Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Three Hundred Dollar Shoes (Indie Ink Writing Challenge)

When I was a girl, my father used to drive me and my sisters up to my grandfather's house every Sunday. Looking back on it now, I think he just wanted to get the heck away from my mother, but of course, that wasn't at all clear to us then. We were kind of left to our own devices once we got there. Dad helped Grandpa with various tasks around the house, Sara and Claire would usually play with dolls, or color in front of the TV, while I usually went walking. Grandfather's house was on the side of a hill, with a small, defiant creek running down a gorge on one side which separated his property from the state land on the other side.

I found the creek very soothing, watching the burbling water sweep leaves and chunks of wood and other debris downstream away from me. I would throw small sticks in, watching them take off down the hill, or I would take bark and rocks and actually try to dam up the rushing stream. With my shoes and socks carefully out of reach, I would wade in, building away, trying to stop time, block progress. Once in a while I would get enough obstacles in the way that, for a brief shining moment, it would hold, the water pooling above me, the stream slowing to a trickle, or even, for a second, stopping entirely.

But no matter what engineering tricks I tried, eventually a tiny imperfection would emerge. A stick used to brace it would bend, or a slab of bark would fall over, or the rocks I so carefully stacked in the cold water would shift, revealing a tiny pin hole that got bigger and bigger until the water beat me again, rushing past, restored to its former path, no longer a pool but a straight, rushing line, soaking the hem of my jean shorts as I watched in fascination. I kept trying, but I never defeated it.

I had been thinking about that stream all week. It wasn't very deep, but it was indefatigable- it just kept on going, and going. It wasn't the force of any individual drop, but instead the combined pressure of all the water that found a way past any blockage my preteen mind could dream up. That was the way my life was starting to feel- it wasn't any individual problem or issue, but the weight of all of them, work and school and marriage and kids and friends and family, that was starting to make me feel like a dam holding back forces beyond my control.

This morning, it began with Brenna's clothing related tantrum, then the middle one's leaving the homework on her desk again, requiring a sudden reversal and return to the house, making me late again. It was the way Steven's eyes wandered up and down my unemployed sister's body as she came over to watch the youngest, home sick from school. It was the bulging in box, clearly indicating that no one had picked up any slack for me on my vacation. It was the constant interruptions, bringing me well past lunch before I could call a single task finished. It was the long discussion of the latest starlet in the news that derailed any thoughts of work being done by my colleagues as the afternoon dragged on. It was the fact that Steven hardly touched me, and the way I admitted to myself that it was better that way, since I was too tired to do anything about it. It was the email kindly informing me that my checking account was overdrawn, and the notice from my online MBA class that my project was unacceptable and had to be resubmitted. It was my mother's criticisms she tells to my sister, but not to me, and my friend Sherry insisting I am flirting with her husband. It was feeling dead inside, like an extra in a zombie movie, just eating and excreting. My eyes started to swim, so I closed them briefly. All I could see was red.

I could feel myself beginning to flush, and my head started to pound. I felt the scary edges of panic, and I suddenly needed, intensely, to be alone. I could feel tears coming, and I straightened up from my desk. I will be damned if I show these people any weakness, I thought as I saw Jacob, the rotund, lecherous head of my section, gesturing to me over the top of our cubicles. He was beckoning me closer, indicating his office. He had already outlined the mountain of work I had to catch up on. I found it hard to believe anything could be gained by him going over it again with me in private. Unless he wanted to watch me cross my legs in his chair.

"Come here, Beck, I need to talk with you."

I held up one finger, indicating I needed a minute.

"Now, Becky," he said, trying to sound stern and managerial, I guess. It came out sounding like your father giving you one final warning before you get a spanking.

"Give me a moment," I said weakly. I could hear the tears at the edge of my tone. Goddammit, not now. I pushed my chair back with one calf, setting my face in stone, like when I was in high school and a boy had turned me down.

"This can't wait," he said, sounding sterner, and coming closer, edging his way down the row towards me. I could hear the tinny buzz of my cell phone going off in my purse, and the ping of another email in my inbox.

What happened next was kind of like the stream finally finding the weak spot in the jerry rigged dams of my youth. It had been building all day, all month- all year, really. I finally reached my capacity, my maximum tolerance for everything. I had been taking tae kwan do classes for almost 6 months in the vain hope that some exercise would both trim my widening hips and change my attitude some, so I suppose that kind of explained it. It was unlike anything I've ever done before, and certainly something I'll never do again. It happened so fast I even surprised myself.

What happened was a gutteral, banshee yell of, "NO!", as loud and strong and powerful as I could make it, a single syllable edging into hysteria at the edges. In a flash, I threw a punch, a simple, short quick right hand jab, just like they taught me. It was a good one, too- powerful and crisp, right through the center of my computer's monitor, which promptly shattered into a billion tiny little shards of glass. I looked down at it strangely, as if I wasn't sure whose hand that was, buried in the electronic innards, with the rivulets of blood running down the forearm. I remember listening to the silence. You could hear the fax machine whirring in the corner, and the fan on the copier blowing, but no one stirred. I could hear my sobbing echoing wierdly in the emptiness. Jacob was frozen in midstride, staring at me with a look of shock and horror on his fat face. Despite the awkward silence, I felt a tiny sliver of relief as the emotions rushed out of me.

It all blurred after that. Someone called 911, and the police came, and then an ambulance. They led me away into the hall, still dripping blood, finally putting me on a stretcher when I admitted feeling faint. I was taken to the hospital, a female cop with her hair in a tight bun following me every step of the way. They left me in what looked like a standard partition, except unlike most ERs, they checked on me about every fifteen minutes or so. Eventually they got enough of the glass out so they could put me into a hospital gown, piling my blood stained suit on a chair in the room with me. Every time I asked about calling my husband, or talking to my kids, or when I could go home, they assured me, with broad, fake smiles, that they would take care of it. I could see my shoes on the floor underneath my clothes, one tipped over on its side, a blot of blood now darkening to almost purple on the toe. I sat there on the gurney, fluids and antibiotics flowing into my veins, men and women in various shades of blue and pink and red and brown scrubs popping their heads in to look at me, then leaving again.

That stain better some out, I thought. Those shoes cost me almost three hundred dollars.

For the IndieInk Writing Challenge this week, Kurt challenged me with "If it keeps on raining, the levee's gonna break," and I challenged Lisa with "If you don't know, man, then there's no pain, that's how I express it-John Lennon".