Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. Pop a few vitamin B. A complex will do, straight B-12 is best. Bread is your comrade. Preemptive ibuprofen never hurts. PMS medication, especially the prescription stuff, is better. Think of your brain as a muscle. Enough booze and it aches. A pill that relieves cramping, a kick-in-the-pants muscle relaxant, works wonders. Consider trying to change your lifestyle, again. Get off work and notice the deer grazing on the hillside, the crocuses poking through the dirt, a magpie hopping around the dumpster. Stay in tonight. Read a self-help book. Paint a landscape. Knit a hat. Except, self-help books make you caustic. Your paintings look like a nearsighted third grader did them. You don’t knit. You’re too young to be home alone. It’s Friday. The quiet hurts your head.
Call a friend, say you’ll meet her there. At least eat something. Anything. Heavy and starchy would be best. But you don’t feel hungry. You can’t remember the last time you were hungry, not really. Take care with your clothes, hair, makeup. Choose Levi’s and a t-shirt, a braid, lip gloss. Looking natural isn’t easy.
At the bar, order a Pepsi. People do it everyday. You’re funny and smart and you don’t need alcohol to have a good time. You nod at the server and say, oatmeal stout.
Drink it slowly. Sip it. Have a glass of water. Laugh at the story your friend tells about asking her boyfriend to buy a box of Tampax on his way home. Ha! She says he’s more likely to chew off his own toe. Commiserate with her about men, what cowards they can be, such poor communicators, thinking one thing—saying another.
Two beers a day is healthy. They did a study, proved it true. Request a pint of amber. Smile at the man in the Carhartt jacket. Comment to your friend about the proliferation of working-class posers. To play at what you are not is the highest form of disrespect, the lowest form of condescension.
Your friend is leaving, going home to her waiting, bit-of-cotton-phobic boyfriend. Wish her luck.
When the man in the jacket offers to buy you a drink, tell him no thanks, you can’t stay. Ask him how he keeps his steel-toed boots looking so new, his fingernails so clean, his hands so smooth. Instead, you say, bourbon. You don’t have to talk to him. You owe him nothing. But that would be impolite.
He is not good-looking, not especially bad-looking either. He’s nice, slightly awkward, a bit shy at first. You try to set him at ease. Ask what he does, how long he’s lived here. He says he doesn’t have a job. He says he doesn’t have to work. His father cornered the baby carrot market years ago. You don’t laugh. Your mother taught you to be charitable. He’s proud and earnest and confident in a way only the wealthy are. You inquire about the potential for other garden-fresh foods finding a niche in the mini-vegetable arena. He looks at you like you suggested winter last another month. There’s nothing, he says, like a baby carrot.
He talks about the food pyramid, about vitamins and fiber, trophic levels and energy. He asks if you’ve read The Celestine Prophecy. You are bored. But you are not home, and alone, and bored. Make an effort to appear amused. Pepper your sentences with words like lutefisk, kolache, and Worcestershire sauce, for no better reason than you like the feel of them rolling off your tongue. He teaches you the international gesture for choking; one hand around his neck, the other palm raised flat like he’s signaling someone to stop.
He offers you a cigarette. You don’t smoke, quit years ago. He lights it for you with his monogrammed Zippo and orders another round. He tells you he snow boards, rock climbs, fly fishes. Your father taught you that what a man does matters more than what he says he does. You feel the guy’s smoky breath in your ear. He’s telling you your eyes are lovely, mesmerizing, beautiful. For a moment, you let yourself feel flattered. For a moment, you believe him, and you are gorgeous and he is kind and good and everything you’ve ever dreamed of, and the world spins joyful on a pixie-stick axis.
Go to the bathroom. Tell yourself to pack it in, walk back to your apartment. Call it an evening, now. In the morning, when you pick up your car, you will reflect fondly on the nice time you had.
Study your reflection in the worn, spotty mirror above the sink. Imagine yourself years from now, living high on the hog off baby carrot money. A ring, a house, a garden. Stop yourself before you start naming the toddlers you see in the picket-fenced yard. This is not healthy. This will never happen. But if it did you would speak to your twins only in pig-Latin. Immersion. They would be bilingual before they turned two. Paint the shuttered two-story purple and green with junipers out front where you will hide the Easter eggs—toss them gently so they catch in the branches.
Your eyes look red, not pretty. One more.
He speaks French. Uses words like insipid, existential, melancholy. He tells you about a road trip to Banff, says he’d like to take you there someday. He talks about getting away, cutting out, hitting the open road. You hum a little Springsteen. There’s a lot you can run from but you never leave yourself behind. You tell him you don’t speak Canadian, eh. He does not laugh. You are still bored.
He talks about the biology of rarity. You say Darwin. You say yellow and blue make green. Only the fit survive. Leave yourself behind. He lights your cigarette. When he signals the bartender tell him, nothing for me, thanks. You say, Long Island Iced Tea.
He drives a Range Rover with a bumper sticker that says BOULDER IS BETTER. A CLIMB NOW, WORK LATER decal hangs in the back window. His vanity plate is RECRE 8.
You say spit on the sidewalk looks like money in the moonlight. You are drunk. You have trouble with the seat belt. He helps you, kisses your forehead, mashes his wet lips against it. He stops at Safeway. You wait in the car, rub his saliva away with your sleeve. He comes back carrying a six-pack of your favorite beer. You wonder if he bought condoms. When he shifts into third, he rests his hand on your thigh. You feel nervous, queasy, like the earth is rotating on a tilt-a-whirl, and you’ve had too many Indian tacos.
When you get to his house, play with the dog. When he hands you a bottle of beer, ask him for aspirin, a glass of water, fruit juice, anything but this. You say, thank you. He asks you how many feminists it takes to change a light bulb and before you can answer, he says, just one dammit and it’s not funny. He laughs like he’s the next Seinfeld. You’re tired. You imagine you’re with the next Seinfeld. You imagine a fictional life based on actual occurrences but funnier and better-written.
When he kisses you, you kiss him back without meaning to. Tell him you should be getting home. He says you can have the bed. This would be a good time to bolt, make like a baby and head out, get, while the getting’s good. You climb under the covers with your clothes on.
When he crawls in beside you, you say no. His hands are under your shirt, all over you. You say you don’t do this. You say you support the idea of casual sex, wholeheartedly. Let’s hear it for Casual Sex! But you’ve never mastered the behavior. You, you tell him, are not that kind of girl. He tells you it’s okay, as he pushes down your jeans. He says he doesn’t do this either.
You give him what he wants before he takes it. Chivalry, you tell yourself, is when the guy buys the condoms. And it’s not funny. You know you usually find what you’re looking for, even if you lie to yourself about what that is.
Concentrate on remembering the Pythagorean theorem, A squared plus B squared equals, inevitably, C squared. Sing Counting Crows lyrics softly in your head. You can never be lonely. You pretend you’re in that fictional world with the next Seinfeld. There should be a term for this mouth-breathing trustifarian. A Yiddish term, you imagine—Yiddish, the condiment language—a schlemiel but more complex, a schlemiel with chutzpah perpetrating a faux pas. But that’s French. And you search the reaches of your brain. You remember that woman in When Harry Met Sally, one of the old ladies, married forever, from the how-we-met vignettes. “At that moment I knew,” she says, “I knew the way you know about a good melon.” But how do you know about a good melon? You obviously missed that critical moment in your upbringing when a kind aunt or a fast cousin tipped their hand and tried to clue you in, divulge the secret of choosing melons. You were probably too busy watching Man from U.N.C.L.E. reruns. You watched way too much television. Your pig-Latin-speaking children will only watch ER. One hour a week. And then it’s over.
He snores. You hate him. You wish you could hate him more. But then you don’t hate him at all. You can run but you never leave yourself behind, not really. And you think up names for twins, On-ray and Miss Chief, and places to hide Easter eggs, the tips of mittens, toes of socks, the china hutch and Tampax box. They’d never find them there. You sleep.
In the morning, wake up before he does. You hurt all over, every joint, your muscles, and especially, your brain. Give his sleeping body the international sign for choking, pat the dog’s head, leave. Know you never have to feel this bad again, this ashamed, this ugly—not ever.
Once outside, inhale the smell of damp earth until you can taste it. Notice the light, pink on the mountain tops like a well-dyed egg. Make yourself whistle the whole way home.