Tuesday, September 18, 2012

SPE: Over and Over

{For the Scriptic prompt exchange this week, kgwaite gave me this prompt: "The road construction was making it impossible to leave the city." I gave SAM this prompt: "The true measure of a man is how he treats someone who can do him absolutely no good." - Samuel Johnson}

There was a forest of red lights in front of me, the frowning rear ends of Hyundais and Hummers, Kias and Corollas, all forced into equality by a traffic jam. The road was narrowing, down to a single lane, with city drivers showing their typical calm and equanimity by trying to squeeze into every square inch at the earliest possible second. I took a deep breath, trying not to white knuckle the steering wheel. There was nothing to be done, I told myself. All the other routes were worse- nearly every major artery had some project somewhere along it. All the road construction was making it nearly impossible to leave the city.

Up ahead, the cones and flashing orange lights and men with reflective vests were out. I knew they worked hard, because eventually the road got finished and they moved on to the next project, but when you passed by them like this, creeping and beeping, I couldn't help but notice how many of them weren't doing anything at all. It was almost mocking, how they stared back at us, knowing that we were there, trapped in our funeral procession. One of them, a tall, lanky guy who looked a little like Mark Sanchez, stretched in the sun, his perfect abs peeking out from under a US Army shirt, then climbed up into an enormous machine.

This journey was foolish. They were all dumb, but I could write volumes, compose page after page of epic poetry about exactly how stupid it all was. I told myself this, every hurried assignation resulting in another long, slow, shameful ride home, combined with promising myself that I would end it, endure the humiliation and rage and simply cut it off at the knees. Stop answering her summons, risking her rage and some twisted revenge fantasy but knowing it would be better to just let it die.

We were creeping forward still, inch by begotten inch, meekly falling into line. I watched the road grader, huge and imposing, flattening down some fresh asphalt. Everyone seemed to just be watching, staring as the big machine did its work. The gleaming flat blackness, shining in the sun, reminded me of riding my bike as a teen, finding a stretch of straight road in an industrial park, pushing myself as hard as I can, high on the thrill of speed. The minivan in front of me had a stick figure family on the back window, along with a decal of a ballet dancer. My mouth was dry.

It was a text message that started this episode. "Come get me," was all it said, and I was up, closing my laptop and sliding it into my bag with one practiced motion. I had the kind of job where you didn't have to always answer for your whereabouts precisely. People snuck in and out of the office all the time, and yet somehow things always got done. That was a blessing and a curse- if I had a more regimented office, the trap I had fallen into would have been impossible. But that's an excuse. I could have said no, should have said no. I just didn't.

She was a student, visiting in the office for two weeks over the summer so that she can get a tiny flavor of what her intended career may be like. We had a routine for our students, letting her sit on some meetings, helping on some projects, occasionally asked to research this or that stubborn item. She performed splendidly, easily fitting into the culture, dressing well, asking pertinent, cogent questions on occasion. All in all, a delightful experience.

Her last day was when the trouble started. I really have got to stop calling it that. The more I think about it, going over and over it like a movie I can't turn off, she was flirting the whole time, laughing too loudly, standing too close, gently touching arms and waists, longing looks across a conference table. I was just too dense to pick up on it.

The boss decided to take her out to a lunch that I couldn't make on her last day, so she came by my office. She was beautiful, long legs and rich auburn hair, an even, oval face with eager, questioning blue eyes. But they always are- people her age are made beautiful, mindless evolution demanding reproductive fitness regardless of society's wishes. After exchanging contact information, she just kept standing there, so close, exchanging small talk, making tiny hair flips, the pointed toe of her shoe making little circles in front of me on the rug.

I have long made a habit of excusing myself from all manner of horrid behavior, but what happened next cannot be adequately explained. I have said "I couldn't help myself," and "I was a slave to my lizard brain," and I have tried every other type of reasoning and justification I can come up with. I was drawn to her, my arms finding the curve of her hips, my hands the small of her back. She was eager and willing, and while I kept thinking that I should stop, that I should wait, that I can't, that we shouldn't, we didn't stop, and we didn't wait, and I could, and we did.

What came next was just the feeding of an addiction. She calls, I come, I leave and feel guilty until she calls again. And then, like the dog chasing the rabbit at the track, I'm off again. I have to do it, it feels like, the way I have to eat or have to breathe. It is a compulsion. I feel an intense, grinding need while we are together. I don't know whether I am reliving my youth or spoiling hers, but whatever it is, minutes feel like seconds, and it is torture until we are together again. I feel slightly nauseous, like when I have had too much caffeine. My nerves feel raw.

Suddenly the traffic loosens up and I'm accelerating onto the highway. The speed after all that waiting feels like I'm making a jailbreak, fleeing from the authorities. I can feel the distance between us, willing her closer even as I hate her for having a hold on me. I know her exit, the tight turn onto the main road, and then the long, slow merging into the mess that surrounds the school. She is with two other girls, the three of them sharing a quick, hard laugh in confidence, as I wait for a bottleneck to clear in front of me.

Drive away, I tell myself. Get back on the highway and go home and get a hobby. Read a book. See a play. Take up yoga. Buy a gun. Do something appropriate for your age. Let her worry about graduation and her upcoming freshman year like her friends do, like people her age should. Let her find her own way in the world, and stop pretending you are anything more than a wallet with feet. Drive past her high school and don't look back.

But I pull forward, negotiating the confusion, pulling to the side along the sidewalk. I'm cursing myself as I do it, swearing under my breath, knowing that there is a wide gulf between what is legal and what is right. I stop the car, and I see her calves first, long and slender, and she is there, bright and alive and clear and smelling like the free summer breeze. She slides into the seat beside me and shuts the door, setting a lime green bag between her feet. I hate myself, and then she speaks.

"I want to go shopping," she says, and she takes my free hand, and I accelerate away.

1 comment:

  1. OOohhh, this is so seductive. The way you are lulled along with the slow traffic and sucked into his thoughts. Should I , shouldn't I.

    I don't think he is really trying to turn off that lizard brain. And the fact she is a HIGH school student. Yikes. I thought she was a college intern. Nice little "whammo" at the end with that.


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