Back when I was fresh out of college, young, exciting, and beautiful—though I thought myself to be old, boring, and fat—I got a job as a paralegal in a big Chicago law firm. I studied communications at DePaul and had been the president of a few clubs and societies, and I guess I was the kind of person they wanted or needed. Which surprised me, because my dad—a lawyer—always told me there were too many lawyers in the world and I should want to be something else. He didn’t say anything about paralegals, though, so I figured that was ok.
My parents helped out with college, but I had to pay for grad school and living expenses. I saved a lot, most of my paycheck. And what I didn’t save, I put towards retirement because your early 20s is when you need to be saving for that stuff—lord knows, no one will be paying for my retirement. I didn’t make enough to live alone, not enough to live near work, anyway, near the Loop, which is where I wanted to be. I found an apartment to share with a friend of a friend from college.
Stacey, my roommate was two years older and had lived there since she graduated from Northwestern. She had two cats, which she said were Maine Coons. Her family always had Maine Coons, but they looked like wolverines to me. They were huge, silky, mottled, colorful. I liked the cats fine, but their names – Hummus and Baba – well, I felt bad for them.
Every so often, they’d get spooked by something and run all over the apartment, chasing each other, chasing themselves, or chasing nothing, and they’d knock things over. Stacey gently scolded them, but she never punished them, not as far as I could see. She gave her power to them, completely. It was one of those apartments that was one large space but had small bedrooms, so I had to work at the kitchen table, which was a nuisance.
One time, the cats got scared of something and jumped up and knocked over my Coke, which spilled all over my papers.
I was livid. I yelled at them, at Stacey. They ran in to her bedroom, and she just sulked and didn’t talk to me for a few days, which was fine because I was busy anyway.
Stacey was a pharmacist, or training to become one. You have to get a bunch of certificates and degrees, and she was taking courses at a local college. Between classes and work and other things, her schedule was erratic. She was never home when it made sense to be home.
When I first moved in, I was excited to have a friend. I’d make dinner and things for both of us, pies and things, I am really good at desserts, things with fruit. She never came home or never knew when she was coming home. I gave up and just cooked for myself. She ate shakes and bars and shit like that anyway. She stayed pretty thin, but if that is what you have to eat to stay thin, no thanks!
We weren’t going to be friends. I tried—I’m a considerate person, I try not to make anyone uncomfortable—but it didn’t work. After the Coke-spilling incident, when I really lost it on her, I didn’t try. It just wasn’t worth it. I don’t know if she liked me. She was pretty selfish, I don’t think she thought of anyone but herself.
One day—I’ll never forget this because I think it says a lot about who she was—I was sitting in the kitchen, working, and she was stretching in front of the TV. It was on too loud, of course, like it always was. I asked her to turn it down, but it didn’t seem to make much difference.
“Hey, Al, I’m gonna show you something.”
I didn’t look up but was mildly intrigued since she rarely instigated discussion or conversation.
“Look. Over here. See this? This is Child’s Pose.” She was on her haunches on the floor. The coffee table had been pushed over to the side, exposing a section of carpet next to the couch that was clearly in need of a wash. Slowly raising her arms over her head, she leaned over and brought them to the floor in front of her, hitting the carpet with her nose. Gross.
“I don’t do yoga,” I reminded her, for like the twentieth time.
“I know, just watch. I want to show you something.” She folded over into what I guess was Child’s Pose, leaning her face down on the carpet, her arms stretched in front of her, toes pointed, and her butt bouncing softly.
I couldn’t tell if it was relaxing—it didn’t look relaxing, it looked like she was straining.
“Just wait,” she said. “Just wait.”
I looked back at my work and ignored her, then she started to hum. It didn’t sound like it came from her mouth, more like it came from her body. Since her mouth was facing the ground, the sound cupped under her torso and was made deeper by its containment. She hummed one note, steady, breathing slowly while maintaining the pose, slightly flexed and stretched.
I heard a thump, a cat jumping off a bed. Hummus wandered in first. He was the slightly larger one, the leader. He was more physically adept, so he always led the charge. He came into the room, tail straight up and twitching subtly at the end. He walked over to her slumped body. Another thump; Baba came into the room. He moved more swiftly, and they reached Stacey’s prostrate form at the same time. Then meowed, first one, then the other. Stacy didn’t seem to notice, although she had stopped humming.
Then they began to paw at her. Carefully, putting one paw on her head as if they were going to step on her, but they didn’t, they just pawed. And meowed. She resumed humming. That is when they started going crazy, walking all over her, sniffing, pawing, meowing. Stacey didn’t move, but I thought her back went up and down quickly, like she was laughing. Maybe they were tickling her.
I felt bad for them, they were clearly confused. She was mean, disgusting. Who teased cats like that?
“Hey. Hey, Stacey, make them stop. The noise.”
She sat up, in her own time, removed her hair from her face, and smiled, her lips thin and firm. Blood had run to her head and made it slightly flushed. The cats saw her, gave her a quick sniff, and started back to the bedroom. She caught Baba by the tail end and pulled him to her face, smoothing him with kisses until he escaped to his food bowl. I felt for the guy. He ate his feelings, too.
“Cool, huh?” She rocked back onto her heels and stood up.
She was vile. “What was? How you were teasing them?”
“They think I’m hiding something, or that I’m hurt or something. I don’t know. They love it. I figured this out this morning.”
“Didn’t look like they loved it. They were agitated.”
“Naw, just curious.”
Baba was crunching food in the side of his mouth. Hummus had run into the bedroom where, I can only guess, he was hiding under the bed.
“You know, Allison,” Stacey continued, “it goes to show.”
“What. What does this go to show?” It was a stupid trick, disgusting. She agitated her cats. That was all. I could put food in my pocket and have the same effect. She shrugged, her back to me, and opened the dishwasher and pulled out a glass.
“Being vulnerable. It’s attractive. You should try it.”
“Those are dirty. What are you talking about? You weren’t vulnerable. You just tricked them!”
“No, I didn’t. I shut down, and they thought I was hurt.”
I told her that was bullshit—and in fact, so was she. Then it was her turn to be annoyed, “What are you saying?”
“Well, honestly, I don’t think you need to trick people to get them to like you. Just be who you are.”
“I wasn’t tricking anyone. I was just—God, you are so uptight. You are sooo uptight! No wonder you’re always home. Relax. Let go.”
“I relax more than you do. I like my job. I like my work. I like my career. It’s what I choose to do.” I could feel her rolling her eyes and groaning.
“OK, Allison. You have all the answers. Don’t be nice, don’t be relaxed, then someone might like you, heaven forbid.”
“Whatever. I’m not about to take advice from you. You are delusional. I know what I care about. I don’t need you or your yoga or your goddam dirtiness or your cats.” And then I felt bad because I liked the cats. I would miss them when I moved.
Not Stacey though, just seeing her made my shoulders jump up to my earlobes.
A week later, I found someone to take the lease, and I found my own place—small, but whatever. I didn’t like to entertain anyway.
I never talked to Stacey again, though I thought I saw her in Grant Park one day, running. We were just so different, our lives.. I don’t know what happened to her. I left my job as a paralegal soon after that, didn’t like it after all. I wandered for a bit, while my parents freaked out and then settled down as a paralegal again, this time in San Francisco. Where I’m much happier, and I’ve even have tried yoga though I still don’t like it.
Our mutual friend from school ended up moving to France, and it sounds like Stacey didn’t keep in touch with either one of us. Which is fine, she was just another person in my life.
She doesn’t bother me anymore, I don’t even think about her.
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