Mar 24, 2012

Before I Held Your Hand: Part One

"...And I don't know how I survived those days, before I held your hand..."
-Cowboy Junkies, "Anniversary Song"

I once lived in a treehouse.  This is both a metaphor and a true fact.

Okay, it wasn't really a "treehouse", in the technical sense of the term, but it was a third-floor walk up apartment, and I liked it such as I knew how to like things at that time.  There were trees all along one side, probably to shield the apartments from the elementary school just next door.  So looking out nearly all the windows, I saw leaves.  Oh, and squirrels which the neighbors downstairs fed, thereby making them kind of overly social.  To the point that if I left my door open, they would come INTO my apartment.  And there wasn't a screen door.

Well, enough about my apartment, I just want to get across the place I was at.  Bikes hung from the kitchen walls, with a workstand set up in the center of the floor.  Dishes piled up in the sink and laundry piled up in the bedroom.  Magazines piled up in the "living room" area.  I lived a selfish life, and thought I loved it- but I was very much alone.

Meanwhile, I was working at a job that- frankly- I hated.  I was a sort of low-level manager at Borders Books, and dealt with the public on a constant and intimate basis... and hated them for it.  Not because I didn't like helping them find books.  That was fun.  But because I got to see so much of what people could really be like to one another- how entitled people around here can act.

Occasionally, they threw the rabble a bone.  On the night I'm thinking of, they got us to all work on July 4th by promising us a cookout.  What this amounted to was 15 min. off the floor so that you could (attempt to) wolf down a hamburger and some chips while managers talked to you about the work they wanted you to do when you went back inside.  They would count this as your state-mandated 15 min. break, and essentially get you to work while they appeared to be treating you to a picnic, rather than having a real break.

Well, during this farce of a cookout, I saw a new employee sitting by herself.  I don't really know if she really was alone, or if I just didn't pay attention to anyone around her, but she wasn't eating.  Since I knew the food was the only positive in this ridiculous situation, I wondered why she didn't even want that.  So I asked her if she wanted a burger or hot dog.  She was new, so I thought maybe she just didn't want to approach the gaggle of managerial types gathered around the grill.

No, she said, she didn't eat meat.  Oh.

Well, aren't you going to eat_________ or __________, I asked?  I don't remember what I must've offered, because looking back, I'm sure she would've been eating some chips or whatever.

And that was all I thought about it.  I did grill her a bit about what stuff she DID eat.  I was simply curious.  What an odd character.

Well, months later, there was a pervert spotted in our children's dept.  I don't know if he was just hanging around or exposing himself to kids or what.  I didn't pay attention and I really didn't care.  I had work to do in the music dept. which I was sort of in charge of, and the night's manager wanted me to hang out in kids with that new girl.  Fine.  Whatever.  I had planned to go to Kelley's Roast Beef (Guess I had more money then) for dinner, so I told/asked her to come along so we could plan out our strategy.  Looking back, I don't understand this AT ALL.  I don't know how she managed to come along, nor can I think why I would've driven somewhere else to get food rather than just run across the street to the mall.  Guess I was craving a burger.  Anyway, we went to dinner together.

It's possible that I'm combining memories here because there was another moment when I asked the new girl what she was doing for dinner since we'd both clocked out a the same time.  "I'm going wherever you're going" she said.  Unbelievably, this didn't strike me as some kind of a line or come-on.  I simply thought "Oh, ok".  Hey, if she wanted somebody to eat with, I wasn't really all that comfortable with it, but I understood.  So maybe that was the same night.  I don't know.

Fast-forward a few months and she appeared one night with cheesecake that she "couldn't finish" from Uno's.  Would I like it?  Well, sure I would.  Who wouldn't?  Strangely, though- she then ate the cheesecake along with me.  Wait, I thought she didn't want it.  Oh well, free cheesecake.

Somewhere in here, we worked at the front desk together, and I made her a drawing of a stocking full of bloody meat.  Must have been Christmas time.  I don't remember this at all, except that she still keeps that drawing.

Somewhere in there, we started meeting on Fridays to see movies.  I don't know how that happened.  I honestly don't.  But it isn't like I had much else to do in those years.  And she HAD given me some cheesecake.  But soon, we did this every weekend.   Stupid me, though- thought nothing of it.  Honestly.  Although I do remember being afraid to walk her to her car for fear of awkward kissing moments.  So maybe that's not totally true.

It was after a few months of these weekend movies that Jules Means mentioned (I think innocently) that Kathy was speaking at North Shore Community College about being a paralegal.

Now, this deserves an aside.  I hated retail.  In fact, I still do.  I was at Borders for about 6 years, and this was toward the end of those.  I knew very very well that I wasn't there for the job, but couldn't find a way out.  But having come straight from seminary, I was well aware of the fact that I was in a very real way the "pastor" of these people.  That my interactions with individuals was of infinitely more importance than selling books and trinkets.  So I did have a real belief in community.

And having been trained and practiced as a public speaker, I knew what it meant to have friends show up to hear me talk.  So having no immediate plans, I said on the spur-of-the-moment that I'd join her.  Remember, I was friends with Kathy and going to movies on weekends.  Why not show up and show her some support?

Well, you can ask her what happened and why she never actually spoke but in fact spent the night crying in the restroom.  For this tale, suffice to know that we had our first 'relationship defining chat' and that I said a stern "NO".  I liked our friendship the way it was.

My fingers are tired.  Please stand by for Part Two.


  1. I can't wait to hear part two also! I would like to say that I don't think we had hung out much before that Paralegal thing, otherwise I don't think I would have freaked out so much. But the timeline of our early relationship is pretty fuzzy for me:)

  2. We certainly had, or we wouldn't have had that chat. Clearly, we'd gone out (not on DATES, Oh, no)to movies enough that I'd thought about it and wanted to keep it that way. But yes, I agree, the timeline of events grows fuzzier by the day. (But they don't need to know that!)