Inspired by a gorgeously, heartachingly sad song, and my wish that the song had been more like its singer, who is a badass.
“Fuck,” she thought as she came upon the invitation in the stack of mail she had just pulled out of the mailbox. Her best friend’s wedding was coming up. It was not the feeling she wanted to have about the marriage of her childhood friend. Most of what she was feeling these days was something she never wanted to feel again.
She stood outside the apartment building, smoking, an old habit she had picked back up in the last few weeks. It was one of the few things that didn’t gel with her “good girl” image. But, everything had changed in the last few weeks. Seemingly, none of it for the better. What the hell happened?
Most startling to her was the feeling that she was losing a part of her personality that she loved, the part that always felt joy for the successes of her loved ones. But now, faced with yet another celebration, she found herself using envy’s twisted measuring stick to find her own life not quite where she wanted it to be.
Mike’s wedding should have filled her with joy. While she would always be his first “wife,” having claimed the title soon after their first kiss behind the oak that used to separate their back yards, at five years old, she knew that this was a good thing for him. She just wished that it wasn’t a wedding to which she would be going dateless, with her mother, married younger sisters, and Mike’s twice-divorced older brother in attendance. “How the hell could those two be actually related?” she asked herself rhetorically.
In the still, winter-like chill of a mid-April evening, the swirling smoke mixed with steam from her breath to dim the beam of light from the outside light. “It’s too fucking cold for this!” she swore to herself.
Extinguishing her newly-rediscovered crutch, she went inside the building, back towards the apartment that she would soon have to leave, now that she was paying the rent on her own.
It had only been a couple of weeks since Kevin had moved out, but everything about the apartment reminded her of him. From the moment they had brought in their things, it had felt like home. They had made love as soon as the mattress had made its way into the bedroom, leaving bags and boxes to wait to be unpacked. With his stuff in boxes and bags now, stored there until he could move into his brother’s place, and the bed disassembled-it was his, the place now looked like a terrible color negative of the image from moving day three years ago.
She bends down to pick an envelope on the floor, only to find that it is a piece of his mail, and curses the post office for missing the forwarding order, not realizing it’s mail from over two months ago, when he still lived there. She removes her coat, and catches a glimpse of herself in the hallway mirror, her almond-shaped eyes more pronounced as her lack of appetite has caused weight loss that has alarmed everyone, except one strange woman at work, who exclaimed that her skeletal physique and gaunt face looked “GREAT!” Sarah was dying to tell her of her “diet secret” of smoking, drinking and not eating, but figured that her co-worker seemed to have enough issues of her own, and didn’t need Sarah’s bitter sarcasm adding to them.
She walks into the kitchen and deposits it in his paper bag of mail and papers. He was kind enough to offer help with the rent for a couple of months, but with being out of work she needed more help than what her pride would ever allow her to ask of anyone, much less the man whose heart she had just broken.
It was at times like these that she wished that she had ignored the “Do what you love, the money will follow!” bullshit she believed to follow her “dreams” and go towards the budding career that she was building for herself in advertising. The money must have lost her scent, because four years later, she had gone from being the responsible one amongst her siblings to the one about whose finances everyone whispered at family functions. And with her entire family at Mike’s wedding, she knew that she would have to endure that as well as the shame of accepting the money her step-father would sneak to her. It might not have bothered her as much, but her firm, the one that had hired because of work she had done for a human rights organization, had changed hands so many times that what had attracted her to the work had being lost, much like the unused portions of the boxes of her last four business cards-each with a different title and employer, along with her favorite co-workers and desire to create campaigns for companies that she hated.
She opened the fridge, for the third time, some part of her reverting to that teenage phase when her mother would jokingly tell her that no new food would appear each time she opened the door of the refrigerator. Mom was right. Same stuff that she had passed on for the last few days, and honestly some of it should probably have been thrown out last night, in time for this morning’s trash pick-up.
Another few phone calls to ignore. Another night with a glass, or three, of wine, a pack of Parliament Lights and darkness as her only companions. “Hmmm,” she laughed to herself. “I guess if I have to choose which utility to not pay first, I’d go with the electric.”
She should have been busy. Looking for a job, looking for an apartment, getting her life back together. But she was lost. Kevin had been the person who pushed her away from her writing, telling her that she would have time for that later, after the kids were grown, when they would be more comfortable. And now he was gone, too. She hated the broke, vaguely-alcoholic, pathetic stereotype of a writer she was becoming. “Oh, wait,” she thought. “I can’t be a pathetic stereotype of a writer, if I am not writing.” Somehow, this failed to comfort her.
When she had awakened that morning, she had an entirely different day planned. She was going to gather herself and ask for the long-promised promotion. Apparently, she didn’t need to believe in the product to create good ads for it, and they had dangled the proverbial carrot in front of her for months now. Today, she was going to ask for it. So she gone to work and had sent her boss an email asking for a meeting.
He agreed to see her after lunch, and she felt confident walking into his office that this time, she would get it. As soon as he opened his mouth, she knew it wasn’t going to happen, and something inside her decided that enough was enough.
“I quit. If you really want notice, here’s my two weeks, but really, I would like to go get my purse and get the fuck out of here, now. So, what is it going to be?” She hated that tears, tears of rage, but still fucking tears filled her eyes as she finished that sentence.
He patronizingly prattled on about how quitting your job at a low point in your personal life might be a bad decision, but she was pretty convinced that if the break up wouldn’t drive her to suicide, continuing at her job would, and told him so. “You patronizing fuck, I withdraw my offer of giving notice. I am done.” If he responded at all, she wasn’t around to hear it. She grabbed her purse, and the few things from her drawers, took her coat and office sweater, and walked out, with only the receptionist whispering goodbye.
The anger, the relief, and the freedom she felt had managed to keep the fear at bay long enough for her to be composed on the subway ride home. Now, faced with the reality of her actions, she still felt good about having done it. Her entire life, as the oldest, she had been the rule follower, always doing anything to not disappoint first her parents, and then her mother and step-dad. Growing up, the rules were stricter, the expectations higher for her, expected as she was to set an example for the younger girls, but being the good one had left her alone, unemployed, and drained.
Fully aware that billions had it much harder than her, she almost avoided the trap of self pity. Until the Saturday after Kevin left. She was supposed to meet Mike and Kelly. They had been the first to find out since it was their number she had called, to tell them to address the invite just in her name. Within minutes, they were at the apartment. She liked Kelly because she wasn’t insecure about Sarah’s and Mike’s relationship, something that wasn’t always true for their respective significant others.
She had canceled, rebuffing their protestations and pleas that she not be alone. Well, she didn’t end up alone that night. She was only on her second drink at a fancy hotel bar when the man walked over and introduced himself. Whether she was too tired to rebuff his advances, relished the opportunity to tell someone her story, or just wanted to get fucked after the requisite months of inactivity before her breakup with Kevin, she allowed him to buy her the third, and the fourth, and then fifth drink, before taking him home.
He was certainly handsome enough that under other circumstances she would have been honestly attracted to him. Older, but fit, and not trying to act too young. Smart, or at least observant, as he almost backed out when he saw Kevin’s stuff and quickly gathered what was happening. Self-awareness served Sarah well, as she realized that for all the right or wrong reasons, she needed this, and composed herself into her most Siren-like self and seduced him, or allowed him to seduce her. The only time she came close to calling it off was when he was being gentle, loving, in a way more appropriate to true lovers, when she needed animal passion. In the end, she got what she needed.
“I am guessing that I’ll never hear from you, “ he told her as he was getting dressed, slowly enough and lit enough by the bathroom light for her to visually enjoy the body that had just given hers pleasure.
“If I was somewhere else, maybe but…” she trailed off, as she let the sheet drop as an invitation to another round, which he accepted. The next morning, not without a little protest and an offer to take care of her through the hangover for which he felt responsible, he left. She had a name and a phone number. She tried to remember if they had talked about him at all during the bar. She knew that she spilled the “cool” version of her breakup to him, but could not recall if she knew anything about him. “Harder!” was the only thing she remembered saying to him back at her place.
If she had expected to feel better after giving to someone something that Kevin had lost interest in long ago, it wasn’t that Sunday. Or guilty. But she felt neither. Not with that throbbing headache.
However, when she had recovered, she realized that although dangerous, maybe even stupid to take a stranger home, that she didn’t feel particularly guilty. Shouldn’t she feel bad about what she did? She knew that she should have felt bad about it, but in that moment she longer cared to live the life she thought others expected of her. Quitting her job came soon after that, and leaving the apartment followed.
The ad agency boss had shown himself to be decent and laid her off, giving her a severance package that allowed her to not have to look for work immediately. She found out later that he had left the company as well. Hopefully they had shown him the same kindness he had shown her.
So now, with most of her stuff in the garage of the beach house to which her mother and stepfather had moved to after he retired, she alternated between staying there and at her sister’s place closer to the city, staying quiet, but not in a sad kind of way. For the first time, maybe ever, Sarah was listening to herself. Her body, her soul, her heart, her brain.
No more jobs, relationships, or actions guided by what she thought was the right thing to do. At least not her old definition of “right.” No more mousiness. Her family was worried that the happiness, the genuine, deep happiness she felt at finally allowing herself to discover who she is and wants to be, was a cover for the emotions they expected her to have. She busied herself helping with preparations for Mike’s wedding, acting as the unofficial best man, since the actual best man lived in Seattle and would not arrive in town until a few days before the wedding.
The rest of the time, she was reading. Mostly old journals that largely contained overwrought teenage crap, but she did see that her writing voice was consistent. In her writing, she was more the person she felt she was, even when it was hidden by a character that few would recognize as being based on her. She managed to find a notebook of poems from the summer she tried to be a poet because it was “faster than being a novelist,” and remembered that she sucked at writing poetry. And finally, there was the notebook from a few years ago, with just a plot and some character outlines that she had jotted down. She had liked the premise of her story, but then work (deadlines) and Kevin (“When you told my parents you wanted to be a writer, it made you sound like some loser dreamer”) and life (life) got in the way.
She threw it into her laptop bag, poured herself a glass of the good Puerto Rican aged rum her stepfather introduced her to on her 30th birthday, stuff her cigarettes in her shorts pocket and stepped out to the east-facing deck, only minutes away from being treated to the type of sunrise that can only truly be appreciated because of a good sleepless night, like that spent with a lover on vacation, or spent alone doing something you truly love.
Plugged into the outside outlet, she began to write. At first, it was stilted, something that surprised her after a lifetime of first drafts whipped out and submitted for A’s. But then, the mix of Barilito, sea air, and nicotine brought her back to that place where her only problem was that her brain was faster than her fingertips on the keyboard.
Later, after her parents were done admonishing her for smoking, and drinking at 6:30AM, she saved her document, happy to have written the first chapter. As she was packing up, she found Mr. One-Night’s card in her laptop bag.
She would call him. Later. Maybe after lunch, or maybe after she had written the next chapter of her book, or of her life. She wasn’t sure, and for once she didn’t feel like the “good girl,” she just felt good.