IT’S NOT A STORY about a woman (per se), but a tale of a person who happens to be a woman. A wonderful woman. A determined human being. Flawed, in the ways we all are. Her character is a mixture of people I have met, or would like to meet. Still, there’s something interesting about the feeling of wanting more. We all want something. Unless your life is perfect, in that case; what do you live for?
The rest of us, we dream of winning the lottery, or acquiring a promotion, or being accepted within a group of believers. It’s normal to desire. But this emotion often encourages us to do things.
Funny things… that make us laugh, smile, and sigh.
Bad things… that make us weep and cry.
SHE TIPTOED ACROSS THE LIVING ROOM while loading her laptop into her bag, then stepped towards the hallway and smashed her naked foot into the leg of her coffee table. A lightning bolt of pain-shot-up her body.
Drew was jolted awake by her yelp.
“God! What’s wrong with you?!”
Mag threw her bag on the sofa and sat next to it, massaging her painful toes while pointing at the coffee table. “I smashed my foot into this stupid thing!”
“How many times are you gonna do that before you realize where the table is?! You bump into it twice a month.”
“No! I don’t!” She thought back to the last time she smacked her foot into the table leg… was it last month? Or was that my knee? Who cares!?
“Can you show a little sympathy?”
Drew sat up in bed. “I would, if it were possible for you to learn from what repeatedly happens to you. But clearly, you don’t learn.”
“I don’t have time for this!” Mag snatched her bag from the sofa while guiding her feet around coffee table legs. She walked to the apartment exit and opened the door, then slid her throbbing toes into flats.
“Don’t forget to lock it!” Drew’s condescending tone pierced her ears like stiletto blades, and Mag internally fumed… now I wanna leave it unlocked!, though she responded, “I won’t!” Then slammed the door shut and locked it.
She limped downstairs and walked gingerly to her car, then drove downhill towards Van Ness Street. Mag squinted her eyes against streaking beams of light that penetrated pockets of clouds from her left, and she decided… I need coffee.
A HALF MILE LATER, she approached a café window and placed her order.
“One medium cappuccino please.”
The tiny, drive-thru only café, sat in front of a sprawling gas station, centered in its lot, facing Van Ness Street. She assumed The Coffee Hut to be a family-owned business since everyone inside portrayed similar facial features and spoke with the same accent. The cashier (a middle-aged Indian woman) glanced up from her mobile phone and verbally relayed Mag’s order to a younger male barista behind her.
She glared at Mag, “Tree fiddy,” then returned her attention to her mobile. While handing her payment, Mag noticed the cafe’s confined interior space and wondered… how can two people work so close to each other without wanting to escape?
“Vit vip?” The man in back yelled.
His thick accent made it difficult for Mag to decipher the question. The cashier rephrased to Mag, “Vip, you vant?” Her interpretation provided no additional help.
Mag stopped at the same café twice-a-week before taking the 101 South freeway to work. But each visit felt like a new experience. Different employees came and went, and everyone’s accent proved difficult to understand. She empathized… maybe my Australian accent is challenging for them too. Attempting to avoid additional confusion, she mimicked a stereotypical San Francisco accent.
The cashier shouted back to the barista, “Ya, vip!”
“Wait! I don’t want whip cream. I asked, if you asked me, if I wanted whip cream.”
“You said vip. Vee add vip. Done!”
The barista yelled, “Vip done!”
Mag sighed. “Okay, no problem. Do you have sugar?”
“It’s no sugar.”
“Can I have sugar?”
“It’s no sugar. You should ask before vee make!” Her stern imperfect English and deadpan expression were impossible to miss.
Mag received her cappuccino and change, and decided it would be too much trouble pursuing the question. She only wanted sugar packets, but had an hour of driving to reach ADKAR’s (work) office in Mountain View and no time to waste. There would be no forgiveness granted for missing her 9 a.m. meeting. She glanced at her car’s interior clock. It incessantly flashed the time… seven-thirty.
EACH MONDAY MORNING, she acknowledged San Francisco Bay Area freeways as being overly congested and slow, due to thousands of commuters entering the city. They worked at numerous high tech businesses in the North Bay, while an equal number of commuters traveled south, to work at hundreds of high tech corporations occupying Silicon Valley. Mag joined the latter. Though she didn’t consider ADKAR as part of the ‘Southern occupation.’ In her mind, ADKAR was different.
She steered out of the drive-thru café back to Van Ness Street, then merged into the right lane freeway entrance while positioning her coffee cup in front of her lips for a sip.
Another vehicle cut her off from the left.
She swerved her car and slammed the brakes. “Friggin idiot!” Mag’s cappuccino lid popped off, and coffee splashed out. It splattered across the middle console and soaked into her passenger seat upholstery, blanketing the light-beige fabric with dark, Jackson Pollock style stains. Thankfully the spilled liquid managed to miss her hands, arms, and legs.
She re-corrected her steering and placed her coffee cup in a holder before attempting to retrieve the lid. Mag stretched to the passenger side floor. But it was too far away. She tried again and failed, then glanced at the coffee infused seat.
“Great! Now I have to explain new seat stains to Drew!”
Ultimately Drew would never notice. Numerous stains covered each seat in their sedan, most of which came from their dog, Popper. The source for the rest, a total blur. They’d purchased the vehicle brand new five years ago, and already accepted its interior looked and smelled like ten years of wet dog. Every speck of dirt displayed brilliantly, with each seat portraying an artistic patchwork of connect-the-dot-stains. After numerous attempts to clean them, they had little success, and eventually conceded; ‘Next time we buy a car, we’re getting leather seats.’
Mag lunged exasperatedly towards the passenger side floor as the tip of her fingernail flipped the lid into reach… snagged it!
She exhaled triumphantly and secured the lid to its cup. Then drank a mouthful of cappuccino before debating whether to spit it out. It was too bitter. She groaned internally… ugh, needs sugar. Regardless, she forced a few sips, then enabled her mobile Bluetooth to dial her parents.
EVERY WEEKDAY MORNING Mag made an effort to call her mom and Dad. She hoped today’s call would be brief and recognized, thanks to the aspiring NASCAR driver who cut her off and the pulse of her pain-numb toes, her morning so far was dismal. She remained confident however, her forthcoming breakfast, the one waiting at ADKAR, would make everything better. It usually did.
Mag’s mom answered the call and placed her on speakerphone.
“Good Morning! How are you, Maggie?”
Her soft Aussie accent reminded Mag of home in Brisbane.
“I’m good, how are you both this morning?”
“I’m not sure what you said. It’s hard to hear you.”
“Sorry, it’s this Bluetooth. I don’t know why it works fantastic some days, then turns to crap on others.” She positioned the phone over her head, and pressed it against the ceiling as she spoke.
“Can you hear me now?”
“I think so, but your voice is dropping out.”
She laid her phone on the ledge in front of her speedometer.
“I’ll try to talk slow.”
“How was your weekend?” asked her dad.
“It was good. We took Popper to a new dog park on Saturday, then went on a day trip to Monterey on Sunday.”
“We haven’t been to Monterey in years.” said her mom. “How was it?”
“It was nice. We visited a small winery for the first time, and took their wine tour.”
MAG GRIMACED. In the past, she’d spoken with her parents about different breweries and wineries she and Drew visited; remarking on the variety of concoctions they drank during each excursion. She prided herself on interpreting descriptions of varietal qualities from resident-expert sommeliers. But after providing additional information over the course of several calls, her mom inquired about the number of alcoholic drinks Mag and Drew consumed during each tour. And more importantly, how many glasses of wine Mag drank each night. Her inquisition forced Mag to internally admit… I drink three or four glasses a day. Is that too much? At the time she had no desire to find out and fibbed by telling her mother she only consumed one-a-day.
“Did you buy any wine?” Her mom’s rising inflection forced Mag to realize… she’s worried about my drinking again. Worse than the fear of being an alcoholic; she dreaded the idea her parents might actually think she had an alcohol problem.
“We only bought a little. It costs too much to buy a lot.”
“Darn right it does.” said her father. “That’s why I only drink beer. Hell if ah’m gonna pay a buncha hairy-toe strangers to stomp on grapes with their dirty feet, so I can consume the excrement produced.”
“That’s gross Dad.”
“Yeah, it’s disgusting, but it’s also funny, isn’t it? Come on!?” He laughed and Mag chuckled with him. But her mom remained resolute. “Well, it’s good you didn’t buy too much. You don’t wanna be like my brother Lewis.”
Mag reflected… how could I possibly forget about Uncle Lewis and his lucrative career in agricultural sales? He earned a high-six-figure salary, then threw it away because he couldn’t stop drinking. Uncle Lewis drank in anticipation of acquiring a sales deal, then drank in celebration after closing one. He guzzled in regret after missing one he felt he should’ve closed. He was the outback sheep of the family, overindulging at holiday gatherings and escorting anyone who’ll listen down his one-sided version of memory lane.
No!… Mag thought… how can you think I’m like him? But she understood her mom’s concern, and dare not belittle it. “Don’t worry Mom; I have no desire to be like Uncle Lewis. I could never be as committed to drinking as he is. I seriously lack his. Uhm…” Her eyes gazed up. “What’s the right word? His conviction?”
“That’s ripper.” said her father. “I think we all lack his conviction. Since it’s safe to assume, Lewis is overly committed.” Mag recognized a brief opportunity to change the subject. “You guys went to the doctor last week, right? Did you get results yet?”
“Why yes, we did!” Her mom’s voice soaked in smugness. “You know… in spite of all the special meals I make for your father every day, and the late night walks we take each night. His blood pressure is still high.”
She paused momentarily.
“I’m positive he’s hiding snacks in the house and sneakin ‘em when I’m not about, but he claims I’m off my rocker. I can’t be everywhere to watch him Magenta. I’ve no idea what he’s up too.”
“Hang on a tick.” said her dad. “Ah’m not hoarding food anywhere in the house.” He sighed exaggeratedly. “Now, ah’ll admit. It’s quite possible ah’m stashin’ the occasional snack or two in the garage. But absolutely not in the house!”
“That’s not funny Dad! This is serious. I read an article online last week. It said a large percentage of retiring adults struggled with health-conscious changes made late in life. Those who persevered and committed to the act of change, drastically improved their health. But the others had horrible results. They used every excuse in the book, and continued damaging their lives. They had super high percentages of life-threatening conditions like diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. High blood pressure can lead to any one of those conditions.”
It was a grim message, one her dad took on the chin. He responded in stride. “I’m an old wallaby. Ya can’t teach me new tricks. But seriously, ah’m given er’ a go.”
Mag sighed. “Thanks, Dad. Please do.”
THERE WAS MORE she could’ve told them. Mag acknowledged it as their conversation neared its end. She could have mentioned her lagging interest and lack of energy towards her marriage with Drew. How she was bored at work. How she desired to switch departments to a manager who didn’t micromanage her team. About Drew’s overall lack of sincerity, and non-commitment to retain a full-time job. Lastly, about their failed attempts to become pregnant and Mag’s rising concern… did I marry the right person?
However, she thought… why burden them with worrisome details of my life? They worry enough about me already. Why not let them think I’m happy?
“Okay, honey. We’ll let you go.” said her mom. “We’re heading out for a walk before your father leaves for work.”
“Enjoy your morning exercise. One of these days I’ll exercise again too.”
“You’re welcome to join us,” said her father.
“We’ll talk to you tomorrow.” Her mom ended the call and Mag checked her dashboard clock… 8:15 a.m. One of the by-products she appreciated about morning check-in was how quickly time passed. What felt like five minutes of conversation, actually resulted in forty-five minutes subtracted from her commute clock. She grinned like a grade schooler anticipating homemade cookies at Grandma’s, then sang aloud in a happy-go-lucky voice.
“Yay! Now I can listen to my music.”
Rhythm & Blues
GROWING UP IN BRISBANE, most of her friends listened to top-forty music from the United States and Europe. But a few of Mag’s closest friends listened exclusively to popular American rhythm and blues. Mag took advantage of every opportunity to enjoy modern R&B today. She knew the sex-rated lyrics of today’s songs didn’t compare to the tongue in cheek innuendo from the nineties. However, she gained appreciation for modern musical rhythms, and their enhanced sound quality much more. But with each passing decade, R&B lyrics became more explicit, and difficult for her to defend. After twenty years of appreciating the music she loved, she grudgingly decided… the lyrics don’t matter as long as the beat is good. Though, she wondered… why do the most lyrically crass songs have the best beats?
She launched ADKAR’s music application on her mobile, and found her favorite song, ‘Put in You’ by ‘Thank God It’s Saturday.’ She’d fallen in love with it the first time she heard its buttery-soaked sound. And adored how the singer (T.G.I.S.) wantonly pursued each lyrical phrase like he wasn’t trying to stay in time. He sang, or seemed to speak slowly, through each poetic passage; nearly falling out of time before lazily being drawn back to beat, by a persistent pull of vibrating bass.
She turned up the volume in her car and sang aloud…
I’m gonna work all night on you
There’s nothing else I wanna do
Show me the spots he don’t know
When I’m done, you’ll be sweating on the floor
Now rock on it, and roll on it
Stroll on it, like you stole it
Own it, because you do
Every piece of me
I put in you
Mag knew she’d be a fool to attempt defending these type of lyrics to anyone at ADKAR. Nonetheless, she enjoyed her guilty private-pleasure. Riding to and from work while listening to her favorite music provided the only time she had to escape. And escape she did. Floating in automobile sanctuary where nothing mattered but the feel of the music, and the rhythm of its beat. She envisioned herself dancing like an R&B diva, slowly strutting in front of a full-length mirror. Unconcerned that a passing driver might inadvertently witness her in-car performance.
She sang aloud to accompany comprehensible lyrics. Then gyrated in her seat, head bobbing back-and-forth, during portions that contained either indecipherable lyrics, or no lyrics at all.
WITHIN BLOCKS of ADKAR’s campus, she turned the volume down and eventually turned it off. The fear of co-workers spying her adrift, hovering above a sea-of-sound was too daunting.
Mag presumed… they wouldn’t understand.