“Notwithstanding the Climax” – Lee Wilder

After a five-year relationship with a man who mirrored your every desire, the seven-o’clock date you set with Brad from the next cubicle over seems desperate. Nashville’s drunken hollers of bachelorettes and waspy plights of emotionally stunted singer-songwriters seep past Broadway, trickling their way towards you as you light a second joint in the parking garage off Church Street. You greet this commotion as a foreshadowing of your imminent demise. Consider that perhaps you’re just high.

Entering the restaurant, a glimmer of hope crosses your mind. It’s time, you think. You met Brad when you were three years into your relationship. In his late twenties, Brad suffered from a strong brow and a weak chin. Being half-Jewish and half-Turkish without the complications of a religious affiliation, your European ass thought it might be love. Recognize that you have low standards early on, it’s easier that way.

“So, Sky, tell me, where do you see yourself in five years?” Brad begins to interrogate you as he swishes and sniffs at his glass of Chardonnay. Silently hope he chokes.

“Where do I see myself?” you repeat, half-expecting for Brad to realize he sounds like your middle school therapist.

Brad nods before spitting his wine back into its glass. Seizing your waiter’s arm for the third time, he questions if his lamb chop will come out medium-rare as the last time he dined with them it had certainly not.“Burnt to a crisp,” he cries out.

You were a server for three years in college. Fantasize about burning Brad to a crisp. Brad orders another Chardonnay– “One that doesn’t taste like the Sahara going down,” he says, chuckling at his own joke.

Excuse yourself to the bathroom. Know he probably prefers the term, “ladies’ room.” You reach the side exit and navigate around to the staff entrance. Slump to the cement sidewalk as your back grates against the brick exterior, reminding you what it’s like to feel something for once. Pull out a vaporizer from your purse, freshly packed, and take three hits of whatever strain your junior-year dealer just sold you. Laugh at the thought of how long you’re taking, and how Brad is probably horrified at the thought of you excusing yourself to take a shit on your first date. A cute waiter saunters outside and asks you for a light. Wish you were a smoker and offer him some of your weed instead. He takes a hit. He has green eyes and a five-o’clock shadow. Feel overwhelmed with the tantalizing prospect of leaving Brad alone at the table with his overcooked lamb and dry wine while you shag the cute waiter in his car.

Decide being whorish is better than being lonely.

Exchange names and numbers. After that’s over, say, “Nice meeting you,” and bite your lower lip for effect.

“Sky,” the waiter says, letting out a small exhale, “Has anyone ever told you that you kind of have a sexy Steve Jobs thing going on?”

Look down at your black turtleneck. Adjusting your glasses, return inside and toss the waiter’s number in the trash. You seriously doubt your ability to live up to Steve Jobs in bed. Walking over, you see that Brad has sent his lamb back.

You’re lying there with your head propped up on three pillows as you wipe at the dried mascara speckled underneath your lash line. Feel as if you’re wasting away. Sprawl the abrasive blanket your dead grandmother knitted for communion across your lap. Flick your toes together and then apart to lessen the sweat between them, while your shoulders shrink from the morning frost leaking in through the threadbare walls.

Relax your jaw. Say, “I’m going to be an artist.” Let these words comfort you, relieve you of the panic you felt last night while you dread returning to work in twenty-one hours. Flip onto your stomach and shove your face into the pillows. Wish you’d never accepted Brad’s offer, that you’d said you had the flu or preferred the labia majora.

Mutter, “I’m never going to be an artist,” into your pillows. Lift yourself up. Braless and pantless, throw on a faux fur coat before shuffling over to the sink. Wash your face and comb your hair. It’s too tangled for your comb to get through. Put it up in a bun.

Say hello to your cat. He ignores you. Feed him and fill his water anyway. Flip the ON switch on your Mr. Coffee. Throw open the refrigerator door too hard, hitting the wall, knocking your mason jar of charcoal and brushes onto the floor. Glare at the glass shards and scattered brushes. Think they’re mocking you. The brushes are brittle and unkempt, without having water or paint on them in eight months. Your cat mews and prances towards the glass. Cart him away and fetch a broom. Kneel down and sweep at the shards. Strands of your hair free themselves from the elastic, and you glance into the floor-length mirror crookedly hanging from the wall. Observe a gray hair as it flickers in and out of your focus, the sunlight penetrating through the wavering blinds. Understand you are your seven-year-old self’s worst nightmare. Decide at twenty-two you are Cruella de Vil.

Your phone violently buzzes on the kitchen counter. Hurriedly sweep up the remaining glass and dispose of it. Your phone shatters on the floor to the left of the strewn brushes.

Exclaim shit, shit, shit, shit. It’s your mother.

“Are you okay?” she asks.

“Define ‘okay.’”

She tells you that she’s worried about you, that you look “sick and too pale” in your latest profile picture on Facebook.

Say, “It’s February.”

“Well, you need to eat something,” she says.

Ask if eating something will remedy your paleness.

She queries if you’ve been seeing any men.

 Lie and say no. The date with Brad is still too fresh of a memory to be amusing.

She asks if you’ve gone from being bisexual to a lesbian now. She says, “I’m sixty-two. I don’t know how these things work.” Inform her that you have a migraine and need to go. She ignores you and inquires how your painting is going.

Swipe your badge so the tiny arm lifts, and park your car in your designated parking garage. You make fifteen dollars an hour, so your designated parking garage is the economy lot. Spend your mornings envying the bastards who are on salary and park in the 401k parking garage. Hate that at twenty-two your goals revolve around which parking garage you get to park in.

Exit your car and take a swig from your SimplyInsurancethermos. The cap isn’t screwed on, so your organic blonde roast with almond milk hurls itself against your sheer blouse. Bellow profanities across the economy parking garage. The other hourly employees regard you with fear and confusion as they hurry out of their cars and huddle into the elevator past its maximum capacity.

Despite the awkward date, Brad seems unaffected by it at work. He smiles when you come in and brings you a coffee after you recount the thermos nightmare. Worry you’re always demanding on first dates, how you’ve been told you expect too much. Brad isn’t an entirely dreadful man. Let it register that he can see through your shirt.

“Did you do anything fun this weekend?” your co-worker Janis asks you, leaning over the walls of your cubicle, infecting your area with the vacant smell of children and RedBull. Fake it, just like you do every day. Notify Janis that you had a great weekend and offer no specific details. She adores your vague and positive response. She says she’d love to see one of your “art things sometime.

Hear the words, “Sure thing,” escape your mouth, and bury yourself in short-term disability claims.

Someone else microwaves and consumes your six-dollar organic pesto tortellini lunch. Remember that episode from Friends where Ross’ boss eats his turkey sandwich. Think of having a mental breakdown like Ross– the pros being that you would get a paid leave-of-absence and a Valium, the cons being that no one wants to be a Ross. Venture down to the cafeteria and pay ten dollars for a protein bar and some almonds.

It’s one fifty-three, and your boss Megan, “without an ‘h,’” mentions to you that it’s fine to make mistakes, but mistakes must be remedied in a timely manner. Megan remarks that you should really smile more. Suspect that bitch of microwaving your pesto tortellini.

Arrive home and hug your cat. He purrs. Think at least someone missed you.

Pour two shots of gin and slump on the sofa your ex purchased four years into the relationship. Think about how you tried to return it, the same way you struggled to return all of the things you’d bought together a month after he ended things. Leave your drink on the floor untouched since you returned the coffee table seven months ago. Wander around your two-bedroom apartment. The Christmas lights you strung around the living room together in the second year hang motionless. Their shadows never change, the spiral pattern you centered on the main wall now reads as childish, or perhaps just stale. Old canvases your figure painting professor determined held, “little room for potential,” lay stacked against the corner.

Contemplate calling him. Don’t think of how long it’s been since the last time you talked to him, let alone since the last time you guys had sex. Call someone else. You need moral support. Try your sister. Voicemail. Say, “What about Brad?” Don’t allow yourself such liberties.

Pick up your gin and muster a swig. Your cat hops onto the sofa and stretches beside you. He kneads biscuits on your thighs, purring complacently, unaware of what a troubled life you lead. Think of your neighbor, Claire. Think, maybe I’ll have more luck with a woman. But, Claire doesn’t know your name, and you’ve only seen men exit Claire’s door. Assess the fact that you’ve never even been with a woman. Some bisexual you are.

Try to read a book. It’s a mystery novel. You’re not in the mood for mysteries. Decide that if Barnes and Noble isn’t bankrupted by the weekend, you’ll go browse their Self-Help section– consider crying at the thought.

Your phone vibrates.

Forty-five minutes later, Brad arrives at your door, wearing a fitted cashmere sweater and Doc Martens. You let him in anyway. He removes a copy of Infinite Jest from his satchel and places it next to him. This strikes you as odd. Wonder whether Brad thinks you invited him over for book club, or if reading David Foster Wallace aloud is simply his idea of foreplay. He notices your paintings in the corner and rattles off the Wiki entry for Ignacio Zuloaga, about how he was a true Spanish painter unlike the “silly little pieces” from Picasso or Dali.

Regret every decision that led you to this point. Realize that kissing Brad may be the only option to get him to shut the fuck up.

The sex isn’t bad, but good wouldn’t be the proper word to describe it. Realize after he finishes that he’s going to bring this up at the office tomorrow, that he has probably already told your coworkers about the date, how now you’re going to be referred to as the SimplyInsurance slut, or worse, as Brad’s girlfriend. Revel in your masochistic tendencies. Perhaps, they will build up your character. In the name of artistic suffering, you allow Brad to stay another hour so you can have sex again.

Brad leaves at eleven-thirty. He gives you a smoldering kiss at the door, then says, “God, I just want to eat you alive.”

Lock your door and fasten the deadbolt. Bask in the scalding heat of a forty-minute shower. Scrub the Brad off of you. Ignore that there’s a drought in Tennessee right now. You didn’t finish either time, but you’re too exhausted to use your vibrator.

Consider calling your ex. Know it’s too late.

Make eye contact with the box on the bookshelf. The “Box of Memories,” he’d deemed it. It was a cigar box that you’d given him on your fourth Christmas together after he was hospitalized for a stroke, when you decided to drop out of art school. You typed out all of the tragic and coincidental moments you shared together, placing the slips of paper and a Bukowski poem into the cigar box.

Remember how he pretended not to hear you when you asked the first time if he wanted to take it with him when he moved out, about how when you asked him the second time, he turned towards you with the stature of a man you couldn’t recall having ever met.

Turn off the lights. Lay in bed. Flip from one side to the other, hoping to perish in your sleep. Wake up disappointed. Get out of bed; turn on the lights. Remove the box off the shelf and rifle through each one: The homeless woman in Haight-Ashbury who accused you of being a Confederate soldier. When you ran into the freezer door, and I thought you were dead. That time we didn’t think the cocaine was enough …

Carefully place each memory back in the box as the last remains of hope leftover from your adolescence disintegrate. Think about the high school guidance counselor who left you with the false promise that you could be anything you wanted to be.