Head down to the store to get oat sodas against my better judgment. Head into a different place than I usually go – the staff is getting to know Gary at the other place so I decide I want a $5 random brown-paper grabbag and some tall boys instead of Champagne Beer. Usually this place is run by townies and some hefty unhappy older ladies and a couple women who are around my age but also around my same weight, if not a bit more. It’s easy to get in and out without running into problems or obvious ego investments.
Through the window, I notice a backside that I haven’t seen before. I think it might be one of the new hires, some very very thin Olive-Oil looking lady whom I’ve seen only once before but she was nice enough and still not a problem but this one is new, or so I have a 75% chance feeling on. Go in, grab a sixer and a bag, and come back. It’s not Olive Oil. It’s Trouble. Fuck. Some svelte beanpole with scrappy daisy dukes and a loose tank hanging over those thin sinewy Special Forces arms. And a cute enough face. But the problem is, she’s just enough of the ticks off my list that she’s now trouble. And immediately the thought rings in my head, “well I guess I can’t come here for a while any more.”
I did this months ago with Stems. Okay, let’s talk about Stems for a while and get this shit out. Stems was a girl at the other place. Walked in one summer afternoon (for a sixer, obviously) and, simply by flash of color alone, I notice the thigh-sized flag-colored tattoo against a set of pale, toned legs in short shorts, propping up a perfectly-proportioned piece of potential future paranoia, albeit unbeknownst to me at the time. And the face, fuck, immediately I know she’s Trouble, with a capital T. A half foot shorter than me, petite, beautiful meaty muscular legs, sharp jawline and sharper brown eyes, and she’s sassy and tosses it back. She ticks off the vast majority of boxes on the list of features my body naturally goes Hrrnnnggggg to, or what I refer to as “painfully pretty”. So pretty they hurt to look at. As I don’t know her name, and never learn it (as I am forever a wimpy) I simply call her Stems.
Stems proceeds to control my behavior in ways I’m not particularly proud of. I try to use it as the reason to not drink: if she keeps ringing me up buying beer 3-7x a week, the same shit beer (that happens to be my favorite basic yellow pissy beer, but is also, literally, the cheapest item on the rack at this particular store, which combined are the reasons I go to this particular store), and maybe a bag of chips or three, with nothing to ever talk about and the same drab look in my eyes and the same tired expression and the same lack of flirting or rapport or anything beyond basic cashier customer politeness, she’s going to think I’m a giant fucking loser. And I am, but we can’t have her think that, so no more drinking. Okay, maybe some drinking, we just won’t go there, we’ll go to some other place, c’mere Gary get the keys.
So this cowardly dodging goes on for a while. But then I want some champagne beer for cheaps so, I’ll just learn her schedule and go on the nights I know she’s not there. So I do that for a while, even to the point where I drive by some nights, look in the window from the intersection as I’m stopped, see she’s running cashier, and then drive off to another place a few further miles away. I’d curse myself the entire time and throw so many insults and by the time I got back home, I was just raging internal anger and indigestion, and then drank to numb it all out.
Wake up, start it again.
Eventually I get tired of being scared so much of Stems. I have some internal conversations with myself about how much of a pussy I am and how I need to get over it. Gary throws logs on the pile because he’s an asshole, but even broken clocks are right twice a day. I start peeking into the store, and by the time I’m in the door I can’t walk away, so even if Stems is running cash I still go in and buy my sixers and say my nothings and life goes on in miserable little shit fashion.
Because I am pathetic, this goes on for months.
One night I walk in. It’s been a few weeks, I’ve been “good” and not drunking it up much. I have had a shitty day most likely and reached the end of my rope and earlier I’d said, “fuck it, doin’ it live” and gone to the store with the explicit aim of getting shitheel drunk. Some nights that I’d do this and see Stems off in the back with a broom or running the grill, I’d be a bit relieved, and then saddened at my own incompetence, and that cycle would have gone off. It’s been a while since I had to actually cashier customer with her. She’s on cash. I get my sixers, saddle up, hand the money off. I notice she’s got some pudge. A little ponce. A pooch. That beginning of future lazy fat girl pooch. So I use this as an excuse to disqualify her, in my own weird rationing. I don’t, really, but in my mind I at least try, so as to not keep thinking about her randomly throughout the day, usually in a defeated fashion. A constant reminder of my own failures, which just kept looping up and up and up and up and up every day.
Forward two-ish months of this useless self abuse and pointless hamstering and I walk in (to get, what the fuck else? A sixer. Or three) and see Stems stocking shelves. Flip-flops, yoga pants, and a tight shirt. And she’s fat. Wait, fat? Fuck, she did just get lazy and go the Freshman Fifteen Plus route. Then I notice the roundness of the belly, the lack of fat on the face, and the sparkle in the eyes. And, oh.
It was almost a sigh of relief, that Stems was now 100% explicitly off the table. It was a removal of weight off the shoulders, that this one limited, self-imposed option was now completely removed from my life, never to return. It was the start of a new chapter, the end and turning of pages of the old, and for the first time in my life, I could objectively see the end of a period of my life and the wide openness of a new expanse before me.
See, Stems wasn’t just the first chapter in a new book, or maybe the end of an origin story. Stems has described my interactions with the majority of women in my life, especially those I’ve ever been attracted to. Before that, I attempted things in fumbling fashions, and was 100% of the time rebuked or refused or rejected. A series of natural failings through formative years, and then a forced hermitage during what I’ve been told should have been the start of my peak physical years, led me to adopt this basic default for the last decade to just keep it to formalities and not even look. As looking leads to more stuff and that probably includes talking and maybe taking chances and chances always end badly so I might as well just go home. And besides, looking is bad and creepy so just don’t do it.
I doubt Stems remembered me. I doubt any of the pretty women who I’ve had polite cashier customer with over the past decade have had any inkling. I don’t look aside from basic polite eye contact, I don’t tease, I don’t talk about the weather, I hand my cash and go. I don’t blush anymore. I don’t fidget. I used to do this, but at some point, that all transitioned over to just going blank. I numb out. I think that in and of itself is adding into the depression, as its probably a trigger. Suppressing the emotions like that all the time with everyone is probably not a good thing.
So this New Trouble is interesting. She doesn’t tick off as many boxes, and truth be told she’s not actually what I would call trouble in most situations, but my reaction was the same. It was the same as that two-second snap of seeing Stems’ stems, the same as when Feminist Flapper looked over her shoulder with that smile wearing that sundress, the same when I noticed Sad Girl in the hall in her army jacket and sad camouflage, the same as Poet I can’t exactly remember when except every time. I hate that fucking feeling. I hate it down to my bones as all it can ever do is remind me of my own unwillingness to ever do anything about it.
I’m not going back to that store for a while. The turnover rate is high anyway.