribanks during the next ten days. Why do I feel I should have set loftier goals? The word "occupation" as it applies to a job has taken on a new depth of meaning: It occupies my time, keeping me from loose ends. Ironic, that these "better things" I have to do besides work aren't enough to occupy me as well as the work does. There are plenty better things to do, but work is easier. I get paid for it, for a start. Is there no other motivation that is good enough to do the better things? What does it take to move from "easy" to "rewarding"? When I'm not working, easy is reading, doing some sudoku and writing some, maybe watching a DVD. Is this my life? Is this the road, with barbed-wire-topped walls, to the end of my days? What breaks the wall, severs the wire? Not guilt, but more than desire. Desire I have. What don't I have, what am I not using, that gets me to rewarding? More than curls and dreams.

Monday, May 25, 2009

I'd Have Said Narcissus, But That Would Have Been a Bit On-the-Nose (5/24/09 Sunday)

Spoke three words today--"Hi" and "Thank you." As I have before, I felt a perverse sense of accomplishment, but this time it is tinged with shame. I failed to make contact, and I've fogotten how I'd been doing it at work recently. I've been feeling the skill fading all week; now a day alone has drained the last of it. I said "Hi" to a woman sitting on her stoop as I walked past, and I said "Thank you" to the cleerk at Fresh Market when he handed me my change and receipt. (His "Your welcome" seemed startled out of him.) I missed opportunities to connect because I didn't recognize them as such until they had passed. I've said nothing since then and will not again till morning. I'm in for the night. I'll call Matt in the morning to scooter.

Matt has invited me to a cookout he and Mary are invited to. My crashing won't be minded, but it won't hurt to bring an offering of beer. I don't know who else will be there, but I hope it's not too small a gathering--the more people to try to interact with the better. I have to make an effort, even if I don't remember how. Forget "people," really--I just want to talk to women. I'm feeling exceptionally attractive lately, and I'd like to parley that into some self-confidence. It's inexplicable to me: All the time I'd been trying to attract Julie's attention it never crossed my mind that her inattention had anything to do with my physical attractiveness. I mean, what is a guy with all but no self-esteem doing believing he's good-looking? I still believe it--but when did this happen? Long after I'd picked out the beer, I lingered in Fresh Market as a walking display of vanity, inviting the once-over and double-take. Several women (and a couple men) partook. Imagine--me, an exhibitionist! I've gotten a lot more attention since I swore off haircuts as a declaration of independence from trying to look as I perceived others wanted me to look--and since I discovered I have curls, I have been as vain as Samson. If I have one pipeline curl falling to my brow I'm having a good hair day. At Ukrop's I entered an aisle and steered around a tall woman with her back to me. Halfway down I picked up a couple things and continued. Before I reached the end of the aisle that same woman entered it behind a shopping cart. She looked neither to the left or right but me up and down before smiling, saying "Hi," and continuing past me. I returned the greeting then turned to watch her after she passed. She looked straight ahead, did not pause to consider an item on the shelf, and exited the other end. Though I could tell from the personal perusal that she had marked me off as a prospect, I nonetheless chose to be flattered. Flattery is about all I have left in the way of esteem. I'll take it, if it even artificially bolsters my confidence. I don't intend to be the exhibitionist at the cookout, but a dangling curl would start me off on the plus side of confidence.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

What Passes (5/22/09 Friday)

My week off began last night at closing. I still awoke at six this morning. I'm already struggling against feeling cut off, alienated. It's something of a new feeling--the opposite of escape? Exile? Are all feelings painful? Maybe just the new ones. I just reread the last paragraph of yesterday's entry and smiled through tears. What am I? What have I become? What am I becoming? I have to clench my jaw to keep from sobbing--I'm in public. I'm not feeling sad. I don't know what I'm feeling, but I can't help feeling it. I have felt nothing; now, am I feeling too much? I want to be surrounded, smothered, hugged by a crowd. I want everyone talking to me at once. I want to talk myself hoarse.


And yet I've been all but silent. Even in Carytown a weekday afternoon is not thronged. I asked a lost-looking couple if I could help them find a particular place, but they said they were looking for their car. I've spent a hundred dollars on three Ugly Dolls, two CD's and a DVD. I sort of promised the girls big Ugly Dolls this year for their birthday, and when Claire's face lit up and her jaw dropped, the deal was signed. I bought myself Enter the Vaselines and the new one by The Audition. I bought The Flying Scotsman because it's a Scottish movie about a Scotsman.

So, I'm in Jean-Jacques in a crowd that's talking to itself, finished with the chocolate muffin and the first cup of coffee, and in no way ready to go home, but reluctant to spend any more money, wishfully expecting Jan to walk in. I finally called her several weeks ago, at Mike's urging, but got her voice mail. She eventually called me back (got my machine), apologizing and asking if she could be put up the following Tuesday night in order to get to court in the morning. Called her on my lunch break last Friday, left another message. No reply--I thought. I called Mom on Mother's Day, using the cell because I'd already bought the minutes, and saw I had two messages. They were both from Jan, but only one was meant for me. The first was a drunk-dial for "Joe": She was just leaving the second dull party she'd crashed and would let him know if she found a good one. The second told me she was in town getting some dental work done, and loosely suggested we get together, then asked if my kids would like to have her son's gerbil. "I have to get rid of it." The call had been made the Friday I'd called her, but apparently after I'd gotten home and hung up my jacket, phone and all, in the closet. I wonder if she's called since. I rarely turn on my cell.


Jan won't find me here, at Byrd Park. No one will find me here, behind Maymont, at the edge of a pond, between two oak trees, my back against one, bike and feet against the other. As I cruised through the park, hands off the bars, a cyclist dolled up in skin-tight billbillboard togs passed me slowly. I said, "Hey." He didn't even look at me.

I probably haven't been any place so tranquil since I was last in Scotland by myself, nearly thirty years ago, and it almost seems disrespectful to write when I could as easily sink into quiessence. I can hear the train down at the canal, its rumbling smoothed to an ambient roar by the quarter-mile between it and my ears. The rustling leaves cover what little of the sporadic traffic passes on the road out of sight of me. When the wind is still I can make out conversation across the pond a couple hundred feet away. An insect settled on the opposite page five minutes ago, and has not been disturbed by my scribbling or the wind bristling its antennae. A turtle's head parts the water on its way to one of the platforms made for it and anchored in the water. That cyclist is passing for the fourth time. If I had a blanket and a lot more food than a banana and a nutrition bar, I'd be here all night, or until a cop rousted me. I have nowhere to be for anyone else, and won't until Tuesday when I see the kids again, The holiday weekend took them to Lake Gaston, as usual, so I don't even need to make my usual grocery trip for their meals. I might come close to starvation this week, lazy as I am about fixing meals, especially when I don't have to. I have a six of Yuengling Black & Tans. That's food isn't it?

Friday, May 22, 2009

The Pride of Frankenstein (5/21/09 Thursday)

I wonder: Is it really up to me? It may be my pride asking that question, but I really want to know. Did I, solely, precipitate the disintegration of the old working relationship with Julie? Then I think of the picture on my fender (the first time), and I wonder how I could ask these questions. Yes, I guess it is just my pride, wanting off the hook. Whenever I think of "It's all up to you," my blood surges, and I'm angry to have so readily agreed with Julie. She makes me weak--weaker--as if there were still some hope of changing her feelings, and I just have to be nice and agreeable--a doormat--to effect the change. Now my pride is slapping me around for it, demanding redemption. What it really wants is help. I'm just not progressing with Julie, and, frankly, I'm not sure what constitutes progress relative to her. What am I moving toward? Certainly not what I want. What do I want that I don't already know is impossible to get? I'm getting along better with everyone at work, except Julie. We exchanged one greeting this week, maybe two last week. How is this better? Will I always want more? And "more" right now is just conversation, a gentle gibe, even. Not much has improved. Here it is, exactly a year since Julie inspired me to start writing again (it seems like ten), and where am I? Have I gone full circle? or have I just not gotten anywhere at all? What's the difference? I could have kept this all to myself, continued scribbling and avoided humiliation, and lived with the caustic regret of "what if"; or, this, the continuous humiliation I suffer now. Yeah, yeah--I know it's my pride. How do I put that aside? I haven't recovered from the train wreck in September, and after the last talk with Julie, I'm even further from it. I think of how she was more prepared for my declaration than I'd thought and realized that she'd scripted a few things for herself. It's no wonder they--e.g., believing you only get to know someone from work or cohabitation--rang so false. Julie wore that same t-shirt today that she had at the train wreck--I hadn't seen it since, and the pain flooded back, with the false sentiments--"great guy," "I had a really nice time"--and I want to scream. Yes, it's my pride that wants to scream. You think I could not have any pride? I won't apologize for my pride; like the way I feel about Julie, it can't be helped, and thinking won't dissipate it. I'm just a man.

A year. Is that all I know after a year?--"I'm just a man"? I know I'm a passionate man, and that I'd been pretending otherwise for countless years before that. I know that passion is an open wound a screaming gash, an insatiable termagant; and I know that without its incessant infliction I wouldn't know I was alive. A year. A year, and it's still up to me. What's up to me?

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Mostly Snotty, with a Ninety-Percent Chance of Vitriol (5/20/09 Wednesday)

Often, most often on days when my self-esteem is bottoming out, my first encounter with Julie is the bellwether of my workday. Today is one of those days, and I'm not having a good one. I was a deer in Julies headlights, only this time she didn't rescue me with a comical greeting, and I was left out to dry with my regret of inaction. So, I'm back to covering her up with music as I process holds, pretending she's not behind me at her desk or the drive-up window, but all the while feeling her there and my temperature rising. I seem to be sinking. I could have used "she knows," but it's too late; that's a shield I need to ride into battle with--it can't remove the slings and arrows and patch up the wounds. At least it's only a half-day with her, but it's her second half. I'd rather brood at home than at work. I don't want to be that guy at work, the one with the storm-clouded brow who might as soon rain on you as give you the time of day.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

If the Horse Would Just Stay Dead, I Might Understand the Futility (5/19/09 Tuesday)

Several days before I resumed writing, while Julie was on vacation, Judy sat me down, concerned about my mood. I spilled my guts about Julie, grateful to have someone show some concern. Turns out Judy has been a fan of the blog since shortly after I introduced it and has read it through twice. She was glad to have been on vacation the week the blog hit Julie's fan. Anyway, I told Judy about the cold-shoulder wars going on and how I intended to force a confab with Julie about it. (It was not my imagination, apparently, that created the tension in the workplace during the war; Judy felt it, as well, and there was no way we were the only ones, especially given the workplace readership of the blog--as if my demeanor weren't clue enough to the disharmony.) Judy asked me how I would go about it, and I told her virtually the same thing I said to Julie the next week, only when I said, "'It hurts'," I was close to tears. Judy wanted to know if I thought it would be better if Julie and I were no longer scheduled together on the desk, and I swiftly and emphatically answered, "No!"

Clumsy exordium aside, I just wanted to say Tammy may finally have gotten the message, because I had another hour with Julie yesterday. Our entire conversation was, Julie: "Is the hold date the twenty-second?" and, me: "Yes." It was easier to tolerate than Saturday's hour, but no more satisfying, though what I even wanted I have no idea. I worked a little on Straight Read, adding another retrospective comment or two, didn't care if she saw it.

Julie's still giving me these exaggerated wide berths. The first one was amusing, but I've regarded each subsequent avoidance with increasing annoyance, though I've not allowed it to manifest in expression. I don't know what she's about with that, but for my part, I'm not playing. When she is not aware of my approach, I pass her as closely as I can. I don't know what it means to her to know how I feel about her, but she doesn't seem to be living with it as well as I am. That's not to say I've adjusted all that well. I may always be envious of anyone with whom she chats, and I'm still quite conscious of her presence in any shared space, no matter the size. I still want to impress her. But I do not spend every moment there thinking about her. I'm relieved when there are others around to talk to, and I'm talking a lot more with everyone but Julie. I'm not avoiding conversation with her, but what is there to say that doesn't seem shallow compared to what I've said and would rather say? And what would she care to hear it? Perhaps no more than I'd care to say it.

As I was returning with an empty DVD cart, Scotia motioned me to the circ desk behind which she sat. "Is this Bright, Ironic Hell your blog?" "Yes." Far from concerned, I was defiantly amused. "Dude," she said, "you might want to clear the history all the way," and she swept a hand across the counter as if knocking over chess pieces. I said, "I don't care. It's not news. Everybody knows about it." "I didn't know about till now." I just shrugged. "I really don't care about." I left it at that, though I would like to have asked her how much she read and what she thought of it, but that would only have been a salve to my vanity.

I'm nagged by the feeling that I may be trying to provoke something again. I have to keep a check on the feigned insouciance; it could talk me into some stupid things if I let it have its way. I will always maintain that the blog is about me and I have a right to recount my interactions with others. How far can I take that right? How much is mine? Julie wanted our conversation to be "outside of work," but how much less so has it become since I posted it on the internet, knowing there are readers at work? I have no intention of embarrassing her--she knows that--but is this some form of "unwanted attention"? Julie sat at that desk today before Scotia. Did she look at the blog? But to think about that is to want her to have, and to want that is to want a reaciotn. Am I not over even that petty hope?

Monday, May 18, 2009

She Noes (5/17/09 Sunday)

That desk hour with Julie a couple weeks ago was just a wishful misperception--I read the schedule wrong--but I did get one Saturday. I thought of joking about it with her--something like, "I thought we were being separated," but I doubt Julie would have been comfortable with it. It was awkward enough out there. It would have helped to have "she knows" written on my hand again, but I remembered occasionally that hour and felt better for it. Still, I was uncomfortable. Nothing could make me initiate conversation with her; essentially, I just wasn't interested. Anything I could think to say to her would have been in my own interest. I just can't pretend to care about the things she's willing to divulge, because she's willing to divulge them to anyone. I've been beyond halfway with her, and she never did cover the rest of the distance. I'm tired of the long walk back to square one. It was quiet hour but for "she knows," and that's not yet quite enough for me.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Will It Stay or Will It Go, Now? (5/15/09 Friday)

Thursday morning, before work, I was experiencing some of my usual issues of easy frustration, and I began to worry that the new me was fading away before I had had a chance to fill the role properly. I rode in with Stacey that afternoon and told her about the semi-transformation, describing it as my editor being asleep, adding, "He can die for all I care." I was nervous when we got to work. I haven't had a full day with Julie since I noticed the change, and I was afraid that what I'd told Stacey on the way in had violated my no-jinx policy. Plus, as comparatively jovial as I've been, I still have been reticent around Julie.

I didn't see Julie the first half-hour, and when I did I avoided eye-contact, though she didn't look my way, anyway. The next hour I was on holds and got up from my desk to move to Mary Lou's behind mine (which doesn't have a barcode scanner). Julie was approaching from her desk as I stepped into the lane. Immediately she saw me she staggered, startled, and squeezed her back against a sorting cart. We were at least seven feet apart. I pulled my chin to my chest, shook my head, and squinted at her quizzically. Then I laughed at her and sat down in Mary Lou's chair. Julie may have laughed, but I didn't hear it, and she didn't say anything.

As I processed holds I came back into form, chiding Mary Lou about one thing or another. She's an easy target, but she takes a joke in the proper spirit. I was a bit of a smartass when she asked me if I liked what I was listening to (Franz Ferdinand), and I replied, "No, I hate it. That's why I'm listening to it." It got a rise out of Bethany and Angie, but I immediately apologized to Mary Lou, who accepted it as "no big deal."

At dinner break I sat at my usual spot--the far table, back to the wall--from which I can see out the window on my left and the entire breakroom in front of me and to my right. I was alone when Julie entered and approached the first table. I looked up as she entered and stared into her eyes as she closed in.

"Hello!" she said loudly.

My mouth was full of sandwich, and I nearly emptied it with my laughter. I somehow swallowed and returned her greeting, at a normal volume, but with a chuckle. We did not talk.

On the desk the last hour with Mike, I told him that my feelings for Julie were "fading." Saying it aloud saddened me. It was an admittance I didn't know I was reluctanct to make until I spoke it, and when I said it I wasn't even sure it was true. There was--and still is--some denial at work: I feel I should believe my feelings are fading, but are they? Am I snatching at them as they turn to cloud and float away? Julie's picture is on my fender. I turn it over when I get to work. I've considered taking it off, though I don't want to. No, I won't. I want to look at that radiant face as I climb out of the saddle on the hills. It always makes me smile. If the love deserts me, I hope I still have that.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Gunn to My Head (5/12/09 Tuesday)

Neil Gunn suggested, in The Atom of Delight, that a by-product of analysis is the object's destruction, but I would offer up this journal as evidence to the contrary. My depression, neurosis, and self-loathing have all been impervious to my intellectual firepower. Perhaps it's a deficiency of my armory and/ordinance. Regardless, I'm inclined to believe Neil Gunn when I have an out-of-character experience, though my reason for doing so is predicated more on superstition than empirical reality; that is, I don't want to jinx it: It came out of nowhere, as for as I know, and it might as soon go back there if I don't let it be and settle in.

Monday morning I overslept the alarm by an hour. Not a big deal--I just opted out of packing lunch and making coffee. I could get a sandwich at the cafe, and I had a stash of mate in my desk at work. I settled all that within ten seconds of cussing at the clock.

At work I had back-to-back mugs of mate, but I was still grumpy, though it wasn't entirely because of by the lack of sleep--at least not directly. I was feeling bitter still from Sunday night's ruminations. My pride was taking a beating from the upper hand I had projected into Julie's possession.

Julie was backup the hour I was processing holds. I needed to cut some paper to wrap them with. The cutter is on the counter behind the discharge station, where Julie sat. I was especially forceful in bringing down the blade, though I only cut a few sheets at a time in order to prolong the activity and raise the annoyance factor. The sound of the blade slicing through the paper then banging to a stop is nearly as violent as the action itself, amplified as it is by the elevated soundboard of the hollow underbelly of the cutting surface. I knew I'd get a remark.

"Are you making sure the paper's cut?" said Julie.

"I'm pretending my neck is under there," I said.

There was no reply.

Finished, I sat down to the holds, at Angie's desk, in front of Julie's. Julie came back for a sip of her Earl Grey. On her return trip she asked, smiling, "Did you get up on the wrong side of the bed this morning?"

"I did that all weekend."

Again, no reply.

"And most of last week," I wanted to add, but that would have been a bit thick.

At lunch I twice attempted conversation with Julie and was each time met with little more than a grunt of discomfiture. That I did not feel rebuffed or embarrassed was an oddity that I did not till this very moment consider as such. It hadn't quite rolled off my back then, but little did I take it personally, either.

For trhe rest of the day I was civil and human as I may ever have been at work, especially in the past year. I offered conversation unbidden, quipped eloquently, and was even nice to Mary Lou, the co-worker with whom I have always had the least tolerance. And I gave it little to no thought.

Today was little different, maybe, even, more of the same. My only contact with Julie was when she entered the break room upon her arrival to put her lunch in the fridge. I said, "Hi, Julie." I didn't try to smile--or not to--so I probably didn't. She muttered, "Hey," with a vaguely questioning look, as if seeking motive. An hour in the workroom together barely raised my temperature, and though I had to apply conscious effort not to look at her at every chance, the effort was all but off-handed.

With as little effort, but unconsciously, I nearly came upon the reason for this recent change in behavior, but as I saw it rising to consciousness I popped it like a bubble. If the analysis is destructive I will destroy first the analysis. I'm not knocking on wood or throwing spilled salt over my shoulder. I'm leaving well enough alone.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Normal Is a White Frock with Six-Foot Sleeves (5/10/09 Sunday)

"It's up to you." I heard little else in my head Saturday at work, and each sub-aural utterance of Julie's Monday words clawed deeper into my craw. Monday, it seemed a level-headed assessment of responsibility, but by Friday I saw it as her hand-washing, so that it wasn't so much "It's up to you" as "Whatever--just do what you have to do. I'm outta here." What I'd accepted as compassion on her past seemed merely indulgence: "Maybe he'll finally get it this time and leave me alone." I've been thrown enough bones. I made efforts during the week to strike up conversation, but they were met with monosyllabic indifference and no eye contact. It's up to me. That was her answer Monday to my wish for things to be normal. But things are already normal for her, so what can my effort yield? I have no normal, or at least have no idea anymore what it is. The normal I would like to have is no feelings for Julie. Love is not working for me, and the bitterness is again yanking my bit till I feel ridiculed for still caring for someone who's never cared for me. But I don't care for her.

I'm having difficulty saying what I have to say. I had a lot to say after work Saturday, but there was no time to write before the kids showed up, and after putting them to bed I had no brain. I thought the emotional exhaustion would translate to the physical, but though I found sleep easily enough, I lost it at three for two hours. Then I slept till nine, fodder for the page piled to my cranium's ceiling. With the kids, I could not write. Now it's tomorrow, and I fear sleep for the premature wake-up. I'll write a little longer. Maybe at least my editor will fall asleep first.

On my hand at work Saturday morning I wrote "she knows" on my palm, but by then it was difficult to recall what I'd meant by that, my mind being propped up on caffeine crutches after three hours of REM-less sleep. St. John' wort, chamomile tea--forget it; I was a wreck, till by five I was near self-pitying tears. I said aloud, "Keep it together, Dion" as I strode to the breakroom for nothing but a walk. Turning back, I encountered Julie on her way out. She smiled and said, "See you later." There wasn't a smile in me to return. I forced out, "Okay." I sat down heavily at the backup station, guzzled my last cup of tea. God, I thought, how do people do it? How do they get through the day, pretending they have it all? or that what they don't have is inconsequential, that a job is enough, that at work there's nothing but work? It this the normal it's up to me to restore? Forget it. I'm going to bed.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Out There In Here (5/09/09 Saturday)

Love is supposed to be a good thing, yet I feel that it hung me out to dry yesterday, and here I am, at two a.m., yet to sleep, wondering how I can get to work in the later morning with a positive attitude--much less keep it. I want to believe in love, but I lie in bed motionless for an hour pleading with it to please help me. I can't believe in a god, but I'm tired of carrying this burden. How else can it be lifted from me? Intellect is cold and insipid in matters of my heart. My heart must be where my compassionate understanding is, but it requires too much from me that I don't know how to give. It asks me to love myself.

To say that the traffic outside is slow is to say that I hear a couple cars a minute slishing down the wet street about thirty feet from my window. It is probably no longer raining, but water drips in a slow rhythm from the leaky gutter onto my sill. I'm hungry. I won't get to sleep that way.

I forgot to take my St. John's wort yesterday. Wouldn't it be nice to find out that that is all I need to keep my mood up? It would have helped yesterday if Julie hadn't tried so hard to not look at me. I told her Monday night that I couldn't pretend things were okay or back to "normal" or that I had no romantic feelings for her. I didn't tell her to do the pretending for me. But there I go, getting bitter and resentful. Good moods are so transient, I wonder if they're even real. Real things should stay. I don't like where that line of thought takes me.

I ate a cheese stick. It didn't improve my mood, but it might help me sleep. But I don't want to turn out the light.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Did I Just Let the Joker Out of Arkham? (5/08/09 Friday)

What happened between the lie of the last Friday-the-thirteenth--that I would best get over Julie by not writing about her--and the last day of April, when I finally had to admit otherwise? I thought I had reverted, that things had gotten worse that ever, but found, instead, that I had grown. I no longer feel the plaything of a bitter, spiteful god named Irony. I am no longer in Hell. But where am I? I declared myself in love on the penultimate Friday-the-thirteenth and thought it the cruelest jest yet pulled by Irony. But here I am, still in love, and grateful to be. It is not returned by Julie, but perhaps not entirely unappreciated. I'm not sure how much I appreciate it myself. Yesterday, I was only cruelly appreciative, glad simply to have gotten the upper hand on it so that I might extact revenge. Today I woke up appalled at such dictatorial arrogance, realizing I had caged an ally for lack of recognition.

What can this ally do for me? Today at work was difficult. I wanted Julie's attention, I wanted her to talk to me, I wanted to talk to her--I wanted all of the old things I always wanted from her--and where was my new friend with a soft, heavy hand on my shoulder to say, "She knows how you feel"? My only friend was Judy's fan, in front of which I had to stand for prolonged periods after even the briefest near-encounter with Julie, when my body temperature filled the thermometer and the heat issuing from the top of my head looked like the waves off a baking tarmac. Oh, what she does to me! Where was my cool-headed friend?

I'm sure we're just not on the same page, me and (love it may be, but such a word, so densely fraught, cannot possibly be simply a name)--my friend. After all, it can't know me any better than I know it, even after having had my reins for nearly a year. Hell, it overturned me in a ditch! Yet, though it cannot reign, it can be a valuable advisor. Talk to me!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

"Do Not Feed Do Not Climb Over Fence" (5/07/09 Thursday)

Two full work days have passed, and I'm still not quite sure how things stand. Yet when I consider the meeting with Julie that blustery evening, the regrets that spun me round in bed the night following have been all but marginalized into non-existence by what I can truthfully call the accomplishments of that evening; chiefly, establishing, frankly and unashamedly, how I feel about her and admitting the persistence of these feelings as a virtually immutable force that will color even my proximity to her. In realizing this, I have discovered a freedom.

On Tuesday, the first day after our talk, Julie and I exchanged pleasant greetings but nothing else. Wednesday, I ventured to chide her for staying late as "penance" for her "busman's holiday" at Glen Allen, a notoriously ill-attended branch at which she'd spent the first half of the day. She took it in the spirit meant.

Forty minutes on a bike in the dark is a fecund setting for the fruits of contemplation: I created more than a freedom Monday evening; I birthed a power. I can do as I please now, can't I? Not knowing quite what that means is a danger, but as I've absolutely assured her of my lack of romantic intent, I am free to ridicule it. When I was angry and ashamed to be futilely in love, though I knew it was important to find the humor in the futility, all I found was sarcasm. I was the bitter target of all my jokes, and Julie the bullseye of my resentment. Now that I have accepted that I am in love beyond my control, I have effectively isolated these feelings as a separate entity--quarantined them, caged them. They are now in my little zoo for me to visit for my amusement. I won't go so far, yet, to proclaim that that is all they are, that they have no longer any power over me, but I think I suffer no delusion, either, to believe that their power is substantially diminished, and because of that I am entitled to turn the tables on them. This power, newly established and arrogantly claimed, will stand its first test early today: I saw today's schedule last night: The first full hour at work will be on the desk with Julie. The old anxieties of such a prospect try to pile on, but, for now, I'm able to shrug them off with a smirk. I'll take that smirk with me to the desk. I don't plan on keeping it, but I hope its removal will be gradual and natural, sloughed off like old skin. As self-proclaimed "stupidest person in the world" in her proximity, how self-conscious can I be anymore? Even that is something to have fun with now.

But will Julie have fun wih me? How comfortable will she be with me? I imagine it will take her a little longer, but she told me it would be up to me to re-establish the old rapport I've missed so badly; that, apparently, it is my ensuing behavior that will win back her trust. I don't even want to think about that, don't want to start calculating and second-guessing my every action and word in her presence. That's an altogether different and more malignant danger, but with which I hope I am familiar enough to be conscious of and now better prepared to battle.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

By the Time I Got Home I Had Rocketed Up to Fifth Stupidest (5/05/09 Tuesday)

A talk with Julie always clogs my pen for a day or two. I came home last night, ate two pieces of leftover chicken, closed the blinds on the waning light, and climbed itno bed with a decaf headache. I had been concerned that morning about coffee breath for our meeting that evening, so I had a mug of green tea instead of coffee. I also didn't want to be overstimulated. No problem there.

It may have taken me an hour to fall asleep. I awoke again, just before two, as if a tv in front of me had been switched off. The traffic had ceased, and the birds were a few hours from singing. The headache was all I could hear.

"It's never good when we sit down together," was my opening line. There were only a few other things I had scripted. I got the laugh I was after.

She was drinking her "usual," Earl Grey. I had a spearmint green tea. We were sitting outside Starbuck's, though we agreed that if there was any other coffee shop near work, we'd have been there, instead. The sky was dark, but not so threatening, since it had been like that all day.

I'd hoped that she would start things off, if only to not feel so much as if the agenda were all mine, but I didn't expect it, and when she only said, "So...? i grinned: She has no idea how well I know her.

I stumbled, but when I finally looked at her instead of the reflective emblem on the back of the cycling shoe on the foot across my knee I told her, "These feelings I have for you are just not going away. They are going to be there till they're not. There's nothing I can do about it."

Julie said nothing then, and said little after that that I didn't solicit with a question. When I asked her, "How has my behavior made you feel?" she said, "It's about time someone asked me about my feelings."

That hurt, because I had ("You may not believe this," I said) very much had her feelings in mind and tried to explain my "stupid idea" that because she had no fellings for me, it couldn't possibly matter if I were "invisible."

"It's not true that--" she started, and I brightened at the prospect of being contradicted--that she really did have feelings for me--but she changed direction altogether, citing the tension of the workplace and difficulty of working together. She would not admit to her feelings being hurt.

To be truthful about my reporting skills, if less flattering to Julie's power to cloud this man's mind, I am not the best listener but to my own words, which I have the benefit of hearing first in my head before aloud. That, above their actual value or significance, is why Julie's words are poorly presented here. Even that said, though, I discerned little disclosure. With Julie, it is easy to tell when she is offering up a bit of herself: She breaks eye contact and looks down to her left. There was only one instance of that, and I'm not sure what, if anything, I said to prompt it--indeed, I can't even recall touching on this subject except with close friends or in this journal: She said she would never belittle me for having these feelings toward her. (I thought then of Mr. Gold, whose awkward advances upon her I had heard her mocking in undertones to Judy.) Its effect was to mollify and puzzle me, to small and large degrees, respectively.

I found a little peace, too, with the answer to a burning question: "At what point did you begin to think I had feelings for you?"

"It was when you became so insistent on setting a time for our...tete-a-tete."

"Wait," I said. "It was at your car, wasn't it? It was when I said, 'Oh, but it's taken me so long to get up the nerve to do this!'"


"I knew it. I saw it on your face." I shook my head and sighed at the immediate recollection of the suppressed horror that had frozen her smile as she crept around the edge of her car to put it between us.

"At that point I thought seriously about backing out, but I thought I should let you know that I didn't have the same feelings for you."

"Well, as painful as the experience was, I'm glad you went through with it." She chuckled, and I was bemused that she found humor in my statement.

We sat there for an hour. It was always me who filled the awkward silence, which were numerous, if only to head off the opportunity for her to announce her departure, and I offered much more of myself than I'm sure she cared to know. It did not elicit any like disclosure from her. But in regard to the reason we were sitting across from each other,I asked her to please just bear with me and don't feel that being nice to me was going to "inflame my passion--for want of a more pedestrian term"--because "the stupidest person in the world is me within sight of you."

On the way home I felt blank, but I was probably the precise opposite, a surfeit of thought and emotion overloading the system entirely, the best response to which was to shut down entirely. It seemed there was nothing to say, nothing to write--no more inspiration. Then I awoke at two a.m. to a deafening silence, and into the void rushed the petty regrets of things unsaid and missaid. The pandora's box opened, the pen is unclogged. And then there's the next day. And the next....

Third Time's the Harm? (5/03/09 Sunday)

So I go into battle a third time--and let this be the last time I use a war metaphor for this meeting with Julie. This isn't something to win, a flag to capture. It's my last best chance to mend things. There is a lot I want, a lot I can't ask for, a lot to tend to. I'm taking my lessons from the first two chances: I can't be aggressive or accusatory, but neither can I be abject or excessively apologetic; frank, but not toward a selfish agenda (remember: she has no feelings for me, and I can't change that); tell her how I feel, and ask her how she feels; any time I want to start a sentence with "I don't want to..." consider and solicit Julie's feelings on the matter--don't assume how she feels in relation to my behavior; that's self-flattery and condescension. There is much I have to say, but it must relate to my behavior. My first instinct will be that of subservience and penitence. I will be tempted to let her whip me, but I can't apologize for my feeligns, only my immature actions. This is as deeply as it's safe to strategize without gagging on a replete agenda.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

May Day (5/01/09)

I'm drinking to myself, a wee dram of Highland Park. It's my third bottle this year, the previous two rarely partaken of in any but ironic celebration. And let's not really call this a celebration as much as a relief. What I had to do I did--not, of course, in quite the planned fashion, but with quite the planned effect.

Imagine my day: As Julie's hour at the window did not come till four, I dragged under a nervous burden for most of the day. Julie never accepted eye contact, but that made my proposed action all the more immperative as it made me all the more morose. Twice Julie replaced me at a station. The first time, at backup, she was coming off lunch and was sitting at her desk as time neared for the transfer. Twice I left my post to give her a chance to sneak in and claim it, but as the clock ticked into my lunch hour, I just left to eat. When she was to replace me at the window for the fateful hour, I left there a few minutes early to headstart the holds. Usual etiquette in the changing of the guard at the window is to find the incumbent and announce your arrival. Julie, instead, looked at the schedule, then marched to her station. I was glad; I didn't want her to have to speak to me, as that might somehow marginalize my agenda. Several times during the day I challenged her with steady glances, and each time I could see the tension of conscious effort to avoid looking my way, could tell it for what I'd been doing to her. I remember feeling very childish ignoring her, yet here she was, no more mature. Since, I have felt less the pathetic man-child but no less ashamed for having brought out this dubious quality from her.

More than half the hour passed. My heart was thudding, as when I neared the moment,now nearly eight months past, of asking her out. I uneasily bided my time, waiting for the perfect moment, not knowing what that was--procrastinating. The workroom contained Julie, me, Judy and Brian. Brian was backup, as far from the window as possible, and Judy was at her desk nearly as far away. Judy knew of my intention, and Brian wouldn't care, probalby hadn't a clue as to what has transpired between Julie and I. Two of the holds on the pick list were for the drive-up; they would be my pretense of approach to Julie. I took a deep breath, arranged my opening line with confidence, snatched up the books, and marched resolutely, if unsteadily to the window.

Julie was turned my way but had her eyes on a book on top of the holds shelf between us. On top of the shelf, to her left, was a small, white, plastic bin designated for the books to be trapped for window pickup. Looking at her, I placed the books in the bin. She raise her head. I locked onto her eyes and thrilled with power from her ephemeral stupefaction. After a pause, perhaps waiting for me to speak, she said, "Thank you," and broke away, gathering the books she'd be checking. But I was not going to let her go. I stopped her with, "Julie."


I found her eyes again. "This cold-shoulder stuff is killing me." I'd stunned her again, as I'd hoped, and continued. "I know I started this, and I deserve it, but it hurts."

In a high whisper, glancing around the room, she said, "I would rather talk about this outside of work." It seemed something of an embarrassed rebuke.

"So would I," I said, not in a whisper, already thrilling to the possibility of sitting down alone with her again. "But how else do I get to talk to you?"

Julie hesitated, still looking at me. I thought she was going to suggest I could have emailed her. I didn't want to try to explain why I wouldn't do that. She didn't suggest it. Instead, she began to think aloud, going through her weekend schedule. We couldn't find common free time, and she said, "Do you just want to think about it and let me know?" She smiled, and I felt a tinge of condescension. I sensed this was what she wanted, but I was not going to set myself to have to approach her again.

"No," I said firmly. "I just want to do this"--I chopped my hand through the air.


"We could do it Monday after work."

She was too-long a moment considering before agreeing. Again I was reminded of a moment in our past, but this time with a sense of redemption: I had dropped the ball in naming the time of our "date" in September. If I do nothing else Monday reminiscent of that disaster, then--well, I wouldn't necessarily call it a success, but it would be damned sight more satisfying, and the kind of memorable that doesn't fill me with regret and tangle my bedsheets. Slainte!