Essay and excerpt from memoir in progress
We had managed to do a decent job of creating marketing materials for XYX Corp., given their shoestring budget over the previous two years. It was a bitterly cold day in January when I met with Bob, the owner, and Jerry, his twenty-something nephew who was new to the company. Dick, the VP of sales and marketing, had worked for Bob for over twenty years. In his mid-fifties and my main point of contact, Dick had been suggesting in the previous weeks that we should go to lunch after the meeting. I thought this was odd, since we didn’t have any need to discuss anything outside of what would be covered in the meeting, but I agreed to go.
The meeting was abnormal from the beginning. Dick positioned his chair next to me, which was strange, and I noticed that he was dressed more nicely than usual. His crisp blue button-down was kitted out with knotted red cufflinks, while dark loafers in a rich, exotic leather peered out from under his indigo dress jeans.
Bob seemed to be coming down with something and was snuffing through the entire meeting like an angry bull. Alarming headlines were starting to fill the news about the strange new Coronavirus that was spreading in China, just like whatever germs Bob was spraying throughout the conference room with wild abandon. I was keenly aware of how he was snorting into the air without using a handkerchief or tissue: just letting it fly like the passive aggressive barbs soon to follow.
“Don’t take this the wrong way,” Bob huffed, “but we’ve been working together for two years and our sales are down. How do you explain that?”
Dick came to my defense right away. “Don’t blame Kris – their work is great. But just having marketing materials doesn’t directly translate into sales, Bob. You know that.”
“Hrmph,” Bob grunted. “Well, you’re our head of sales and marketing. Maybe you should be working harder at all those trade shows I’m sending you to.”
Dick tensed. “If you would allocate a few more dollars, I’d be happy to.”
“I’ve got it!” Bob smiled. “Jerry, remember that woodchuck promo we did? You know, with the tee shirts?”
“Oh yeah, the “Would Chuck?” promo?” Jerry remembered. “People loved that.”
“How about at our next show, we have Dick dress up in a woodchuck costume. You know, stand at our booth, wave at everyone, hand out tee shirts…” Bob was clearly enjoying taking digs at Dick, who was now seething.
“How about we look at some of the actual projects we’ve started that aren’t done yet? How’s that drip campaign coming along, Jerry?”
With the attention suddenly shifted to him, Jerry scrambled. “I’m…still working the algorithms to perfect the timing.”
Bob pounced on Jerry’s hesitation with his dropped project as he snickered and winked at me. “Is that what you were talking about in that article you wrote, Kris? About how you can’t ‘automate relationships’ with software?”
The mood of the entire meeting had turned toxic. I couldn’t believe Bob was mentioning an article I had written for Enterprising Women magazine. True: I’d written the piece with Jerry in mind. We had started an email campaign eighteen months prior and reworked it several times, and it remained on Jerry’s plate. He was in charge of actually sending it out to their list, but he was still sitting on it as he fiddled with the project.
Also true: I’d sent the article to Dick and Bob as a not-so-subtle way of letting them know that Jerry dragging his feet wasn’t doing them any favors. The email campaign was a tool they could have been using to get more customers, and they weren’t doing anything with it. But I couldn’t believe Bob was bringing up the article in such an aggressive way and throwing it in Jerry’s face like this.
“Wait – what?” Jerry said, sensing that everyone was in on the joke except him. Poor kid.
“Never mind,” Bob said, turning his attention back to me. “Look, how much are we paying you and what are we getting for that?” he asked. We were finally getting around to actually talking business.
“Our monthly retainer is to manage your email marketing, social media, and write new content,” I said crisply. “You are currently paying for three hours a week of our services.”
“Huh,” Bob quickly mulled it over. “Yeah, that sounds about right. How about you write up the other ideas we talked about and I’ll think it over?” He stood up to indicate the meeting was done, then winked at me as he left the room. “But I still like that woodchuck idea.” He left with a snort.
I was packing up my things when Dick leaned over conspiratorially. “So, are we still on for lunch?” he asked in a low voice. He also asked if I could drive.
“Sure,” I said as Dick left the room, leaving Jerry and I alone.
“I think I’ve got the timing on those emails just about where I want it,” Jerry said. “But can you send me the latest version of the campaign, just to be sure?”
I couldn’t believe he was asking for this again; I had already sent it to him countless times. “It was from quite a few months ago, but I’ll send you what we have.”
“Great. I know Dick and Bob want me to start sending it out, but I’m just waiting until I have it perfect, you know?”
I felt bad for the guy; his insecurity was palpable. “I totally get it. But sometimes you just have to put it out there and see what happens, right?”
Dick returned to the conference room wearing his overcoat and a black stocking hat. His sudden presence was unnerving: his round, bald head was now covered, which emphasized his bulbous nose and the beadiness of his eyes. But it wasn’t just his attire that threw me off: he was noticeably bouncing on the balls of his feet, impatient as Jerry and I continued our conversation.
“I just don’t want to send out the wrong message,” Jerry continued. “Bob’s done such a great job of building on what our grandfather started here.”
Dick interrupted. “OK, are we good here? We can talk about this another time, Jerry.” Dick was already ushering me out the door with his hand at the small of my back. “So, where would you like to go?”
The icy air hit me as I fumbled for my keys to quickly unlock my car. Dick opened the passenger side door and moved my yoga mat and shopping bags to the back seat to make room for himself. The gesture felt intrusive.
I turned on the engine and music blared at top volume. Embarrassed, I rushed to turn it down. “Sorry about that!”
Dick was amused. “You were jamming out on the way to a client meeting, huh?”
“Sorry. It’s how I drive.”
“This is a sweet ride,” Dick said. “I’ve been looking at getting a Volvo myself. How do you like it?”
“It’s great. My husband wanted it for the kids. Reputation for safety and handles great in the winter,” I said.
“I love leather seats. And the color is so…creamy.”
“They’re heated. The button’s right there,” I indicated.
“No that’s ok. I wouldn’t want to get too hot.”
It was uncomfortable to be enclosed in such a tight space together; his large bulk filled my car and I couldn’t wait to get to the restaurant.
“So, do you have a reservation anywhere, or…?” I asked, not knowing where to drive.
“No,” Dick said. “How about you turn left up here. And…that’s the last decision I’m gonna make.”
I took a measured breath. Did the tone of his voice really just change like that? Or was I reading into things? I counted to three on the inhale, three on the exhale, as the monkey chatter filled my brain and I gripped the steering wheel.
I tried to focus on the task at hand. “We could go to Third Street in Geneva, or we could head a little further north to St. Charles, or…”
“I already told you, I’m not making any more decisions,” he said. “I like it when a woman takes control.”
And that’s when I knew.
The timbre of his voice had definitely changed. His intent was crystal clear.
Sensing his eyes on me, I turned to look at him. He tried to shrug it off. “I’m just saying: you’re in the driver’s seat.”
I drew a blank. I knew almost every restaurant in the area, but it was impossible to think of a place to go when my mind was running in circles: Is he doing this? Why is he doing this? He knows I’m married. He’s married. Is he really doing this? No, I’m reading into it. Think. Think of a restaurant. Go somewhere. Anywhere. ANY. RESTAURANT. WILL. DO.
No, somewhere familiar. A place where I knew the layout and the menu and the waitstaff. Getting through lunch was going to take everything I had, and I needed my focus to be entirely on the task at hand.
“How about Barrel and Rye? I love the décor there,” I said, finally deciding on a little high-end bistro in Geneva where I’d been a few times.
“Perfect,” he said. I maneuvered my car into a spot on Third Street, self-conscious of my terrible parallel parking skills.
Dick held the door of the restaurant open for me in a decidedly date-like gesture, and we were seated across from each other at a small two-top. Dick had an eye for design, and we commented on the stylish navy walls with the arabesque silver print and the industrial lighting hanging from the tin-stamped ceiling.
“I love good design. Believe it or not, I’ve been called metrosexual,” Dick said, drawing out the word. “I have more shoes than my wife.”
“Oh, I believe it,” I said, trying to hide my amusement. “So, what happened back there?”
Dick bristled. “Back where?” Was he afraid I was going to call him out for his comments in the car?
“In the meeting,” I said, getting to the point. “Is Bob really going to make me jump through all these hoops again and quote on a bunch of work that’s never going to happen?”
“The guy is a jerk. So freaking cheap.” I was surprised by how frank he was being with me toward his boss.
“I just don’t want to waste my time or my team’s resources if the outcome is going to be the same,” I said. After twenty-five years in business, I was weary of the game of putting project proposals together for work that never materialized.
“I think there’s a lot of opportunity here for you.” There was that suggestive tone again. “You just have to be…creative…about how you present it.”
“I thought Bob’s idea of you in a woodchuck costume was a pretty creative idea,” I said.
Dick was annoyed at how Bob had embarrassed him in front of me. “Fuck Bob. I don’t want to talk about Bob. Besides – I’m interviewing.”
“Oh? This is news.” Why was he telling me this? Is this why he suggested lunch?
“Yeah. There’s an opportunity that came up in Florida. We’ll see. I’ve just been at this job so damn long. It’s time for a change, you know?”
“I get it,” I said. “I hate doing the same thing all the time. That’s what I love about what I do. Every day is completely different.”
“I envy you. Maybe I can live vicariously through you,” Dick said, pausing to take me in. “So…do you travel for business often?”
“I used to quite a bit, but I managed to cut out a lot of unnecessary travel,” I said. “And somehow I still ended up with four trips in the first quarter of this year.”
“Travel for business, or pleasure?” Dick asked.
I was thankful when our server interrupted his question. “So, are we ready to order?” Dick seemed annoyed that he was cut off. Barely looking at the menu, he absently ordered a burger before tossing it aside and training his eyes back on me.
“So…you were just telling me about all the warm, exotic places you’re traveling to this winter…”
“I…didn’t say that,” I said, wondering where he’d contrived that idea. “My first trip is to snowy Utah, actually.”
“Utah? What’s in Utah?”
“Business,” I curtly replied.
“I see. You’re going to be obtuse,” he said.
“No, I just don’t talk about my personal life very often.”
“Boundaries. That’s cool, I get it. But our food hasn’t even come yet and I already told you I’m interviewing, so you gotta give me something. What kind of ‘business’ is in Utah? Wait – isn’t Sundance coming up?”
I cringed. Why had I said Utah? “Um. Yeah.”
“You’re going to Sundance? Are you for real?” he said, impressed. “I’ve always wanted to go to Sundance. Hobnob with the stars, have drinks next to a warm fireplace…”
“It’s not like that,” I said. “It’s just something that came up. I was invited. And I wasn’t going to go, but everyone told me that if you get invited to Sundance, you go.”
“Who invited you?” he asked.
Ugh. How had I gotten into this? “My lawyer.”
“Wow. Nice lawyer. What, does he have a place there?”
“Their firm is hosting events and panel discussions on the #MeToo movement.”
“The #MeToo movement? Maybe you can be Harvey Weinstein’s new mistress. I hear he’s looking for one,” he said provocatively.
I couldn’t believe this guy. Not only was any thought of Harvey Weinstein disgusting, but Dick had no idea how a suggestion like that sounded to a woman. And the fact that Dick would allude to him was just too perfect: his entire demeanor reeked of entitlement, just like Weinstein. His heavy, porous nose protruding from below his dark, squinty eyes even gave him an uncanny resemblance to Weinstein.
“Oh yeah, and don’t forget: Sundance is all about the fashion. The paparazzi will totally be hunting you down.”
“Ha, hardly! Though that reminds me – I do need to get a few things.” I wasn’t sure when I was going to fit shopping into my schedule.
Dick was visibly excited. “So you’re going to be packing all sorts of cute furry things? Maybe some sexy shoes? You’ll have to send me pics.”
His eyes were tracking me, waiting to see if I would pick up what he was putting down. He hung on every bite I took of my salad, then relished as I placed my fork next to my plate and dabbed at a corner of my mouth with my linen napkin.
When our server came to refill our drinks, he impatiently waved her away – all the while, fixating his eyes directly on me. I noticed that his breathing pattern had changed ever so slightly: he was somewhat breathless, almost panting, as he asked me questions that got increasingly more personal.
The conversation had veered so far off track from the marketing plans he had purported we’d be discussing. I tried to ignore and deflect the subtle hints and double entendrés that could have been taken one way or another in a black and white transcript. But in person, his intent was resoundingly clear, and my heart pounded as I realized, once again, what yet another man wanted from me.
I’d been through this scenario so many times before, I knew what to expect. But something about this time was different.
As Dick implied that he’d like to travel with me, I remembered the potential client who dangled prospects of money before me via a parade of projects that never came to be.
When Dick said how much fun he was having and how he couldn’t wait to grab drinks or dinner next time, I saw the morbidly obese, white-haired chain smoker with the fat, greasy lips who placed his hand on my knee as he drawled in his Southern accent, “You don’t look like you’re here for business. You look like you’re here for something else.”
Because here’s the thing I didn’t know about when you’re a few years sober and your head is clear and functioning the way it’s meant to: you pick up on things. Things that were easier to ignore when you were locked in the ever-downward spiral of an alcoholic haze. You notice things like the change in a man’s breathing as you feel his eyes watching your every move. Your senses are on fire as you perceive subtle movements and the tiniest changes in tone. Things that maybe no one else in the room would notice.
These signs aren’t, “Hey baby, what do you say you and me go get a room?” No – it’s rarely as blatant as that. That would ruin the fun of it. The predator’s game is in laying down cunning clues and waiting to see if you’ll fall for them. Watching as you wander, unaware, into his trap. Luring you in with questions, subtle questions that grow more personal, more off topic. Questions that are just ambiguous enough that if he’s called out on them, he can still back away: no harm, no foul. That’s how the game is played.
And here’s the thing about what it’s like being bipolar. Sometimes, you can’t sleep because your brain is on overdrive as it works to keep making all those connections. You might fall asleep, but you’ll wake up just an hour or two later, and that’s it for the night. Meanwhile, your brain is click- click- clicking away as it processes every single thing you’ve ever experienced in an attempt to help you make sense of this current problem you can’t quite figure out now. It’s how you end up with a bedside table full of handwritten journals, timestamped at every possible hour of the night.
It’s what explains the random memory of a boy named Gary in second grade suddenly and aggressively whispering in your ear the lyrics to the Robert Palmer song: “Might as well face it, you’re addicted to love.” It’s how you recall how he pulled his hot breath away from your ear, catching on your hair, as he watched your face and made you squirm. It’s how you remember the look in his eye that didn’t make sense then, in second grade, but makes sense now as you see that exact same look coming at you from across the table in the half-light.
It’s all clues. It’s all different pieces of the puzzle. And it’s all connected.
Finished with my salad, I neatly placed my fork across my plate and took a sip of my sparkling water. Then I slowly opened my leopard print purse, removed a lip gloss, and applied a fresh coat. As I returned the gloss to my purse, I looked up directly at Dick and met his gaze. A slat of sunlight poured through the plantation blinds, hitting my smoke-lined eyes and blazing them green. His heavy lids were half closed, his pupils now dilated. The air crackled as his mouth hung partway open.
“Can I interest you two in a dessert menu?” our server asked. “Coffee, perhaps?”
Without breaking eye contact with Dick, I replied, “No. I think we have everything we need.”
Dick reached for the bill. “I was going to get that,” I said. “You’re my client, after all.”
“It’s my pleasure,” Dick purred.
As I drove Dick back to his office, the carnival in my brain ran at full speed, trying to figure out this new problem that had now been placed in my lap.
We got to his parking lot and he indicated I should stop at his car that his wife had dropped off. “We should do this again soon. Definitely dinner or drinks next time,” he said, repeating his suggestion.
I told him that my travel over the next few weeks wouldn’t keep me from working on their account. “You know me, always working. And – I think you have my cell phone in an old email somewhere, so you can always get a hold of me.”
Later that afternoon, I was working in my office when the text came through. It only took him about two hours to find my number.
“That was a really fun lunch J ,” he texted. “Let’s do it again soon!”
“Absolutely,” I replied.
Dick wasn’t the only one laying down clues.
How could this be happening again? With a client of nearly two years? At what point in our relationship did he decide that I was fair game to him? How could I work with them anymore? And what was I going to do about it?
It was the next night, Friday, when the text messages started coming in.
“Guess who couldn’t get back to Chicago tonight and is alone at a dive bar in Houston?” Dick texted. “FML. I’ll be a very cheap drunk tonight.”
Here we go, I thought.
“Holy shit, I just checked out your Instagram. You could be a Kardashian! And…you’re FORTY???”
“Um, I was forty a few years ago,” I responded. “How old did you think I was?”
“Thirty-five, at most. I have no interest in younger women, though. I’m only interested if they have their shit figured out and know who they are.”
There it was. Crystal clear.
“Do I give you the impression that I have my shit figured out?”
“OH YES,” he replied. “I like a woman who knows what she wants and isn’t afraid to go after it.”
It was true: I knew exactly what I wanted. I just needed to bide my time.
Sleep would come in fits and starts before I would just give up completely. It was impossible to stop replaying every moment and nuance of our encounter. I kept second-guessing Dick’s every action and word, but would then remember more details that backed up what I already knew.
I couldn’t stop seeing the way Dick had bounced excitedly on the balls of his feet like a little boy, impatient with Jerry’s conversation. I didn’t know why he was acting like that when we were still in the conference room, but I later realized: he was eager to be alone with me.
There was no denying how I felt the way Dick’s voice changed on our way to lunch when he said, “And that’s the last decision I’m gonna make.” I knew in that moment that he had already made up his mind. The rest was up to me.
He’d said, “I like it when a woman takes control,” which left no doubt about his meaning. But when I looked at him, he’d followed it up with, “I’m just saying: you’re in the driver’s seat.” I was driving my car at that moment, so he could have just meant that. But his tone indicated otherwise.
I was annoyed that the encounter with Dick bothered me so much. I had been through so many situations like this before that I thought I should be immune to this type of behavior by now. “That’s just how some guys are,” is what people say. It’s what I tried telling myself.
But it had been a few years since I’d last experienced any type of harassment. Since getting sober, I wasn’t hanging out in bars for after-dinner drinks, which greatly reduced exposure to a lot of unwanted behavior. I could also see with more clarity who the real business prospects were and separate them from the guys who were just inventing ways to gain access to me.
It especially bothered me that Dick was an established client. We’d had a good working relationship, or so I thought. I went through almost every piece of correspondence and revisited countless conversations with him and couldn’t recall anything that wasn’t professional. It was maddening to realize that at some point, for whatever reason, he had decided to make his move.
What really drove me crazy was the way I questioned myself: What was I wearing that day? Did I laugh too much? Was I too friendly? Were my heels too high? As if his choice to pursue me was somehow my fault.
The encounter with Dick opened a Pandora’s box of memories I had long wanted to forget. As one sleepless night morphed into another, I remembered the boss I’d had in one of my early jobs as a graphic designer. I had come in to work on a Saturday, as he’d requested, when just the two of us would be working. Music was playing, as usual, and the song “Love Train” by the O’Jays came on. “You’re having too much fun in here,” he said, smiling as he shimmied into my office. “How about you have your sister come down here from Wisconsin and the three us of can start a love train?”
Why didn’t I say anything when that happened? I just laughed off the comment. What else was I supposed to do?
I would recall a party I went to at a national conference with a female business associate. She had an “in” with all the bigwigs, it seemed, and this party was where all the real connections happened. A top executive sidled up to me from behind and put his arm around my waist, then grinded his pelvis into my backside. I froze. I didn’t know this person. I couldn’t even remember his name. I just knew that he was a head honcho at the world’s biggest tractor company and I wasn’t supposed to say anything. Instead, I just sort of smiled and backed away, then found a way to excuse myself from the party.
Back in my room, I berated myself: I shouldn’t have been at the party. It was my fault: I was laughing too much. I was drinking. And if I wanted to play in the big leagues and get the bigger accounts, that’s how connections were made, right? To not go would seem like I wasn’t a team player.
The memory came flooding back of a photographer we’d hired to do our headshots; he’d come highly recommended by a friend. This was a big deal at the time, as I’d never had a professional headshot done before, and I wanted our team to look polished.
Since my self-esteem was non-existent, it was difficult for me to have my photo taken. At the time, I could barely even look at photos of myself. But working with him helped to change that. He did a lot of work ahead of time to make sure we were all comfortable with him and the process. He talked about lighting, hair, and makeup; every last detail was covered. He did a great job, and we were all happy with the results.
The photographer said he was a big fan of female entrepreneurs: “A champion of women,” he’d said. He’d been raised by a single mother and knew how hard it was for women to build a business. We talked about other projects and clients we could potentially work on together.
But at some point, something shifted. He texted me that he was thinking about me. I don’t remember the exact wording of the message, but I do remember replying, “I think you meant to send this to someone else.”
“I know exactly who I’m talking to,” he replied. He indicated that he was attracted to me, but he wasn’t interested in a relationship. He just wanted me to give him blow jobs.
We stopped working together after that.
Where had these memories been all this time? And why were they just coming back to me now? Something about the encounter with Dick was bringing it all back and stealing me away from sleep as the hints kept knocking on the door of my brain.
“FML – stuck at another airport bar,” Dick texted a few nights later. “You’ll have to send me pictures from ‘Utah’ in your sexy shoes. And let me know if you need any company while you’re away.” I tried to ignore his messages.
“Will U be posting that you’re going to ‘Utah,’ or will U be telling the truth?” he asked.
This I could reply to. “Why would I ever say anything but the truth?”
“I like that about you,” he said, with a smiley. “Your husband must be wondering who the fuck keeps texting you. You must be as bored and lonely as I am.”
“I didn’t say that,” I replied.
I didn’t say that at all.
Unable to sleep, I went downstairs to the office and fired up my Mac, which only showed headline after headline of the spreading Coronavirus – not exactly a comforting thought in the middle of the night. I decided to pull up an exceedingly neutral client project I’d been working on about HVAC products.
I thought editing technical engineering copy might be just the sort of material to hopefully put me back to sleep. “Pressure-related problems, if not properly addressed, can cause excessive stress and permanent failure.” How appropriate, I thought.
I heard a strange cracking sound coming from the dining room, which seemed amplified in the middle of the night. I continued to write, “…Compensates for internal pressure. Provides superior resistance to tension and fatigue. Designed for high pressure applications.”
The cracking sound continued to agitate me and I set out to find the source. Turning on the dining room light, I saw the set of dinner plates I’d recently purchased, still in its shopping bag.
I unwrapped a plate from its paper packaging. I’d loved the natural, earthy blue tones and couldn’t resist the high glaze ceramic finish. I’m a sucker for all things blue.
As I held the plate in my hand, I heard the cracking sound again and realized it was coming from the glazed finish on the plate. I unwrapped the rest of the plates and set them on the table to wash in the morning.
I sat back down at my Mac and looked at the copy I’d just written. “Designed for high pressure applications.”
Products. Plates. People. Everything has a breaking point.
I wrapped up my project and went back upstairs to bed.
I thought about the husband of a friend who, after a few too many drinks, got a little handsy one night at a party. After laughing at everything I’d said all night, he leaned in and whispered, “Every man must look at you and just…mmmm…” Then he added, “You know, I don’t want to sleep with you.” I tried to avoid looking at him, wondering why he was saying this. He only pulled me closer, pressing his hot whiskey breath against my cheek. “I really, really don’t want to sleep with you.” He pulled back and looked at my face to make sure I understood. Bill was standing not more than ten feet away, engaged in another conversation.
I didn’t want to remember this, because I didn’t want it to happen in the first place.
I remembered Carlo, my dear, dead Carlo. The one who introduced me to the Big Book. The one who shared with me the concept of sobriety, but couldn’t keep that gift himself. I remembered how we were on one of our walks around the nurses’ station, and he’d been just a few steps behind me walking next to Paul, the schizophrenic on his fourth visit to the psych floor. It was my second time there, and Carlo and I were like old friends by then. I tried to pretend I didn’t hear when he leaned into Paul and said, “Look at that ass, man. Look at that ass.”
I remembered what I tried to forget.
As I worked to fall asleep, I was bothered by something else Dick had said. When we were back in the car and I was just about to drop him off, he brought up what he’d told me about his job search. Not wanting me to tell his boss, he said, “This will be our little secret, OK?”
I sprung up in bed gasping for breath, remembering where else I’d heard those words: my uncle Mitch.
As all the memories of innuendo and bad behavior and sexual harassment came flooding back to me, I kept trying to make sense of it all, questioning why I didn’t do something. Anything. In that moment, I realized I couldn’t act. Every time it happened, I froze.
I remembered my summer visits to my grandparents’ dairy farm as a child, and the overnights at my godfather Mitch’s house that continued long after I wanted them to. The event that stood out was the time a litter of kittens had just been born in the sweet hay of the calf barn, just off to the side of the main barn where the big cows stayed. I just wanted to go and look at the kittens – so small and delicate. Mitch had told me not to; they were too little and I mustn’t touch them. But I just wanted to look at them, I thought. I wouldn’t touch!
I knew when my uncles and grandfather would be busy milking, and that’s when I snuck into the pen where the mama cat was nursing her kitties. She was perfectly at ease, her soft black and white body giving nourishment to the littlest balls of fluff I’d ever seen. They were all so tiny, so perfect! Little miniature kittens, all snuggled up against their mama, drinking her warm, sweet milk. So safe and warm. I reached out my hand and stroked her soft head, and she purred, deep and content.
Just then, I could sense someone watching me. It was my godfather Mitch. How long had he been standing there, waiting over me? “You’ve been very naughty, Krissy,” he said quietly, as he rolled the heavy old barn door closed behind him. In the dusty, fly-specked light, he said, “This will be our little secret.”
No matter how many times it happened, or in what form, it was always a shock. Whether it’s a client, or an acquaintance, or the husband of your good friend. It doesn’t matter if it’s your boss, or your beloved godfather, or the angel you briefly knew who saved your life: it’s never right. You try to tell yourself: they didn’t mean it, that’s not what they said. That’s not what they did. That’s not what I heard. These are the things your mind tries to tell you when your body already knows the truth.
I knew during my lunch with Dick exactly what was happening because I’d been through it dozens of times before. And in the sleepless nights that followed, as I tossed and turned and laid out my plans, I knew with profound certainty that this would be the very last time that it would happen to me.
Kris Martinez has been in marketing for over 25 years and has owned a creative agency near Chicago since 2004. Kris’s work has been published or is forthcoming in The Manifest-Station, Literary Mama, and Enterprising Women Magazine, where she was honored as an Enterprising Woman of the Year in 2018. Kris holds an MFA (’20) in Creative Nonfiction and Screenwriting from Antioch University Los Angeles. Dick Coyote and the Camel’s Back is an excerpt from her first book, a memoir, for which she is seeking representation. She has also completed a feature-length screenplay of the same story. Kris can be found on Instagram and Twitter @_Kris_Martinez_