Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Wilderness

Part 1

"We're all fucked up."

Craig's face slipped into sadness when he said this. He stopped saying things like "Whatevers" and "That's so money" in that wry, dryly funny way of his. He looked down into his glass of Märzen beer he was drinking during our "business lunch" at Gordon Biersch at the Tysons Corner mall. We were dining "alfresco," except that where the outdoor seating would be in a normal restaurant was in the mall corridor here. Our seats came with a view of the entrance to Barnes & Noble, a Vonage cart, and the escalators.
I'd met him a few weeks earlier at an Oktoberfest-themed networking event for high-tech professionals in northern Virginia. I'd been moping around, feeling like a lost soul, a secret bohemian who somehow found herself working in the marketing department of a software company one day.
"Hi Lisa." He'd said it like he knew me, like he'd recognized one of his kind at the Oktoberfest. He'd been leaning against the wall, the latest of countless beers in his hand, grinning at me. He'd caught my magic-markered name on the sticker I'd been forced to put on my sweater at the registration table.
I was supposed to pass out the stack of my business cards I'd brought with me, but I stayed by Craig's side the rest of the evening. We had somehow gotten numbered tickets; a man in lederhosen took the stage and called out the numbers of the winning ticket. The prize was a trip for two to Germany.
"Let's make a deal," Craig had said to me, his pupils dilated. "If I win, I take you, and if you win, you take me."
I'd agreed to the deal, thinking that one of us winning would make a cute beginning of a romantic comedy, if this were a movie. We both lost.

His call to my office number a week later was formal, sober. It didn't sound like the same guy I'd hung out with at Oktoberfest.
"I'd like to meet with you to discuss how my company and your company might be able to work together."
At Gordon Biersch, he said he wanted to get the business part out of the way. He said he was only allowed to drink during a work lunch if the other person drank, too. He let me drink from his glass, to taste his beer. Then I ordered my usual screwdriver, and another, and he had two dirty martinis, and our secrets poured out to each other.
He'd been right; I was one of his kind.
For one thing, we're both alcoholics. Any excuse to drink. The waiter raised his eyebrows the fifth time we sent him back to the bar for another order.
For another thing, we agree--work pays the bills, period.
Then there's what we were both thinking but never said. He mentioned his wife. I mentioned my boyfriend, made an affectionately irritated remark about some of his habits.
"Sounds like true love," Craig said, and paused.
I paused.
"Can I ask you something personal?"
"Anything."
"Have you ever cheated on your boyfriend?"
The answer left my mouth almost before Craig finished the question.
Then Craig directed the question at himself. "Am I married? Yes. Am I monogamous? No. I think it's unrealistic." He looked at his beer; the blood vessels in his face constricted, reddening his skin. "One minute you're leaving church thinking you're going to hell, the next minute you're trying to get laid. One minute you're in love with your wife, the next minute you're fantasizing about her younger sister, or her even younger sister."
That's when he said, "We're all fucked up."
I don't personally believe this, but it made me feel less alone.
He said, "Men are pigs."
I said, "Some women are, too."
He said, "That's what makes life so beautiful." I think it was supposed to be a joke. I think he was trying to convince himself.

Before we left for the parking garage and our separate cars, we'd agreed to meet again--"For a short lunch and a long something else," he said.

That evening, I met my younger sister for coffee. She and her boyfriend had just celebrated their one-year anniversary and she felt like the two of them were no longer exciting to each other. She didn't think either of them would cheat, but she didn't know what to do. What should I have told her? I offered her a buffet of answers: It happens to all couples, wait it out if you love him, there are ups and downs, try giving each other some breathing room, it's okay to think about other people as long as you don't act on it, we're all human.

When I didn't hear from Craig, I called him at work. I'd taken my cell phone out to my parked car. I was shaking. I was justifying it to myself, thinking of how hard my boyfriend had made life for me, feeling unsupervised in my atheism.
I said to Craig, "I was calling to see if you wanted a follow-up?" My voice sounded sweeter and more scared than you'd think it'd be, coming from someone who was proposing what I was.
He said, "I thought about it, and it's very tempting, but I can't do that."
I thought of what he'd said about leaving church feeling like he was going to hell. I could see him, kneeling in a pew, his hands clasped on the back of the pew in front of him, his ruddy face down so it rested on his praying hands with his eyes squeezed shut. I could see him alone and jerking off in his bathroom, thinking about his wife's younger sister, maybe crying and cursing himself afterward.
What I said to him was weird: "I'm so happy for you."

I had been one of his kind, but he was better than me now.

Part 2

It's a rare free weekend for Lisa. Her boyfriend has enrolled in a "wilderness survival" course, where he'll build his own leaf hut, create traps for squirrels, start fires without matches, eat wild plants and berries. She has dropped him off in the country, an hour away.
They have no sex life. There are many reasons for this. She keeps secrets from him.
On Saturday night of the rare free weekend, she shaves her bikini line in the shower. She puts on see-through black panties and a matching bra. She's wearing a miniskirt and high heels with no stockings; it's November and cold.

The cab driver is Muslim. She clicks out to him in her long bare legs, slides across the smooth leather of the back seat. He knows she will probably drink, will probably have sex.
At the nightclub, she meets a boy from India. They dance until 4:30 a.m., when the lights come up and the bouncers tell everyone to go home.
She rides with him and four of his friends in a car to their townhouse in Vienna. The guys talk in an Indian language, maybe Hindi. The boy caresses her bare legs, down to the sensitive insteps of her feet; this should tickle her, she thinks, but today it doesn't. The townhouse is undecorated; it's obviously a place where boys live.
There are BMWs parked in front of the townhouses, but the walls are cardboard-thin.
In his room there are no adornments except for one thing: a lighted photograph of a beach, aquamarine water and a palm tree. There's a battery in the frame that powers the lighting and the animated waves that move on the screen. It's tacky; she loves it. He leaves her for a few minutes to do something.
When he comes back, she's sitting on his bed, smiling at the picture. "Do you like my beach?" he asks.
"I like your beach."
"It has sounds, too." He clicks a switch, and there are ocean sounds.

He undresses and gets under the blankets, and indicates that she should do the same. He takes a condom from the nightstand, kneels over her, and ceremoniously unrolls it onto himself. He's naked but wearing a thin gold chain with a charm on it; she wonders about its significance to him. He fucks her. It's something he does often but she rarely does. She's tight, he's large, and there's pain for her. He lifts her legs higher to try another angle, and gets all the way into her. Through the thin walls of their townhouse, four Indian boys in their beds hear her cries. They know he is fucking her.
"Sorry," she whispers, blocking her mouth with her hand.
"I'm so sorry."

2 comments:

  1. Hey Christie,

    Now that I can read your story in a more leisure way, I like it even more. My favorite part is the ending to Part 1. Before the last two lines of Part 1, I was thinking that the narrator was slightly disgusting, but now I think of her as praiseworthy. It's interesting, it kind of seems like the very act of her saying that she was happy for him and thinking that he was better than her made her at least as good a person as he was and wrong about saying that he was better than her.

    Another thing I really like about this story comes from Part 2: "They have no sex life. There are many reasons for this. She keeps secrets from him." In just three short sentences, you say so much.

    The mood of sadness or maybe of a mild desperation of the narrator is great. Maybe you could either say how she got that way or say how she might get out of it, or both. On the one hand, I think: well, that's kind of everybody's life. But I don't know. Maybe it's everybody's life some of the time, but not all of the time. I don't know.

    Lastly, I think that it might be a good idea to either make the two parts into two separate stories, or link them closer together somehow, though I can't figure out how to do that.

    Doug

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  2. Hi Doug!

    Thank you so much for your awesome and thought-provoking comments, and I apologize for being so lame about not replying faster. It was on my "to-do" list along with e-mailing back a few people who've been nice enough to write to me lately, but I kept putting it off until just now, ugh. Anyway, thanks so much for taking the time to read my story again, and for your insightful comments here.

    It's especially striking to see someone write the words "...I was thinking the narrator was slightly disgusting..." -- because to be honest, this piece is non-fiction (just written up as story-ish prose). Those events are from 2007, but still, it's a wake-up call to see what my behavior back then would have seemed like to people who knew about it. Thankfully, I'm in a much better place now -- morally and overall lifestyle-wise (most of all, I'm in a happy relationship now).

    I like that you liked the "They have no sex life" part -- part of me worried that was a classic example of the big writing no-no of "telling, not showing." But I like to break the rules sometimes -- sometimes it's surprising and more effective than "showing" would be, I think.

    And I agree that it could be good to link the two stories together. Hmm, I might do that... or write a Part 3, as we discussed at the workshop, that ties it together a bit more. Hmm. Yay, new writing ideas! Thank you again, and hope to see you soon!

    Christie (or "Lauryn" on here, heh... By the way, the nom de plume up there is my middle name + my mom's maiden name; I feel like using a fake name keeps this site a *tiny* bit private from my immediate family, bosses, etc., but perhaps I'm fooling myself.)

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