Monday, February 25, 2013

Fail-Safe

     Swatting at the stray strand of hair that insisted upon skimming her right eye's sparse fringe of lashes, she sighed, waiting for the drive-thru barrista to fill her coffee order, a "tall latte with just enough milk to make it tan." Same order, different day. She closed her eyes, melting into the upholstery, bathed by the ribbons of warm October sun that managed to stream through her hopelessly grimy windshield. Her breathing relaxed and slowed itself. The palpable crescendo of blood rhythmically pulsating behind her eardrums triumphed as the tension from another hectic day in the operating room gradually dissipated. She could almost hear her poor, supratentorial-space starved neurons congratulating her.


Haight-Ashbury, October 2007
     She'd been a hot mess for some time now--a contained one, thankfully--emotionally disarrayed, but physically confident. This time next week, she'd be in San Francisco. With him. The American Society of Anesthesiologists accepted the problem-based learning module she'd submitted for publication, scoring her a week of departmentally-funded professional leave, the tail end of which she'd arranged a wine country tour for two. "Here's your coffee, hon," purred the silky-voiced barrista. Careful to avoid the claw-like acrylic nails that were clutching her 40 percent post-consumer recycled paper grail of caffeinated rejuvenation, she pressed a couple of bucks into the woman's waiting palm. Driving home, she wondered why she wasn't more excited about her upcoming trip. Same shit, different day.

     Despite the infidelity, narcissism, and lack of reciprocation, he was safe. Familiar. Predictably disappointing. She'd settled for the kind of less that's incapable of ever being more, a languid déjà vu of unilateral apathy which absolutely crushed any possibility for true affection or spontaneity. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose, n'est-ce pas? Idealism was her Achilles heel. Their reunion after two mostly incommunicado decades was proof that, unlike a reliable Napa Valley vintage, some things are better relegated to the past; they simply don't improve with age.


"Kick-boxer Guy"
     Stepping onto the treadmill, she contemplated the other issue at hand: tonight's blind date. The nature of her long distance relationship warranted keeping an active online dating profile, even though the pickings were disgustingly slim. There was no harm in having a fail-safe, was there? She didn't know anything about the surprisingly handsome guy she was meeting this evening except that he had nice teeth and enjoyed kick-boxing, the Detroit Red Wings, and drinking coffee. After a couple of e-mail exchanges, he suggested they meet for a cup of joe. Java love was something they had in common, safe yet satisfying, a buzz guaranteed to be uncomplicated by regret. Maybe indifference would cure her ambivalence.


     A week ago, she'd had a semi-disastrous first and last date with a physics professor. He seemed so normal online. They'd met at a wine bar, and within the first few minutes of conversation, it was apparent that he was still enamored with his ex-wife. A total yawnfest, indeed. When the check arrived, he searched his wallet, mournfully declaring, "I'm afraid I can't cover my half...I've only got twelve dollars." You've gotta be kidding me! Clearly, he was testing to see if she was one of those grateful 40-something professional women who'd cheerfully foot the bill in exchange for a mercy fuck. Settling for less hadn't made her desperate. Whipping her head around in Exorcist-like fashion to look him squarely in the eye, she countered graciously, "Well, I'm sure you've got a credit card you can use." He hesitated, pulling out one card, then another. If this loser was looking for a sugar mama, he was certainly barking up the wrong tree. Placing his card along with hers inside the check cover, she summoned the waitress, murmuring with the steely-sweet lilt of a Georgia peach, "I think we're done here."


"She Likes Her Dress...But Will He?"
     Forty-five minutes of running left her invigorated, yet relaxed. The kids were at her ex's house this week, so she didn't have to worry about cooking dinner or helping them with homework. Luxuriating in the time she had to cool down before her shower, she studied the art gracing the walls of her living and dining rooms, all of it original, her own work as well as that of her father and an artist friend. Her eyes were drawn to the inscription on a mid-80s ceramic piece made for her by her girlfriend, Elaine: "She Likes Her Dress...But Will He?" How apropos. Somewhere between figuring out what to wear and deciding not to wash her hair, her thoughts returned to San Francisco, the deflated anticipation of next week's trip contrasting sharply with the delicious apprehension of tonight's unknown. Maybe coffee wasn't so safe after all.

Part II: Detour
Part III: Marvelously Fresh, Decidedly Vague
Part IV: From Cupcake Epiphany to The Future Now




   

     

18 comments:

  1. Vivid and compelling as always. Love the paper grail. I laughed out loud because I was lifting mine just as I read that sentence.

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    1. Coffee is serious business...I'd drink it from a bedazzled chalice if it'd fit in my car's cupholder! :-D

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  2. "Maybe indifference would cure her ambivalence" -- Great line! Really enjoying this one. Keep it coming!

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    1. Thanks, Janene. It was fun thinking back to exactly what was running through my head that afternoon...

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  3. Another great story Kris. Just to think that all "that" runs thru a women's head at any given moment gives me the chills. Even when we think we are the safest with what we think we know, we are hit by life which has other plans. Sometimes we need the "same shit different day" shaken up a bit.

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    1. We're (unecessarily) complicated, aren't we? I totally agree about shaking things up.

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  4. Kris, your story is a perfect example of how past experience can prejudice and diminish one's experience of the present.

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    1. Yes, indeed. The rest of the story is a life-changer.

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  5. Kris, I love this glimpse into your past. Such an excellent and very honest piece of writing. Love the photo of you in Haight-Ashbury. My husband and I lived in San Francisco for nine years in the North Beach section of town (near Telegraph Hill), and my husband’s sister lives in Haight-Ashbury.

    "She’d settled for the kind of less that’s incapable of ever being more," so well expressed and I know that all too well. Idealism has often been my Achilles heel too. Going on a blind date, even with a handsome guy with nice teeth and a hard to resist love of Java is still an iffy proposition because you never really know how it will go. I applaud your courage for taking that risk. And I understand the fail-safe too. Re: that previous semi-disastrous date with can’t find my money to cover the check guy, OMG you had me laughing out loud with the "mercy fuck" line! Loved your comeback.

    That’s a beautiful ceramic piece by Elaine, happy and colorful. Going for that coffee with Kick-boxer Guy turned out to be an excellent decision. Spartacus does have a great smile! :)

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    1. Madilyn, I always appreciate how thoughtful your comments are. That trip to SF was magical in SO many ways...maybe I'll finish the story in the weeks to come; it was a life-changing experience. When that picture at Haight-Ashbury was taken, I'd just finished a 10 mile walk with two of my dearest friends, Allen and Bryan. Had to take a taxi back to the hotel! Dating in my 40s was a real roller coaster-ride, but I made sure I was never taken for granted. I love Elaine's ceramic work; I have a couple of her pieces. She presented them to me, saying, "You can serve potato chips in these." That's a true artist for you! RE: Spartacus, yes, coffee proved to be unsafe in the best possible way.

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  6. Haight-Ashbury? Now that conjures up some memories.

    Loved some of those lines Kris-
    - a "tall latte with just enough milk to make it tan."
    - some things are better relegated to the past; they simply don't improve with age.
    - Java love was something they had in common, safe yet satisfying, a buzz guaranteed to be uncomplicated by regret.

    Good plot, & yes, you ladies do lead a hectic life inside those heads of yours. Now men; on the other hand? Not much happening there. Sounds like its a lot easier inside the operating room than outside.

    btw, liked the snaps, & yes, that finish worked.

    Cheers, ic

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    1. Ian, did you spend some time in SF? What a fantastic town! I've held on to my California medical license because I guess I'm still California dreamin'. This piece pretty accurately represented exactly what I was thinking and feeling at the time; yes, I was a hot mess. I think you're right about life being easier inside the OR than outside!

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  7. Once again Helena, I couldn't stop reading, you always seem to have a good way with words and keeping me engrossed. You've had a very interesting life, and I must admit I had a big laugh over the guy who didn't have enough money to pay his way, ha ha ha ha. You should have paid for your half and left him sitting there with the waiter working out the physics of money, ha ha ha ha. Great Post :)
    I'm waiting for some more.

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    1. RPD, I do hope that your recovery is progressing well and that you're feeling better. Can you believe the guy who showed up for a date with $12 in his pocket?! My Steel Magnolia persona definitely came out to play on that date!

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  8. Helena, I was swept off my feet and absolutely loved riding the wave of your narration! It was powerful, even if brief, and packed many tales in short bursts. Wonderful language and symbols; that last line set me thinking!

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    1. Thanks so much for your comment, US. I've very much enjoyed visiting your blog as well; you're a wonderful writer. Glad to have you at BC.

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