I didn’t want to go out that night. It was the first Saturday night in the history of my semi-adult life that I think I’ve ever tried to turn down a party. It was going to be a long drive. The people were my ex-coworkers whom I hadn’t liked when I was paid to be around them, and I had a fresh bottle of cheap white wine chilling in my fridge. I gave my friend Alexis, the only other bartender I’d kept in touch with, my string of excuses, but she persisted.
“Please, you don’t have to stay long. Just come. I have someone who’s dying to meet you.”
“He’s really nice, and cute and tall.”
“Come on!” For some reason, Alexis is insistent on trying to set me up with every man she knows. I’m equally insistent that every man she knows is a creep.
“I’ll come, but no men,” I eventually compromised.
When I finally showed up, Alexis still wasn’t there, and I realized I didn’t know most of the people. I got a drink from the bar and stood in the corner trying to avoid eye contact and praying she’d come soon.
“So, how have you been?” I turned to see my ex-coworker Rena standing next to me.
“Good, really good.” I nodded and offered a tense smile. I never know what to say when people ask me this. I can’t tell the truth. How would they react to ‘Well, I’ve actually been severely depressed lately. I just bought a plane ticket to go home for the first time in three years and I’m dreading it. I hate my job. I live in a shitty neighborhood. I’m incapable of any sort of functional relationship, apparently including friendship. Oh, and my bangs are obviously crooked. What’s up with you?’
“Good,” I lied. “You?”
She just ignored me and jumps into her next question. “Still live in Hollywood?”
“Still seeing that guy, what was his name?”
“James. No, we actually haven’t been dating for quite a while now. Are you still with Derek?”
“Yes. So things didn’t work out with you two, huh?” and with this she latches on.
“I’m not surprised. He didn’t really seem into you.” I visibly cringe, but she continues. “Was it because of your jealousy?” I scan my brain trying to think if Rena has ever met James. She hasn’t. In fact, all she knows about him is that the last time I saw her was at a painful girls’ night out Alexis had organized where I’d drunkenly confessed to getting jealous because a girl, who claimed to be a model in her Facebook profile had left him a comment encouraging him to expand his spiritual horizons. I had sworn it was a euphemism for seducing him. “She wants to expand something else!” I’d drunkenly slurred.
“Do you still talk to him?”
“Yeah, of course. We’re really good friends.”
“Oh, but you’re not over him. I can tell by your face.” I wondered what I ever did to deserve this interrogation. She’s like my mother reincarnated with blonde hair and a size two frame.
“I am.” I lied defiantly.
“Well, have you dated anyone since?”
“I went out on a date.” Technically it was true. I went out for coffee with a guy under the guise of friendship and he asked me to tell him all of my faults within the first 10 minutes because “people should be upfront on first dates.” I just gave him my top five, thinking no one really has time to hear them all and then asked what his were. With a disgusted face he said, “I’m too passionate about life.” I never saw him again.
“And…” she prodded.
“He asked me if I thought my boobs would still be big if I lost some weight.” I laughed, remembering how I’d just stammered. ‘I don’t know. Maybe. I mean, the women on my Dad’s side of the family are all really busty.’
“Shanna, Shanna, Shanna,” she shook her head. “Let me give you a little advice. I cringed. People have been giving me “a little advice” for as long as I can remember. From “Losing ten pounds would make such a difference on you!” to “If you smiled less, it might mean more,” I’ve come to dread anyone’s advice. But out of politeness, I just waited silently for her to continue.
“Forget the golden rule.” She paused to make sure I was taking her in fully before continuing with her words of wisdom. “People don’t treat you the way they want to be treated, they treat you the way you let them. He said that to you because you let him.” I nodded and sipped my whiskey sour, pushing the straw between my front teeth and sucking the bittersweet nectar in. I should have asked for a double.
“You do not deserve to be treated like that,” she said encouragingly. “You know how some women are just so beautiful people can’t take their eyes off of them? They walk through a room and everyone watches?”
“Uh, yeah.” I just nod. I have no idea what’s coming.
“Well, you’re not that woman.” I nod again in reply and pull a tight smile. I don’t need anyone to tell me I’m not that woman. I’ve known I wasn’t that woman and would never be since I was 12. “The thing about you Shanna,” she continued unaware that I was clenching my jaw, “is that you’re cute. You’re not beautiful, but you’re cute, and that’s a good start. Plus you’re a nice person, and you’re pretty funny, so it doesn’t matter that you’re not gorgeous. Looks fade, but you’ll always be a good person.” A good person who’s about to break your nose, I thought to myself.
“What are you guys talking about?” Aaron, another one of my old co-workers whom I’ve never actually spoken to, approached us.
“Oh, nothing,” I covered before Rena could blab about my lacking appearance.
“Just Shanna’s men problems,” she smiled.
“Your boyfriend?” he asked me.
“She wishes,” Rena answered with a giggle. I pulled another tight smile and looked around frantically for Alexis.
“Not really a problem. Just my friend and…” I just trailed off. I don’t have to tell this guy about him.
“You like him?” he asked softly and with understanding. I nodded. “You ever tell him how you feel?” I felt the heat rising to my face in memory. I nodded again.
“But he doesn’t want to be with you,” he nodded back in acknowledgement. “Not attracted to you?”
“Sure,” I agreed. And about a thousand other reasons.
He looked me up and down pointedly. “Yeah, I can see that,” he finally said. I made a Charlie Brown smile — no lips because I’m biting both of them, showing only an upturned line.
“So, how about you?” I asked, happy to finally turn the conversation away from me. “Do you have a girlfriend?”
“Just broke up,” he smiled broadly. “The woman was too jealous for her own good. It’s the worst thing a woman can do. Be holding on to her man too tightly like that.”
“Shanna’s very jealous.” Rena volunteered. That’s why she’s single.”
I should have said, ‘I’m single because I don’t want to date some moron who’s working up to be an assistant manager at Target, and by the way did Derek ever get promoted?’ but I just spat out “I’m getting better about it.”
“You’d better,” he advised, studying my face again. “Some women, they can get away with that shit. If they’re gorgeous, you put up with it because you know you’re not gonna get anyone better. But you,” he motioned toward me with his bottle of Bud Light. “You’re not hot enough to be pulling that on some guy.”
I couldn’t make eye contact. If I did, I would physically harm him. I fantasized about a double round house kick to both their faces or just tearing out his jugular with my bare teeth and breaking her nose with a jab. My sick fantasy brought a slight smile to my face. “I’m sorry, but it’s true.” He said thinking I was reacting to his comments.
“Sure, sure.” I nodded. Still no sign of Alexis. Why do I do this? Why do I just stand there and let people insult me. I think about all of the dates I should have walked out on. I think about all of the unsolicited advice I’ve been given over the years, the many suggestions of how I could better myself. Then I think about Rena’s advice.
“You know what,” I put my coat on. “I gotta go.”
“But you just got here?” Rena said.
“Yeah, but this isn’t how I want to be treated.”
They looked at me and then at each other blankly as I walked out the door with my head held high. I felt good. I felt confident for standing up for myself. I was feeling so good that I obliviously walked straight into a tall man coming through the door. If this was a rom com, I would have looked up into his kind, deep set brown eyes, and he would have apologized for bumping into me and offered to buy me a whiskey and some jojo potatoes (it’s my fantasy). Then, meet-cute style he would have turned out to be Alexis’s set up. But since this is not a rom com, I looked up past the fat neck into the pocked face hiding under a Raiders cap, and he just snapped at me, “Watch it bitch!”