The Popliteal Fossa
Some guys say knee pit
What the back of the knee’s called.
[Also, I hate you.]
Which is to say, I don’t hate you at all.
The Popliteal Fossa
Some guys say knee pit
What the back of the knee’s called.
[Also, I hate you.]
Which is to say, I don’t hate you at all.
What did Angie believe? She had been staring at her feet a long while now and she was keenly aware of his eyes on her face, though he remained quiet. Hours had passed within these three minutes, and finally she cleared her throat and answered him.
“What do I believe?”
“That’s what I asked you, yeah.”
She fidgeted with her rings and began to answer his question as best she could. ” Well, I believe in destiny. Fate. A union being written in the stars. Absolutely, I do. That doesn’t mean I believe everything always works out in real life like it does in those Hallmark movies.”
“And I believe you can meet someone and they light you up – instantly and bright as lightning – like something Tesla put together piddling with some spare parts on a rainy afternoon. But I don’t think it happens often or for everyone, and…” her voice trailed off and she looked down at her shoes again.
He sat silently, listening. She couldn’t tell if he understood what she meant but she hoped he had.
“And I didn’t marry mine. I feel guilty saying that. If I found that, I’d marry it. That lightning strike, you know? I would marry again if that happened. Otherwise I’m pretty sure no feet of mine are every jumping that particular broom again.” Angie grinned a little at herself and folded her arms across her chest, still looking down.
He sat quietly at the small dinner table, keenly aware that the humidity coupled with his nervous sweat had caused his elbows to begin to stick to her blue plastic tablecloth, curiously adorned with bright red roosters. He thought it might be the ugliest tablecloth he ever saw. It was uncomfortable too, but not as uncomfortable as the conversation, and not as pressing, either. He could tell she was uncomfortable, too, and he didn’t want to upset her. He wanted to understand everything Angie was saying – not so he could convince her she was wrong – but so he could convince her he was right, and to him, those were two different things.
“I’m not trying to get more information out of you than you’re willing to give me, Kiddo. One more question and I’ll drop it, alright?”
“What happened with the last guy that soured you on the rest of us? I’m not poking fun, I’m curious. I want to know how anyone could dim a light as bright as the one I saw in your eyes all those years ago. If I weren’t looking at you right now, I never would have believed it was possible.”
Angie squirmed in her chair. His words made her feel ashamed, like the slow, methodical draining of light had been her fault. She didn’t remember ever giving any man permission to crush her spirit, they just did it, and afterward she was left to do the best she could with what she had left inside of her. He made it sound like she had a choice. Like she volunteered for the abuse. Hell, maybe she had, in some way, but she still didn’t like to think about it that way.
She cleared her throat again and looked him in the eye, fighting back tears as she started to answer him again.
“I worked really, really hard to be what he liked. I thought that’s what marriage was supposed to be. I contorted myself into the shape of the woman I thought he wanted. I learned to cook his favorite foods, to clean the house like his mother cleaned it, to dress in clothes he liked to see me in. I even…”
She paused. The words were sticky in her throat, threatening to choke her, and she gulped. She was afraid he would leave when she told him, but she figured it was best to keep talking anyway. A half story is not the whole story and the truth was important to her. She hoped it would be important to him, too.
“I even watched the kind of porn he liked. Did things he wanted me to, you know, sexually. It was degrading, and sometimes I cried after, but I never knew that that wasn’t… normal. You gotta understand, there are so many parts of me – of my heart, my personality – that contributed to my need for his approval. I am a people-pleaser, a child of divorce, a Pisces. I want to be wanted and I love to feel loved. So every day I woke up and put on a show, thinking if my performance was good enough, he would want me. Love me. I didn’t realize all the damage I was doing to myself. I didn’t really know my soul was shriveling up until it had just about died.”
“Let me finish, please.”
“It never occurred to me that who I was, was enough. Never crossed my mind to expect a man to worship me, to cry for me, to write songs about my freckles. No man ever delighted in me like that – except for Grandfather. When he died I lost the one person who ever really loved me. I didn’t expect that anyone would ever understand me like he did.”
The memories that flooded her mind made her wince. She looked up at him just for a moment, but when his eyes met hers she quickly looked back down. He was looking at her, still and silent. The tears that had been pooling in her eyes were now thick streams of hot truth, flowing down her cheeks and falling in quiet taps onto that plastic rooster tablecloth. She stared at the salt and pepper shakers sitting on the table between them.
They were shaped like Charlie Brown and Snoopy, and they were her favorite set from her Grandfather’s collection. The yellow of Charlie Brown’s shirt had begun to fade to a dirty brown but in this moment she didn’t care. She was just happy to have something to concentrate on, something to keep her steady as she spoke. That’s Grandfather, she thought to herself. Always keeping me steady.
“Anyway, I just always tried my hardest to be pleasing to other people, especially men who I wanted to stay with me. I did it as a little girl with my Daddy and there I was, all grown up and carrying that longing over into my marriage. I wanted to keep him or I hoped he’d keep me, I don’t know. The trouble is, I was always living my life as someone else. So the man I married loved someone else, not me.
I’ve never actually been with anyone who wanted the me that I actually am. You see?
Then you stroll in here and tell me that you think maybe I’ll never belong to anyone, that I am “ungettable”, and I feel both vindicated and sad. I have always thought that about myself – that men love the vision of me, but not the reality. The fantasy, the pictures, the flirty girl in the bar, the woman who inspires them to write their greatest novel. That’s the me they all want.
The other one, the Angie who cries out in her sleep sometimes, the klutzy one who spills dinner on the floor, who forgets important dates and doesn’t always brush her hair, let alone look put together all the time. That’s a big part of me, too. I’d like to be loved for all those things. It makes me sad to think that no one ever will.
I’ve done it to myself, I know I have. Maybe I don’t take enough responsibility. Maybe I take too much. I wasn’t honest, so the marriage wasn’t good. My fault, right?”
She shrugged her shoulders and raised her head to look at him, his eyes still studying her face. She wondered what he was thinking but lacked the courage to ask him so she waited for him to respond. It was the most raw and honest she’d been in a long time, and it was refreshing. Scary, too, but not for the reason she expected. She thought opening up to him would be scary because it meant telling her secrets, but the scariest part of it was that she felt like he already knew all her secrets. From the day they met Angie felt known by him, she felt seen, understood. Even now, she wondered if his eyes could see inside of her, if he could hear her thoughts – or her heart, which was pounding wildly just behind the flimsy wall of flesh concealing it.
She didn’t like it, being seen. It made her want to run from him.
Part of becoming someone else is that you can protect yourself when the hurt comes, and the hurt always did come. With him, she couldn’t protect herself. That’s the kind of heartbreak people don’t see coming, the kind they don’t recover from. Angie didn’t want that in her life right now, or ever. She had been hurt too deeply by men who didn’t even know her. Now she sat across the table from the one who could guess her favorite books, knew the lyrics to songs she thought she might be the only person in the world to listen to, laughed at her obscure pop culture references.
This man would break her heart into a million pieces if she let him get a hold of it.
So why did she so desperately want to give it to him?
There was this country singer who was popular when I was in middle and high school. His name was Bryan White and his slow, sad songs about lost love were everything my clueless over dramatic teenage heart wanted to listen to. Sure, I didn’t know what he was talking about, but I pretended to. I imagined.
Now, twenty years later with some heartbreak written in my ledger, I do understand. One of his songs is on my mind today. It’s called “I’m Not Supposed to Love You Anymore.” I hate that I know what he’s talking about now, but I’m happy my heart still responds to his voice.
Music expresses what I often can’t.
Not the good kind
Not even Disney
It’s the tablecloth trick
You grip the edges
(I don’t expect a thing)
RIP! the sound
It’s not smooth
The linen follows your fists
Into the air
Dragging with it
It all shatters
On the green tile floor
Three people this month.
Three people took my ideas. Plagiarized. Pilfered. Stole.
Three people who consider themselves upstanding citizens
Who use words like “Never” and “Always”.
If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery,
I am sincerely, offensively, flattered.
What can I do? Is it my fault?
I am continuously moving forward,
Working on boundaries and my own dreams,
Not talking to anyone or sharing anything
Can’t risk it. Everything I give gets taken.
I don’t want to be your muse.
I don’t want to be used anymore.
If I’m ever single again
I think I’ll keep it that way.
Men are either pigs who see
Women as objects
Or they are oblivious,
And see nothing at all.
(Yes, even the ones who
Say nice things.)
My hips move like ocean waves
Pulsing, crashing, gyrating
To some ancient rhythm only I can hear
Smooth, inviting, life-giving and
I could kill you if I wanted to.
My song calls you out into the depths
Curious, enchanted, beguiled.
Wading in my waters and forgetting yourself
Fluid, calming, immense and
Abandon hope, all who enter.
Cling to me, swim away from shore
Dance with me on the ocean floor
I want to drown you
I want to drown you
I want to drown you.
“It’s never been the right time for us, Kiddo. I got tired of waiting for the time to catch up to us. We need to make the time. Right now.”
“But C, I’m… I mean you know I can’t…”
He stepped forward into her personal space and leaned down until his nose was touching hers. He put one palm on the back of her neck and brought it up slowly, his fingers gently scraping her scalp underneath her chestnut curls, and cupped the bottom of her head in his palm as he spoke. His hot breath grazed her open lips.
Angie struggled to pay attention as her senses ran wild. Goosebumps popped up all over her smooth skin and she realized her blood was suddenly pumping forcefully in her ears. Womp, womp. Womp, womp. She wondered if he could hear it too.
Clint stood there with her, holding her, breathing on her for a few minutes. She suspected he was lingering for effect. He always had been a bit dramatic. Finally, he spoke. “Tell me you don’t love me. Tell me you weren’t struck square in the forehead by the weight of a thousand bricks the night we met. You tell me you haven’t been thinking about me all these years. Tell me that and I’ll take you back up to the bar, pay for your drink, and walk away. Angie, it’s ME. It’s me, it’s you, and it’s time.”
exposed rafters. string lights. smell of fried food and whiskey. chatter. dim lighting. warm-up band? or music blasting.
Girls’ Night. It was always on a Thursday, and almost always at the local comedy club. A couple of relative unknowns on the comedy circuit took the stage to entertain a medium-sized crowd of mostly middle-aged men and women who looked down at their steak fries and appletinis more than they looked at the stage. Every now and then a headliner would come through town, someone who had guest starred on a big production back in the 90s and had a semi-familiar face and jokes that didn’t sound like they came from scribbles on the bathroom stall.
Some women might not have fun in this environment, but Angie didn’t mind it – in fact she normally had a pretty good time. Pushing the big 4-0, she saw the value in being able to laugh, even if it was at a mediocre joke about pig sex told by an unknown sweaty guy holding a microphone. It was good for her heart, she thought, to engage in what she called “safe fun” while still getting a reminder what freedom and individuality felt like. Motherhood tends to suck the individuality right out of a woman, whose given name becomes “Mom” and whose uniform becomes grungy sweatpants and unwashed ponytail. Girls Night gave her a reason to dress up, to do her makeup, and to her great delight, spend time with people who did not need her assistance to use the toilet (although they did sometimes ask her to accompany them.)
As she looked down the bar at the women who had met her to see the show tonight, she felt grateful to have girl friends at all. Time was, she thought all women were catty and miserable and jealous of her, and thus could not be trusted. She had been one of those young women who said obnoxious things like, “Oh I can’t be friends with girls. Girls are bitches.”
Her train of thought was abruptly interrupted by what she thought was someone saying her name.
It had been her name all her life. Why now, sitting at this bar she was so familiar with, on a comfortable night out with her friends, had the sound of it paralyzed her?
It wasn’t her name that had her frozen in place. It was that voice.
“Is that you, Kiddo?”
The thick, sweet country baritone dripped out like molasses. Angie unknowingly gripped the edge of the bar with her hands, holding on tightly to avoid falling or fainting. She was staring straight forward now, her eyes examining the dirty mirror behind all the colorful bottles of whisky, rum, and vodka. Trembling, she squinted her eyes and tried to focus on the reflection behind hers. Only one man in the world ever called her Kiddo, and she hadn’t seen him in 20 years. She’d sooner believe the Easter Bunny was standing behind her, yet she had heard that distinctive voice that could only belong to one man.
Taking deep breaths and still leaning on the bar to steady herself, Angie began to pivot her body on the bar stool in order to turn around and face him. She was sweaty now, and the cheap upholstery covering the stool stuck like hot bubble gum to the back of her legs. She kept her right hand on the bar as she spun counter-clockwise, working to command her facial muscles to form a smile on her face.
Now her back was to the bar and Angie found herself face-to-chest with a tall, broad, distinguished looking man. The sight of him transported her back to the year she was 19 years old and hopelessly in love with the singer of a rock band. A better lyricist than Dylan, with more charisma than Springsteen, Clint was destined for greatness. Angie knew it, and she knew everyone around her knew it as well. She was no match for the gorgeous groupies, but she still wished he would notice her.
Angie stood under the stage lights, staring up at him. He didn’t know she existed, sure, but she was starstruck by him.
All these years later, through relationships, breakups, marriage and children, she still thought about him frequently. His influence seeped into her creative projects – she often wrote poems that (she realized only after they were written) were about him – he showed up in her dreams sometimes, too, always as handsome and charming as when they first met.
……and all the hairs on her arms and neck stood at attention. His face beamed, his wide smile revealing his white, toothy grin.
Angie’s mouth was dry and she struggled to choke out the nickname she hadn’t spoken in what felt like centuries.
The man standing in front of her leaned back and let out a roaring laugh, genuine and loud. A few of the patrons turned and stared at Angie and her mysterious visitor, but she didn’t notice. She was eyeing his face, the features she had memorized as a young girl, now aged but still so handsome. She took a deep breath and put a hand on her lower belly in a futile attempt to steady herself before stepping off the sticky bar stool.
“I mean… Clint? Is it really you?”
Even as she stood before him in four-inch platform shoes, the big handsome man still towered over her. His emerald green eyes stared down at her now, the broad smile lingering on his face.
“It’s been a long time since anyone’s called me that,” he said.
“It’s been a long time since anyone’s called me Kiddo,” she said in reply.
Angie waited for him to hug her, but he didn’t. Instead he reached out his hand and grasped hers, turned, and led her through the bar, down the cement steps in the back and out the employee entrance to the courtyard below.
“Where are we going?” she asked him.
“Everywhere,” he said.