Change Your Life in 30 Days or Less

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Day Nine

Day Nine
Woke up. Ate something other than plain toast and Seven Up for the first time in three days. Slept.
I hadn't had the flu since I was in grade school, and I had forgotten how completely low it laid everyone in it's path. The whole house, except for my dad, was entirely indisposed for the better part of three whole days. All we did was lay around and moan and eat plain toast and drink Seven Up that my dad fixed.
We were so lucky that Dad was there to wait on us hand and foot. He joked a little about being our maid, and told us repeatedly to just call him 'Yvonne'. He even started talking with a very bad fake French accent. We talked about getting him a little lacy white apron and cap. He loved that idea.
He and Spike even got along better than they had in years, meaning they had a few actual conversations with each other. In years hence, they were always very polite, but very distant. They kept each other at arms length, so to speak.
With Dad in the house all day, they almost had to speak to each, especially since Little Dude and I commandeered the couch and the TV and they had to go downstairs to the den to watch anything other than The Wiggles or the complete set of The Bear in the Big Blue House. I was worreid at first. All that closeness might spark some tempers and start an argument. I really didn't care if they got in an argument- they'd get over that eventually- but I was afraid that Spike would want Dad to leave or that Dad would decide to get up and go rather than hang out wiht someone who obviously didnt want him around.
I came downstairs to check on them SUnday night, after the LIttle Dude and I had slept most of the afternoon after falling asleep to The Wiggles' "Hot Potatoes! Live in Sydney!" I knew LIttle Dude had to be really sick. He wouldn't even sign along to "Big Red Car" and that was his very favorite song in the whole wide world. Little DUde stayed dead asleep, smoring loudly, even after the DVD went off.
It occured to me that I hadn't heard seen either Dad or Spike in hours. They must be downstairs watching the football game, I reasoned. I expected to see them sitting on opposite sides of the den, watching the game in silence. Hey, that was better than picking at each other, making snide remarks disguised as jokes, which is what they usually did when left alone.
To my amazement, they were both cheering and high fiving. Spike, who had been on death's door, puking his guts out, was weakly hooting and hollering in between coughing fits. They could have been any grown son and dad watching the afternoon game together, except that Spike was looking a little green and was still wearing his pajamas.
"Hey, baby, you feeling okay?" Dad asked as I slowly made my way down the stairs, holding tightly to the rail. He got up to help me down the remaining few steps. Spike looked up and smiled.
"You look like you feel much better, sweetie," spike said with a sweet smile. I was a bit taken aback. I couldn't remember the last time he had called me sweetie.
"How's Little Dude?" Dad asked.
"Oh, he's fast asleep on the couch. I left the DVD player on, so the WIggles are keeping him in a sweet Aussie dream land. But you know he had to be feeling bad, because he didn't try ot sing or dance or anything, not even when they played 'Big Red Car'."
"Not even when they played 'Big Red Car'?" Spike asked incredulously.
I shook my head sadly. "I hope he gets to feeling better soon. BUt truthfully, I hope it's not until we're feeling more spry, too. I couldn't take him bouncing off the walls right now."
Spike nodded in agreement. "I couldn't take on a house fly, much less a toddler right now."
Dad smiled. "Well, son, that's what I'm here for. Y'all just rest and leave the heavy lifting to Dad."
I whipped my head around and looked at Dad. Since when had he called Spike son? That was very odd. Did they have some kind of come to jesus session down here while I was asleep? Did body snatchers come and steal my father and husband? Did they- gasp - discover they might actually have something in common and decide that they ought to get along since Spike and I had been married for ten years already and would probably be married for another ten, if i didn't kill him first? I was perplexed.
Daddy straightened it all out for me with his next comment. "YOu know, sugar, you've been married for over ten years, and in all that time..." he trailed off with a meditative stare. "IN all that time, I never knew, never knew..." He looked at Spike with something that almost could be akin to love, and was definitely sign of a quickly deepening affection. " I can't believe I never knew that Spike was a Redskins fan."
Ah. SO that was it. The Washington Redskins, my dad's favorite team in history, in his all time favorite sport, was also Spike favorite team. Football had finally, after all these years, brought them together. Not our marriage, not the wedding of my father's only child to the love of Spike's life (at least I hoped that's what I was). Not the birth of our vchild, my father's only grandchild and Spike's first born son. Not even the horrible contagion that had recently befallen our househole, from which my dad had come to rescue us. No, not any of these important events. It was football.
"Hey, and can you believe they made it to the playoffs this year?" Spike asked excitedly. "I mean, who would have thought?"
I thought he had been speaking to me, but I was sorley mistaken. His comments were directed soley at my father, and they quickly resumed a passionate and detailed conversation concerning running backs and quarterbacks and special teams and all number of crazy words and phrases that had absolutely no meaning whatsoever to me. I looked back and forth between them like I was watching a wacked out tennis match, trying to comprehend, before I gave up entirely.
I cleared my throat to get their attention. "Well, I should let you guys get back at it then. I'm going to go upstairs and take a warm bath." Then I remembered the state of the tub, empty, but surely laden with microscopic puke residue. "Actually, on second thought, I think I'm just going to go to bed."
On cue, I heard Little Dude cry out.
"Mommies? Daddy? Big Poopy?" Little Dude had taken to calling my father Big Poopy, which thrilled Dad to no end. Little Dude had been trying to call him Poppy, onto which he added "big" since my dad is over six feet tall and the only other reference Little Dude had for adult male height was Spike, who claims to be five foot ten, but who is really barely five foot eight and a quarter. But "Poppy" had gotten garbled in the toddler's mouth into "Poopy", a nickname which my father pronounced entirely fitting and encouraged heavily, much to Spike's chagrin. Spike could be a bit of a prude sometimes. I mean, come on, who deosn't like a little toilet humor. ANd if you ewre wondering, Little DUde doesn't call poopies poopy. He calls them turds. I have no idea where he got that from, but it did arise shortly after he sent one of ihs first weekends during potty training over at my dad;s house. And while I don't encourage it, (ahem, cough , cough, cough), I try to explain to Spike that we have to let him be his own little person and let him call his shit by the name he likes best. Hey, I told Spike, at least he calls his urine pee-pee and not ppiss, okay? Spike had not been impressed by that leap of logic, but he did decide to let it go or the time being.
Dad rose upon hearing Little Dude's cry. "I;ll go get him and put him to bed. Y'all come on, you can help tuck him in and then I'll tuck you bug kids in. You need you beauty sleep. And this one here needs a lot," he joked, slapping Spike on the back. Spike looked pleased at first, but unfortunately, the good natured pat had set off another coughing fit.
Dad looked sheepish. "Sorry about that, Sport."
"Aw, no problem...Dad," Spike said between racking coughs that shook his already thin body.
I was still amazed at the sea change in their behavior. Could football really have that large of an effect on people? It had brought together two men who had spent the better part of ten years sniping like old ladies at a sewing circle when they weren't studiously trying to avoid each other. If that were the case, then why not try it on a larger scale? Could we get together the leaders of the Palestinian movement and the Israeli Knesset and bring them to peace through the healing power of football? Would Osama bin Laden change his tune if President Bush got him box seats at a Green Bay Packers game and threw in a foam cheese head hat? Maybe if we beamed football games into space, the Martians would never attack us, they would just start sending their most talented little green men down to participate in the NFL draft. Maybe football could cure cancer! Think of the possibilities!
I started to feel woozy and grabbed the arm of the sofa. Luckily, Dad was there to catch me.
"Whoa, Nelly! I think you're gonna need some help getting to bed, too!" He held me up by the shoulders as he guided me up the stairs, Spike dragging himself along behind.
"Big Poopy! WHere you at?" LIttle Dude drawled impatiently.
"Keep your pants on! I'm coming," Dad shouted. He turned to us. "I mean that literally, you know. I didn't get to him quick enough this morning, and he had taken his socks, pajama bottoms, and pull up off and smeared wet turd all over the bed. He must of done it right before I got there, becasue when I opened his door, he was staring at the turd and then he went, "Ewwww. Yuck." and hurled all over it. Great combo. Turd and puke." Dad looked at Spike. "You okay?"
Spike looked positively green. Dad grabbed one of his arms to steady him.
"Guess that wasn't the most appropriate story to tell right now, was it? Sorry about that."
"Oh, it's okay. I felt a lot better after that shot, but I think it's wearing off now." I was worried that he was going to vomit on the stairs right next to me, which, in turn, would lead me to vomit, which would make him vomit again, and it would be a sad little vicious circle of vomit. But he bucked up and kept it all inside.
"Well, the good doctor told me to call if you don't get better. Oh, and he left some other stuff for you to take if the nausea came back. It's in the fridge."
I wondered what it could be? The only medicine we had to keep in the fridge was the pink stuff that Little Dude got sometimes to treat ear infections. BUt I was pretty sure I couldn't keep down some thick viscous liquid and I was pretty sure the Good Doctor would have realized that, too. What other meds go in the fridge, though....oh. That. Hey, I didn't care what I had to stick where, as long as I wasn't puking my guts out. I was right down with anti-nausea suppositories. Fine by me. But I wasn't sure that Spike would be so cool with it. Then again, if the alternative was barfing up his stomach lining for the sixteenth time today, he might be just fine with stuffing some glycerin up his butt.
We finally reached the top of the stairs, blessedly barfless, to find Little Dude waiting for us with his hands on his hips.
"Big Poopy! Wanna coodle. Wanna watch Mr. Ted. Coodle wit me, Poopy."
SPike and I exchanged puzzled looks, then we glanced over at my father who was making shushing motions at LIttle Dude.
"What's coodling, Poopy?" I asked Dad.
"Oh, nothing, it's just that when he stays at my house, he likes to crawl up in my La-z-boy and watch a little TV until he falls asleep. He calls it coodling, you know, like cuddling, cause he puts his sweet little head under my chin adn nuzzles up real close."
"Oh, well, that's sweet." I couldn't figure out why Dad looked so sheepish all of a sudden. "Um, Dad? Who's Mr. Ted?"
Little Dude was happy to answer that one. "Mr. Ted, wit da funny hair." He started laughing. It was the most reaction he'd shown to anything all day. "The dead hair." Okay, so now we'd gleaned from Little Dude that this Mr. Ted must have a bad toupee, or as DAd was fond of saying of folks with bad hair pieces, "He looks like he's got a dead cat on his head."
"Mr. Ted, Mommies. On Nitewine. Nitewine! Doo doo doo doo doo doo..." he sang a rendition of the theme song in his sweet little toddler voice. "I love Mr. TEd and his dead head. He smart, Mommies. You like Mr. Ted, Daddy?"
Spike still looked a little confused, but I had finally gotten a firm grasp on the situation. "You let him stay up and watch Nightline, Dad? That doesn't come on until 11:30!"
"Hey, we take long naps, don't we, Little Dude?"
"Yep, we nappy in he wavy bed."
"ANd you let him take naps in the waterbed?" I said accusatorily.
"Hey, I just lay there and read. He sleeps better when I lie down with him."
I almost got angry, but it was way too funny to laugh. He was just being an indulgent grandparent. "No wonder he never wants to come home with us! YOu've got him completely spoiled rotten!" I said with an exaggerated sigh, then broke into laughter.
Dad looked pleased that I wasn't mad. "Well, then my job as a grandparent is going perfectly. I'll tke that as the highest compliment." He kneeled down to LIttle Dude. "Do you like staying with Poopy?"
Little Dude's eyes lit up. "Yep, I lob Poopy. He nice. We have s'cream for breakfast, huh, Poopy?"
I shot my father a look. He shrugged. "I don't know where he got that, honestly. We only have ice cream for lunch."
I shook my head and laughed some more. "Come on, LIttle Dude, give your sick and tired parents a hug good night." He ran over and gave Spike and me knee hugs and calf kisses.
"Night, night Mommies. Night, night Daddies. Come on, Big Poopy. We go see Mr. Ted."
Dad came over and whispered, "I don't know what the hell I'm going to do now. I cna't bear to tell him that Mr. Ted retired. Maybe I can get him into David Letterman or something." He grinned. "YOu'd love that, wouldn't you?" he said with a wink.
"YOu are incorrigible!" I protested, poking him in the arm.
"And you are sik. Now off to bed, both of you. And stop by the fridge and get a little night cap, just in case. YOu don't want to wake up puking at three in the morning, do you?"
"No, sir!" SPike said and gave him a mock salute.
Dad clapped him on the back, more gently this time. "ALright, then. See you in the morning. Maybe you;ll be ready for some buttered toast by then." He grabbed Little DUde's hand and they toddled off back into the living room. Spike grabbed my hand and we shuffled into the kitchen.
"We should get some medicine before we go to sleep," Spike reminded me.
"Yep, I agree," I said with a tiny bit of hesitancy in my voice.
"I know, I don't really feel like putting anything else in my mouth today, either, but if it will jeep us from puking, it's worth it." I struggled with how to break the news to him. He opened the fridge and started to rummage around.
"See Spike, that's just the thing. I don't think we'll have to worry about putting anything in our mouths," I began.
"Well, then how in the hell are we going to take it? He didn't leave us syringes, did he? I mean, I know he's friends with your dad and all, but that just seems a little dangerous. And I don't think I can poke myslef. You'll have to do it."
"Oh, I don't think you want me to do that," I started, the mental image of Spike bending over the bed, waiting for me to insert a suppository was causing me inner turmoil, and i wasn't sure if i was going to throw up or start laughing. Maybe both.
"Come on, what's a little poke between a husband and wife? I would do it for you," he protested, and I almost lost it both ways. "Ah, here we go," he pronounced as he pulled out the pharmacy bag and withdrew a short, fat bottle from inside. "What's this?" I could see his tongue sticking out just a tiny bit from the side of his mouth, as it was wont to do when he was concentrating really hard on something. I always wondered if that ever happened in a big business meeting or during a deposition. His eyes got big, and I knew he had just read the delivery instructions. "Oh." He looked at me. "Don't worry. I can take care of this myself." He looked up at me with a game look. "But, you know, if you want, I can help you out with yours-"
"Well, that's a generous offer, but I think I can handle it on my own. But I do appreciate it, really." I smiled. "YOu are silly." I couldn't remember the last time I had ever said that to SPike. Maybe never. He was rarely silly. Hell, he didn't even find the humor in farts. "I like that in a man."
Spike's eyes shone and he smiled very big. "I'm glad," he said and then started coughing again, which turned his expression from happy into panicked in less than five seconds, as the coughs wracked his body so hard it started up his gag reflex. The bottle fell from his hand as he raced down the hall to the bathroom.
"DOn't worry, sugar, I'll bring one to bed for you," I called after him. I popped the cap, shook out two suppositories, and headed to the bedroom for another romantic evening.

Day Eight


Day Seven


Day Six

Day Six
Now that you've proven to yourself that you can teach an old dog new tricks, go back to your list and reconsider. What else is on that list that you didn't think you could do? Pick another item, something that you can't do alone, and share it with your partner. Divulge your secret passion, and discuss ways that you can make it happen together. The journey is so much more pleasurable when someone else is along for the ride, isn't it?
"Yes, life is a journey, one that is much better traveled with a companion by our side. Of course, that companion can be just about anyone... a neighbor on the other side of the street... or the man on the other side of the bed. The companion can be a mother with good intentions... or a child who's up to no good.
Still, despite our best intentions, some of us will lose our companions along the way. And then the journey becomes unbearable. You see, human beings are designed for many things, but loneliness isn't one of them."
-Mary Alice, from TV's Desperate Housewives

I didn't think Spike was going to be up for that romantic trip to Paris right now, I thought weakly. I heard him retching in the bathroom and I burrowed my head further under the pillow, trying to drown out the sound. Finally, I could take no more and leapt out of bed with my hand over my mouth, trying desperately to hold back the flood of vomit that was hurtling through my throat, headed straight for my brand new oriental runner rug in the hallway. I barely made it to the bathroom before I couldn't wait any longer. I threw up, not in the toilet, but in the bathtub, much to my chagrin. I hastily turned on the water in an effort to wash the evidence away before the sight and smell of it caused me to start all over. Too late.
After a good ten minutes of purging and heaving, I felt much better. The tub was blessedly empty, just like my stomach, but the thought of scrubbing the tub clean made my stomach begin to boil and bubble all over again, like the witches' cauldron in that Scottish play. Screw it, I'd call Merry Maids to come out this week. I guarantee you no one in our house is going to feel like cleaning.
I felt sorry for Spike. He had gone to the trouble of ordering from my favorite restaurant, an authentic French bistro tucked away in the historic district downtown. He hated to go there, said it was cramped and the food was weird, and why couldn't we just go somewhere nice like Chez Gaston if we were going to have a nice night out? I tried to explain to him that even though the name was supposedly French, the food at Chez Gaston was certainly not. It was more an unfortunate amalgam of the current food fads, in teeny tiny servings on huge humongous plates at extremely exorbitant prices. There was also much abuse of the squeeze bottle saucing technique at Chez Gaston, something that just screamed Nouveau Riche Tacky Food to me. If your food was really good, you didn't need all those cosmetics. It's like men who marry a stunningly attractive blonde with a seemingly perfect complexion only to wake up on the morning after their wedding to a pock marked plain Jane whose carpet in no way matches the curtains.
So anyway, he did this nice thing for me, all because he wanted to show me how much he just now realized he appreciated me after my little incident, and what happens? We have a wonderful dinner all by ourselves- he even broke out the candles. He admitted the food was way better than what you could get at Chez Gaston, even if it was a little rustic. We laughed and drank wine and listened to music until 3am. Then, we both woke up at the crack of dawn, with the unmistakable and unignorable urge to hurl. It was 9am and we were still throwing up on and off, when we weren't lying on the floor moaning.
I just knew Spike was going to blame the food. Hell, I was starting to wonder what we ate that was cooked incorrectly. That was the only answer I could see. I staggered back to the bedroom. Spike was lying on the bare hardwood floor, pale and shaking.
"I am so sorry, honey, so sorry," I mumbled.
"It's not your fault," he moaned.
"But the food," I protested.
"I have a feber," he whispered.
Just then the phone rang. I lurched to the bed, collapsed on it, and picked up the phone on the bedside table.
"Yeah?" I asked hoarsely.
"Joanie? That you? You sound just awful, honey." It was my dad.
"Thanks, Dad. You should see me. I bet I look ten thousand times worse."
"Aw, I'm sorry to hear that. Well, I have bad news for you."
"That's just what I need."
"Little Dude is sick. Fever, vomiting, chills. He's pretty miserable. What's wrong with y'all?"
"Same thing," I said, it all becoming clear to me now.
"Yep, sounds like y'all all got the flu. Didn't any of you think to get a flu shot this year?"
"Well, Little Dude's too little and we were supposed to get them at work, but they never came."
"Well, I got mine at the grocery store. That's what y'all should of done."
I sighed. "I know, Dad, I know."
"Look here, baby. I already called my doctor, and he's coming over to see Little Dude. He said he can give him something for the puking. I'm gonna send him to your house, too, okay?"
"Wait, Dad, your doctor makes house calls?"
"Yep, he's a peach. He works in the emergency room most of the time, but he has a little practice on the side that he shares with a bunch of
other doctors. It works out real good for him, keeps him busy. But he only does house calls for special patients. I'm special, you know. His momma is a good friend of mine, so I like to send business his way. Plus, his momma is real cute." Daddy laughed. I understood now how he got this special treatment. He was probably gunning for this guy to be my future brother in law."I'll just bring Little Dude over after a while, and I'll make you something, soup or toast, to eat. Maybe stay a while if you're both still feeling really peaked."
"Oh, Dad, that would be so wonderful, you're the best."
"Well, I love you, baby, and seeing as how you're married to Ernie and all, I guess I gotta be nice to him, too."
"Yes, honey?"
"I gotta go puke now. I'll talk to you later." I slammed down the phone and ran back to the bathroom.
I rested my head down the cold porcelain toilet seat. My robe had come open, and my legs pressed against the cool linoleum floor. Ah, blessed relief. I was starting to relax just a little when I heard the doorbell ring.
I scurried, well, tried to scurry, and was at half my normal scurrying pace, anyway, when I heard Spike croaking up the stairs.
"Honey, the doctor is here."
"Coming, I just have to get ready, okay?"
"Don't dress up on my account," I heard a pleasant voice chime. It sounded oddly familiar. Had I met this guy before? Yeah, probably when Dad was having his knee surgery or something.
I scrounged for a pair of clean pajamas. I thought briefly about putting on a bra, then decided against it. He could listen through my pajama top, which was fairly thin. And anyway, so what if he caught a glimpse of my chest? It wouldn't be anything he hadn't seen a million times before. I felt pretty immodest in front of the medical community when I remembered that they looked at this stuff every day and wouldn't be impressed or disgusted by me. Hell, they probably wouldn't even remember.
I found some ugly, but clean sweat pants and a pajama top. I would be mismatched, but I would be clean. I remembered to stop and brush my teeth before I went down the stairs. I might look bad and feel bad, but the last thing I wanted was to smell bad. Doctors might not remember your cellulite or lopsideness, but they probably would remember the breath of death.
I held tightly to the stair rail and began to wheeze. Great, another bout of asthma. Well, maybe this doc has something in his bag. I can at least send him to fetch my meds I got last night from my ER visit.
"Hey, I know that wheeze!" the familiar voice exclaimed. He could see me, but I couldn't see him, as I didn't have my glasses on or my contacts in, and I was terribly nearsighted. "Hope another asthma attack isn't coming on. Do you have your prescription filled already?"
I got within three feet of the voice and the face began to come into focus. I drew in my breath sharply in surprise, which resulted in another wheeze. "It's you!"
It was the doctor from the ER. I was so embarrassed. Yesterday, he had seen me wheezing after pole dancing in my tank top and tights, and today, here he is, in my home, and I'm mismatched and looking like ass.
He was poking around on the coffee table, still a jumble of wine glasses and CDs from last night. He plucked my inhaler from the still unopened prescription bag. "Here, take a puff of this, it'll make you feel great, man," he stage whispered with a wink.
I took a hit off the inhaler and the wheezing stopped.
"Drugs are good, man," he said in a horrible Cheech (or Chong, who knows) impression. I smiled. He was a silly, silly man. I liked that in a doctor.
Spike looked at us incredulously. "You know each other?"
"Yes, I'm sorry, I forgot to introduce you. This is..." I faltered. I had no idea what his name was. "Um, this was my doctor in the ER yesterday."
Spike brightened up. "Really? Well, thanks for taking care of her so well."
"My pleasure. She'll be back dancing in no time. Well, as soon as we get rid of this nasty flu anyway," he smiled brightly.
"Dancing?" Spike looked puzzled. I had told him I was going to take a class as one of my assignments, but I hadn't told him what kind of class and he hadn't asked.
I glared at the doctor, but it was too late.
"I'm sorry, " looking at me apologetically. "Did I let the cat out of the bag?"
It doesn't happen very often, but right then, I got the perfect idea. He didn't know it, but he had given me the perfect out. I decided to tell the truth mostly, and only lie just a teeny little bit.
"It's okay," I said sweetly to the doctor. I turned to Spike. "I was going to surprise you for our anniversary. I decided to take, well, um," I tried to look shy and willed myself to blush. "Exotic dancing classes." I waited for his response.
He mulled it over for a moment. You could almost see the wheels turning. To be fair, he probably wasn't working on full power, having vomited up most of his stomach and killed off a few brains cells with the copious wine we drank the night before. Then, his face brightened.
"You mean like belly dancing? I've always thought that was really cool."
My face fell. Uh oh. Now I'm in trouble, I thought. "No, um, like EXOTIC dancing," I said, slowly drawing out the word 'exotic' as to emphasize it. I did everything but make the little 'quote' symbols with my fingers, because I just hate it when people do that. It annoys the hell out of me. I was hoping he would catch on, but he just looked even more confused. I realized I was going to have to spell it out for him.
"You know, exotic dancing. Like burlesque." He shook his head, still perplexed. "Um...stripping."
His eyes widened. "But why would you want-" and then he stopped as the light bulb came on. "You took...those lessons...for me?" he asked in disbelief.
"Well, I thought it would be something...that might interest you..." I trailed off, feeling disappointed. If I really had taken the lesson for him, I would have been completely crushed.
"No, honey, I would be, trust me," he rushed to explain. "I just can't believe you would do that for me. Wow," he said, looking at me in wonder.
"Well, I love you, sweetie," I said, feeling only a little guilty that I had just won major brownie points by lying my butt off.
"Now that's a fine woman you got there, pardner," he said, clapping Spike on the shoulder. "Ones like that don't come along every day." He grinned. "Okay, enough bad jokes out of me. Time to check y'all out. I saw your son, um, what does your dad call him?"
"Little Dude," I reminded him.
"Yep, Little Dude. That's so cute. Well, Little Dude is doing just fine, except for the puking and fever, but I gave him something for the puking, and I told your dad to dose him up real good with Tylenol. I suggest y'all do the same." He asked us a few questions, looked in our throats, took our temps, and listened to our chests before proclaiming that yeah, we sure did have the flu, the whole lot of us.
"Except for your dad. That's a lucky stroke. He said he's coming over later with Little Dude and he's going to stay a few days and take care of things."
Spike looked at me in surprise. I was ready for him to protest. He liked my dad well enough, but he found him just a little bossy and didn't think he completely approved of him. The feeling was mutual.
"He's coming to stay and take care of us?" he questioned, lifting his head up.
"Yeah, I mean, it's just for a few days..." I stammered, not wanting to start a fight, especially win I had just collected good vibe brownie points. I wanted to ride that wave as long as possible.
Spike's head flopped back on the sofa, where he had sprawled out next to me after the doctor was done with the examinations. "God bless him," he said, genuine gratitude in his voice and his eyes. I sighed with relief.
We both relaxed for a minute, until the doctor spoke up.
"Well, my work here is almost done. I just need you both to drop your pants."
Spike and I both gasped. The doctor was standing next to us with two syringes. "You don't want to keep puking, do you?" he said with an evil giggle. We both rolled over and hurriedly flashed our cheeks.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Day Five

Day Five

Now that you have looked at your past, let's take a look at your present. Are you happy? If you were entirely happy, would you be taking this course at all? And are we ever really happy at all? Is happiness merely an illusion, a pipe dream, a fantasy that we use as a carrot on a stick to get us through our daily lives, hoping one day to achieve it miraculously, without ever really believing that it will make us happy?

What would make you happy right now? Sit down and write out five things that would make you happy. Then set out to achieve one of these things before sundown tonight. Don't say that this is an impossible task. If you want it badly enough, you will find a way. As the famous tennis shoe commercial reminds us, Just Do It.

Whatever the mind of man can conceive and believe, it can achieve.
W. Clement Stone

" did...your last assignment...go?" Dr. Gerry asked in her halting way.

" was..illuminating..." I answered, not noticing at first that I had unconsciouslly copied her style of talking. It was not only getting under my skin, it was getting into my head, apparently.
" glad. Most people find...confronting...the past...frightening."

" was...interesting. would say." I noticed then that my sentences were coming out at half speed, with weird, quirky puases between them, just like Dr. Gerry's. This wasn't on purpose. I wasn't consciously trying to mock her, I was just having trouble coming up with very general terms to describe this very specific experience. I was certain that Dr. Gerry was relayigng every single thing that I said to Spike, and that he was doing the same for her, and the practical side of me wanted to be careful not to divulge anything to her that would contradict what I had told him or not to say anything to him that would be obviously different than what I said to her. But at the same time, I was having a little doubt that everything that she said was complete and total bull shit, and the idealistic part of me wanted to believe that she had some key to my sould and could unlock all my problems with her stilted questioning and her stupid little 'assignments'. Then my practical self reminded the idealistic self that this woman could not even speak in complete sentences, and it was very unlikely she had the answer to life's little tiny mysteries, like why you always have twice as much conditioner left over than shampoo or why the cats throw up in the same shoe every night, much less the answer to the bigger questions, like why women just cannot throw dingy underwear away or like where half of all the socks go after they enter the dryer.

"I mean, it was just fine. Nice to see an old friend." I tried to sound nonchalant, and made a concerted effort not to parrot her speech patterns .

"I see...and thought...about each other ...through the years?"
"Oh, well, sure, here and there, you know how it goes. No big deal."
"I...see," she said, a knowing smile in her voice.
I hoped she didn't see. I was afraid that I had made such a big deal out of being breezy and nonplussd that surely she would see right through it. Surely she would find me out. Then she would tell Spike. She would tell him that I came dangerously close to kissing my first, and perhaps only, true love after a romantic dinner. And then what would have happened? And what would happen when Spike found out?
Then what indeed, I told myself. I almost kissed someone, I didn't kiss him in actuality. It's not like we screwed in the back seat of his car or something. Yeah, I told myself, but you almost wanted would have if his cell phone hadn't rang, wouldn't you?
But what I would have done and what I did are two different things, I argued. All that matters is that I didn't. Not what I wanted to do. It struck me then that I had lived most of my life by that vow, foregoing what I really wanted to do, whether it was right or wrong, and doing what happened to come along by luck, or what someone else thought I ought to do.
Stop overanalyzing your whole god damn life! I screamed in my head. You didn't kiss him, and that's all that matters.
"Joan...are you...still there?" Dr. Gerry intoned.
"Oh, yes, sorry, I was just lost in thought.
"I...seeeee..." she said again, this time drawing out the 'e' in see until it sounded like a weird animal call or something. It was eerie.
I didn't want to get any further into this discussion, lest I incriminate myself in my head or in real life any further. I tried to think of a way to quickly change the subject.
"So, how do you think I'm doing? Am I making progress?" And when will this damn farce be over, I thought to myself.
"How're doing? ...question."
Yes, it sure is the question, you stupid bitch, it's the question that I just asked you. If I had the answer, I wouldn't have asked you in the first place. Is this what you get paid for? To act like you're fucking Socrates or something? I should have known she would just turn it back around on me like that.
"You..have the answer...within you."
Shit. It was like she was reading my mind. But hey, she's not a mnd reader, she's just like one of those crazy fake psychics that generalize about features that are so common that everyone them, until everyone thinks that they have these incredible powers, when in reality, all they are are newfangled fakes, mere snake oil salesmen of the present day.
"I think...the next assignment...will be...illuminating."
"Well, thanks a bunch, Dr. Gerry. You always make things so much clearer when we have these little chats. I really appreciate it. You take care." I was trying to be polite, but i realized that she had hung up immediately after her last cryptic utterance and that she hadn't heard any of my feigned pleasantries.
"Fucking bitch," I hissed into the phone. Sighing heavily, I cracked open my book and started on the day's assignment.
It hadn't taken me long to compose a list of five things I had always wanted to do but never found the time or opportunity to do. I probably could have composed a list of fifty things without taking that much longer. Sometimes I felt like my life was just one long missed opportunity and untaken chance. I looked at my list.
1. Learn how to speak French.
2. Take a romantic trip to Paris.
3. Get a sports car, or at least, a sporty car.
4. Be an artist full-time.
5. Learn how to belly dance.
Well, I thought, I definitely am not going to be able to learn to speak French in one day.
I had taken German I in high school and Italian in college, and I couldn't remember a
more than a pertinent phrase or two in each language ("Wo ist das Badezimmer?" and
"Ich mochte ein Bier, bitte" encompassed my recollection of three years of high school
German and "Ciao" pretty much was all I got out of two semesters of Italian in college.)
I didn't think Spike would be up to jetting off to Paris, either. He wasn't exactly a fly by
the seat of his pants, spontaneous kind of guy. He preferred to plan our vacations months
in advance, down to the tiniest detail, and then insist that we cram in every possible sight
seeing adventure or historic monument, not just at our destination, but on our way to and
from wherever we were getting away to. The possibility of getting Spike just to go to the
beach instead of the Grand Canyon by way of Mount Vernon, Gettysburg, and Mount
Rushmore was next to nothing. It turned out to be a lot of work and not much of a
vacation, if you asked me. And when he did ask me for my opinion, we always ended up in an argument that came to a halt when I yelled out, "Fine! Let's do what ever you want
for vacation and stop bitching about it, already!" Then I would stomp off in a huff and be
sullen for the rest of the day (and most of the vacation as well, even if it was months
afterward. I packed up my petulant attitude and brought it out just as we boarded the
plane or left the driveway. I was great fun to travel with, let me tell you. But it was my
passive aggressive way of telling Spike how much I hated his awful vacation plans, and
how much I hated him for mot taking any of my suggestions. I could have just told him,
but then I wouldn't have been able to pout, and it wouldn't have been as much fun.) For
the last four years, I had been 'extremely busy' at work and had to miss out on the fun.
He ended up just taking his brother fishing last year. Based on this past experience, I
concluded that the likelihood of convincing Spike to drop the baby off at Dad's and meet
me at the airport with only the clothes on his back so that we could whisk ourselves away
to Paris for the night was downright impossible.
If it was impossible to get Spike to take a laid back vacation, then it would have been
beyond impossible to convince him that I should quit my semi-lucrative job and be an
artist all day long, every day. Not that we were hurting for money; he had a great job
making pretty good scratch, and we had our mortgage almost paid off as well as a
sizeable saving account balance, all because Spike was an avid saver. He was ferociously
frugal, and it's one of the things that I happened to appreciate about him. We had a
family account into which we put an equal percentage of our take-home pay to pay the
bills and add to our savings and the baby's college fund. The rest was ours to spend as
we pleased. Spike never hardly touched his money, except when I begged him to get
some flat front pants, please for the love of God, because those pleats make your hips
look like they are about sixty-five, okay? And he did always buy me a nice Christmas
present, like a savings bond. Yeah, not romantic, but I had socked away a large portion
of his Christmas presents since we had been married, as well as contributed the max to
my 401(k) on his advice, and I was sitting pretty on a nicely developing nest egg all my
own. I did like to go out and buy nice things once in a while, but I restrained myself a lot
more than many professional women, married and single. I didn't shop because I was
afraid of what Spike would say; he had told me early on that it was my money, I earned
it, and I could do as I pleased with it. Rather, I saw that money grow, and that excited me
more than an expensive handbag or a designer wardrobe.
So even though we could afford to have me quit work, I knew the thought would have
made Spike really seriously nervous. I liked having the big cushion that an extra income
brought the family, and loved seeing our saving balance climb precipitously northward
every year. He would have felt cramped and maybe clamped down on all of our
spending if I quit. I would have stayed awake at night wondering if we would be able to
pay for the baby's college without eating Ramen noodles every night. He would drive
me so bat shit crazy that I would finally say, "Enough! I am going back to work just to
shut you up!" I had really wanted to bring up the issue once the baby was born. I
dreamed about staying home with him, but felt like it was merely that, a dream, because I
just couldn't do that. Stay home? No one did that anymore. Everyone worked two jobs.
There was no reason to feel guilty about that, right? And he was fine at day care.
Actually, he was more than fine. They treated him so well and spoiled him so thoroughly
that sometimes he didn't want to come home when I picked him up in the afternoons. He
would cling to his teacher and cry and say, "I no wanna go! I wanna stay! Noooo!" I
was afraid they would think we were mean, or even abusive, to him at home and that he
was scared to go home with us for fear of what we would do. Each time he got a bruise
or a boo boo, I thought, "Oh, God! They're going to call Social Services on us!" The
only thing that slightly mitigated the situation in my eyes was when Spike told me that he
didn't ever want him to leave him in the morning. He would cling to Spike and cry and
say, "No, Daddy! Stay and play! Play, Daddy!" This made me feel better, at least from
the potential appearance of child abuse standpoint, but at the same time, it made me feel
worse. Oh, so he doesn't want me to pick him up, but he can't stand for his Daddy to
leave him, huh? Sad, I know, I mean, the kid is not even three. But still, it made me feel
inadequate. So I fantasized that if I stayed home with him, he would love me even more
than Spike. This daydream made me feel better until I realized that there was no way that
would ever happen, and I always sunk into a funk at being the second-best loved parent.
So, no, I couldn't be an artist full-time today, or ever. I had to keep being an analyst and
keep plugging away and keep getting cost of living increases every year, unless maybe I
got promoted to manage other disillusioned corporate zombies, and keep working until
my forty years were up and then I could retire and Spike and I would rent an RV, which
was his dream but which would have not room for an easel, and we would visit every
historical road marker on every stretch of asphalt in every State in the Union until one of
us, hopefully me, mercifully dropped dead and went home to meet Jesus. On second
thought, maybe I should just keep working until I die.
And the sports car…or at least sporty car...well, Spike might have gone for that, if we
could have gotten a Camaro or a Corvette, instead of the MG or Aston Martin that I
would prefer. We had agreed to disagree on this years before. Right after we got married,
in the haze of young love or lust or whatever it is that drives people to buy extremely
unpractical consumer goods, especially the big ticket variety, we decided that we would
get a bitchin' convertible and drive it all over the coast that summer, as we were both
freshly graduated from college and had no job prospects yet. Spike would start law
school in the fall, and I would look for a job, but until then, we were going to use our
graduation money and savings to buy an awesome ride and party for the two months
before we had to start acting like grown ups. After three solid hours of fervent
disagreement, we still couldn't come to a compromise on the best kind of convertible to
buy, and we set one of out marital disagreement patterns right then. We dropped the
subject and acted like the argument never happened. In fact, we ignored the whole
summer fun in the sun idea. Spike got an internship at a local law firm and I went on and
found a job at the company that I still work for. So, no, I knew that Spike wouldn't go
for that one, because we had already been down that road.
Well, I sure am batting a thousand in the idea department today, I thought. Still, there
was one more item left, and upon reading it again, I decided it just might work. I had
always wanted to learn how to belly dance, but just never found the time. It always
seemed like a really subtle, yet sexy, form of body language to me, and I loved the outfits
unreasonable. The dancer seduced the audience with her rhythmic shaking, her piercing
stare, her jingling bells creating her own form of percussion. I loved to dress up in
costumes (Halloween was my very favorite holiday) and the traditional attire required for
belly dancing was a dream come true, right down to the ankle bells. There were classes offered at the local community center, but it always seemed that there was something else
going on, something in the way. There was dinner to cook, or a birthday party to go to,
or shopping to be done. I just never made the time because it didn't register very high on
my priority list, even though it was something I had wanted to do for years. I knew I
couldn't learn everything, every move, every nuance in just one day, but it was a good
place to start, anyway.
I opened the free local independent weekly and flipped to the instruction classifieds.
There it was, the ad I always saw for belly dance classes. My heart sank. Shit, classes
were only on week nights and it was Saturday. I wanted to get this assignment over with
today. I scanned the ads, looking for any other form of dance that might fit the bill.
Yeah, it would be cheating, but it would get the assignment done.
My eye fell to a larger ad, about an eighth of the page.
Want to learn the subtleties of sensuous dance? the ad's headline read. Why yes, as a
matter of fact I do, thank you for asking.
Want to learn how to seduce your audience with merely a glance? Ooh, that sounds
interesting, I thought. I wondered if this was another belly dancing class ad.
Want to learn how to light your lover's desire with every move you make? I snickered.
Yeah, right, good luck getting Spike to take his eyes off the game, whether it be football,
basketball, or bowling, even if I was running around naked with an Indian headdress on,
singing a war song and brandishing a hatchet.
Still, it all sounded very intriguing.
Intrigued? Very good marketing right there, I thought to myself. It's like they were
reading my mind, and the mind of probably 99.9 percent of people who read that ad.
Call Mistress Sophia at 462-7588. I'm surprised that phone number doesn't spell
anything, I wondered with a little bit of disappointment. I guess they thought it might be
a little tacky to spell SEXY or HOTT with the phone number. Yeah, that would be too
I hesitated a second or two. I wonder what Mistress Sophia's credentials are, if she's
even a real dancer or anything. Then I scolded myself. Loosen up, will you? She
probably just teaches bored housewives how to do a sexy little shake in the trashy
drawers that their husbands got them for Valentine's Day or something like that. It's not
like she's going to train you to be a full fledged stripper or something. This is supposed
to be fun! And you've got to get that assignment done. Now go on, call her. Besides,
what if it is a little raunchy? You need a little raunch in your life and you're sure not
going to get it from Spike, so you might as well get it for yourself. It might not be what
you expected, but it will probably be fun, right? Come on, girl! Where's that
I noticed I had become prone to giving myself pep talks lately, which I generally found
more than a bit annoying. I hated to be nagged, especially by my own self. But, alas, I
realized that I was right this time Oh, how I hated to admit that anyone else was right,
even when someone else was myself.
I picked up the phone and was surprised that I noticed that spelled IMA-SLUT. I
reasoned that they must have picket that number on purpose. Then, I remembered that
462 was the prefix for my work number, and reasoned that my mind was already working
on raunchy overtime. Hmm, I guess I needed this adventure more than I thought.
The voice on the other end of the line was crisp and business-like.
"This is Mistress Sophia." It was a definite statement, not a question.
"Yes, sorry to bother you, but I…I'm calling about the dance class thing…I saw your ad
in the paper…" I trailed off. I was stammering, I was so nervous. About what? Asking
about a service someone I had never met had advertised in a public paper? I felt like I
was a teenage boy confronted with his first set of boobs.
"Oh, yes, thanks so much for calling. When are you interested in scheduling your class?"
The voice had become more warm and friendly, less cool and detached once I stated my
interest. I wondered if there were other callers that might be calling for another service
that she provided. The "Mistress Sophia" title had me speculating as to what her other
clientele paid for.
"Well, I… I mean, I know it's short notice, but I was wondering if you had any Saturday
classes? Like today, this Saturday? Ummm…" God, I sound like a stuttering freak!
She'll think that I'm mentally challenged and refuse to take me on the grounds that I
can't hardly even talk, much less learn how to dance.
"You're in luck! I have a spot open at eleven. That's just an hour out. Can you make
it?" She sounded nice enough, not like some two bit, well, you know, that was going to
try and convert me to her brothel.
"Sure. Okay. Great." Man, I was so eloquent today.
"Great. Wear a regular bra and panties under your workout clothes. And bring a button
down man's shirt. Oh, and you can call me Sophie. See you soon!"
Bewildered, I stammered stupidly, "Okay," and then she was gone. What in the world
had I gotten myself into?
An hour later, I was at Sophie's. Directions to her studio were at the bottom of the ad. It
turned out to be a strip mall right outside of town. The sign simply read, "Dance Studio",
and appeared to be exactly that from the outside. The windows were tinted, so I couldn't
see inside, but I felt much relieved and walked in confidently. A pleasant looking young
woman with a bouncy ponytail sat behind the front desk, engrossed in whatever she was
reading. She jumped up a little, startled, as the door closed behind me.
"Hi, I'm…"
She smiled and stretched out her hand. "Joan, right? Hi, I'm Sophie. It's nice to meet
you." She looked very young. I don't know what I expected from the voice on the
phone, perhaps a slightly older woman, someone just a little older than me, with red
lipstick and dark brunette hair, someone dangerous looking. This woman had on no
makeup at all, which showed off her unlined, peaches and cream complexion, and had
bright red, some might say orange, hair. There was a light smattering of freckles across
her nose. She looked as if she could be twelve, but I figured she had to be at least
twenty-something to have earned the right to call herself "Mistress" of anything. Or
anybody, I thought with a jolt. Oh, I get it now… I thought. No, no way that she was a
professional… well, it's not like she's a hooker or anything, I mean, they don't have
actual sex, but still… she looks like a schoolgirl, not a…no, she must mean something
else by that. I couldn't bring myself to admit what I was thinking, not even in my own
internal conversations. She just looked too innocent and fresh faced to be a professional
dominatrix. I laughed at myself as I rolled the words around in my head. Tee hee hee.
She probably doesn't even know what that is. I only know from reading Spike's
Playboys. Just for the articles of course. Really.
I shook myself out of my daze and shook her hand. "Nice to meet you, too."
"Now, how did you hear about the class? From a friend?" She looked at me expectantly.
I thought I had explained that I just saw the ad in the paper, but then again, I was so
befuddled when I called that I probably hadn't made much sense.
"Well, no, I just saw the ad in the paper, and really I wanted to take belly dancing, but
this looked interesting, and…." I trailed off again. Every word or garbled syllable that
came out of my mouth today just made me look even more foolish than I normally
appeared. Maybe my vocabulary was conspiring with my tongue to purposefully trip me
up so that I would look like an ass and she wouldn't want to teach me and I couldn't
finish this assignment and then Spike would get angry and leave me and it would be all
their fault and we'll see who laughs then because I would learn French, a whole new
vocabulary, and I would cut my tongue out so that it couldn't mess up my French- no
wait, I couldn't spoeak French with no tongue…I would learn sign language! Yes, then I
could cut my tongue out because I wouldn't need it! Yeah, that would show it who's the
boss! Yeah! I thought jubilantly in my head, before my brain dropped out of warp speed
and my thoughts returned to a semblance of normalcy. I thought, Jesus, I really need
help if I'm paranoid of my own body parts.
Sophie looked slightly surprised and then smiled. "Well, then I think this will do the
trick for you. Belly dancing is great, too, though. We can incorporate a few moves from
belly dancing if you like."
"Sure, that would be great," I agreed, relaxing as I followed her back to a closed door,
which I assumed was the dance studio. I hadn't been in one in years, since my failed
ballet lessons at age six. I worried that I would be too clumsy for this, just like I was for
ballet, but then my internal cheerleader quickly silenced the thought with a "Shut up and
have fun, alright already? Damn, girl. Loosen up."
"So, exactly what kind of dance class is this?" I asked innocently as Sophie's hand was
on the doorknob.
"Exotic dancing," she announced proudly. She threw the door open with a flourish,
revealing a conventional dance studio- polished hardwoods, wall long mirror, piano in the
corner- with a very unconventional twist- a stripper's pole in the middle of the floor.
"Wow," I said in awe. I mean, sure, I had some idea that this was going to be a sexy dancing class, but I had no idea that it would involve a real pole. "Wow," I said again, my mouth gaping open.
"You knew that, right?" Sophie asked, looking at my obviously amazed expression. She looked concerned. "I mean, that's okay, isn't it? Most of my customers are referred by word of mouth, so I just assumed you knew. If you're not interested, then I apologize, and you certainly don't have to-"
"Oh, no!" I exclaimed, amazing myself at my stringent tone. "No, I really want to. Yeah, I'm surprised, a little, but um, yeah, I still want to. Okay?" I said, turning to shoot a forced smile at her.
I was intrigued, but also scared out of my tights. I had a dark little secret, a personal fantasy that no one knew about but me. I certainly didn't tell my girlfriends, as they would wonder what kind of a secret slut I was. I certainly didn't tell Spike, because he would no doubt wonder the same thing. I couldn't tell anyone, yet I used to dream about it late at night, in the quiet and dark of my bed all tucked away by myself.
I had always wanted to be a pole dancer.
I had been to gentleman's clubs, the polite term one might use for a strip club, in college. Part of the allure, for a young heterosexual girl, anyway, was to prove that you could hang out with the boys, that you were cool and not intimidated by the fact that there were thirty mostly naked women milling about the room around you, not to mention the two or three that were always onstage. Girls always got in for free, and guys seemed to be so impressed that you would go in the first place that they always ended up paying for your drinks. The buffets were usually passably decent, so it was basically a free night of dinner and drinking.
The first time that I went, though, I was frightened to death. I thought that everyone there, dancers and patrons included, would think that I was a 'bad' girl just by virtue of me being there. I was afraid that I would get hit on by randy old men who would mistake me for a stripper on her night off. I was afraid that the whole place would be a sleazefest. Most improbably, I was afraid that somehow, some way, my father would find out. That was really what scared me the most. I was sure he would have a heart attack and die, because if he heard that I was seen in one of those clubs, he would automatically assume that I was 'seen' there, as in onstage, and it would kill him dead to think he sent his little girl to four years of high priced college just to become a stripper.
I stepped through the door of the club, following the pack of guys in front of me. It looked like the lobby of any dance club, I thought with surprise, feeling ever so slightly more at ease. The woman taking money at the door was very pleasant. She looked at me knowingly as I pulled out my wallet.
"Ladies are always in free," she said with a warm smile. "Have a good night."
I followed the back of a friend through the entrance door to the interior of the club, resisting the overwhelming urge to grab a handful of his shirt so that I wouldn't lose him in the crowd, lest I then be picked up, kidnapped, and forced to dance nekkid. I looked up tentatively once we were inside. The interior was nice, a little loud with deep purple being the dominant color, but almost tasteful in it's own way. I could imagine the décor fitting right in at the Playboy Mansion. The satin draperies on the wall reminded me of the style and color of a pair of pajamas I had seen on Hugh Hefner on an episode of "True Hollywood Story." The music was loud, but not so loud that you couldn't talk, and it was jamming rock music. I had expected, well, I'm not sure what I expected at a strip club to be honest. I followed my group to a table in the back corner, where we could see the entire club from our vantage point. I sat down and looked upon the stage for the first time. I was amazed at what I saw. The girl onstage was pretty, but not perfect, not in her face or her body. She was the same size as me, which was pretty small on top. I assumed all the girls would be strikingly well endowed, either by natural causes or by plastic surgery. I looked around the room. Every girl I saw was different. Here was a blonde with a medium chest and tiny legs. Here was a brunette with a small chest and big hips. Here was a red head with curves all over the place. Some uncharitable people (like me alone with my so called girl friends) might have made fun of this girl if we had seen her on the street in tight fitting clothing, saying something like "Spandex isn't a right, it's a privilege," but here, she was obviously queen of her domain, holding court over a table of about ten attractive men, all in their early twenties. And my friends and I all thought guys wanted the skinniest girl with the blondest hair and biggest chest. I guess we were wrong. I was amazed to see so many women of different shapes and sizes, none perfect but all very attractive in their own way, obviously being extremely appreciated in the one place that I thought perfection would be the most prized possession a woman could have.
"Joanie?" One of my friends interrupted me. "You okay?"
"They're...not... they're all..." I motioned to the room around me, stupefied. "I thought they would all be perfect."
My friend laughed. "God, no. How boring would that be? I mean, if you want to see airbrushed perfection, you could just buy a Playboy. If you want to see a real, live woman, you come here." He smiled. "Now come on, let's hit the buffet before all the buffalo wings are gone!" All the guys hurried up from their seats and rushed in a knot to the buffet table.
I felt like I had an epiphany that day. Some men like blondes, some like brunettes, some like them curvy and some like them skinny, some like girls in glasses and some like girls in g-strings. Most men really don't care if a woman is perfect. But they all care about buffalo wings.
I remained in my seat, transfixed by all that was going on around me, when the music segued into another rock and roll number. A dancer clad in a leopard outfit slunk down the length of the stage. She had black hair, olive skin, and the darkest, deepest eyes I had ever seen. She reminded me of a cat stalking its prey as she turned her head slowly from one side and then to the other, surveying the room for a weak or injured morsel to pounce upon, never pausing from her advance to the edge of the stage. I was worried that she was going to fall off the edge of the stage, right onto the first table, where a large man sat smoking a cigar. Well, at least she would have a soft landing, provided he didn't burn her, I thought, wincing at the image of a big cigar cherry burning a hole through her leopard undies and into her hip. Suddenly, when she was about five inches from the edge of the stage, she bent backwards with amazing ease, did back bend that ended in a handstand right in front of the pole that it seems every club has in the middle of the stage, and grasped the pole between her legs. The she worked her way about four feet up the pole, using only her legs, grabbed the pole with her hands, and flung herself out sideways, nearly horizontal to the pole, spinning until she reached the stage again. I have never been so thrilled with a performance in my life. I felt like jumping up from my chair and yelling, "Brava! Brava!" at the top of my lungs.
I had another epiphany that day. I wanted to learn to do that myself, one day.
And here was my chance, I thought as a stared at the pole from the door.
"Okay, let's get started, then," Sophie smiled.
I forced my legs to become unglued from the floor beneath them and advanced slowly into the room. The pole was pulling me towards it. I couldn't help myself. Here it was, the object of my youthful dreams. Some people dream of winning a gold in the Winter Olympics, some people dream of crossing the finish line first at the Boston Marathon, I just dreamed of swinging around a shiny chrome pole. And hey, it had been my opinion that it was just as likely that I would get the chance to pole dance as win a gold in the Olympics or run the Boston Marathon, so there was no harm in dreaming. Yet here it was. Dreams can come true, I said to myself, quite amazed. I timidly touched the pole, just to be sure it was real. It was cold to the touch and for a second, I thought that I felt a spark leap from the pole to my fingers when I touched it.
"Oops!" Sophie exclaimed, laughing. "Sorry about that. That shag carpeting out in the lobby will definitely generate plenty of static electricity. Just grab it firmly and that should discharge most of it."
I grabbed the pole, firmly this time. I wrapped all the fingers of my right hand tightly around it. It felt good. I was struck with the urge to back up, get up a running start, jump and grab the pole as high as I could and then swing down, my body splayed out to one side, just like I had seen Leopard Girl do, o so many years ago.
"Do you like the pole? I've had this baby forever. It's completely held up by friction, and it's strong enough to hold a two hundred and fifty pound man or woman. I can take it down, pop it in its carrying case, and take it wherever I go." Sophie patted the pole just like some people pat their favorite old dog, or the hood of their old pickup. "I want to get a permanent one, one that can hold at least a hundred more pounds. I have some very wonderful, very voluptuous ladies that want to take my pole dancing class and I can't wait to get them started." I was trying to my mind around the idea of three hundred pound women pole dancing, wondering why on earth they would even try, when I began to scold myself again. "What? You think you're perfect or something? You know a lot of men like larger ladies. And you haven't tried it yet. Maybe you're too old, or too flabby, or too clumsy-"
"Okay, okay, I get it!" I told myself, and tried to remember to be a little more sensitive and open minded next time, or else my inner bitch would slap me down.
"But that will have to wait until I move into my new studio." Sophie continued. Then, I can bolt one of these babies to the floor and the ceiling beams, and it would be strong enough to support the weight of three football players."
That sentence gave me another mental image to ponder.
"I usually leave the pole for a separate advance class," Sophie said, which immediately caused my face to fall like a failed soufflé. "But you seem really interested, so we can incorporate some of the less complicated moves into our class today, just so you can get a taste of it. How does that sound?"
I brightened up. "Sounds great! When can we start?" I said eagerly, which caused us both to laugh.
We stretched and chatted. Sophie had been a dance major in college. Turns out we graduated in the same year, which led me to conclude that either she was a child prodigy, she had gotten plastic surgery, or that swinging around a pole would keep you amazingly well preserved. I chose to believe the latter, as it fit my current aims much better than the other two explanations.
She started by showing me the basic walk, the crux of which was the searing stare, which I practiced several times by approaching the mirror and come hithering to myself. Much to my surprise, I developed a reasonable facsimile of the stare I had seen on Leopard Girl, my heroine. Not quite as searing, to be sure, but these things did take a little practice. I was sure I would keep practicing that one.
Then we moved on to hip rolls, followed by a little floor work. Sophie was more than patient, and when she could see me begin to get a little frustrated, she would remind me gently that I was doing terrific for someone that just started and that I had real talent. I wasn't sure about that last part, but I didn't really care. I was sweating and I was having loads of fun, which I had forgotten was even possible. This was tons better than the completely lame Jazzercise class that one of my girl friends had dragged me to several years ago.
We were having such a good time that I was startled to look up and see the clock read noon. We had blown through the entire hour and I hadn't even gotten in one move on the pole.
"Goodness, look at the time!" Sophie exclaimed. "And you haven't even gotten a chance to try out the pole yet. Too bad I have another lesson right after this one."
I sighed. "Maybe next time?"
Sophie smiled. "Glad to hear that you'll be coming back. But come on, it will only take a second. I can keep my next lesson waiting for just a minute."
She grabbed the pole above her head and swung around it with complete ease. From up close, it looked like the pole was rotating.
"The secret is that the pole moves with you. Your momentum keeps you moving. It's like rolling around and around in a rolly chair, know what I mean?"
I sure did. Sometimes, when I was feeling down, I would close my office door and get my chair seat going in circles really fast, then I would pull my feet into my chair and turn around and around, blissfully happy, until it came to a complete stop. It was the closest thing to an adult merry-go-round that I had found.
"So don't try to throw your body out horizontally or anything, now that really does take practice. But give it a whirl. Just spin until you get down to knee level and stop yourself. It's easy and it looks super hot. Go on. Try it."
I felt like she was offering me something really bad, like a drugged lollipop, but I wanted it even more because it was forbidden. I grabbed the top of the pole and began swinging, hurtling myself through the air, feeling as if I was flying, head thrown back, cares to the wind, then sliding to a stop on my knees. I ended up turned faced toward the mirror. Hair tousled and over one eye, knees apart, glistening with a light sheen of sweat, I didn't recognize myself. I looked hot. And I felt it, too.
I mean, I really felt it. Hot. I had been coughing a little, here and there during the routine, but I didn't think much of it. Sophie kept asking me if I was okay, and I assured her I was fine, it was just a little cold starting up or allergies or something. We weren't exerting ourselves too much, and once I stopped or slowed down, the coughing stopped. But now, after my final burst of energy spent spinning around the pole, the coughing started up again, and I started to wheeze loudly. Sophie's eyes got big.
"I think we need to call a doctor," she said worriedly.
I tried to tell her no, I was going to be fine, I just needed some water, but when I tried to speak, the wheezing got much worse. I felt a tightness around my throat and got the terrifying feeling that I was running out of air. Sophie dashed out of the room.
In seconds she was back with her cordless phone. She called 911, and kept rubbing my back and reassuring me someone would be there really soon. She was very calm. I tried to listen, but it was becoming increasingly difficult to catch my breath and I started to panic.
Finally, after what seemed like hours but was really only an amazing two minutes, the paramedics arrived. Normally, I would have been mortified, but I was too panicked to feel anything but blessed relief as they strapped an oxygen mask to my face and loaded me on to a stretcher. I felt the tightness start to dissipate.
Once I was breathing more normally, I relaxed enough to feel embarrassed. I had put all these people to a lot of trouble because I was so out of shape I couldn't even swing around a pole without becoming breathless. Oh, and this had to happen in an exotic dance class, not in something benign like Jazzercise. At least I didn't know any of these people.
The paramedics wheeled me out into the hallway, where Sophie's next pupil had been waiting.
"Oh, my God, is that you, Joan?" To my abject horror, I turned to see the face of Spike's boss, Martha Wheeler. Beside her, looking as terrified as I felt, was Martha's ten year old daughter, Caitlin. I bet I did look pretty scary, what with the wild hair everywhere, my tights straining to contain my out of shape thirty year old thighs, and the green oxygen mask strapped to my face.
"Are you okay? Where are they taking you? What's wrong?" The questions shot out of her mouth in rapid succession, like she was an automatic machine gun. "And what are you doing here?" She peeked over the stretcher back into the studio that I had come from, where Sophie was hurriedly describing what happened to the supervising paramedic. Martha got a glimpse of the pole and her expression went from curious to shocked in about 3.5 seconds flat. She looked at me in astonishment. I guess Sophie always took down the pole before Caitlin's ballet lessons. Then she shook her head quickly, as if the clear th
e dust from her mind and whipped out her Blackberry."Don't worry, I'm calling Spike right now so he can meet you at the hospital." I groaned loudly. She soothed, "There, there, he'll be right there by your side in no time." That's what I was afraid of. "It's going to be just fine, okay, Joanie?" she cooed, a change from her normal staccato bark. I saw her approach one of the paramedics who was packing his bag. She snapped back into her take charge mode. "Where are you taking her? What is wrong with her? Is she going to be alright?" I heard her voice trail off as they rolled me out the door and into the ambulance.
A pretty female paramedic adjusted my oxygen mask and patted my shoulder. "Don't worry, we think it's just an asthma attack." A light went on in my head. God, that's what it was. I hadn't had one of those in years, probably because I hadn't done anything more strenuous than change the channel on the TV since college. I thought I had outgrown that. "The doctors will get you set up with some good drugs, and you'll be back on the pole in no time." I could feel my face burn red in shame. I bet these guys couldn't wait to get me out of the ambulance so they could trade jokes. "Hey, Bob, you'll never guess what kind of call we made today!" I would be the butt of EMT jokes for the whole shift, I thought miserably. And I couldn't even begin to imagine what Spike would have to say when he heard about this one. I know if it were me, I would have milked it for years to come. I closed my eyes and rested my head back on the stretcher's pillow, willing my heart to stop so that I could be put out of my misery.
The next thing I knew, we were at the hospital and I was being wheeled into the ER. The paramedic gave the doctor the run down, mercifully just telling him I started having breathing trouble in dance class and that they thought it was exercise induced asthma, no problem, seems to be doing fine with oxygen.
The doctor was unbelievably hot. I felt my chest get tight again, but I knew it wasn't from the asthma, it was from being this close to someone who looked almost exactly like George Clooney. Except he was about fifteen years younger. Like George Clooney when he was on "The Young and the Restless." Dark, close cropped hair, thick eyebrows (but not bushy, and not unibrow, either), and crisp white jacket, which offset a very nice, natural, healthy looking tan (not orange, and not George Hamilton style.) And when he bent down to put his stethoscope on my chest, I noticed that he smelled divine in a way that I couldn't out my finger on, but simply had to describe as 'Manly Smell'. I jumped in excitement.
"Oh, I'm sorry, forgot to warm that up," he apologized, taking the stethoscope away from my chest, which was mostly exposed as all I had on was a sports bra / tank top. He rolled it gently around in his hands to warm it up. "There. Is that better?" he asked respectfully, placing the stethoscope softly back down on my chest.
I sighed and nodded.
"Well, you're sounding nice and strong now. Let's take that mask off for a minute so I can ask you some questions and we'll see how you do. IS that alright?"
I nodded and he reached up and unhooked the elastic strap from behind my ears. "I feel much better now, really. I think I can go home."
The doctor smiled. "I hear your husband is on his way, so you'll be able to go home shortly. OR relatively shortly anyway. Nothing ever happens quickly in a hospital, you know." He smiled conspiratorially. "So, tell me what happened. You were dancing when the attack came on? Had you just started?"
I felt nervous. I hope he wouldn't think I was what my grandmother had always termed a 'loose woman.' It was just a harmless class, just for fun, just once! I opened my mouth the speak and a gob of garbled gibberish came tumbling out.
"Well, it was just my first time, and I swear, I don't go around doing this a lot, I mean ever, and it was just the two of us and it sounded fun and it was only my first time, honest to God!"
The doctor looked supremely confused. "No, I meant, had you just started the lesson?"
"Oh. No, it was at the end when I had the attack. The rest of the class I was fine, a little coughing but nothing bad. We weren't working up too much of sweat. Not until I hit the pole anyway." As with so many times before, as soon as the words came out of my mouth, I wished I could take them back. I could almost see them, hanging there in the air, traveling in super slow motion to the doctor's ears, they weren't there yet, and I was certain I could reach out and grab them and stuff them back in my mouth before he noticed. But it was too late.
"The pole?" His eyebrows raised up. "What kind of class did you say this was?"
"Um...I didn't. It's not important, is it?" I asked in a very small voice.
"Well, the more information I have, the easier it will be to pinpoint the cause of your attack," he explained, a kind and faintly curious expression on his face."
I sighed heavily. "An exotic dancing class," I said in a voice that was barely a whisper.
He nodded his head and showed no outward change of emotion. "And what were you doing with the pole when the attack came on?" This was just getting worse and worse all the time.
"I was just swinging around it, that's all!" I hurriedly said, imagining him imagining me humping the pole or something equally disgusting.
Okay," he said, with a faraway look in his eye. "That explains it right there."Explains what? I thought. That exotic dancing causes asthma? That I'm allergic to chrome dancing poles? What?
"It must have taken a lot of energy to swing yourself around that pole, and you had already taxed your lungs somewhat in the earlier portion of the class, so that last expenditure of energy just sent your lungs over the edge. It was, well, their last gasp, so to speak." He waited for a moment, then looked a bit sheepish. "I know, I know, very bad joke. Anyway, it's just a touch of asthma. You are otherwise a very healthy young woman. I'll write you a prescription for some meds you can take over the next week or so, but get in to your G. P. as soon as you can, and they'll get you on an inhaler. There's tons of good preventative meds out there now, stuff you can take twenty minutes before you exercise that will last you for four hours or more. You'll be dancing again in no time." He smiled a big, pearly white smile as he patted my leg and got up off the gurney. He stopped, as if he had an afterthought as he turned to walk away. "And good luck with the classes," he said with a wink. " My mom takes them and just loves it to pieces." With that parting remark, he walked away, taking with him my last shred of dignity.
At just that moment, before I could even recover form being lumped in a bunch with someone's aged mother, Spike walked up. I braced myself for the humiliation that was about to come.
"Are you alright?" he asked, more concern in his eyes than I had seen since I began having contractions before the birth of our child.
"Yeah, I'm fine. It's just asthma apparently."
"I didn't know you had asthma."
"Me, either. I thought I had outgrown it, but apparently, sitting on your ass does not provoke an attack, but dancing your big butt around for an hour does," I pouted, opening the door for his big ass jokes.
"You don't have a big ass, Joanie," he said sincerely. I waited for the punch line. One never came. He stared at me with something that looked like affection in his eyes. I was perplexed.
"I was so worried when Martha called me and told me you were on your way here. You've never been to the hospital, except to have Little Dude. I...I...I was just so scared. I'm glad you're okay."
Tiny tears welled up in the corners of my eyes. Spike hadn't been this sweet to me since he proposed. What had gotten into him? I patted his hand. "I'm okay. It's alright."
He nodded, wiping at his eyes that way guys do when they don't want you to know they're getting set to cry. "You're all set, they tell me. I dropped Little Dude off at your dad's. I'll call him on the way home and tell him you're okay. Anyway, I was thinking that he could stay over there tonight and we could spend the night at home, just you and me. I'll even order food from that Frenchie place you like that I never take you to. Deal?"
I couldn't believe my ears. Spike had planned a romantic- for him,anyway- evening for us, all because I got sick? I should be infirm more often, I thought. My mind whirled. Well, it wasn't Paris, but it was a fine start.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Day Four

Day Four
Now that you have reflected on your past, contacted an old friend, learned more about your family, how do you feel? Do you feel disappointed? Or do you feel gratified?

I rolled over lazily in bed and pushed the book to the floor. I felt a little of both this morning.
I thought back to my dinner last night with Gus. He still made me feel all tingly, like a schoolgirl with a crush, even after all these years. I knew that he would look relatively the same. After all, I had seen his picture online. But I didn’t think he would make me feel the same. I hadn’t taken into account the depth of my old feelings for him. First love is a hard thing. It drugs you into a semi-conscious delirium, then beats you up, turns you upside down, shakes your pockets for change, steals the clothes right off your back, and brands you with a hot iron for life. First love has no morals or sympathies.

But I was older and wiser and much more jaded, and even though I had gotten butterflies just from reading Gus’ email, I thought that was just wonder and excitement. I didn’t think that I would feel dizzy and nauseated when I saw him for the first time in fourteen years, so that part was quite a shock. Thank goodness he didn’t see me in that moment. I was so overwhelmed that I grabbed the door post, turned and sprinted to bathroom. I splashed a bucket of water on my face trying to rid myself of the red splotches that had broken out all over it. Unfortunately, this also destroyed any makeup that I had so carefully applied at home. I looked at my disheveled hair and running mascara and decided to call it a night and go home, standing Gus up. I certainly couldn’t show my face looking like this. A wave of disappointment and anger washed over me. Go home? To what? Spike, who will harangue me for not ‘finishing my suggested activity’? And who would probably get a kick out of my failure? I wondered why we were so competitive, Spike and me. We were married, we were supposed to be teammates, not opponents. But I had to admit, I got a secret thrill out of hearing about or witnessing his failures. He thought he was so smart, so witty, and I thought he needed to be reminded from time to time that he was not the best thing since sliced bread. It shamed me just a little to confess that to myself, but what bothered me even more was that I suspected that Spike felt exactly the same way. Maybe that was part of our problem.

At any rate, I was not going to give him anything to feel all high and mighty about, not tonight. And I couldn’t stand Gus up, not after all this time. Not after he actually showed up. Not after that incredible feeling just glancing at him gave me. I pulled out my compact and lipstick and began to methodically reapply my face, the important parts of it anyway. I still looked fine. Fourteen years older, but fine.

I tossed my hair for added volume and winked at the mirror. I was old, but I was still pretty cute sometimes, I told myself with a smile. The clacking of my heels on the tile floor was like the drumbeat of a war party, the rhythmic noise bolstering my courage with every step.
Gus sat at the bar, sipping what looked to be a scotch, neat, no water or other diminishing agents. Good. I liked my scotch like I like my men, strong and neat, and 18 years old. No, only kidding, floks. I had this exchange with the inner comedienne in my head and winced. I prayed that something that asinine did not fly out of my mouth tonight. I told myself to just shut up already.

I stood poised in the doorway, mind stilled for at least a few seconds. I willed Gus to look up at me. He did, and his eyes widened in recognition and what I hoped was delighted surprise. He rose quickly from his seat and strode over quickly, almost running down a waiter with a full tray of food in the process.



I began to walk quickly toward him as he continued to approach me. We probably looked like a couple from one of those “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter” commercials. Then, in a split second, I felt the floor move out from under my feet, saw Gus’s head jerk out of view, and suddenly, I was staring directly at the ceiling. I didn’t even have to open my mouth to make an ass of myself.
I just laid flat there for a moment in the middle of the restaurant, blinking my eyes in disbelief. I did not just flat on my ass in the middle of a restaurant right in from of Gus, whom I have not laid eyes on in fourteen years, did I? I did not just do that. Oh, yes, I did. Hey, why is there a draft on my thighs? I reached my hand to my waist and found the hem of my skirt. Jesus, I am exposing myself to the entire dining public! And Gus! And I haven’t had a bikini wax this month! My stomach clenched and I felt like heaving. I closed my eyes tightly and wished fervently that this was all a very, very, very bad dream.

Then out of the blue, something warm and clean smelling enveloped me gently. I felt a sweet summer breeze on my cheek.

“Joanie, are you alright?”

I opened my eyes cautiously and found myself face-to-face with Gus. His arms were around me, one helping me sit up and one surreptitiously smoothing down my skirt in a quick, suave motion. His shoulder was directly behind my head, and I rested on it a moment while I tried to make sense of what just happened. My first thought right after the spill was, “Okay, where is the nearest exit and how fast can I fly out of here? Maybe if I’m lucky, the floor will just open up and swallow me down into the bowels of the earth so that I won’t have to live through this humiliation. But now, cradled in Gus’ arms, I was thinking, hey, I could sit here for quite a while. Instinctively, my face turned to his shoulder and nestled against the crook of neck, like it used to so many years ago. I felt Gus’ chin briefly rest on the top of my head and I was sixteen again. Then, a large, rough hand cupped my cheek.

“Joanie? Are you hurt?”

I turned my head away from his shoulder rather slowly, reluctant to end my trip to yesteryear. His eyes were full of concern instead of mirth, thank goodness. He wasn’t laughing at me. In fact, he seemed quite worried about me. Spike would have been laughing his ass off right about now.
“Yes, I’m fine, thanks,” I assured him. I put a hand down on the floor in an effort to lift myself up, but no sooner had my hand hit the floor than Gus was pulling me up easily with one arm circled around my waist. When we were standing, he kept his arms there for a few seconds more, and we stood there in a half hug in the middle of the restaurant just looking at each other in silent amazement. Gus awkwardly dropped his arm, the spell broken.

A manager had hurried across the dining room upon hearing my body splat loudly on the hard floor. He looked terribly concerned as he repeatedly asked me if I was alright, or needed a doctor or some ice. I assured him that I was fine, I had plenty of padding, and we shared a laugh. I noticed Gus looking me over and I wondered if he was mentally registering the thirty pounds I had gained since he last saw me. I hoped if he was, he would at least notice that I’d gained ten of them in my boobs.

“I guess we should get a table now that we’ve fulfilled our entertainment quota for the evening,” I joked.

“Certainly, I’ll find you a table straight away,” the manager said. “Please, have a seat at the bar and have a drink on the house while we get something ready for you.”

“Well, that’s very kind, thank you. I could use a scotch right about now,” I replied.

Gus smiled. “I was having one myself when you walked in. Funny.”

Well, I had already noticed that, and actually would have probably ordered a glass of wine if I hadn’t noticed that Gus was drinking scotch, but I loved scotch and I figured that it couldn’t hurt. Besides, the fall plus seeing Gus after all this time had shaken my nerves to the point that only hard liquor could probably calm them.

We sat down at the bar and the bartender immediately swooped down upon us. He slid another glass of the same in front of Gus wordlessly and looked my way. I nodded in response to his glance at a bottle on the shelf behind the bar and he slid an already prepared drink in front of me. I sipped it, smiled in approval, and turned to face Gus, whose expression was quizzical.

“Right drink?”

“Yes, it’s perfect.”

“You never said anything aloud. What did he do, read your mind?”

‘Not really. We read each other’s body language. It’s a trick you pick up when you’re bartending.”

“You used to bartend?” Gus asked, his voice filled with surprise.

“Yep, that’s how I paid mah way thru col-lege,” I joked with a terrible redneck accent, not much unlike the accent I worked so hard to lose during college.

“Wow. I remember you always being studious and kind of quiet around large groups. I just can’t imagine you slinging drinks.”

“Well, one does what one must to survive, I guess,” I said with a laugh. “Besides, I’ll let you in on a little secret. I tended bar at the Greenfield Country Club, not at Panama Jack’s Bongo Bar. It was a bit of a rarefied environment. No sliding drinks down the length of the bar or dancing wildly on the bar top or anything like that. So quiet was okay.” I took a long sip. “You know, I remember you as being a bit of a loner and just a little wild. I can’t imagine you being married with kids.”

Gus smiled. “I guess a lot has happened since the last time we saw each other. It’s so good to see you again.” He reached out and squeezed my hand and I felt the warmth of his touch spread from my hand through my arm, over my shoulder, down my torso and into, well…

I felt a tap on my shoulder. It was the manager. “Your table is ready, follow me please.”

We walked the length of the dining room to a small alcove tucked away in a corner. There was a privacy wall around three sides, leaving it almost completely hidden from view of the main dining room. The manager smiled with his eyes.

“I hope this is acceptable. This is one of our most requested tables.” I could tell from the glow of self- satisfaction on his face that he thought he had picked the best spot for this romantic couple. He obviously thought we were an item. Maybe a couple on their first date. OR wedding anniversary, even. You could practically see the wheels in his head turning as he seated us.
“Phillip will be with you shortly. He’s one of our best servers.”

“Thanks so much,” Gus replied gratefully.

When he had left, we looked at each other and burst into laughter. “We should tell him it’s our anniversary and see if we get free dessert,” he suggested with a schoolboy giggle.

I remembered all the ‘birthdays’ Gus and I used to have at area restaurants on our dates long ago. Every time we went somewhere new, it would be one of our ‘birthdays,’ and we’d always score the free dessert we didn’t have the money to pay for. We might have cheated the stores out of a little sweet stuff, but we prided ourselves on always leaving a good tip. I had just started waiting tables the year we dated, and I made sure that we never left less than twenty percent. I figured it was good tip karma.

“Do you remember when we used to do that? Say it was our birthday-“ he began.

“Oh, yes. Just so we could get some free pie. And that never got old, you know?” I completed the thought, amazed that he even remembered something that obscure and silly. “I’m surprised you remember that.”

“I remember a lot about those days. I have thought about them a lot. I’ve thought about you a lot,” Gus said, a suddenly serious look on his face.

I didn’t know what to say, especially since I was still surprised he remembered who I was, not to mention this latest revelation that he had thought a lot about me over the years. I certainly had thought about him. It’s pretty said, but there was almost not one day that passed by that something didn’t remind me of him in a fleeting way. Was that a little obsessive? I wondered. No, I didn’t obsessively worry about seeing him again, or getting back together, or running off to find him. It’s just that he was one of those people that made a very strong impression on me. We connected in a way that I never have again, in a way that I can’t describe with words, but with feelings that came rushing back to me all at once the first time I saw him again, emotions that had come storming in so quickly they had overcome me and made me feel ill. Those same feelings that allowed me to sit here with this man that I hadn’t seen in fourteen years and feel as if it were yesterday and no time had passed at all.

There was a thoughtful pause in the conversation, and then one of us, I don’t remember which, started in with the, “So, what have you been up to?” which started the round of college, family, and job run downs. I had explained how I bartended my way through college and got married and had a kid and was in the financial services industry when the wine came.

“Wait,” Gus stopped me in mid-sentence as I was explaining what I did for a living. “I thought you wanted to be an artist.”

I smiled ruefully. “I did, but I was convinced otherwise that Business was a better major for me.”

“But you got into the School of Design. I remember reading about it in the paper. I always assumed you’d be a big shot living in New York, having gallery shows and such by now.”

“Hmm. Actually, I figured I would probably still be bartending by now, which is why I changed my major to Business my junior year. I felt like a had to be practical.”

Gus rolled his eyes as he poured us each a glass of wine. “Ah, practicality. The bane of our existence. I know all about that evil.” He raised his glass in toast. “To being a little impractical, sometimes, when we can afford to, and sometimes even when we can’t.”

“Cheers,” I responded in agreement. “So what’s your story? Where have you been the past fourteen years?”

“Selling insurance.”

I had just taken a big gulp of wine, and it was still in my mouth when I guffawed, sending a little stream of wine shooting out of my nose and onto the pristine white table cloth. I was initially mortified, but when Gus started laughing I figured everything was alright.

“I’m so sorry,” I replied, still laughing. I wiped the tears from my eyes, as Gus was still laughing and his laughter fed mine, making it nearly impossible to stop. “It’s just that I can’t imagine the you I knew at eighteen selling insurance.”

“I couldn’t wither. I’m sure that guy is still in here somewhere,” he said, patting his chest. “And I’m sure he’s appalled, simply appalled. I cut my hair for this!” he exclaimed, running a hand through his thick blond mane, still luxuriant, but about ten inches shorter than it was the last time that I saw him. “But one does what one has to do, right?” he echoed my earlier comment.

“So you’ve been selling insurance this whole time?”

“No, at first I was just a gopher, hanging out at the office, learning the business very, very slowly. My mentor, my father-in-law, was not convinced that I was going to be a good fit for the industry, so he tried to get rid of me by boring me to death. But gradually, I earned his trust by taking the garbage out on time and setting out the orange juice and muffins for his client breakfasts, and next thing I knew, I was selling more insurance than any agent in his office, even him.”

“So you’ve been married for fourteen years, too?” Gus looked slightly uncomfortable. “I’m sorry, it’s none of my business, really, I didn’t mean to pry.”

“No, it’s fine. It’s not your fault, it’s mine.” He did that thing that people do when they are feeling pinched about the throat because they have to tell you something difficult. It’s almost become a cliché, if a movement can be a cliché, but everyone does it unconsciously. I wondered what was going on in his head.

“Yes, I have been married pretty much for fourteen years. In fact, my son, David, just turned thirteen last month.”

“Wow. I can’t imagine. My son’s only three. He was born when you were nineteen?” Gus and I had broken up just a couple of months after his eighteenth birthday, so I knew his son had to have been at least nine months older.

“Well…” Gus trailed off. “Not exactly.”

I wondered what he was holding back on. My mind raced, then suddenly found the answer. His son’s birthday was last month. So was my son’s, I remarked to myself. That was February. His birthday was in July. So was mine. And I remembered all at once that I found out I was pregnant right before my birthday, and my son was born at right months, which meant that he was conceived in June, and if Gus’ son was born on time, he had to have been conceived at least in late May if not earlier, but it didn’t really matter because both of those were before July which was Gus’ birthday, and we had broken up two months after his birthday, therefore his son was conceived before we had ever broken up. Oh. So that was it.

“When?” I asked simply.

“While you were at the church retreat.”

I remembered that church retreat, to Windy Gully, high up in the mountains, tucked away for three days with no one but sixty other teenagers and Jesus. It was awful. I had tried my best to get out of it, but somebody’s mother had bamboozled my dad into talking me into it, downplaying the Jesus part since he wasn’t very religious, and really selling all the hiking and rappelling we were going to be doing, since he was an outdoorsy type of guy. IN reality, all we did was walk up and down the driveway and then we were stuck inside with strange ministers with guitars singing bad folky sounding songs about Jesus and trying so very hard to be hip. Meanwhile, the ‘popular’ kids professed their love for their savior loudly in front of the adults and then talked shit about them behind their backs while they snuck off to find and empty broom closet to lock themselves in after lights out. My dad apologized profusely after I got home. I remember being very glad to see Gus and I’m certain we were intimate, as we usually were being young and in love, and the certainty of that fact left me feeling a little odd. If I had known at the time that he was ‘double dipping’ so to speak, I would have been angered beyond belief. But now, so many years later, it almost seemed like a footnote. We were drifting apart slowly anyway. If it hadn’t been this, it surely would have been something.

“Wow. You had a much better time that weekend than I did,” I said. I meant it as a joke, but I’m not sure Gus knew it was okay to laugh until I got the idea to wink at him, at which point he started to smile and I started to laugh, and then he laughed, hesitantly at first, and then with a full-blown guffaw.

“You’re not angry?” he asked in amazement.

“Well, I would have been mighty pissed off fourteen years ago, but there’s not much to be done now. Besides, I know I wouldn’t trade my kid for the world, no matter what the circumstances, and I’m sure you feel the same way. And that’s what’s important. Plus, you must be happy to still be married.” He looked relieved at first, and then I saw a flicker of sadness flash across his features. He recovered and smiled down into his wine glass.

“You’re absolutely right. My son is worth anything. I’d do it all over just to get him. But that doesn’t make me wish sometimes, well, that some things had been a little different.” He looked at me. Luckily, the salad course arrived right then. I wouldn’t have known what to say to that remark. He was leaving me speechless a lot tonight.

We sat mostly silent through the salad, busy with mouthfuls of romaine. I was thankful that eating gave me time to think about what Gus had revealed and try to decide whether or not it mattered. It has been so long. It wasn't like we were engaged or anything. Something else would have happened, we would have broken up anyway. I tried to avoid playing the game of 'what if' with myelf, but I was unable to completely stop my mind from wandering. What if he hadn't slept with that girl, whoever she was? What if she hadn't gotten pregnant? We still probably would have broken up, but they probably wouldn't have gotten married...he said he had thought about me a lot over the years...maybe he would have thought of me even sooner and come back to me...maybe we would have gotten married...maybe he would have convinced me to become an artist...maybe I would have convinced him to become...well, not an insurance salesman, anyway.

I couldn't take the silence anymore. It was thick in the air, like an unwelcome fog in a bad horror movie, movng up from our salad plates to our necks, threatening to engulf our dinner and completely obscure from view the idea that we might have even a little but if fun, all because of some girl Gus banged over a decade ago. Okay, so that girl was his wife and the mother of his children, but I was trying to keep my spirits up, be lighthearted, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

"You're mighty quiet," I remarked, pointing a forkful of salad at him. "We have ways of making you talk, you know."

He giggled. "You are still silly. I like that in a woman." He looked wistful. "My wife is terrific, but she isn't exactly a comedienne."

"My husband doesn't even think farting is funny." I clapped my hand over my mouth as soon as I said it. Oh my God, I cannot believe that came out of my mouth! Sometimes I felt like I had Tourette's syndrome. I was forever saying something highly inappropbriate at the most inopportune moments. These things seemed really witty before they were uttered out loud, at which point they fell to earth with the weight of a large boulder, as if the momentum of the conversation were Piggy from Lord of the Flies, and I was the boulder rolling down the mountain.

Gus looked shocked and I just knew it was over. "I cannot believe you said that!" he squeaked, slamming down his fork. I was taken aback. I mean, yeah, it was an unfortunate choice of words, a very bad way to describe my husband's complete lack of a sense of humor, but it wasn't like I said something untoward describing his mother's exploits with a boat load of syphillitic Vikings or anything.

"My wife can't even say the word fart! And she gets pissed off if I even have an accidental sneaker, you know, those squeaky farts that just eek out when you bend over or start to get relaxed? My son and I have to lock my study door and turn his rap music up really loud just to have a farting contest in peace! And God forbid if she queefs! She won't talk to me for days out of shame- and we've been married for thirteen years!" I started to giggle at the word queef, first because it's just such a cute, funny word, and it caputures the thing it describes so well without being overly graphic or nasty sounding, and then second, because he was telling me about his wife's queefing phobia. All together, it was just too much for me. The giggles became punctuated with snorts, which led Gus to start full our laughing at me, pointing his finger and exclaiming, "You snorted!", which struck me as so funny that I let out a series of snorts, fired off in rapid succession like a machine gun made of pig bullets, which made Gus start to howl with laughter, which I'm sure carreid over our little 'privacy' wall, because our waiter poked his head around the wall, giving us a puzzled and slightly disapproving frown.

"Is everything quite all right?" he asked, glancing ever so slightly down the length of his perfect Grecian nose.

"Oh, we're fine," I said, trying to get control of my giggles, at least.

Gus wiped tears from his eyes. "We were just laughing at that little thing some people call synchronicity."

The waiter looked even more puzzled. "What do you mean, sir?"

"Well," Gus began conspiratorially, leaning in toward the waiter. "The night I met this little lady here," and he gestured magnaminously in my direction, "I was eating dinner in the Sedgefield Country Club of all places, in the bar, since I was woefully single. I found a bug in my salad, and called for the manager, since I was hopping mad. Well, the cutest little bar keep you ever saw, this little girl right here, came over and calmed me down, and I told her that I wouldn't even complain to the manager if she'd just give me her telephone number. And the rest is history," he said with another wild flourish of his hands and a big smile in my direction. I smiled back, entranced at his ability to make up complete bull shit right off the cuff and wondered where in the hell he was going with this story. I could tell that our waiter was wondering this as well, as his expression went quickly from kind of dismayed to almost completely confused.

"And then tonight, on our tenth anniversary, I found a bug in my salad." He lifted a small leaf of Romaine and sure enough, a ladybug crawled down the length, stopping right in the center, as if she knew she was in the spot light and all of our eyes were on her, the punchline of this incredibly silly joke. The waiter and I stared in disbelief.

"Oh, sir. I'm so sorry."

The waiter, Phillipe, his eyes widening in horror, watched as Gus brought the leaf up to his eye level. "I see it as a sign. Our love, coming full circle." He looked up at Phillippe, and in a second, his expression changed to the same expression of restrained disdain and barely masked disapproval that Phillippe had worn when he approached our table. "Oh course, it's still a bug, in my salad. Ew." He reached out and handed the bug leaf out to Phillippe, who waited a second, as if he had no idea what to do, before he reluctantly unfolded his arms, which were plastered behind his back, and then unfolded his fingers from his clenched fist to reveal a palm surrounded by extraordinarily long, skinny fingers splayed open in a crazy expression, if hands can be said to have an expression. Gus tenderly placed the leaf on Phillippe's palm, then looked up with a look that mingled with compassion and aggravation. "I'm sure you know what to do," he murmured to Phillippe.

"Absolutely, sir. Do not worry. I will take care of everything for you," he stated firmly, the shock having worn off, and his super waiter education quickly kicking into high gear. He nodded to both of us and backed away slowly for a couple of steps, then turned quickly and smoothly on his heel and strode purposefully away from our table.

When I was certain that Phillipe was out of earshot, I exclaimed to Gus,"But you forgot to mention that it was my birthday!" and with that, we dissolved into laughter.

The rest of the dinner went extremely smoothly, as the management was kicked into the bowing and scraping mode after Phillippe related the bug tale to them. He probably mentioned something to the effect that not only did this nice gentleman get a bug in his salad, but he seemed like he was walking that thin line between simple kookiness and certifiable insanity. The general manager and the kitchen manager both came out to apologize. We ended up getting dessert, as well as the rest of our meal and all our drinks, on the house, with the promise of another dinner on us if only we would come back and give them another chance. I was certainly favorable inclined to do so, especially if I could do it with Gus. I almost mentioned this after it was suggested by Phillippe, but was afflicted with a quick and uncharacteristic bout of shyness. Maybe Gus would bring it up, I hoped silently.

"Gosh, I would love to have dinner with you again," Gus said sincerely, glancing at me over his brandy snifter. "I've laughed more tonight than I have in the last fourteen years."

"I would love that," I smiled in response. I lifted my glass of brandy to his. "To old friends," I toasted. Our glasses clinked and we smiled at one another broadly, our minds already contemplating a second meeting.

We lingered over our shared plates of tiramisu and chocolate torte until the very last crumb was lovingly sucked from our forks. I smiled at Gus as I licked an errant smidgen of icing from my index fnger, not thinking about the implications of putting my finger into my mouth and slowly tonguing it with my mouth slightly open until I glanced up, having felt as if I was being watched, and caught Gus staring at me, no longer smiling, but nonetheless devoting his full concentration to me and my task. I closed my lips around my finger and pulled it our slowly, a gesture that I meant to convey as "Oops, you caught me doing something really stupid and now I'm exaggerating it so that you notice the irony." Judging from the look on his face, he definitely noticed it, but there was no appreciation of irony in his eyes. But there was certainly appreciation. He was confused as to what he thought I meant and what I actually meant, I thought, then wondered if maybe I was really the one that was confused as to what I meant and that subconsciously, I probably meant exactly what he thought I meant and the screwy logic of that thought, and the lightning fast realization that oh, God, I was exactly right, left my head swimming, especially when I realized that Gus was still staring at me with a dark and wanting look in his eye.

"We should probably go now," I stammered, unsure of what would happen next if we stayed at that table and allowed him to continue staring at me like that. I could already feel my insides melting. If this went on, my wedding ring and panties were likely to melt off as well, and I wasn't at all sure if I wanted that to happen or not.

"Yes, we should," Gus intoned seriously, his voice almost a hoarse whisper. I realized quickly that I had again done exactly the wrong thing and that my meaning had been not been grasped in the way that I had consciously inteded it. It was as if Gus was having a secret look into my brain and reading the heated dialogue between my subconscious desires and my conscious need to obey those societal norms I had held dear for thirty years. I just needed to close my eyes and my mouth and get our of there before I did something that I would regret doing if I did and regret not doing if I didn't. I was fucked either way. I was worried about that exact thing, actually.

Gus came around and pulled my chair back from the table, grazing the sides of my hips with his hands. He bent down as he did, and for a spit second I thought I could feel him nuzzling my hair and I fought hard to resist the urge to rest my head back on his shoulder and melt in the moment. I knew if I did, the kiss was not far behind, where I would turn my head to the side and he would dip his head down and kiss me, sweetly at first, with such feeling that my lips would part slightly to let out a quiet gasp, and then his tongue would tentatively reach out and seek, very gently, for mine, and afater that happened we would have a hard time of making it to the no-tell motel before I ripped his clothes off and slid down on to his-

"Can I walk you to your car?" Gus asked softly, lips right next to my ear lobe.

"Yes, certainly," I answered in a breathy voice, feeling a bit woozy. He gently held my elbows and guided my body into a vertical position. The elbows are the seemingly least sexy part of the body. I mean, no one ever fetishizes the elbows, do they? But in his hands, my elbows instantly felt like my most erogenous zone. I felt stirred in a way that my elbows had never stirred me before. I was not doing well at putting to rest these very bad, but so very good, feelings.
We walked slowly through the restaurant, fielding friendly waves from the manager and our waiter as we passed them on our way out. I felt as if I were in a dream, one of the 'what if' daydreams I had over the years, starring Gus and myself. Except this time, the dream was real and I just wanted to be able to will myself to wake up before I went down a road that I shouldn't, but wanted to very badly.

The cool air outside was bracing, and I tried to rouse my inhibitions. I had felt them poking their heads out of their caves, seeing Gus and then quickly retreating, saying, Hell, no! There's no way we can win against that one! Have fun tonight, sweetheart! Call us next time that your husband wants you to get a Brazilian bikini wax, okay!

"Well, here's my car," I offered lamely. "I had a really nice time."

"So did I," Gus said in a serious voice. "I have really...missed you...all these years," he said, leaning in towards me. I involuntarily started to bend towards him, my body thoroughly disregarding the warning signals flashed by my brain and only paying attention to the glowing fire growing hotter and hotter some where south of my belly.

"I missed you, too," I rasped, my lips dry, but my mouth (as well as some other region) wet in anticipation. I inched closer and closer, completely forgetting that I was supposed to be avoiding this situation, and wanting to jump head first into it, to wade luxuriously in the muck and mire of abject immorality. I had dreamed about those lips for fourteen years, and now nothing, especially wayward thoughts of my husband, were going to get in the way of feeling them again, pressed tightly to me. His chest reached mine, and I slid next to him, feeling as if he was a perfectly fitting old coat that I had forgotten about in the back of my closet, and then happened upon one day and slipped right into like a second skin, loving it again and not believing I ever forgot about it.

Just then, I felt my breasts vibrate. I knew I was incredibly aroused, but I had never felt my breasts vibrate in excitement before.

Unfortunately, it was Gus' cell phone ringing.

The mood was completely broken as Gus fumbled for his cell phone in his jacket breast pocket. He looked down at the phone and then up at me apologetically. "Sorry, my wife just text messaged me. Time for the kids to go to bed."

I was greatly disappointed and greatly relieved all at the same time. It was as if the universe had intervened right before things were going to get interesting. I was certain, and yet entirely not certain, that I wanted things to continue on the trajectory that they had been developing.
"Well, we all have our responsibilities. I should be getting back to mine, too." I sighed. "But this, this had been really..." my voice trailed off. What had it been?

"Yes," Gus replied. "It has been." I guess that's all we really had to say. We both knew what it was, and what it had been, and what it had to be.

"Goodnight," he said, with a chaste and stilted hug. Even though I felt his hands on my shoulders, it felt as if he was holding me at arms length. I was grateful for the antiseptic contact, after the intense and politically incorrect passion that had been accumulating between us. It was right to throw water on this dangerous and potentially destructive fire, I assured myself. Wasn't it?

I found myself inside my car, watching Gus' retreating backside. God, he still had a great ass, I thought, even after all these years. Stop it! I chastised myselef thoroughly. He had a family and so do you and you should not even let your mind wander like this. It's wrong. Do the right thing, go home and hug your husband and child, and let your mind wander lasciviously under the covers alone afte rhtey both go to sleep. That's as far as you should let this thing go, okay? I knew I was right. But why, then, did it feel so utterly wrong to let him walk away, without even one parting kiss? It was just a school girl fantasy, I told myself sternly. YOu don't really still feel anything for him. That was years ago and you are over it. Go home. Go back to reality. Forget it.
I nodded my head in silent agreement with my practical self. I neede to clear my mind, so I turned on the radio, which was set, permanently it seemed, to my local NPR station. NPR is always good for bringing one back to harsh reality, I hthought. Hopefully, they'll have on that special with the child soldiers of Rwanda. That's always a sobering one. Not tonight. Tonight was the local station's music show. I tuned in to a soulful, aching classical guitar rendition of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow." My heart turned over in agony and I laid my head on the steering wheel and cried bitter, bitter tears for my youthful love.

Yes, I thought as I mused about the previous evening. I was gratified that he remembered me, as fondly, it seemed, as I had remembered him. Isn't that how we all remember I first love. With loopy cursive and hearts over the i's, even if we remember the reasons it all fell apart, even as we sometimes learn new ones? Ans yes, I was disappointed. Disappointed in myself for letting me go back to that feeling, the wild and crazy sense of love as something that was everlasting and constant, and not even broken by death, as that sense of love was surely a lie of fantasy and moonlight, and was surely proved out by the years of living in reality. Disappointed in myself for not fully embracing it and letting it run its course, letting reality step in and scrub it clean with its responsibilities and considerations of social mores and other people's feelings. Disappointed that I had two sides to me, at the very least, that I couldn't reconcile with each other. Gratified that I was a little more complex than I had given myself credit for. Gratified that I was a little more memorable and important to someone else than I had given myself credit for. Gratified that I had even had the experience, as confusing and upsetting as it had been and still was on further reflection. Damn it, Dr. Gerry had been right about this one.

"So how was last night?" Spike queried as he walked in from the shower. "Was it what you thought it would be?"

"Oh, it was fine. No big deal." I said wearily. NO way would I let him in, let him know what I was feeling. He didn't deserve that privilege, even if his precious Dr. Gerry had allowed me to dredge up feelings I didn't even know I still had. I didn't want to give him that satisfaction, or that suspicion.

"Really? I would have thought it would be exciting, to see an old friend and find out what he thought about you after all these years. What did you talk about?"

"Oh, you know, the usual. People don't really change that much, do they?" I said with a knowing and derisive glance askance at Spike.

He looked at me, and looked almost as disappointed as I had felt last night. "No, Joanie, I guess they really don't change much at all, no matter what," he said with more than a tinge of regret in his voice.