My therapist, Gloria, tells me that I bottle everything up inside. I tell her I think that this is a funny way to put it, considering that the bottle was pretty much what drove me to therapy in the first place. Gloria just shakes her blonde head at me and tells me that, in my case, ''drinking is merely a symptom of a much larger problem. It's a maladaptive coping skill.''
I love that word: maladaptive. Trying to adapt but sucking tremendously at it. Story of my life.
Gloria also tells me that I should write, should put down on paper everything that I have kept inside, the things that I only usually unleash after about seven shots of vodka. I told Gloria that I didn't know where the hell to start. She rolled her eyes and told me to stop making excuses and pick a place. ''Therapy is work,'' she says, often, in that gentle yet firm tone that irritates me so. ''You're not doing yourself any favours by slacking off.''
So, here it is. G, I'm doing my work. I hope you're happy. I hope you're prepared.
My friend Dave had a great flash of insight one day, much like those Einstein supposedly had while he was shaving. Or not. I’d ventured into Dave’s office one morning early last March to ask a question about something job-related, mentally bracing myself for a fight that never came. Dave and I had a strange and tumultuous pseudo-friendship/ attraction, and we were both prone to unpredictable Jekyll and Hyde mood swings. I was also madly in love with him, which didn’t help the situation any.
But Dave was in an uncharacteristically good mood that day, possibly the result of Zoloft. He stared at me, puzzling over something. I stared back. And then he had his grand revelation, which amounted to: ‘‘You don’t look like a librarian.’’
No shit. If I had 50 cents for every time some dipshit in a bar said that to me I could retire by the time I was 27. But it was a true assessment; I didn’t look like a librarian. I had wild dark hair. I wore contact lenses, not glasses. I had too many tattoos. That particular day, I was wearing tall, clunky boots, ripped fishnet stockings and a plaid skirt so short that you could probably see my butt cheeks if I bent over a little too far. Not librarian material. I looked like Sid Vicious cross-bred with a Japanese schoolgirl. I sighed.
‘‘I know, Dave,’’ I said. ‘‘I like to throw people off.’’
Though I might not have outwardly resembled one, I always wanted to be a librarian. I never intended to stay in Pittsburgh. I wasn’t originally from the area, I was born near Philadelphia and had lived there most of my life. Not that Philly was so great, believe me, and I had a childhood worth of strange memories that I was trying to escape from. I was going to run away somewhere, and since I had been accepted into the University of Pittsburgh’s graduate program in Information Sciences, I figured that the city was good enough for a jumping off place. Not the final destination of course, just the very first stop. My rough plan was that after I graduated, I would move to Buffalo and try to find a job there. To this day, I have no idea why I decided on Buffalo, but I think it must have had something to do with the Goo Goo Dolls. Somehow I’m sure I figured that if I moved there I would be swept off of my feet by a tattooed Johnny Rzeznik look-alike and live happily ever after.
I never made it to Buffalo. I wound up staying in Pittsburgh, a snap decision made one night in December of 2008. And over and over again I was warned by my professors that this was a bad move: the job market for librarians was not hopeful in the city, not really hopeful anywhere, actually, and we should begin applying for jobs wherever we could possibly get them. I never submitted one application. I didn’t have to.
Fate, for better or worse, seemed to be brewing a strange plan for me, and I was hired by the library where I started as a lowly intern. Indeed, within a period of two years, through a sequence of bizarre events, I would become the Director of that library, though this would not make me nearly as happy as I had imagined. In fact, it would nearly kill me.
Eventually, I would stay because I had begun to believe that I could make a difference, in spite of how much I had grown to truly loathe the place. Initially, however, I stayed because of David.
I still puzzle over this, trying to figure out how exactly it happened. I met Dave soon after I began my internship, but we barely spoke for the first four months that I worked there, we had no real reason to. We worked in separate wings of the building, and I thought he was a bit standoffish. He also looked older to me, during that time period. But perhaps that was because I was looking at him from a distance, it seemed. The closer I would get to him over the next few years, the younger and more beautiful he would become. I did observe him, though, during this early time when little conversation was exchanged between us. He often had to venture downstairs to the library to use the copier, or to pick up some mail. I’d look at him the way someone looks at an exhibit in a museum, or some animal in the zoo, peering in through glass. The glass is what adds the element of safety, of distance. Whether protecting priceless artifacts from our dangerous hands, or protecting us from the savage wild, the glass exists to preserve a balance.
But one night in late December of that year I fell through the glass and in love with him. Staff Christmas parties, I’ve heard, have this affect on some people. At this point in time, I was still a virgin and rarely drank, if you can believe that. David was indirectly responsible for my utter fall from grace, but that came later. The events of that particular night were unexpected. I hadn’t even wanted to go to that stupid party, because I was chronically antisocial and also because I was quite sure that everyone I worked with was certifiably insane, something I had only become more convinced of over time.
Earlier that day, I am sure that far off in the universe, unbeknownst to me, the planets were beginning to align in such a way as to permanently fuck up my destiny. I was standing behind the circulation desk, trying to figure out what the hell was wrong with our databases, when out of the corner of my eye I saw Dave talking to one of the regular patrons, whom I will affectionately refer to as ‘‘Weird Bill.’’
Weird Bill, I think, may have been in the early stages of dementia. Either that or he was just remarkably strange. Bill liked to roam the halls, wandering into the staff lounge and drinking our coffee. He also, for some odd reason, loved to steal scrap paper and had what I like to call a ‘‘man-crush’’ on David. David and Weird Bill were looking at me as I typed away. Dave was saying something softly, and Weird Bill was nodding in agreement. What exactly they were discussing at this moment, I might never know. But I do know that after Bill shambled off to score more scrap paper and free coffee, David made his way over to the desk where I was working and said something like:
‘‘So…um…are you going to this thing tonight?’’
I wondered why in the hell he cared. ‘‘Yeah, I am, I guess.’’ I replied, still typing. ‘‘I got nothing else to do.’’ I had actually just made this decision. Yeah, why not, nothin’ else to do…‘‘You?’’
Dave smiled. He had very nice teeth, they were the best part of that smile, which would quickly become one of my favorite things. ‘‘I am...but I’m gonna have to be a little late. But I’ll be there, so….you don’t have to be worried that you won’t see me.’’ He smiled again, almost awkwardly, and walked away.
David was fashionably late that night, as promised, but he arrived in enough time to get a little silly. The party was held on the upper floor of a local restaurant and bar. The place was dim and full of noisy locals, many of whom I knew. I was a newer employee, and, at 23, also the youngest person in the group. I tried to make polite conversation. I tried to smile, but at that time in my life, for whatever reason, I very rarely smiled. Even complete strangers made a habit of telling me how unhappy I looked.
The night wore on; everyone else gradually left, until David and I were the only two employees left. I should have been gone by then. At that hour I was going to miss the last bus across the bridge for sure. But there were strange forces at play here, and I found myself unable to summon the desire to leave. I was blindsided, drawn to him in an inexplicable and powerful way.
We wound up talking for close to an hour. He drove me home. We kissed. He slid his hand up under my skirt, eagerly, frantically seeking excited places I didn’t even know belonged to me. He whispered lovely, crude, forbidden things in my ear that set my blood afire. It was beautiful, I thought, but we never talked about it ever again. We discussed everything else, from blow-jobs to reincarnation, but we didn’t talk about that night. We put the glass wall back up, but it was never the same. Because that was a dangerous memory now, the memory of touching something almost forbidden, something that should not be interacted with, only observed from a distance.
I felt confused, because my behavior seemed so contradictory with the way I typically acted. At that time in my life, I was cautious with men, with relationships. David should have repelled me, but for some reason he didn’t. And I was not the slightest bit apprehensive; he was familiar to me somehow. I still didn’t know for sure who he really was; I was unable to get a clear read on him. And I would spend the better part of two years trying to figure it out, and subsequently to figure myself out. David changed a lot of things. He changed too many things. And some days I honestly wished I had gone to Buffalo when I had the chance. But who would I be then?