Sticks and Bones

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

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

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

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Tearing Down Bridges to Build Walls (7/29/09 Wednesday)

The battle is pride versus conscience. It's obvious which the victor should be, but justice is not always served, and as the armaments are shared, it's not likely either side will grab the flag without disproportionate losses. What's the prize, anyway? The princess doesn't care which knight wins the joust or which suitor wins the duel--the winner lives and the loser dies. Whoopee. This has always been the battle, but before Julie knew how I felt about her, the battlefield was on my own land.

I can stop the metaphors, but I can't stop the battle. Though my pride has no rights to anything my conscience can't break from its grip. Being nice to Julie is not an option. Neither is being mean, but the absence of courtesy can convey vindictiveness, and my conscience is sensitive to those occurrences. Yesterday, she obviously needed some help with a heavily laden Easy cart. I was there and could have pulled her clear, but I ignored her and continued past. She had asked Mike a couple hours earlier for similar help and that had stung me. Now I stung myself. I felt I couldn't step in without giving in to Julie in some way, though, of course, it would have been only pride to which I'd have been acceding. If I could have done it stone-faced and silent I might have retained my attitude. Having said that, it's suddenly apparent that I have more intent to save my pride than to appease my conscience, for I make no such strategic speculation toward the retention of goodwill. So be it, I suppose, though such glibness speaks more to my immediate impatience with trying to codify my logic than to how I really feel--and probably speaks volumes of the inanity of this strategy.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Steps Forward:Steps Back (7/26/09 Sunday)

I've no doubt that the trees in the Irony Forest have continued to fall noisily while I was out of auditory range. I wandered close to its edge yesterday and heard this one: Of all my talk of integrity and candor and honest, organic, no-tricks resolution, I am faking it till I make it. I'm not, of course, pretending to be a nice guy off whose back adversity rolls. I'm pretending I don't give a damn. The objective--normalcy-is the same. This way takes less effort and is closer from the start to the objective. I hate it when I care what Julie is up to or what she's saying to whom. I need her to be a non-entity, and that can't happen if I pay her any attention outside the professionally necessary. If Julie plays by my rules I'll forget her and what I thought she meant to me. I need her to not talk to me, to avoid me as obviously as I avoid her. I only care a little bit how I come off to her, but it's caring too much. She' already helping one way, though: A quality for which I'd always respected her has fallen by the wayside: Previously above this kind of thing, Julie has taken on adversarial attitude toward some of our less-than-favorite patrons, joining the large, all-female club on the circulation staff. The retailer in her skin has finally stepped out of it, and it's not pretty. Even if I were still blinded by my inane hopes, I wouldn't have let that slide. This puts her that much closer to simply "coworker"--that is, where I need her to be. Monday, I will try to reclaim my stake in No-Man's Land. It was surprisingly easy land to grab last week, but also too easily lost. The knot in my neck had gone away by the time I no longer needed to convince myself to not look at her. It's a longer week this coming week than the last, though. I'll have four full days with her in which to test this flimsy pretense. I can almost hear the trees falling to clear a path for me. If only I knew where it leads--but would that stop me from following it?

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Can't Stop, On Fire (7/24/09 Friday)

I nearly talked myself into not writing again, so I have to. It's one those evenings when nothing I can think to do seems worth doing. Expressing that is the last thing I want to do, but essential, as if doing so is admitting something I have to deal with. Every day it seems easier to not write, given the cumulative unfruitfulness of this almost obsessive output, and I know when I start writing about it that I'm nearing that bottomless precipice into which I would throw my book and pen. Writing is the last thing I ever want to write about, and doing so seems to tell me that it is, indeed, the last thing to write about. It isn't, but it might be the last thing I can make an effort to write about. It's painful to continue talking about Julie. There have been many details of our interactions over the past several weeks that I just haven't wanted to write. I don't want to look in the microscope anymore. I took our relationship from innocuous to impossible in barely a year. I spoke three words to her this week, because I had to. Today she spoke to me--because she had to--and I just stared at her a moment and turned away. She didn't require an answer, so I didn't giver her one. Until today it had seemed we'd sunk into agreement--no contact if could be avoided--but when she emerged from the bathroom after changing from her bike clothes this morning, and there I was, bag in hand, needing to do the same thing, she said, "Your turn," and the deal was off, the day lost, and the week ruined. My pride balloons up, and the bitterness floods in, and I hurt all over again from the humiliation of what I put myself through and--worse--that I'm still putting myself through it. I haven't seen James in months, and as much as I miss him, I'm ashamed to tell him where Julie and I stand.

So this is all I have, these words. It's hardly enough, and I haven't convinced myself to continue, but I think of Richard Pryor running down the street in flames: "If I stop I'll die!"

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Pride vs. Pride (7/22/09 Wednesday)

One word from a romantic naif several weeks ago suddenly rings in my ears a sonorous toll of wisdom. As I sat trapping holds at Angie's desk, Julie behind me at hers cleaning DVD's, I heard an echo of Bethany's "Still?" and as I could not answer it, each faint repetition of the word seemed to damn me further. Indeed, why have I perpetuated this quest? Ask my pride, and I'll feel even more the fool. That's nothing revelatory, of course. Nothing is at this point--or, rather, it's nothing I haven't realized already. I seem to be weaving my way back through everything I've said already over the past year, adding a contextual texture ("contexture"?) to what seems now to have been merely logic, now applying experience to theory. For want of stroking, my pride has turned on a blameless person, who has returned completely to the cold-shoulder attitude. I've lost contact entirely with the one person with whom I most wanted it, and my pride won't yield to make amends, because it is not all up to me, and I would receive no help. Julie's cold shoulder does not hurt as it did before, I don't need to beg for a truce. I will not confront her, leave no notes. It's not that important to my ego to have her attention, though, as it would be a condescending attention at best, it is a step backwards in my emotional growth. For now, I'll let that awareness suffice for progress. But "Still?" Julie knows why I do what I do to her. What it does to her I don't know. I can't say I don't care, but I can't believe that I have offended her, seeing as I've made it clear that it simply stems from my feelings for her, which are anything but malicious. But that argument is probably much the same as the one she used in her disbelief fo my feeling for her: "I thought I made it clear." And, perhaps, it has the same answer and the same resolution: "It was clear to my head but not to my heart. It will go away when it goes away." Maybe it's not up to either one of us.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

One, Last Easy Lesson (7/20/09 Monday)

Julie could have said goodnight to me as she left. I was standing outside, at the lip of the rain, waiting for Stacey, when Julie passed close by me. I caught her profile. Isn't it amazing how you can tell when someone is trying not to look at you? I was hoping she'd say goodnight. I could have said it, but by the time I'd stopped waiting for her to say it to me, saying it would have been an indication of my wounded pride and a challenge to her to return the greeting. So I watched her. Her stride and posture made no concession to the rain. I wondered what she thought, what it took for her to ignore me like that. I know, given the decorum she protects, that she wasn't proud of herself. I was a little hurt, but mostly I felt sorry for her. At least I've learned to open myself to my emotions, but Julie is master to hers. They don't stand a chance of exposure. That's why I had to take joy, however seemingly perverse, in her embarrassment, even in her outrage. But if that's all I'll ever get from her--and it is--then I'll have to move on. This is the last thing I tell myself that will seep into my soul like so much else recently. I have moved on in many ways, but am I still in love with her? I want to be, but I don't think I am. I don't know what I'm leaving behind by moving on, but I miss it already. Julie is not what I need. How long will it take me to accept that in my heart? When will she be no more to me than anyone else there? and less than most? How can I ever look at her without hope? Tonight I watched a little, old lady walking through the rain to her car, her heels pullling water from the puddles in tiny rooster tales. Her white cardigan stretched across her broad, stooped shoulders as she clutched closed a permanent shopping bag. That couldn't be the woman I love, could it?

Thursday, July 16, 2009

For What She's Worth (7/16/09 Thursday)

Something is happening with me, and though I am reluctant to analyze it, my curiosity keeps me plucking at it as at a fat scab with smooth, new, pink skin beneath it.

I could have greeted Julie as she passed my desk, but as per usual lately, I avoided doing so. But when I relieved Angie at the window and Julie was at the printer across the counter from me retrieving the pick list, I looked at her and waited for her head to turn my way, as I knew--or willed--it would. It did, and I said, crisply, "Hi, Julie," not smiling, not not-smiling. While I was saying it, and for a slow moment afterward, I felt nothing, or the absence of feeling. There was no hope, or defiance or dread. There may have been meaning, but I was not privvy to it. She responded politely. I went back to ignoring her.

And I've done a pretty fair job of it. It's become easier, not, I think, because I want to or feel I have to, but because it makes more sense than trying to connect with her. I still care, still wish she cared, but hasn't that always been futile? I've said it all before, and as much as I was sure of its truth, I could never believe. Faith is not something I could come to rationally, right as it might be--and I have been right all along. The things I talked and talked about are more real and true now than ever, so it seems ironic to spend more words on them. But that's what I do.

I may ignore Julie for the most part, but I no longer hide from her voice behind blaring headphones. Her voice still tweaks my blood pressure, but I'm teaching myself detachment--or, rather, finally learning. It's still at the conscious stage, where it takes a reminder that she's not looking to keep me from doing things simply for her notice, but these anti-self-selfconscious acts are no longer born of an ironic defiance to be noticed. I'm finally believing she doesn't care, and my pride might finally be saying, "Oh, well," and moving on. My pride is not dead, though, and if I could flatter myself to give Julie any credit for noticing the change in me, I would wonder how she'd feel about the apparent loss of affection for her. Would it be relief or remorse? I'd like to imagine remorse, though it hurts me, too, to be believe that. To believe it is relief would hurt more. Either way, I suppose it's only my pride that's pained.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Who's Pen Now? (7/15/09 Wednesday)

Monday, I sat on the sofa, this book in hand, unopened, pen beside me, sheathed. All remained that way as the cicadas sounded off. The traffic, so close to my door that it usually drowns every other sound, and flowing heavily still in the early evening, was only background to the buzzing waves. I had nothing to say, or nothing more important than the stasis that left me virtually unaware of any sensation but the strident call of those most hideous bugs. No sense reminded me of this book in my hand. I seemed to be barely breathing. The cicadas faded with the light, and I stirred to a car horn, resigned, not reluctantly, to not writing that night. I had nothing to say, or nothing ordered. It seems I've said enough--or, having said all of it wrong, would perfer to remain silent until I figure out how to say it right. I thought I had something to write when, once again, Julie flattened herself against the hall wall as we passed, but what more can I say about that from my perspective? What did she see? My own eyes aren't enough, and I haven't any others. I don't have hers, or a third person's. If someone else could write this for me, maybe I'd have a chance of understanding. I'd rather be reading it.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

The Shame of Triumph, the Victory of Defeat (7/10/09 Friday)

A triumphant day sets on a shameful evening. A day of liberating candor dons a dark cloak of confusing reflection. I've been telling people how I feel about things, and I have been stepping on toes and hurting feelings. I have not been mean, only blunt. I feel I have done my character a service if I've been dealing my reputation a blow. But, to be fair to my reputation, it's punch-drunk anaethetized. I made no friends of co-workers today, but I enjoyed a rapport with patrons. With both I was open and decidedly not taciturn (with one obvious exception). It was not something my co-workers were use to, which, perhaps, accounts for both their offense and the patrons acceptance: Those who thought they knew me were confused, and those who didn't talked to me freely. I chided Mike for taping a torn page, and he said, "Oh, I'm sorry. I just thought I'd save you some trouble. I won't do it again," he added, shrinking a bit. Brian, who is our newest member and part-time, and, therefore, the least familiar with me, got a chiding, too, for misreading the schedule and beginning to collect books from the drop while I was still at the backup station. My reflex was to be miffed, but to prick my annoyance I joked, "You trying to tell me something?" As he takes most things, Brian took this without offense but not without understanding my my meaning. "Watch out," I told him. "I'm a sensitive guy." Julie was present. I could have taken the joke a little deeper at her expense, but in the absence of a knowing audience, its full effect--the embarrassment of Julie and the discomfiture of the audience--could not have been attained. I don't do jokes twice, so I don't waste them on the unappreciative.

With Joe, I wasn't joking when I spoke my mind to him. Our new day porter is much more industrious than Jeff ever was, but sometimes seemingly for the sake of busyness. He was the first person I saw Wednesday afternoon, and he said to me, "I'm going out and have lunch at the picnic table, now that I've cleaned it up out there." I looked over his shoulder out the breakroom window. "Oh, no," I couldn't help saying over the sight of a small massacre of wildflowers, shrubs, and saplings around the picnic table--maples, pines, sassafras, blueberrries, and myriad flowers and groundcovers, gone. This was way, way beyond his purview. What did he even do it with? We don't have any yard tools here. I said, "I liked it better the way it was." "Oh," he said. I said, "That area behind the mulch"--an amorphous ring inside of which was an island of protected wild growth--"is supposed to be left alone." "Really?" "Yes." My reaction was probably so much the opposite of the gratitude he expected that he must have been as crestfallen as he'd planned to be elevated in pride. He walked away silently.

Mary Lou, however, received the biggest slice of what I was dishing out. After she left for lunch I noticed on her desk a pair of bulky holds--multi-media learning packets that I had twice put out on the holds shelf for pickup, because it's where they belonged. The moment she got back I confronted her. "Did you take these off the holds shelf again?" "Yes. They were annoying me." "Annoying you? You had no right to do that." I snatched the holds from her desk. I had nearly a complete audience and I could feel the fear like a deafening fog stop everything. "It doesn't matter what any of us here like! This belongs out there!" and I took them out and shelved them for a third time.

I'm at an intersection of many roads, and I've somehow taken steps down each one of them--and they each feel right. I'm growing out of myself and into myself. It's painful and exciting. The pain is the old me with its claws in the new me--the dreadful familiar trying to pull me from the tingly new. The shame I felt at the end of the day is a humble reminder of the society I live in, its expectations of acquiescence to a safe conformity. But I have never been a conformer, and the pretense behind which I pretended to be a conformer has been hanging between me and my own mirror. I have pushed it aside this week. Shame is simply what low self-esteem sees--a feeble leap at unreachable and arbritary standards: It's seeing what it thinks I should be and knowing I'll never be it. Well, it's right, because it's not me. The leap is feeble because I don['t really want it. I want what I am, and that's no leap at all. I won't cry over the shame, but I won't crow over the triumph, either, because I don't know what I've won. Whatever roads I'm taking will meet up again, I'm confident, in a better place.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

She Just Points at It and Laughs (7/08/09 Wednesday)

Julie is trying again, but I've given up. What she's trying is just to be civil, and I can barely muster that. Do I feel anything at all for her? or just for my pride? She won't allow me to connect the way I want to. I'm not worth it to her, but it's only my pride that cares about that. She's not the only person who feels that way about me, but I feel the same about them. Julie told me how she felt about me when she said, "It's all up to you," and I still seethe when I think of that line and how I so readily and humbly accepted it instead of turning it on her with its translation. I was still deluded that there was a chance for me. It is not up to me, because its referent is no longer valid: I don't want things the way they were (that was never enough) and neither does Julie. She doesn't care if I talk to her and would rather I didn't. Who's feelings are hurt by that? It astonishes me still that she could have no interest--of any sort--given all the common interests. She won't talk to me about bikes, Scotland, music, movies--anything--even when I bring them up. I don't so much hate the imbalance of interest as her knowledge of it. It's a power I've given her to wield against me. I'd say, "That's where candor gets me," but it's the naivete of the belief that candor would be returned that got me: I showed her mine, but she didn't show me hers.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Mirror/Mirror (7/02/09 Thursday)

Bethany also asked after me last Friday. I told her what the problem was. "Still?" she said. She hasn't spoken to me this week. My anti-claque grows. Julie's willful disdain for me grows daily more obvious, but I won't say painfully so; in fact, to this old master of that affectation it is virtually heartening. Suffering is required to maintain such an attitude. Her misery is a comfort to me, as long as it's related to me; and as long as I'm not actively contributing to it I can suffer no remorse over it. And I'm not contributing to it. I have spoken to her more than once since Monday and have each time been met with--eventually--a grunted, barely audible monosyllable of indeterminate verbiage. This has served to lower my blood pressure somewhat (but not enough). I can't know that I am a cause of her behavior (I would not be as "happy" if I weren't), and I'm working hard to not believe it, because it's not a healthy stroke to my ego, attention though it might (or might not) be; but I will never know, because Julie would never tell me; behavior of this sort communicates its own inability to communicate all to clearly. If only she knew how well I knew her....

Unfortunately, her behavior towards me has fueled fantasies of her kindling interest in me. Don't let's start in on that again. My best attitude right now is disinterest, though at this point it must be feigned. Perhaps disinterest isn't quite the right word without "emotional" before it. I am not disinterested, feigned or otherwise, but to become emotionally involved is to hope that Julie actually cares about me. When I was acting towards her the way she is now acting towards me it was for attention. I don't know if she recognized it as such, but I think it best that, thouugh I recognize it, I don't acknowledge it. In the meantime I won't stop trying to talk to her. It's the best way to deny that acknowledgment.