Miss Lonlihearts

Red HeartI had only been in DC for about two weeks. Everything was new, fresh, and magic. There’s something about a new place and new people that makes everything feel like an adventure. Even the boring stuff, like getting a cup of coffee at your local coffee shop or getting your groceries. I was even excited about the public transportation. I’m a country girl. It can’t be helped. I was so content and nervous sitting on the bus. Happy to have a seat, grateful for this opportunity to live and begin. I was smiling like a fool.

This was odd for the DC commuter. Most of us sit pawing through our smartphones starting the work day early, checking email, or reading the news. Anything to get the edge to win the day. It’s complete silence except for the gears of the bus. People either not fully awake staring into their phone wishing it was a cup of coffee or thumb typing like a teenage pro, having started their day hours earlier with a run.

Everyone was all crisp and polished, ready to take on the world. It was summer so many men were decked out in their seersucker finest. Matching the pale blue pinstripes with pink or mint, and always with a bow tie. Women were dressed to match in pastel colored dresses, their jackets thrown casually over the edge of their purses awaiting the cool of their AC at the office. In honor of the summer, most women had their hair pulled up into a high power ponytail or crisply pulled to the side in a bun or tumble of curls. Any woman brave enough to wear their hair down had an elastic on their wrist, revealing the truth to come later that day. It was amazing to see, every person dressed similar to the other, but still completely their own individual. I smiled, completely satisfied with my choice to move to Washington D.C.

The bus came to a stop, and a woman hopped on. She could only be described as a hot mess. She was a complete contrast to the order of the bus. Her hair was slung back into one of the sloppiest ponytails I’d ever seen. That’s saying something, given my history of attending college classes with that girl. (You know the one I’m talking about, don’t pretend like you don’t.) Hugging her belongings to herself, she was sandwiching her stilettos between her chest and briefcase. Her heels kept falling out of her arms revealing that she’d misbuttoned her shirt severely. It also looked a little big on her too, like she’d recently lost some weight but hadn’t updated her wardrobe to match. She was completely breathless and panicked that her Smartrip card didn’t have enough funds on it for the commute.

The bus driver was kind enough to gesture for her not to worry about it and to find a place amongst the rest of us travelers. That was when she made eye contact with me. Honestly, it was my fault. If I had been doing what I should have been doing; which was getting my work day off to the perfect start on my technology, it wouldn’t have happened. Yet, part of me is so glad that it did. Why? Because we all need that someone, sometimes.

She sat down next to me, she was still breathing hard and took a few gulps of air before turning to look at me. I glanced back, smiling weakly.

–I’m sorry. I know. I’m. It. Just. Happened. You know?

I nodded. I did know. I’m never on time to anything, even when I try to be. It’s a problem.

–I just. Didn’t know. I mean.

She paused as I frowned. I had lost her train of thought. She looked out the bus window for a moment, then down at herself.

–Shit___Shit. Shit. Shit.

–What’s wrong?

She sighed.

–This isn’t mine. It’s his. I must have grabbed it without thinking. I mean, who would own a lavender colored shirt, right?

I looked around the bus spotting at least three other men in a similar shade. Clearly she hadn’t noticed how popular it was. She had already started to roll up the sleeves, and was examining the lack of buttoning skills.

–He was a really great guy. So good, I was a fool to think that he was so good. I just. I just couldn’t help it. He was right there for the taking. And. It was great. It was so great.

She put her hand over her mouth trying to hold it together. She swallowed back her emotion, and started to tuck the shirt into her pencil skirt.

–We finally spent the night as his place. We’d always been at mine, and he knew it was bothering me. And it made me happy he was thoughtful enough to notice. But. She came home. She came home and I had to run. I had to get out of there. I can’t believe. I can’t believe he would do that. How could he do that to me? Do I look like a side dish to you? What the hell is wrong with me, that I can’t find a decent man in this city?

She looked at me earnestly with those watery eyes. I took a deep breath.

–You look like you could use a strong cup of coffee to me.

She burst into laughter. Everyone glanced at us before looking back to their email. We were behaving like summer interns, not working hard enough to stay long-term. Leaning back into her seat, she relaxed.

–There’s always a catch, right? He was so good, of course he’d already be taken.

She sighed, closing her eyes.

I completely disagreed with her. I didn’t get how she could be so complacent about it. I mean, it’s not like throwing a temper tantrum would help; but grouping that bastard in with the rest of the men in the world wasn’t right either. I’m sure everyone knows wonderful, upstanding gentlemen who honor their commitments.

–He wasn’t good at all. He disrespected everyone including himself.

She snorted in dissent, rolling her eyes at me.

–That’s just how they are. It’s just the way it is.

I frowned.

–I think that a good man will come along once you love yourself enough to let yourself be with that good man.

Her bottom lip started trembling. I panicked. This is what happens when I start talking to strangers when I haven’t had enough caffeine to know better. I say things that are completely unneeded. Words that are invasive and make assumptions about people, that I shouldn’t be assuming about.

–When do you think that will be?

–Hhhm?

I was too busy mentally chastising myself to hear her.

–When do you think that will be?

She smiled weakly. I smiled back.

–When you’re ready.

Burnt

Red HeartShe was speaking very loudly on the bus, inviting everyone to listen in. You could tell she had one too many drinks based on how the balanced on her toes while grasping the supporting hand strap.

–And then. And then. You will never believe what she told me. It was amazing. No, well. Not really amazing. It was horrifying. It was shocking. It was awful. It was amazing she didn’t think it was that way.

She paused listening into the receiver of her phone.

–No really. She was going on about how she couldn’t do it anymore. She couldn’t figure out how to get ahead. Said it wasn’t easy. And I told her…. mmmm, yeah. I know. Exactly! I told her of course it wasn’t easy. What was she expecting? Yes. Yes! Well. I guess she must trust me more than I realized, because you know what she said after that? Well, no. No, Mom. I know you like to think I’m trustworthy, but this is different. Oh trust me. It’s different. Mom. Mom. Let me tell you. Please?

The woman sighed. She was in her mid twenties, and fit into Washington, D.C. with style. Not a hair was out of place. Her black pencil dress came to just the right length, coral blazer giving a touch of power to offset the somber of the black. Leather pumps brought her to a height which caused people to react in respect to her presence when she entered a room. She adjusted her winter coat in the crook of her arm, as she listened to her mother.

She must be from a northern state, I thought to myself, looking over the edge of my book at her. Only someone from the north would think that 45 degrees was warm enough to only need a blazer.

–Mom. Seriously. She told me that at the last place she worked, that she slept with her boss. She said she did it to get ahead. Yes! Yes! Do you think I could joke about something like that? What?! No. No! I will not repeat it. I just needed to vocalize to have it set in, you know? What do you mean why? Well. Apparently she wanted more, and thought it was the best way to get it. Then something happened where her boss was fired. But she didn’t say what caused it. I know. I know. Mmmmm. Yes. It could be anything. I know.

She paused again listening. The whole bus sat in silence listening with her. Even new passengers looked at her, wondering why everyone else was so interested.

–Yeah. Where did she work? Oh. Um. Pier One Imports, I think. What?

She laughed. It was loud and too jovial for the story she was telling.

–Yes Mom, I think she seriously wanted to get promoted from candles to curtains. What? What do you mean how do I feel about it? I don’t really know. I mean. I thought that this was stuff of books and soap operas. I didn’t think this was something people would do. Hell. I didn’t think that this was something that even if people tried; it would work. I don’t know. I don’t know what I am going to do. Mmmm. Really? Well. Mom. It’s a small office. I can’t avoid. Ugh. No. I cannot avoid her. It’s okay. It’s good she told me. Now I know how dangerous she is. Nothing is off limits for her. Anything from lying and cheating to sabotage. Yes, especially sabotage. No. I am not being dramatic. Anything is acceptable to her. Morality be damned. No. She not religious. Well. Ugh. Yes. Okay then. Ethics be damned. Better? Yes. Well, I try mother. Just for you. Mmm. Yes. Well. Um.

The woman looked around the bus; looking back at all the people looking at her. She went a little pale, and stood a little taller, resolved to the awkward position she felt she was in.

–Mom. It’s almost my stop. I gotta go. Yes. I love you. I love you, too. Okay. I’ll talk to you tomorrow, ‘Kay? Bye.

She hung up the phone and slipped it into her blazer pocket. She looked out the window of the bus trying to ignore all the people still looking at her. Shifting uncomfortably in everyone’s gaze she looked down, and in doing so caught the eye of another woman.

This woman, too, knew the ways of Washington, D.C. Her dress was impeccable. Her silver hair pulled back into an elegant knot. Diamonds hung on her ears and her navy wool coat made her eyes turn more blue than black in the light. Her lips were pressed to a line, in disapproval.

–I did not burn my bra for women who abuse their capacities by relying on sex.

The words came out like venom. Meant to sting and shame. The younger woman didn’t flinch. In fact, any indication she’d been drinking left her. Her shoulders straightened, as she looked down her nose at her elder seated before her. Her jaw went rigid with conviction as she said resolutely.

–No. You burnt it for woman like me, who know how to forge ahead.

The elder woman smiled a little at the bold and brassy response. Her eyes flickered in approval of the young woman as the bus started slowing to a stop.

–Remember girl. ‘There is a special place in hell for women who do not help other women.’

The elder got up and started walking off of the bus. The younger woman turned watching her leave and called out.

–Madeline Albright, 2006.

The woman stopped and looked back over her shoulder at the young woman. She smiled, nodded her head, then stepped off of the bus into the night.  As the door shut behind her, the young woman turned ahead. She looked looked straight out onto the oncoming road, eyes ablaze with fire.