When I was younger, I did unbelievably stupid things. “Things” so stupid that they, up until fairly recently, were permanently filed in the I-will-never-ever-tell-anyone-about this-ever section of my brain. Closing in on my thirtieth birthday, I realize that these “things,” in a strange way, have given me all of those wonderful adjectives that women are supposed to possess as they get older and wiser (Self-esteem! Self-confidence! Independence!). Although I haven’t stopped doing some stupid things (Will anyone?), I am no longer afraid to recount them — because in the parallel universe of self-worth, these “things,” provided that we learn from them, and forgive ourselves, feel more like merit badges than something we lock away and pretend doesn’t exist.
We open on a Tuesday morning at work, where we find 22-year-old me furiously typing away in a feigned effort to make myself look busy. Also, I am probably hungover. I probably look hungover, but am too hungover to realize how hungover I look.
Then, all of a sudden, a body, smelling vaguely of Axe body spray, is hovering over me. Our eyes lock, and hold position for what has to be a solid thirty seconds. My boss makes the obligatory new-employee-introductions. We shake hands, and I watch his face contort into what might have been a smile as he pulls away. He really isn’t my type — definitely a few pounds heavier and a few inches shorter than I would have preferred. But, he had one of those faces that evokes lost puppy dog analogies. And, just like that, I am obsessed.
As he settles into his new job at our growing agency, we do little more than exchange obligatory morning greetings when our paths cross. Except, like any poised professional in her early-twenties, I gossip about him to my friends and closest co-workers. I swear up and down that when we are put on the same account, we’ll be forced to interact more, which will eventually turn to us discovering that we both have an deep and committed love for mid-century furniture and Third Eye Blind. This would ultimately lead to a beautiful wedding on a beach somewhere. Obviously.
Like a manna from heaven a few months later, we are assigned to the same account (a really, really shitty account, actually). And then, the IMs start:
Him: Hey. Do u have a few to review this brief with me?
Me: Sure. Just need to wrap up what I’m doing.
Him: Also, you look really nice in that dress today.
Not yet versed at the ins and outs of office flirtation, my response is neither quick nor witty.
A few minutes pass; I am enveloped in panic as I wait for his reply. Thirty seconds into said panic, I’m sweating like I just ran a mile, bench pressed my weight, and completed the entire collection of Abs of Steel videos, simultaneously.
Him: Come over and review the brief with me so that I get a better look at it.
If Stephen King were narrating the story of my life, this would have been the exact moment that my head literally explodes — brains all over the keyboard type of explosion. Someone would have to be called in to quickly clean up the mess.
I am, however, without Stephen King to save my from myself, so over to his desk I head, my skull fully intact, draped in a sweater to cover the dark, sweat-stained circles around my armpits. We discuss the brief. I wait for some sort of physical affirmation of his suggestive IMs. But, this doesn’t happen, so I go back to my desk. Defeated, deflated, and confused, I spend the rest of the day reading, re-reading, and analyzing our exchange of instant messages to ensure that I didn’t make the whole thing up.
Weeks pass and our virtual interactions quickly escalate from a PG-13 rating to my own personal / virtual version of Fifty Shades of Gray. Yet, he continues to firmly adhere to our company’s Professional Code of Conduct in real life. Young, inexperienced, and confused, I blame myself for his behavior. This guy isn’t an emotionally witholding douchebag, no way! Obviously, I’m just not good enough.
So, I decide to make myself “good enough” for our Company Holiday Party. I buy a new dress. I get my hair done. I get a manicure. I overdraw my bank account to the tune of $100 before I have the chance to eat anything, and arrive to the party with not only an empty wallet, but an empty stomach.
The rest of the evening plays out just about as you would predict, a little bit like a blithe young steam engine barreling toward a brick wall. I grab a seat near him. I take full advantage of the open bar, partially because I’m nervous, but more so because this is the first open bar of my adult life. I make eyes at him during dinner, which he only marginally reciprocates. When the rest of the company is well lubricated, he edges over to the seat next to me, brings his face close to my ear, and says: “Let’s get out of here.”
In the deep, dark, lost corner of my brain that isn’t clouded with Pinot Noir, I know that this entire situation absolutely ridiculous, irresponsible, and probably a little self-destructive. Also, what guy really says: “let’s get out of here” in real life? I leave with him anyway — neither discreetly, nor quietly — before dessert, before the self-congratulating speeches, before the holiday bonus checks are handed out.
His apartment is exactly what I thought it would be: under furnished, a little dirty and in a bad part of town. It takes less than ten minutes for us to migrate from the “living room” side of his studio apartment to the “bedroom” side, and for the dress I could hardly afford to land on his dusty carpet. And then, everything goes black. Before you jump to conclusions, no — I wasn’t date raped by my co-worker. Though, I basically date raped myself. Mid-liplock and half-naked, probably with lipstick and mascara all over my face, I’m out cold.
At some point, I come to — projectile vomiting all over his naked chest, his beloved futon, and maybe even his dog. Did I mention that I was hardly wearing any clothes? I believe that shame blocked out what memories that I have left of being in his apartment, and convincing that poor taxi driver that he’d be doing a good deed by taking a dejected woman, covered in vomit, with no money, back to her house nearly 20 minutes away.
On Monday, I dread going back to work. Isn’t this is the type of stuff that boy-gossip is made of? Fortunately, no one mentions anything to me and I forget about him. Except when I spend copious amounts of time and energy trying to avoid him, because seeing him perpetually causes me shame. And thankfully, in part due to the power of a short attention span, a capacity for growing up, and then a new job early the following year, I am able to blissfully block the experience from my mind.
As for the guy, I only ever get one other non-work related IM from him after the whole Holiday Party incident:
Him: So, um. I think you should pay for my futon.