When I was five years, old my older cousin, Maggie, told me that if you flushed the toilet while sitting on it, you would get sucked into the pipes and could never escape. Now, as I sit curled up inside a dimly lit bathroom stall at the Woodlawn Tap, I desperately wish I could flush myself down into that imaginary pipe prison. The toilet seat is cold and hard against my derriere as my empire waist dress is too thin and too short to provide me any real protection, even with the tights I am wearing underneath. If this were a movie I would seem endearing, but in the harsh reality of this drab restroom, I just feel overwhelmingly pathetic.
The three ciders I have already binged in the 90 minutes we have been here should be creating a nice warm numbing effect, but they have done little to alter my body temperature or emotional state. While I am definitely a little punch-drunk, a dark nothingness has also washed over me and I find it difficult to feel anything as I try to determine how long I can hide from the small group of co-workers that awaits me outside. Raising my knees to my chest, I continue to huddle in my dingy stall corner.
Normally, I wouldn’t even want to use the bathroom in a run-down dive bar, but right now the grimy crevices between the tiles and the chipping paint feel safer than the uneasy indifference awaiting my return. Maybe no one will notice I’m gone, I try to convince myself as I will my tears back into their ducts. You will not give them the satisfaction of your tears. You can cry when you get home. I tell myself sternly from inside my head.
I slowly get up and open the stall door only to come face-to-face with my reflection. There is a distressed blankness staring back at me as I look harshly into the mirror and adjust the puffy sleeves of my dress. Smoothing down a few flyaway hairs; I take a deep breath. I may be able to hold back the tears, but quickly determine that I will unfortunately just have to live with my current broken doll aesthetic. Exiting the worn and faded washroom turned safe haven, I returned to my table at the front of the bar.
The tense apathy of my three companions has not dissolved in my absence. They dart their eyes around the table at each other not knowing what to say. As their eyes tango in all directions looking for something to say, I rigidly sit back down in a shabby, hardwood chair. Hoping the dull lighting and alcohol are helping mask any and all emotions currently splattered like roadkill across my rueful face. I set my cell phone back down on the table, but continue to clutch it tightly in my hand. The white-knuckled death grip betraying any attempt at appearing cool and unfazed by what had me running to the bathroom to escape through the pipes.
Rejoining the circle of coworkers that now surround me, I begin my own eye-darting dance around the table. Believing that I have calmly reinserted myself into the group, Tori suggests that we leave while Bethany offers to drive me home. I order five shots of tequila and another cider from the waitress and retract the death grip on my phone. The table sits in uncomfortable silence.
When the waitress returns with my order, I pass the tequila around the circle and immediately pound two helpings of the liquid down my throat. Slamming the shot glasses onto the table in defiance. Jacob, the third associate in my newly formed misery business, asks if I feel better.
“Definitely,” I mutter.
It suddenly begins to dawn on me that he knows too. Everyone has heard the voice mail, idiot. They all know. My inner monologue patronizingly offers. That. Fucking. Voice mail. My fucking “boss.” The alleged CHAMPION of early education. The dick who thinks his Nobel makes him a god. YOU DIDN’T CURE CANCER, ASSHOLE! YOU MADE ONE CONTRIBUTION TO YOUR FIELD 10 YEARS AGO AND NOW YOU’RE JUST A SAD PLAGIARIST OF YOURSELF! I scream inside my head as I sedately pour cider down my throat on the outside. I savor the cool, soothing feeling that trickles down my tequila-burned esophagus. He isn’t the great and powerful Oz these sycophants make him out to be. He is merely the wretched man behind the curtain that you are told to simply ignore.
Yet, I can’t ignore him. His poisonous words playing over and over in my head. Unintelligent. Unattractive. PLUMP. – And these are the words I am willing to repeat. I feel exposed. Like the naked emperor or a magician who has had all his secrets revealed. There is even a part of me that believes the venomous hateful word vomit he spewed out onto that machine is true. The realization that my own sashay and confidence-laced curtain has been swiftly yanked down begins settling in. My brain is a jumble of swirling thoughts: Jacob knows.
How can he like me now that all my bravado has been wiped away? I am excellent at my job!!!
EFF HIM – I’ve got a cute face and anyone who knows me will tell you I am obsessed with my ass.
What. The. Hell. Intelligence and attractiveness have no correlation.
This is not an appropriate response for a boss to have regarding work performance.
Of course, he would have this reaction. Professor Nobel looks like a deranged chimpanzee and has all the charm of a rabid dog, but I was beneath him?
As all of my thoughts race around rapidly in my mind, I stare vacantly ahead. Bethany continues to talk at me, trying desperately to justify my boss’s behavior in the same way a caged animal might try to communicate using sign language. Tori is speaking to me in a tone that suggests she could have a future in hostage negotiation. Jacob just watches me intently.
I avert my eyes from Jacob and focus on the center of the table as I let Bethany and Tori’s harried deliberations fade into indistinct white noise. I finish off my cider and shake my head in an attempt to empty it like an etch-a-sketch. My boss’s ugliness has consumed me and I just want Jacob to stop looking at me. My eyes begin to burrow into the carved-up and battered tabletop. A deplorable and insecure Nobel Prize winner has made me that tabletop.
Finally coming out of my trance, I hear myself begin to poke holes into all the rationalized bargaining that the ladies have been emitting from their own beaten-down faces. Lifting my head, I slowly start to make eye contact with the two of them and can see that I am clearly not the only abused pawn in this bar. It brings little solace to see that I am not alone. I feel alone.
The waitress walks by and I order another drink.