“I have things to do,” I protested softly.
“Who doesn’t?” he replied.
“I don’t know where it is,” I tried again and was soon folding myself into his sports car when he instructed me to ride with him.
I crossed my ankles and fastened my seat belt, glancing around with amusement at all the gadgets within and upon his dashboard. He began plugging some of them in – GPS, radar detector, iPod, cell phone – and I raised my eyebrow in mute condescension while he grinned in response. While undeniably brilliant, my impression of this particular colleague is that he’s unruffled. Questions fail to fluster. Arguments elicit calm explanations rather than heated replies. Problems are treated as commonplace and with a maturity I can’t help but envy.
I shifted my legs over, making sure to keep the hem of my dress somewhat modestly placed as he reached to shift.
“It’s not an automatic,” I offered rather stupidly, having watched his hand descend, change gears and return to the wheel. He took his turn at raising an eyebrow in mute condescension and I grinned back at him, rather enjoying the exchange.
We chatted about the Gulf Coast and his children, his travel plans (family vacations) and mine (all business all the time). Then he asked how I was doing.
“Fine,” I replied quickly – it’s my standard answer of late. I watched him shift again, thinking more men should drive manual transmissions, and shrugged. “I’m going through my Travel Time right now – every year tends to have this intense period in the spring. And I get tired. I love hotels but I start missing home. It’s hard to arrange my parents to sit with my pets so much. I feel like I can’t get anything done at work because I’m always catching up with the urgent things I missed. So I’m going through a bit of a ‘My life is so awesome but slightly difficult’ phases.”
“I don’t know how you guys travel so much,” he replied, shaking his head. I shrugged in response, wishing I had an answer for how to make it effortless. But I attended the meeting. I offered all of two comments throughout the 6 hours we spent in a room and caught up on email in the corner. The high point of the day was admiring the way my new white shrug matched my black and white dress in the mirror on the bathroom wall. Then I tugged at my hem because the dress really does flirt with being too short.
“You seemed quiet,” he pointed out when we were once again arranged in his tiny car, speeding back to the office through the muggy late afternoon. I glanced at him, drawn from my silent debate of whether or not the dress was appropriate, leaning toward ‘yes’ because of the heat and humidity, but worried that I looked trashy rather than cute.
“Not much to say,” I replied, trying for a smile. We lapsed back into silence while he began fiddling with his gadgets, finally playing music so I could stare at the window and realize that I hadn’t want to be noticed. I don’t want to be in trouble or invite criticism. I’m feeling fragile and afraid, dreading the return of phone calls or angry emails or customers who won’t be soothed by my mediocre charm.
I took my pill when I got home, settling on my loveseat to watch television, eat dinner and hope I wasn’t slipping into a depressing episode. When my bedroom grew uncomfortably warm in the glaring sunshine this morning, I went downstairs, unable to summon the energy to take a hopeful Chienne for a walk. Instead, I descended further – finding myself in the cool, dark basement where I spent the entire morning and the beginnings of the afternoon. I watched the series on how women kill their husbands – Snapped, I think it’s called – and cuddled with my dog.
She started to whimper after we had cheese and crackers for lunch.
“I know I’m nervous,” I told her. “I have bad energy – I’m sorry. But I don’t want to go. I don’t want to wear a suit and talk to people. I don’t want to listen, regardless of how interesting and relevant the topics. I’m afraid.”
She rested her head on my knee, single seeing eye rolling upward to look at me while I blinked back tears. “I didn’t get my oil changed. I didn’t pick up more eye drops for you. I didn’t go to that meeting or make that phone call. I hid in the basement and I desperately want to do that some more.”
Instead, I forced myself into clothes and pulled my hair back. I shoved stuff in a bag, hoped it was suitable, and climbed in my car, battling hard against the excuses that I might give if I went back inside and skipped this trip east. I focused on breathing, almost hitting another car when I failed to notice it merging and going the wrong way down an aisle in a familiar parking deck, wondering why all the spots were angled wrong and so hard to park in.
I was a little surprised when I boarded the plane, finding my aisle seat and scowling at the guy who was taking precious overhead space for the laptop bag that would have fit underneat the seat in front of him. I predicted I would back out, make a series of excuses and return to the quiet basement to view murder plots with vague interest. Instead, I’m watching puffy clouds out the window beside me, tapping on my keyboard as I try to distract myself from overwhelming anxiety.
I drove north through light traffic, reaching my destination far sooner than I expected. But I got miserably lost trying to find the hotel, due to poor directions from an admin I cursed soundly as I searched without finding the hotel. The front desk girl failed to properly register me, resulting in a stranger walking into my room as I was changing - so I called and yelled at her. Then my internet wouldn't work, again because I wasn't registered right, and I begged for calm before calling again, remaining polite and not once saying, "how the fuck hard could this possibly be?!" So if I wondered how I'd do as the plane headed east and felt some hope that the answer would be "OK" as the car headed north, the answer once I'm here is "pretty freaking bad."