...when you are writing a book about your life, which is not yet over, is that the lives of many of the characters in the book are also not yet over, and it is a sensitive thing indeed to write about the living. That is my excuse for why I haven't posted a book exerpt for so long.
Tonight though, just a dozen thousand words from the end of my goal, I wrote a piece which did not involve anyone I currently know, so I feel safe posting it.
Enjoy the insanity of my past life!
She had to get away from him, had to leave that table NOW!
She mumbled, “I’m going to the restroom-”
not that diction would have helped him hear her, so lost in his precious baseball game was he, and away she dashed, as if a demon was chasing her. The women’s room door yelped closed behind her as if her terror had been transferred to its worn and smoke scented surface.
Inside the musky chamber there were three under dressed blondes gabbling away at the mirror as they put on their faces. They all stopped long enough to eye her, decided she was “safe” and moved back into their conversation. She entered the first empty stall, trying not to take deep breaths. Damn she HATED that smell. The door wouldn’t stay closed, of course, and with the tribe at the mirror she just couldn’t draw more attention for switching. She sat down and propped one foot against the door to keep it shut. Her head in her hands, she waited them out, trying to take shallow breaths, trying to remain calm, trying to think how she was going to get out of this one.
This was going to go down Monday morning at the office as one of the worst blind dates she’d had, and that was saying something. No car-no job guy was a favorite, while many of the girls enjoyed the stubby one that demanded in a loud pissed off voice that the waitress at the trendy downtown bistro bring him the container of oil they used on the French fries so he could assure himself that no meat by products were involved. There was the guy that took her to the Chef Boyardee fake Italian restaurant and then insisted they walk the eight blocks to the game in the rain. There was the guy that admitted he was gay and lived with his mother who did his cooking and laundry. Yes, her listof blind dates were the Monday morning highlight at work, giving all the comfortably married and happily singled something to snark about. She hadn’t minded, in fact enjoyed the adventure of it all herself. It sure beat sitting at home alone every night, watching out her knee level window as couples strolled down the street on their way home from a cozy walk around the city lake.
But this…well this wasn’t just an entertaining story, it was much worse. And why? Because NOTHING is why. It was the date that was no date. He didn’t pick her up, first off. Most of her cautious 30 something friends thought this was a good thing, alarmed as they were when date after blind date she let them pick her up at her apartment. No, he insisted she meet him at the sports bar he named quickly and then hung up. She had to look in the phone books for both cities before she found it in the suburbs of the farthest one from her. No problem, she was an expert at public transportation, deciding years ago after the divorce which left her with no car and no money that she would rather do without their expense.
When she arrived by the two buses she needed to take to get to the suburb she knew nothing about, he was already seated, which made him hard to find since she’d never seen him before. This was the early 90’s and there were no cell phones are emailed photos to bring her up to speed before they met. She just knew him by his own description, “Tall, blond, athletic, good looking, a young 30” No one sitting alone fit that description in her mind. Of course there was a large blond man sitting at the bar with two women, but he was clearly not waiting for a date…which should have been when she turned around and left. After waiting at the door for 20 minutes, the chump at the bar turned around for a moment, saw her, and waved her over. Turned out that WAS her date. The girls with him were friends from work, did she mind if they joined them? He of course didn’t wait for an answer, or for her to introduce herself before he moved to a table closer to the TV he was already engrossed in.
An hour later, she still sat at the table the foursome had moved to, still had no drink or food, as they didn’t bother to order for her or let her order for herself the two times the waitress had come to refill their ample drinks, listened still to them laugh about private jokes from the warehouse where they worked together, still watched them watch a baseball game on the TV over her head (“you don’t mind do you, you don’t seem the baseball type”), as the popcorn they were hurling at the “bad” calls by the ump drifted down on to her head. No more. Unnoticed, she had mumbled her excuses and hid in the bathroom.
And here she sat, cowering, fighting the door that wanted to open and expose her hiding spot, trying to figure out how to get out of this one. The trio at the mirror had finally left and the stank room was finally quiet. She ruminated on his inept description of himself. Athletic, if you counted arm chair quarterbacking, his gut strained over his pants, his arms hung in a doughy heap from his shoulders. He had plenty of that blond hair he had mentioned, it was greasy and messy and flowed two inches below his collar, which was turned inside out. There was a hole near the left hand side of the collar in the front, and he poked at it while he talked in a way that turned her stomach. He’d picked his nose twice, which was half as many times as he’d grabbed the breasts of the shorter of the two coworkers. He’d chosen to just glance at her chest, and only once. She’d guessed he hadn’t seen anything worth returning for, and based on the shape of the coworker, she came to understand that understated was not his preference.
Like a fool she was caught. She had counted on getting a ride to the bus stop from him, and now she was looking at a five mile walk to the transfer point, as the suburban route only ran one direction and only until about half an hour ago. She could call a cab, but only had five dollars in cash, having used the majority of her dollar bills and quarters in getting here. The cabbies didn’t take checks and she didn’t use credit cards, so she was good and stuck at this point. And starving. She exited the stall and drank some lukewarm water out of the palm of her hand to cure a dry throat and then ducked back into the stall to think.
She cursed herself, for her foolishness, for her predicament, for her decision not to own a car. She just COULD NOT go back out there, she was frozen to the seat, her whole being rejecting the idea of another minute spent in the company of those goons. It was at this point that she lifted her head from her hands, wiped her eyes and in trying to get a grip, glanced at the wall to her right. Graffiti reading could be amusing, and it took her away from her current predicament. She read about Nancy + Sam = LOVE 4EVER and the size of Mike’s manhood and that Nikki was making the rounds. She’d always wondered who these people were who had time to sit in a bathroom stall and record their darker thoughts, and now she sort of understood. She felt a kinship with all the young things that had felt so trapped that they wanted to leave behind a message of desperation for those that would come after them.
She thought about it for a moment. No need to be hasty. She had spent her whole life until two years ago being good. Or at least trying to make amends when she wasn’t good. She didn’t curse. She didn’t play the field, although she was sure her parents thought she did. She had lived with a man for six months after her divorce, and they were dating, so she was sure that everyone assumed they were sharing a bed. They weren’t, but she had grown tired over a year ago of explaining herself, so she just let people talk. In the end she was glad they were wrong, because he had been sharing his bed with someone, and when she found out she was crushed. She couldn’t imagine how much worse it would have been if she had given herself to him. It was bad enough standing up to him and making him leave, then finding another roommate to help with the rent. It exhausted her anew just thinking about those early days. Her new roommate, a woman, had been a much better roomie and when she married a year later they had parted friends. She had subsequently decided to give up the whole roommate gig, and found a gold mine of an apartment when bike riding to work one day, closer to the lake, larger, and because it was a smaller company, at nearly half the price. She loved her place, felt she could stay there forever, it fit her and her lifestyle so well.
Her walk down memory lane was rudely interrupted by a large guffaw entangled with a high pitched shriek that snaked under the door from that lovely table from which she had recently escaped. Yes, back to the moral dilemma at hand—to deface or not to deface, that was the question. Yes, she was just about angry enough. Still propping one foot against the door to keep it shut, she grabbed for her purse and rummaged around for a pen. Of course, she only had a pencil. Her favorite .05 mechanical pencil, the one she had switched to after the divorce when she decided she never wanted to write anything permanent again.
“WHO CARES!” she shouted in her head, and pressed the lead hard against the thickly repainted stall wall to break the tiny lead. Then, teeth gritted, for she hated the sound of metal grating on metal, she began to etch her message. First she dug in about shoulder high, the most important word of her message H E L P. The sound of the paint flaking off and the scritch of the metal on metal set her teeth on edge and as she tensed against the sound she lost her footing on the door and it flew open just at the hallway door emitted another patron. As she jumped up to reclose it the contents of her purse dumped out and rolled and skittered across the floor in front of the interloper who stepped on her sunglasses and broke them under her heel.
“Oops, sorry” the interloper apologized and started to help pick things up.
“Never mind--” she rushed out in horror and accepted the remaining whole items, scooping the plastic pieces into the trash.
While the woman went into a stall and closed the door she washed her hands at the sink, pretended to brush her hair, applied chapstick, and fumbled around trying to look like someone hard at work in the mirror. Would the interloper think she had forgotten to flush she worried, debating on whether going to flush now would make the problem better or worse.
When the interloper exited the stall, did her own ablutions and left the bathroom she darted back into her stall, wedged the door shut with a small pad of paper, and continued with her defacement. She applied the ever diminutive word “I” and then moved down below the H to keep her message in a neat quadrilateral space. A M came next and then T R A P P E D. She added a nick of an exclamation point to deliver the emotional side of her message, moved to another line under the A and scratched in S A V E and the final M E.
Later she realized it couldn’t have happened exactly like this, but it seemed to her that the very moment that she finished the center horizontal arm on the letter E that the lights flickered and then went out. In the dark, which lasted a second, two, three, four…she realized she heard no sound from the TVs and stereo in the bar, the sounds of which had been a muffled roar through the door of the bathroom. In fact, she realized she didn’t hear and people talking either. Could she hear them before? Of course she comforted herself, remember the guffaw? It seemed deafeningly quiet now.
All this happened within the span of 45 seconds, and her breathing grew more rapid as her ability to come up with logical explanations started to fail her. She again heard the complaint of the door as to was pushed open and a deep, purposeful voice said, “Do you need help?”
She hadn’t realized it, but when the lights had gone off she had stood up and pressed her back against the wall to cover the carving she had been making. She toyed with the idea of remaining hidden and silent, and then realized that she could hear herself breathing raggedly and that a deep red light emanating from the exit sign in the hallway was lighting the bathroom interior enough to make her pants and black heeled boots visible beneath the stall door.
The voice took another step into the room and called out again, “I know you need help. I don’t want to alarm you, I’m not a stalker or anything, but I’ve been watching the antics of that idiot at your table all night while I worked, and I realize you would have left a long time ago if that was an option. Can I call you a cab or something?”
She found it odd that the voice hadn’t commented on the quiet in the bar or the lack of light. As if he could read her thoughts, he offered, “We closed an hour ago, but I didn’t see you come back out, and as I was heading to my car it hit me, you might be stuck in here and didn’t realize how late it was.”
She was alone with this voice? His words couldn’t be called on to make sense in her reality. How did she end up staying in here this long? She started counting back quickly. It had been a little before seven pm when she had arrived to meet her date, nearly seven thirty when he finally acknowledged her and then maybe another hour before she escaped to the bathroom. Didn’t bars usually close at 1pm? She wished she knew more about that sort of thing, but it wasn’t in her experience to frequent them, being raised by teetotalers as she was. Surely she hadn’t been in here for over four hours? The voice cleared his throat. “I’m probably not helping your situation, so I’ll leave and go turn the lights on and call a cab. I just need to know you aren’t physically hurt. If you are okay, I’ll call back in when the car has arrived and then you won’t have to sit out in the bar with me until it comes. Okay?” and the door punctuated his remarks as it slowly closed behind him.
There was something in the tone of his voice, something in the surreal nature of the whole evening that clicked in, and it was if her words carved into the stall wall were tattooing her back with their message. She was being saved. She felt safe. Making a decision, slowly she pushed off from the wall, zipped her pencil into her purse, pulled a hand through her hair and pulled the pad of paper from the stall door so it fell open.
She stood uncertainly in the stall opening, not knowing if she should make further strides in the dark or not. She hated the pitch blackness that enveloped her when the door shut, no longer getting any light from the exit sign, and as she had since she was a small child, she squeezed her eyes tightly shut. Somehow if she was shutting her eyes the dark seemed less of an affront. Two minutes that felt like two hours later the door groused open again. The noise partially obscures the voice as he is explaining, “Its on a timer, the lights, if they aren’t turned off manually by 2am they shut off automatically. We only have a few moments before they go off again.” The message complete, the door now propped open again by his arm, the voice finds her whimpering with her purse clutched to her chest and her eyes closed. What he does next is stupid, and he knows it, but he also knows somehow that it is the exact thing she needs.
He takes two giant steps to reach her and before the door groans closed behind him he is enfolding her in his arms. He quietly and firmly speaks into her ear, “The lights are back on now.” She relaxes, and, of course, her purse therefore plunges to the ground again, again spilling its contents everywhere. He takes a step back to help her pick things up at the same moment she does the same and they knock heads so hard she sees bright points of light at the center of her vision for a few seconds.
Suddenly the tension, the anger, the whole ridiculous evening rushes out of her and she laughs so hard she can hardly breathe. The voice is rubbing his forehead where a bright red spot has emerged above his aubergine eyes, and his ample lips emit a low laugh that quickly elevates to match her near hysteria, as he thrusts his square chin skyward. The voice bends again, this time to the side careful to avoid her and continues picking up her things. Her laughter holds her helpless, continues in rolls, until she is leaning helpless against the wall and wiping her eyes.
By the time the purse contents are put right and he hands it back to her, standing to his full six foot four inch height, she has slowly started to settle down. In another moment they are both enveloped in quiet, but with a smile on their lips. She looked him directly in the eyes and thought, with a twinkle in her own, I am being saved. Then she reaches out, takes his left hand in her right and pulls him toward the stall she realized she had begun to think of as her home.
She pulls him through the doorway and past her, then pushes his captured hand against the wall. “I did this tonight” she confesses as she ran her fingers across the letters, next to his inert hand. She then takes his long fingers again and pulls them along the sharp edge of her message as if teaching him a kind of Braille. He has to stoop a little and press his body against the opposite wall to read it, but then he stands again and intertwines his fingers in hers. “You are safe now.” is all he says. It is enough.