Saturday, October 08, 2005

Dear John

She stomped away from the table, pushing through the crowded dance floor. She shoved her way toward the door of the club. She heard Nate calling after her.

“Aw, come on! What? What did I say now?” It was the question of a person who regularly asked such things, who frequently saw angry people walking away from him. She was familiar with it from the past three months She heard it a lot.

She elbowed her way through the tight crowd, interrupting dancers, drinkers, and smokers alike. They were all in her way, that’s all she could see. Her anger and elbows cleared a narrow path of escape. But even over the thunderous music and the yammer of the crowd, she heard Nate’s parting shot.

“What the hell? Is it your time of the month or something? Having a little PMS moment, baby?”

It was so stupid. That should have made it funny, made her laugh at him. But instead it was infuriating.

She held her elbows up in front of her and plowed into the crowd. She was small and slender, so she had to know how to throw out attitude and intimidation. She moved quickly, roughly jostling people, barely looking where she was going, never slowing down. She hated this club anyway. She hated the music, the people, the fact that people used energy drinks as mixers. She hated Nate and his asshole friends. She hated the fact that she wore her leather jacket tonight and that it was a hundred degrees next to the dance floor and thirty degrees outside.

At last she broke free of the throng and made it to the relatively open lobby. She wanted to run outside right away, but she saw the snow coming down outside. The temperature had probably dropped another ten degrees since they had come in a couple of hours ago. She slunk over to the far side of the lobby, backed up against a wall, fished inside the pockets of her jacket for a cigarette. She pulled out a crumpled pack containing two damaged cigarettes. One was torn near the filter, the other was still intact. She put the better one back in the pack for later and tore the filter off the other. She hadn’t smoked filterless cigs since she was eighteen and liked to prove to the senior girls how hardcore she was. She felt that way again now. She felt like hitting someone just to see that scared, surprised look on their face.

An inch-high flame from her Zippo lit the cigarette with a messy, sooty flame. She could smell that she’d singed her bangs a little bit. She took deep drags from the cigarette. At least she did at first. But the unfiltered smoke nearly made her cough explosively, so she took smaller pulls. How hardcore would it be to start choking like she’d never even smoked before?

While she smoked, she glowered at everyone who walked by, at the goth girls drinking straight gin and pretending to like it, at the rocker dude whose sideburns were as wide as a guitar neck, at the bouncer who looked like he was thinking about asking if she was okay. She wasn’t known for her easy laugh or lighthearted nature, but tonight Nate had made her feel almost murderous. She wanted to spit venom at anyone who came near. No one did.

She sighed and looked down at her hands, at the nicotine stains on her fingers, at the little blue elephant-head stamped on her by the club. She saw that she’d stopped shaking. It was weird, because until that point she hadn’t even realized she’d been shaking ever since Nate started in on her. She’d been so mad that she didn’t notice how much madder she was than she realized. She’d had had to walk away from Nate many times. Why was this time different than all the others? Even before she’d started dating him, she knew he could be insensitive, self-centered, often vulgar. He could be sweet when he wanted to—usually when he wanted something—and she’d always thought he was sexy. She used to be excited to be seen with him. Now the attention he got for his looks pissed her off. She’d started to think that a disfiguring scar might do wonders for him.

She looked across the lobby as she took the last few drags off her cigarette. There was Nate, coming right at her. Unprecedented. He had always before been content to let her blow off steam and come back when she calmed down. He didn’t even care if that meant a week later back at his apartment. She figure out early on that he was never going to come after her. Now he had, and he looked angry.

His anger made her forget how mad she was. The look on his face scared her a little bit. She became aware all of a sudden of how much taller and bigger he was than her. It was a difference she couldn’t make up just with attitude.

“Jesus goddamn Christ,” he hissed as he walked up to her. “I’m sick to death of you always running out because you can’t take a fucking joke! What the hell is up with you?”

She just stared at him, wide-eyed. Her breath came very fast.

He threw up his hands in exasperation. “What?” he yelled. “Am I supposed to check in with you every time I want to say something? Are you so goddamn sensitive that I can’t mention anything that has to do with you ever?”

She swallowed as she imagined the satisfying feel of a beer bottle in her hand as it connected with his temple. She almost smiled. “That’s not it, Nate,” she finally said, trying to get the edge back into her voice. “You know, you treat me like shit in front of your friends. You always do that!”

He rolled his eyes. “That’s what you say. All I said back there was that you didn’t seem interested in sex these days.”

She shrank back, shocked. “Nate! If that was … believe it or not, even that’s not something you’re supposed to say! But what you said—” She looked around. Her voice sounded loud to her in the small lobby. She continued more softly, “What you said was that I had cobwebs between my legs. That’s pretty fucking bad.”

“It was supposed to be funny. You don’t have get so pissed. When did you become such a bitch?”

She stared at him and thought for several long seconds about what to say. “I don’t know. Mostly since I met you.” She flicked her cigarette butt at his feet and dodged past him. She fled outside into the snow. He stared after her, but didn’t follow.

It was bitter cold outside, and she had no plan. She impulsively headed off toward the parking lot down at the end of one of the long city blocks. She walked carefully but fast, careful to measure her strides in case she hit some ice. She walked hard, bringing her boots down with excessive force with each step. The streets were nearly empty, and the few people who passed did their best to look like they didn’t notice the angry girl stomping through the snow.

She wanted so much to lash out, but how? She was twenty-two now. She couldn’t pick a fight with someone like she used to. She wished she could try beating Nate senseless, but he had the size and weight advantage on her. She’d tried it before, but never got in more than one good punch before he grabbed her tight and held her in a bear hug until she relented. He always found that funny. The idea of it now made her almost vibrate with rage. Pity she’d never thought to use a tire iron, she thought.

She saw a bottle in her path. Dark brown with a little dusting of snow on top. She too aim and kicked it violently with her boot, breaking it almost in half and sending the pieces clattering against a brick wall. A couple walking nearby hurried around a corner to avoid her. That made her feel good.

She continued down the street, looking for any objects to send flying. Plenty of bottles presented themselves. Brown, green, and clear glass went flying, ricocheting off walls, littering doorways, spraying into the street. She kicked over trash cans, jammed the toe of her boot into the side of a wet cardboard box, punted a full can of half-frozen beer across the street. She wanted to do more. She was consumed by the anger, almost enjoying it. But it didn’t seem to be going away. It was growing.

She turned the corner, heading down the adjacent block toward the parking lot Nate had found. He didn’t like to pay for parking, so he got what he paid for: It was far away, dark, and secluded. It was actually a little more dangerous than she had realized. Fucking Nate. It was his fault she was here. In the dark. In the snow. Pissed off and hurt and alone. He wasn’t the one who felt unsafe, so what did he care? He didn’t mind telling his friends about their sex life. He wasn’t the one who felt stupid just for being younger and not knowing every stupid TV show reference all his friends got. It wasn’t his concern if she didn’t think crude jokes at her expense were hilarious. Somehow in his mind, all that added up to her being a bitch.

She refused to take his shit anymore.

As soon as she found the parking lot, she started looking for Nate’s van. His ridiculous Volkswagen microbus was usually pretty easy to spot, but she couldn’t remember exactly where he’d parked. She wondered if he’d left already. He could have just left! She started feeling panicky. A fresh edge of anger emerged, and she clenched her fists. But then she caught sight of the little van on the far side of the lot and she headed straight toward it.

She checked her jacket pockets, but then remembered that she’d been frisked going into the club. She stopped and bent over, slipping two fingers inside the top of her left boot until she found what she was looking for. Carefully, she pulled out a black-handled switchblade, a Valentine’s Day present from an old boyfriend, and sprung the blade as she advanced.

Her pace remained steady until she got within twenty yards of the van, and then she involuntarily broke into a run. She almost slipped on the snow, but caught herself. The blood pounded in her head. She heard Nate’s question: “When did you become such a bitch?” She advanced quickly and raised the knife.

With all the force she could muster, she plunged the knife down with two hands. It sank easily into the cold rubber of the tire, and she felt a rush of air on her hands from the jagged gash she made. The knife was in tight, and she had to work it back and forth to loosen it. Soon she’d torn a sizable hole in the tire. It was flat and beyond repair. The microbus sagged slightly at one corner.

Breathing hard, she moved to the next tire, the left front, and pushed the knife in slowly. The blade was loose in the handle and it was narrow, not really made for cutting into thick tire walls. But her anger gave her a freakish amount of strength. Again she made as messy a cut as she could, then stepped back to admire how the microbus now leaned to one side. She really hated that goddamn microbus. She grinned as she moved around to the other side of it.

She felt a bit calmer, but she wanted to finish what she’d started. She placed the tip of the knife against the tire and pushed gently, then with increasing force until she had just punctured it. The air seeped out slowly, and while the tire lost its shape, she made several more slits through its surface, enjoying the feel of the thin metal cutting into the tough exterior of rubber and cords. She was sweating profusely, and her hands were feeling numb with cold, but she felt calm enjoyment as she destroyed the tire. She moved then to the last tire.

On the final slash, she took her time, angling in toward the tire’s valve with precision. It was almost surgical. She made light cuts around it, then made slightly deeper ones. She continued in this fashion until the air began to leak out in a steady stream, at which point she cut more deeply until she was able to cut the entire valve away. She tucked the little rubber-covered metal shaft into her hip pocket as a souvenir.

Closing the knife and placing it in her boot again, she stepped back to admire her work. The van now sat on four deflated tires, resting on its rims. The vehicle had sunk a foot lower. It looked lame, maybe dead. She smiled and brushed the snow from her jeans. She felt better already.

She had one other idea. She felt through her pockets until she found what she was looking for. The Zippo sent up a bright flame as she lit her last cigarette. Back to the filters now, so she took a deep and dramatic drag on the cigarette before approaching the van. In broad strokes, she wrote a note in exaggerated, loopy cursive with a tube of black lipstick. The dark, smeared letters contrasted sharply with the dull yellow paint of the microbus. Nate wouldn’t be able to miss her message: “Love, Monica.”