September 1, 2003
Today I'll burn his picture
by Sarah Arellano
e always said, Your breasts are so soft, and he only said it while he was sleeping. It was more of a thought, spoken only by accident, while he dreamed.
He might not have been speaking to me. I wondered about that. I always thought there might be other girls and he never told me. We weren't exclusive out loud, just in my head.
He came over every night, though, for a month, even on the nights I was tired and he looked like he'd been drunk since noon. He smoked on the balcony outside my bedroom. This was his rule, not mine. He didn't want to ruin the smell of my bedroom, he said. It was things like this that made me let him in every night, even when I knew he'd been at the strip club all day.
Sometimes I dream about losing the weight. Well, I dream about losing the weight all the time, like a constant obsession. You know those studies they do on teenaged boys, where they find out the kids are thinking about sex every 7.5 seconds? That's how often I think about losing the weight. I think about it so much that I know exactly the way I'd dress and walk and act if I could lose the weight.
The dream I have involving him is slightly different. In that dream, I lose the weight and then get a job at his favorite strip joint. The lights temporarily blind him and then there I am, in some little slip of nothing, just me and the soundtrack and the pole and my long, sexy legs, my thong, my high heels, my perfect soft breasts.
And the other men. The other men are essential. They whistle in my direction. They slip twenties between the silk of my thong and the skin of my hip. I blow them kisses, with my red red mouth, while tossing my hair back and gripping the pole. Then he looks up from his scotch and sees me there, and his eyebrows arch.
He follows me out to my car that night and offers everything. Take me back, take me back, please.
I have never heard him say 'please'.
I quit my job this morning. My therapist would say I had a 'moment of power'. I wonder if anyone else regrets their moments of power.
I have a little in the bank. I saved a lot, just in case, like my father always did. If he gave us three dollars he'd say, "You better save that." So I stuffed the bills into my dresser drawers, inside rolled-up socks or under the carpet where it came loose in the corners. I had a ceramic piggybank, but if I put anything into it my mother took it on her way out to the bar. I learned to put a bit of money into the piggybank and hide the rest around my room.
So after I quit my job this morning, I drove home and let myself into my empty warm apartment and called the bank to see how much I had saved. It was enough for a few months and this surprised me. I felt like calling my father to thank him, for teaching me to save. We don't speak often. Our monthly phone conversations last ten minutes and consist of me convincing him that I change the oil in my Honda.
I amuse myself with how my father would hate him. His laziness, his penchant for strippers, his lack of education. I bite my lip and think about agreeing with my father on something. About having him on my side. I call, hoping mostly for his voice mail, but he picks up.
"Dad. Hey. I was thinking about you this morning."
"Hi there. Aren't you supposed to be at work?"
"I… took a day off. I'm not feeling too well. I've had a rough month." I pause. This has nothing to do with oil. I take a deep breath. "My boyfriend broke up with me. Which is probably a good thing, because he wasn't… he wasn't ambitious. He didn't have a job and he didn't go to school. And then I found out he was always going to strip clubs."
My father clears his throat. "You're taking the day off because your boyfriend broke up with you?"
Shit! "No, no, I have an ear infection, too. A sore throat and a cough." I make a mental note to cough later in the conversation.
"So this guy had no job? How did he live, with his parents? How old was he?"
"No, he didn't live with his parents. He has money he inherited."
"A lot of money?"
"Well, yeah, it seems like it…"
"And you gave him up?"
I grip the phone cord. "But, he… well, first of all, no. I didn't give him up, he just stopped calling. And then when I tried to get his attention one morning he almost ran me over with his car. I was going to sue, but…"
"Well, he didn't exactly break up with you then. I say, get him back! Couldn't hurt to have a guy with a little money." I squeeze a tear out of my right eye. I force a breath out, hard, and it sounds loud in the phone's speakers. "And, I wouldn't feel bad about the strip clubs. He's just being a guy, that's all."
"Oh. I see." I sit down on my bed and flatten one palm into the softness of my down comforter.
"So anyway!" he says, cheerful. "How's the Honda running?"
I roll my eyes. "Fine. I have the oil changed at Jiffy Lube every 3,000 miles." I remember to cough.
"You could do that yourself and save a bundle, you know?"
I watch television until after Oprah. I imagine living that way for months while my savings deplete. Planning my life around People's Court, like Rainman. I call my therapist.
"Hey Josie. I quit my job today. I had a moment of power. Now I need to know how much you are an hour, because my benefits are gone."
"Oh, honey. I'm glad to hear you quit. That place was just sucking out your energy. I'm a hundred an hour."
"You're well enough to go out on your own, kiddo. I'll give you some free advice right now: take a deep breath, take a long walk, and move on. Forget the job and definitely forget that guy. Guys like him only use women, like Kleenex. Believe me, I know. I had to learn about guys the hard way, too."
"Is that why you're a lesbian now?"
"I really can't get into that with you now, but no. My choices were not made out of bitterness, and yours should not be either."
I hang up. I miss the hanging plants and the tropical fish I named in Josie's office. I miss the long lines of afternoon light that came through the horizontal blinds and landed on the deep carpet. I miss paying someone to tell me what to do. I cradle my tissue box and lie down.
My roommate bursts in the door with two of her girlfriends and three bottles of wine. "Happy quitting your job day!" she shrieks, and hugs me. The other girls unload paper shopping bags on the dining room table: Oreos, Chips Ahoy, Ghirardelli, a pumpkin pie, a bottle of vodka, boxes of Jell-O and videos.
"I made the pumpkin pie," announces one.
"Yeah, you can tell. It's all fucking burned!" screeches the other, and they all laugh. I can't help but laugh, too.
"I'll make the Jell-O shots," yells my roommate from the kitchen. "You guys open the wine and start cheering my roommie up." The Oreo package splits open and the corks come popping out. By the time the Jell-O shots are done I'm buzzed from sugar and drunk from wine and giggling hysterically at the pornos they brought.
"Oh my god, not another close-up!" my roommate says, her mouth full of chocolate. "That's disgusting! Fast forward it!"
One of the girls comes out of the kitchen with a tray of Dixie cups full of green Jell-O laced with vodka. The other girl eats the pie straight from the pie plate, her cheek resting on the glass coffee table. I peel away the cup from the shot, carefully, and suck it up. The girls applaud and take cups of their own. The room spins. "Have you ever… have you ever noticed that these…" I wag my finger at the television, "…these guys are never as good looking as the girls? I spend the whole time watching the girls because the guys are so ugly." I cover my mouth and hiccup.
My roommate hiccups. "The guys… the guys don need to be… be hot, they need to be big." She pulls her palms apart, the X-rated version of the fish story. In ten minutes, she's stretched out on the couch, snoring into a throw pillow. The pumpkin pie girl drools onto the glass.
Clutching a crumpled Dixie cup, I stumble through the apartment to my room. My bed looks like it belongs to someone else. It's 3:00 A.M. I fall asleep on the alien bed for five hours. The blinding sun wakes me; my east-facing window never lets me sleep in. I grumble, I change clothes, I wander out into the living room and survey the damage. The beginnings of a hangover form in my temples. I need air.
I drive and drive, aimless, staring at the bright sky from within the greenhouse of my rolled-up Honda windows, thinking coffee. Today I will look for a job, I will get on the Internet and post my resumé, I will burn that guy's picture and move on, move on, move on, but first, coffee. I stop at a bookstore with a coffee bar, a place I used to take him in the mornings before I went to work. We used to kiss goodbye at the front door, then I'd go off to my office and he'd go off to the strip joint. This store, and my bedroom, were the only two places where he seemed to notice I existed.
The line is long. I wander through bookcases instead, waiting for the line to shorten. I pick up a book. Goethe, or something. I sway a little to the jazz music playing softly above my head. It sounds so nice, so easy. I read, "Confronted by outstanding merit, there is no way of saving one's ego except by love."
It's so hard even to stand up. The alcohol, the sugar, the porn, the guilt, Josie, Oprah, my father. I want to lie down right here with my cheek in this book and sleep. I imagine how the grains of the paper would feel against my skin.
I smell coffee; when I look up, he's there, staring at me as if he's too tired to look away, a paper cup of mocha on the bookshelf beside him. His worried brow, matted hair and grass-stained pants tell me more about his night than I want to know. He looks like he hasn't slept or eaten in months.
I take a step and he falls into my chest, his head lowered into my collarbones. I should say something, or he should, but only the jazz plays. His breaths come in sobs that won't turn into tears. A woman sings, and I think, That's nice, how the singer doesn't have to compete with the background music. They used to compliment the piano, the drum. I wish I'd been born early enough to remember that time.
During the horn solo, I allow my hand to hold the back of his head and we move together, a little, to the soft music.
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