I jogged up and down on the spot trying to keep up momentum. I sighed and let my body go limp, I didn’t have that burst of energy you’re supposed to get running, not today. No endorphins, at all. I slowed to a walk and changed my music to something more calming. I didn’t want to run, I had treated myself to some overpriced leggings and matching sports bras in a bid to give me motivation. Really, I just wanted to be effortlessly thin like Nina. I called her and arranged a catch up.
She wasn’t busy, and I could come over now if I wanted to, which was strange. She was always busy. Good for her to not have a full calendar for the day. Her weekends are usually filled with events and lunches, and shopping for events and lunches.
I power walked over to her house and knocked on, I caught a reflection in a few of the shop windows on the way and couldn’t tell at all if I was getting thinner. One reflection I would think, yeah okay, nice. Another reflection, would be a different story and leave me recoiling. I couldn’t wrap my head around my up and down confidence levels, and it seemed to be more down than up recently. I had recently taken up a resolution to not obsess over the way I look, it was a challenge, self consciousness was something that came naturally to me, the way confidence comes naturally to others.
I jogged up Nina’s steps, admiring the flowers and roses in their neat colourful pots and the deep purple door with the beautiful stained glass.
A real grown up woman’s house. Not a girls flat like mine.
Adorning her neat flowers, I thought of putting some potted plants out on my little balcony, when Nina answered the door.
We sat on the stools of the posh, huge, gleaming white kitchen island as Matt, Nina’s husband, made some coffee in a big cafetiere.
I felt awkward as I nibbled on my biscotti and chatted with Nina. Matts was usually out, I never saw much of him.
I felt his large intimidating presence, even though he was so friendly. I was nervous of what I was saying with him, my normal conversation with Nina felt more pressured with a third ear holding onto what I have to say.
“How are you Jane?” He asked, as if he genuinely wanted to know. I fluttered on the inside a little.
“Ah yeah, getting by. How are you? Where in the world are you off to next?”
“Prague in a few days.” He placed a hand on Nina’s shoulder and kissed the top of her head. God she was lucky. She stiffened up and seemed surprised, they probably didn’t do many public displays of affection, but slipped into affectionate habits at home.
“I get unlimited lying in the bath and whatever I want on tele for a few days.” She smiled. I found it difficult to picture her watching TV, in pyjamas, in the evening like a normal human. I have only ever seen her made up perfectly.
Nina was my boss, my confident, independent and elegant boss. My friend as well. Living in a city could be lonely, and having moved and knowing no one out of school, I found it difficult to make friends.
“And work is no longer stressing me out as much, thanks to some.” She raised her eyebrows at me and I blushed. She had a way of never giving out many complements, so that when you got one it felt like it was very genuine.
I remembered fondly the conversation we had, that felt so long ago now, of moving me off the reception, off the minimum wage and onto a starting salary and more challenging work. The magazine, Appropriate, was an anti slut shaming, anti body shaming women’s magazine and website. It focused on workplace related issues, sex and relationships, fashion, beauty and lifetly all the typical women magazine things, but with a more supportive than a shaming approach.
Then I remembered how happy I was when I started on the front desk. How happy I was to have something full time, and something where I wasn’t on my feet all day. I felt lucky, my qualifications were zero, my options limited to unskilled work. I had drifted through a bitchy call centre job, stacking shelves and waitressing. Before I found a position for an office opening down the road from me. I didn’t think I stood a chance, and my cover letter was probably a bit lengthy and ‘too keen’. When I went for the interview I had a white Primark shirt I had ironed twice and a marks and spencers navy blazer and trousers, I had the tags still on to return when I invervitabley didn’t get the job.
“Why do you think you would excel in the role?” Nina asked in the interview.
“Because I might not be the most experienced, but I will make up for that with reliability. I only need to be shown how to do something the once. I would be so grateful for the opportunity I will want to impress, I will try my hardest.” I was trying the honesty-is-the-best-policy card.
I wanted to stand out from all the well groomed women, that looked older and as if they had husbands to buy them nice clothes.
I was very intimidated, in the waiting room I decided to go in and be myself, rather than use the pre-prepared answers that I practiced in the mirror.
“I don’t have any qualifications, but my references will support my reliability and practical skills.”
“Why don’t you have any qualifications? I can see from your cover letter that you’re very eloquent?” She looked at me expectantly.
“I wasted my education as a child, and didn’t have the opportunity once I left home then. I had to work to support myself and didn’t have much time left over for anything extra curricular. Not that there’s any excuse for not bettering yourself. I really regret it, is what I’m trying to say.”
“I understand. So you’ve supported yourself from the age of..?”
“Sixteen. I’ve been hoping to make an opportunity for myself since then. I can do filing, proofreading, I’m confident on the phone, I’m a fast typer..”
Nina raised her hand, I stopped speaking. The confident aura she had was intimidating, as if her time was too precious for me to chat. She wanted to get to the point.
We went through more customer, phone and IT related questions.
“Listen, Jane. I want to be honest because I appreciate how honest you have been with me. I would be taking a big chance on you. I mean, you seem like a presentable, polite young woman. I don’t see a problem with you fitting in. I just worry about the attention you need for training, seeing as this magazine and website is a start up. Everyone will be new. I cant really afford to take too many chances on people.”
“I won’t be a burden.”
And I wasn’t. She offered me the job a few days later, with a four week probation. I got the call in the box room I rented at the time. I was ecstatic, but very nervous.
I brought myself out of my daydream and back to reality. Matt handed me and Nina a mug.
“Janey, how’s the twenty something dating pool?” Nina asked.
“Shit.” I sighed. “I hate the apps. Men are just so vain now as well.”
“Vain?” Matt asked.
Matt was the most handsome man I had ever seen, but he acted as if he had no clue how good looking he was. He actively ignored women staring and looking him up and down.
“Yeah,” I said, taking a sip. “So I was chatting over whatsapp with what seemed like a nice normal bloke. He seemed fine. I asked if he wanted to go for a coffee. You know what he suggested instead of coffee? The gym. He honestly wanted me to go and sit and talk to him in the gym?”
“What the fuck?” Nina looked shocked.
“Honestly!” I slid my iphone over to Nina, with the bloke in questions profile up. “Look how normal he makes himself seem as well.”
“Why would he want to talk to you while he’s in the gym?” Matt asked.
“So she could watch him while he’s doing weights, he clearly thinks that would do it for her.” Nina laughed.
“Such a turn off.” I rolled my eyes. I felt instantly embarrassed talking about being turned on or off in front of Matt, I could feel my cheeks reddening.
“I don’t understand why a bloke would do that.” Matt had a very posh BBC accent, he was privately educated, like Nina. It seemed strange him using the word ‘bloke’ as if he was trying to come down to my working class level.
“Tight as well,” said Nina. “Doesn’t have to pay for food or drinks that way.”
“We will never get to that point. I told him that’s weird and no thank you. He met me for coffee, straight from the gym. I thought I could give him the benefit of the doubt. I assumed that he would have gone home to shower and change after the gym. He smelled like shit, I was so embarrassed.”
Nina pulled a discussed face and Matt had his eyebrows raised.
“To make it worse, he pulled out a fucking tupplewear box, with chicken in it, in the middle of the coffee shop.”
“Really?” Mass asked, looking horrified.
“Needs the protein after the gym apparently.” I sipped some more coffee. “I didn’t speak to him after that. Then I got a message this morning from him. He’s sorry but I’m not his type. I asked what he meant by that, and he said I’m ‘not sporty enough’ for his taste.” I felt my anger rise again from my rejection.
“Thats a load of shit you’re fat!” Nina was horrified. She seemed off, usually she would take this piss out of me. I could feel Matt’s eyes on me, I tensed up with embarrassment at my lycra leggings and t-shirt. I caught his eye after they ran up my legs, he looked away. Was that judgement? I knew I wasn’t as tall and skinny as Nina.
“Honestly, you’re stunning. Don’t let arseholes knock your confidence. His minds probably all fucked up from steroids anyway.” She emphasised.
“Arsehole!” Matt announced.
“He told me I was curvy as well. I mean, I don’t mind the word curvy. It’s a complement. He didn’t mean it as a compliment though. It sounds a bit crazy, but if you heard him, you would know that it was a insult.”
“You should find someone from your office to set her up with!” Nina suggested, Matt looked hesitant but agreed. I wondered if Nina picked up on the hesitation, and I worried that hesitation was his embarrassment.
We chatted for an hour and I left, conscious of taking too much of their time. I couldn’t help the jealousy surfacing as I walked home, of their perfect life.
I pictured myself in a nice house, with a handsome husband like Matt and a huge diamond ring. It was late now, a dark sunday evening. I thought of the week ahead. Work, one drinks date and not much else. I was getting into a rut of finishing work, coming home sitting on the laptop with a glass of wine. Before turning my brain off with an hour of reality tv that you don’t even have to think about and then bed, to then start it all again.
This week I was going to drink less wine, go for a walk every day with an audiobook and drink loads of water. Small things and small changes. I decided to keep my caffeine addiction, it does help me zone into work.
I spent the evening curled up on the sofa with cups of herbal tea and films hoping that the week ahead would be smooth and productive. I ended up pulling out a bottle of red from the cupboard to curl up with instead.
I was worried that Nina would be unhappy with the articles I did last week. I read through them again, worried my writing was corny or embarrassing.
I ended up not being able to sleep until one in the morning. I kept replaying my coffee afternoon thinking there was something odd about it. I was being paranoid. The next morning I pushed it out of my mind and got ready for work.
We had a makeup artist a few weeks ago that was giving professional women a work practical makeover. The premise was a routine that didn’t take too long. Once the shoot was done, they gave a few of the women in the office makeovers. One makeup artist targeted me. She called me a ‘classic’ and said with my strong bone structure and style I should consider making my make up a bit more ‘fun’. I wasn’t keen but I never say no. She did a full face on me, with black winged eyeliner and red lips. That day I was wearing a velvety blouse, I had just concealer and mascara on before the makeover. I always was insecure about feeling a bit too much, looking like I had too much makeup on. But once she showed me my reflection, I loved it. I was worried when she was putting the foundation on and the lipstick that I would look like I belonged in a nightclub, and not an office. I thought I would have to wipe it all off to walk down the street without being embarrassed. I couldn’t stop looking at myself, she found a way to make my pale skin look as if it had a bit of colour, and my eyes looked bigger. She showed me exactly how to do it. I made it into a morning routine from there and it gave me more confidence.
I did the make up as closely to the directions as I could remember. I dressed in a floral flowing skirt, thick tights and a black jumper and headed off to work with fake it until you make it style confidence.
I got in and sent off my articles to Nina. An hour later I got a thumbs up and called into her office. Nina liked the article I emailed her, she was really nice about it.
“I like it. I have a few changes to make but the bones of it are solid, the workplace romance stories were a really good idea.”
I knew how a small slip could turn into a big fall, if I wrote something below standard, or make a mistake. I would lose confidence and my nervous energy would get the better of me. I always needed to be on the up.
“Although,” Nina began as we sat down in her sleek office with the designer furniture. “I do worry that you get a little, er, ahead of yourself.”
“How do you mean?”
“You’re good, don’t get me wrong. But I think you should spend a bit more time on what you are doing. I want to cut your writing load in half. I don’t want to overwhelm you. I want to keep the quality up. Okay? I want you to write something every day, five hundred plus words. But I want you to read it three times, get someone else to read it and then send it to me.” She smiled. Oh god, was she saying I was shit. That I needed second opinions and more reviewing.
“Of course, I’m sorry if what I’ve done has not been up to scratch.”
“It’s not that , I’m just encouraging constant improvement.”
Her enthusiasm from first inviting me into the office for a chat had worn off. She had dark circles under her eyes and was spacing out a little.
I left feeling strange.
“Oh, Janey.” She called after me. “You look lovely on that top. Really shows off your curves.”
Ouch. I wasn’t sure if that was a dig, she knew I hated being called curvy by that bloke. I only told her about what he said to me yesterday, surely she wouldn’t have forgotten by now. Oh God. She knew, I didn’t hate the word curvy, I hated that he used it as an insult rather than a complement. She must not remember. It must be a complement.
I didn’t let the speed bump in my day of a bit of criticism get to me. A lot of the time I would blow it out of proportion in my own head and replay it over and over. I told myself that it is all subjective and worrying about things won’t actually make them any better. I repeated this mantra to myself whenever I felt the worry coming over me, I got through the next few successful. All I wanted was no drama, just a nice quiet life with a good job. This was the start to all I’ve ever wanted, having stability.
Thursday afternoon Nina sent me an email inviting me to a dinner party next week. How grown up. She can’t have been that disappointed in me.
“Dinner party?” I asked, sticking my head around the office door. “I thought this was your couples thing?”
“Meh, why not mix it up! I’m sick of hearing about marital problems anyway. Be hungry I will have loads of food made.”
That evening I had my date. I went into the local pub. I had on black jeans, black leather jacket, my nude heels and a white t-shirt. I felt confident, I wasn’t even nervous. I was going out with a bloke I met online, older, stable job as a solicitor and child free. Three positives.
I didn’t like ruling out men my own age but theyve just been all fucking disaters, like gym bloke. Normally vain, immature and not looking for anything other than a shag to tell the lads about. Half of the men I met online still live with mummy and daddy. I couldn’t cope with that.
He arrived, he looked older than what he said he was. He looked in his forties, not thirties. Not to be judgemental.
“Hi!” He approached the bar.
“Hi, I’m Janey, obviously! I’m just getting a drin-”
He abruptly hugged me, I gave him a little pat on the back.
“Nice to meet you,” I smiled when he pulled away. Just because I wasn’t touchy feely doesn’t mean other people shouldn’t be. I shouldn’t judge.
“I’m Tom!” He announced, loudly. “What would you like to drink?”
“A pinot grigio, please.”
We collected our drinks and sat down.
“So, Tom. What do you do for work?” I asked, his eyes lit up and I felt suddenly tired and not ready for how enthusiastic he was going to be. I already know he was a solicitor, but I needed to make conversation and I couldn’t think of anything.
“Well,” he started. Before taking a big drink of his pint almost as if he was preparing for a speech. “I’m a solicitor, but I recently quit to change my career path.”
“Oh okay, to do what?”
“I am going to be an actor. I’ve had my headshots done and I’ve been an extra for a well known soap! I woke up one day and decided that life is too short to go to a job that you hate every day, and so I decided to make a change. I know people think I’m crazy, but morgan freeman started acting later on in life.”
I had no idea how to respond.
“Thats, great. Good for you. How do you find the extra work?”
He spent the next ten minutes, or what felt like two hours. Telling me all about the soap actors he met and the advice he got from them. He paused whenever he dropped a name for my reaction, but I didn’t watch soaps so I had no idea what or who he was talking about. I nodded and smiled and faked enthusiasm and ‘oh reallys’. He seemed so passionate. I was trying to gauge if he was a normal bloke with a passion project, or going through an early midlife crisis.
“So what do you do Kate?”
“Oh shit sorry! You look like Kate.” I was sure I didn’t.
“It’s okay I’m terrible with names myself,” I was determined to give him a chance, even though he seemed very self involved.
“So Jane,” he said ‘Jane’ with a mock enthusiasm that made me inwardly cringe. “What do you do for work.”
“I work for a womens publication, I do a bit of writing and admin stuff.”
“Kind of, it’s got a bit of a spin. It’s called Appropriate.”
“Oh god that femanist shite! Talking women into leaving their husbands to be in a miserable gang of sluts. I mean why the fuclk is it called Appropriate when it’s glorifying slags and spinsters. Call me old fashioned, but it sounds like the opposite to me.”
“What?” I was shocked by his outburst.
“My ex wife was listening to the radio thing in the car, and it was as if she was brainwashed! It tipped her over the edge to bin me. All because the women on that programme were slating men!”
That was me, I do the podcast, although it’s mine not the magazines, it’s associated heavily with Appropriate, seeing as I mention it a lot.
“We don’t slate men.”
“Oh really? Because every little thing I did, she had a problem with. I was selfish apparently. Do you believe that?” Well, yes, I did.
“I don’t really know you so..”
“Please tell me you don’t believe in all that feminism crap?”
“You’ll never find a man with an attitude like that.”
“You’ll never get your wife back being as aggressive as that.”
“How am I aggressive?” He shouted, fist around his pint and leaning forward so I could feel his hot breath. The pub was busy and loud, but it went a little quiet as people turned their heads to see what was going on. I was shaking a little.
“I’m sorry, I’m going to leave now.” I got up scooping up my black jacket and bag.
“What a waste,” he said, shaking his head.
“What do you mean?”
“You’re fit, I should have said nothing and got a shag out of you.”
“I would never sleep with you.” I said over my shoulder.
I got in the door and kicked off my shoes. Did that really fucking happen?
I pulled out my phone and turned the voice recorder on and recorded everything exactly as I remembered it. I wanted to remember the specifics to talk or write about for work. I didn’t want to carry on talking about my disastrous life, but I needed something to talk about. I laid on the sofa and fantasised for a minute about not having to come up with things to write, it got exhausting to be the single one with the funny anecdotes. Like Nina, and the other people in the office, had a free ticket to a drama free life, but because I was out living the single life I had to make the most of it. I had to put myself out there and document it all.
I climbed into bed and thought about how lonely I felt.