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, August 21, 2009

Epiblogue (Part 236 of 236)

How does one begin an ending? It helps to know that it is an ending, but it doesn't help not to have come to it naturally, or at least not by the envisioned design. But as there was no such (realistic) design, this must be, by default, the ending the blog must have. All this is to say that I'm not prepared, in attitude and intellect, to address all that needs addressing. But that won't stop me from trying.

The journal was born of the crush's inspiration, the blog of the journal's frustrations. The journal got a two-month headstart in May 2008, and it wasn't until late August that year that the transcription caught up to the writing. Before the journal became a blog I decided that it would remain a journal in all respects but in its medium of delivery, that even mention of the blog would be as of a separate entity. The intent was two-fold and apparently contradictory: to pretend that I both did and didn't have an audience. I needed to believe someone was listening, but I didn't want to know. Once the former pretense was abrogated by reality, the latter became even more of a pretense--and an absolute necessity. This was to be an exercise in candor, a "private" exhibitionism, a naked parade in front of my windows at which I allowed anyone to look and dared anyone to take offense and call the cops. Until Sergeant Chris told Captain Julie, I'd had little evidence that I had been writing in anything but a vacuum. Finding out otherwise, and that coworkers constituted the majority of my audience, mortified me. Some had been reading practically from the beginning, and if I'd known then they'd been reading over my shoulder, I could not have, at that toddling stage, continued with any confidence in the conceit or intent of my writing. But I had more than hit my stride by then, not just confident but certain that I had set out on the right path from the start. This certainty fueled my indignation when Chris broke the blog, and I briefly abandoned the literary conceit to dress down my readers as voyeurs. Yet that was precisely the audience I had set out to attract. Secretly, I was flattered, but, more that, I was embarrassed to realize that I was putting on a show for my coworkers. How many of them, knowing the day, place and time of my intent to ask Julie out, were waiting on tenterhooks for me to come to the back afterwards and give James the fist-pump of success? How many people now knew more about me than did the one person with whom I wanted to share myself? My first lesson on the power of a blog was hard-learned: Someone is reading it. Just as indignation forced me from the conceit, it forced me out of the public eye when I protected it with a password, but through my anger I could still see my hypocrisy (if at the time I considered it a righteous refusal to be cowed by a mob), and removed the protection.

If you've read from that far back, you know the outer details and how I felt at the time. I don't wish to rehash, but much of this is a dialogue with myself, if not strictly temporization while I search for myriad things I can't yet recognize. I didn't open a can of worms but Pandora's box, and I want to understand what I released, its overall effect and how it brought me to this point.

This thing I grudgingly call a blog could not have been anything else. Expression abhors a vacuum. I've kept journals, off and on, for most of my life, and the one thing they never had was a reader. I chopped down a forest of trees and never heard one of them fall. What expression is expressed without acknowledgment? The blog is a curious creature, a kind of written performance art, a volatile, malleable personal forum that can't escape the influence of its audience. Of course, mine was no exception, though only indetectably so, until Julie commented. After all, I was soliciting advice, if still pretending there was no one to give it. But Julie's comment was, if not the only one that mattered, the one that mattered most. The last irony of this bright, ironic hell was that it was the words of the one person I wanted to talk to me that shut me up. Was it what I'd wanted? I'd wanted Julie's affections, but, denied that, I wanted, at least, her attention; and, that denied, I simply needed to hear her say, "Leave me alone." Julie was right when she said she never led me on. I always knew that. I did not need to be led on. What else she did not do was stop me. I am stubborn, tenacious, probably importunate and definitely willfully ignorant of hints. Julie was right, too, in saying she tried to be sensitive to my feelings, but to which feelings was she sensitive? I am not the average male; there is no such thing. I have feelings, but they are to be shared, not spared. Beat around the bush, but I don't see the bush or the stick you're abusing it with. I'm staring at you waiting for the truth. I was staring at Julie, waiting, until she wrote on my blog.

There are many ways I could justify continuing A Bright, Ironic Hell, starting with a logical shredding of Julie's comment: No privacy but my own did I ever invade, and no word did I write that I did not feel. My feelings were real and valid, but not the truth. I could even logically refute the claim that I was insensitive. But I won't. What can the rational say to the emotional? Not a trillion of my words can invalidate Julie's hurt and feeling of invasion. I built up a rapport with my own emotions, but I never got to know Julie's. I was not so much insensitive to her feelings as ignorant of them. Or is that the same thing? Was that the hurt I caused? Upon understanding my own feelings, did I consider them unique? All my talk of shunning martyrdom while believing I was the only person who could be hurt by any of this! I understood why I deserved compassion, but was sitll arrogant enough to believe no one else was as deserving of it. From my awareness of Julie's lack of feelings for me I inferred that my feelings, whatever they were, were altogether irrelevant to her. I was not prepared to believe that she could be hurt by my ignoring her. When she said she was upset that I didn't want to talk to her, the blog whistled over my ducking head.

I daresay it was the blog itself that hurt her. My attention to her and interaction with her in the workplace was minimal, but of course my pen was not quiet. I had assumed that she had, as she'd told me at our second confrontation, that she had just read "enough," but when I suddenly discovered otherwise, many, if not all of my paranoias became solid realities and moments at work that had seemed at the time eerily coincidental to my immediately previous writing proved, under retrospection, to be reactions to the writing. (No one at work, for example, ever saw the reinstated picture, only the backside with its inscription.) Julie may actually been bending over backwards, in her fashion, to try to please, or at least appease me based on what she read in the blog. But she was, indeed, damned if she did and damned if she didn't, because what I really wanted from her was something I couldn't ask from her even obliquely, much less expect from her: Love. I knew at Stir Crazy (and probably long before) that love from Julie was out of the question, so I tried to scale back to friendship, but know already that that wouldn't happen, either, I hoped for at least conversation. What Julie gave me was not enough for which I was able to show gratitude. If Julie had not been reading the blog she could not have known simply by my actions at work what I was going through or trying to do. She could have left me to my own pathetic devices.

As she in her way tried to help matters, I suspect, too, that she acted in the same way on her frustrations with me. A non-assertive person is a passively aggressive person, after all. I'm certain that it is no mere self-flattery with which I translate some of her actions as goadery. And how could I blame her, as much of it as I did myself?

This was our conversation. I spoke to her with the blog, and she manifestly responded with her actions. The problem was, we were never speaking directly to one another. We weren't building a single bridge in cooperation, but two bridges in entirely different locations based on assumed specifications and smeared blueprints. Such has been, virtually, our entire relationship and how we have come to know each other.

Julie is (again) right to say I don't know her. Regardless of how closely my speculations on her character might have struck to the truth, I can never know how closely. What I know about her that she has not let others know is knowledge not freely given by her but taken from her, forced from her by anger and frustration. Yet I would not give it back even if I could. It's the knowledge that she is like all of us, a frail child who wants to be liked, and in order to be liked must hide what it's not proud of or what it fears makes it too different to be liked. It was, finally, my belated perceptioon of this frailty that turned her from the one-dimensional, perfect object of my desire into the moist-eyed, weary human being I had been haunting.

I have reached a point in this post where I must assess what I've done, what I've accomplished, what I've failed at, and what I've become. When I said at the beginning that I was not prepared, this was the task to which I was specifically referring, though I didn't know it then. Who was I kidding, thinking I could tame and categorize the ephemeral beasts shooting from that box of oppressed feelings after I'd smashed it to splinters? or that I'd even want to? And, right now, I don't want to. I can't. I've been trying for weeks, and I can barely form a thought around them. My intellect is no match for time. Closure may be years away. I have gained the confidence to heed my wisdom; now I must be patient while time ages and mellows the beast and sends them home to me, prodigal emotions returning as new wisdom.

I'm tired. I want to let this all go. What am I left with? I learned to express my emotions, but not to apply them to others. How much, then, can I say I've grown? Almost enough to have made it worth the trouble. But I did nothing I could have done any other way. I had to make the mistakes I made. I came out of myself, and if I accomplished nothing else, I wouldn't say it was all worth that result, but I'd say it was a good start. I've committed myself to be who I am. I can't regret the time it's taken me to make that commitment. It's finally time to go forward. Pride is not a friend, but, knowing that, I am more wary of its advice. I told Julie when we last spoke, "As far as I know, the feelings I had for you are no longer there. It's just bitterness, pride--or shame--that keeps me going." Since then, things between us have not improved, and I take the full blame without deference. There is no going back, no "normal." We exchange few words beyond greetings, no visual contact beyond recognition. Julie has tried a little bit, I have not tried at all. For me, it's back to the old attitude of "What's in it for me?" and still I see nothing. There's a lesson I haven't learned, or that pride is still able to occlude: Though Julie hasn't feelings for me, she still cares what I think of her, and to say this has nothing to do with her and everything to do with my pride, is irrelevant. But how much do I need to care about that? There really is no Julie anymore. (That was surprisingly painful to say, its spontaneity notwithstanding. I had to stop for several moments after, clench my teeth against the tears.) She is another coworker with whom I (might as well) have nothing in common, someone else to whom I have nothing to say, with whom I can't have a meaningful conversation. Mike told me he got over a girlfriend by hating the things she like. I can't do that, but I can open my blind eye. Julie is little more than beautiful now, and beauty has never been enough for me. I can't say it's no longer difficult working with her--her presence still kicks my pride--but maybe one day I can give her a smile that means no more than a smile I'd give Jennifer or Becky. What other goal could I have? To have no hopes that Julie will someday feel for me the way I once felt for her? Which goal will be realized first?

There is so much more to say that I'm sure I could go on writing for quite some time, but I have to put an end to it--the post and the blog--knowing I've said what needed saying and not regretting later what might have been said. The blog has the answers, and I trust they will be revealed to me, in time. Where I go from here, I don't know, but I know I can't stop writing. I will write another blog, but blogging has changed for me. I can no longer pretend no one is reading but it would be irresponsible and egotistical to think that I can command an audience simply by putting pen to paper. A Bright, Ironic Hell was inspired by and focused upon a pursuit. Where is my inspiration? and what is my pursuit? I have dreams, of course, some of them specific and maybe even attainable, but who will follow me, my guitar and voice to a corner in Carytown? That is not the essential pursuit. What is? I would love to be in love, but I can do little more about that than lay the groundwork, and what is that? I am rudderless, but I still, have a sail. I just don't know which way the wind is blowing. I trust it's not an ill wind, that I will hurt no one this time. I see nothing on the horizon. I can't tell if I'm even moving. Whatever I do next in the way of writing must be a continued exploration of this emotional landscape of which I know I've only taken snapshots. There is a place, I'm sure, where intellect and emotion are not separate, where emotion does not need to be picked apart and analyzed, where it is not a slider puzzle or a Rubik's cube, where it is not a curiosity. Somewhere, emotion and intellect exist as one thing. That's where I want to go. I'd like to take you there with me, because I know now that you are necessary. I don't know the way and don't know if we'll even ever get there, but is there anywhere else to go? I'll miss this place, believe it or not, though I doubt it will ever be far away. For me, it's been everything its title implied--a torture full of hope. It could have been nothing else. Whatever's left to learn from this will catch up, pass and lead us. So...let's go.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Prologue to an Epilogue (Part 1 of 2)

When I opened my Hotmail Thursday and saw that "t.c. sinatras" had commented on my blog, my heart stopped for a moment before beginning to beat harder than ever. I could only stare. I actually thought that if I didn't open it it would go away and that if I did it would explode. It didn't go away. I opened it, and it exploded. First, the comment that prompted it:
Anna said...
What would happen if you couldn't keep [the pretense] up? Would she completely obliterate you? Not sure I like Julie anymore... ..not that I'm sure I was ever a big fan...
I was on the desk with Sofiya.
t.c.sinatras said...
Hmmm, not sure if you like Julie.....that would imply that you know me and you don't. Neither does Dion. You only know what you read about me in this blog and that's one person's perspective. Remember, there are two sides to every story. I have made it clear to Dion what my feelings were. Never have I tried to mislead him or play games. I have tried to respect his feelings but when everything you say and do, or not say and do for that matter, is publicly displayed, criticized, analyzed and second-guessed, it's hard to maintain that respect as I feel my feelings and privacy have not been respected. The result is that I no longer wish to speak to Dion at all. It seems to be a case of damned if I do or damned if I don't. How would you feel Anna, if you were in my position? Perhaps, before you judge me or anyone else, you should consider their position.

My heart pounded in my ears. I wanted to talk to James. Lunch was my next hour. I couldn't encounter Julie. I could go upstairs and write James before coming down to eat. Julie would have left the breakroom by then. I was otherwise a wide-eyed, trembling blank till the top of the hour. I wasn't picky about the computer. I immediately forwarded James Julie's comment with a brief note then read Unrequited Love Blog's "Forced Finality" because of the apparent parallel. (I could already hear the bell tolling for A Bright, Ironic Hell.) I invited the author to read the catalytic post. I didn't finish the comment.

Julie pulled out the chair beside me, spun it to face me, and sat. "I put a comment on your blog," she said. She looked smug and defiant. Her lipstick was deep pink, a tiny crescent of bare lip exposed on the upper border.

"I saw it," I said.

The mask crumbled.

"I've been angry--I'm very angry...that you don't want to talk to me anymore."

I stared into her moist eyes. My mind made no effort to formulate words in response. I was not going to interrupt her.

She stood suddenly, pushed the chair to the desk, and said, "I'm just tired of all this, Dion."

"I am, too," I said quietly.

She turned and left.

I logged off the computer, message unsent, and strode slowly to the back window behind non-fiction. My mind was anything but a blank but anything but coherent. I wandered to the stairwell and plopped down on the heating unit on the top landing. I knew Maddox would be up soon. When I first confided in him about this mess, he did the same in me about a similar situation he'd been in. I knew he understood. He came up, and I told him what had happened, what I had to do, and how he might help.

I was on holds the next hour, Julie was backup. When she went to the back to pack branch mail, I took several deep breaths and followed. She was kneeling on the floor in front of the Tuckahoe bin.

"Julie, can we talk after work tonight?"

"Um, let me think." The only sound for a moment was the thudding of my heart. "Yes," she said. "Sure."

"Okay." I turned and left. I told Stacey, my ride in, that I would be travelling with Maddox. I told her why. She said she would have waited for Julie and me to finish our talk to take me home. I told her I thought she'd had enough of this particular drama and that I'd rather not involve anyone the least bit close to Julie. I then told Maddox we were on but that I'd have to give him the details after work, when I would straighten them out with Julie on the way to her car.

"So," I said then when I reached her side, "where should we do this?"

"What? Oh, I don't know," she said, deflating. "I didn't really think about it."

I wasn't much help, and I flashed back to when I forced Julie to set the time for our "date" at Stir Crazy. I didn't want to suggest Starbuck's but couldn't think of anywhere else. A light rain fell. Her hair twinkled with tiny beads of moisture under the parking lot lights.

"Starbuck's?" she said, her tone matching my silent hesitation. "I could use a tea anyway."

James dropped me off, said he'd be in the grocery store parking lot, a discreet distance away.

Starbuck's was closed. We sat at a table outside. It had already stopped raining.

Ij won't try to transcribe our conversation. I am no reporter and can have little objectivity. I was a participant, not an observer. I can't even promise that responses will match there triggers. Time has left in my memory barely more than an aura of the conversation. There was little light and no indulgence for even my smallest attempts at humor, no smiles for either of us. Stripped of pretense or hope, what was left was the disproportion of both to the importance of what I'd been doing, a sharp outline of my prideful foolishness, and, across the table from me, the weary face of the damage I'd wrought.

"Look," I started. "I'm sorry I upset you. You have to know this is the opposite of what I want. It's not that I don't want to talk to you. I just don't know how."

"I'm just tired of it, Dion. I have enough to deal with with my mother and everything. I don't need the notes, the comments, the picture on your bike. I swore I would never comment on your blog, but when I read what that girl said, I blew up. It was the just last straw. I was furious. I was furious all day long."

I told Julie I would end the blog, but that I would liker her to have the last word, that she could write whatever she wanted and I wouldn't change a word.

"No, I won't do that, because I really don't want to, because that's been the problem all along, that it's so public. I'm not asking you to stop writing the blog. Write about something else. Just don't make me the object of it anymore."

"Well, that's why it has to end. You were the whole point of it. Your comment was the nail in the coffin."

"I'll write you something if it will help."

"It might, but. ..."

The silences filled the gaps like smoke under a door. I was the only one threatened by them, knowing that within every one was Julie's opportunity to end the conversation.

"I know my assurances aren't worth much at this point."

"What's done is done."

"Yeah, but what's done was done badly. So much for getting back to normal."

"I can't say it will ever get back to that. It's damaged."

"I thought that with all we had in common we might have had a conversation, but we never did."

The slight curl of one side of her mouth was all she bothered to muster. I had to let her go, let her go home.

I said, "Is there anything else you need to say?"

She met my eyes for a long moment before saying, "No. I don't think so."

"Okay." I let the silence offer her the opportunity to excuse herself. She said she was expecting a phone call from a friend and must get home to meet it. On our separate ways, as I passed behind her, a sympathetic reflex nearly raised my hand to pat her shoulder, but I knew it would not be understood.

"Goodnight," I said to her back, but she didn't seem to have heard me. Halfway to her car, without turning, she said, "See you tomorrow."

On the way home Maddox talked about anything but what was most on my mind. It was his way of being discreet. He wouldn't be reluctant to hear me out, but I would have to introduce the subject. I didn't.