On second thought


“So wrapped up were they in the minutiae of whether she was his ‘type’ that she failed to realize that he had ceased to be hers.”

Sometimes things seem resolved, she thinks to herself standing in the tram, keeping her balance while rounding a corner, but they keep turning around and around until they no longer are. That is, resolved or sensible. It’s so easy to ignore all the underlying debris, just being glad for the semblance of resolution. It doesn’t matter that what’s left isn’t what is wanted – or needed.

The tram stops. The bustle of the busiest stop in a not-terribly-busy city causes her to shift her place. Without realizing, her place is shifting all the time. A place standing in the rickety, ambling tram as much as a place in the lives of others. The pseudo-aunt to friends’ children; the daughter, the sister, the sister-in-law with all the connections; the invitations to all the events she never attends; the go-to, last-minute, “she’ll save this project from the fire” person when chaos ensues. It is no wonder, she thinks, leaning against the railing, that it always ends up being this way: what someone else wants and me trying to comply. I can’t fucking say no.

She keeps wanting nothing; she wonders, Is that lack of want the problem? Does it not imply that I’d cling by the fingernails, with a mix of fight, fortitude and relief, to something just to triumph, to say I fixed it, to hold fast to belief in illusions? To believe I’d seen a project, an opportunity, a clear path, a spark, an idea, a personality, an intellect, a humor, a humanity, a problem-solution axiom, an openness, a compassion, a depth, a cure, a caring, a kindred spirit, a team, a folk song, a story, a beauty, when in fact all were proven incomplete or figments of my imagination?

The tram winds its way to the other end of town, the outskirts, one of the places she never wants to go. She promised more than a year ago that she’d never go again, but here she is. Jumping off, heading toward this place she’d eagerly departed, everything feels like a soft ultimatum. Ending up here, with hand-wringing automatons or a pit of vipers, depending, still fighting against the long-irrelevant tune of the eternal freelancer: feast or famine. She feels like merchandise on a shelf, with a set of traits that can be picked and chosen, handled, and cast aside when it’s not quite right or when the novelty’s gone. A mute toy, still silently filled with the weird internal exclamation of elation, I’m a toy that was picked up and played with! Thankful, grateful, lucky, relieved for a split second, thinking she has a chance to show that she is worthwhile, and is in fact capable of doing anything.

But, goddamn: Just say no.

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