Sep 18, 2011
The Hamster Wheel of Fury
That day, I was feeling what I like to call American Pissed, a term I developed when I was living Over There, where people defined “pissed” as “drunk”. So whenever I told my friends I was pissed, I always had to add in the clarifying sentence, “No, I mean I'm American Pissed.”
I was that kind of irritated-angry that covers every last inch of your body. Like the kind of irritated you might be if you were wearing a rough wool unitard without any undies—constant annoyance that begins to increase exponentially the longer you wear it. I was bristling like a crabby little hedgehog. I was American Pissed.
Just for clarification—I really don’t walk around angry much. I mean, it’s exhausting, plus I’m almost incapable of getting angry. Well, getting angry when I have been wronged in some way. Like I’ve said before, I can get righteously indignant at social injustice, and damn straight I can get hoppin’ mad when a friend has been wronged, but when it comes to me…I don’t know what it is. I can feel devastated or heartbroken or hurt, but the anger part, even perfectly justified anger—it’s tough. Hence, the birth of my SuperHero alter-ego Great Big Girl. I think all of the anger I should have felt in self-defense at various points in my life now all gets channeled into defending others. It’s a system.
But the point is, I guess, that I’m not so used to feeling this all-over maddening exasperation that’s like an itch I can’t scratch. But enter Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. So it’s been over three months now with this stretch, but I’m still in full-on PTSD mode. And one of the most common symptoms of PTSD is “irritation”, which can really mean anything from actual plain, old irritation to angry outbursts and fits of rage.
Now this anger has never been a big symptom for me, and honestly, whenever I would find myself feeling it, I would just turn the anger against myself, rather than let anyone else fall victim to it. Because I absolutely hate the idea of taking my anger out on someone else. Now when I went on the road trip down south with Trudie and The Cowboy, I totally had PTSD irritation, combined with the pressure of doing our show at a really big-deal venue. And while I think it made me absolutely unbearable, which in turn, made me hugely embarrassed because I couldn’t just turn the irritation off, Trudie says it just made me kinda uptight and huffy at times. But so even with this disorder where anger is a major symptom, my natural default is not anger.
Except this day. The proverbial pot was coming to an even more proverbial boil, and I was getting fed up to my proverbial teeth with my situation—not being able to sleep, not being able to talk to people, not being able to get anything done, the impending school year, the state of the Gingerbread Cottage, the precarious future of my job, feeling scared, feeling sad, feeling so unsafe—OH MY GOD, O’BRIEN JUST PULL YOURSELF TOGETHER! But then the fact that this isn’t a matter of just pulling myself together would make me even more pissed, and it was like I was stuck on the a giant hamster wheel of fury. And it was only like 1 or 2 in the afternoon.
And of course, this is exactly the time I get asked out on a date. Of course.
And I don’t know this dude—which now that I think about it, that’s probably most often the case with a first date, right?—and I’m busy up in my own head, treading the hamster wheel of fury, and I kind of don’t really realize what’s going on. So of course, I’m all, “What?!” This guy says he likes a woman with a little sass and wants to have a drink with me tonight.
And somehow, this just makes me even more pissed. Because I wasn’t expecting it. Because I feel put on the spot because now I have to make decision. Because I’m at a loss for words. Because it’s late August and it’s hot and if I have a drink my face will get all red. Because it’s maybe a month since my florist-shop-basement-bedroom meltdown, and I still don’t know if I can be within 10 feet of a guy without completely flipping out again. And because I don’t even know if I want to be within 10 feet of a guy, feeling as bad as I do, but I also know that if I just keep hiding out, it could be a long, long time because I go near any guy again, and who knows?—the bloom may be off the rose by then. Time is so unpredictable. And because this is all far, far too much crap to deal with just to answer one simple little question and OH MY GOD, O’BRIEN JUST PULL YOURSELF TOGETHER!
And I’m pissed that I don’t know how to get out of the situation, so I just say, “Yeah, sure,” because it’s the only solution I can think of. But I’m kind of sure that it sounded more llike, “Yeah, whatever.”
As the time to meet up approached, I found myself getting even more ill-tempered. Because what I was doing, and I didn’t know this guy, and I didn’t really have many clean clothes, and I didn’t want to go. I really didn’t want to go. But I don’t have any way of getting a hold of him to cancel, and I would never, never stand someone up, so I end up getting in my car and going—out of an overtly surly sense of obligation.
When I got to the place, all of my anger instantly transformed into giant pile of generalized weirdness. I’ve spent most of the summer locked away inside the Gingerbread Cottage, so it had been forever since I had really been out in a public social space, let alone had any kind of social conversation with someone I hadn’t already been friends with for years. Walking inside, I felt so exposed and vulnerable, like I was standing in a wide-open space in the middle of a war zone. I felt like an easy target.
And then Great Big Girl appears in my head and says, all irritated like, “You made a promise, so you have to keep it. Now quit yer whining and just suck it up, Chuckles. Besides, you can get through one drink with anyone.”
When he sees me, he smiles really big and lets out a little laugh and casually hugs me hello. He asks me what I’d like to drink like he’s hosting a party at his house instead of meeting me at a restaurant/bar. And as I settle onto the bar stool next to him, he tells me I look great and asks me about my day, and I realize, that oh, he’s taking charge of the situation. He’s trying to make sure I feel comfortable and valued. And it feels a little strange because that’s the role I usually play in every social situation. But it’s really nice, being looked after like this, rather than being the one who is constantly looking after everyone else. So I take a breath and relax a little and try my best to figure out who I’m dealing with.
On the surface, he seems on the up and up. This guy is confident, self-possessed, but without being cocky at all. His voice manages to be really jovial while still being really masculine, and while he is strawberry blonde with a closely-trimmed ginger beard, he speaks with the slightest hint of a Latin accent. And he’s unselfconsciously charming, and he smiles with his whole face, and he has more than a little of Vera the South Central Oracle’s mischievous twinkle in his eye.
We exchange intro-level small talk for a little bit, and it’s not awkward at all, so I relax just the tiniest bit more. He is a champion at conversation—he’s polite and charming and just a little flirty—and the thing is, he doesn’t seem nervous at all. Right off the bat, he seems like he’s having a good time talking to me, and I think, okay, okay…getting through this one drink will be easier than I thought. I mean, I’m still feeling weird about being out in public, and I’m completely out of practice, you know, speaking to anyone, and still have this worrying fear pulsing through my body that somehow he’s going to be able to read this past summer on my body—that I won’t be able to hide the general freakery that's been pouring out of my body for the last few months.
And honestly, I don’t know how good I was at keeping my crazy under wraps. Like, he asked me about my job, and I don’t know how to talk about it, since 1.) I haven’t really talked to anyone all summer, and 2.) I’m so used to not talking about my job because who really wants to hear about it? Great Big Girl does make a bit of an appearance for a second, though, and I say that I’m a college professor. This is the first time I have ever said that when a guy has asked—I usually say I’m a “teacher”, because we all know super smart and accomplished women are intimidating. But there’s GBG, forcing “college professor” out of my mouth and silently taunting, “Yeah, you got a fucking genius over here—what you gonna do with that, Ginger?”
He takes up the challenge, though, and asks more questions—and he’s actually genuinely interested. And as I start to stumble and search for words, he says, “You don’t really like talking about yourself, do you?” So he’s perceptive as well. And I admit that, well, I’m more used to being the person asking the questions.
He pitches me a softball about travel, and in the back-and-forth that ensues, I find myself laughing—like, for-real laughing, and genuinely having a good time. He was charming, and of course he casually slipped compliments into the conversation—not too many, but more than enough to count—but I find Great Big Girl volleying them, not in a self-deprecating way, but in the style of movie sirens from the 1950s, like Jane Russell in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes—all full of eyebrow looks and sass. So when he’d make references to my beauty and other charms, before I could even think, GBG was cocking an eyebrow and saying “I bet you say that to all the girls,” or “Yeah, keep it up, smooth talker,” letting him know that it will take more than that because I wasn’t born yesterday, ya see?
But he was easy, too…relaxed, comfortable, enjoying the moment And he was also sexy. I mean, really sexy in a way that makes me think of Walt Whitman. Not in appearance, but in attitude. You know, like “I dote on myself, there is that lot of me and all so luscious”. You can tell that this guy enjoys his body and really experiences it without shame, kind of like a housecat that walks over to you, plops down on the carpet and spreads out on it’s back, exposing all of its big cat-belly to you, looking at you like, yeah, I know you want to pet that belly, so why don’t you? It’s a feline sexiness, but still completely masculine.
And the next thing you know, it’s two hours later, and he starts talking about what we’ll do “the next time we go out”. Securing the second date while still on the first—excellent dating form, and something that hasn’t really happened to me. And I find myself getting shy. And blushing a lot. And still tripping over my words, but in a different way. And I realize that oh my god, this is that crush-y feeling. I’m starting to crush out on this guy. I would definitely like to see him again.
And we talk and laugh and flirt some more, and the next thing you know, it’s midnight and the bartender is locking the doors. I apologize to her and say we’ll leave, but she gives me a conspiratorial wink and says no, no, no, she’s still got a bunch of paperwork to do, so there’s no rush at all. She can tell that something is happening, that neither of us are ready to leave. But the place is closing, so he suggests we go for a walk, and we do—although I think he was just trying to find a nice location to kiss me, which he does. Then he holds my hand and walks me back to my car, and I’m in a state of shock. This has been the best date I’ve ever had. Ever. It has been practically perfect, like dates in the movies. I can’t believe that it’s happening to me.
Back at my car, he kisses me again, and it quickly turns from sweet to passionate. Really passionate. And I’m suddenly keenly aware that I’m standing under a streetlight in a parking lot on a major Rust City thoroughfare. I feel intensely exposed—I’ve never made out in public before, since I’m not an exhibitionist (At all.)—but I don’t care because everything is so, so perfect. He has me pinned against my car, and his hands are in my hair, and he kisses my ear and then whispers, “Do you want to go back to my place?”
That’s when the cold tension begins to creep up my limbs towards my heart, like I’m starting to freeze to death. I take my hands off of him and grip the car instead, so he can’t feel the way they start to shake as soon as he asks the question. Because I want to. Of course I want to. The night has been perfect, he has been perfect, and the chemistry between us is overwhelming, but… I get paralyzed with the feeling that if I have sex with him, I’ll never see him again. And not just tonight—I mean, if I have sex with him ever.
Because it’s the sex that makes me disposable.
It’s only been about a month since my florist-shop-basement-bedroom meltdown, which I was hoping was just a fluke, but here I am, back in the same place. Once is a fluke; twice is a pattern. The lesson I’ve learned from being thrown away this past summer keeps running through my head: he’s great; hook up; he’s gone. It’s official—the Trash Baggage is here to stay.
He asks me again if I want to go back to his place, and I say no and kiss him hard on the mouth. I know it’s a mixed signal, but I don’t know what else to do. He takes it as a bit of a challenge and starts to kiss my neck, and I’m glad he has me pressed so tightly against my car because otherwise I would have melted into a puddle on the asphalt.
And he says, “So, you don’t want me to…[insert action that I would absolutely love for him to do]?”
I shake my head a little and say, “No.”
So he says, “So then you wouldn’t want me to…[insert action that I’d want him to do even more]?”
And I pull him towards me, but I still say, “No.” It is not very convincing.
And he says, “Then you definitely wouldn’t want me to…[insert action that I had never known I would want, but now realize that yes, I would really, really want]?”
And all I can do is let out a single, breathy “No” as the panic explodes in my chest. I don’t have the strength to push him away, so I just rest both hands on his chest, and I see that they’re shaking. My whole body is shaking. I’ve achieved a state of full-on terror. I can’t do this. I have to get out of here.
He asks, “Why not?”—a reasonable question, considering that it’s obvious that I really do want him.
And in the style of Jane Russell or Betty Grable or Lauren Bacall, I say, “Because it’s out first date, and you wouldn’t respect me in the morning.” But the true answer would be “Because I think you’re awesome and I’d like to get to know you better, and as soon as I hook up with you, you’ll be gone.”
He smiles, takes my car keys, and opens my door for me. He says he’d like to see me tomorrow, and he gives me his number and tells me to text him if I decide I’d like to see him, too. You know, so I don’t feel any pressure or anything. And he looks me in the eye for a good long while before saying, “I really like you,” with a Cheshire Cat grin. And he kisses me one last time.
As I pull out of the parking lot, the anger starts flooding back with such a force that I feel sick. Is this really what I’ve taken away from the whole ordeal this summer? Is this really what I’ve learned from Being Thrown Away? That a man will love you as long as you keep your hands to yourself and your legs closed? And is this how the experience has changed me? Instead of making me become stronger or grow as a person, it has just made me absolutely terrified that sex equals abandonment?
This is not right. This is not fair. This is, as the kids say, total fucking bullshit. I am so American Pissed.
And as I drive back to the Gingerbread Cottage, I hear a voice in my head again, although it isn’t Great Big Girl unleashing the sass. Instead, it’s a voice-over like those that would happen at the end of old Adam West Batman shows. You know the cliff-hangers, when there’s about 30 seconds left in the show, and The Penguin or someone has Batman and Robin tied to the sawmill, and they’re slowly being drawn closer and closer to the huge, whirling blade?
And as I drive into the Rust City night, I hear the radio-announcer voice speculate: What will happen to out hero? Has Being Thrown Away damaged her forever? Will she ever be able to lay the Trash Baggage down? Will she ever be able to find her way back to her Old Self? Or is she doomed to run forever on the Hamster Wheel of Fury?