Thursday, March 31, 2005

"Since you seem to be up and around, Lila may want her dress back"

I'm back at the funeral home.

The room is perfectly still, unnaturally silent. Folding chairs are arranged in flawless rows. Burning candles fill the room invisibly with their warm, creamy scent.

Recessed lights in the ceiling are turned down almost all the way and I struggle to see in the weak light.

Mom is laying dead in her coffin. I kneel on the narrow padded platform next to the casket, studying her.

She's wearing Lila's Dolce and Gabana dress. It's been meticulously altered, but it's clearly too big for mom's waiflike frame.

I see the small scar above her right eyebrow, the mole at the base of her neck, the tiny creases on either side of her nose. Her lips are sewn shut.

My stomach burns. A hot wave of anger blankets me.

My problems are my own, sure. And I'll never ask anyone to go easy on me because of them. But that doesn't excuse her totally irresponsible behavior as a mother, and as a person. I know I said I would forgive, but right now, I don't feel like it.

"I hate you," I say, through clenched teeth, to her corpse. "I fucking HATE you, you bitch."

I glare at her motionless body, my jaw clenched so tightly that it hurts.

Her eyes open.

All at once, she sits up, her hands coming uncrossed, the rosary beads falling to the floor with a soft click.

I shudder silently as her lidded eyes fix on me unflinchingly, her eyebrows creased deeply with fury. My mouth tries silently to form words; my legs strain to get up and run, but I can't move.

Her jaw moves this way and that, as if she's trying to open her mouth. Finally, a stitch pops, tearing a bloodless gash in her upper lip.

Another stitch pops. "COCKSUCKER," she slurs. She's talking out of the side of her mouth, like Curly from the Three Stooges. "LITTLE COCKSUCKER!".

She reaches a french-manicured hand out towards me. The fingers are stiff and unbending, like hard rubber. Her nails press against my button-down oxford shirt, digging painfully into That Spot, right at the burn, as if she is going to slowly disembowel me.

My eyes snap open. I lay on my side, gasping for breath, listening to my pulse pounding in my ears.

Instinctively, I sit upright, and feel the worst stomach pain I have ever felt in my life.

Hot bolts of agony shoot up my chest, and for a frightening moment I think I'm having a heart attack. I have all I can do to stand up and walk to the bathroom for some Gaviscon.


Saturday, March 12, 10:30am
St. Luke's Cemetery

It is said that Harry Houdini was obsessed with death.

He was very close with his mother, and after she died, he would stand and stare at her gravestone for hours. I always found that odd. And yet, here I am, standing idly at MY mother's grave, thinking things over.

I take a step back and read the headstone: LOUISE MARY CARUSO, it says. I run my fingers over the sharply chiseled letters.

Whenever I dream about someone, I always try to talk to him or her about it. I figure that, if I dreamed about someone, I must have something that I need to speak to that person about, even if it's Phil the barber or the weird neighbor that no one associates with.

Obviously, I can't speak to mom, so I did the next best thing, which is to come here.

I scared myself this week. I was greatly disappointed with what happened with Stephanie, and in response, I drank myself into oblivion for days. I verbally abused people who work for me, and people I didn't even know. I thought only of myself and no one else.

Now that I am thinking about it, it makes perfect sense. Calling that guy in the pickup truck a "cocksucker" should have been a dead giveaway.

I'm turning into my mother.

Despite everything, despite what I said in my dream, I do love my mother. I just don't want to be her.

Steph and I have a lot of work to do together, and I think we'll be alright. But am I going to turn into a hard-drinking, foul-mouthed, cold-hearted bastard every time something doesn't go my way? I don't want to live like that.

Speaking of Steph, what am I going to do about her? She still feels uncomfortable being intimate with me. How are we going to deal with that? I really want to be with her, to talk to her every day and see her just like I used to. But I can't go without sex.

Can I?

Then it occurs to me. It's a crazy idea, sure. It will be something I've never attempted before as an adult. It will be one of the hardest things I've ever tried. But, dare I say it, it might be fun!

I kiss the inside of my palm and touch it to mom's headstone. Again, without trying to, she has helped me.

I run to my car, dialing Steph's number.

"I need to talk to you!" I say.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Booty Aftermath


A hand shakes my shoulder hard. "STEVE!!"

I start awake. I'm laying in bed; I must have dozed off.

"Steve! Are you awake?" Steph says. She's dressed again.

I look at my clock. It's 11:47.

"No....yeah..." I say, my voice dry and scratchy.

"I'm gonna go."


"I gotta go home."


"Steve. It's Thursday. I don't stay over on Thursdays, remember?"

"Um, yeah."

She kisses me. "Bye babe. I'll call you."


Friday, March 11

I thought I would feel better after having sex and blowing a massive load last night. I don't. I figured seeing Steph would answer some of my questions, and instead I have more new ones than ever.

I trust her completely. I know she's not fucking around, with Mr. whip-dick, or anyone else, for that matter. I don't know why she got all dressed up (or, at least dressed up by her standards), shaved, and put on matching underwear. The only thing I can think of is that she just wanted to get laid, and she got herself all dressed and ready with that in mind.

I don't like the paradigm shift we had yesterday. The rules changed for Steph and me, at least for last night. She let me know she wanted to come over, showed up late, screwed, and left. I've never done that to her. Are those the new rules? Is Steph just a fuck buddy now?

Sure, I've had fuck buddies before. But having someone like Steph only for screwing would be a real waste. It would be like using Michael Jordan as a substitute player for 10 minutes per game.

It's hard to believe, but I am basically at the same point I was before yesterday: I don't know what Steph is going to decide, and I don't know when she's going to call and tell me her decision. And I still feel like getting fucking loaded.


It's Friday. Normally, Steph would be coming over tonight. She'd bring her overnight bag, filled with Aussie hair spritz and tiny $20 jars of Mary Kay cosmetics, and stay the whole weekend. I had no idea how much I had grown to enjoy her company.

My phone rings. It's Steph.



"What's up?"

"I just wanted to make sure you weren't making me dinner tonight," she laughs.


"Are you mad?"

"Of COURSE I'm mad. What the fuck, Steph?"


"You showed up at ten. Then you fucked me and left."

"You fell asleep!"


"Oh, like that's not every guy's dream. For his girlfriend to have sex with him and let him sleep alone."

I pause. "OK, point taken." We both laugh. "Seriously, Steph. We gotta figure this out."

She sighs. "I know. I thought you would LIKE me coming over like that. Just - to break the ice."

"Is that what the matching bra and panties were for?"

"I bought those just for you, you know. I never match my underwear."

"TELL me about it!"

"I did two things that I thought you would like."

"The underwear..."

"AND-" she says.



"That WAS kinda nice."

"You didn't SAY anything though!"

"Yeah, well, we didn't talk much. I noticed, though."

"I know. We didn't talk almost at all."

"What's wrong?"

She inhales deeply. "It's so hard for me, still. Now I feel like I don't want to let you in. I feel like my guard is still up, and I can't let it down no matter how hard-"

"It's gonna take time."

"I know."

"I'm willing to work on it if you are."

"Why don't you come over tomorrow and we'll talk about it?"

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

"Wham, bam, thank you ma'am sir"

Thursday, March 10, 7:30pm
Steve's house

Steph is supposed to be here in 30 minutes, so I make some pork chops and try to time things so they are ready exactly at 8:00. I am a little early, and they're actually done at about five of. I wrap them up in foil so they'll stay warm longer. I needn't have bothered.

8:00. 8:30. 9:00. 9:30.

According to my cable box, it's now 9:46pm. No phone call, no Steph. This is so unlike her! Did she forget? Is something wrong? Is she playing me?

CALL her? Surely you jest.

I doze off, and am awakened by the doorbell.

I jump, and look back at the cable box. 9:57.

I open the front door. "Heyyy," Steph says. It immediately hits me that she is wearing what for her is very unusual study attire: Tight blue jeans and a fluffy red turtleneck sweater.

I hug her. She hugs back, but it's weak and slow, like the last hug from a dying woman.

"You're a little late, aren't you?"

"You said we could watch ER together! That's 10:00!"

"I said come over at 8:00 and we'd have dinner."

"Oh. Yeah," she says nonchalantly, looking away from me.

"Oh yeah?!"

She looks back at me and studies my face. She sees I'm upset. "Oh my God. You made DINNER?"

I nod.

She snaps her tongue. "Stee-eve, I'm so sorry!" She's smiling, almost as though she thinks this is funny.

"Don't worry about it."

"So are we watching ER?"

We sit on the couch and I flip to NBC. I look over at her every so often, but she's staring intently at the screen, as if afraid to look at me.

It's about 20 after, and a commercial comes on. She's not said one word since the show started.

Finally, she turns to me, and from the corner of my eye, I see her advancing slowly towards me with intense eyes.

She kisses my cheek, then pulls away. She kisses my ear, and then the hot spot underneath. My eyes close.

I have not had sex in what seems like forever. I don't remember exactly when the last time was, but it was before she was sick, and that was almost three weeks ago. I am so horny now that bumping into old ladies in Wal-Mart gives me wood. I really hope she means business, and I think she does, but the more time that goes by, the more this seems like a Booty Call and nothing else.

I turn to face her. Our eyes lock for a second and then we dive at each other, kissing deeply, tongues mingling. "Mmmmmmmm...." she moans.

I grab her hard around the waist, surprising myself with my aggressiveness. Her body relaxes into my firm grasp as she reaches slowly up to take my face in her two palms.

I slip my fingers under the waist of her Levi's and pull her hips closer to me, then reach around and lay my hand flat across her ass, pressing hard. It's firm and tight, and I feel my cock go instantly stiff.

She pulls away from me and lifts her sweater over her head. She's wearing a lavender-colored satin bra. I sit and stare at her pale skin, her taut stomach, the shallow valley leading down to her tiny navel. I run the fingertips of my right hand lightly down her abdomen, drinking in every curve and slope, absorbing every detail with my touch, like a blind man.

I unbutton and unzip her jeans and pull the two flaps down, exposing a swatch of lavender panties that match her bra.

I slip a finger under the lacy waistband, reveling in her warm flesh, breathing deeply and feeling the stress leave my body. Finally. I missed her terribly; not only seeing her naked, but just having her here, as corny as that might sound.

"...the other room?" she is saying.

"Do I wanna go in the other room?"

She gets up and walks toward my bedroom without waiting for an answer, her unbuttoned jeans slipping down her curvy little hips. I follow her, watching the sexy wiggle in her walk.

I pull off my sweater; I'm wearing a wife-beater tank top underneath. She sits on the edge of my bed and slides her jeans off, waiting patiently as I do the same.

We fling our bodies together, kissing desperately again, collapsing on the bed, throwing the rest of our clothes off. The slow, anguished buildup is over.

She is laying on her back, arching her hips high in the air, slipping her panties off. She is completely shaved.

"You shaved your little pussy for me?"

"Mm-hmm," she breathes, closing her eyes and pulling my face to hers. We kiss as I plunge deeply into her. Her pussy feels tight and small. And heavenly.

"Ohhhhhh, God," she moans. But something seems.... wrong about this whole thing.

It's probably just that we haven't been together for so long, I think. I'm not used to this. But then it occurs to me.

She hasn't looked me in the eye for more than 5 seconds all night.

She puts her feet on my shoulders as I slip in and out of her, lifting her hips off the bed. Her legs stiffen and her moans grow louder, and it's all I can do to keep from exploding in long-overdue orgasm.

She pulls away from me and pushes me down on my back, mounting me. She grabs my stiff rod and I watch as it disappears into her.

She leans over with one hand over the other on my chest, almost like she's giving me CPR. There's a long moment of delicious anticipation as her hips rise slowly, pause in midair, then slam down. "Oh, fuck," she whispers.

Her hips rise and fall, faster and faster. The urge to come is overwhelming; I can feel myself grow bigger and harder inside of her.

I sit upright and push her down on her back, penetrating her again easily. I am up on my knees again now, thrusting in and out of her with desperate urgency. "Oh fuck-"

I explode with orgasm, shooting wave after wave of cum inside her. "I can feel you coming," she whispers.

We lay there for a long moment. I kiss her neck, then lean back a little and look at her face.

She's still not looking at me.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Thank God for TiVo

Wednesday, March 9, 3:00pm
Steve's office

"Steve, can I speak to you for a minute?"

"Sure, Dom."

Things have been very chilly with Dom and me since our confrontation a few weeks back. We talk about work, every day, but I can't recall one personal conversation since then.

"Steve, I need to apologize about a couple of weeks ago. About Lila?"

"Don't worry about it."

"No, I was out of line. Especially since we work together, and I work for you, I should have had more respect."


"You're right; I probably should have told you beforehand, so I really am very sorry."

I smile. "I appreciate that, Dom, and I know an issue like that could never - interfere in our friendship." No, I don't think of Dom as a friend, but I do want him to know that I appreciate the gesture, and this seems the best way of doing so. And of course, we HAVE spent a lot of time together outside of work, socially, and at some level that does make us friends, anyway.

"You're right," he smiles. "I'm not really used to having friends at work. Or anywhere. It's basically my brother and granmother and me. I don't have much of a family, and the people I do have are across the country."

"I've never really spoken to you about this, but I guess that move must have been tough on you. And it was on short notice, too."

"It's been fun, though. I love it here, and I really like working for you. You're a good boss, Steve."

"It's good working with you too, Dom." I extend a hand; he shakes it. "Just make sure you invite me to the wedding."

He laughs. "I wouldn't worry about that too much."

I want to know what happened between Dom and Lila. Did they fuck just once? Twice? Every Tuesday afternoon at 3:15? Are they dating?

I know that the answers won't help me in any conceivable way, though, and may quite possibly distract me unnecessarily. I don't NEED to know; that information is something I couldn't possibly use. So I don't ask.

It feels good to resolve things with Dom. I don't even feel like snapping at anyone.

Right now.


Thursday, March 10, 12:30pm
Steve's office

It's been another bad day today. I don't want to think about Steph. I don't want to ponder how I will deal with losing her, if I do. I just want to avoid the problem, as dysfunctional as that sounds. I want to drown my thoughts in a lake of alcohol, and mute them in an endless stream of movies and TV shows. And when I wake up each morning, I count the hours until I can rush home and do it all over again.

My cell phone rings. I check the caller ID, then turn away and look back again in disbelief. It's Steph.

It's been four days, but it seems like months. I never realized how much she and I actually spoke, until we stopped.

I like that she's calling me. It's a relief to be this much closer to resolution. No matter what her decision will be, I like the idea of KNOWING, and not waiting anymore.



"How are you?"

"Fine, Steve. How are you?"

"OK. What's up?"

There's an awkward silence. Steph and I NEVER have awkward silences! Sometimes we are giddy and lovey-dovey; sometimes we fight like jackals; sometimes we attack each other like horny, sex-starved savages. But we're never awkwardly silent.

"I finally got that sweater I ordered from J. Crew. Now that winter's over."

"Steph, I don't think you called me to talk about sweaters."

"I know. This is hard for me."

"Me too."

"I miss you," she says, almost inaudibly.

"Me too."

"Can I see you tonight?"

"Of course you can! You want to come over?"


"So we can talk when you come over, then."

"I don't wanna talk."

"What DO you want to do?" I ask, my voice breaking. Is she thinking what I think she's thinking?


"Ok, ok. Why don't you come over around 8 or so? We can have dinner, and maybe we'll watch ER."

"You better tape it."

Saturday, March 26, 2005

"He drinks a whiskey drink; he drinks a vodka drink; he drinks a lager drink; he drinks a cider drink"

Monday, March 7
Steve's office (continued)

"Can you modify what Landon wrote?"

"It's probably written in Powerbuilder. Yeah, I guess we could do something."

"Call Marty in customer service and have him show you what he's doing to modify those files so you know what you're fixing."

He nods.

"Get back to me by tomorrow morning with the status."

"It's gonna take longer than that-"

"You don't have to be finished. You just have to give me the STATUS!"

"I'll get right on that, Steve." He walks out.

"Denise, call Jersey and find out how we get those policies transferred out there."

"But that's gonna take a lot of work, Steve. We'd have to-"

"Just CALL them and find out how to get started! If there's 100 things that need to get done, bring me the list of 100 things."

"OK, Steve." She starts to walk out.


She turns around.

"I really hope I don't have to remind you about this again."


Tuesday, March 8, 6:30pm
Steve's house

Tonight I am praising the Lord. Lord Calvert, that is. For the past three nights, I have been getting loaded earlier and earlier. Today, I actually entertained the thought of going out for a drink at lunchtime.

I knew it would only be a matter of time. The Burn is back.

I did a lot of drinking between my senior year of high school and my first year of college. For a while, I was getting loaded every day. And one day, I felt it, and it would be a long time before it left.

It was in a very specific spot, two inches below my solar plexus. It felt.... hot, like I swallowed a hunk of coal which then began burning with a deep red glow.

The Burn varied between being almost undetectable and being unbearably painful. But it was always there, gnawing away at me like a pesky child, or a phone that won't stop ringing.

It made me angry, The Burn. Or, I should say, angrier. It wore at me relentlessly, as if it were never going to stop until I was dead or insane. Between that, and my sexual frustration, I was constantly on edge. I snapped at everyone who looked at me the wrong way.

Now, sitting here in my computer chair, watching porn, The Burn has returned. I am fifty pounds lighter, and 16 years older and wiser. I've come a long way since my high school days, and somehow, The Burn has still found me. Have I grown at all? Have I changed? Or am I the same loser I was at 18?


Wednesday, March 9, 12:15pm
Steve's car

I'm on my way to Circuit City to pick up a DVD. I turn left off the main road and take a shortcut down a narrow side street lined with cars.

A pickup truck is coming towards me. There's enough room for both of us, but just barely, and we're both going to have to hug our respective sides of the road to be able to pass each other.

He leaves a good three feet between him and the cars, so that I, even with my tiny little two-seater, can't pass. What an asshole.

Then I watch, incredulous, as he starts flailing his hands in the air animatedly. At ME! Obviously, he wanted me to pull over to the side of the road so he could get through. His mouth moves rapidly, like an angry character in a silent movie.

The Burn flares angrily, radiating a wall of heat, like an old-style Italian brick oven. Anger consumes me, so that I can barely sit still. I pull over a few feet and roll my window down; as he passes by, he turns fully to face me, shaking his head slowly side to side, the sides of his mouth curled in disugust. He's an otherwise sedate-looking, middle-aged man with granny glasses.

"Maybe if you stayed on your own FUCKING side of the road, you wouldn't have these problems!" I shout.

He rolls his window down. "I was there first! When I get there first, you pull over to the side!"

"You were there FIRST? What, is this your road now? Funny, I don't see your name on it anywhere!" I stick my head out the window and look left and right with exaggerated, theatrical movements. "Nope! Doesn't say COCKSUCKER anywhere!"

"Go to hell, asshole."

"FUCK you! If you knew how to drive that piece of shit, we BOTH could have passed!"

He's shaking his head at me again, like a disappointed teacher. "You're not-" he begins.

"FUCK YOU COCKSUCKER! If you're gonna pass me, fucking pass me. And if you wanna get your ass kicked, then get the FUCK outta the car!"

He drives off.

Pretty sure that wasn't in the driver's ed manual.

Friday, March 25, 2005

"I'm crackin' skulls"

"Listen, Denise. I know you'll handle the training issue of getting your employees to return phone calls when they should. I'm more worried how this happened in the first place."

"Well, he paid the premiums, but they didn't get posted to his account."

"Obviously." I'm getting even angrier now. "But how did that happen?"

"Steve, most of our policyholders remit payments to our payment center in New Jersey. But there is a small group of mabye 12 or 15 policyholders who send their payments here. To this office."

"To THIS office?!"

"Right. As I understand it, this has to do with our acquisitions. At one time, we were going to process all payments for our own cusomers here, and then transmit the information directly to home office."

"And it was a failed experiment, basically."


"I thought we offloaded all those to Jersey. YEARS ago!"

"Well, we did, except for these."


"I.... I don't know, Steve."

SNAP! My pencil breaks between my fingers. I hate the sound of those words. I'd rather hear silence.

"HOW are we transmitting the information for these 12 to home office?"

"There's a program... the programmers made it. Someone types in the amounts and it creates a file and then we send the file to New Jersey over the internet."

"Encrypted, I hope."

"Hm? What does that mean?"

"Who made the program? What programmer?"

"I- I- I'm not sure."

I close my eyes. I am very close to cracking right now. I suppose most of this is not her fault, but she happens to be the unlucky one who's in front of me.

"Is there a report that gets generated when these payments are keyed?"

"They open the file and print it out in notepad, I think."

"You THINK?"

"Well, they have to modify the file anyway, so it's no extra work."

"What do you MEAN, they have to modify the file?"

"The amounts come out wrong, and they have to be corrected manually."

"They come out WRONG!?!"

"Steve, it's been like that since before I got here-"

"GO get me a copy of the latest file!!" I shout. "Bonnie, get Pat from IT in here!" Denise dashes from the room.

A minute passes.

"Steve, I've got Paul from IT. He says Pat isn't in the office."

"Put him through!"

"Paul. Where's Pat," I bark into the phone.

"He's smo-.... he's on a break."

"Go down and get him. Tell him I want him up here five minutes ago!"

"But Steve, he's all the way down in the courtyard-"

"Just GO!!"

Denise re-appears in the doorway, reports in hand. "Call extension 238. That's Marty, who processes the payments that go to New Jersey."

I dial.

"This is Marty."

"Marty, tell Steve about how the corrections that have to be made to that payment file for New Jersey."

"What this program is doing," he begins slowly, as if caressing each word with his lips, "is it's taking the payment amount from employee A, and applying it to employee B, so that I have to manually enter the file that is created and edit the various amounts that are being inserted into the file. All except for the payment amount for the first employee, which is getting dropped altogether-"

"So everybody has the amount of the person ahead of them."

"Right. And I correct them manually."

"Thank you Marty."


"Does IT know about this.... bug?"

"I told them about it, and nothing got done," Denise says.

"You know what that is, Denise? That's an EXCUSE. That's BUCK-PASSING."


"So you told IT, and they did nothing, and you just FORGOT about it? What if your house was on fire, and you called 911, and no one showed up? Would you go shopping?"

She goes pale and stares at me, wide-eyed.

"Call Dom. Call me. And if you don't hear anything, call us again. And if WE don't do anything, call the CEO. But I'll tell you right now, you DIDN'T call me. And I'd bet money that you didn't call Dom either. So I DON'T wanna hear that no one's helping you!" My voice is getting louder.

"There's a REASON I have an open-door policy here. It's for all of YOU, to help you solve your problems. But it's also for ME, so I don't have to listen to NONSENSE."

"Steve, I have a LOT going on here. I don't think you appreciate how much-"

"So it's on your things to do list?"

"It fell between the chairs!"

"It's been this way for YEARS!!"

Pat appears in my doorway, stinking of cigarette smoke.

Jesus, man, did you get any in your lungs?

"What did I miss?" Pat says.

"Are you familiar with an application that customer service uses to send payments to New Jersey?"

"Sounds familiar."

"Who wrote it?"

Please don't say Landon. Please don't say Landon. Please don't say Landon.



Thursday, March 24, 2005

Pinning my needle

I have dealt with my share of angry customers over the years. I actually find it easier to deal with them when they are screaming, for some reason; I think it might be because I know I can just hang up on them if they get too far out of hand and be totally justified in doing so. I've never had to hang up on a customer that I can recall, however.

"I'm listening," I say.

"I have been with your company for 27 years. TWENTY-SEVEN years!" he shouts. I turn the volume on my phone way down, and can still hear him loud and clear. "I pay my bills every single month..."

It's a failure on the part of our customer service department that the call has made it to my desk. For someone to be so out of sorts that he calls and asks for the person who runs the entire office, he must either be a chronic malcontent, or feeling completely ignored.

I don't mind taking a difficult call. I already get two or three a day, from agents, mostly. What makes me grind my teeth and snap pencils is that I am wasting time doing someone else's job. Definitely gotta get the customer service people up here right away to find out what is happening.

I mute the call. "Bonnie, get Denise from customer service up here. If she's in a meeting, get her out." If I'm going to have to take time out of my schedule to resolve this, so is she.

"....and then I get this goddamn notice of cancellation! Why am I getting this? What is this? What is it, Steve?"

"Albert, I understand you wanted to speak to someone in charge, and I'm happy to help you, but you have to understand that I'm not close to customer service issues, so it's gonna take me some time to get up to speed."

"I don't care about that! I want an answer!"

"Albert, just out of curiosity, have you spoken to customer service on this one?"

"Those people never return my damn calls!"

"So the last time you called was when?"

Pause. "IIIIII.... don't know. My wife called, I think. She's not home now."

This guy's full of shit. He went straight to me without even calling customer service first.

Denise bursts into my office, two manilla folders in hand.

"Albert, Denise has just joined me. She's our head of customer service."

"Hi, Albert, how are you today?"

I cringe. The worst thing you can do with an angry phone caller is ask them how they are. You already KNOW how they are: They're awful. And asking them about it just gives them the opportunity to tell you. Again.

"I'll be better once you tell me what you're doing with my money. I just read where your CEO got a huge bonus. Maybe THAT'S where all my money's goin'!"

Well, yeah, he does make an obscene salary, but he comes up with great lines, like 'What have you learned today?'!

"Albert, I did research this matter, and I found that you left a message in our service center voice mailbox at 6:15 last night, asking for resolution on a policy cancellation. One of my employees has been working on that for you. Our policy on cancellation notices is that the customer service rep is supposed to call you with a status immediately upon taking responsibility for the issue. That didn't happen, obviously, and for that I'd like to apologize, Albert."

Denise did four good things there: One, she went off on a long speech, which tends to calm things down; two, she used his name (twice); three, she apologized; and four, she explained what happened without making excuses or trying to pass the buck.

"Yeah? And what does that mean for me? Do I have insurance on my car or NOT?!"

Her voice remains even and calm. "We did find that you made all your payments timely, so I am faxing a reinstatment request to home office to make sure that coverage is reinstated immediately."

"I want confirmation that it was done!"

"Yes, of course, Albert. I'll fax that to you as soon as I get it back, if you have a fax machine. Otherwise, I will overnight that to you."


"I hope so. As soon as I get it, you'll get it."

"I want this resolved today," Albert says, noticeably less angry.

"I'll tell you what: If I don't hear from them by 4:30, I'll call for a status and get back to you."

Damn, she is good.

"Yeah, fine," Albert grumbles.

We end the call. Immediately, now that the crisis has passed, anger courses hotly through my body, rising from my feet up, like an advancing tide of molten lava.

You might be surprised that I wasn't more angry with Albert, but really, how could I be? He's a customer; he's paying for service, and he didn't get it. He got a very ominous-sounding letter in the mail, and when he called and left a message, he didn't get a call back. I'd be pissed too.

I can understand Albert's point of view. I am not sure I understand my own company's.

"Steve, I can explain," Denise says. "He left that message, and-"

"Denise. I understand. First of all, you did a great job with that call. I want you to know that."

"Thank you, Steve!"

Don't thank me too much, honey, cause the shit's about to hit the fan.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

If I'm self-medicating, do I still need a prescription?

Sunday, March 6, 2005
Steve's house

What a fucking let-down.

Steph was exactly right about me. I need parameters. I need information. I need to know when she's going to call, and what her decision is going to be. In short, I need to know everything that she is unable to tell me.

The only thing worse than not having Stephanie anymore is not knowing whether I'm going to be with her or not. If I'm going to get dumped, I want to know right away, so the healing can begin. But instead, I'm in a sort of relationship limbo. It's like having a noose tied around my neck, and then watching as the executioners argue about whether to kick the chair out from under me.

Back in the day, my coping mechanism was simple: Fuck. Happy? Fuck. Sad? Fuck. Depressed? Hapless? Hopeless? Neutral? Fuck.

Of course, now I can't do that. Sure, physically I could, but I'm still with Steph, at least technically, so seeking out any kind of female companionship is out of the question. But now that I can't go out and hook up with some big-chested, long-haired hottie, I need to find some other way to soothe my anxiety.

It's almost instinctive. Open cupboard. Put water glass on counter. Open fridge. Unscrew top from Absolut bottle. Fill glass 1/3 of the way. Replace Absolut bottle in fridge. Grab two-liter Sprite bottle (I don't have any tonic water). Fill glass the rest of the way. Down glass contents quickly. Repeat.

I sit on the couch and watch the first season of "The Brady Bunch" on DVD. That show was a hell of a lot harder to stomach before Marsha grew tits.

The Absolut bottle is almost empty. I lean my head back against the couch, the heavy glass hanging loosely in my hand, and close my eyes. It's 9:00pm.

I wake up the next morning at 6:00, in the exact same position.


Monday, March 7
Steve's office

I'm not hung over, but I'm in a very bad mood today. I really just want to be left alone. Around here, that is fucking impossible.

"Bonnie, I'm gonna be very busy today. If it's not urgent, get rid of them."

"OK, Steve. Steve?"


"Is everything ok? You look upset."

"Everything's fine."

We both know it's bullshit.



"Yes, Bonnie."

"I have a gentleman named Albert on the phone. He says he needs to speak to you, and no one else."

Me and no one else? Must be an irate customer. That is ALL I fucking need today.


"Yeah. Steve, I tried to help him, several times, but he won't even give me information. He says he has to speak to the guy in charge."

"OK, put him through."

"Are you sure? I told him you were on a conference call. I could take his number for you?"

"It's ok, send him back."

My phone rings. "This is Steve."

"NOW LISTEN TO ME!" an apoplectic voice screams.

Too bad the vodka wore off.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

7 days: depression and anguish. 14 days: carpal tunnel syndrome

Steph pulls her coat on and follows me back out the door. The room goes deathly quiet.

We stand at the top of the steps. She kisses my cheek.


"Steve, thank you so much for what you did. I really appeciate it." Her eyebrows arch; her lips pout. "You are so sweet."

Why do I suddenly feel like the guy on The Bachelorette who doesn't get the final rose?

She sighs deeply, watching the passing traffic. I want to ask her what's wrong, or ask her what she's trying to say, or a million other things. But I want to hear exactly what's on her mind without interference from me.

"This- still doesn't feel right to me."


"It feels like we're back to normal. We're talking on the phone every day, and you're doing nice things for me..."

Yeah, pretty much what I was going for, sweetheart.


"I'm not ready to be back to normal yet."

So much for not caring how much time she needs. It amazes me how none of the little mind-fucks that worked so completely on other girls do anything to Steph.

"You're not?"

"I feel like such a... bitch for this. I feel like I'm making a big deal over nothing. But I just can't... I don't... I can't go back to normal right now."

"You're not making a big deal over nothing."

"That's what it feels like."

"So what is it that you need?"

"I TOLD you what I need. I asked you for time."

"You also told me I could call you the next day."

"Well, I think maybe you shouldn't call for awhile."

"So you're breaking up with me at Kevin's house."

"I'm NOT breaking up with you! I'm telling you I need time. And I've already TOLD you that once before, Steve!"

"You told everybody else too, evidently."

"I told ELENA. She opened her big mouth."

It wasn't supposed to go this way. Not at all. This is starting to sound very discouraging all of a sudden. Usually, when I get a kiss-off like this one, I never hear from the girl again. Usually I don't care. In fact, usually it's a relief.

Not so today. Today, I desperately want to ask her how much time, or when I can expect to hear from her. I want to know our fate as a couple. Shit - at this point, I'll settle for Vegas odds.

"When you say I shouldn't call for awhile..."

"I know you are a detail person. I know you want to know how much time I need, and I just ... can't tell you. I don't know! And I know that's not good enough for you, and I would understand if you... couldn't wait for me..."

"What does that mean, Steph? What does that mean, you understand if I can't wait for you? What are you saying?"

"Nothing! I just... know that you need... parameters."

"You think I'm just gonna walk away? Because you need time? Is that what you WANT?!"

"No! Of course not! But I don't know how much time I need! It could be a week, it could be a month. I don't KNOW!"

"Well, I'm pretty insulted that you think I would just walk away because of that."

"Well I didn't MEAN any insult!"



We both turn slowly and stare at the speeding cars.

"I don't wanna fight," she says finally.

"Yeah, we shouldn't, 'cause I guess this is goodbye for a while."

"Don't be mad."

"That's easier said than done."

"I feel terrible. I feel like I'm punishing you, and I'm not! I just need to process."


"I'll call you when I'm... ready."

"Do you promise?"

"YES! Of course I promise, Steve!"


"I AM serious! Ste-eve! Why are you saying this?"

"No matter what you decide, just promise you'll call me."

"I promise."

Monday, March 21, 2005

I THOUGHT that cold cream smelled funny...

Sunday, March 6, 2005, 3:15pm
Steve's house

I've got her now. She's starting to relax.

Another week or two, and this will be ancient history. And I've learned my lesson, too.

My phone rings. It's a local exchange, but I don't recognize the number.




"You don't know me, but my name is Carly. I go to school with your girlfr- with Stephanie."

Nice slip-up, honey.

I guess this means that Steph is blabbing to all her study group friends about what a prick I am. Or, possibly, about what a nice guy I am for helping her out this morning.

"Yeah, I've heard your name. Hi, Carly."

"Listen, I hate to put you out, but could I ask you a HUGE favor?"

"What's that?"

"Well, I have to get to the train station. I have a family emergency at home, and I don't have a car right now, and we're JUST starting to make some progress here and nobody really wants to take a break, so Steph suggested I call you."

"Are you going to to the station by ninety-five?"

"Yeah. Is that a problem? If it's a problem, I can call a cab, I just don't have my car-"

"It's fine, Carly. I'll give you a ride."

"You are AWESOME, Steven!"

"Call me Steve."

I hear a door creak open, followed by a whistling wind and the rumble of passing cars. Why is she going outside now?

"I'm about 20 minutes out, Carly."

"No problem. Listen. I know what happened with you and Steph," she says, her voice shrinking to a whisper.

"Oh, really? Is that why you stopped yourself from calling her my girlfriend?"

She laughs. "Sorry."

"So she told all you guys?"

"Not all. She told Elena, because she wanted some advice. And it was such a grey area that Elena couldn't make up her mind, so she asked two guys in our group, and they have big mouths, so they told us."

"So what does everyone think?"

"Well, the guys all think it was de minimus. And they think you were an idiot for admitting it. Do you know what de minimus means?"

"It means it's so insignificant that it's not even worth mentioning."

"Right. The guys think she should appreciate your honesty and forget it ever happened."

"And the girls?"

"Elena says you are a really great guy, and very successful and motivated, but you have issues. She thinks you guys should just take it slow for a while."

"You mean like, non-exclusive dating?"

"Either that, or just not seeing each other as much."


"She says it's not enough to break up with you, but she thinks Steph ought to be very careful and take it slow for now to see how you behave."

"And what about you, Carly?"

Long pause. "If I tell you, you're not gonna give me a ride to the train."

"You think she should break up with me."

"Well, I mean, it's just that you have such a history, Steve."

"Thanks for your honesty."

"I mean, I hope it works out for you two! Don't get me wrong! As a matter of fact, I think she wants to see you."

"Why do you say that?"

"Why else would she suggest that I call you for a ride? There's a lot of other people I could have called. She SO wants to see you."


"She keeps saying how sweet it was of you to do her laundry."

"OK. Be inside the house when I get there, and I'll just kinda come in."

"OK! Bye!"


3:50pm, Steph's study group
Kevin's home

There are six students in Steph's group; each one takes turns hosting study sessions. Whenever Steph is hosting, she begs me to come over and help her clean up, so that people actually have a place to sit. Of course, her idea of "cleaning" is picking up dirty clothes, cramming them into a tiny closet, and forcing the door shut. But I digress.

Today is Kevin's turn to host study group. He lives in a small, nondescript, boxy home along a main downtown thoroughfare.

I walk up to the front door and turn the knob. I tap on it with my knuckles as it opens. "Hello?"

Six haggard law students look up at me simulateously, their faces long and droopy, like runny watercolor paintings. It impresses me that they have enough motiviation to put up with this kind of pressure, week in and week out. They obviously care about their chosen profession very deeply. Either that, or they really love money.

"Steve!" a couple of them say. I've met them all a few times before.

"I heard there were free Doritos up here!" I say.

"We got rice cakes and Triscuits," Kevin says.

"And smiley fries," another guy says. Everyone laughs.

"We ate your smiley fries," Steph says. I look at her. Her hair is twisted into a sloppy bun with a pencil through it, and she's got dark circles under her eyes. She still looks sick to me.

"How were they?"

"They were good, but Kevin puts vinegar on his, which I find disgusting." The girls make squeamish faces.

"That's the only way it tastes good!" Kevin protests.

"Hey, I heard you're a good house cleaner! Maybe I can hire you to clean my place," Elena says. Chuckles fill the room.

"We'll talk," I say, smirking.

"If you can clean up Steph's place, you can clean anything," Elena says. Five heads nod.

"You need a biohazard suit in that place," Carly says. Laughter.

"My favorite was when I opened her refrigerator and found her toothbrush in there," I say.

Steph rolls her eyes; the other five stare at me with quizzical looks.

"It made me wonder where the bean dip wound up that day," I say.

They laugh uproariously.

"Thanks so much for the ride, Steven," Carly says, rising from her chair and flipping her backpack over her shoulder.

"Actually, do you have to leave right now?" Steph says, getting up.

"I have time," Carly says, raising her eyebrows at me.

Steph pulls her coat on. "Steve, can I talk to you for a minute outside?"

Friday, March 18, 2005

Wasn't I supposed to come down the chimney?

Sunday, March 6, 2005, 8:00am
Steph's apartment

Steph is never late for study group, so I know she'll be gone already. Sure enough, I pull into the parking lot and her car is nowhere to be seen.

I let myself into her apartment and I'm overwhelmed by a hot wave of panic.

The place is a fucking disaster.

Most slobs I know have some hint of order: The dirty clothes are stacked, mountain-like, on the bedroom floor; the dirty dishes grow mold spores in a big pile in the sink. Their houses are a mess, yes, but their sloppiness is more due to laziness than disorganization.

MOST slobs are that way. Not so with Steph.

Dirty clothes pollute every vacant area of her house. Bras hang over chairbacks; pants are piled on the floor of her closet; balled-up socks have come to rest underneath the kitchen table and along the baseboards like white cotton tumbleweeds. There is no sense of order whatsoever, and that realization sends my heart rate to the moon.

I feel my jaw clenching with anxiety; my hands curl into sweaty fists. I have to get started cleaning up, before angina sets in.

There's a laundry basket (completely empty, of course) in Steph's room; I grab it and flit around the house, snapping up white clothes.

Just as I expected, the dryer is full of clothes. I fold them and put them away, then make a huge pile of dark laundry in Steph's room while waiting for the washer to finish.

I throw the whites in the dryer, start a dark load, hop in my car, and dash to the supermarket. It's about 10 after nine.

I speed up and down the aisles, stocking up on the bare essentials (bread, cold cuts, milk, cereal). Steph is big on "convenience food": If it's in a can, or frozen, and she can wolf it down in 12 seconds with a book in her free hand, she'll eat it. The problem is, a lot of that kind of food is unhealthy, so I hope I can get her to eat something slightly more nutritious.

Is it me, or am I starting to sound like someone's mother?

10:15. I'm back at Steph's place and the groceries are put away.

I put away the whites and hang up the darks. I open the fridge to get a drink, and almost gag from the smell of rancid ..... something.

I clean out her fridge, throwing away spoiled leftovers. There's almost nothing left.

Now it's after 11:00. I better wrap this up.

I write a little note and leave it on the kitchen table:

Dear Steph,

I know how much of a nuisance chores can when you are overwhelmed with work, so I did some laundry for you (darks are hanging up, everything else is put away) and went shopping for a few things. I also cleaned out your fridge, so the old food wouldn't eat the new food...

The receipt is in the bag on the table in case you want to see what I bought - I also left a few things in there that I thought you might like...

Good luck studying - I know you will do great.


In the bag on the table, I leave a bag of frozen smiley fries (try them!), smiley Spaghettios, smiley cookies, and about 8 or 9 smiley gumballs from a vending machine. Let's see her pout her way through THAT!

I'm not trying to woo her now. She knows how I feel, and hitting her over the head with it will only make her feel pressured. I'm just trying to show her I can be there when she needs me.

By 11:20, I'm on the road downtown to do some errands.


Steve's house

There's a message on my answering machine.

"Hi Steve, it's Stephanie.." Long pause.

"Thank you so much.. that was really sweet. I'll - well, gimme a call on my cell later."

Don't mind if I do...

Thursday, March 17, 2005

"Somehow I think I smell the whiff of a scheme"

Saturday, March 5, 2005, 9:30pm
Steve's house

I have to be very careful.

I can't push her too hard, especially since she told me she needs time. I have to let her know that I am worthy of her, while giving her the time she needs to process what is going on.

In the past, I never really had relationship trouble, because whenever there was even the slightest problem, I hauled ass. This is going to be hard; it's an area in which I have basically no experience.

I dial her number. I know I'm going to get her answering machine. I'll just say a quick goodnight and hang up. That will let her know I am thinking of her, and that I lived up to my word.




"What are you doing home?"

"I live here."

"No! I thought you were studying."

"We decided to break for the night. We weren't getting anywhere together and sometimes it helps if we split up."

"Ahh. Well, I guess I'll let you get back to it."

"Can I ask you a question?"

"What's that?"

"What did you mean when you said you were only gonna apologize once? What was that about?"

"That was about me only wanting to apologize once."


"I didn't want to get into a rut where I'm apologizing every five minutes for the same mistake."

"Why do you think you're gonna apologize every five minutes?"

"It's just that some guys get into that endless loop where they start... grovelling."

"So what's that got to do with you?"

"I don't want to do that."

"So if you don't want to do it, don't. Why mention it to me?"

Ah, fuck. I am in the crosshairs now. I am never going to talk my way out of this; I'll be dogmeat by the time she's through with me.


"I mean, really, Steve. I started thinking about that yesterday, and it made me very angry. Don't you think that was pretty arrogant of you?" she asks, her voice rising.

"No, I don't find honesty very arrogant."

"You know what I mean. If you don't want to apologize more than once, don't do it. The only reason you would say something like that to me is out of arrogance. Like you think I'm going to try to take advantage of it or something."

"You're reading into it, Steph."

"Of COURSE I'm reading into it! Why wouldn't I?"

"It's not that big a deal. It's just that some guys-"

"YOU'RE not 'some guys'! 'Some guys' have nothing to do with you. So why say it?"

"Steph, you've already thought about this ten times more than I ever did."


Like I said. Dogmeat.

"You made your point, Steph."

There's a long silence. The quiet makes me realize how loud the argument had just gotten.

"I'm sorry I yelled," she says softly.

"But you're only saying it once, right?"

She chuckles softly. "Shut up."

"Well, I just wanted to say goodnight. What are you doing tomorrow?"

"Studying all friggin' day. We have so many cases for Monday and we're not nearly ready."

"That's tough."

"I have to be there at 7:30 in the morning."


"I think I'm gonna come home for lunch so I can do some laundry and go shopping."


"Yeah. There's nothing to eat around here. And nothing clean to wear, so..."

"Just remember what Sinbad said."

"What's that?"

"Make two piles: 'Dirty' and 'funky'. And 'dirty' you can wear again." We laugh.

"So what're you doing tomorrow? Working I guess?"

"Oh yeah. Budget revisions galore. Tonight too."

"Well, don't work too hard."

"You too!" I say, earnestly.

"Call me tomorrow night on my cell."

"Same time?"


"Ok.... have a good night, Steph."

"You too babe."

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Ari Fleischer, eat your heart out

Friday, March 4, 2005, 3:00pm
Stephanie's school - lounge

My stomach gurgles and burns as we pay for our coffee. I know that, in just a minute, we'll sit on one of the couches that are scattered around the room, and I'll find out if I still have a girlfriend or not.

She doesn't even sip her coffee; she just sits there, staring at the floor, for what seems like an hour.

"First of all, I want you to know I really appreciate you being honest with me. I know that's what we said we would do."

I nod.

"But of course, that doesn't excuse what you did."

"I know."

"I don't understand, Steve. I really don't. How could you?" she asks, her eyes tearing up.

"I was stupid."

"No, you weren't. You aren't stupid. You're not a stupid person! That's why part of me wants to think that you.... wanted this somehow. Or that you're sabotaging us intentionally."

"Sabotaging us?"

"Yeah! Like, you don't feel you're ready, or part of you doesn't want this, and you're trying to... sabotage it."

"No! Of course not!"

"I get so confused with you, Steve. I mean, you can be the sweetest guy I have ever met, and then you can be... a monster."

"What do you mean?"

"I mean, you can do what you did for me on Christmas, or on Valentine's Day, and those were some of the sweetest things that anyone has ever done for me, ever. And then you can do what you did to that guy at work, where you made him sweat it out for a full day before you talked to him-"

"Steph! That's work! It's not personal!"

"I know, but I can't even believe that you would be capable of that. How could you DO such a thing?"

I don't answer.

"How could you cheat on someone you love? How could you sleep with so many different women?"

Oh, that's easy. You just douse yourself in cologne, and then you walk around like an arrogant son of a bitch...

"Steph, the first time, the girl at corporate, we weren't exclusive, and the second time-"

"Just the fact that you have a first time and a second time ought to tell you something. You've got a long history. That's very intimidating."

"And the fact that you cheated on your boyfriend with me the first night? That's not intimidating?"

"You were with someone too. I haven't been with anyone since. You have; three times."

Touche. I should have known I wasn't going to get away with that one.

"The sweet person who gave me all those flowers couldn't do what you did. I just don't understand how you can be one person one minute, and another person the next minute."

"It's not as cut and dry as you are making it sound, Steph."

"Yes it IS!"

"It ISN'T! I'm making big changes in my life. I didn't get this way overnight, and it wasn't going to change overnight."

"That's my whole problem. Steve, I love you dearly, but how do I know this won't happen again? That's the real question. How do I know?"

I pause. She's hit it right on the head, of course. How CAN she trust me now?

"I just feel like... that's not a fair question."

"Not FAIR?"

"Not because you don't deserve to know, Steph. You totally deserve to know. But it's like asking me to prove that it's not going to rain tomorrow. I can go out and find 10 different forecasts calling for sunshine. But a forecast is just a guess, right? So I haven't really PROVEN that it's not going to rain."

"And it's proving the negative," she says, quietly.

"Which is impossible."

You know what? I think that round went to your old pal Stevo!

"No matter what happens, Steph, thank you for spending so much time with me, and thank you for helping me through some tough times. I just want you to know that I take responsibility for what I did, and I don't blame you in any way. This isn't your fault; it's all mine."

"But there must be something wrong, something that made you-"

"No. You've been the best girlfriend that a guy could ask for. If there's any problem, it's probably that deep down inside I don't feel like I deserve you."

She blinks longingly, searching my face, like she always does, and it occurs to me that after today, I may never see her do that again.

"I just want you to know that I learned something about myself. And you learned something too."

"I did?"

I nod. "I learned that ... I have a conscience. I have a sense of right and wrong now. After what happened, I couldn't eat, I couldn't sleep. It bothered me. That may not sound like a big deal to you at all. But for me, that is huge. I've never felt that way before, never. I'm just sorry I had to find out the way I did. And it makes me happy to know that I have grown that way, but it scares me, too."

"Why does it scare you?"

"Because letting your guard down means you can get hurt."

"I know that," she says, rolling her eyes.

"And YOU learned something too."


"You learned that no matter what happens, I am going to be totally honest with you. If there was any doubt, it should be gone now."

"But that's not a guarantee that you won't do something cruel. Again."

Hey! Are we back on this point?

"Sweetheart. There's no such THING as a guarantee like that," I say.

"There's no such thing as a cure for cancer. But a lot of people still need one desperately."

I pause for a long time and ponder those words. If I ever write a book, I'm gonna work that in somehow. Truly profound.

So much for Steve winning one.

"Steph, I KNOW we can do this. Don't throw away what we have. I LOVE you!"

She closes her eyes and sighs visibly, as if steeling herself for something painful. It's like my words are affecting her against her will.

"I'm gonna need time, Steve. I would understand if you told me that - that was unacceptable to you."

The first impulse you get when you hear something like that is to ask, "how long?" But don't ever do it! You don't CARE how long she thinks she needs; your job is to make it as brief as possible.

"Can I call you tomorrow?"


"Just to say goodnight?"

"Call me at home at 9:30."

She'll be at study group at 9:30. If I call her at home, I'll get her machine.

I guess it's better than nothing.

Monday, March 14, 2005


Thursday, March 3, 11:45pm
IM'ing with Cathy

Cathy: what happened

Steve: i confessed that i kissed another girl

Steve: she got very pissed off, told me to get the hell out

Cathy: uh huh

Steve: i said listen to me cause i am gonna say this one time

Steve: i am really, really sorry

Steve: and she said, just get out i will call you tomorrow

Steve: Well I am sure you are busy

Steve: and i am fucking loaded

Cathy: youre drunk?

Steve: tru dat

Steve: i like to refer to it as "inebriated"

Cathy: why?

Steve: because i am fucking depressed bruski

Steve: i fucked up and she is going to dump me

Steve: so whatever - i will go back to fucking bimbos that i
meet in bars

Steve: I will fuck them good and hard and then blog about it and teenage boys around the world will whack off in front of their monitors

Cathy: NO

Steve: why? Obviously i cannot handle a grown up relationship

Cathy: :-/

Steve: this sux

Cathy: i know it

Steve: whatever - if she is gonna be a fucking bitch

Steve: i am not gonna beg her

Steve: NFW

Steve: i'd rather be alone

Steve: all i did was kiss her now she is gonna make a federal
fucking case out of it

Steve: i'm serious, i'm not even sweating her anymore

Steve: fuck it

Cathy: are you kidding me?!

Steve: NO

Steve: if she calls she calls

Steve: i'm not gonna fucking chase her like a little candy ass

Cathy: you cheated on her

Cathy: she has a right to be pissed off

Cathy: am I wrong?

Steve: fine so she can be pissed off

Steve: she can tell me 1,000 times what a fuckup i am, how
disappointed she is in me

Steve: then everyone who reads my blog will tell me how
disappointed they are, and everyone will be soooo fucking
disappointed in steve

Steve: so fuck everyone, how's that

Steve: if i'm such a fuckup, leave me alone

: :-/

Cathy: ok..

Steve: i'm just sayin ;)

Cathy: :-(

Steve: she just makes me mad sometimes

Cathy: well you shouldnt cheat on her steve

Mar 4, 2005 - 12:33am

Cathy: hi

Steve: hey

Cathy: have you cooled off now

Steve: a little

Cathy: dont let people get you down

Cathy: but i dont want to hear you tell me youre going back to
fucking dumb sluts

Cathy: you should see me as a product of getting fucked over,
this is what happens when you do this shit to people

Cathy: thats why i dont understand how you can still do it,
you know?

Cathy: thats what confuses me

Steve: i kissed some other girl

Steve: and ran away like a candyass because i felt guilty

Steve: so obviously i am learning

Steve: because 5 months ago i would have fucked her silly and
not even thought about it

Cathy: i know, we've been talking for a long time now and i've
noticed a change in you

Steve: you see i am telling her what i did

Steve: honestly how many guys are out there confessing to
that petty bullshit

Cathy: you are a good guy

Cathy: i think you just have to find the right girl

Cathy: and maybe you just havent found her yet

Steve: why have i not found the right girl

Steve: just because i kissed someone else

Steve: i was perfectly happy

Steve: i just let it go too far

Cathy: when you find the right girl, you wont have urges to do
things with other girls

Steve: seriously bruski i don't think you understand

Cathy: i guess I dont

Cathy: :-/

Cathy: so help me

Steve: who is a guy you really like

Steve: brad pitt?

Cathy: lol

Cathy: sure brad pitt

Steve: so you think he is very hot

Cathy: sure

Steve: even if you are with another guy you like him

Cathy: hes a celebrity

Cathy: i dont like him

Steve: so if he was standing right in front of you and you
were smelling his cologne and seeing his blue eyes and hard pecs
you'd be crushing on him

Cathy: i just think hes hot

Steve: and you'd be wondering how far he would go

Steve: wanting to find out what it would be like, being curious

Cathy: if im with someone, I dont have urges to be with
someone else

Steve: i didn't have an urge

Steve: it was like curiosity

Steve: wanting to see what she was going to do

Steve: what was going to happen

Steve: like i was watching a tv show

Steve: and being flattered that she wanted me so much

Cathy: but then you have to think about steph whos in it for
the long run

Steve: i am too!

Cathy: not this tim girl whos just lookin for some excitement

Steve: i know

Steve: i ain't looking to hook up with her

Steve: dating wise

Cathy: thats not the point

Steve: the point is, i was supposed to stay away from tim

Cathy: and you didnt

Steve: and not go there

Steve: but now it's too late

Steve: because steph will never forgive me and i won't have
another chance

Cathy: didnt you think about that before you did all this?

Steve: did all what?

Cathy: there are consequences to all your actions

Steve: kissed her for 5 seconds?

Cathy: its still cheating

Steve: i know i know

Cathy: I dont know what to say stevie

Steve: i don't either

Steve: cause if that is the case i should have fucked her
brains out

Cathy: not the attitude to have

Steve: if i was gonna be punished anyway

Cathy: steph has right to be mad

Steve: what the hell is the diff

Cathy: how would you feel if she kissed other guys

Steve: i dunno

Cathy: it wouldnt feel good

Steve: i know

Steve: but i would want her to tell me just like i told her

Cathy: put yourself in her shoes

Steve: i did not have to tell her

Steve: and i said that

Cathy: then you would have been dishonest

Cathy: youre making it seem like it was an honor that you
actually even told her about it

Steve: mmmm

Steve: i know

Steve: sigh

Cathy: i shouldnt be lecturing you

Steve: no you shouldn't

Steve: i was just gonna ream you out for that

Cathy: what?

Steve: for lecturing

Cathy: oh

Steve: well i think i am learning my lessons and i think i
can be a really great bf

Steve: i hope she gives me another chance because i love her
very much

Cathy: tell her that

Steve: but if she does not i might just turn into george clooney

Cathy: please dont do that!

Steve: why not? he seems happy

Steve: oh man i was being mean to you

Steve: holy shit

Cathy: when?

Steve: i was going off

Cathy: its ok

Steve: look at this

Steve: then everyone who reads my blog will tell me how disappointed they are, and everyone will be soooo fucking disappointed in steve Steve: so fuck everyone, how's that
Steve: if i'm such a fuckup, leave me alone

Steve: god damn man

Cathy: its ok!

Cathy: you were venting

Cathy: you've had a tough week

Steve: damn man

Steve: i know i was wrong, but i just get very angry because
i feel like i have made progress and that does not count for
anything at all

Cathy: you have made progress

Cathy: im so proud of you

Steve: but it's almost like, you are just an asshole steve

Steve: and that's that

Steve: thank you for saying that *sniff*

Steve: you are so sweet

Cathy: seriously steve if I didnt care about you I wouldnt waste my time talking to you

Cathy: i love talking to you

Cathy: i look forward to it everyday

Steve: me too

Cathy: if I thought you were an asshole I wouldnt lecture you

Steve: i am sorry i was mean before, i was pretty nasty

Cathy: its ok

Cathy: you have a right to be mad

Steve: i just go off

Steve: i am not used to this shit

Cathy: i know

Steve: maybe i will just chill out and not worry

Cathy: she needs time to think about things

Cathy: you'd want time if you were her too

Steve: i know

Cathy: and i think you need to stop drinking and get some sleep

Steve: can't sleep

Steve: i'll tell you what she says

Steve: if she calls

Cathy: ok :)

Cathy: I would say call me but im an ass and lost my cell

Steve: s'ok

Cathy: alright cutie

Cathy: im off to bed

Steve: smooches

Cathy: hugs

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Bless me Steph, for I have sinned

Thursday, March 3, 2005
Steve's office

I have good and bad moments.

I'll crack a good joke, and make Bonnie laugh, or have a warm, friendly phone conversation with someone I've not spoken to in a while, and I'll feel light and buoyant. I can do this, I'll think, and I'll resolve to keep my computer-repair escapades to myself. It's no big deal, I'll tell myself. It was just a kiss, and a half-ass kiss at that. After everything I've done, it doesn't even amount to a blip on the sexual radar screen. In a week, it will be forgotten. Maybe less than a week.

The bad moments sneak up on me. I'll be leaving a voice mail message, or typing an e-mail, and my mouth will lock open, or my fingers will stop tapping keys, and suddenly I'll be watching That Movie again.

It's a movie that I've seen 47 times. At this point, it no longer just annoys me: Now, it makes me feel a little crazy. I can't change the channel, move my head, or avert my eyes; I'm being forced to watch, like Malcolm McDowell in A Clockwork Orange. I find myself clenching my jaw, racked with anxiety, as I wonder why I can't shake the guilt over having betrayed Steph.

Steph hates Dom. They'll never be friends, especially since Dom is not even much of a friend to ME right now. And if she's not going to associate with Dom, she'll probably never get to know Tim, and even if she does, Tim is not the type to talk about what happened. I'M certainly not going to open my mouth about it, either, so that means that in all likelihood, Steph will never hear about it through the chain of gossip.

I keep thinking back to the talk Steph and I had on Thanksgiving day, when we both promised to tell each other everything, even if it might hurt. I've been consciencious about doing that, telling her about Holly, and about the auditor chick from PWC. I put up with a lot of gut-wrenching cross-examination as a result of doing so, too, and my reward is the knowledge that I have no secrets whatsoever. But everything that I have done up to now will be for naught if I hide this.

I'm not in love with Tim. I don't even particularly like her. I find her very attractive, and obviously I did not give in to my carnal desires for her. She isn't any kind of a threat to what Steph and I have. By the same token, though, I am sure Stephanie would want to know about something like this. She SAID so!

I feel like I let her down by kissing Tim, and that I would be letting her down again by not telling her.

I have to tell her.


Steve's car, driving to Stephanie's house

I need to accomplish four things today:

1. A full confession of everything that happened, so that details never need to be rehashed again;
2. A reminder of why I am telling her (i.e., that we had an agreement and I am sticking to it);
3. Apologize. I also need to make it clear that I won't be apologizing again for this; and,
4. Tell her I love her.

One mistake that some guys make is that every time an issue like this comes up, they apologize again, and pretty soon they are begging her forgiveness, grovelling like a spineless wimp. I am going to tell her that I am sorry, and I am going to say it ONCE. And she'd better remember, because I am not repeating it.

I sit in her driveway for almost a full minute, playing out the various scenarios in my mind. She knows about Dom and Lila; that is almost certainly going to come up. She'll be angry; she might tell me to leave. I'd say that's fairly likely, in fact. She'll probably ask me why, or maybe just make a lot of broken-hearted comments about how shitty I made her feel.

My job is to focus on the four tasks I listed above. I will hear her out, but as soon as she starts making the same point three and four times, that will be my cue to leave.

This is almost certainly going to go badly. She might break up with me, or want to take a break for a while. I have made my decision to tell her, and I am convinced it's right, so I am prepared to deal with the consequences.

I promise myself that, if she does dump me, I will treat myself to something nice. Maybe I'll fly out west to visit my old junior high school buddy, or go hang out with Paulie and his friends for a few days. And yeah, I'm sure there are a few girls out there I haven't screwed yet, so there's that, too.

Here goes nothing.

I open her door. She is sitting up on the couch in sweats, still looking a little thin and pale, but better than she did on Sunday. She smiles up at me. "Hi, honey!!" she chirps.

She's got sore-looking little red patches around her nostrils. Wadded-up tissues litter the floor under the couch. I look down at them, grinding my teeth.

"I know, I know, I'll pick them up," she says, "Mister ANAL!"

She walks over and hugs me tightly, then kisses me, slowly and softly. "I missed you," she whispers.

"Steph, I have to talk to you."

She pulls away and sits down on a kitchen chair, looking concerned. "What's wrong?"

I sit down across from her and look at her eyes.

"On Thanksgiving day, we made a promise that we were going to tell each other everything, no matter what."

She closes her eyes and sighs deeply, then opens them, staring at me with a hard, angry face. "Who was it, Steve?"

"I kissed another girl."



"Dom's girlfriend?"


"Why are you kissing Dom's girlfriend?"

"I went over there to fix her computer. There was a little flirting going on, and it just got out of hand for a second."


"Steph, I kissed her for, like, FIVE seconds."

"You just kissed her and left." she says, cynically.

"I ran out of there. I felt terrible."

"What, you didn't feel her up?"

"I think my thumb brushed against her boob," I say, curling my lip and waving a hand dismissively.

She shakes her head. "Every time I think I can trust you, Steve..."

"Well, I didn't expect you to be happy about it."

"Do you mean to tell me this is just a coincidence? That Dom has sex with Lila, and then you're kissing his girlfriend? You're still hung up on Lila!"

"No, I'm NOT!"

"Yes you ARE!" she shouts.

"It's NOT about Lila. It's about me being STUPID. For FIVE SECONDS!"

"So it didn't mean anything," she sneers, sarcastically.

"No, of course not. Steph, you know I love you."

She crosses to the couch and flings herself down, grabbing the remote.

"I knew you'd be pissed, but I had to live up to my promise."

"Yeah, you're such a sweet guy," she says, her voice dripping with irony.

"Steph, I-"

"Get the hell out."

"I want you to listen to me, because I'm not gonna say this again."

She looks at me through narrowed eyes.

"I'm really. Really. Sorry." I say, softly.

"Whatever." She's turning away from me before I'm even done saying it.

She stares at the TV, flipping channels with the remote held straight out in front of her, as if warding off evil spirits.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

I hope guilt is not a cover hog

Friday, February 25, 9:30pm
Steve's house

"How are you?"

"I'm still sick."

"Your voice sounds all scratchy."

"I was talking all day today in study group."


"Would you mind terribly if I didn't come over tonight?"


It's actually a relief. I don't know if I could face her. Would she know? Would there be some telltale look on my face to give me away? Would the corner of my mouth curl up in a way it's never done before? Would my eyes narrow cynically? Would my brows furrow just a bit more, making me look like someone else?

"I just have to get rid of this flu. I've been sick for a week."

Yeah, you have. And I haven't had any that whole time.


"Are you ok?" she says.

"Yeah, fine."

"You keep giving me these one-word answers. Are you doing something?" she asks.

"No, I'm just tired. And I have a lot of work to do."

"OK, well I'll come see you tomorrow. I promise."


Guilt is new for me.

It feels like when I got a cavity filled for the first time. Sure, I had had needles before. Though they hurt, and they were scary, they were something I knew. But a big, long, horror-movie needle? In my mouth? It was a new kind of pain, a new kind of fear. The unfamiliarity made it much worse.

There's a twenty-something couple in line in front of me at Dunkin' Donuts, giggling as they lean towards each other, their foreheads almost touching. They probably fucked all night, then slept in late, then rolled out of bed and decided to go for a nice, leisurely morning-after cup of coffee. Those two don't have a care in the world. THAT guy is truly in love. HE never would have looked at another girl. HE wouldn't have cheated.

There's an old, fat guy at the hardware store with his old, fat wife. He could never be unfaithful, could he? He wouldn't have it in him. The thought would never cross his mind. Sure, he probably notices hot young girls like all of us do, but if one ever came on to him, he'd look at her strangely and move away, as if she were nuts to even think such a thing.

I think about Jim Belushi from According to Jim. Every week, he gets into a different mess, a new, madcap, funny series of mishaps. But underneath it all, he's a good man. At the end of the day, he sleeps fine, because he's a good husband who would never do anything to hurt his wife. And why would he? She is beautiful and perfect and loves him very much, just like Steph loves me.

She does love me a lot. And I let her down. Maybe I am not cut out for a relationship. Maybe this just wasn't meant to be, and I should break up with her to spare her the pain I am inevitably going to put her through.


Sunday, February 27, 7:00pm
Steve's house

I don't like Sunday nights. My body knows that the weekend is almost over, and tries desperately to squeeze out the last bit of rest before it's Monday again. I feel lazy and lethargic; all I want to do is lay down on the couch and flip channels until I fade off to sleep.

Steph arrives. She looks horrible.

She's thin and pale, with bags under her eyes.

"Steph! You look like you haven't slept in a week!"

"I'm so tired. I think I did too much."

"Do you want some coffee?"




"Chicken soup?"

"uh-uh. I just wanna sit down."

"Have you seen a doctor about this?"

"I will tomorrow."

She plops herself on the couch and her eyes immediately slide shut.

"Steph. Come on. I'm gonna have you lay down in bed."

She follows me upstairs and into the bedroom, kicking off her sneaker clogs and rubbing her eyes. She climbs into bed and I pull the covers up to her chin. She looks like she's asleep already.

"Good night." I kiss her forehead. She doesn't answer.

I turn off the light and head silently for the door.

"Sweetie?" she says, weakly.


"Will you please cuddle with me?"

I climb into bed and hug her from behind. She drifts off to sleep, silently and smoothly, the way a hot air balloon sails out of sight.

She snores softly, and then it's just me and my guilt.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Gas bubbles and long division

Wednesday, February 23, 9:30am
Steve's office

"Did you say something to Lila about her and me?"

"Did I have anything to say?"

"Seriously. Did you?"

"I am serious. You should have just told me instead of beating around the bush, Dom."

"What, do I need your permission to have sex now," he asks with a sarcastic smile.

"With her? Yeah, it would have been nice."

His face turns hard. He actually looks angry, for the first time since I've known him.

"I don't work that way," he sneers, through squinted eyes.

"Good. Neither do I."

We stare at each other for a long moment. We both know what I am talking about. Or WHO. We both understand that Dom is not the only person who can fuck somebody else's girl.

"I'll keep that in mind, Steve."

"You DO that."

He storms out.


Friday, February 25th, 8:45pm
Steve's car

I've just fled Tim's place, and I am driving way too fast across the winding roads to my house. But no matter how hard I push the pedal, I can't get away from myself.

I should have left earlier. I should never have gone at all. I knew exactly what she wanted, and instead of avoiding it, I INVITED it.

My ego was bruised. I admit it. I was deeply hurt that Lila did that to me, and that Dom did too. It bothered me very much that both of them were so inconsiderate of me that they were capable of .... fucking.

I wanted to hurt Dom the way he hurt me. I wanted to prove to him that I could take something away from him just like he took something from me. And I wanted to show Lila that she wasn't the only curvaceous, long-haired young hottie on the eastern seaboard.

Stupid? Petty? Juvenile? Beneath me? Yeah, agreed. I never claimed to be perfect, folks. Far from it.

Yes, I knew I was making a mistake. Deep down, I didn't want to fuck her. There was guilt inside me, buried under the semi-digested blob of chicken parmagiana. It floated through the mess like a gas bubble, but it took time.

No, I didn't have sex with Tim. But I came closer than I should have. I thought I was beyond this type of shit. But, like when we were together, Lila is an exception to the rule.

I am reminded of the long division problems I used to do in school. The example at the top of the page was always something simple, like 240 divided by 20, and I'd understand the concept perfectly.

I'd cruise through the first couple of problems without even slowing down. Then, I'd get to the bottom of the page, to that last row of problems, and freeze in my tracks, finding myself face-to-face with 1289 divided by 37, or 2746 divided by 94. Suddenly, I'd realize that I wasn't nearly as good as I thought I was. I wasn't the math prodigy that I felt like a few minutes earlier; I was just a school kid, struggling like all the others in my class.

Cherise from new year's eve? No problem. Marissa from Angelo's restaurant? A joke. I never seriously entertained trying to seduce either one of them. I was the star student, ruining the curve for everyone.

Then I hit that last row of long division problems. Lila.

Just like that, I was Old Steve, womanizing, plotting, scheming, inconsiderate, selfish Steve, and for a moment, every single thing I had learned was completely forgotten. I was shamelessly punching numbers into my calculator, convinced that I would never be good enough to figure out the answers myself.

I somehow stopped myself from going all the way, and for that I am very proud. I am sure that Stephanie would not see things that way, but I'm not going to tell her.

Am I?