Anatomy of Tea

It is the fake kind. Not black, not even green. Herbal. Fake. She is a tea snob, and though I am not, her definitions have sunk into me, etched into my skin. The current skin. If the past is any indication, it’ll flake off eventually. Before too long.

She tells me that she just wants to be friends. She and her boyfriend are looking for a third party, if the spinning rumor mill wheel is to be believed. Why don’t they pick me? What’s wrong with me?

When we watch the sky together on the roof, she tells me she can’t see any stars. They’re everywhere, I tell her, and she says she can’t see them. I look at her, and her eyes are shut. This is the kind of shit she does.

The teacup in my hand is only cardboard. White, with a brown sleeve, it gave under the hot water and I thought it was going to collapse into my hand and burn me. But it held up in the end, sturdier than it looks. She always says she’s not vulnerable, that she doesn’t get hurt so easily. She says her eyes just get wet sometimes, that she hasn’t cried in years, that I’m projecting.

Maybe I’m projecting. Maybe I didn’t grow a new skin last time.

Photo credit: Lars Kristian Flem

Ginger and lemon taste like nothing else in the world. Nothing tastes like anything else, though, so I’m not sure why that’s supposed to be a compliment. When I told her she tasted like herself, unique, she rolled her eyes at me and I could tell she’d been hoping for me to come up with something less cliche, less used up. I tried to tell her how I felt, though, and she couldn’t stand to hear it. What else was I supposed to do, then? Cliches are a great trampoline to fall onto, they make you bounce up again.

The man with the gray hair who’s always hanging around her is just a friend, she says. But this is where her boyfriend and I agree: she should stop having friends who sell her cocaine for the price of a blowjob. I’m not sure who I want to punch more, the dealer or her boyfriend. Maybe they’ll take each other out for me, leave the field clear.

The night she touched my skin without prompting on my part wasn’t delirious. It was pretty underwhelming, in the end. Maybe that’s because I was expecting more than a drunk bear hug. She’s not so attractive when she’s sloppy. I guess I’m more shallow than I thought I was.

My skin is itching. I break out in hives every time someone says hashtag in order to emphasize their commentary on the world. It’s cold. Hashtag. She’s such a bitch. Hashtag. Love you, babes. Hashtag.

Hotels are really depressing when you’re there alone. Nothing is complementary anymore. The minibar is an invitation to expensive sinning, but even the water and coffee have little price marks on them. You don’t get anything for free, she always tells me this, but I never listen. It’s funny, though, because I don’t have faith in people either. I guess I have faith in corporations.

Corporations are people too. Her parents raised her conservative. She explains how she can believe in bad economic practices and in women’s right to choose not to have abortions, and I wonder how we haven’t stopped talking yet. I don’t take this kind of shit from anyone. I don’t think I can be friends with her.

I don’t want to be friends with her.

I never wanted to be, though. Some things you don’t really get a choice in.

When her boyfriend dumps her, she comes over to my house and asks if I have tea. I tell her I do, regular tea, Lipton. She picks up the back of a chair and slams it down. She yells at me that Lipton isn’t real tea. Haven’t I learned anything? She says I’m useless and leaves. I see her already pulling her cellphone out of her back pocket. She’ll call the grey haired man and end up in a skeezy motel with him.

I have another business trip to make. She still hasn’t called me back.

My suits are getting wrinkled. I need to pack better. I need to get a new skin. I need to get some new taste buds. I need to learn to discriminate in my tea choices. Maybe I should be a colonist, a racist, find somewhere new where tea is conquered. Then she’ll really like me.

Joshua

Josh put down the Starbucks paper cup and breathed a sigh of relief. He’d been craving his chai latte since three in the morning when he first woke up. The dreams were back, and he was sleeping worse than ever. His therapist kept asking him if he could describe them, and he tried, he really did, but the problem was that the moment he talked about his dreams, they’d flee his mind. It was as if the contents of his horrible nightly escapades were only alive when they could torture him, and him alone. If he tried to confide in anyone else, he would suddenly find that he couldn’t grasp any detail of dream. He wouldn’t find the words to describe the monstrous visions or the frightening scenarios, and he’d finally fall silent, muttering feebly that he knew the dreams were horrible but simply couldn’t remember them at present. His therapist thought that he was repressing something, and was very worried about him.

If he was being honest with himself, Josh was worried too. The last time he’d had the dreams was when he started law school. They’d caused him to drop out after a while, and he’d spent almost a year in a haze of pot, occasional boozing and general self-destruction. It took him a long time to force his life back together. He’d felt like Humpty Dumpty for years, putting himself together piece by piece because all the king’s horses and all the king’s men had given up on him.

Now he was thirty-five and was the manager of the distribution offices in a company that sold furniture. It wasn’t an impressive job by any means – his office was one of many that were spread around the country, and so there were some fifty other people in the company with the exact same job title as him. That wasn’t to say that he hadn’t worked hard to reach this position. He had, and he’d suffered for a few years at the entry level customer service before he began climbing the ranks. All in all, he was pleased with his job. He had his own office on the tenth floor with a view of the courtyard that his building shared with the other five in the office complex that was comfortably nestled in Downtown.

Josh rubbed his eyes and tried to wake himself up. Since three that morning he’d dozed on and off until six, when the alarm clock rang and his day began. He’d gone to bed at one in the morning, so he had, in reality, a total of two hours sleep. He smiled as he took another sip of his chai latte. At least his slow and tentative relationship with Mia wasn’t being screwed up by his dreams. She’d kissed him sweetly last night after they’d enjoyed a glass of red wine at the bar he took her to after dinner. They’d talked for hours, sipping their wine slowly in a corner table and enjoying the dim light of the bar that made them feel as if they were all alone. When he’d walked her home, she’d kissed him at the door, called him a perfect gentleman, and then, with that ever-surprising grin of hers, she’d ducked into the building and shut the door firmly behind her. He’d walked back to his own apartment in a delirious daze.

Mia had been part of his life for two years, although she hadn’t realized how much she’d meant to him. She’d been serving him chai lattes, apple pie slices and chocolate chunk cookies at Starbucks almost every morning since she’d started working there and Josh had fallen for her just a little bit more every day. He’d finally gotten the guts to ask her out after she’d been promoted to assistant manager of her branch and wasn’t working at the counter anymore. Josh’s therapist was very proud of him and felt that this was definitely a positive step forward in his constant struggle to keep the normal, functioning life he’d built for himself.

He hadn’t told Mia about his dreams. He hadn’t even tried. They’d been going out for over a month, but Mia, as she told him last night, was in a precarious emotional state. She had survived a badly abusive relationship and had abstained from going out with men for about three years. Josh was the first man she’d felt comfortable enough to go out with, and her own therapist, she reported to Josh, was proud of her as well. They’d joked about having a conference call with their respective psychologists and fixing them up. They’d also wondered idly whether the two were married already without their patients’ knowledge.

But Mia had kissed him, finally, and Josh was ecstatic. As he finally turned from the window in his office toward his computer and the work that was waiting for him, he decided that he’d call her later that afternoon and tell her that he’d had an incredible time last night and that he hoped to see her again. Soon.

He reached for his diary and checked which tasks he’d written down that were a priority that morning. He decided to get the phone calls over with first and then turn to the stack of reports that were awaiting his scrutiny. It was as he clicked on the speaker-phone button that he remembered that Mia had been in his dream. His hand froze over the buttons and eventually the dial tone was replaced with the beep-beep-beep of a phone off the hook. Josh sat still as a stone as horrible visions flashed through his mind again, Mia’s face featuring clearly in them.

Finally, he turned off the speaker and held up his Starbucks cup. He stared at it, unseeing, and turned it around and around in his hands. Not Mia, he thought, pleading with his subconscious. Please, not Mia…

1. Mr. and Mrs. Adams [2]

By about seven, the sky had darkened enough that Mr. Adams was squinting hard at his crossword puzzle and Mrs. Adams had given up on her needlepoint, staring instead at her husband with amused eyes.

“Come on, old man,” she said. “It’s officially night. Let’s go inside.”

“Oh, alright,” grumbled Mr. Adams. “I need to Google a few of these clues anyway. I swear, whoever writes this crossword is either getting smarter or just obnoxiously obscure.”

Mr. and Mrs. Adams both got out of their rocking chairs with ease and grace – ballroom dancing and standing in lecture halls for hours kept them spry – and headed into the house. Their home was warm, cozy and lived in. It wasn’t filled with antiques, nor did it exclude technology from within its walls, but nevertheless, the furniture was worn and squishy and the clutter looked homey and comfortable.

Mr. Adams went right into his study and began to search furiously for the answers he was missing. Mrs. Adams went into the kitchen and put water on to boil. She made herself a cup of tea and sat down at the kitchen table, picking up the latest novel she was reading. Before she finished reading a page, however, the phone rang shrilly.

Now, Mr. and Mrs. Adams were the kind of people who had an answering machine and expected people to leave messages if they ever wanted to speak to them. They didn’t like picking up the phone when it rang, because it seemed to them both that people usually called when they weren’t in the mood to talk to them. This is one of those unnatural occurrences that seem to plague people who enjoy relaxing at home – the phone always rings during dinner, or when they’re in the shower, or when the film is reaching a particularly engaging point.

So Mrs. Adams, as usual, raised her eyes from her book and waited for the machine to kick in so she could hear who was calling and decide whether or not she wanted to pick up.

“Hi,” her own voice rang through the house. “This is the Adams residence. Please leave a message, and we’ll get back to you as soon as we can. If this is an issue regarding academics, please call our offices at Valley University and leave the message there. Thank you!” A shrill beep sounded. Then-

“Uh – Caroline? Dan? Anyone home?”

Mrs. Adams leaped from her seat and grabbed at the phone. Mr. Adams emerged from his study, his face white. He stared at his wife as she spoke into the mouthpiece.

“Marty?!” She shrieked.

Snail Mail

There is something superbly romantic about sending letters. Actual letters. Written by hand, in an envelope, stamped and sealed. It’s too bad it’s a thing of the past. Of course, emails are quick, easy, accessible from anywhere nowadays and just plain BETTER in many ways. But they don’t have a personal touch, not unless you make each email a work of magnificent poetry and prose.

If anyone has read Stephen Fry’s The Stars’ Tennis Balls, they know that there is a wonderful description of how letters used to be in the first few pages. To anyone who hasn’t read the book – do. His descriptions of the letters of two teenage lovers, newly enamored with each other, are just incredibly funny and betimes even poignant.

A romantic to my core – sadly, I seem to be alone amongst my friends in this sentiment – I wish sometimes that I lived in a time where letters were exchanged as fast as possible and with excitement and were passionate and interesting. However, a cynic to my core as well, as I’ve stated before, I know that would mean we also would have to marvel at the price of stamps and swoon at everything and drink lots of tea or something. Perhaps not such a good idea then.