Fresh air. The air always smelled fresher, better when I went through that revolving door on Friday. Nevermind that the air was polluted with exhaust from transit buses and yellow taxis. On Fridays, it smelled like freedom. It smelled like the sweet lack of over-processed skyscraper air. The absence of suits and ties and stockings and high heels.
Bidding my co-workers farewell for the weekend, I headed for the L anxious to leave my life of finance behind me for a few days. I had no specific plans for the weekend, which was fine with me. I was perfectly content to stay home and clean my apartment.
Along with my new job, I had recently graduated from living with groups of people in off campus housing to my very own studio apartment. Most people laughed when they saw it. It was only one room. But it had beautiful parquet floors, high ceilings and giant windows from which I could see Wrigley Field in the distance. I loved sitting on the fire escape enjoying a cigarette and watching the planes line up to land at O’Hare. So, yes, it was small. But it was mine.
Lost in thought, I was waiting for a light to change, standing on the corner with all the other commuters, also lost in thought. Just as the sign switched to walk and just as I was about to take that first step into the crosswalk, Kip grabbed me from behind, shoving me forward and pulling me back at the same time, scaring the crap out of me.
He’s lucky I didn’t punch him in the throat.
“Dammit, Kip! What the hell is the matter with you?” He looked sorry for just a moment before bursting into laughter. “You’re such an ass.” I tell him before turning away in a huff and storming off knowing full well he would chase after me.
“Someone left their sense of humor at home today…or did you leave it at the office?” He gestured back to the high rise I had just left for the weekend. “Maybe we should go back and get it.”
I rolled my eyes at him and walked away again not feeling terribly amused by his antics. Sometimes Kip made me laugh so much it hurt, but sometimes he just hurt.
“Hey! Working girl!” he called after me once I was half a block ahead.
I stopped, because he almost made me smile. Almost.
He ran to me. “Would you please relax, Bridgey? It’s Friday.” Kip reached out and rubbed my arm and I finally gave him a smile. “There it is.”
We almost had a nice little moment there, until Kip dropped to his knees right there on the Chicago sidewalk throwing his hands up to the heavens and screaming “Hallelujah! It’s a miracle!
I pretended to be annoyed with him, but I really wasn’t. In reality, I thought he was pretty funny. And I was jealous of him and his ability not to care what anyone else thought, ever. I yanked him to his feet. “You are such an embarrassment.”
He looked around as if I must be talking to someone else before pointing to himself. “Me? I’m an embarrassment? You’re the one who should be embarrassed.”
“Why is that?”
He thought for a moment, probably because he hadn’t finished fleshing his argument out yet. “Because I haven’t seen you smile in so long, I was beginning to think you lost all your teeth in some tragic office equipment accident.”
Here was the part of my day where I had to listen to Kip talk endlessly about how I should quit my job. I didn’t want to hear it. Again. I walked away.
Kip followed behind, babbling in my ear, “Maybe, you whacked yourself in the mouth with a phone during the excitement of a fast and furious business day.”
“Shut up, Rudyard,” I told him using the only weapon I had against him. Kip’s mother had a thing for Kipling, so Kip’s real name was Rudyard Kipling Taylor. But no one knew that but me.
“My name is no laughing matter, Bridget.”
I was glad to be annoying him for a change. “Rudyard. Rudy…ard. You know, I’m going to have to disagree with you. I think it very much is a laughing matter, Rudy.” I practically skipped away.
“Don’t call me that!”
I kept skipping. As usual, he ran after me.
“OK, Bridgey.” He followed me up the stairs to the L. “I’m going to let that slide because I know you can’t come up with anything better to tease me about because your creativity…or what’s left of it is…shall we say…stifled…”
Back to this again. “Don’t, Kip,” I interrupted.
But he continued. “By that oh so fascinating job of yours.”
“Cut it out.” I wanted to shove him. Really push him.
“What?” he pretended he had no idea what I was talking about as we pushed through the turnstiles.
“You know what, Kip, and it’s pissing me off, so stop it.” I walked to the other end of the platform feeling the breeze of the approaching train on my face.
“Come on, Bridge, don’t be mad…” He said more, but I didn’t hear him. I pushed my way onto the train leaving Kip behind.
The train was packed. Typical Friday afternoon rush hour. Kip ended up getting pushed to the other end which was just as well as I didn’t want to talk to him anymore anyway. I put on my headphones to tune out the world around me, closing my eyes and letting the music in my ears take me away, wishing that Kip wasn’t such a pain in the ass. I knew he meant well, I just wished there was a way I could get him to understand why I took this stupid job and why I had to do this. He just didn’t get it and it scared me. We’d never felt so differently about something…not something as important as the rest of our lives.
I wished I could talk to him about how I felt about my job. How I hated it. Really hated it. I hated it so fucking much I couldn’t even stand to think about it. But Kip wouldn’t understand why I would spend my days doing something I hated. He didn’t understand having to grow up and live in the real world. He didn’t understand needing money and being afraid of being homeless and hungry. He never had to. I did.
So I pretended not to care that I was throwing my life away doing something I hated. I pretended that sometimes I even liked it. When all I really wanted to do was run off to the treehouse with Kip and cry on his shoulder like when we were kids.
The train pulled into the station and people stumbled around me. I gripped the bar in front of me. Falling on the train was for rookies. I was not going to fall.
People moved around and repositioned taking advantage of the extra breathing room, but I stayed put, digging my heels in and letting everyone settle in around me.
It wasn’t forever, I told myself. I would find something better, something more like me. But somehow, every day I worked there I felt like I stepped further and further away from the me I had always been. I was changing and I just didn’t know how to stop it.
Almost magically, Kip managed to pull my headphone away from my ear without scaring the crap out of me. “I’m sorry,” he whispered. I didn’t know when or how Kip had made his way towards me, but I was glad he did. His mere presence was enough to pull me out of the terror of my own thoughts.
“I’m sorry, too,” I told him, leaning ever so slightly in his general direction. Needing him to ground me. “I’m just crabby.”
“Really?” He looked at me quizzically.
Sometimes, he was so damn endearing. “Shut up, Kip,” I said with a smile nudging him towards the door. It was our stop. Our balanced restored, we pushed through the crowds together.
“You know, Bridget, if I had a nickel for every time you told me shut up, neither one of us would have to work.
“That’s because you talk too much, Kip. Everybody wants you to shut up,” I teased as I crossed the street on the green light.
Kip stood on the corner wondering if he talked too much so he missed the green and crossed on the red having to dodge cars on both sides. “Hey, Bridgey, is that true? Does everybody really think I talk too much?”
I had to laugh at his insecurities. No one thought Kip talked too much. Everybody adored Kip. He always had the best stories, the best jokes, and the best, most witty comments. Even I didn’t really think he talked too much. I was just diverting his attention from my job that I definitely did not want to talk about anymore. “Do you really want to know?”
“Ok, you talk too much.” I said with a shrug.
“I do not.”
“Ok, fine. You don’t.”
He glared at me while I tried my hardest not to smile.
“Well, talking too much is better than not talking enough,” he growled.
“If you say so,” I shrugged.
“Shut up, Bridget,” he muttered and we both smiled as our eyes locked.
I loved it when we talked like we were on a TV show.
It was always hard to tell with Bridget when I was pushing too hard, teasing too much. Sometimes I pushed too hard and she laughed hysterically. Sometimes she got really pissed. Especially lately. She seemed to be pissed at me all the time lately.
I didn’t mean to ride her so hard about her job. She just seemed so fucking unhappy to be there. So unhappy about everything really. I was just trying to make her laugh. I just sometimes went too far.
I was watching her on the train. She seemed like she lost something. A glow. A light. A joy. Something. She just looked lost and sad and I just wanted to help her and hold her and tell her we can make this ok. She was like a train wreck I couldn’t stop staring at.
I tried to look away…but something glued me to her. I watched her, listening to her music, hoping it would take her somewhere, anywhere away from here. Away from me.
The train lurched forward and settled back at the next stop and all the commuters struggled to maintain their balance. But not Bridget, she gripped the seat in front of her until her knuckles turned white, but stayed perfectly still.
I took advantage of all the movement and made my way towards her. She didn’t notice so I was able to squeeze right in behind her.
I inhaled deeply allowing her orange blossom perfume to wash the smell of train exhaust out of my nose. My parents had an orange blossom plant in our sun room. It never yielded edible oranges but Bridgey always loved the smell of those flowers. I bought her the perfume last Christmas.
When I realized I was pretty much stalking her, I lifted her headphone away from her ear. “I’m sorry,” I whispered.
“I know.” She nodded and closed her eyes with a look on her face so sad it nearly broke my damn heart.
It made me want to do something crazy.
Kip followed me all the way home. I knew why. He was going to make me go out. Like I was an old maid if I didn’t go out on Fridays nights. He just couldn’t seem to understand the concept that I was tired. How could he? I’m sure he slept until 10:00.
“Why are you following me, Kip?” I asked him as we entered my building, even though I knew why. I wanted to see what his excuse was this time. Last time he followed me home on a Friday, he asked to borrow a cup of sugar.
“Oh, I’m on a mission.” he answered.
“And what kind of mission is that?” I took his bait knowing his plan was drag me out to some wretched bar, probably the one he worked at, and force me to drink pitcher after pitcher of flat, stale beer. A scene I was trying hard to outgrow. Most of the time. Lately I had been spending my Friday nights alone, laughing and crying along with lame romantic comedies, and falling asleep early.
“It’s a secret mission. I can’t tell you.”
I nodded and pushed the elevator up button. “OK, I don’t want to know anyway.”
That was the one thing he couldn’t stand. Me ignoring him. “OK, OK, I’ll tell you,” he caved, but then thought better of it. “But then I’ll have to kill you.”
“Not if I kill you first,” I responded as I entered the elevator.
“OK, deal.” He followed me into the elevator and pressed thirteen for me.
“I’m here to make sure that you go out tonight.”
“Well, it’s been brought to my attention, by parties who will remain nameless.” That meant Kip. He continued, “That every Friday night you say you will meet your friends out and every Friday night you don’t show.”
“How about I just meet you there?”
“No Ma’am. I have heard that before and spent many an evening waiting for your pretty face to walk through the door.” Guilty as charged. More than once, I told him I’d be there and hadn’t shown up. I didn’t leave him alone or anything, he was always there with a group. A group that always asked about my job. A job I didn’t want to talk about.
“So, I am here to make sure that you change those hideous business clothes you’ve grown so fond of, and let down your hair.” Kip pulled at the stick I used to hold my hair in a neatly conservative bun, and to hide the remnants of my purple streak I had added last summer before I realized I was going to be joining the young professionals club.
My hair fell softly my shoulders and I couldn’t help but smile.
“Kip, I’m pretty sure I don’t need any help changing my clothes…And what if I just don’t feel like going out?”
The elevator opened and we stepped out towards my apartment.
“I know. I know.” Kip sighed. “You’d rather go home, immerse yourself in the business section, have some tea and doze off in front of a documentary about the evils of the democrats and flaky liberals, present company excluded, of course.”
“I, however, am of the opinion that it would do you good to get out of the house.
It was no use arguing with Kip. I’d never win. I never won an argument with him in my life.
“Fine, I’ll go,” I said, trying hard not to sigh.
“You will?” he said, trying to mask his disappointment that I didn’t put up more of a fight.
“Sure, why not?” I let him into my apartment and he flopped down on my futon that was still in bed more. I wasn’t much of a bed maker.
Kip crossed his feet at the ankles and put his hands behind his head making himself at home. It wasn’t unusual for Kip to be in my bed. He’d been climbing in my bedroom window since we were nine.
He sat up on his elbow and patted the spot next to him while raising his eyebrows. “You wish,” I replied.
“Do not. Go get ready.” He tried to slap my ass as I walked by the bed on my way to the bathroom but I successfully dodged him.
“So what were you doing downtown today, besides harassing me?” I called from just outside the bathroom. “Job hunting?” I asked, because it was my turn to give Kip shit about his life.
“I have a job, Bridget.”
“You’re a bartender, Kip. That doesn’t count.”
“Neither does being a secretary.” Dammit. Walked right into that one.
“I’m an assistant and yes it does,” I argued half-heartedly because I knew he was right. His job was no worse than mine. You’d think as two college educated, relatively intelligent people, we would’ve fared better in the job market. Well, I should’ve anyway. Kip never really wanted a job.
I turned on the water to brush my teeth and the plumbing squealed like it always did when you turned on the cold water first.
Kip whined from the bed. “Ow, Bridget. That hurt!”
Kip had this bizarre affliction where he couldn’t stand high pitched noises. Whistles. Squeaky wheels. Nails on a blackboard. He literally would crumble at the sound of them.
“Can’t you take something for that?” I called after I spit in the sink.
“Anyway, I was downtown for an audition.”
“You were? How was it?”
“Well, I was great, of course.”
“Of course.” I opened the closet and started digging for an appropriate outfit for going out.
“Yeah, but the part sucked. It wasn’t right for me.”
Kip started rambling on and I was only half listening. I was too far back in my closet to really hear him.
“Bridget?” I heard him get louder.
“What?” I called, partially extracting myself from the closet, but not before retrieving a sheer black blouse from the rod and my Doc Martens from the floor.
“Why don’t you write something for me? Like you used to in school.”
I ignored his question and started changing behind the closet door.
“Bridgey?” Kip called when I didn’t come out after a few minutes.
“I’ll be right out,” I called, stalling. I was dressed. I just didn’t want to talk to Kip about my writing.
OK, I’m a writer. Or I was a writer. In college, I wrote. And high school. Well, really I’ve been writing since fifth grade when my teacher gave us each a picture cut out of a magazine and we had to write about them. Most kids wrote one paragraph describing their picture. The person in my picture had a sailor’s cap on. So I wrote a story entirely in first person entitled “The Adventures of Captain Charlie Cook.” I gave Captain Cook a pseudo-sailor-piratey accent and everything. That was when I knew I could write. That was when I knew what I was going to be.
But when college was done and I had bills to pay, I took a job. And the writing just kinda stopped.
Thus, the real reason I hated talking about my job.
“Maybe you could write something for me when you finish what you’re working on now.” His voice was getting closer.
Time to evacuate. I popped out of the closet just as Kip got there. I crossed the living room, right past Kip, to the table I kept my jewelry in.
“Could you work on something for me?”
“What? Oh sure. Of course, Kip. I’d love to,” I lied as I tilted my head to each side as I put my earrings in.
He eyed me suspiciously.
“How do I look?” I tried changing the subject.
“Beautiful, as always,” he answered. I loved Kip. For as long as I could remember, he was always telling me I was beautiful. Even at this moment when I felt like an ugly, lying failure, Kip still made me feel beautiful.
“Well then, let’s go before I change my mind.”
“You’re the boss.”
Hoping I had dodged a bullet, we headed back out to the street.
“So, Bridgey, what is it that you’re working on now?”
So much for bullet dodging.
“I’m, uh, tossing around a couple of different ideas.” I was so running out of patience with this conversation.
“Whatever happened to the story about the blind guy who regains his sight after getting hit by a car?”
“Too melodramatic. I couldn’t finish it.” That was the first true thing I’d said. It was a stupid, over-dramatic story that I didn’t want to finish it. So what? I’m allowed to not finish something.
“What about the landlord who fell in love with her tenant by rummaging through his things when he wasn’t home?”
“Eh. It didn’t really go anywhere.”
“So, what ideas are you tossing around then?”
I hated Kip. For as often as he made me feel beautiful, he could just as easily make me feel crappy.
“OK, Kip. You got me. I’m not working on anything right now. No buns in the ovens, no irons in the fire. I’m plum out of fucking ideas which is just fine because right now I don’t have the time or the energy to work on anything!”
“OK, OK, relax. Let’s just go.” He gestured for me to continue walking and as soon as I took one fucking step he said. “Shakespeare.”
I stopped and gestured for him to go, “After you, Olivier.”