Thursday, May 27, 2010

Lose Your Illusion

“Would you ever hurt me?” she asked me.

Her eyes burned into mine. They were serious and vulnerable like I had never seen them before. Moments before, she was laughing hysterically and uncontrollably, so much so that she blurted out her adorable snort; I froze from the sudden seriousness of her intent.

I did not know what to say. Obviously, I would never hurt her. I worshipped her. She was the highlight of my day. When I asked her out nearly a year prior, I did so hoping that it would be the moment that would lead to the pathway to my fulfilled future. That may be overstating it, but what did it matter? She turned me down.

Her question, though straightforward, felt like a complicated puzzle that most likely did not have a solution.

“No, I would never hurt you. Of course not; not intentionally. I really like you,” I stammered quietly, while staring into the beer glass on the table in front of me.

She was blocking her question to me from the couple sitting across the table from us in the booth by turning her shoulders toward me and speaking very quietly. We were sitting next to each other when that couple approached and asked if they could join us at the table. It was a busy Friday night on a nice summer evening at a bar downtown and we were there with a big group of people from work saying goodbye to a long time co-worker.

“Yes! Please!” she’d excitedly told the strangers. It turns out the couple were out celebrating a first wedding anniversary that upcoming weekend and wanted to get an early start. Our work group had taken over the group of tables in front of the bar and was getting louder and louder as the evening wore on. Inexplicably, she and I wound up sitting next to each other in a booth adjacent to our gang, but not directly involved. Originally I sat there, because I am good at sidelining myself and was not in a great mood. Somehow, this pretty young woman, who I had a massive crush on for nearly two years, joined me. There were so many times when I would try and place myself in her midst in an effort to worm my way into her heart. This time, I had purposely stepped aside, and now here she was. Occasionally, we would be visited by a carouser from our scene, but mostly we talked about what was happening around us and simply watched the activity from off to the side. When the couple asked if they could share our table, they made it clear from their words that they assumed that we were a couple. I got up and ordered another round of drinks for us and our guests from the barkeep and watched the three of them chat with her. I desperately wanted to know what they were talking about, but at the same time I really didn’t. I decided that she was probably informing them about my past overture toward her and maybe how she enjoyed toying with me by alternately giving me signs of hope and then stomping on that hope ever since I asked her out. That would explain the laughter they were all engaging in during my absence. When I returned to the table, she quickly stood up and allowed me back into my corner on the inside of the booth. Then she handed the man across the table her camera and asked him if he would take a picture. Lost in my thoughts, I did not realize that she wanted him to take a picture of the two of us. This event took awhile as he goofed around with the ‘cheese’-type photography gimmick like we were little children. This extended our posing time for what seemed like an eternity. She leaned in closer as the seconds drifted away. I could feel her velvety hair dangling against my arm and shoulder. My senses were overwhelmed by her enticing aroma. The smooth skin of her arm was placed on top of mine, so that our hands were touching. Chills were racing up and down my spine. Eventually the picture was snapped, but our pose lingered few a few moments more. It could’ve lasted forever as far as I was concerned. Then she jolted back upright and retrieved her camera. The woman across the table asked us for the same favor. She handed me the camera and I snapped a quick picture wordlessly and set it back onto the table. This is when she asked me her question. After my response, she sat quietly and mulled over my words, then, suddenly this beautiful girl stood up and excused herself.

As she walked deliberately towards the restroom, we all watched her. My heart sank as she disappeared, because I assumed that she would return to the big group and leave me alone with these two. I turned my attention to my beer and drank a big swig, wondering how I messed this one up.

“You two make a cute couple,” the woman said to me. “How long have you been together?”

“I’ve known her now for almost two years, I think,” I replied, trying to keep beer from spraying out of my mouth from surprise. This was the first time in my life that I was associated as being a part of something ‘cute.’ I scratched the back of my neck uncomfortably, knowing that somehow this misleading answer would come back to kick me in the ass.

The bartender stopped by with a tray holding our four beverages and left with my empty pint. I immediately drank from the fresh beverage, ignoring the couple’s intent of sharing a toast. The beer was terrible. They should offer something other than their own brew at this place. The couple began talking amongst themselves, sensing my silence and intent on the beer in my hand.

The girl came back and stood at the end of the table. She picked up her new full drink and raised the glass to toast the anniversary of the pair with us. I held up my half empty drink and leaned my face into my other hand. I was drifting off; losing steam. I couldn’t stop thinking about her question. What was her motivation? Why would she think I would hurt her? What did she mean? It was mysterious. Did it mean she was finally showing some signs of maybe giving me a shot after all this time? Did it mean that she was wary of me, like I could be some sort of threat to her? I didn’t get it and wanted to explore it further, but I did not know how. This was a party and she was rejoining the group. I could feel energy tumble out of my body which slumped like a deflating balloon. My mind started to gather together pictures of moments that she and I had shared over our time together up to that point. The couple was carrying on a conversation, which may or may not have included me, because I was oblivious to them, though I may have been responding. I could not be sure. I was lost, thinking about all of those times that she and I had shared laughter by slinging verbal jabs back and forth about each other and our workmates; or the times when she was flustered and came to me in confidence; or those early mornings when she and I were the first ones in the office and the only two who would show up hung over. Though I was older than her, we were still the two youngest in the office. In some ways we had the most commonality amongst everyone we worked with. But she did turn me down. I took that to heart. She said she didn’t date co-workers; understandable. And that was the end of my one overture. After that event, she became distant; again, understandable. I treaded lightly for a long time and tried my best to be upbeat and leave the whole thing behind – at least that’s what I wanted her to believe. I didn’t want her to hate me or leave. I liked her too much and I liked having her around. This was the problem. The more she relaxed around me, the more I continued to fall for her. It was a trap that I could not get out of. Over time, the shared laughter and outrage at our surroundings gained a new momentum. Things were comfortable again between us - until this particular evening. What was happening?

Instead of lingering, I had told Jeff and Steph I would meet them after this thing, so I decided to bail. I said a goodbye and good luck to the couple, went to the restroom, paid my tab at the bar, sought out T and gave her a farewell hug and ran the gamut of fellow employees who shouted various things out as I made clear my intention of an early exit. The evening’s sunset was just beginning to paint the sky with a pink splash. I hurriedly stepped outside, still with scrambled thoughts and more questions with no answers. Normally, I would stay to the bitter end to find out if any of these signs meant anything for us, but nothing felt right.

I waited for the Max right outside the bar and enjoyed the warmth of the air on my air-condition-chilled arms.

“Wait up!” There she was. She was leaving with me. “I need to catch the Max too.”

“Where are you headed?” I asked her, genuinely curious if her answer would involve me in any way.

“Meeting up with some friends,” she said with a smile.

“Yeah, me too,” I mumbled as the train approached and I tossed a piece of gum into my sour mouth. The doors of the train flapped open and revealed a roar of recycled air and a loud intercom voice espousing the wonders of this downtown corner. People shuffled by us either leaving or boarding the train. I looked over at the trash cylinder on the sidewalk to toss the gum wrapper into as I stepped aboard the train behind her. The lid’s opening, which deflected my shot and knocked it to the ground, had squiggly handwriting on it that stated: Life is a hole. “I couldn’t agree more trash can,” I sighed under my breath.

“What?” she asked, looking at me from across the aisle.

“Nothing. I hope you have a good weekend.”


  1. this is fantastic. i really like the way you start it with such a serious moment; it makes the incongruity of the two people sharing a booth with complete strangers all the more powerful. and you completely capture that moment when one is mistaken for a couple with the person one likes...the pain of the irony. really great.