Saturday, June 14, 2014

Cream in my coffee

You need to move your car because it's in a one-hour spot. But you are coming back. Borrow my keys, I say. It means I don't have to stir from my pillow and lock the door behind you. Look how handsome you are pulling on your shirt. teehee.
Minutes tick by. I can feel the little gremlins start climbing about my brain. I get up, do a sink of dishes. Mop up a spill. Sort a load of laundry, and set it by the door for when my keys return. Look at the clock. Look at the clock. Don't be ridiculous. Gremlins gaping, throwing rusty metal chunks around.
Pull out the ironing board. Iron a basket of clothes. An hour. Calculate what I can do, have done in an hour. Decide to call. "Getting coffee," you say. Ok, get me some, I laugh, relieved.
For about ten minutes. After which the entire process repeats, louder, and faster.
Moving the car took about two hours. When you return, I force myself to look at your face, knowing that it will help calm me down because I'm well into anxiety-induced-rage mode. It helps, particularly because of the coffee cup, but I'm still angry, grouchy, wtf-is-wrong with you spin cycle.
Why did I give you my keys? Why didn't I ask to begin with how long you'd be gone, or verify my understanding of what moving-the-car meant? Why does any of it matter? Why am I so pissed off just because you wanted to roam around for a while? aaaaaaaaaaaaa
The emotional quality of the room is sharp and toxic, like a cloud of ammonia. You are standing, probably trying to calm yourself down too, probably trying not to "See you later" out of it. You say, "Would you like to work on --" the project we were going to do together, a piece of help you agreed to give me. Somehow just the reminder of this help makes the gremlins scrape their tools and grouse backchatter nastiness. I don't want your helpdon'tneedyourhelpgaragaragara.
"Is this my coffee?" I know perfectly well it is, from the way you set it down, but I want to hear you say it. I open it up, just to waste time while you respond. Probably will drink it black, that's how irritated I am. I will show you how mad I am by drinking my coffee ferociously.
I look down at the cup. It takes me a few beats to process what I am looking at. The soft caramel color of you, stirring cream into my coffee cup before leaving the shop.
I wouldn't have stirred cream into your cup. Not in the middle of the ammonia fog.
The gremlins set their tools down, and cock their heads, listening. Silent.
My first thought is that he couldn't have done this for me. The coffee must be sweet, must be mixed for him, he's just giving me his castoffs. There cannot be a cup of coffee mixed for me on the counter in front of me because enemies do not mix you a cup of coffee. There is a cup of coffee mixed for me, though, because a sip confirms it is not sweetened. Not his. It's for me.
Enemies do not mix you a cup of coffee. You are my enemy. But you mixed me a cup of coffee. But you are my enemy. But there is cream stirred into my coffee.
I don't know what to do with any of this. I decide to make bacon while I think about it.
You help me with my project. You are clicking through the task as though from the end of a long shiny executive table, and I am irritated that you are working so deftly and that your insight is so well-tuned. I'm not supposed to be impressed, and you are not supposed to be helpful. Enemies are not helpful. No one is proud of their enemy. I cut up a mango while I think about why you are helping me.
The shiny table gets a little shorter, even as you get a little more direct. You're not going to rustle papers at me when I prevaricate any more, you are just going to tell me how it is and move on to the next agenda item. I should not like this. I should be angry that you are being bossy. But I'm glad. I like it when you take charge when I am a mess, and aren't overbearing about it, just uncompromising. I am still twisting my fingers, but you aren't getting exasperated about it. "How many eggs would you like?"
Everything has to be talked about. Everything. Whenever the gremlins come out, they have to be acknowledged, they have to be pointed out to the other person "There are the gremlins, we have to talk about why they are here and what this means and what you feel about it and what I feel about it and what we are going to do about it and what this says about the future and how we both feel about all of that."
You don't want to talk about anything. Ever. "Those are not my gremlins. Not my deal."
"Gremlins do not just show up without cause! This is important!"
"I have to go. I can't talk about this now."
*BOOM* Mushroom cloud.
Maybe not everything has to be unpacked, every time. Maybe I can spend some time figuring out my part before I try to unpack it all in front of you. Maybe we can move around each other, catlike, and let the bacon and mangos and shiny executive tables blunt and cushion the gremlin edges. Maybe I can reflect on the shades neither black nor white of men who disappear for two hours and return with cream-filled coffee and businesslike helpfulness. Enemy? Vassal? How can there be anything but enemy/vassal?
Your thoughts and desires I do not understand or even guess at and yet which are so often not the threat to me which I anticipate, which may even be an "I love you." Vassals are not independent or mysterious or unknown or unexpected and they do not make me angry because they do not have their own emotions apart from mine. Enemies do not show love or consideration and they do not have emotional struggles or self-doubt because their every move is calculated to destroy me, take advantage of me, extract resources from me. You have emotions, demand to be allowed to have them, have ones that are different from mine and refuse to clear them with me first.
I know how to behave toward a vassal. I am a benevolent lord. I reign in peace and plenty. I grant boons and throw jousting events and everyone claps with bored hands. I go on long trips and trust you with the estate. I stare out the window a lot, and sigh. And everything is always as it should be.
I know how to date an enemy. Explosive and short-lived and fiery fun and lots and lots of trap doors and high walls and snares. Watch me laugh and tease and know that behind my languorous amusement I am sneering at you for thinking you can get the best of me. I'm competitive, and fun. Because I don't play games I can't win.

What to do with a man who won't stay in either role? You know the games better than I do, and call out my moves as I make them. You blow off the jousting events and dare me to my face, out of earshot of the guests but still in full sight of them, refusing to show allegiance. You are more considerate than a vassal, more apt to predict my needs and desires, more likely to fill them in unexpected ways, though still disconcertingly likely to drop me on my ass on the ice. You are complicated and contradictory. You are more annoying than anyone on earth.
"My life is falling apart this week and you aren't even here." "Oh really? Tell me how your life is falling apart." I will slice you and your sarcasm with claws of lava. How dare you refuse your lines. It says right here what you are supposed to say. What everyone else said. No one else talks to me like this. Enemyenemyenemy. All missiles launch but wait launch but wait. Wait. "What do you want?" he asks. I list perfectly reasonable everyone knows these are obvious demands. He says flatly, "Two out of three isn't bad." It would be hilarious if it weren't happening to me.
I'm telling a colleague how uncertain I am about my own professional skills, and how infuriating it was to ask you how you handled similar insecurities. Uproarious laughter, my male colleague chortles, "Nope. Does not compute." His laughter at women and men trying to talk to each other across the void defuses the rage that dragon-reared from your clipped response that you didn't experience that problem.
I walk into the restaurant. We've played this scene before. It didn't work out so well that time. (Mushroom cloud). Have we learned a little? Your body language is different, less pointy. I'm more conscious of mine. My tone of voice. Indirect, I learned. Catlike. Don't make a full frontal assault. Don't unpack the gremlins. Put the weapon down. Have a seat. Wait. Feel the moment. Feel it a little more. Move your chair a little closer now.
"I try as hard as I can to make sure that you don't feel backed into a corner, because I know what happens when you do," he told me angrily in the first year. And I sat, dumbfounded. Men who hate you don't say things like that. That sounds like something out of the mouth of someone who loves you and is frustrated, trying to understand you. But it doesn't fit with the narrative I've crafted in my head, the role I've written for him. Damn it. That means I have to take that shitty little overgrown path over there, the one that I haven't been on in decades, the one that needs to be hacked down with a machete and is crawling with things that bite. I want to take this nice wide comfy bridge that I can logroll down wearing a blindfold, the one all worn smooth from all the other times I've marched back and forth across it. But he keeps not reading his lines, and refuses to get on the bridge. Making everything all difficult.
His presence fills the room even when he isn't in the room. A pitcher of sangria shows up at the table, the owner drops by to run her hands over my shoulders. "She's seeing a fella who is well known around town." The deference shown me in other situations when his name is mentioned. The spill of pleasure on people's faces when they talk about him. My own pleasure listening to his stories, stories I understand, stories that make me feel connected, kindred. Sitting next to him, standing at his shoulder, walking into a crowd with him - heady, powerdrunk. I feel mythic with the weight of our combined eyes and ears and energy. The electricity bouncing back and forth between us is enough to light up the block. "Stop it," he laughs and forgets what he was saying.
I have my own charms and powers. My life has magic in it that does not arise from him. But he is the enhancement of the spell already cast, the beam of sunlight poured on top of a beautiful day, the fully saturated colors, the extended version of the song. The cream in my coffee, already stirred in and perfectly combined. Which part is me, which is him, why am I not in control? Can I trust a man I don't control? Our power together is unstoppable, our power directed at each other is a screeching feedback loop. The night is a pile of gardenias you didn't reach without a morning of coiled jagged wire launching you there, farther and higher and faster than you can reach alone.

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