I haven't been out of the house in a while...
It hurts to get out of the stone-cold bed in the morning. It hurts to interact with people. It hurts to get dressed and look at myself in the mirror. It hurts to see myself as the shell of who I once was, cracked from the inside-out.
Even so, my friends convinced me to get out and meet someone. They signed me up for some stupid dating app and I found someone eager to meet me, so, despite my reservations about online dating, I mustered the courage to go. Sluggishly dragging myself out of my messy bed, traversing through mountains of abandoned clothing, I make my way to the bathroom to shower, brush my teeth, wash my face. I can't remember the last time I did this. The last time I went through all the steps to maintain good hygiene and self-care. It feels good to be clean on the inside, but the sinking feeling was filling me ominously. The mirror hurts me. My face is ugly. I'm not the only one that thought so.
Choosing makeup is like a balancing act. You must choose a perfect medium to avoid scrutiny. The same goes for clothing. Not enough makeup and you're ugly, a masculine ugly wench undeserving of love and affection. Too much makeup and you're a cheap floozy or a clown deserving of sarcastic catcalling and being grabbed. If you dress too modestly, you blend into the background as a boring gray girl. And when you dress revealing you are an easy harlot who is showing off her body for male attention and are "asking" for it. Every morning routine I'm a funambulist on a tight-rope. It's exhausting...
After at least an hour of struggling to assemble the perfect mask of makeup and clothing, I don't feel ready at all for the blind date ahead of me. He won't like me. That's for sure. Anyone could see me for who I am: a shy little girl just so scared of the world around her, a little girl shaking in fear from criticism lurking behind any corner.
The air is cool and the town is bustling. The sun is high in the sky and the clouds are lazily floating through the pale blue sky. I am just going to get a coffee with a guy. It's nothing to be nervous about.
And yet I am so incredibly nervous, I can feel every fiber of my being shaking. I grip my pepper spray like its a gun. My eyes are shifting nervously like a cornered animal, scanning down every alley and street for attackers. And what if my date is an attacker? Guilt and fear settle in my stomach like concrete as I wonder if I'm even brave enough to attempt to fend someone off. I am so scared, it is eating at the very core of my being. The coffee shop is insight. And, as a brave heroine would, I venture forward with timid courage.
I haven't been home in days...
Every night's a different woman. A different thrill and another check on my list. It's so easy to find dates nowadays. Women practically throw themselves on me. They're desperate. All I do is sit and bask in their attention-seeking glory.
I talk sweetly to a shy girl. She resembles a little doe, a small Bambi tripping over her long legs. Her eyes light up in excitement and wonder as I pamper her with fancy dinners. She has never seen anything so lavish and luxury before. Before she even understands, I swoop in so fast her little blonde head spins. And there's another notch in my bedpost.
I don't know just how to play the game. I've mastered it. I am the puppetmaster of these girls. They become so enchanted with me and my confident ways that all it takes is one whiff of my expensive French cologne and they're eating out of my hands.
It takes a lot of discipline to keep the schedule that I do. Workout at the gym, expensive Italian suits every day, hustle through work, then find a babe to go home with. It's a lot of hard work but I can handle it. And today is no different.
The girl I'm meeting seems nice. Sweet, shy, probably insecure. The perfect type to romanticize. They play right along with the plan. And it works every time.
I'm at the coffee shop 20 minutes early. That way I can scope out the local ladies in case things go awry (even though they never do). I can appear well-prepared and organized, the way a man should be. And I seem calm, cool, and confident as I just sip my black coffee. Unbothered as the girl stumbles towards me, confused and nervous that she's late. And just like that, she's already feeling that she owes me, feeling worse and desperate for positive reinforcement.
A short, curvy girl with dark brown hair and eyes appears as the soft jingle of the coffee shop door echoes through the place. Her eyes are already nervous, scanning the room rapidly with fear and anticipation. All that nervous energy clashing against my confident calm makes a perfect blend for me to strike. Eventually, her eyes meet mine. I take a long sip of my coffee as she clumsily teeters forward, standing right above me. Her eyes don't stay in one place for long. She can barely maintain eye contact with me. Her long fingers are moving quickly and nervously, picking at her skirt and fidgeting.
"Russel?" Her voice is quiet and sweet. She seems fragile and shy, like a little school girl. I don't even speak. I just gesture in front of me and she raises an eyebrow confusedly. I shoot her a condescending glance, hoping she gets the memo. Her big doe eyes fill with realization and shame as she sits in front of me, crossing her legs daintily and peering out the window. She looks uncomfortable and nervous. I lick my lips in anticipation. Let the fun begin...
"Are you going to order, Eve, or just sit there?"
My heart jumps when I hear his voice. It's deep and gravely, a little intimidating. I try to retain my composure before answering.
"Uhm, yeah," I chuckle nervously, "You already ordered?"
He takes a long sip, keeping his cold hazel eyes trained on me. I look away as my cheeks heat up.
"No," He says shortly. There's a hint of sarcasm in his voice but his tone is so cold that it feels hurtful. I force a dry laugh but it feels wrong.
"I guess I'll go order something... W-would you like anything?"
His stone face finally expresses something: curiosity. He raises an eyebrow and stares at me playfully, making my heart beat a little quicker. This time it's a good feeling it's... almost nice. Reassuring.
"Yeah, I'll take a croissant," His voice morphs into a French accent at the end. He has a rich and foreign tone. He slips me a $20 bill with a twinkle in his eyes, "Get yourself something for the trouble."
My heart is all warm and I know I'm blushing, but something is off-putting. I know I can't accept this. But why am I feeling some type of way?
"Oh, no, I'll pay my own. But thank you," I smile shyly while taking the money and beginning to walk in the line. Quickly, something grabs my arm and pulls it back. In a panic, I yank it away and prepare to run. My heart's in my stomach and my hand is already feeling for the pepper spray. But when my vision clears it's Russel, holding my arm with a steel grip. I pull away again, but he was strong. The charming smile on his face makes me sick.
"Hey, you're doing me a favor," He insists, power in his voice, "Just consider us even."
I feel so intimidated that I just nod yes. Even when I order, I feel his eyes on me. I order the smallest drink possible as to not make him pay too much. Shivers travel down my spine as I hand the cashier the money. He looks out the window with his coffee in hand, as if he wasn't just staring me down. I hand him his change and croissant. There's an awkward silence until I sit down.
He looks me up and down, almost judgingly. I feel shivers down my spine again. His cold eyes feel so protruding and frigid, like a doctor's stethoscope.
"You got one of those prissy sugary drinks," He comments in a tone that should have been playful but comes off condescending, "That's not really coffee, is it? It's either the regular black or nothing."
I want to laugh and joke along but I only feel cold judgment. Still, feeling like I have to, I force a smile and take a small sip.
"I just like sugar."
"Makes sense," His voice is low and rich, "Since you're so sweet."
My cheeks are red but my heart doesn't feel so warm anymore. I want his compliments and flirting to feel good, to make me feel whole again. But every time there's a little piece missing, like an empty spot in my heart that even flattery can't fill. Every comment he makes enlargens the hole until I feel consumed by the void. Pushing the thought down, I take a long sip of my drink.
"Thank you," I mumble quietly, "For the coffee."
"Anytime, sugar," He says smoothly. I almost choke on my drink at the name. It should have felt warm and lovely. A bit shocking but then fading to tingly feelings. But instead, I felt cold inside.
"I guess we should get to know each other," He sets the coffee down and stares me in the eyes like he means business. I do the same without even thinking.
"Yeah," I murmur nervously, "I guess so."
"So," He stretches the word out, thinking about what to say, "What was your last relationship like?"
It feels like a knife in my heart. My windpipes are closed. My eyes are wet with tears. My entire body is aching from pain and I try to keep my composure. I can't bear to tell him the truth. Whatever leverage I had against him I would lose instantly if I did.
"Uhm," I clear my throat, blinking away tears, "It was rough. He was uhm.... not a very good guy. Not a very easy break up either."
Russel's eyes soften for the first time and suddenly I lose all suspicions about him. His body leans closer to mine, comforting and protective. I can't meet his eyes but I know they're trained on me, not judging but filled with pity. I never quite liked pity but it feels better than his constant condescension.
"I'm really sorry, Eve," He says softly, his voice is like honey, "You don't have to talk about it if you don't want."
I nodded while swallowing the lump in my throat. A little angry thought puts bitter words in my mouth before I can filter them.
"How about you?"
I normally wouldn't be so confrontational, but deep down I feel offended that he would even ask. It's so personal and triggering for me. I want to go on this date to get away from the pain that my ex caused me, not relive it in a different form. The least revenge I could get is to make him confess like I did.
"Oh, you know," Russel strokes his clean short beard slowly, "I don't really do long-term, you know? Just go with the flow, float from flower to flower."
My heart dropped. Nausea overtook my stomach. What were his intentions? Is there a reason he's so bold and upfront?
"I, uhm," As I stumble for words, hoping to formulate some sort of protest to what he just said, he changes the subject.
"So, do you have any hobbies?"
I respond too quickly that I can't even say what I wanted to, "I love art."
"Art?" He repeats, "Very interesting. Classy, even. Maybe I could take you to the museum sometime."
"Oh, uh," I struggle to stay afloat in our conversation, it feels so one-sided, "Yeah. Sure. I mean, I would love to."
"Ah, then it's settled," He cuts me off quickly, like he's closing in a deal, "We can go on Sunday."
I feel so overwhelmed by his quick talking and strong, confident voice that I just nod along. I thought I was going on a simple coffee date but I'm flying by the seat of my pants and my head is spinning like a carousel.
"Though, maybe you should wear something a bit classier next time," his eyes are zeroed in at my chest. Nausea and shame burn like poison in my throat. My cheeks are entirely red as I cover them slowly and guiltily, trying to hold back tears. Maybe he's right. Maybe I'm dressed too revealing, desperate for his attention. Well, here, I got it, but now it makes me look too easy. Every man in the area has to have stared at me the same way he is. His hazel eyes are hungry and full of competition like I'm a prize to win over. I feel like prey sitting there across from him.
"Oh well, hopefully, those won't stay on too long anyway."
That's when I snap.
That's when the crazy witch snaps at me.
"Excuse me, but do you have any manners at all?!" She screeches, her hair going wild. Her dark eyes are wide and her little pupils are tiny. She looks insane. I almost would be scared of her if she wasn't already eating right out of my hands.
"What?" I scoff, "Eve, what are you talking about? What's wrong?"
"Shut up!" She yells. People around us are starting to stare at the scene unfolding. I have to control her, I have to calm her down somehow. If she flips now I won't have her in my clutches by sun-down.
"Eve, sugar, just relax," I stand and place my arm on her shoulder, hoping to soothe the savage beast. My gesture is obviously too much for her as she jerks it away and stomps up to her feet with the chair falling over with her. Her face is completely red and her eyes are filled with tears. I'm worried for a second but then I realize I can work with this. She can let out her energy, then deflate into my arms. This can work.
"Don't you dare call me that!"
"Eve," I plead with her, "What did I say that makes you feel this way? I just want to listen."
She is fuming and tears are streaming down her face in a snotty disgusting mess, "You have been nothing but rude and sexist and condescending this entire date. I'm nothing but prey to you, am I?"
"What?" I shake my head, "Sugar, people are staring. Just calm down."
She looks around the room at the people watching awkwardly. Her dark eyes fill with shame and regret. Most importantly, sadness and guilt. I can work with that.
"It's okay, baby," I assure her, taking her hand in mine. Her hands are cold and rigid. I ease her back into her seat but her expression doesn't change.
"There," I say soothingly, "Now we can talk this out rationally."
"I'm done with being rational," She spits under her teeth, "I don't know what you planned to do with me after this, but I'm done. I've seen abusive men before and you have all the same traits. Get serious help, jerk."
I sit in shock. I'm too bewildered to comprehend what happened until she's already stomping out the jingling coffee shop door.
"Wait! Eve!" I call out loudly, desperately trying to catch up to her. Her hand is shaking in her purse. I need to get her back. I can't lose a girl like this.
She turns down corners at least four times until we're back at the coffee shop. She's trying to get rid of me, I can tell. But I'm still hunting her down and I don't take no for an answer. I can still reel her in, I just need to catch up and talk. No woman can resist me, let alone reject me.
The sun is starting to set. This is just a minor setback, I'm sure of it. By the end of the night, we will be with each other, making a wonderful ending off to our date. I'm sure of it.
I'm right behind her. I grab her arm. She whips around so quickly I don't even see the pepper spray.
After I'm done running, I'm shaking. Tears streaming down my face. Fear rushing through my veins like ice. The hopelessness takes over my body again and all I can feel is that void deep inside of me, accumulating more mass. It physically aches. My heart feels heavy and broken. All I can see are flashbacks from past relationships, only with Russel's face on each memory. They all feel the same to me. I can never escape them. Because every time I think I've gotten rid of one, another one follows me down the street and grabs me. And another one whistles. And another follows my car all the way home. And the other one calls me a harlot. And another tells me I'm too masculine. And the next tells me I'm basic and I shouldn't be like every other girl. And one protects me from another and I know deep down I wouldn't have survived if a man hadn't stepped in to save me. I just feel helpless in this whirlwind. Closing my eyes as I seep into my bed, I wonder if I'll ever find peace.