Saturday, 6 April 2013

How she waits

Sometimes, when she hasn't slept much, she forgets what she wants. Sometimes, on those days when the White House lurches from crisis to crisis (hostage taking, a dip in the job numbers, morally suspect actions on the part of a prominent member of the Administration), she forgets what she wants. Sometimes, when the survival seems the loftiest possible goal, she forgets.

She forgets that there are two things vying for her attention, for her heart, for her oxygen, like twins in a womb: she wants to make a difference, and she wants him.

She is lucky, she tells herself some days, that these two things, in theory at least, are not mutually exclusive. She can foresee a day when those twin desires will work together, reinforce each other, strengthen each other. When she would have him - so to speak; she smiles wryly to herself - and together they would change the world. They would shape policy, together. Together, they would put great men - and great women - in office. Some days she thinks one of those great men could be him; one of those great women could be her.

It should not be inconceivable that she could one day have both of these things. She has noticed the way his eyes linger over her bare shoulders when she wears a ball gown at state dinners. She has felt the air crackle with something akin to electricity and yet not exactly like it. But she does not know how they would get there from here. If she were writing a novel, and the novel were her life, it would be in two parts, and part II would begin "Five years later..." Or perhaps not even five. Perhaps two would be enough. Or one. Six months. But she does not know what comes between the parts.

She could see it as an adventure of course, a romantic thriller that keeps you turning pages because you know, roughly, what is going to happen, you just don't know how. Except there is no blueprint for this. Nothing is guaranteed. Nothing, in fact, could be less certain.It seems to her most days that these two desires of hers which should be profoundly compatible are in fact mutually exclusive. She has to choose, and she settles for changing the world; she settles for proximity, not intimacy.

She suspects, though she tries to quash the thought, that one day she will have to let go of one desire in order, perhaps, to see them both come to pass. In order, certainly, to not let them destroy her.She knows - tries at least to convince herself she knows - that there will be a Part II in this novel, and perhaps that is what will happen between the chapters.

Sometimes she lies awake - in itself ludicrous when there are only five or six available hours of sleep - thinking about him. Worrying about him. Loving him. Mentally composing her letter of resignation - not the official one, but the one that she will give him, the one which will explain everything, the one that will stop just short of saying I love you, Josh, marry me. And other times she tosses and turns and thinks about running for office. She thinks about co-sponsoring bills. She thinks about mitigating scandals. She thinks about job approval ratings and rousing speeches and those job figures. She prays to a God she is not sure she has ever believed in for the families of hostages.

But usually, usually this: during the day she wants to make a difference, at at night she wants him. Sometimes, in this way, she manages to forget that there are these two things, these two profoundly compatible and yet deeply incompatible things, and forgetting is how she survives it. How she is not torn apart.

How she waits for the space between chapters. 

Monday, 31 October 2011

The unbearable lightness of flirting

Someone is flirting with you.

You've almost forgotten what this feels like, and what it feels like is, well, good. It feels like you are not invisible. Not out of bounds. It feels like your life extends beyond your office, beyond the confines of those four walls and of the demanding boss, demanding not only because of his own expectations but also - especially - because of what you expect of yourself in your service to him. Sometimes it feels as if those four walls are caving in; sometimes it feels as if you can't breathe. The pressure is too much. The demands are too much. He - he is too much. Takes up too much space in your brain, your heart, your life.

And so it feels good that someone is flirting with you. It feels good to drink the chilled white wine and have him flirt with  you, not knowing the background, not knowing the - the complications. Sure, you will have complications of your own, the two of you, if he - if you - move beyond the flirting. But they will be new complications. You imagine, somehow, that it will more fun, less tiresome, to unpick these complications - these new complications - than to endlessly go over and over the old ones.

You are thinking about all this as he flirts with you. You are thinking about all this, but you are also there, in the moment, enjoying him. You are laughing at his jokes, not in an over eager way or out of obligation but because they are funny. You are wanting to give him the benefit of the doubt: maybe Republicans aren't necessarily bad guys, maybe not all of them, maybe not this one. This one is funny. This one is cute. And he has kind eyes. Eyes that seem incapable of looking down on the needy. Eyes that seem incapable of anything but compassion.

And then there's the Jewish thing. Jewish guys are hot. You have to admit that. You don't know why you think that. Maybe it's because all the Jewish guys you know are smart. And funny. Maybe that it's. You like that option. You like to think it has nothing to do with one particular Jewish guy, the one you have been in love with for as long as you can remember. You shake your head to rid yourself of thoughts of him.

"Something bothering you?" asks the guy who is flirting with you. Attentive. His hand on your shoulder. "You cold?"

"No. I -"

"Nervous twitch, then?"

"Yeah. I get nervous when J - when hot guys flirt with me."

The two of you laugh and he orders more drinks. But you cringe inside. Cringe to have used the word "hot" like you did back in high school, back when you assumed you would have all this completely figured out by the time you were whatever age you were now. You cringe to have almost said the other thing. You hope he didn't notice, though you know it's a lost cause. It doesn't seem to have bothered him, though, or stopped him flirting. He is good at it. He is not heavy handed, but neither is he so subtle that you cannot quite tell whether he's into you. You are enjoying yourself. Really. You only wish it weren't so much effort to swat away thoughts of the other guy. The other guy who flirts with you but seems not to have any intention of following it through.

The other guy, who is not so subtle with the flirting, but who is so unsubtle that it must be a double bluff, unless it's a triple bluff, and here we go again with the complications, and wouldn't it be nice if the two of you could sit here, flirting, if you could force yourself to laugh at the terrible jokes which normally have you rolling your eyes and know it was all leading somewhere, wherever that somewhere might be, that the flirting was not just flirting.

Saturday, 15 October 2011

They told me it would be like this.

They told me it would be like this.

They didn't have to tell me. I lived it. For nine years I lived it with him, this life of his. But for some reason, they felt they had to remind me.

You won't see him, they said. You'll come to miss being his assistant, when you were just feet away from him all day, every day. And there are times when I catch myself thinking they were right. It's easy for the hindsight to acquire a rose tint. Yes, there was the banter. The flirting. The thrill of unresolved sexual tension.

Except it is not thrilling.

Maybe on a TV show it's thrilling. It keeps you watching, keeps you wondering. But this wasn't TV; this wasn't one hour a week. This was unremitting, daily real life. My body aching for him every day; my soul, too.

And sure, there are days when I feel it again. There are weeks, there are months, when I'm reminded of that ache. I miss him. Even now that we are married I miss him. I fall asleep wishing he were beside me; I often wake alone. The children cry for him and he can't hear them.

They told me it would be like this, and I never doubted it. Do I wish it didn't have to be? Maybe. But it's the path we have chosen. This life is what made Josh Josh, and Josh is who my body aches for. There is no pretending anymore, and maybe the thrill, such as it was, has gone. But the thrill is over-rated. I'll take the security any day: knowing I belong to him and he to me, no longer having to work out whether what I see in  his eyes is what I hope it is or whether his anger is motivated by jealousy.

They told me it would be like this. I believed them. I was right to believe them. And still without hesitation I choose this life: occasional stolen moments with Josh rather than the constant presence of any lesser man.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

I'll take you shoe shopping

It was meant only for her to hear. "When it's over I'll buy you shoes."

Only she was meant to hear it, and she wasn't meant to take it seriously. But CJ had heard it too, and on Monday when Donna had said, "he was kidding about the shoes", CJ was apparently not impressed.

"Josh," she said, standing in the doorway to his office with her hands on her hips. "You promised Donna shoes."

He took another sip from his lukewarm coffee while he considered what the appropriate response might be. 


"You said that if she went to the thing on Saturday, you'd buy her shoes."

"Well, I didn't mean it."

CJ crossed her arms. "Well then, you shouldn't have said it."

It was impeccable logic. He couldn't fault it. He continued to drink his coffee.

"She and Carol had lunch planned. She canceled because you were taking her shoe shopping."


"I just thought I'd better warn you.  You know, in case."

"In case what?"

"In case she seems mad."

"She'd be mad about something so trivial?"

"Shoes," said CJ, "are not trivial."

"Got it." Though he really hadn't. Shouldn't he have women figured out by now?

But it was irking him later as he read through his notes in preparation for Senior Staff. He opened his mouth to shout, and then it occurred to him that now might be a good time to learn to use the intercom. He pressed the button. 


No response.

"Donna?" Louder now. How did the damn thing work anyway? 


She pushed open his door. 


She was wearing a skirt that was shorter than the ones to which he was accustomed, and he forgot for a moment why he'd called her in. 

"There's an intercom, you know," she said, presumably to fill the silence.  

"I know. But I -"

"Don't know how to use it?"


"Well I guess there are some things they don't teach you at Harvard Law School."



The snark: so CJ was right. It seemed shoes mattered after all. 

"What are you doing at lunch?"

"I'm having lunch with Carol."

"Cancel it," he said, before he'd thought. Damn it, if he could just learn not to do that one of these days.

"You've got to be kidding me." She sounded a little like a moody teenager, but he chose, benevolently, to ignore that. 

"I'm taking you shoe shopping."

"That's a little joke right there, isn't it? It's funny."

"It's not a joke. I'm taking you shoe shopping. Really. I'm sorry about Saturday." 

She tried to hide her smile but he saw it. He was very observant like that.

"Okay," she said, and smiled some more. 

"I'm taking Donna shoe shopping," Josh said over her shoulder to Sam. 

"I'm not sure what the proper response is to that."

"That it's a kind and generous yet also a manly thing to do?" His voice had risen worryingly in pitch towards the end of the sentence. 

"Right," said Sam, furrowing his brow in what looked liked bewilderment. Or perhaps despair. "I just came by to say the thing's a lunchtime thing now." 

"But - "

It worried Josh a little that Donna was still smiling. 

"It's okay, Josh. You can take me shoe shopping another day." 

Later, much later, she would tell him that the thought was enough. It was enough that he had imagined himself to be free enough in the middle of a Monday to take her shopping. It was enough that he was willing to stand in line for an age, watch her walk up and down, tell her the black ones looked nice and the red ones didn't seem like they would be very practical. Of course, it was entirely possible that he hadn't thought about any of it, that he had not thought further than her smile. And that was okay with her too. 

Sunday, 7 August 2011

In the dream

In her dream she was the first to arrive. She stood and watched helplessly, uselessly, as they ran, wheeling him in, as he mumbled something that sounded like her name, like an accusation. She stood, in her dream as she had in reality: speechless, her hand clamped over her mouth.

But in her dream, she was the first one there and as each person arrived she said the words herself. Josh was hit. It's critical. In the dream she said it deadpan, delivered as though it were an inconsequential inconvenience.

Hit. Critical. Critical. Critical...

In the dream, no one hugged her either. In the dream they nodded and went on their way, walking calmly to the room where they would wait, and wait, and wait. In the dream she spoke calmly and her knees did not buckle under her and she asked no ridiculous questions. In the dream a nurse eventually came over to her, when the last of them had walked calmly to the waiting room, and she offered her a glass of water, and inexplicably asked if she was his wife, and that was when Donna began to cry. And the nurse did what none of the others had done; she slipped one arm around Donna's shoulder and led her to a chair.

She didn't know why she wasn't following the others, except that even in her dream she was dimly aware of a sense of betrayal, a sense of injustice. The nurse offered no empty words of meaningless comfort, no he's going to be okay that no-one suspected to be true, but just for a minute or two someone had taken care of her and in the dream for those two minutes she was aware of her shoulders lightening. But she woke up to the sensation of falling, to the familiar nausea tightening her stomach, to her shoulders sighing again under the weight of responsibility, to the sobs convulsing her body, to a haunting loneliness that she knew would never leave her if he didn't live.

Monday, 1 August 2011

The meaning of nothing

The dress plunges low, low, down to the small of her back and when he puts his hand there to gently guide her toward the dining hall he is surprised to be touching skin.

"Josh, it's okay," she says, and he realizes he has instinctively pulled his hand away.

"I didn't - " he says, and then he stops, because how is he going to finish that sentence? I didn't expect to touch you? I didn't expect your skin to be so soft? Or, worse, I didn't want you to think - careless words that would mean exactly what they both knew them to mean, and before the minute was over they would be stuck in that cycle of theirs, she wanting him to say it, he desperately trying to avoid saying it.

"Didn't what?" She turns her innocent blue eyes toward him. So not saying anything is clearly not going to work either.

"I didn't expect your back to be there," he says, a note of pleading in his voice.

"You thought I was a disembodied dress?"

Sometimes, he thinks, that would make my life simpler. If there were no body.

"Yes, Donna," he says, impressing her, he hopes, with his newfound ability to laugh at himself. "That's exactly what I thought."

"You crack me up," she says, not cracking up, and then adds in a low voice, perhaps a little drunk already, "A little skin to skin contact is going to kills us?"

"It might."

Here we go, he thinks, and sure enough.

"What do you mean?"


She's stopped walking. He turns his head back to her and sees that the front of the dress has one of those ruched necklines. Ruched? Where did he learn that word?

"Why did you stop walking?"

"Because you always do that."

"Always do what?" Though of course he knows. But maybe the Bambi thing will work for him too.

"You always almost say it."

"Say what?"

He is aware of his quickening pulse. If she puts words to it, the game is over. And in the absence of anything beyond the game, he likes the game.

"Nothing," she says, playing too, refusing the risk too. But she looks into his eyes as she says it, as though she were confident that his nothing meant the same as hers, or perhaps as though she were gambling everything on that one word.

He holds out his arm and she takes it, and he seriously considers dancing with her later.

Monday, 25 July 2011

No exit

They didn't have to say they would never speak of it again. The closeness of the air, the thickness of the silence between them, the haste with which Donna left when they were given the all-clear said it, shouted it, screamed it.

CJ wasn't entirely sure why she had allowed herself and her words to be pulled in this dangerous direction. She was torn between the relief of having voiced the perennially unvoiced and the guilt at Donna shrinking like a wounded animal and the injustice of having been so ill-received when she had, after all, spoken out of concern, affection even, for these two people.

Although, perhaps, thinking about it, affection had not been her chief motivation. Frustration, maybe. Under different circumstances - over coffee on a lazy Sunday, or after a few drinks on a Friday night... But there were no lazy Sundays and when work was finished on Friday nights there was no energy left for anything except the drive home, the removal of clothes and make-up, the closing of eyes and the waiting for sleep, as you wait for an ancient computer to close each program one by one, so that darkness only came - to the screen, to her mind - when patience was almost exhausted.

And perhaps, whatever the circumstances, there were certain things that could never be spoken of, for fear that naming them would call forth their destructive power. And this unspokenness was the air vent that had kept Donna breathing in the hell she had constructed for herself, and with CJ's words the air vent had snapped shut and she was suffocating, and it was at last possible that she might seek escape.

But while she could still breathe Donna would not seek a way out, blind as she was to the desirability or even the possibility of escape. And so hell, to Donna, was other people, one other person, because she had allowed herself to be chained to him at the cost of her freedom.

Hell. No exit. Other people, or another person - always this other person.