The Graphic Designer
She smoked the same way you did; incessantly,
met her on the Fourth of July. She was a graphic designer. You werent
really sure what a graphic designer was. It seemed like she wasnt
too sure either.
You had noticed her as you made your way through the crowd that
was gathered to watch the fireworks out at Wilton Steele Park. It
was strange, but you had lived in that little town in Upstate, New
York for as long as you could remember and you didnt have
even an inkling who this Wilton Steele guy was that they had named
the park after. Was he a war hero? Or maybe just somebody who donated
For all you knew, he couldve been a graphic designer also.
You were coming
from the bar that night. Celebrating Independence Day. You were always
coming from the bar in those days. You were on foot. You only lived
a few blocks away and you couldve probably had almost as good
a view of the fireworks from your front porch. You saw the first fireworks
shoot up into the night sky and you wandered into the park to see what
you could see.
And you ended up seeing her.
You saw that she was young, early twenties, had nice firm tits and an
equally firm ass.You made some silly small talk and she started small
talking you back, Before you knew it she invited you to come on over
by the lake where she was sitting with her younger cousin and watch
the rest of the fireworks with them. They had a blanket set up she said.
Her cousin was fourteen years old. Her name was Jen also. You thought
that was weird, both of the cousins having the same name.
The older Jen was a cigarette smoker. Marlboros. The choice of cowboys-
and graphic designers from Queens. She smoked the same way you did;
incessantly, taking unnaturally deep drags. That shouldve told
you something, shouldnt it?
As she smoked, she told you a bit about herself. Not as much as you
were going to learn later, but a little bit. You learned that she was
from Queens, Middle Village to be exact, and she was upstate visiting
her relatives for the holiday. And you learned that part about her being
a graphic designer.
When the fireworks were over you had traded phone numbers like kids
trading bubblegum cards.
You saw a lot of her that summer. She'd come up on weekends and youd
go out doing summer things. Hiking, going to concerts, barbecues and
so on. Sometimes youd just drive, other times youd just
park. Either way was okay with you. She seemed good for you. When you
knew she was coming up youd watch your drinking tapering it down
considerably. Not drinking at all for the most part when she was around
and when you did it was only really one or two beers - and what was
wrong with that on a hot summer day?
And she could really talk, couldnt she? Always going on about
things. All the words came out in a big rush. Sometimes it seemed to
you that it was all one big sentence. She said it was the medication
that did it. Bipolar, she said. The word made you think of big white
bears and Klondike Bars. She lived at home with her mother. She treated
her like a child, she said. That was because she got so sick and bugged
out one time before her bipolar was diagnosed that she stopped eating
and stayed up for days. Oh and boy did she drink too. Passed out on
New Years and never even seen the ball drop. Got so bad from the bipolar
that she ended up in the nuthouse. The "Flight Deck," she
called it. Now she was on medication, she said. The medication was okay,
but she couldnt drink anymore because of it.
She told you other things about herself.
Her parents were divorced. She had a Chihuahua named Fidel and a therapist
named Olga. Her father was an architect. People used to say they were
one of those couples who would always stay together, no matter what.
Her father was an alcoholic. Thats why her parents got divorced.
She asked you once when you first started going out with her if maybe
you thought you might have some kind of problem with drink also. You
lied to her and told her you definitely didnt - but from then
on you were careful to watch your drinking when she was up for the weekend.
As soon as she would leave to go back to the city youd be knocking
down the beers as fast as you could. It was like you had a job to do
and you had fallen behind schedule. Jen didnt drink herself anymore.
She had to quit because of the medication. You asked her once if maybe
shed inherited a bit of her fathers alcohol problem.
"Olga says Im not an alcoholic," Jen said. "She
says I just drank too much because of the bipolar. Its a totally different
thing. Like apples and oranges, she says."
The times you thought about it, it seemed to you that if Jens
stories were true she drank more than you ever did. But you didnt
think about it all that much, really. It was summertime after all.
As the summer began to dwindle down and the days began to grow shorter,
you began to notice a change in Jen. One Saturday night after you took
her to the multiplex to see Forrest Gump the two of you ended up at
a bar where they were having Karaoke Night.
"I dont want to drink, I just love Karaoke," she explained.
You didnt drink at all while you were there, because you knew
if you started youd have a lot more than one or two. So both of
you sat at a table drinking cokes while you watched middle aged people
do the Karaoke thing. Where you sat your back was to the bar and Jen
was facing it. As you were talking you couldnt help but notice
that she was staring past you- towards the bar. You turned your chair
a bit to the side so you could see exactly who she was staring at; jealous
of the one she desired more than you. But she wasnt looking at
anyone at all. She was looking at the bottles of liquor behind the bar.
"Cmon, lets go," you said.
As you drove her back to her aunt and uncles house, you let her bring
the subject up on her own.
"For a moment theire just for one moment, I felt like having a
drink, she said."
"It's not your fault," you told her. "The combination
of Forrest Gump and Karaoke is enough to drive anybody to drink."
That following Wednesday, she called you up to tell you that you were
invited to an "end of summer party" at her aunt and uncles
house the following Sunday. Her father would be there she said.
"It doesnt seem like its the end of summer already,"
"It never really does," she said.
That Sunday you went to the end of summer party. Chicken, steak and
burgers on the grill.
Coleslaw and egg and potato salad. And beer, of course beer. But you
stayed away from that. You were a good boy and drank Coca Cola. Her
father hit the beer pretty heavy, but that seemed to be okay.
After he had a few he went and cornered you. Started asking you all
the kinds of questions that fathers do. "Are you from around here?
What kind of work do you do?" Those kinds of questions, one after
the other. It was like taking a really intense oral exam. Listening
to the sound of your own voice you started to get the feeling that you
werent exactly acing the test.
You asked Jack if he wanted another beer and went over to the tub full
of ice and pulled one out for him and one for you. Once you got that
cold one in you your answers seemed to flow out a lot easier. Still
you made an effort to pace yourself. You didnt want Jack to think
you were a drunk after all. You didnt want things to start spinning
out of control. If you had your way, youd rather they didnt
start spinning at all.
The beer helped loosen you up though. Let you tell Jack a few funny
stories and made it easier to laugh at his stories. You didnt
much like him really. He seemed too full of himself. He was the star
player in every story he told. You didnt drink as much as you
usually did and you were quite taken with your new found control. Of
the two of you, you seemed to hold your beer much better than Jack did.
As soon as you could you disentangled yourself from Jack and his stories.
You mingled with other people and put down the beer and picked up the
coca cola again.
Later, after the party had broken up, you and Jen went for a drive.
Country roads were nice this time of year. You drove for a half hour
or so until you ended up parking on a turnoff that overlooked the Hudson
River. It was that twilight time, when the sun was just beginning to
set, between light and darkness. Your lips met and then your tongues.
Your hands caressed the small of her back and then softly brushed her
breasts. But as suddenly as you came together, you withdrew.
"There's something I should probably tell you," she said.
"What?" you asked. More than half annoyed, hoping that she
wouldnt be too long in the telling.
"Olga thinks my bipolar mightve come from my being, uh, abused
when I was a child."
You took a deep breath and looked her right straight in the eyes.
"What do you mean by abused"
"Olga thinks it might have been sexual abuse."
"What do you mean, Olga thinks?"
"Well I dont actually remember it or anything, but she says
Ive got all the symptoms. She says Im a classic case."
"Maybe you dont remember it because it never happened."
"Uh, Olga doesnt think so, she thinks I might have repressed
"She does, does she?"
"Olga says that just because I dont remember it, that doesnt
mean that it didnt happen. I just repressed it, you see."
Your hands slid off of hers then. Leaning back in the drivers seat,
you fished a cigarette out of the pack in your breast pocket. You lit
it, took a drag and exhaled. The smoke looked bluish in the twilight.
You smoked and said nothing. You really didnt know what to say
It was she who spoke first.
"There's something else," she said. "You know the person."
You already suspected. Perhaps, you suspected back when the whole conversation
began. That beginning seemed a long time away now. Still you didnt
speak. You could see she was waiting for your question, expecting it.
Like shed rehearsed it and you were her straight man. Like you were
doing a rendition of whos on first" Except that
this wasnt funny. This whole revelation was pure drama, to her.
You went ahead and delivered your line anyway.
"Who is it?" you asked.
"You met him today," she said.
She nodded. If this was a movie she would surely have collapsed sobbing
into your arms then.
But it wasnt and she didnt.
You looked her over good then. From what you could see she didnt
look like those women usually look in those schlocky movies. She was
holding her chin up slightly higher than normal and her eyes looked
more focused than usual.
You probably should have weighed in on her side, the side of Olga and
whatever happened to be therapeutically trendy that year. But you didnt.
The reason you didnt is because you had a hard time believing
that terrible things could be so easily forgotten - and you told her
so. You told her again that if you didnt remember something it
might damn well be because it never happened in the first place. You
wanted to tell her about Occams Razor. That the simplest solution
is usually the correct one. But you didnt. She probably wouldnt
have known the difference between Occams Razor and a Lady Norelco
razor anyways. And it wasnt that you didnt believe that
incest and sexual abuse happened. You had known a couple of women who
it had happened to and you believed them. For these women the problem
wasnt in the remembering, it was in the forgetting.
"Your taking his side."
"Im not taking anyones side," you said, but it
came out sounding apologetic.
Personally, you thought that Jack was a pompous ass. But that was beside
the point, as far as you were concerned.
"Lets not fight," you said, stubbing out your cigarette in
the ashtray. "Okay?"
She nodded her head and all of a sudden you noticed the absence of light
all about. You started the engine, then. You turned on the headlights
and drove her home, as the radio played songs you dont remember
© Harry Dade
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