CHAPTER 1.
I lost it in the bathroom. Sitting on the toilet, I started to panic when I noticed the graveyard of empty toilet paper rolls. The brown cylinders had ostensibly been placed vertically to form a half oval on top of the flat shiny surface of the stainless steel toilet paper holder. It was like some sort of miniature-recycled Stonehenge in the women’s bathroom, a monument to the bowel movements of days past. Actually, it was sometime around 2:30 p.m. when my day exited the realm of country song bad and entered the neighboring territory of Aunt Ethel’s annual Christmas letter bad. Last year Aunt Ethel wrote with steady, stalwart sincerity of Uncle Joe’s gout and her one—no, make that two—car accidents, the new sinkhole in their backyard, their impending eviction from the trailer park, and Cousin Serena’s divorce. To be fair, Cousin Serena got divorced every year, so that didn’t really count toward the calamitous computation of yearly catastrophes. I sucked in a breath and reached inside the holder; my hand grasped for tissue and found only another empty roll. Leaning down at a remarkably awkward angle, I tried to peer into the depths of the vessel, hoping for another yet unseen roll higher up and within. Much to my despair the holder was empty. “Shit,” I half whispered, half groaned, and then suddenly laughed at my unanticipated joke. How appropriate given my current predicament. A bitter smile lingered on my lips as I gritted my teeth and the same three words that had been floating through my head all day resurfaced: Worst. Day. Ever. It was, no pun intended, an extremely shitty day. Like all good country songs, it started with a cheatin’ fool. The “cheatee” in the song was obviously none other than me, and the cheater was my longtime boyfriend Jon. Realization of his philandering arrived via an empty condom wrapper tucked in the back pocket of his jeans as I, the dutifully dumb girlfriend, decided to do him a favor by throwing some of his laundry in with mine. I reflected on the resulting debate after the found condom wrapper was smacked to his forehead by my palm. I couldn’t help but think Jon had a good point: Was I upset with him for having cheated on me, or was I disappointed that he was such a dummy as to put the wrapper in his pocket after taking out the condom? I tried to force myself to think about what I’d said earlier that morning.
“I mean, really, who does that, Jon? Who thinks, I’m going to cheat on my girlfriend, but I’ve got too much of a social conscience to leave my condom wrapper on the floor—heaven forbid I litter.” I stared at the blue and white Formica door of my stall, tearing my bottom lip through my teeth, contemplating my options, and trying to decide if staying in the stall for the rest of the day was actually feasible. Hell, at this point, staying in the stall for the rest of my life seemed like a pretty good option, particularly since I didn’t really have anywhere to go. The apartment that Jon and I shared belonged to his parents. I insisted on paying rent, but my paltry $500 contribution plus half of the utilities likely didn’t cover one-sixteenth the cost of the midtown two-bedroom two-bath walk-up. I think part of me always knew he was a cheater; otherwise, he was too good to be true. He appeared to be all the things I always thought I wanted in a man (and still believed I wanted). Smart, funny, sweet, nice to his family, good looking in an adorkable kind of way. We shared nearly identical political views, ideological views, and values; we were even the same religion. He put up with my eccentricities and he even said I was cute, whereas weird was the word I was most used to hearing about myself. He made romantic gestures. He was a wooer in a time when wooing was dead. In college, he wrote me poetry even before we dated. It was good poetry, topical, related to my interests and the current political climate. It gently warmed my heart, but it didn’t make my sensibilities explode; then again, I wasn’t an exploding sensibilities type of girl. One major difference between us, however, was that he came from money—lots and lots of money. This was a thorn in our relationship from the beginning. I carefully measured each expense and dutifully tallied my monthly budget. He bought whatever he wanted whenever he wanted it. As much as I loathed admitting it, I suspected that I owed him a lot. I always wondered if he or his dad, who always wanted me to call him Jeff, but whom I always felt more comfortable calling Mr. Holesome, pulled the strings that landed me an interview for my job. Even after our fight, for it was the closest we’d ever come to a fight, this morning he told me I could stay, that I should stay, that he wanted to work things out. He told me that he wanted to take care of me, that I needed him. I ground my teeth, set my jaw, firmed my resolve. There was no way I was going to stay with him. I didn’t care how smart, funny, or accepting he was. It didn’t matter how certain my head had been that his welcoming surrender to my oddities meant that he was the one; or even how nice it was to be out from under the crushing burden of Chicago rent, thus freeing money to spend on my precious Cubs tickets, comic books, and designer shoes. There was absolutely no way I was staying with him. No way, José. An uncomfortable heat I’d suppressed all day started to rise into my chest, and my throat tightened. The empty toilet paper roll that broke the camel’s back stared at me from the receptacle. I fought the sudden urge to rip it from the holder and exact my revenge by tearing it to shreds. After that, I would turn my attention to the Stonehenge of empties. I could see it now: the building security team called in to extract me from the fifty-second floor ladies’ room, decimated toilet paper cardboard flesh all around me, my panties still around my ankles as I point accusingly at my coworkers and scream, “Next time replace the roll! Replace the roll!” I closed my eyes. Scratch that—my ex-coworkers. The stall door blurred as my eyes filled with tears; at the same time, a shrill laugh tumbled from my lips. I knew I was venturing into unknown, crazy-town territory. As country songs do, the tragedy of the day unfolded in a careful, steady rhythm as I methodically worked my way through a mental checklist of all that had happened: No conditioner leading to crazy, puffy, nest-like hair: Check. Broke heel of new shoes on sewer grate: Check. Train station closed for unscheduled construction: Check. Lost contact after being knocked in the shoulder as crowd hustled out of elevator: Check. Spilled coffee on best, and most favorite, white button-down shirt: Guess I can cross that off my bucket list. And, finally, called into boss’s office and informed that job had been downsized: Double check. This was precisely why I hated dwelling on personal problems; this was precisely why avoidance and circumvention of raw thoughts and feelings was so much safer than the alternative. I hadn’t wallowed—really wholeheartedly wallowed—since my mother’s death, and no boy, job, or series of craptacular events could make me do it now. After all, in the course of life, I could deal with this. Or so I must tell myself.
At first, I tried to blink away the moisture in my eyes; but then I closed them and, for at least the third time that day, I used the coping strategies I learned during my mandatory year of adolescent psychoanalysis. I visualized myself wrapping up the anger and the hurt and the raw, frayed edges of my sanity in a large, colorful beach towel. I then placed the bundle into a box. I locked the box. I placed the box on the top shelf of my imaginary closet. I turned off the light of my closet. I shut the closet door. I was going to remove the emotion from the situation without avoiding reality. After multiple attempts at choking back tears and doing so with a great deal of effort, I finally succeeded in suppressing the threatening despondency, and I opened my eyes. I looked down at myself and pointedly took a survey of my appearance: borrowed pink flip-flops to replace my broken pair of Jimmy Choos; knee-length gray skirt, peppered with stains of coffee; borrowed, too tight, plunging red V-neck to replace my favorite cotton button-down; my raucous, accidental afro. I pushed my old pair of black-rimmed glasses, replacement for the missing contacts, farther up my nose. I felt calmer and more in control despite my questionable fashion non-choices. Now, sitting in the stall, the numbness settling over me like a welcome cool abyss, I knew my toilet paper problem was surmountable. I squared my shoulders with firm resolve. All my other problems, however, would just have to wait. It’s not as if they were going anywhere.

***

Reid, Penny. Neanderthal Seeks Human (Knitting in the City Book 1) (pp. 1-5). Caped Publishing. Kindle Edition.

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